2015: Best Of Hollywood

The last two months have been quite a dynamic – in a good way – time for Indian cinema, with films from every region weighing into the spotlight (Killa, Court, Baahubali, Kaaka Muttai, Piku, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Bajrangi Bhaijaan). The much over-hyped term ‘mainstream’ seems now a thing of the past. Hollywood – a term that mostly describes conventional, big-budget, summer entertainers – hasn’t had a bad time either. 

There have been more than enough Indian movies to cherish lately. But every now and then, there comes an English-language film that takes your breath away. They’re mostly bigger (budget-wise), packaged better and, recently, haven’t really dumbed down the madness to earn the big dollars. Yes, there have been the usual formulaic sequel blockbusters like Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Furious 7, Jurassic World, Pitch Perfect 2 and even brain-crushers like San Andreas, 50 Shades Of Grey, Minions (yes, annoying), Fantastic Four and Terminator Genisys. The last two were Hollywood equivalents of Action Jackson, many claimed. 
 
But there are some that I can’t forget, some that have stayed with me for days and weeks, the kind of movies that make you happy and excited for no conceivable reason only because they’re so good, flawed but so well-made and imaginative, and because they break genre and convention and still manage to entertain profusely. 
 
Here is a list of 6 English-language, big-budget Hollywood films that have broken the clutter, broken the box-office, and inspired hope that money and brains can co-exist:
 
INSIDE OUT 
(Dir: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen)
Disney PIXAR is known to raise the bar with their animation techniques, but most of their films have banked on genuine innovation and ingenuity in storytelling, too. They’ve strengthened the belief that even real life, and not only imaginary worlds, can be portrayed most poignantly, if your techniques and script sync harmoniously. And INSIDE OUT – a lovely, insightful tale about the inside workings of the mind of a 11-year-old American girl during a tough transitional phase – is perhaps the best PIXAR film to have ever been made. I say this, despite the presence of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, WALL-E, Ratatouille and others on this list. It not only captivates with sheer imagination (of course, because it’s about human minds), but also touches so many chords on a basic narrative level; a treasure-trove of ideas, and simple personifications of impulses. That its characters are actually five emotions in the child’s mind only adds to the meta-ness of this original interpretation. Most importantly, this is not exactly a children’s film; it’s a film about children meant for parents who were once children, and for children who will one day become parents. 
 
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
(Dir: George Miller)
This ‘action’ extravaganza is the most audacious, old-school and relentless piece of crafting and film-making ever seen in recent times. The iconic 80s franchise has, to everyone’s shock, been reconstructed with possibly the same methods, but far more vision, ambition and budget than its predecessors. The whole movie is just one big extended chase sequence – a spectacular sequence of set pieces and dazzling stunts, shockingly loud characters and mad-hatting villains – in the post-apocalyptic Namibian wastelands (shot over 7 months of exhaustive schedules), and doesn’t even have Max (Tom Hardy) as its protagonist. Just how did Miller convince the studio to bankroll this shockingly brave project, and this, after he had only made two animated films (Happy Feet) in the last two decades? That a 70-year old director and 72-year old cinematographer made it only adds to the wonder of its miraculous existence in today’s deafening and eye-crushing, CGI-orgy, tent-pole era. If there was ever a way to revive a franchise, this is it. Forget the relentless bombardment of superhero and spy-movie rehashes popping up from everywhere.
Speaking about spy…

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
(Dir: Matthew Vaughn)
This is by far the most subversive and creative take on the James Bond genre, while still keeping with the suave style and ridiculously outlandish, suspension-of-belief possibilities, without resorting to the comedic bowels of Austin Powers or Pink Panther. There’s something about Matthew Vaughn though – a director who often takes a genre and gives his own hippie-acid-satirical-snarky take to it. He did it with superheroes and vigilantes in Kick-Ass, and even made a highly successful X-men film in between. With Kingsman, he makes a modern classic, one that will be looked back on as perhaps the most self-aware and smartest spy movie made in decades. It’s also his grasp over craft, and his Tarantino-esque ability to carve out memorable sequences – in this case, a most memorable and shockingly gory and ridiculous church sequence, where super-spy Colin Firth goes on a blood-thirsty rampage, and another climax sequence of heads exploding like color balloons. In any context, these scenes sound ridiculous and breathtakingly mad, which is why they’ll remain in our memories. 
 
CHAPPIE
(Dir: Neill Blomkamp)
South African director Blomkamp returns with his third sci-fi film in three years after District 9 and Elysium. He has a unique knack of tying in his country’s socio-economic texture into his expansive storytelling, thereby giving rise to a bunch of almost-perverse, snappy and eccentric characters. Here, it’s Chappie – a robot who is taught to speak the slang of his ‘masters’, shared between a nervy inventor (Dev Patel) and a bunch of good-hearted junkies – who then must do battle against the ‘evil scientist’ played by Hugh Jackman, who has made a habit out of appearing in adrenaline-pumping, robot-themed epics. There’s something immensely likable about Chappie, the robot and the film; they have the heart of a melodramatic and corny Bollywood entertainer, while retaining the gravitas and technique of a big-budget, sci-fi Hollywood potboiler. Dev Patel, for once, doesn’t irritate, and does a good extension of his hyperactive-worker avatar in Newsroom. I like the way Blomkamp builds up his drama to manipulative crescendos, and the way he delves into the absurd and still manages to carve a story out of misfits in a cruel urban-African world. 
 
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION
(Dir: Christopher McQuarrie)
I’ve rarely seen such an utterly cool and effortless fifth movie in any money-spinning Hollywood franchise. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt looks a bit exhausted by now, but only when he isn’t zooming around on superbikes, changing data cards in secure servers underwater by holding his breath for 3 minutes, tip-toeing across the Vienna State Opera’s backstage trying to kill assassins, or hanging on to an airplane door as it takes off in Belarus. What’s more, he has super-spy Rebecca Ferguson as an equally physical presence, and a memorable villain of a shadowy rogue anti-IMF organization. In between globe-trotting and stealing your breath, the makers actually manage to carve out a plot, not dissimilar to the intimacy and single-minded obsession of Bond’s Skyfall. The end is a bit of a letdown in terms of scale, but old-school London sort of makes up for all the adrenalin-pumping action till then. Simply put, Rogue Nation isn’t 3D (and earns brownie points just for that), entertains, thrills and is the most audacious movie of the series. 
 
ANT-MAN 
(Dir: Peyton Reed)
Ant-Man stars the pleasant-looking Paul Rudd as perhaps the most unconventional superhero in recent memory. His power is that he can shrink and fly, but there’s something inherently light-hearted and harmless about the man. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously either, and is very reminiscent of the economically untouched, independent charm of the first Ironman film, before greedy suits in a conference room hijacked the franchise. I was beginning to lose faith in Marvel after Ironman 3, Avengers 2, Thor 2 and Captain America; I was sick of the S.H.I.E.L.D guys, before Ant-Man came along and did nothing but keep it simple. And hey, Paul Rudd, the light-eyed dude that appears in every Judd Apatow production ever made, is now a freaking Marvel superhero. And he’s cooler than Spidey or Ironman, only because they’re so overexposed lately. 
 
SPECIAL MENTIONS: 
Joel Edgerton’s The Gift, Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

 

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