By: Samar Khan
As another year went by in startlingly quick fashion, we here at The Film Lawyers decided to put together our personal Top 10 lists, as a means of giving a shout out to the films that stayed with us long after viewing them in theatres. Since my movie-going experience encompasses both foreign and Hollywood releases, I was fortunate to witness some great – and not so great – films from many corners of the globe. As the list below will illustrate, films from India’s Bollywood cinema, Hungary and Hollywood were the films that resonated the most with me after a stellar 2015. I hope you all enjoy my picks and if you have not done so, go give them all a watch when you can.
After churning out films that can best be described as mediocre over nearly the entire last decade, the affable Salman Khan stars in one of the most emotionally poignant films delivered by Bollywood in years. The film tackles issues of religious violence and the hostilities between India and Pakistan and delivers a film that resonates both emotionally and politically. For those Bollywood fans starving for an emotional tearjerker after the industry’s turn to the “masala style,” Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s story about a man willing to cross borders to help a mute, adorable stranger reach home is the perfect film for tugging at your heartstrings.
Never before had a film given me the urge to yell out loud about the subject material it is portraying but Talvar managed to break that streak. Talvar is based on the real-life case of the Noida double murder that witnessed a teenage girl and her family’s servant brutally murdered with the girl’s parents being accused of the killings. The film re-enacts nearly every detail of the actual case and highlights just how sensationalist the media in India is while simultaneously showcasing the ineptitude of law enforcement in the country.
The ever-brilliant Irrfan Khan (the man’s versatility is nearly unmatched yet he is so often left out of the discussion of best actors working in India today) leads an ensemble cast including Konkona Sen Sharma and Neeraj Kabi who deliver career best performances under the watchful eye of director Meghna Gulzar.
Loosely translated as “fly away solo,” Masaan is a tale of four lives intersecting and covers the following topics in some way: caste issues in India, patriarchal families that condone honour killings, the gulf between poor and rich and the dream of a better life abroad.
Richa Chadda leads a relatively unknown cast in this beautiful under-the-radar film that features a stellar soundtrack and a sublime directing effort from newcomer Neeraj Ghyawan, who put his years of tutelage under the legendary Anurag Kashyap to good use. Masaan is highly recommended to our audience.
7) Inside Out
Inside Out is Disney Pixar when it brings its A-game, one of the famed animation studio’s best films in years. The film tells the story of a girl who becomes depressed upon a hasty move to a new city, with the emotions in her mind trying their best to help their 11-year old host adapt to a new situation.
Charming, funny and heart-wrenching at the same time, Inside Out is a film that audiences of all ages can appreciate and instantly fall in love with.
Who saw this coming? Casting the then-unproven Varun Dhawan opposite Bollywood dramatic acting maestro Nawazzudin Siddiqui was supposed to showcase the disparity in acting quality between the young up-and-comer in Dhawan and the best actor in Bollywood in Siddiqui. Instead, audiences were treated to an absolutely marvelous tale of revenge, with Dhawan playing the heartbroken widower who makes it his life’s mission to enact revenge against the man he knows murdered his family.
Visceral, terrifying and not anywhere near the style of film typically associated with modern day Bollywood, director Sriram Raghavan’s film showcases the reality of exacting revenge and whether the payoff is worth it. Not for the faint of heart, Badlapur was a brilliant surprise that set the bar high for future films involving the two leads.
Tom McCarthy delivers this riveting tale of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-winning documenting of the cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
Fantastic performances from the ensemble cast lend a certain gravitas to the story, with a near 15-year-old scandal managing to elicit gasps of shock from audiences around the world. Look for the film to garner a multitude of nominations for the Academy Awards, with the Best Picture award potentially within reach.
Forget the efforts of Emily Blunt, who turns in a marvelous performance of her own, but this show belongs to the man that was left out of nearly all of the film’s marketing. Benicio Del Toro steals the show in one of the tensest thrillers in ages, centered on the conflict between Mexican cartels and the US Law enforcement that has issues stopping the illegal trafficking of narcotics.
Roger Deakins cinematography and Denis Villeneuve’s directing help craft a visceral and gorgeous story, one that could pass for a documentary with the gruesome nature of the cartels highlighted throughout the film.
The best Indian thriller in years, you couldn’t go wrong with either the Tamil or Hindi adaptation of Jeethu Joseph’s original tale about an illiterate father who goes to extreme lengths to cover up the murder committed by his family. Jeethu Joseph is establishing himself as one of those rare “creative” directors in India with his excellent Memories showcasing his talent.
Both the Kamal Haasan Tamil version and Ajay Devgn Hindi version warrant viewings, with both actors bringing their unique quirks to the role of the overmatched father. Tabu absolutely shines in the Bollywood adaptation, and should be worth the price of admission alone. This fantastic tale told by Joseph demands that you find yourself a copy and watch it immediately.
George Miller’s return to the tale of his famed Road Warrior was an exciting smash hit, arguably outdoing its predecessors and establishing itself as the best action film in ages. Visually opulent and a powerful metaphor for women empowerment, Miller upped the stakes as only he can by letting the action on screen tell the story. After gestating in development H-E-double hockey sticks for ages, Miller released a film in which the titular character (played by Tom Hardy) was essentially a sidekick to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and yet the film was no worse off; rather, this story detail elevated the film to level arguably unseen in the legendary series.
The film may have been a car chase the entirety of its duration, but the quality exuding from its every pore makes it one of the best films of the year. Fury Road demands repeat viewings. “Witness meeeeeeee!”
1) Son of Saul
An absolutely haunting look at the life of a Hungarian man working as a Sonderkommando at an Auschwitz crematorium tries to bury the corpse of a body he finds and deems to be his son. The emotion is palpable on screen, and there was nary a dry eye in the theatre at the conclusion of the film, with its incredibly realistic portrayal highlighting just how much worse Nazi Germany was for the populations of Europe during the 1940’s than we perceive.
An equally beautiful and haunting score complements the expertly crafted tale about one of the most terrifying times in recorded human history.
A superb and under-the-radar thriller focused on the outdated and barbaric honour killings routine in rural India, Nh10 is a tense, visceral thriller that is rare in modern Bollywood. Anushka Sharma delivers the performance of her career to date.
Sly Stallone and Michael B. Jordan star in what is essentially a modern-day Rocky, with the old-school Philadelphia slugger deciding to take upon the task of teaching the sport to the son of his legendary foe.
A gripping tale of a young girl abducted from her family and forced to give birth to and raise a child in a single room for over half a decade. The film served as Brie Larson’s coming out party as one of the top actresses in the industry.
Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is beautifully adapted by Danny Boyle, while Michael Fassbender makes audiences forget that he bears no resemblance to the man he is portraying with the intensity of his performance masking any such concerns.