Archive for the ‘List’ Category

As always just before the Oscars get underway, it’s time to recognize those movies that usually don’t get such love but fundamentally serve the purpose of entertaining. The big spectacle, the joy of watching things blow up on screen, the action set pieces – all make up for a heady cocktail to justify paying the price of a ticket and hopefully the entertainment. With that in mind, if there was one word to really describe 2016 movies – the word would really have to be middling

 

Disappointing would be too strong a word but it’s something approaching that when one takes a look at the list. Movies content to coast by, resting on the success of their predecessors thinking that itself might bring the crowds in. Narrative coherence was the other aspect of it as well. So much so that by the end of the year if a filmmaker could weave 20 mins of a coherent story, the movie stood up pretty well. It was also a year where mommy issues dominated the 2 biggest releases of the year – be it “Martha” or “He killed my mother”. Studio interference ruled the biggest franchises leading to muddled visions on screen and more criminally, betraying customer trust as movies on screen completely were different from what was shown in the trailers – a trend likely to continue in 2017 as well.

 

Without much ado, (there really isn’t much anyways), the best of 2017

 

Captain America: Civil War – Or how even the best cowboys have mommy issues

captain-america-civil-war

 

Billed as Avengers 2.5, this was in more ways than one a defining movie for Marvel. Adapted in spirit (if nothing else) from the comic book event of the same name, Marvel had to break the bank in more ways than one to get this off ground, Robert Downey’s contract as well as the wrangling with Sony to get Spiderman in. A packed movie based on the fundamental question on who provides oversight to the superheroes, the movie spent probably even less time on it than the comics while continuing the Winter Soldier storyline, while introducing Black Panther and Spiderman to this world as well, while staying true to the vision that it was a Captain America movie and not Avengers. A fairly heavy plate that was balanced in the true Marvel style employing humor, sarcasm, witty one-liners and a terrific mid movie airport sequence that gets all players a moment to shine. Chris Evans truly does shine in the role while a moody RDJ plays a different role compared to his usual self. Chadwick Bosemen proves to be a phenomenal fit as the Black Panther, all quiet menace, barely concealed anger and immense gravitas while Tom Holland as Spidey is quite charming, gawky and a motor mouth. While the Marvel formula is often derided for being well formulaetic, it’s difficult to be that critical when things work as well as they do here. The House of Ideas keeps marching on

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them or hey, you know what America needs right now,  a story on how illegal aliens cause a whole lot of trouble

fantastic-beasts

 

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. I really haven’t liked any of the Harry Potter movies – found their representation of screen very bad. I also don’t like Eddie Redmayne – except for his unhinged, campy, whispery villainous turn in Jupiter Ascending. So FBAWTFT had a whole lot going against it and it still worked. Redmayne’s slightly absent-minded quirky role turned out to be really charming and the novelty of America as the setting worked completely for it even as the special effects on this were truly outstanding. The expansion of the story to cover the Dumbeldore- Grindelwald conflict definitely makes this intriguing as is Redmayne’s connection with the Lestranges.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or how hindsight is always 20/20

rogue-one

 

For a movie plagued by reshooting troubles, this shaped up really well. In a way, we know what the end point of this movie was going to be. But the very effort of ensuring that it led right up to the opening moments of A New Hope was truly among the goosebumpy moments of the year. It also answers the baffling question on how a truly complicated and deadly weapon like the Death Star would have such a stupid weakness. A diverse cast, impressive location jumping and a fabulous turn by Ben Mendelsohn makes this war movie an engaging one. The Disney strategy of having anthologies along with the Star War sequels was a risky one and Rogue One especially risky given the lack of star names (due apologies to Felicity Jones) but given how successful this turned out to be and with a movie on Han Solo the next one, the force is strongly with them

 

Other notable movies:

  1. Batman v Superman: My thoughts here. Also hampered by the theatrical release. The uncut almost 3 hr movie was way better
  2. Deadpool: Truly R rated and outstanding. Hampered by the fact that Indian censors lacked a sense of humor
  3. Doctor Strange: Iron Man Redux with magic and an American accent spouting Cumberbatch with the RDJ quirks, attitudes and facial hair
  4. Central Intelligence – Fascinating pair of Kevin Hart & Dwayne Johnson – so well done and playing off each other quite well
  5. Star Trek Beyond – A solid entry post the overhyped Wrath of Khan reboot. But whoever came up with the idea of hiding the menace of Idris Elba behind layers of makeup needs an entry pass to Arkham

 

Year in Numbers:

100 books!!!!, yes finally hit the elusive 100 books on the last day of the year, spanning over 36K pages and an average rating of 3.8

80 authors for the year with 49 new authors amongst them

25% of books read, written by women (getting there, getting there, slowly and steadily)

7 books abandoned, 5 books pushed out. Overall success rate – 89%

 

In Detail:

2016 turned out to be quite the year for some really good books. With the absence of some of the heavy hitters turning out their stuff, it also turned to be a year where a lot of stuff which would have normally gotten hidden in the shadows, shone brightly. Personally, this was a year where I read a lot more science fiction than what I have done so far. I still cannot get myself to read the older SF stuff but to be fair, that’s an issue for most of my reads in other genres. I hardly made a dent in my significant backlog list (or Mount TBR) with over 80% of my reads for the year being 2016 publications. Even in those 20%, a good chunk was read since the sequels/ spinoffs/ sidequels (word of the year following seqoot from last year) were printed in 2016. Continuing with the theme from last year, my Goodreads shelves got incredibly organized with a 2016-tbr and a 2016-read shelf as well.(Something that is quite likely to shock people who know me).

 

As said before, 2016 turned out to be really good for books and my best-of-the year shelf just kept on stacking up right from the start of the year. Given that, it’s just an impossible task to reduce it to 10 books (the holy number) and it just made a whole lot of sense to showcase the 18 books that really stood out for various reasons. As with most lists, it’s highly subjective and personal, and beware as you proceed in deep. In no particular order, barring the 1st one

 

  1. Morning Star (Red Rising #3) – BOOK OF THE YEAR – Pierce Brown:

Read this if you love: fast-paced operatic tales of revenge, heartbreak, bitter-bitter-bitter-sweetness and class struggles

morning-star

(Review)

 

  1. Behind the Throne (The Indranan War #1) – KB Wagers:

Read this if you always wondered how an actual kid of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher RIP) and Han Solo would turn out to be (not that whiny petulant Kylo Ren); For a kickass female lead who shoots first, ask questions later, if you wanted elements of Indian mythology and culture to figure in space operas

behind-the-throne

(Review)

 

  1. City of Blades (The Divine Cities #2) – Robert Jackson Bennet:

Read this if you want a sense of magic, mystery and majesty in your stories, if you believe in a rich tapestry of broken dreams

city-of-blades

(Review)

 

  1. A Closed & Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) – Becky Chambers:

Read this if you want a rich, positive, hopeful, uplifting experience based on love, longing, loss, identity and redemption

a-closed-common-orbit

(Review)

 

  1. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) – Leigh Bardugo:

Read this if you want a gritty, bloody adventure, plotting and counter plotting and a collection of rogues

crooked-kingdom

(Review)

 

  1. Dragon Hunters (The Chronicles of the Exile #2) – Marc Turner:

Read this if you like the Malazan series, large set of characters, back-stabbings and betrayals and dysfunctional families

dragon-hunters

(Review)

 

  1. The Everything Box (Another Coop Heist #1) – Richard Kadrey:

Read this if you love fast-paced heists, Locke Lamora without the grittiness, and smart wordplay

the-everything-box

(Review)

 

  1. Fellside – MR Carey:

Read this for an exploration of unresolved guilt, redemption and if Arkham was populated by non-super-villains

fellside

(Review)

 

  1. Fool’s Gold (The Dragon Lords #1) – Jon Hollins:

Read this if you want to have a rollicking good time with a supremely crazy team, insanely humorous chapter titles and as the book says “Guardians of the Galaxy meets the Hobbit”

fools-gold

(Review)

 

  1. Hell Divers (Hell Divers Trilogy #1) – Nicholas Sansbury Smith:

Read this if you love post-apocalyptic tales of human survival, broken characters pushing for honor and duty, Snow Piercer and Reign of Fire

hell-divers

(Review)

 

  1. Hope & Red (Empire of Storms #1) – Jon Skovron:

Read this for a rousing tale of gritty revenge, and mismatched duos with reversal of gender tropes

hope-red

(Review)

 

  1. The Immortals (Olympus Bound #1) – Jordanna Max Brodsky:

Read this if you like American Gods, Greek & Roman mythology and the duality of Gods & Men with a bit of a classic whodunit

the-immortals

(Review)

 

  1. The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #3) – Brian Staveley:

Read this if you love to read about dysfunctional siblings jockeying for power and epic harsh and gritty endings

the-last-mortal-bond

(Review)

 

  1. Mechanical Failure (Epic Failure #1) – Joe Zieja:

Read this if you love the absurdities in Catch-22, military bureaucratic stupidity, selfish characters turned heroic selfish characters, homicidal robotic barbers and malfunctioning profanity communicators

mechanical-failure

(Review)

 

  1. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers #3) – Rachel Aaron:

Read this if you think democracy is a bad idea, love an abundance of scheming family members, and distrust dealing with the devil

no-good-dragon-goes-unpunished

(Review)

 

  1. Poison City (London Tau #1) – Paul Crilley:

Read this if you love South Africa, urban legends, world weary, broken yet driven detective and wise-cracking, snarky, sherry swilling dogs

poison-city

(Review)

 

  1. Saint’s Blood (Greatcoats #3) – Sebastian De Castell:

Read this for swashbuckling swordplay and a love for 3 musketeers, fascinating team dynamics and willingness to dive headlong into suicidal rescue acts

saints-blood

(Review)

 

  1. The Wheel of Osheim (The Red Queen’s War #3) – Mark Lawrence:

Almost the book of the year as well, Read this if you love complex characters who are unlike any character you have read so far, black humor, non-linear storytelling and insane reactions to escape from hell

the-wheel-of-osheim

(Review)

 

 

Other Honorable mentions (in no particular order)

  1. Stiletto (The Checquy Files #2) – Daniel O’Malley: Read if you are a fan of Deliberate plotting, Brit sense of humor, slightly icky creepy events (Review)
  2. This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) – Victoria Schwab: Read if you want to read Romeo & Juliet without the romance and with monsters (Review)
  3. Burned (Alex Verus #7) – Benedict Jacka: Read for London based time magic done right and for a thrilling on-the-run book (Review)
  4. Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) – Jay Kristoff: Read if you wish Hogwarts had a bunch of sociopathic teenagers training to be assassins (Review)
  5. Time Siege (Time Salvager #2) – Wesley Chu: Read for the consequences of breaking the rules of time travel and broken characters (Review)
  6. A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) – VE Schwab: Read for portal travel among multiple Londons and a kick-ass piratical female lead who breaks convention at every turn (Review)
  7. The Rise of Io – Wesley Chu: Read if you like voices in your head, plucky characters punching way above their weight and for tales based in the Indian sub-continent (Review)

 

 

Wow, that’s quite a delayed post innit. Almost half of 2016 gone and this post comes up now. Well, between travel, a couple of personal changes and time to settle in, and of course, the reading for 2016 and also laziness (never forget that), the last few months have pretty much been a blur, leaving hardly any time to write.

 

There is this phrase being used called Peak TV. Basically there is so much television to watch across so many channels (the medium), that its insanely impossible to catch up with all the great television being produced. In a way that is true for genre fiction as well. There are just so many, so many books out there, no matter how much you read, you can barely put a dent in your TBR (To-Be-Read) Mountain. My personal tally was 90 books for 2015, no mean tally (in all modesty :P) and yet, there are books left by the roadside that possibly I will get to someday. On a side note, my TBR shelf has gotten so unmanageable, that I have had to create a subfolder called Priority Backlist to prioritize within TBR itself. The other side effect of having so many releases to catch up per week has forced me to be organized for the first time in my life. I started creating yearly lists to read and also to capture what has been read (My 2016 TBR Shelf, 2016 Read Shelf). As I have mentioned in my posts in previous years (here and here), my reading habits have become extremely contemporary, with almost 90% of what I read being something that is released in the current year. Only in cases where a later book in a series I do want to catch up comes out, do I go back in time to read.

 

Physical books seem to be making a comeback according to quite a few reports. If that happens, that’s quite the reversal when the death of physical books was shouted from everywhere once ebooks starts gaining prominence and relevance. It may be a temporary fightback since the future is pretty much going to be digital. From my side, I barely read 3 physical books. Else, it has all been ebooks. As I never get tired of saying, the sheer convenience of able to read a book anywhere using a device that is with you the most (the phone) and the ability to seamlessly sync across devices, makes ebooks a winner.

 

2015 saw an amazing number of fantastic releases on paper and to a great extent, they lived up to it. What I have below is my curated, supremely subjective, extremely unscientific list of the best 2015 had to offer. While I do have the books in no particular order below, some books in this list will remain very close to my heart and for various reasons that I will detail below.

 

1. Red Rising/ Golden Son – Pierce Brown : Read this: If you love fast-paced operatic tales of revenge , class struggle and brutal twists

Golden Son

Easily, the best read of the year. My review description for the book read as follows, “If Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game and the Hunger Games had a ménage a trios (with a helping hand from The Count of Monte Cristo) and produced an offspring, that would be this book” and I see no reason to change the description. Both books are brutal. Fundamentally trying to engineer a revolution, the class struggle led by the hidden agent, the chief protagonist Darrow, is a brutal read. Pierce Brown crafts an absolutely fascinating world and an eternal timeless struggle. With an absolutely unputdownable pace, compelling storytelling and bloody brutal violent twists, The Red Rising series is well on its way to be rated as an absolutely brilliant modern great

 

 

2. The Liar’s Key (The Red Queen’s War #2) – Mark Lawrence – Read this: If you love complex characters who you love to hate but can’t. Also, for black humor-based one-liners

Liar's Key

 

Mark Lawrence has yet to write a bad book and it’s amazing how he manages to craft a compelling lead out of the dregs that humanity has to offer and humanizes then. Jorg was an easy character to hate and yet root for. But Jalan (the lead character here) is different. He is a coward, a womanizer, selfish, capricious, a lush and yet Lawrence adds layer on layer to him, making what on paper seems an uni-dimensional character, greater. That is not to say Jalan becomes a hero, fair from it but there is something underneath that is shaped by circumstances past and present. Humor is never far away but the undertone is always gallow.

 

 

3. Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool #2) – Robin Hobb – Read this: If you love reading highly emotional, beautiful writing and deeply flawed, human and complex characters

 

Fools Quest

This book is truly wonderfully special as it has THAT Fitz moment we have waited, 8 books and (since I read the Farseer trilogy in 2005) 10 years for. But with that moment comes the dread, as you know any moment of high for Fitz pretty much leads to a debilitating low and that’s pretty much what happens. Robin Hobb remains one of those authors who will use 10 words when 1 would suffice and that hardly matters. You could have her write down a shopping list and I would read it. Exquisitely beautiful.

 

 

4. Escape from Baghdad – Saad Hossain – Read this: If you love Catch-22 and Three Kings, and want a slightly more accessible, relatable book detailing a war from our times

 

Escape from Baghdad

The best stand-alone book of the year, Escape from Baghdad is a fantastic book that almost brings to the life the absurdity, the hidden political allegory and anger of the movie, 3 Kings and Brian K Vaughan’s The Pride of Baghdad. You don’t need to be a genre fiction fan to pick this up. The book combines black gallows humor with a dose of slapstick and buffoonery associated with the inept, bumbling characters and war profiteering and chicanery in the simmering cauldron of Baghdad. The city’s history and mythology serves as a fantastic supporting character in this fabulous madcap tale

 

 

5. Nice Dragons Finish Last/ One Good Dragon Deserves Another (Heartstrikers series) – Rachel Aaron – Read this: If you love dragons, fast paced stories and underdogs. Also, if you love dysfunctional families

 

Rachel Aaron crafts a fantastic and fascinating world where dragons exist and can take human form. In this world, she introduces Julius Heartstriker, the youngest of the clan, a lazy, cowardly dragon locked in human form by the Heartstriker matriarch as a punishment for being totally useless. What follows is a breathtaking journey of politics and betrayal amidst intricate world building. With a no-hold-barred plotting, selfish and mad matriarchs, madder seers, there is hardly a dull moment in this action packed, humorous tale

 

 

6. The Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2) – Brian Staveley – Read this: If you love dysfunctional families and old-fashioned epic fantasy

 

Providence of Fire

Who doesn’t love dysfunctional siblings trying to kill, for a throne, manipulated by outside interests? Staveley’s debut novel was pretty much old wine in a new bottle. What Staveley does right is to address the justified criticism of the 1st book where the female lead got the short shrift. Here, Adare gets an equal role to her brothers as she learns what it means to be a politician and a ruler. The overarching stakes are revealed even as the invisible puppet masters reveal themselves slowly.  Staveley has got an easy pace and style of writing. This is truly epic fantasy done right and in the new age style

 

 

7. The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher – Read this: If you love air battles, new magic systems, non-stop action and cats!!!

 

Aeronauts Windlass

Butcher writes for the fans in all of us and he doesn’t disappoint with his new series. Set in a steampunk setting in a world built on spires, the non-stop thrill a minute entertainer hits the ground running (bad pun given we have air ships here). He introduces a motley bunch, juggles the POVs well and even has time to indulge in cat dramatics. As always, packed with humor and thrills, this looks like another winner and a series to stay

 

 

8. The Autumn Republic (Powder Mage #3) – Brian McClellan – Read this: If you love Brandon Sanderson style of storytelling and bitter-sweet endings

 

Autumn Republic

An epic conclusion to the Powder Mage trilogy, the final book does not disappoint. The pace is as frenetic as ever but not at the expense of character development. The body count is high, the action is exhilarating and exhausting and the end is typically epic and satisfying. Gut wrenching and moving, even if you see the end coming from when the 1st book started. A tale that encompasses gods, mortals and privileged, the battle scenes are top notch and the politicking is clever.

 

 

9. The Prophecy Con/ The Paladin Caper (Rogues of the Republic series) – Patrick Weekes – Read this: If you love Ocean’s 11, Lies of Locke Lamora, large and non-homogenous cast, witty asides and sarcastic retorts

 

Clever, wonderful, cute and entertaining, this is one of those books that you pick up and read when you are alone. Because if you read it in a public space, you cannot stop laughing out loud and thereby earning quite a few concerned glances directed towards you. The cast is really juggled immensely well and everyone gets a chance to shine. The pacing is breathtaking (literally as well) and the series ends quite neatly as well

 

 

10. Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) – Sebastian de Castell – Read this: If you love 3 Musketeers, swashbuckling swordplay, first person narrative and humor

 

Knights Shadow

Knight’s Shadow forced me to think up a new genre – the grindark. There is just enough humor packed in the narrative to hide the darkness that permeates through the book. Continuing in vein of book 1, our intrepid band of Greatcoats try to fulfill their dead king’s wishes even as the country rebel against them and pretty much tries to go up in flames. The action sequences are details and fantastic. The swordplay sequences are quite intimate and in your face and fast. The character dynamics are supremely awesome and each character has such a unique voice. The betrayals are hard and deadly and make this an entirely compelling read

 

 

Almost in top 10 (in no particular order)

 

  1. Gemini Cell – Myke Cole :Read this: if you like military fantasy, unique magic systems and conspiracies

Gemini Cell

 

  1. The Rebirths of Tao (Tao #3) – Wesley Chu:Read this: if you are a desk-bound internet warrior who dreams of saving the world and if you like voices in your head

Rebirths of Tao

 

  1. Generation V/ Iron Night/ Tainted Blood/ Dark Ascension (Generation V) – ML Brennan:Read this: if you like non-Twilighty Vampires, The Godfather and dysfunctional families

 

  1. Dark Run – Mike Brooks :Read this: if you like Firefly, space operas and awesome fun team dynamics

Dark Run

 

  1. Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1) – Lila Bowen:Read this: if you like the wild, wild and weird westerns and kick-ass non-conformist female leads

Wake of Vultures

My Goodreads shelf for 2015

 

With 2015 coming to an end and 2016 starting off without a break, it’s time to take a look back. As inevitable as someone cracking the “See you next year” line on New Year’s Eve, what this pretty much entails is building a list, a list of anything that one can kind of think of and do justice to the whole bunch of movies put out this year. To a great extent, a list of the top movies is pretty much an exercise in subjectivity, bias and as far moved away from a scientific approach as possible which is pretty much how this particular list below has also been generated apart from incorporating a few basic parameters like fun had, re-watchability, quality etc

 

This blog has never been shy about its love for the spectacle, joy and entertainment that a blockbuster movie brings to the screen (well, hence the title for this post) and paying tribute to the best blockbuster movies of the year is usually more about wondering which movie to leave out. The expectations for 2015 blockbuster movie were quite high given how quite wonderful 2014 had turned out to be and the slate of movies 2015 had in schedule – sequels to prior awesome movies, reboots of previously successful and beloved (in some cases) franchises, original property from acclaimed directors amongst them. In a way, those expectations were met and exceeded. Box office numbers from these movies were the highest ever and new opening week records were set and reset through the course of the year. But that isn’t really the true judge of the quality of a movie and the list below indicates pretty much that.

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road spent quite some time in development hell and production dungeon before the sheer insane driving force and stubborn vision of George Miller brought it to life and is easily the movie of the year. The title pretty much conveys the mad and furious nature of what is essentially a chase movie but a chase done with so much style, unrelenting fierceness and with surprising amount of substance in its subtext, that it was viewed multiple time on the big screen. Make no mistake, this is edge of the seat, nerve wracking, pulse throbbing action packed visceral ride backed by some absolutely crazy stunt work and vehicular homicide set to a pretty kickass music score and creative imagery. Who can forget the Doof Warrior setting the tone for the chase playing a flaming guitar in a red onesie surrounded by gigantic heavy duty speaker systems? Lest it feels that the actors in the movie are just superfluous, banish the thought. Charlize Theron gets to play an awesomely strong lead character while Tom Hardy, relegated to a support character despite being the titular lead, conveys a fair amount of desperation and horror at the situation he finds himself in and how the world turned out to be

 

Crimson Peak Cover

Speaking of horror, Crimson Peak by Guillermo Del Toro is less a horror movie as advertised and more a creepy movie but built and designed through all the love GDT can lavish on, through arresting visuals and fantastic set design. This is a slow burn movie that in the first half does spend a fair amount of time focusing on the Tom Hiddlestone , an aura of charm, mystery and tragedy around him, who is front and center until the second half where Jessica Chastain comes into prominence. Mia Wasikowska brings in the right amount of vulnerability and naivety to the role. Deeply atmospheric, this is a moody film that takes its own sweet time and pace until rushes to the climax

 

The Man from UNCLE

 

The opposite of atmospheric is the delightful romp, The Man from UNCLE – a movie that is all style but not so much substance. With the typical Guy Ritchie touches and flourishes, the movie is a fun ride with the cast playing perfectly off each other. Henry Cavill as the charismatic American agent Solo, Arnie Hammer as the dour upright Ilya and the delightful Alicia Vikander playing the supposed damsel in distress display fantastic chemistry and antagonism even as they try to work together towards common goals which each pursues their own agenda as they try to work each other out

 

Inside Out

 

Movies often deal with managing the feeling towards an external party but it takes a Pixar special to help us understand how feelings work internally and why even the so-called negative feelings are important. A strong contender for the best animated movie Oscar, Inside Out visualizes and gives shape to each feeling, and how these feelings are responsible for the development of personality in a human being. Shaping it like an adventure, this movie for kids and not for kids truly a wonderful, subtle and innovative piece of movie making

 

Furious 7

 

Subtlety is not usually a feature associated with the Fast and Furious franchise and with the untimely death of Paul Walker, there were fears indeed on how badly that would play out. However, Furious 7 assuages those fears and gives Paul Walker a truly emotional and heartfelt send-off that is just perfect and in no way feels crass. The rest of the movie is suitably loud with over the top stunts and wafer thin plot keeping in line with the rest of the series. There is a sever sense of foreboding but James Wan takes it in a different direction than expected. Kurt Russell pops in as a secret government agent but really hams it up having a lot of fun while Jason Statham plays the bad guy proving to be quite a physical match to Vin Diesel

 

Spy

 

Physicality and combat skills are what we expect from Jason Statham but displaying a vein of comedy hitherto never seen before, his extended cameo almost steals the limelight from a perfectly cast Melissa McCarthy in Spy. An action comedy thriller from Paul Feig, with a storyline that zips through the kind of global locations a James Bond movie would use, McCarthy plays the relegated desk agent who gets into the field with refreshing candor and allows her to naturally evolve from her timid self to the profane, cursing, headstrong Melissa McCarthy that we are familiar with. For all the comedy in the movie, the action is perfectly balanced and often searing humorous dialogs are deadpanned, mostly by the indestructible Jason Statham. Jude Law has a ball as well playing the suave James Bond kind of agent

 

Kingsman_The_Secret_Service_poster

 

There is a moment in the delightful movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, where the stiff upper lipped Michael Caine superciliously tries to guess what Eggsy’s dog’s name JB stands for. He goes for the usual James Bond/ Jason Bourne only to be told that it stands for Jack Bauer, slyly indicating that this ain’t that kind of movie; A movie that hides its penchant for violence and spilling blood under a stylish veneer of genteel British manners, accent and gentlemen clothing. Who would have thought Colin Firth would make such a fantastic action hero or Samuel Jackson as a limp wimpy villain except for the super talented Matthew Vaughn. The movie is ridiculously fast paced and entertaining while being playful at the same time and boldly R-rated violent, one of the best comic book movies of the year

 

The Martian

 

One of the best books of last year was written to be made into a movie and with Ridley Scott behind the megaphone and with the pitch perfect casting of Matt Damon, The Martian turned out to be a fantastic movie. The key challenge in converting the book to the movie was in condensing the numerous monologues that Mark Watney, the stranded astronaut has with himself and that has been handled adroitly through video logs. Martian is a nifty piece of film making and more than anything is a feel good movie. The pace hardly every sags and Damon acts the sh*t out of it, never despondent and displaying the right amount of cockiness, resilience and spunk to make you root for him. The supporting cast is great as well even if they do have a fairly limited role in this Man vs Space contest

 

Star Wars TFA

 

Space: The Final frontier – that’s how Star Trek begins. But this is not about Star Trek but about the other not-so-small Star movie that was released a few days back (and also a reason why this post didn’t come out immediately after the blockbuster season). In what can only be politely described as a seqoot (sequel + reboot), JJ Abrams manages the expectation of possibly the biggest and the most rabid fanbase in delivering a Star Wars movie, that is indeed a Star Wars movie. Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings in the old and the new in a tried and tested formula that repeats the beats of A New Hope but offers just that enough amount of divergence to make it stand on its own. Right from the goosebumpy John Williams score on the opening scroll to the appearance of the Millennium Falcon to the climatic set piece, the movie is a blast. What Abrams does well enough is to provide just that right amount of twist to set up exciting possibilities that will allow future sequels to run in a different direction and he is helped in this by the new cast. Daisy Ridley, an unknown face pretty much becomes the face of this new set of movies while John Boyega carries off his role with aplomb.

 

These 8 movies were the best that the blockbuster season had to offer. While this season was commercially more successful than the previous one, last year had a larger number of movies that were pretty good. 2016 is likely to be interesting with a slate of superhero properties guaranteed to make a lot of money scheduled to be released. Batman vs Superman, Civil War, Rogue One are ones that could definitely come close to breaking some of the records set this year and one really does hope that these movies turn out to be good as well

 

PS: For those wondering about the Avengers sized omission to the blockbuster list, Age of Ultron was a movie struggling under the weight of having to do too many things – serve as a worthy successor to Avengers, Set up Infinity War, Set up Civil War, Set up Thor: Ragnarok while introducing new characters we could get behind. It definitely wasn’t a surprise that the movie while remaining good in parts never came together as a cohesive whole. The moments where the team come together, share quieter moments are the best parts of the movie and in true Whedon style, the bantering, the quips and the humor are tremendously engaging.

 

PPS: Jurassic World was the other significant omission from this list. Well, the movie was oddly disjointed except for when the dinos come up on screen. Chris Pratt is quite engaging but I am not sure if the rough and tough hard guy role really suits him

 

PPPS: Other movies that were good but not great – MI5 and Ant-Man. MI5 had quite its share of thrills and the movie really gave us an awesomely fascinating female lead who could go toe-to-toe with Tom Cruise in Rebecca Ferguson. Paul Rudd is great as Ant-Man with just the right balance between humor and action but given this is an origin movie, it pretty much goes through the checklist approach. To be fair, the climatic fight is actually good and inventive and features Thomas the Tank Engine as well

What a great year to be a reader of speculative fiction. Some long awaited books finally out, a few series getting over (and potentially be part of future best series), emergence of flintlock fantasy as a new sub-genre, promising debuts and a renewed focus on military fantasy (both medieval and modern).

Personally, this year marked a significant change in my reading habits. I started reading a fair amount of current year releases than previous years, motivated partly by the need to keep track of what’s happening in the space and driven partly by the completion of some of the older series. While the number of books I bought has remained more or less the same, I have almost stopped buying physical books (running out of shelf space is quite a reason) (Non-fiction and Indian authors being the only books I end up buying, purely owing to the well, the non-torrentability of the Indian authors and outrageous prices for the ebooks). The amount of books consumed as well went up this year primarily due to technology convergence and syncing. From starting a book on the tablet to continuing to read it on the laptop to finishing it on the phone, this helped me reduce the multiple book syndrome and concentrated attention to 2 and at max, 3 books at a time. Urban Fantasy, which I discovered last year courtesy Jim Butcher, formed a decent chunk of my reading. Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne (Dresden-lite, if you will) and Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka proving to be discoveries of the year. This is likely to continue with books from Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell being part of my immediate TBR (To Be Read) list. I closed the year with a good heaping of military fantasy, polishing off The Shadow Campaign by Django Wexler and The Red Knight by Miles Cameron in quick succession and would definitely like to retain the taste for military fantasy in 2014.

With the amount and the sheer variety of the books, ranking does become inherently challenging. While I diligently capture book ratings on Shelfari (I somehow love the site more than Goodreads) (I love viewing my shelf of Shelfari), the book ratings often are a function of more than just how the book shaped out to be. Apart from being a function of the characterization, world building, pacing of the book, and the language, the rating also is affected by extraneous factors like, the timeframe book was read (during stressful / non-stressful periods, during travel or quick peeks) and how it was read (both the medium as well as how interrupted the reading cycle was). Given the profession and the pressure, it definitely is not realistic to expect an uninterrupted peaceful reading atmosphere every time and that one must grab every possible opportunity to read (sometimes even at the cost of re-reading pages to get back into the flow of the book)

Having caveated (I am a consultant after all), below are the list of some of my favorite books of 2013 (in no particular order, except for the 1st, which is my book of the year)

1)      The Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire Series, Book 3):

Emperor of Thorns

Synopsis:

Mark Lawrence brings to a thrilling close his epic trilogy of a boy who would be king, a king who would desire an empire—and an empire on the edge of destruction…

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. 

His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power.

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match…

*************************************

A compelling tour-de-force. Mark Lawrence brings to conclusion his epic series in style. This remains one of those series that turns the fantasy trope on its head. Despite featuring a protagonist who knows of no other way to survive than be evil, you want Jorg Ancranth to win, to succeed and to rail against those who say no to him. It indeed has been a fascinating journey. Lawrence crafts the book with dark black humor and in this age of ever expanding series size, he brings the book to a conclusion, which is the conclusion we need and not necessarily the conclusion we deserve. Easily among the best books of the year.

2)      The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (The Lives of Tao, Book 1):

The Lives of Tao

Synopsis:

 When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

*************************************

Ever wondered if the voice that sounded in your head was never really you but an alien parasite residing in you, an alien species that has been part of this planet for billions of years, influencing human civilization, through acts big and small right through the ages. Lives of Tao is the result when the alien parasite enters the body of a stuck in a dead-end desk job, slacker who also suffers from low self-esteem and well, is supremely unfit as well. An utterly hilarious romp with enough action and training montages packed in, Lives of Tao is a fantastic read. While the sequel (The Deaths of Tao) didn’t really live up to the potential of the 1st book, it’s still worth a read. A delightful delicious romp with unique character voices and philosophical ruminations when you least expect it. A fabulous debut

3)      Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (Shadow Ops, Book 2):

Fortress Frontier

Synopsis:

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.

 Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.

 Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

 Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…

*************************************

Contemporary military fantasy is a difficult beast to get right once, let alone twice. After a rocking debut that was Control Point, Myke Cole betters it with Fortress Frontier. A more likeable, consistent character, an expansion to the existing world, building up of secondary characters, and the nuclear weapon of great books, a well-timed betrayal sets up this fast paced, intriguing book and leaves one salivating for the 3rd book (out in another few weeks)

4)      The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wacker:

The Golem & The Jinni

Synopsis:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

 Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

 Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

 Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

*************************************

Another fascinating debut. This book is as far removed away from fantasy fiction as it can get and yet retains all the fantasy elements necessary to bring about magic. A magic in writing, a magic in world building and a magic in characterization. This is a story about belonging and purpose. A love story and yet not a love story. Helene Wacker is a name to watch out for

5)      The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin, Book 3):

The Tyrant's Law

Synopsis:

The great war cannot be stopped.

 The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it.

 Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.

 Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee.

*************************************

A book that gets into this list by the sheer dint of having crafted one of the most compelling antagonists in recent times. There is this popular saying that the most dangerous villains are the ones who believe that they are doing the right things. Geder Pallaiko thinks that his actions are just since he is doing the right thing but in reality, his actions are the actions of a weak man, who does not realize that he is a puppet and when he takes unilateral action, its usually is a result of his own insecurities and fear. This unpredictability makes him extremely feared by his opponents who view him as a hard cruel man. Being the middle book in the series, it does tread water a bit which is amply made up through the rich characterization

6)      Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 1):

Promise of Blood

Synopsis:

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

 It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…

Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

 It’s up to a few…

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

 But when gods are involved…

Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

 In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?

*************************************

Another debut author featuring in the list, Promise of Blood places itself right after a coup has taken place and is a non-stop ride after that. With an unique magic system involving gunpowder, Promise of Blood packs in political intrigue and religious struggles amidst an action packed plot. While reading the book, I was constantly making comparisons to Brandon Sanderson’s works and realized that McClellan is one of Sanderson’s students. If imitation is the best form of flattery, McClellan has definitely chosen the right template and mentor and the end product could be written by Sanderson himself. No bigger praise than that

7)      Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (Bobby Dollar, Book 2):

Happy Hour in Hell

Synopsis:

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan- demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

 So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

 So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

                                 *************************************

Our favorite wise cracking, cynical and general wise-ass of an angel is back. Thematically though, the book sees a change moving from the urban crime investigation theme to more of an exploration of hell. Tad Williams takes the readers along with Bobby Dollar through the various levels of hell and it ain’t pretty. While the pacing of the book is on the slower side and the plot does not really progress much, this book clearly subscribes to the fact that the journey is as important as the destination and with its description of hell, you feel the torment and the tribulations that Bobby Dollar undergoes, for a forbidden love

8)      Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis (Milkweed Triptych, Book 3):

Necessary Evil

Synopsis:

 12 May 1940. Westminster, London, England:  the early days of World War II.

 Again.

 Raybould Marsh, one of “our” Britain’s best spies, has travelled to another Earth in a desperate attempt to save at least one timeline from the Cthulhu-like monsters who have been observing our species from space and have already destroyed Marsh’s timeline. In order to accomplish this, he must remove all traces of the supermen that were created by the Nazi war machine and caused the specters from outer space to notice our planet in the first place.

 His biggest challenge is the mad seer Gretel, one of the most powerful of the Nazi creations, who has sent a version of herself to this timeline to thwart Marsh.  Why would she stand in his way?  Because she has seen that in all the timelines she dies and she is determined to stop that from happening, even if it means destroying most of humanity in the process. And Marsh is the only man who can stop her

                                *************************************

Mixing magic with the real world is a recipe for extreme kitsch and laziness in plotting for most authors. Thankfully Ian Tregillis isn’t most authors. The concluding volume of the Milkweed Tiptych utilizes these elements perfectly and is a seamless continuation of the middle volume, with a significant chunk spent exploring the 1st book. With the aid of a plot device, that when used in most other books (and movies and TV series) usually gives me a headache, Tregillis uses it in a way that seems entirely plausible (in the context of the book). Oh and also a big thumbs up for introducing a character best described as a precognitive sociopath through this series

9)      Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (Raven’s Shadow, Book 1):

Blood Song

Synopsis:

 “The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm.”

 Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

 Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.

                                *************************************

If we cannot have Patrick Rothfuss, at least we have Anthony Ryan. High praise and comparison indeed. Rothfuss has demonstrated a style of writing and narration (albeit over two books) that is a pleasure and Anthony Ryan does the same in his debut book. While it’s difficult for any character to be even closely comparable to Rothfuss’ Kvothe, Ryan does a phenomenal job. The story has the easy pace, cadence and flow that you are lulled into a fascinating journey and without realizing, it’s 4AM on a working day

10)   The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett:

The Troupe

Synopsis:

 Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions.

 But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father’s troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change.

 Because there is a secret within Silenus’s show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it’s not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.

 And soon…he is as well.

                                *************************************

Heartachingly beautiful. No other ways to describe this story of longing, belonging, love and hope. It’s moody and dark but never without hope. There is truly something about books/ movies that deal with music, traveling musicians, circuses et al that if done right easily vaults up to the top of my reading list starting with McLean in Caravan to Vaccares to Rothfuss in Name of the Wind. The Troupe is no exception to that and looking forward to more books from RBJ. (This is also the only exception in this list. All the books in the list were released in 2013 except for the Troupe. The Troupe due to the simple fact I read it in 2013. My blog, my list, my rules (when convenient of course))

Honorable Mentions:

1)      The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

2)      The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

3)      Hunted by Kevin Hearne (even if the new POV introduced is kind of grating and inconsistent)

Ambivalent Reactions:

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch: This is a book that I guess everyone had massive expectations on. We all wanted to see our familiar rogues (Locke and Jean) take on the world and with the introduction of a character that the Gentlemen Bastards considered a legend in flesh, this book should have had it all. Instead Sabetha didn’t live up the hype and the romance between Locke and Sabetha lacked chemistry. However, Scott Lynch remedies the situation by introducing a completely new wrinkle to the story, almost transforming perceptions on how future books are likely to pan out and this is my cause of excitement for the rest of the series.

PS: As one can see, I have gone with Speculative Fiction over the traditional fantasy fiction. Speculative Fiction is an overall umbrella that encompasses fantasy fiction, horror, supernatural, superhero, science fiction, apocalyptic et al (in short, the genres I pretty much read)

PPS: Disappointing read of 2013 could very well be The Daylight War by Peter V Brett. As much as I liked the Painted Man, this one got steadily irritating especially wrt some characters and the cliffhanger at the end of the book did seem a cheat of a way to end the book. And sadly, despite the title, there was no war

It was the year of prequels & sequels, some more sequel than the other. It was the year of reboots, resurrections & rebirths, some unsuccessful, some more so. It was the year when the earth was saved & the earth was destroyed. It was the year when aliens visited (nay, invaded) the earth & earthlings visited other worlds. It was the year when directors returned to their roots (& made you wonder why). It was the year when vampires were created, awakened & destroyed. It was the year when super spies undertook shady activities & shady characters undertook super activities. It was the year when aging stars “tried” to rock their way through music & bash their way through action, while aged stars bashed their way successfully & got presidential. It was the year when a movie involving a stoned teddy bear proved to be more fun than a party involving stoned teenagers. It was the year where you traveled through time or did you?. It was the year when kids behaved like adults & adults behaved like kids

Finally, it was also the year where bad guys (again) committed the cardinal sin of kidnapping the wife & daughter of the man who trained Batman & Obi-Wan Kenobi, played Zeus & Aslan, and fights wolves with bare hands

Personally for me, it was a year where my watch list just kept on expanding, I went through a 2 month phase without watching any movies, caught a few movies that I probably should not have, missed a few I should not have among others, averaged a new movie a week in theatres while in the US (what relief is it to not pre-book movies on Wednesdays). I ended up watching movies that were pure fun, pure crap, interesting (sometimes all in the same movie as well). To come up with a best of the year is a particularly challenging task, especially given the year we had, all the movies missed & most of the movies in the list below were solid imdb 8s/9s for me. In light of all that, rather than calling them just best of the year, I would call them movies that had an impact (positive) on me, either in terms of fun, made me think & contemplate, made me give a major fist bump at the climax or generally made me laugh & wonder. In alphabetical order, the movies of the year

1)      21 Jump Street: Among the best comedies of the year, 21 Jump Street comprised of an unlikely pairing of Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum, cops owing to their youthful (baby-faced) looks, sent back to high school to uncover a drug operation & find the dealers & suppliers. A role reversal of sorts for the 2 as back in school, it’s now the nerds who are the cool things while jocks are looked down upon & how each takes their roles too seriously. A foul mouthed hilarious performance by Ice Cube, a delightful cameo by a star and terrific chemistry between Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill with not a single dull moment make this one of the genuinely chuckle-worthy movies of the year

21 Jump Street

2)      Headhunters: In this age where CGI effects & action set pieces pretty much rule the roost, it is refreshing to see a thriller that relies on a strong plot & a strong sense of dread & suspense to keep things moving. Headhunters, belonging to the Swedish crime thriller genre, has Roger Brown, a niche recruiter for companies, who has a lucrative side business as an art thief, who steals from the candidates he recommends to jobs until he crosses the wrong man, Clas Greve. What follows is a cat & mouse chase and a menacing turn from the enigmatic & charismatic Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Clas Greve.  Murders, betrayals & intrigue are served in heavy doses as the movie rushes towards its gripping climax

Headhunters

3)      Looper: Too often in science fiction movies involving the future & time travel, too much importance is given to the nature of time travel & technology placing them at the center of the movie. In Looper, time travel is merely an enabler to set up the story which involves Bruce Willis forced to travel back 30 years in time to face death at the hands of his younger self played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, a process called closing the loop, a process used by mob to kill people in the future. Bruce Willis however has other plans & has traveled back in time to prevent the future from happening. A thrilling ride ensues as both characters try to escape from the mob that is after them while their destiny leads them inevitably towards each other. A niftily directed movie, Looper is a clever movie anchored by great performances by Bruce Willis, JGL & Emily Blunt. While JGL’s make up to look like Bruce Willis is distracting initially, the mannerisms of Bruce Willis that JGL imitates, right up to the talk & the way they cock their head is quite something to watch

Looper

4)      Moonrise Kingdom: A pair of younger underage misfit minor lovers runaway together causing an upheaval in the 1960 New England town, Moonrise Kingdom is a delightfully charming & quirky tale of young love & the reactions they provoke across the board. Wes Anderson infuses his movie with a delightful color palette while treating his precocious lovers with gravitas. A seemingly light hearted romp is anything but that. Scratch the surface & Moonrise Kingdom is in fact a look at how certain kids are misunderstood owing to their non-conformance to societal standards, standards set by adults, who break societal rules per their convenience. Sterling performances by the lead pair of Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward & admirably supported by Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray & Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom is one hell of a charming movie

Moonrise Kingdom

5)      Safety Not Guaranteed: Exploring a newspaper ad about a man seeking partners for time travel, a reporter & a couple of interns land up to determine if the man is a fraud or not. Arising from this set of circumstances is this truly special movie which on one side is a look at the motivations of people wanting to time travel while on the other end is an exploration into the fact that going back to your roots, to the place you spent your most memorable parts of your life & attempting to rekindle it, is time travel of sorts. Aubrey Plaza, keeping in line with her past efforts, stars as a summer intern who quite does not fit in anywhere. Mark Duplass essays the challenging role of portraying a character who either might be the inventor of the time machine or the biggest fraud out there. This is a movie that keep us guessing right throughout. Delightfully snarky, charming, offbeat & optimistic, Safety Not Guaranteed makes you root for each character, be it Aubrey Plaza or Mark Duplass or the shifty slacking reporter or the shy Indian intern who takes up the reporting internship for diversity needed for grad school application

SNG

6)      The Avengers: Possibly the entertainer of the year, Joss Whedon achieved the impossible. He brought together a set of disparate characters in an entirely fun filled action packed romp that takes great care to keep things moving or blowing things up while at the same time ensuring some character development, bonding, storming takes place when characters butt heads (literally in some cases). While really stands out is how one thing leads to the other in the movie, while the movie is skin deep as best. This was probably the movie that we needed to see atleast one half of the heroes we want united on the big screen. Grand on scale, ideas, technology & geekiness, it’s a fun filled romp

Avengers Big

7)      The Cabin in the Woods: Horror movie of the year, this is in reality not a horror movie at all. Motivated by the disturbing trend in horror movies towards torture hack & slash porn, Whedon & Goddard create what is the cleverest & the sharpest movie of the year. Or as they call it, a loving hate letter to the horror genre. This is a movie that is not what it appears is very evident from the first frame. However, just when you think you have gotten what lies beneath the movie, comes another yank of the carpet. Ambitious in idea, scale & execution, The Cabin in the Woods is as wicked as its title is generic. Delightfully clever & cruelly cute, The Cabin the Woods stands out among the releases of 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

8)      The Dark Knight Rises: An ending to Nolan’s remarkable journey with Batman, the movie does suffer in comparison with its predecessors. Ultimately, what makes the movie stand out is the fact that it is the culmination of a journey. And in a way, it comes full circle. Whatever happens in the movie, the feeling that you get towards the end of the movie, is something that has to be experienced to be believed. Ambitious (even if it does not take it all the way), depressing (a statement of our times), this is a proper summer blockbuster movie

TDKR

9)      The Grey: For a movie whose trailers promised men being chased by wolves & Liam Neeson fighting them barehanded in the cold Alaskan environment, The Grey is misleading. It is a deeply introspective movie on survival, group dynamics, grief, isolation & terror. Liam Neeson delivers a subtly nuanced performance on a suicidal wolf hunter who realizes his survival instincts are stronger than his grief. Battling the conditions, hunted by a pack of killer wolves, The Grey stays in your mind for a long time with an ending that is deeply satisfying

The Grey

10)   Wreck-it Ralph: Possibly the best animated movie of the year, Wreck-it Ralph is a joy ride through the game of video games. However, the heart of the movie is an exploration of what it means to be a hero. Terrific action, animation, humor, voice acting & detailed game worlds, this is a movie filled with tons of inside jokes & especially for those folks who grew up playing games on the Nintendo consoles, tons of recognizable characters. An animated movie that focuses on character development & the plot over the gimmicks, Wreck-it Ralph is the movie of the year with the greatest heart.

Wreck-It-Ralph

Honorable mentions:

1)      Ted: A movie on a teddy bear that smokes, dopes & indulges in general debauchery, why wouldn’t this movie be fun. A weak & uneven third act prevents the movie from being a classic

2)      The Raid Redemption: Easily the action movie of the year. Features a one man (at times, two) army rampaging through a building as part of a police raid gone wrong. Fast-paced, brutal, violent & no-holds barred, it is fist thumping, head-breaking, knuckle-busting action at its best

Well, not all movies can be hunky dory & be good. With great expectation, there is also chance of great disappointment & 2012 featured some movies that would adorn the walls of all time clunkers effortlessly. Some of these movies had simply pathetic story telling (or no story at all), high expectations, misleading trailers, disinterested or just-going-through-the-motions actors looking for a paycheck or hamming it up big time (Yes, Nic Cage, I am looking at you) or a combination of all of the above.

The Facepalm movies of 2012

Baby Facepalm

Epic Facepalm

1)      Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

2)      Underworld: Awakening

3)      Resident Evil: Retribution

4)      Project X

5)      The Wrath of Titans

Dishonorable Mentions: Dark Shadows, Battleship

2012 movies missed out that could potentially have landed in the best movies list:

Paranorman, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Seven Psychopaths, Flight, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Chronicle & Hotel Transylvania

Next Post: The 2012 Beanbag Critic Awards

Now that 2010 has officially been declared close (by the Oscars), this blog decides to take a look at the top movies of the year. 2010 in retrospect was a year, where one could be forgiven for wanting to kill James Cameron for having unleashed the spectre of 3D on unsuspecting audiences, who were forced to shell out extra rupes, dollars & pounds on movies, hastily & randomly converted to rake in the moolah (Yes, I am looking at you, Alice in Blunderland & Crass of the Titans). Having vented that out & resigned to the fate of watching more movies in that infernal format, here is a look at the top 15 movies of the year. This list is derived from a multitude of parameters including mind bending awesomeness of the movie, entertainment factor, presentation, general cinematic experience, ability to make one think, perfectly leave-your-brain-at-home movies (the last 2 categories are MECE) & last but not the least, strong personal bias from my side (the tipping factor, if one must label it). Without much ado, here goes:

15. Fair Game: Based on the Valerie Plame-gate & with Noami Watts playing Valerie Plame, Fair Game is the story of a couple trying to get justice & their honor back, after a senior Bush Administration official (Dick Cheney’s chief of staff) blows Valerie Plame’s cover as a CIA agent to get back at her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), who countered the US government’s allegation on the proof of the Iraq invasion. Fantastically acted out, both Naomi Watts & Sean Penn do a phenomenal job portraying the couple whose lives are rocked by this incident. The impact of the leak & subsequent fight for truth put much a strain on their personal & professional lives. The screenplay is easy & expositions are helpful allowing one to understand the importance of Valerie’s & Wilson’s work. However, this leads to a slack in the screenplay & sometimes, not much really seems to be happening. Compelling & engrossing, Fair Game does pack a punch, not by angry words or by adopting a tone of righteousness but by presenting facts from the point of view of the Wilsons & also taking a hard cold look at the manner of functioning of the Bush administration. A movie that probably could have been more successful at the box office if it had been publicized well;

14. Conviction: A tale of justice, based on a true story, Conviction probably hooked me in due to the star cast, the very talented Sam Rockwell & Hilary Swank (really, no adjectives required), starring as siblings whose troubled childhood fosters a very close bond between them. When Sam Rockwell is unjustly accused of murder & sent to jail, Hilary Swank vows to fight on & enrolls in law school, to fight for her brother’s acquittal. A performance oriented drama, both Rockwell & Swank are extremely believable & unshakeable in their conviction (all pun intended) of Rockwell’s innocence. Swank as the lawyer who really does not give up, even if it takes a toll on her personal life & Rockwell, as the convict, who goes through a myriad of emotions in jail; simply steal every scene they appear in, without overpowering the frame. A slow pace notwithstanding, one of the very poignant movies of the year

14. The Town: First things first, Ben Affleck should not act. He could give really stiff competition to Keanu Reeves & a block of wood. But he really should continue directing. Town is about a gang of bank robbers, primarily though focusing on 2 members, Ben Affleck & Jeremy Renner. Town is about Ben Affleck developing feelings for a manager (Rebecca Hall) of a previous bank heist, while simultaneously planning the proverbial last bank heist. Into this simmering mix are additional complications arising from Rebecca Hall being the only person who can identify the, if she casts eyes on Jeremy Renner to Jeremy Renner’s increasing unsteadiness to FBI bringing in heat to the town to identify & stop the bank robbers. A slickly shot movie, there is a sense of doom that Affleck manages to capture throughout the movie. Taunting & drawing out certain moments, there is deftness in the handling of the movie. Jeremy Renner deserves credit for his portrayal of the unsteady psychopath-like bank robber. What differentiates this from other heist movies in recent times is the seriousness of the approach. There is no easy bonding, no light moments, no wise cracks. Just serious, hard gritty angles

13. Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio’s combination has to rank among the best director-actor combination over the last few years & is as yummy a combination as cheese on pizza. In Shutter Island, Scorsese & DiCaprio create a vivid, taut psychological thriller based on the premise of a US Marshall visiting Shutter Island, which houses a hospital for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of an inmate. Soon, into the movie, we realize things are not as they seem and there are layers & layers, not the least with Leonardo DiCaprio himself. DiCaprio excels in playing these conflicted characters & makes excellent use of his voice & eyes to get his point across. A moody background score, a desolate island, terrific cinematography does well to allay the almost predictable ending & not-so-well used supporting cast

12. Green Zone: A movie which if it has released 2-3 years back would have had a greater impact than when it did eventually release. Paul Greengrass & Matt Damon reunite after the Bourne series in this movie based on the hunt for WMDs in Iraq. Matt Damon stars as a weapons inspector, who after finding no signs of WMD, goes rogue, hunting for proof of the lie. Filled with fairly smarmy characters, Green Zone exposes some of the fabrications that took place behind the invasion of Iraq. However, the real star of the movie is an Iraqi christened Freddie by the Damon. His demeanor reflects what the Iraqis feel to an extent about the US invasion as well as the deals that were struck. While the ending is not much of a surprise, the movie is hard-hitting and takes a cold look at the manner in which the Bush administration manipulated the press to cover the war in its favor (atleast initially) as well as the role of the private military contractors & the fragile peace process negotiations. Matt Damon deserves special credit as it is impossible to envisage off any other star going through what Damon has done. He basically relegates himself to a supporting character, mainly reacting to events rather than controlling them. Paul Greengrass, again demonstrates the same hyper energy that filled the Bourne series to the proceedings here, shaky cameras and all.

11. The Ghost Writer: One of the most under-rated movies of the year & I, for one, was really surprised that such a phenomenal movie did not get its due anywhere. A Roman Polanski movie, Ghost Writer stars Pierce Brosnan as a retired British PM (very heavily modeled on Tony Blair), who hired Ewan McGregor to ghost write his memoirs. Brosnan, who now lives in US, is facing calls from home regarding his role in the US invasion of Iraq, & how he acted as a pawn of the US in authorizing the use of British troops. Also in question is his approval on the torture activities conducted. Further complicating the plot is the murder of the previous ghost writer. Stirring up this decidedly volatile cauldron is Olivia Williams as the former first lady (again heavily modeled on Cherie Blair), who believes that Pierce Brosnan is having an affair with his secretary & drives her own agenda with Ewan McGregor. A movies that unfolds at its own pace, narrative & plotting reign supreme. Bleak landscape, taut & terse dialogs, exemplary character acting from everyone, shadows at every corner, it is indeed a movie densely packed with intrigue & politicking. McGregor truly shines as he does in most roles where he has to be a bit submissive. Olivia Williams steals the show with her acerbic & cynical retorts. But the real scene stealer is Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan as an actor has never really appealed to me. He is more of a showman. But here he literally gets into the skin of the character. Haughty, arrogant, stubborn & proud, he perfectly captures each emotion & spares no one. Cinematography is quite brilliant. In keeping with the mood of the movie, the landscape is quite grey, bleak & somber. Ghost Writer would have been the movie of the year if not for a blotchy abrupt ending which spoils the movie & pushed its ranking down

10. Megamind: In one word, fun with a capital F. Based on the premise on what would a supervillian do once he defeats his arch nemesis, the all popular superhero, this is a fun romp. Megamind has done the inconceivable. He has defeated the superman-esque Metro Man & has conquered Metro City (pronounce similar to atrocity) & finds existence now pointless. Deciding that he needs a superhero to fight, he creates a superhero. But the superhero turns out to be a douche bag of the highest order & its upto Megamind to save the day. A hilarious romp, incorporating elements from Superman stories, easily one of the most entertaining movies of the year. Will Ferrell as Megamind is simply astounding in his voice control & delivery. Tina Fey rocks as the Lois Lane inspired Roxanne Ritchie. With no dull moment & a rocking script with enough tongue-in-cheek moments, Megamind combines snappy dialogs with amazingly goofy & slapstick moments to keep you rolling, long after the movie is done & a villain to side with.

9. The Fighter: Another movie based on a true story, The Fighter traces the story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer and the complicated relationship that he has with his drug addicted ex-boxer brother Dickey Edlund (Christian Bale), who also couples as his trainer, on his quest to score victories as a professional boxer. Bale delivers another fantastic performance as the shadow of the boxer he once was before getting into drugs. The entire weight loss, nervous jerky motions, quick darting eyes while at the same time caring for his brother’s career is another tour de force performance in an already chequered career. Mellisa Leo & Amy Adams add their weight to the growing relationships around Wahlberg. The fight scenes are fairly well shot for a boxing movie & you can actually feel the blood. If one has to point out a memorable scene that reminds us about the specialty of the movie, its when Bale tries to run away from the cops, a entire jerky flappy motion of the arms while running. The moment comes when he is caught by the cops, he straightens & delivers an upper-cut reminiscent of a boxer in his prime; in that one moment showing what he was & what he could have become, if he had not been drug addicted & had his brain addled.

Now that the (relatively) less controversial piece is done, here comes the more controversial listing. The Top 5 Hindi songs of last year. And here it goes

Top 5 Hindi songs

5. Ibn – E – Batuta (Ishqyiya): Composed by Vishal Bharadwaj, it is easily one of the catchiest songs of the year and was used quite extensively in the promos of the movie. Starting off with the blaring of horns and featuring Sukhwinder Singh & Mika, its an amazingly energetic song with fairly crazy lyrics. (Come on now, any song that starts off featuring the great traveler with a different name immediately catches attention). The duo of Sukhwinder & Mika simply have a blast singing this and Sukhwinder is brilliant when his voice goes does an octave while singing “Ud Ud aawe”

4. Pee Loon (Once Upon a time in Mumbai): Emraan Hashmi has this luck of having extremely croonable songs in his movie, no matter how otherwise the movie is and he continues that with this song. (In fact, one can say he specializes in making musical thrillers :D). Excellently rendered by Mohit Chouhan & composed by Pritam, its an extremely hummable song. With a background score of Sufi music & Chouhan’s distinctive voice, its worth listening a million times

3. Bahara (I Hate Luv Stories): Have I ever mentioned that I totally love Shreya Ghoshal. This song is no exception. In a way, this song reminds me of Iktara from Wake Up Sid, but that can totally be attributed to the folksy start to the song. Otherwise, while not a really very complicated song with layered music, its simple and therein lies its strength. Very pleasant song and delightfully sung, Bahara is a must-listen.

2. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey): One of the most under-rated albums of last year, for a movie that sank quite badly. While I profess not to have seen the movie (A combination of Deepika Padukone (whom I totally abhor) & Abhishek Bachchan (mild indifference) overwhelmed the fact that it was an Ashutosh Gowarikar movie), the music is simply awesome. Sohail Sen, take a bow. The title track is easily the pick of the lot. Featuring kids from Suresh Wadhkar’s music academy, its a stirring song. Starting off hauntingly with the theme of the teenager’s whistle, it descends into a music piece vaguely reminding one of Chale Chalo from Lagaan and then the chorus steps in and from then, the song simply becomes outstanding. In fact, starting from 1:10 into the song till 2:25, there are 5-6 pieces of distinctive music, each of which flows seamlessly into the other. Amazingly brilliant piece of work

2. Uff Teri Ada (Karthik Calling Karthik): An ultimate rocking song but with a difference. Quite a different start with a slow burn start with Shankar Mahadevan lending his heavy vocals to the song until the song descends into a full blown party song when Alyssa Mendonsa croons her ways. After that, there is nothing to stop your feet from tapping and your body from swaying to the music. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have never really gone wrong with their party songs and this is no different. Shankar M’s classical tone to the song quite stands out in what is an evidently techno track

1. Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji (Ishqiya): A soft lilting retro song, brought to life by astonishingly gifted Rahet Fateh Ali Khan, Dil To Bachcha Hai is indeed a delight to listen to and one never really gets tired. A hint of guitar, a playful dash on the harmonium, a touch of beat, all playing in a loop keep the song really simple but the beauty of the song lies in it simplicity. Rahet’s fairly unorthodox voice lends an etheral charm to the song and nowhere is it best expressed than when he goes “Dil sa koi kameena nahi”. Elevating the song is Gulzar’s playful lyrics but astonishingly powerful lyrics. An amazingly song, undisputedly the top song of the year

Notable mentions: Of course, how can any post on the best Hindi songs of 2010 not have the 2 of the most popular item songs of the year, Munni & Sheila. Munni is a throwback to the 80s-early 90s item song in a throwback to the 80s-90s movie Dabbang and totally rocked but Sheila, a modern item song totally rocked. Any song that actually got Katrina Kaif to emote and actually look like she was enjoying totally deserves respect over any other song

As I was compiling a list of top songs from 2010, inevitably it sequenced into a list of top AR Rahman songs of the year. It does help that no other composer comes close to the range and sheer variety of songs (across languages) that he produces in the year (It also helps that with ARR’s name behind an album, there is this built-in rating system that systematically rates his songs a notch higher than any other composer). Hence, this list is sequenced into Top ARR songs for the year and another post with top non-ARR songs for the year
Top 5 ARR songs for the year

5. Hello (Jhoota Hi Sahi): It’s a no-brainer that any song featuring Karthik & ARR would easily be among the top of any list that I make. Hello is one of the most quirkiest as well as the most unusual sounding song in the list. Karthik’s whispering voice (almost sounding back of the throat) lends an almost surreal tone to the song. However, this is mere seasoning to the song where the real flavor comes from the music itself. No one could use ring tones, dial tones, engaged tones and still make the song as enticing as ARR could do. The combination of Karthik’s eerie haunting voice and ARR’s synthetic telephonic music makes for an fundamentally awesome song

5. Beera (Raavan): An African styled chant and high energy beats, all echoing to Vijay Prakash’s awesome authoritative voice make for a heady folksy thumping song. In fact, like most ARR’s songs, its heavily layered, around 50 seconds into the song, there is a very soft stringed section which begin which segues into a klarionic burst around 1.18 mins into the song. Sheer brilliance

Note: I know I said top 5 but it’s such a difficult choice to make with ARR that I have decided to break my own rules and hell, if I can’t break my own rules.

4. Behne De (Raavan)/ Usure Pogudhe (Raavanan): This is really one of those songs in which one can notice a profound change in ARR from, lets say 10 years ago. The ARR of 10 years ago would have probably have started the voice in around 20-25 seconds but here he draws you with the music, makes you wait, almost to the point of tense-ness from where Karthik takes over. And what a brilliant take. Almost rhythmically flowing into the song with a voice expressing pain and anguish as well as wonder, Karthik is way beyond phenomenal.
Behne De:

Usure Pogudhe:

3. Call me Dil (Jhoota Hi Sahi): A soft melodious number, right up ARR’s alley. Soft lilting acoustic strings and Rashid Ali’s brilliant voice lend an ethereal charm to this song, and the lyrics are simply astounding and to an extent, pain filled. An exceptional song, easily one of the best of the year.

2. Naan Varuven (Raavanan)/ Jaare Udjaare (Raavan): Surprisingly left out of the album, my first introduction to the song was during the movie climax and needless to say it was love at first listen. ARR has simply become really the master of slow soft melodious numbers with his interplay of the piano and guitar strings. But where he really shines is he does not let the instruments intrude into the song and allows the singer (in this case ARR himself) to carry the song. Again, he gets the whole African flavor to creep in, especially when he goes “O Beera”. High marks for the lyrics especially in the Tam version, Loved those 3 lines of “Oru Pillai…. Athil Artham….Artham Puriyum…Vazhuvu Maaruthe”.
Tam Version:

Hindi Version:

1. Aaromale (Vinnaithandi Varuvaya): Wattay song, truly, wattay song. Truly one of the most different songs to have been composed by ARR. Almost reminiscent of a slow English rock song, this song is maverick-esque (if there be a word) in nature. Alphonse’s voice again is a non-traditional voice and seems to be a perfect fit for the song. The real beauty of the song is the mixing of the Western Rock as well as the Indian classical music. Malayalam lyrics with a violin accompaniment adds even more layers to what is already a mulit-layered song. A simply once-in-a-lifetime-out-of-the-world experience

1. Hosanna (Vinnaithandi Varuvaya): Another of the genre transcending music pieces by ARR. Starts off softly with a rap piece in between (in both English & Tamil) and again segues in a soft piece. Vijay Prakash again strikes gold for ARR along with Blaaze (on the rap) while special mention has to go to Suzanne for her mesmerizing humming lending an out-of-the-world experience to the song. The best part is just when you think the song is about to end (around 4:10), its picks up tempo and carries for another 90 seconds and the violin pieces really stand out. Truly astounding

Other notable ARR songs for 2010:
Raavan – Thok De Killi & Kata Kata
(Komaram) Puli (Telugu) – Amma Thale & Maaralante
Enthiran – Kadhal Anukkal, Arima Arima & Irumbiley oru Irudhayam

5 days into the new year, every Raj, Rahul and Raja* website seems to be capitalizing on my inertia to blog and have started coming up with their lists on movies to watch out for in 2010 (Not that they would not have done it anyways but nothing beats grandeurs of self-delusion). So heres my grand list of movies to watch out for 2010, in no particular order

1. Iron Man 2 – Who am I kidding? This has to be the first among equals among the movies for its trailer alone. A charismatic Robert Downey Jr reprising his role of Tony Stark aka Iron Man and virtually stealing the show in the opening 30 seconds of the trailer. Iron Man was easily one of the big fun movies of 2008 and if it wasn’t for a certain Dark Knight, it would have easily been the superhero movie of 2008. Expectations are certainly running high for this Jon Favreau-directed movie. With a rogue’s gallery comprising of Mickey Rourke as Whiplash and the Scarlett Johansson as the sexy spy the Black Widow aka Natasha Romanov and a supporting cast of Gweneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle (as War Machine), the movie is indeed star heavy. What however has added on to the buzz of the movie is the possible direction of the Marvel Universe and the Avengers movie as Iron Man featured a cameo by Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury and Hulk featured a cameo by none other than Downey himself, ensuring that stories are interlinked for the upcoming Thor, Captain America and the Avenger movie.

Iron Man 2

2. Shutter Island – Martin Scorsese + Leonardo Di Caprio = No-brainer. Past successful association of the 2 have given to us the awesomely heavyweight movies of Departed and Gangs of New York along with the Aviator. While Departed and Gangs of New York have been fundamentally ultra violent, Shutter Island promises to amp up the psychological thrill as it deals with the story of 2 US Marshals who investigate the disappearance of a patient from a psychiatric hospital called Shutter Island and are trapped in the hospital due to a hurricane and a hospital riot

3. The Losers – Based of the comic series by Andy Diggle, The Losers are a set of covert operatives, betrayed by their handler and left for dead. Eager for revenge, the Losers conduct covert operations against the CIA. The buzz behind the movie arises from the success of the original series which featured the trademark Diggle-sharp, wicked and terse dialogues combined with fantastic plotting and devious twists. Jeffery Dean Morgan, who has a cult following after his role in Watchmen and Supernatural is another reason.

4. The Book of Eli – Denzel Washington playing a total bad-ass. Check one. Post Apocalyptic world. Check two. Gary Oldman playing the baddie. Check three. The Book of Eli ticks all the right boxes as it has Denzel Washington guarding the Book of Eli which hold redemption for all mankind, thirty years after Apocalypse.

5. Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief – A direct adaption of Rick Riordan book of the same name, Percy Jackson for those who have read the series offers the same enjoyment that the early Harry Potter books generated. Hopes are riding high on this franchise as the last highly anticipated book to movie adaptation, the Golden Compass, was a damp squib. Great expectations lie on the shoulders of Chris Columbus (coincidentally the same person who directed the first Harry Potter movie). To add to the buzz, Uma Thurman and Pierce Brosnan are associated with this movie (albeit in minor roles)

6. Alice in Wonderland – Exciting times lie ahead as another Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration takes shape, as a direct sequel to the Alice in Wonderland book by Lewis Carroll. Depp as the Mad Hatter is an intriguing proposition as are Helene Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen (and boy o boy, she has an awesome way of describing her character “Cute but psycho”). The trailers are suitably colorful and it does seem that the movie is likely to be released in IMAX format. (Another excuse to fleece us)

7. Kick-Ass – Based on the comic series, created by superstar writer Mark Millar and superstar artist John Romita Jr, Kick-Ass tells the story of an average teenager, who inspired by the comic book he reads, takes up the mantle of a real life superhero vigilante, takes a new name -Kick-Ass, dons a costume (masks et al) and fights crime. The only hitch – he has no superpowers. Promising to be as ultra-violent and campy as the comic, Kick-Ass literally brought the house down when the trailer was screened at the San Diego Comic Con

8. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – The reimagined game designed based on the immortal Prince of Persia, it is easily one of the best games of the decade and marked a new paradigm for action-adventure games. Wildly successful, the game also had a good storyline behind it and that is now translated into the movie, starring Jake Gyllenhall and Ben Kingsley.

9. Inception – The movie that should have ideally been the Dark Knight Returns (or insert another Batman movie title here), this is Christopher Nolan’s first movie after the Dark Knight and is based on a script written by Nolan himself. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio, the movie is shrouded in secrecy with the only known gossip about the movie being that it is a sci-fi action thriller set within the architecture of the mind. Oh and btw, it also stars Ken Watanabe

10. The Last Airbender – One cannot say the full title as they might be sued by James Cameron, but this upcoming action adventure movie could well be the make or break for M. Night Shyamalam. Based on the original animated tv series (wildly successful too), the movie is part of a trilogy. A fear here shared by many fans is that it is Shyamalam, a cerebral director tacking an essentially summer masala movie (After all, no fan would forget the Hulk movie by Ang Lee err rather remember that movie). But the trailer kind of assuages that fear.

So these are the ten most anticipated movies. 2009 too had its list of hot movies most of which flopped (I am looking at you Terminator: Salvation, Dragon Ball Z and Public Enemies) but one hopes 2010 will be a better year.

* – Raj, Rahul and Raja happen to be the most common names if one goes according to filmdom of recent and not-so-recent times. Shahrukh has single handedly made Raj and Rahul famous, while our great superstar Rajnikanth made Raja popular until his films started to bear his characters name and hence Raja was stopped