Thursday, January 15, 2015

My favourites in 2014 - books & movies

It's that time of the year again when all the 'best' lists of the past year are drawn up. And here's one of mine :)

The most memorable books and movies of 2014: The ones that I thought were really good and left me thinking days after I had read/ watched them.

calcutta chromosome amitava ghosh books fiction

Calcutta Chromosome 

The novel is set in India and traverses time from past to the future with considerable alacrity. British India, the 1990s and somewhere in the distant future are all part of plot. The central theme revolves around eternal life and starts with the discovery of Malaria by Sir Ronald Ross. It's partly rooted in science-fiction, partly religion but based on historical facts. Prima-facie, the story seems complicated but as you continue reading you realise how seamlessly Amitava Ghosh moves between lives and eras. I read the whole book at one go. It's 'un-putdownable'. Other links.

divergent veronica roth books fiction young adult

Even though I am many, many years older than the target audience for Young Adult fiction, I still like reading them. I particularly like Eon Colfer's Artemis Fowl series, Hunger Games (except the last book) and I recently started the Divergent series. The books by Veronica Roth have similarities with the Hunger Games but I personally felt that these went a notch further in telling a compelling story. 

Divergent is based on the premise that the world as we know does not exist any more. It has been divided into factions that stay within strictly regulated boundaries both geographically and socially to maintain peace and equilibrium. At 16 years, young girls and boys, no matter which faction they were born into and raised, are made to undergo a series of tests to gauge which faction they would belong to for the rest of their lives. The storyline is edgy, sometimes violent but the underlying theme of straining against rules and regulations and wanting to 'be yourself' are the same as other YA fiction. Other links.



frozen movie disney animation hollywood english
A year later, this movie is known more for its record breaking track 'Let it go'. But the movie is so much more than just the song. For once Walt Disney breaks its stereotype of Princesses being rescued by Princes Charming. But I am getting ahead of myself here. 

The story is of two sisters - Elsa and Anna. The older, Elsa, has the ability to create ice and snow. The ability is awesome when controlled which she never really learns to do. Elsa grows up into a serious and proper adult who becomes Queen way too soon. Therefore, turns out responsible and concerned with the affairs of the kingdom. She keeps her ability a secret from the time she accidentally puts Anna in danger when they were children. Their parents who were the only other people who knew of her uncontrollable magic are dead and Anna does not remember much. 

Elsa and Anna have an emotionally fraught argument which triggers off the magic and envelopes the kingdom in perpetual winter. Elsa flees to the mountains never intending to return. Anna realises that her sister must return and goes in search of her. They unite but again Elsa loses control and lashes out at Anna who returns home. On the way back Anna's hair starts turning white which is a sign that her heart is freezing after Elsa's attack. Only an act of 'true love' can reverse it. 

The story that continues where viewers can predict that one of the male leads will be Anna's true love. I mean, it's a Disney movie, duh!

Ah, but that's where the twist is. [Spolier Alert]: Elsa turns out to be Anna's true love. The spell is reversed and in true Disney tradition all's well that ends well. Other links.

American Hustle 

american hustle movie christian bale bradley cooper amy adams jennifer lawrence english hollywood
It released in India only in early 2014, probably to coincide with various awards that pushed it further into the limelight. 

The movie has a strong cast and is set in the 1970s or thereabouts. It revolves around con-man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), his business partner and mistress Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and an FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper). Robert De Niro has a cameo as a mobster. 

Christian Bale's character is particularly notable as it transforms him into an older, paunchy, toupée wearing con-man (so unlike the suave, cool Bruce Wayne in Batman... sigh!). Jennifer Lawrence is a boozy, erratic Rosalyn who oscillates between personalities as neurotic & possessive one moment and confident & manipulative in another. Again it's a complete opposite of confident Katniss in the Hunger Games. 

The plot is that of the FBI agent forcing the con-artists to trap corrupt politicians. Thrown into the mix are the mobsters. The story has a twist at the end which makes this film a brilliant watch.

American Hustle earned numerous nominations at the Academy Awards (Oscars), the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and many more. It won many of these nominations too. Surprisingly, it didn't win any Oscars though it was nominated in 10 categories. Other links.

Book thief

book thief movie
I haven't stopped raving about the book, though I read it many years ago. Movies based on books are always known to be less interesting than the books themselves. Nevertheless, I waited in anticipation for this movie. 

The movie is quite similar to the book except it is missing the continuous thread of Death narrating the story. It was one of the key aspects of the book but its role is limited in the movie. Probably, the makers felt it would have made the movie more morbid given the subject matter and therefore less commercial?

Based in Nazi Germany, the movie follows the life of a young girl, Liesel, who goes to live with foster parents when her family is scattered. The life she makes for herself in the new town, her relationship with her foster parents, the new friends she makes, learning to read and subsequently becoming a 'book thief' are the focus of the story. 

The story ends on a sad note for Liesel but we also get to know that she lives to a ripe old age, migrates to Australia and has a large family. Other links.


queen movie hindi bollywood
One of Bollywood's few entries in my list. A refreshingly light-hearted movie, it made the female lead the focus of the story without necessarily casting her into stereotypical female roles as seen in Bollywood films. 

The movie centers around Rani (meaning Queen in Hindi) played by Kangana Ranaut who belongs to a middle class family in Delhi. About to be married she is left at the altar by her fiancé. She decides to go on her honeymoon to Europe, alone, instead of moping around at home. 

Rani finds her way around the world, makes new friends, discovers her fun side and goes back home wiser and determined to follow her heart. All the while retaining her innate simplicity and naivete. Lighthearted and fun but infused with a large dose of reality (from an Indian context), the movie leaves you wishing there were more such films from Bollywood. Other links.


chef movie english hollywood
This wasn't an outstanding movie by awards' standards but I liked it for its happy-go-lucky storyline. It had a fairly straight forward plot but told the tale with so much optimism and joie de vivre that I couldn't help be happy when I left the theatre. 

The movie follows the life of a chef (obviously) who quits his restaurant job after a run ins with a well-known food critic as well as his boss. His ex-wife and a colleague at the restaurant, both encourage him to follow his dream, of running a food truck. 

How the chef starts the food truck business, how he repairs the strained relationship with his son and ex-wife and how he rediscovers his passion for cooking and serving people the most delicious food is the meat of the story (pun unintended). ;)

Jon Favreau is the chef, Carl Casper, Sofia Vergara is his ex-wife, Emjay Anthony plays the son, Oliver Platt is the food critic and Dustin Hoffman is the restaurant owner. Scarlett Johansson too has a cameo as the restaurant manager.

Chef stayed with me because it had been a long time since I had watched a funny, happy movie and one that ends well. Or maybe, I am just a sucker for happy endings. :)


interstellar movie english hollywood christopher nolan
One of the last movies that I watched in 2014. I have always been a Christopher Nolan fan and I had heard that if one liked 'Inception' then this would be an equally good watch. And I wasn't disappointed. 

Like 'Inception' the movie is based on sci-fiction [as we know at the moment ;)] where a group of people travel into space, through a wormhole, no less, to find new planets to inhabit as the earth is dying. Objective: to save the human race. (I am not entirely sure we deserve to be saved, but that's my opinion.)

Mathew M's daughter, Murphy (named after the law) keeps referring to a 'ghost' in her bedroom who is trying to communicate with her in code. The code finally leads them to a top-secret NASA facility.

Matthew M, Anne Hathway, Dave Gyasi and Dave Bentley along with two Artificial Intelligence beings (not sure if they can be really called robots) TARS and CASE, are the chosen ones to leave the earth in a NASA mission. Never to return.

The powers that be on earth had supposedly banned any further space exploration ventures as a waste of money - to appease the people. But secretly, they still funded it. Michael Caine is the head of the project who stays behind. He mentors Murphy  who becomes a NASA scientist and pursues Caine's work. Eventually, Mathew M and TARS sacrifice themselves into a black hole so Anne Hathway can continue with the mission. They land up in a space where time is a spatial dimension. They can glimpse into Murphy's bedroom at different points in time, all at the same time e.g. when she is reading, when she is sleeping, when she is doing her homework etc. Mathew M realises that he is the 'ghost' sending the message to his daughter. 

Mathew M also figures that they have been driven to travel into space, explore different planets by humans with very advanced knowledge who wanted to save the race. It's not the future as different times (i.e. past, present, future) all co-exist in parallel dimensions at the same time. 

Hopefully, that made sense. Better still, watch the movie. 

I am sure there are many more noteworthy ones that ought to be included in this list. Except, I did not get around to reading those books or watching the movies.  I hope I can make up for it in the next  year. After all, 2015 is another year!

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