Friday, December 10, 2010

Favorites of 2010: Movies and television

The end of the year tends to put one—or at least me—in a reflective and retrospective mood. What follows is a list of my favorite movies and television from 2010; books, music, and art will be included in my next post.

Please note that these are not movies or TV shows that were necessarily created or released in 2010, but rather ones that I first encountered in 2010. As you'll see, almost all of these favorites date from years or decades earlier.

Bollywood 2010

Is it just me, or was this a pretty dismal year for Bollywood? I found myself following the examples of Memsaab, Beth, and Bollyviewer in turning primarily to Bollywood's Silver and Golden Ages for my viewing pleasure.

Favorite Bollywood movie: (tie)

Seeta aur Geeta (1972)

What a delightful movie! Hema Malini is adorable in a double role as twin sisters separated at birth. Seeta is raised to be a properly submissive daughter in a rich household, but her greedy relatives cruelly exploit her. The spirited Geeta is raised by a poor family and becomes a street performer with her partner Raka (Dharmendra). Of course the twins get switched, their respective families get big surprises, and many catchy R.D. Burman songs (and a few tight slaps) ensue before everything is sorted out. If for some reason you haven't yet seen this charmer (directed by Ramesh Sippy and written by Javed Akhtar, Satish Bhatnagar and Salim Khan) put it at the top of your list.

Sadhna (1958)

Yes, this classic from Yash Chopra's older brother B. R. is a tawaif-with-a-heart-of-gold story. But the great performance of Vyjayanthimala as the courtesan Champabai, the wonderful songs of N. Dutta (music) and Sahir Ludhianvi (lyrics), and the film's powerful indictment of the exploitation and oppression of women, make this a very special experience. As always, I'm lagging behind in my discovery: see Memsaab's post on Sadhna from two years ago, which is beautifully written and filled with screencaps of M.N. Malhotra's gorgeous black and white cinematography.

Favorite Bollywood soundtrack: Barsaat Ki Raat (1960)

This movie is full of wonderful music sung by the great Mohammad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. But what makes this one of the greatest soundtracks ever are a series of qawwali competitions where the performances just keep getting more brilliant with every exchange. Rohan (music) and our friend from Sadhna, Sahir Ludhianvi (lyrics), outdid themselves; this film has almost too much great music to take in. And if that's not enough, you get to see the songs picturized on Bharat Bushan, Madhubala, and the sparkling Shyama and Ratna.

Favorite non-Bollywood movie: Tokyo Story (1953)

An elderly couple (Chishu Riyu and Chieko Higashiyama) make a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the big city to see their children and grandchildren—only to discover that no one has any time for them. A radiant Setsuko Hara, the couple's daughter-in-law, is the only one who treats them with kindness; but we can see that her own life is cruelly constrained by her poverty and widowhood. Director/writer Yasujiro Ozu takes this simple story and creates a masterpiece of restraint in which details of the characters' lives and emotions are slowly unveiled. As rich an experience as reading a great novel.

Favorite English-language movie: Flushed Away (2006)

We're big fans of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit series, but somehow we missed this Aardman Animations feature when it came out. Maybe the comical adventures of rats in the London sewers didn't sound all that appealing at the time. Flushed Away turned out to be hilarious, with sight gags and movie references coming so fast that it's difficult to catch them all. And the characters are voiced by actors Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellan and Bill Nighy.

Favorite TV show (on DVD, of course): Middlemarch (1994)

George Eliot's Middlemarch is an 800-page novel, but this excellent BBC/Masterpiece Theater series—written by Andrew Davies of Pride and Prejudice fame—manages to include virtually every major incident in the book (and many of the character-revealing minor ones). A wonderful cast, and of course fabulous costumes and locations, make this another great BBC adaptation.

Runner-up: Glee, Season 1

I wrote about Glee recently; since that post we've continued watching the first season. The story lines are getting ever more absurd, the quality of the music is wildly uneven, and it feels like the last third of the season is just marking time until the big finale. It still manages to be utterly addictive, though.

Next time: Books, music, and art


  1. It's so hard to stay away from the golden age (or whatever the 70s are called), especially with gems like Seeta aur Geeta being SO rewatchable! Granted I don't get a chance to (legally) see most new releases, so I'm kind of ignorant on the topic, but...yeah, so MEH this year overall.

  2. Beth, I'm about 6 months behind on new releases myself. It could be that something that's out now (or that will be out soon) will make my favorites list in 2011.

    But as the Hollywoodization of Bollywood accelerates, I'm turning more and more to the movies of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Kites? Yikes.

  3. I am with Beth - why watch new films when you can watch and re-watch older films?! :D That said, I liked a few 2010 films that I did see - Do Dooni Char and Tere Bin Laden instantly spring to mind. But considering that I am not very clued in to new Hindi films and frequently lump anything from the last couple of years with this year's releases, that does not necessarily say anything for or against this year! Were there many good films last year?

  4. Bollyviewer, like you and Beth I'm a big re-watcher of old favorites. I can't comment intelligently on many 2010 Indian releases, but I'm pretty sure that I won't enjoy Badmaash Company or Gomaal 3 or No Problem or Dabaang. For what it's worth, Main aur Mrs. Khanna, Veer, Kites, Raavan, Prince, I Hate Luv Storys, Milenge Milenge, Lafangey Parindey, Aisha, Housefull, Action Replayy and Break Ke Baad all got critically panned (though I'm planning to see some of them nonetheless). With a bit more anticipation, I'm also waiting to see Raajneeti, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Tees Mar Khan and Band Baaja Baaraat.

    I did see My Name Is Khan, and thought that Shah Rukh and Kajol did excellent work in a well-intentioned but not fully successful film. And neither Preity nor Rani had a major release. So from my admittedly limited perspective, 2010 seemed like a pretty disappointing year for Bollywood.

  5. Aisha is literally the top of my Netflix queue and I will see Dabangg and Band Baaja Baaraat as soon as I can, but the rest of them...meh.

    That's a great summary of My Name Is Khan, by the way.

  6. Beth, I was going to express modest surprise that Aisha was out on DVD already, since it was only released in theaters in August.

    But then I realized that Action Replayy is out on DVD a mere five weeks after its initial theatrical release, which must set some sort of speed record. Anjaana Anjaani (released in theaters October 1) is also out on DVD now. It doesn't inspire one with confidence, does it?

  7. Aisha was so so. I saw I hate luv storys last night - yawn. I didn't like Raavan either.

    I second bollyviewer's recommendations - Do Dooni Char and Tere Bin Laden - both were very good.

    Oldies always rule esp Seeta aur Geeta! I too have been seeing a lot of oldies this year - 50s, 60s and 70s. Everytime I see a boring new movie i tend to seeing an oldie or revisit a fav old movie. Right now i am making a list of to buy oldies.

    I would love to see middlemarch - thanks for the reco

  8. Filmbuff, thanks for the comment! Yes, I'm not excited about any of the 2010 releases I've listed. But if current Bollywood doesn't satisfy, older BBC adaptations are usually a safe bet--I think you'll enjoy Middlemarch tremendously.