David Ehrlich’s 25 Best Films of 2018

Video countdown of the 25 best films of 2018

I always look forward to Indiewire film critic David Ehrlich’s annual countdown of the best of world cinema. For me, it acts as a starter to the month-long celebrations leading up the New Year, which mainly involves best-of lists about almost everything.

I just completed skimming through Kottke’s 2018 gift guide (helped me for my Secret Santa activities this year including Redditgifts), the New York Times’ list of best films of 2018, and Goodreads’ list of best books.

I know there are many more to come, but for now, let’s get overwhelmed by this 13-minute video extravaganza. The film at #1 is a surprise for me, but then I have not always agreed with Ehrlich’s lists. For me, it’s about getting a rush of creativity by just watching it – the visuals, the music, the vivid shots all sewn together like a masterwork. I have tried to mimic this a few times in the past. (This one for The Review Monk in 2016.)

I’m glad to have caught at least couple of these films at MAMI 2018 (which I’m yet to summarize, by the way), especially Roma and Widows. I also watched Burning, Madeline’s Madeline, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. And that’s just only five.

Enough of me talking, now go and spend 13 minutes of your life watching this brilliant encapsulation of world cinema of this past year. And maybe wait for my own rendition of the best of Malayalam cinema. Maybe.

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Endorsing Redditgifts

Last day I came across Redditgifts, the annual gifts exchange program by ‘the front page of the internet’. And after signing up for its Secret Santa program, today I thought I will endorse it on my website. Because not many people know about it.

I dig the idea of gifting random people. Buying a gift and making a thoughtful effort for a person you don’t know sitting miles away, probably in a different country, living their own life sounds fascinating to me. And if you think about it for a minute it might feel fascinating to you too.

I think everyone should participate in it or anything similar; if not for the art of giving, just for the feels. I also recently called out people who do not participate in their workplace’s Secret Santa program. And my case for it has to do with our increasingly isolated lives.

Some days when I’m feeling low, if there’s one thing that keeps me in high spirits, it is waiting for something that I am expecting. It could be a book or some food I ordered or even a day when I’m meeting my friends. The act of waiting for something – something pleasant – is what I would like to endorse here. And Redditgifts feels like a driver of that act of waiting.

The minimum amount you have to spend is $20 – which is not much even if you are naturally forced to convert it to Indian rupees – and if you are lucky, you could get matched to international participants as well. Surely, it does not mean you will have to ship a gift back to another international participant. Redditgifts’s algorithm tries hard to match you to participants of your country.

Such gifts exchange programs can act as a driver of a sense of community in us. Publicizing your generous charity work may help you save on taxes and get likes on social media, but they won’t make you feel good. On the other hand, Redditgifts will. Here are some photos from past exchanges.

While Secret Santa is the only exchange currently available, there are a lot of other exchanges that happen throughout the year. For instance, for Indians and the Indian diaspora around the world, there was this Diwali 2018 exchange that happened in October. You can check out more of them at this link (if you do decide to sign up, use this link so that I get an extra credit) – http://www.redditgifts.com/?inv=E9qC. TN.

Signups for the Secret Santa program ends November 26. So, hurry!

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Why I Pursued Master of Arts After Bachelor of Engineering

Because I had always wanted to do something in the humanities.

The long answer is a combination of several interests I racked up over the years since I first signed up for Engineering. I don’t blame the education system, but it was personally a tough call for me to choose what I had wanted to do with my life career-wise at the age of 15. I was living in a bubble to take a wise decision that would capitalize on my inherent talents and interests. So, I did what the rest of the world did. Chose a path that was common and signed up for a four-year diploma course in Industrial Electronics.

This is a short summary listing the different reasons why I chose to pursue MA after doing my Bachelor’s in Engineering (BE).

I Have a Penchant for Writing

The initial years of my diploma were when I first started writing. Thanks to the internet, I was free to write and publish anything without anyone telling me not to. One thing led to another and by the end of the course, I was a seasoned writer. I wrote beautiful trash but at least I was good at publishing it.

It was a few years later that I realized that I had a thing for writing. It came naturally to me once I began blogging. The problem was that I was not reading anything, which made my writing read like a content mill product. No one reads (and still doesn’t) in my family and it would be a cliche if I said I magically caught up with reading since childhood like they show in the movies.

My writing – although looked good to me – was ridiculous from a universal readership’s point of view. I realized this when I got rejected by a couple online magazines where I had pitched for freelance writing gigs. One of the editors was too vocal about the reason why and so I knew.

After the diploma came BE and before the second year was over, I knew I wanted to explore something else. Something other than Engineering.

I Read

My aspiration to be a good writer led to me chasing books. While men (boys?) my age chase something else, which I did give a few tries and enjoyed, I focused on reading. I started reading newspapers, books, magazines – whatever I could get my hands on. I even remember the time I told a job interviewer how I tended to read everything – even the text on sleeves of shampoo containers while taking a bath. He took it seriously and asked me to read his face.

MA after Engineering

I chose literature books over engineering books. / © Nicole Honeywill

I first started reading when one of my maternal uncles handed me a semi-fictional thriller book, Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal. I so fondly remember its plot details, and above that, the joy of reading. But, more than the joy, what I took home that day when I completed reading that book was general information. The book gave me a little more idea about espionage, the CIA, how foreign government intelligence works, and who Charles de Gaulle was.

This little conveyance of specific information about specific things in the world from yellowed sheets of paper into my mind made me fall in love with reading. And today, I spend a good time reading every day. Which has directly impacted what I write and the way I do it.

I Want to Know the History of the World

I think it is Marco Polo’s travelogue, an online course titled “The Importance of India”, and my English professors who should collectively be blamed for my healthy interest for the general history of the world. Both reading and writing about random stuff also contributed to it, but I think that course – which I did not complete – was the main reason I began reading more about the history of humanity’s existence and associated activities.

One time I even asked a lady – a friend’s sister – out for coffee so that we could discuss the meaning of life. Maybe it was the way I framed the request but I don’t think I have had a longer conversation with her since then. Maybe you should not use WhatsApp to ask people out.

I want to know more about the origins of religion, money, and many other things. What is the meaning of life, how should I react to a particular incident in life, how do I deal with people I don’t agree with, how to ask women out, why and how is Trump president – everything that makes the world as it is right now. And I believe the only way to do it is to study literature.

Yuval Noah Harari’s account of the history of humankind, Sapiens, is an excellent prologue to the complicated answers to these questions, but I am more interested in the materials that he used to write that account. I would only get closer to them if I did something like this.

I Want to Be Better at My Job

People who know me know that I want to be a copywriter. And my current job also entails some kind of writing. There are several ways to be good at it, and last I checked I am doing all of them simultaneously. Signing up for an MA course was definitely on the list, and about two years ago, I told my mom.

 

And those are some of the biggest reasons why I pursued – or rather, pursuing (I’m in my second year right now) – Master of Arts in English Literature two years after I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering. I used those two years to think through the pros and cons of making the career switch and I am glad I made that decision.

(I took the liberty to leave out another big reason – I failed to land an Engineering job that would pay my bills – from this list because let’s try to look at the positive things, shall we?)

People are often stumped when I tell them about this switch, but I think I will send them this article from now onwards. I hope they won’t mind me using WhatsApp. TN.

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Last Day at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2018

The final day of the 20th MAMI festival was the best of the week-long pilgrimage for me. I managed to watch three films – taking the total counter to 13 (a personal record) – one of which was the much-anticipated closing film by Steve McQueen. I was camped up at Regal Cinema, Colaba all day where I found a friend in fellow cinephile Mahesh Bariya and ended the fest with a lavish dinner at the historic Leopold Cafe.

Here’s a rundown of the three films and some experiences of day 7 of the 2018 edition.


Day 7 at MAMI 2018

I was supposed to catch Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post at Regal in the morning but thanks to my sleep cycle, I missed it. So, I planned my train travel for the 2 PM show of Gaspar Noe’s Climax.

I had originally planned all my show at PVR Kurla because I had wanted to catch Ivan Ayr’s Soni – people were raving about it – but because they added a special screening of Climax and because I wanted to try my luck for the closing film, I headed to Colaba instead.

Not many people know this but if you don’t get to booking for a show online, you can still book it from the MAMI ticket counter. A screening at Regal can be booked from the counter of PVR at Juhu – and this is what I am going to do in 2019. As it is, you cannot totally depend on BookMyShow, and I don’t think I can ever forgive it for making me miss Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Shoplifters. 🙁

Three Back to Back Films at Regal

The first film on day 7 was Gaspar Noe’s upbeat and full-of-energy French dance thriller, Climax, in which dancers come together to rehearse at an old building only to find that their drinks have been spiked with LSD. It’s an overwhelming experience that might make you try the drug. But, don’t do it.

Tejas Nair at MAMI

That’s me right after the closing film. At Regal Cinema, Colaba.

Next up was Debra Grenik’s English-language drama Leave No Trace, which was too dull and uneventful for me. Mine seems to be the unpopular opinion, so I think I will just mention that I had some good food from a nearby restaurant before the screening. Which, in turn, made me a bit sleepy during the show. No complaints, though, because next up was the closing film.

It was sort of a mixed feeling to watch Steve McQueen’s Widows because it was the final show of the 2018 edition of MAMI. Although I watch at least one film per day outside of MAMI, it still gave me the feels. Widows is a great thriller and a cool watch if you like heist dramas. My review here.

I even managed to snap a photo in front of the MAMI standee so that I can show it to my grandchildren if that’s possible or if they are ever born.

No National Anthem at Regal

The best thing about watching a film in MAMI at Regal was that they don’t play the national anthem before the screening. You just sit back, relax, and enjoy the movie without any government-infused interruptions, and that makes me happier. I am going to be watching more films at Regal now at every edition of MAMI.

The same thing is followed by Bandra’s Le Reve where I caught The Gentle Indifference of the World on day 6. Without the national anthem. It just feels so good that you don’t have to put up with patriotism when you just want to enjoy cinema in its purest form. I salute MAMI and its partners for that.


MAMI 2018 Personal Statistics

Here are some numbers that describe my overall experience at MAMI this year, starting from day o:

  • 7 – days experienced
  • 13 – total films watched
  • 13 – film reviews written on IMDb
  • 11 – films watched with pre-booked seats
  • 1400 – approximate minutes of total cinema viewing time
  • 6 – venues visited
  • 90 – approximate minutes spent standing in queues
  • 3 – Q&A sessions attended
  • 4 – times depended on McDonald’s for food
  • 2 – films watched sitting on the first row from the screen
  • 2 – workdays missed

It was a hell of an experience this year. I got to catch both the opening and closing films, which in itself makes the 2018 edition the most successful for me. I had a great time and I hope to have a better one next year.

The dates for the 2019 edition are out: 17 to 24 October! And I am already applying for leaves at work. TN.

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Days 4, 5, and 6 at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2018

After having enjoyed three films on day 3, I came back to my normal on days 4 and 5. Because I was working, I could only catch one movie per day. This time one at PVR Kurla and the other at PVR Mulund. I can say I really missed the hustle bustle of PVR ICON and PVR ECX.

Day 4 was strictly for Leena Yadav’s Rajma Chawal while day 5 had me sitting to watch a weird and one of the most disappointing films for me at MAMI this year, Ali Abbasi’s Border. Day 6 was slightly better with Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Gentle Indifference of the World and Shinichiro Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead. A friend described the former as a cherry on the cake this year. It is a brilliant LOL film and is bound to make your jaw pain from all the laughing.

MAMI 2018 screening

The screen just before a movie starts at MAMI 2018.

I also observed a few more things these past three days. Here they are in more detail.

Day 4 at MAMI 2018

It was not surprising to see that the queues outside auditorium 8 at PVR Kurla was the opposite of what I saw in the Andheri theaters. Hardly a few dozens had turned up initially, and so, everyone in the standby line could get in.

As usual, I skipped the PVR cafeteria and grabbed some snacks from the Phoenix Market City food court before the show. Rajma Chawal was screened at 8.15 and so began my first true Bollywood experience at the fest this year.

To be honest, it is not as good as Parched (2016), Yadav’s debut feature produced by Ajay Devgn. This Hindi-language drama here has its moments with Rishi Kapoor and Amyra Dastur being the only saving grace, but overall it’s still a cliched story about the father-son relationship. My short review here. If you still want to catch it, it will be out on Netflix sometime in November.

An Issue with the National Anthem, You Say?

Going back home on day 3 was when I read the news about director Vishal Bhardwaj criticizing the Films Division of India (FDI) for producing an erroneous version of the Indian national anthem. He tweeted that the song goes off-tune sometime in the middle, which apparently hurts the ear (I get it) and the soul (I don’t). I stopped following that news thereafter so I don’t know if the ministry rectified it.

I don’t really pay much attention to the song in the first place, but I did so on day 5…

Day 5 at MAMI 2018

I think I was the only one paying extra close attention to the national anthem that day at PVR Mulund. Honestly, I couldn’t pick up the error. But those who have replied to Bhardwaj’s tweet seem to be able to. Maybe they rectified it.

But what is more disappointing is that I had to sustain Ali Abbasi’s Swedish drama Border that day for close to 100 minutes. Perhaps the only film I rated 3 stars out of 10 (spoilers!) this year, it almost put me to sleep. Although I get the theme and what director Abbasi wanted to convey, Border did not give me a pleasant experience. Which again is not a wrong thing because not all films can give you pleasure. Look what The Gentle Indifference of the World did to me…

Day 6 at MAMI 2018

I was at Le Reve, Bandra on day 6 of the fest. A plush theater with some great paintings on the walls. I think Yerzhanov’s Kazakhstani dull drama was equally beautiful but not my type. To describe it in one word: ridiculous. It felt like the makers did not know what to do with the narrative, so they hired a 4-year old to complete it. Maybe that’s what happened. My review on IMDb here.

The second film of day 6 was at PVR Mulund and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Director Ueda’s Japanese horror-comedy One Cut of the Dead is a brilliant zombie experience that only gets better as you move ahead in the narration. I was blown away.

A Lot of People Talking

At the last screening, for the first time, I asked someone to keep quiet. They were sitting right in front of me and discussing the film while it was being projected. I mean, what kind of a monster does one have to be to discuss a film while it’s playing? It was a group of three college students, I believe, who were just randomly commentating the film. As if they wanted to break down the film’s logic.

I truly believe that there should be a no-talking policy at MAMI. Anyone who is caught talking should be thrown out of the hall after one warning. Let them talk all they want outside the hall.

 

The total film counter is at ten right now. I hope to catch at least 3 more films on day 7, the final day, but I’m not sure about the closing film. If I can somehow manage to get a seat, I can confidently say that MAMI 2018 has been the best for me in all these years. TN.

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  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a freelance copywriter based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »