Brilliant OTT in a decade of low-key cinema

The best screen achievements of the decade came from unlikely places
Last Updated 27 December 2019, 13:14 IST

The ‘best’ in any year with regard to film does not imply noteworthy work any longer, even at the global level. There has been a decline in the quality of cinema and very few contemporary films, including those shown at international film festivals, deserve a place in film history, even if one searches the entire decade for them.

The reasons are not easy to find. One reason could be the political climate and the worldwide check on what may be said or shown, often in the name of ‘political correctness’. The following is a list of film and television productions that are good enough to rank with the best in the categories of Indian and Kannada cinema, Hollywood, world cinema, and India-specific and world OTT television.

Television is included since Netflix and Amazon Prime are offering shows of a quality that often exceeds cinema and one sees OTT going from strength to strength, since it bypasses public exhibition in theatres, a stumbling block for filmmakers. OTT offers young filmmakers an opportunity to be original and experimental, something that cinema rarely does.

Indian and Kannada cinema
Court, Thithi, Drishyam, PK, Andhadhun

The best Indian films of the decade are evidently Chaitanya Thamhane’s Marathi film ‘Court’ (2014) and Raam Reddy’s Kannada film ‘Thithi’ (2016). Both use non-actors or amateurs in key roles and bring authenticity to Indian cinema that is rare. Both work against Indian film convention, ‘Thithi’ by portraying a rural community not as peaceful but as highly corrupt and trying to get by any which way, while ‘Court’ deals with the judicial process not as high drama but as inefficient, callous and arbitrary. In the entertainment category, the Malayalam film ‘Drishyam’ (2015) with Mohanlal, may have been the most exciting. Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘PK’ (2014) was also exceptionally intelligent for Bollywood entertainment. Sriram Raghavan’s ‘Andhadhun’ (2018) also deserves mention as good entertainment.

Where are the greats?

Hollywood has been in decline in the past decade and there is a proliferation of superhero films or animation, both of which are indicative of a large section of the public moving towards infantilism. Even the former greats have not produced cinema of much significance — Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethan Coen, Woody Allen — or, at least work comparable with their best. The director I regard more highly is Todd Haynes, who is not well-known, although he made a masterpiece ‘Safe’ (1995), which few people may have seen or fully understood. His ‘Carol’ (2015), about the exercise of interpersonal power in lesbian relationships, though not as provocative as ‘Safe’, is nonetheless brilliantly made, featuring Cate Blanchett, in perhaps her best role.

World Cinema
Iran, Turkey, Austria and Romania

The international filmmakers who made a mark at key festivals in the last decade were the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, 2011), the Russian Andrei Zvyagintsev (Loveless, 2017), the Austrian Michael Haneke (Amour, 2012) and the Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep, 2014) and all the films mentioned above won top awards. But the fact is that all of them have made better films, which have not been so feted.
To win awards, international films often report on their own cultures as outsider critics. The best national cinema in the last decade may be Romanian cinema, which primarily addresses local issues in Romania. Radu Jude (Aferim! 2015) and Christian Mungiu (The Graduation, 2016) are probably the best directors working in Romania today. Jude’s Scarred Hearts (2016) about a terminally ill writer ranks among the greatest films about illness ever made.

OTT (India)
Sacred Games, Delhi Crime

There has been an explosion in OTT television in India; Anurag Kashyap and Vikramadhitya Motwane’s ‘Sacred Games’ (2018) has been impressive although a little over-the-top. Much more effective is Richie Mehta’s mini-series ‘Delhi Crime’ (2019), based on Nirbhaya’s rape and murder, although it is not about the crime but about its subsequent investigation by the police. It ventures into the farthest corners of the badlands of the cow belt but does not turn itself into ‘grime tourism’ as Anurag Kashyap would want to present, being content to give us ways of life among marginalised people outside the official working class.

OTT (International)
Narcos, Chernobyl, Twin Peaks

If ‘Breaking Bad’ once seemed difficult to better, newer serials like ‘Narcos’ (especially S3, 2017) in the last decade have outdone it with superlative storytelling and acting. The HBO miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ (2019) was another landmark. Still, television as high art is not what one might expect since it excels mainly as straightforward storytelling. But David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ (Season 3) aired on ABC — but not available on Indian TV — raises television to a higher level. Audiences may not catch on to what Lynch is doing but this is television as avant-garde cinema.

(The author is a well-known film critic)

(Published 27 December 2019, 13:14 IST)

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