Monday, April 28, 2008

2007 - A Brilliant Year in Movies

I am not a movie historian. I am a fan though. And I have come to the conclusion that the critics and film historians who have made claims about year 2007 being a brilliant year for movies, are absolutely correct.

In going through a collection of last years movies, you cannot help but agree with them. Its a selection of movies which has a lot of originality, includes some excellent adaptations from books and stage, has a few films which worked within existing formulae and managed to unearth something new. All in all, an excellent year for films, and I havent even seen all the good ones!

I would want to start this list with Michael Clayton, the Tony Gilroy directed, Sydney Pollack produced, George Clooney starred, the Lord Shiva blessed and Tom Wilkinson owned movie which twists the corporate espionage genre on its head. Not by the brilliance of its plot, which to be honest, is not ground-breakingly different from movies like The Insider and Erin Brockovich, but through its stunning script and brilliant performances. The movie captivates from the first scene, and Clooney, Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton's performances carry it through to the end. The beginning has to be one of the best sequences in recent times, with visuals showing the plush interiors of a giant American legal firm while you listen to a perhaps half-crazed ramblings of a corporate lawyer gone a bit loony (Tom Wilkinson). What follows is an investigation, not only into the crimes which the law firm is trying to cover up, but also into the morality of human nature. Clooney does a star turn, but with enough soul as the title character. But who can forget Tom Wilkinson as he resoundingly pronounces - "I am Shiva, the god of death". Not quite factual, from a Hinduism point of view, but a great quote anyway!
(Sadly, I read the news of the passing away of Sidney Pollack the day this post was finally ready for publishing. RIP)

Follow that one up with a trip to the Texas-Mexico border with one of the best psycho performances of recent times. The Coen Brothers have made many excellent films, and this is their ode to the westerns, with a touch of noir to it. I have been a fan from the time I saw "Miller's Crossing" in my school days, and later movies like "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother Where Art Thou?" just went on to build their reputation as movie-makers whose work always carries huge expectations. This time around, they got help from Cormac McCarthy's very cinematic book, and I personally felt that the Coen's just needed to put in visuals what Cormac had written. Nevertheless, great performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin makes this movie something of a classic.

And then there is "There will be blood", Paul Thomas Anderson's film based on Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil". Excellent period film, raw depiction of the beginnings of capitalism and at the same time that it shows the evils of capitalism, it also reveals the hypocrisy hidden under blind religious faith. Again, this movie owes as much to its lead performers as it does to the director. Daniel Day Lewis is perhaps one of the most iconic performers of his generation, and he finds a brilliant foil in Paul Dano, who plays the local priest. In fact, Dano is so good, he actually manages to steal a few of Daniel's scenes! His performance is one of the unheralded triumphs of the year.

Moving on to "Atonement", yet another book adaptation. This was perhaps one of the most affecting movies of the year, and also - come to think of it - one of the few of the top movies which was basically a love story. There are the tragic, star-struck lovers who are destined to be kept apart by the vile villain. But the twist is in the villain. Whats really affecting is the shattering consequences of a small misunderstanding which ultimately results in tragedy. Its again very strongly acted by Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and the 13 yr old Saoirse Ronan. Ian McEwan, who's book is the basis for this movie, is not one of my favourite authors. But this movie made me want to read the book.

2007 also saw Ben Affleck go behind the camera as the director of "Gone, Baby, Gone", yet another movie adapted from a book. This one is adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name. Ben Affleck has earlier shown his talent as a writer, collaborating with Matt Damon on "Good Will Hunting", but the years since that movie has probably caused most people to think that Matt was the brains behind that success! But Ben does a good job of proving his detractors wrong, creating a gritty account of the investigation after a child goes missing. The mother seems to be more interested in seeing herself on the TV news, the cops are not getting anywhere, so its Lehane's well known private eye pair of Kenzie and Gennaro who are called in by the missing child's aunt. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play the detectives, and Casey practically steals the movie from other players like Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. The acting genes in the Affleck family definitely found their way to the younger brother. But we will definitely wait for Ben's next directorial effort.

Continuing the list, we reach one of the best animated movies from recent years, "Ratatouille". The tale of a rat that loves to cook - and is darned good at it - and a restaurant garbage boy, who together form the greatest culinary partnership in Paris, makes a movie not just for the tiny tots, but for their parents too. Skillfully made by Brad Bird, who also directed 'The Incredibles", the animation is lively and the story is captivating and imaginative. There are no unneccessary mushy songs like other animated movies, to break the flow of the story. Not to mention the delicious looking dishes, which inevitably make you hungry!

And then there's 'Juno', the story of a pregnant teenager who makes the life-altering decision to keep the child rather than abort it. But the film does not focus on the decision itself, instead it focuses on Juno and her marvellously gutsy attitude of never feeling sorry for herself. Right from the starting scene which shows Juno downing a whole gallon of orange juice so that she can take another pregnancy test ASAP, makes you connect with her and root for her. She definitely does not treat this as the end of the world, instead deciding to grin and bear it matter-of-factly for the next 9 months, taking it one problem at a time, and then get on with her life. Ellen Page as Juno was excellent.

Thats the list of movies I managed to see. And though its half-way through 2008, I figured its not that late to put up this list anyway. Bloggers gotta work too! There are a few more which have been received very well by audiences and critics, but i am yet to catch them! A few of those would be I'm Not There, Before the devil knows you are dead, Zodiac, The diving bell and the butterfly and American Gangster. Will keep posting reviews as and when I catch these.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Oldboy is a Korean film released in 2004 which shot to fame when it was awarded the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

This movie just blew my mind. Indian film buffs may know this as the movie on which the Sajay Dutt - John Abraham starrer 'Zinda' was based. In fact, the makers of Zinda were later sued by the makers of 'Oldboy' for copyright infringement. Makes you wish the international film industries would take closer looks at many more of our movies - getting sued for stealing other people's ideas is a known incentive for originality!

But just forget about Zinda, even though it was a fairly competent remake (authorized or not). The original is in a class by itself. There is violence in this story, sometimes very much in its gory, physical form. But more often the violence is all in the mind - and that is perhaps more brutal. Oldboy is based on a Japanese manga of the same name. There is though nothing comic about this movie. This movie is part of The Vengeance Trilogy, three films made by the director Park Chan-wook, all of which center around the idea of revenge. I feel some of Quentin Tarantino's sequences from the Kill Bill movies may well have been inspired by this movie. Quentin is known to be a huge fan of 'Oldboy' and was actually the head of the Cannes Festival jury which awarded the Grand Prix to this movie in 2004, which is the second most prestigious award at the Cannes Fest. Quentin failed to persuade the jury to give it the Palme D'Or instead, which went that year to 'Fahrenheit 9/11'.
The movie begins with Oh Daesu (Choi Min-Sik) who has been picked up by the cops for being drunk as a skunk. He comes across as a bit of a mischief-maker and definitely cant hold his drink. His friend finally gets him out of police custody, but Oh Daesu vanishes from the face of the earth before he can get home to his wife and daughter. He is kidnapped and held in a prison of-sorts, where he is kept for 15 years, without even being told why he is being kept there or who is responsible for his incarceration. Oh Daesu spends the time wondering what he could have ever done so wrong as to deserve the punishment he seems to be getting. And also planning revenge on his tormentor. Then suddenly one day, he is free. All he needs to do now, is figure out who was responsible for his 15 year sentence, and why!

As I mentioned before, there is violence. Gritty, raw, savage violence which seems too uncomfortably real. There are twists in this story that are quite shocking and surprising. Its one of the most inventive thrillers i have ever seen, besides being one of those rare films which stay in your minds long after its over. Perhaps the original manga has all the twists in it already, or maybe the director and writers got together and brainstormed this brilliance out - i dont know. But the movie is definitely one of the most powerful depictions of the brutality that humans are capable of. The movie seems to really begin only after Daesu has been set free. He now has a single mission, to find out why and by who he had been imprisoned. But as the viewer gradually finds out, things are just not what they seem. The director forces you to reconsider your initial perceptions at various stages of the movie.

There are so many sequences in the movie which grab you by the throat. This film demands attention, and earns it. A sequence where Daesu single-handedly takes on about 30 of his erstwhile captors, may sound like the run-of-the-mill action thriller scene, where the super-invincible Rambo-like hero takes on much more than a normal person would be capable of. But here, this scene changes into something much more basic, primordial. Imagine a lone wolf surrounded by a gaggle of hyenas. The wolf may be hurt badly, but its fierceness may still give it an edge over the hyenas.

This is definitely a movie for the strong hearted. But its also a movie so original, and makes such a powerful statement about the beastliness of humanity, that it deserves a much larger audience. In addition, there are performances in this movie which blow the mind away.

There are few movies which deserve 5 stars, Oldboy definitely gets 4.5 stars from me. I take away the half star for the final clash between Oh Daesu and his tormentor which, only in hindsight, feels like a bit of a compromise.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Where have I been???

So February 2008 goes down as one long, weird month. Doesnt time just take its own sweet time going by? Its been a month of two parts - one small totally fun time when we went down to Hyderabad for my cousins wedding. One week of complete fun. Lotsa drinks, lotsa time with my son, watching him at his wonderful, funny, sometimes maddening, but always adorable antics. The rest of the month was just a long lonely time as my wife and son had to go to Mumbai due to an emergency with my ma-in-law.

Lets just talk about the fun week. This was my son's first long train journey, as we decided to cut costs by going to Hyd by train. It was fun to see him curious about everything. Its amazing that he doesnt feel the airport is anything special anymore, but the train station is full of wonder! And he is probably the biggest fan of the movie 'Taare Zameen Par' ! We saw the movie on the first day of its release, and usually he just goes to sleep by around the half-way mark. But this movie, with Ishaan playing an adorable but naughty kid seems to catch his fancy completely. My son has memorized practically every line from the first half of the movie - and is happy enough to repeat it for us at all times!! So in the train, when he was lying down with me on the berth, suddenly he turns to me and says - "Akela ghoom raha tha! Road pe! Look at your guts, daddy bhi nahi hai. Tujhe kuch ho jaata toh!" I couldnt stop laughing as he played out the entire scene between Ishaan and his brother Yohaan, repeating the dialogues where Ishaan begs his brother to write an absent note for him!! And he is not 3 yrs old yet! Its so funny and cute to see him try to say the dialogues and stumbling over some of the words.

Then at the wedding and the reception, he got so much space to run around that he kept everyone on their toes. One of my uncles volunteered to take him out for a little walkabout, probably seeing me and my wife frustrated with trying to keep up with our son. After a while, we looked out a window and saw my uncle running around in circles after him! Spreading the fun all around!

We Bengalis have funny marriages. I mean some of the rituals are a bit weird. Now dont go thinking Apocalypto, pulling out peoples hearts, animal sacrifice kind of weird. One of the weird rituals is that on the second night of the marriage, the groom and the bride should not even see each other from 6 in the evening till 6 AM next day. This is known as the Kaal Raatri (literally the next night).

So, my cousin - the groom - trying to get rid of his gloom, decided to come down to my hotel room for the night. My wife gave company to the bride, and of course my son stays wherever his mom is. Me and my cousin watched 'Michael Clayton" first, and then decided this is a good time to get drunk. And man, we got blown out of our minds drinking scotch all night! The two of us got through an entire litre of scotch that night. I couldnt stop laughing when, after 3-4 drinks, he says - "This Kaal Ratri is not so bad, dada"!!

All in all, a pretty cool time down in Hyderabad.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Taare Zameen Par

Aamir Khan's first directorial venture is a languidly paced story about a dyslexic child struggling to come to grips with the expectations at home and away. Its a film with a message, and as with all such films, there is the danger of the story losing itself in the search for the moral high ground.

But Aamir manages to steer away from the dangers by concentrating his camera on the beauty and the little pleasures of childhood. His focus is constantly on the child, Ishaan Awasthi, than on the child's saviour. He brings to life the little moments in Ishaan's life which appear incongruous when seen from adult eyes - his pleasure in the tiny fishes captured from the gutter and given a place of pride in his fishbowl, in playing with the flea-ridden mongrels waiting for him to return from school, his wonder at seeing a man climbing up a scaffolding to paint the sides of a building. Seen through Ishaan's eyes, these everyday moments appear magical. So what if capturing the little fishes means getting your hair and hands soaked with gutter water? So what if those street dogs tear apart the exam papers sent by the teachers to be viewed and signed by your parents? So what if you have to bunk out of school to see the man dare to climb up that magnificent scaffolding? So what if you have to beg your elder brother to write an absent letter so mom doesnt find out about your bunking classes? As Ishaan puts it, "Bindaas!"

And so what if your scores in every subject are in the low single digits? If the teachers at school, and parents at home, do not understand that Ishaan has a problem with reading and writing, why should the 8-yr old point it out as a problem - he would much rather just say he doesnt want to learn! That ensures his "Bindaas" reputation after all. But when Ishaan is packed off to boarding school by his father, furious with his non-performance at school and concerned about his future, Ishaan finds himself alone in a world where studying by rote is mistaken as academic excellence. His one passion, the one thing which he is truly brilliant at, painting is also suppressed under the pressure of catching up with his fellow students.

Aamir Khan's achievement is multi-fold - his visualization of the childs internal world is wonderfully vivid. Borrowing a page out of Calvin & Hobbes to show Ishaan working out a math question, and later showing his angst and anguish at being considered a 'duffer' - Aamir shows a brilliant aptitude for taking us into the child's mind. He avoids taking up a preaching tone at any time and his criticism of parental pressure is pointed, but discreet. And when you see Ishaan standing at the edge of a precipice, staring blank eyed into the depths, you want to reach out and pull him back, explain to him that its all going to be alright soon. Somehow, you feel that this must be how so many kids become suicidal.

There are many sequences in the movie which stay in the mind. Ishaan's wanderings through the streets of Mumbai; his first day at the boarding school, with the haunting "Meri Maa" song in the background; Aamir's visit to Ishaan's home to investigate why this little kid is so quiet and inward; and of course the uplifting finale with a painting competition which makes you feel like buying an easel and some paint and whip out a few canvasses of your own.

The music fits in very well with the film, and songs like "Jame Raho", "Meri Maa" and "Kholo Kholo Darwaaze" are quite hummable. The lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are some of the best in recent years - very cohesive with the story and emphasising the child's inner turmoil. And then there is the artwork - wonderful paintings, clay sculptures etc which add together to make this movie a visual treat too.

Overall, its a great debut from Aamir the director. Its a great continuation to Aamir the actor's career - saying that he is excellent in his role is almost redundant. You really have to dig deep to find the roles where Aamir has been less than excellent. And its also the debut of a wonderful new child actor, Darsheel Safary, as Ishaan he lives the role. He is brilliant. So is the movie, definitely one of the best of 2007.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The 'Values' of the ICC

The crux of the issue which caused the Indian team to take a stand and put the tour on hold has truly got swept under all the rhetoric which has been pouring out from every news channel and any two-bit columnist with half a keyboard.

Its not like this is the first time that India (or a sub-continent team) has faced awful umpiring. Its happened before and we have always taken it on the chin and gone on. How many times have Indian fans not groaned when the Indian captain remarks after another lost test match that 'these things happen in cricket', and maybe we should have done better inspite of poor decisions. But this is definitely the first time that the Indian team has taken such a strong stand against it. The key issue here is the fact that the Indian team has not asked for the second test to be annulled. They have asked that the umpires responsible for this embarassment of a result, should not be allowed to stand in the remaining matches.

The other main issue is that the Indian team believes there is no case against Harbhajan, and there should not have been any ban imposed on him consequently. Its clearly a scenario where a group of people feel hard done by, and are demanding justice. The fact that this group of people happens to be the Indian cricket team, the so-called most powerful cricket team in terms of financial clout, is immaterial. If this situation had happened with Zimbabwe playing against Kenya, the issue would still have been as important.

There are so many organisational faults with the ICC that its just a mystery how this body manages to keep a hold on world cricket. The very fact that even the CEO of this organisation, Malcolm Speed, is incapable of sifting through the mounds of crap and addressing the real issue, is astounding. The last thing this issue needed was for Speed to call a press conference and tell the world that the ICC will not allow a different set of rules for India. We have not asked for different rules, Mr Speed, we have asked that a different set of rules currently favouring Australia be not allowed. We have asked you for justice, Mr Speed. Does that sound like a familiar word?

I would really like to know what the responsibilities or objectives of the ICC are. Have they been written down somewhere? Do the employees of the International Cricket Council know what is involved in being a cog in the wheel that runs the global game?

In fact, they have been put up on their website. Hmm.. The ICC Mission! Values!

The ICC Mission
As the international governing body for cricket, the
International Cricket Council will lead by:

  • Promoting and protecting the game, and its unique spirit
  • Delivering outstanding, memorable events
  • Providing excellent service to Members and stakeholders
  • Optimising its commercial rights and properties for the benefit of its
How do you protect the game, Mr Speed? Why has there never been any protection to Asian teams against the boorish Aussies? Do I even need to give examples here? Why didnt the ICC step in during the tens of occasions of boorish behaviour from the Australian team - the one team that has consistently claimed to be a proponent of 'hard cricket'. But they could never take it themselves, could they? So when the Indians appeal strenuously for a catch which they believe was taken, Sehwag is suspended. But here we have two cases - Ponting's awful 'cheat of the worst kind' appeal, and the equally awful 'Fifth umpire' ruling of Clarke's catch. Where is the protection, Mr Speed? Who are you protecting, Malcolm? Sehwag and the Indian team has no integrity? Whereas Ponting does?

Excellent service to members?? Clearly, Mike Procter has a different idea about providing service to the member countries of the ICC. How can you, Malcolm, overlook the fact that Mike Procter doled out a three match ban without a shred of evidence, except for hearsay from the Aussies? How do you provide for the selective acceptance of evidence from the Aussies, without considering that there was one other voice in the room which claims that the racist remark was not made? The person who that voice belonged to, was one of two people who were withing hearing distance during the incident, but he must have been lying, right? He isnt an Aussie after all. Why is it that your countrymen are considered to have more integrity than two veterans of the game, both with flawless records of having played the game with dignity and integrity? Is the ICC racist, Mr Speed?

'Openness, honesty and integrity' - these are some of the values espoused by your organisation. There is 'Accountability and responsibility', 'Respect for our diversity' and finally - 'Fairness and equity'. Please point out some instances of any of these values being upheld during and after the Sydney test, Mr Speed.

And with your comments equally distorting the real issues involved here, maybe its time to drop the hypocrisy and note down the real 'Values' you uphold, Mr Speed.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Just not cricket...

The horrendous decision making by the umpires in the second test is completely ridiculous. At the time of writing this, Sunil Gavaskar is coming close to letting his rage become dangerously visible while commenting on India's continuing attempt to save the match. The problem is that the Indian team is not up against a team of 11 Aussies, but also against one West Indian, one Englishman and one South African. And you could probably add a bunch of others in the ICC to that list.

No other test match comes to mind when the poor (and i really mean pathetically, abysmally, match-fixer-allegationally poor) decision making by the umpires has contributed so much to the possible result of the test match.

Andrew Symonds, that proud protector of his race's pride and dignity, that hard-done-by accuser of racial insults being hurled his way by Harbhajjan Singh who himself had gone through a couple of hours of sledging being hurled his way constantly by 5 or 6 aussie players - that Symonds, maybe an Aussie symbol of sportsmanship, stayed his ground with a wonderful display of opportunism while the myopic Steve Bucknor spent about fifteen minutes in deciding that a clear caught-behind was actually not out. Then when the bowler, young Ishant Sharma, stood pulling his hair out in large chunks, that same deaf and dumb umpire thought it to be an act of great dissent, worthy of a reference in his report. Then later, even the third umpire got into the fun and decided to rule a clear stumping as not out. Symonds went on to score a large hundred and 'rescued' Australia from a bad situation.

Follow that up with the awful decisions against the Indian players, which has been written enought about in the media. The latest ones were Dravid being given out caught behind when he didnt touch the ball, and Ganguly being given caught in the slips by Mark Benson, who seems to believe that Ricky Ponting is the third umpire. He didnt feel the need to check whether the catch was clearly taken through the third umpire, relying on Ponting's immensely unbiased opinion. To add salt, haldi and Everest ka Tikhalal mirchi to the wounds, Ganguly's questions to the buffoon getting his paycheck under the heading 'Umpire' will probably be seen as dissent as well.

Adding to the awful umpiring, has been the opportunistic appealing and ugly unsporting behaviour shown by the Australian team. Lead by the one captain in international cricket who has no claims to playing anything called the 'gentleman's game', the Aussies have shown that a talented team can still be so ugly on the field that they earn nothing but disrespect.

I think its pretty unlikely, but in case any Australian fans pass through this blog someday, THE AUSTRALIAN CRICKET TEAM IS FULL OF CHEATS!!! And the biggest is Ricky Ponting, who is also a liar. Gleeful about the awful umpiring which has consistently been biased against the Indian team, he has lead his team to appeal on anything and everything, whether it be an authentic chance or not. They have obviously gone with the plan of piling pressure on the chumpires and push them further towards making their dreadful decisions. Every time the ball hits the pads, they all go up in appeal. Every time the ball goes past the bat, they go up in appeal.

And they do this in the safe knowledge, that this team of ugly over-achievers have always been sheltered by the incompetent idiots who head the 'ICC'. The kings of on-field sledging have never faced any inquiries against them (except the pathetic time when Warne had the balls to go on air and apologize for having fixed a match, and was let go relatively easily), but their opponents have consistently been brought to book for various acts including dissent whenever they let out a groan of despair when their hard-work comes to nothing. I may not have all the stats, but I cannot remember the last time when any Australian players were brought to book for their aggression on the field.

At the time of writing this post, there are 11 more overs to go for India to avoid defeat. Dhoni and Kumble are standing tall at the crease and trying to hold the fort. But it is so much more difficult knowing that you dont really have to make a mistake to be given out. It may just depend on the awful umpires imaginations fuelled further by the fact that Ricky 'The Cheat' Ponting and his boys seem pretty confident about having got their man.

:( Damn! Damnnn! DAMN!!!!

I hope this serves as a lesson to the bloody dimwits in the BCCI and wakes them up to taking some action against each and every umpire involved in this game. If either of Steve Bucknor or Mark Benson are ever seen officiating another cricket match, it will be a shame for everyone involved in this damn game!!! My condolences to Anil Kumble and his boys.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Year That Was... in Books

So 2007 has come and gone. This is my attempt to summarize the year that was and what the flow of time brought to me.

My reading year was filled with a need to re-read and a desire to accumulate. I have found that the need to collect - books, comics - has driven me this year. My work schedule has not allowed me more reading time than maybe an hour a day. After work is the time I get to spend with my wonderful wife and the little bundle of energy we have created together. But I collect - and in the process have accumulated a pretty large number of books and comics, both the bound-and-published format and the slightly guilty pleasure of the downloaded, pirated version.

Some of the best read's for me this year -

1) Watchmen by Alan Moore - Read this graphic novel for the first time this year when I picked it up from the Glendale Library. Read it again later in the year still filled with disbelief at Moore's writing ability, his vision of looking past the hype and hoopla of super-heroes and his ability to grab and expose the humanity under it. In all its grime covered glory. The series has been criticized for its art work, which is very much like a regular superhero comic. But Dave Gibbons's artwork is ultra-innovative and works in Moore's layer-upon-layer storyline spectacularly. See the image here for one small example, then imagine a similarly startling image every few pages.

Anyone who hasnt read this book yet should do so before the movie comes around and spoils it for all of us.

2) Sandman Volumes 1 to 5 by Neil Gaiman - Perhaps the one comics writer who can challenge Alan Moore for the brilliance of his work. And even if Moore pips him to the post as the best writer for comics, Neil Gaiman would still qualify for me as the most literary writer in comics. His seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of myth and mythology shows in the brilliant storylines of the Sandman series. There are 10 volumes in the full series, plus a few tangential works. I have only read the first five, but these comics go way beyond entertainment. These are works of art, as well as awe-inspiring drama. The characterisation of The Endless is brilliant, and the stories are the results of fever dreams.

3) V For Vendetta and From Hell both by Alan Moore again - Two more brilliant works from Moore. VforV is a futuristic story about a Britain ruled by a Fascist group and an anarchic hero who stands up against it. The famous London fog seems to have filtered into the very heart of the people in this story, as the government clamps down its laws of morality and all kinds of arts are banned. The hero, identified only as 'V' and seen in a Guy Fawkes mask, believes that anarchy is a better option than living in such a society. If you have seen the movie, its like missing the fire for the smoke.

The same applies to From Hell, a 550+ page graphic novel presenting Moore's own hypothesis about the identity of Jack the Ripper. This novel is complex, sometimes vulgar and always hard to read. But its a tour de force in the reconstruction of the strange times which allowed a murderer of the monstrosity of Jack the Ripper. From Hell is how he addressed the letters he sent to the newspapers and police. Moore has studied every conspiracy theory on the Ripper's identity and built a history of that torrid time. The bleak black and white art work can sometimes engender a feeling of nausea and claustrophobia as it draws you uncomfortably close to the monster's mind. The movie cuts out such large parts of the story that it does not deserve to call itself an adaptation of the comic. I have actually lost some of the respect I had for Tim Burton as a filmmaker after I realised what he has done to the comic.

4) Blankets by Craig Thompson - What can I say, the best books I read this year were all graphic novels! I think this one has been listed as the longest graphic novel yet. Its a simple story - a love story between two less-than-cool teenagers with somewhat dysfunctional families - but told in simple art work (also by Thompson) which elevates the story to the level of a fairy tale. Its heart-warmingly real love story apart, it is also a coming of age tale. So, thats a two line summary, how do you spread it across 600 pages? By filling it with love for each of your characters, and giving them room to grow - just grow.

5) My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk - Constantly changing narrators, intrigue in the world of Turkish miniaturists, a dead man talking from the grave, a world of repressed and sometimes extinguished desires, a culture steeped in its own history and its legendary artists, a time when originality in art is blasphemy, and also a betrayal of all those who are unoriginal - yet a world filled with beauty, desire, and the lust for power. Orhan Pamuk works all these threads in his off-beat murder mystery which only serves as an excuse for a discourse on the art of painting. Captivating stuff.

6) Lisey's Story by Stephen King - King has for a long time been one of my favourite writers. Although sometimes he can be blamed for writing sub-standard stuff, many of his books are brilliantly entertaining and gripping. Books like It (which i am re-reading currently), The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne, The Shining, The Green Mile etc transcend beyond just horror stories to a genre all his own - a truly satisfying story, well told. Lisey's Story is probably his first book which tries to be literary too, besides being a rip-roaringly good yarn. And he succeeds. Lisey is a well rounded character and her story definitely is a very satisfying one.

As a bynote on King here, 'It' has always been the one book by King which has had its spell on me since I first read it - close to 15 years ago. Though I never read it again since then, the story of a town haunted by a being which is more than just a ghost, something similar to a Cthulhu-like evil, stayed with me for a long time. But King has never been satisfied with just a good monster - he has to raise the monsters in your mind too.

7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Rounding off the list for this year, the Potter saga finally ends. Though many readers found the book to be anti-climactic, due to the fact that a lot of the clues placed by Rowling in the storyline being correctly interpreted by fans, I thought this was a very satisfying denouement to the series. Miss Rowling though seems to be missing Harry more than she had thought she would, she has already hinted that she will be working on another HP book. That could perhaps be the beginning of a completely new series of Potter books. And all I can say is, bring 'em on!

Well, those are my favourites from what I have read this year. So ok, I probably missed out on a large chunk of stuff worth reading. Maybe some of you guys out there can drop a few suggestions for me?

Some of the other books which nearly made the list were -

Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman - Art retells the story of the holocaust through his father's voice and add's a different kind of menace to it by representing the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. The human-like animal representations freaked me out - adding a deadly satire to the already horrendous acts which were done. Maybe he has hit the nail on its head there - humans could not have done those things to other humans.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem - A mystery with a detective who suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Thats a plot device which just blows my mind. A Tourette ridden person has no control on what he says, so he blurts out whats on his mind at all the worst times. So what we have here, is a detective trying to hide his presence from various dangerous types while he goes snooping - but his condition never gives him the anonymity he needs! He scream's out his favourite tic - 'Eat me, Bailey' - at the most inopportune moments. There is humor in this book, but also a great deal of pathos.

And of course, I re-read the first two books of George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series again this year. What can I say, I'm a fan.

In fact, I've done so much re-reading this year, its probably cut down on new books I have read. But all round, not a bad year at all.

And 2nd Jan is also the birthday of the kingslayer's room! Yippee yayy!! This page is now officially ONE year old and can go out and buy itself a beer now! Yes, ONE is the official drinking age for blogs! ;)