Rahul Desai

Film Critic (Film Companion)

Voted for

Casablanca1942Michael Curtiz
Jaws1975Steven Spielberg
Amadeus1984Milos Forman
Amélie2001Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Singin' in the Rain1951Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
The Godfather Part II1974Francis Ford Coppola
In the Mood for Love2000Wong Kar Wai
Rashomon1950Akira Kurosawa
Taxi Driver1976Martin Scorsese
Inception2010Christopher Nolan



1942 USA

Casablanca is the sort of movie that seems way ahead of its time, no matter when you watch (or rewatch) it. For me, as a teenager, it was my first glimpse of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and also my introduction to black-and-white films of yore. I've never really felt so thrilled and immersed at once, not just in terms of the craft on display (and *those* performances), but also in context of what moving pictures can mean to a stranger in the dark: culturally, socially, personally. Casablanca made me want to see the world, fall in love, experience heartbreak, own a bar and recognise the beginning of many beautiful friendships.


1975 USA

Perhaps knowing about the tortured making of this film by an unprepared-but-brilliant young director has elevated Jaws from popcorn classic to bonafide masterpiece in my eyes. I'm yet to watch a horror movie like Jaws – one that feels like a sci-fi creature flick, a coming-of-middle-aged drama, a survival thriller, a dysfunctional family story and a small-town bromance all together. The wonderfully naive and ambitious filming aside, Spielberg's film was the founding father of an entire genre, forever altering my relationship with beaches, water, annoying teens, amorous couples and overbearing dads. Every time I watch it again, I see a new detail, depending on how evolved my movie-watching mind is.


1984 USA

Amadeus woke me up to the (lost) art of the Hollywood biopic. I learned so much about perspective, lens, genre and acting from this film. It took me a while to understand how a movie about perhaps the greatest music composer of all time dared to reveal him – as a young, crude but disgustingly talented buffoon – through the eyes of a bitter but utterly relatable rival. Here's a story about Mozart where Mozart is a villain solely by virtue of being a genius, and Antonio Salieri is an unhinged hero solely by virtue of being human. Salieri's eloquent rants about mediocrity brought me closer to the concept of 9-to-5 artists – the ones whose ambition and passion far outweigh their ability; the ones who strive to be middling because the 'greats' section is full. Not to mention what is, in my opinion, the finest performance ever by a male lead on screen. F. Murray Abraham is the greatest embodiment of the one-hit-wonder syndrome.


2001 France, Germany

Until I watched Amelie, I didn't know a film – and a city – had the right to look like the imagination of its protagonist. As an introvert myself, no movie has spoken to me like this one has: visually, musically, culturally, romantically. We fetishise urban isolation and loneliness too often without quite recognizing its language. Amelie gets it, in every possible way, and becomes a story about sadness and hope, fear and love, the past and future, all at once. It is film-making at its most playful and evocative.

Singin' in the Rain

1951 USA

In spite of growing up in a country replete with sing-and-dance musicals, I've never felt as alive as I did while watching Singin' in the Rain for the first time. It made me fall in love with film-making, with movie history, with the past, with sound and moving pictures and human spirit, with love itself. My fondness for the Hollywood musical – which is very different from the average Bollywood film – started with this movie. It is the Ground Zero of film-about-filmmaking genius.

The Godfather Part II

1974 USA

The greatest sequel ever made is one of the greatest movies ever made. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall: What could go wrong? As it turns out, absolutely nothing.

In the Mood for Love

2000 Hong Kong, France

Hong Kong, humans, heartache and a long goodbye. If colour were a language, In the Mood for Love is the dictionary of life. The perfect movie marriage of image and sound, trust and love, fate and integrity.


1950 Japan

A film that single-handedly changed the way we perceive storytelling, its relationship with the visual medium, and the narrative language of cinema itself. This is where the movies' long love affair with the grammar of time started. I can almost imagine a young Christopher Nolan having an Anton-Ego-eating-ratatouille moment when he first watched Rashomon.

Taxi Driver

1976 USA

Perhaps the most complex – and haunting – psychological thriller ever made. Scary, sad, beautiful, ugly all at once. Scorsese's mastery flaunts a specific sort of idealistic rawness in this film, with De Niro delivering the performance of a lifetime. Taxi Driver humanized the dark superhero way before Marvel and DC got into the game.


2010 USA, United Kingdom

Cancel me if you please, but I'm going to defy the inexplicably fashionable trend of hating on modern sci-fi blockbusters (and Nolan) here. Inception is a massive film for my generation, especially because it proved that concept and scale were not incompatible after all. Not to mention (okay, arguably) the coolest final shot in the history of cinema, and the beating heart (the doomed love story) at the core of all the mental athletics.

Further remarks

There were so many movies I wanted to write about, but ten is a tough cookie. Special mentions to Arrival, Lost in Translation, Her, the Before trilogy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Titanic (yes), Breathless, Pather Panchali, Chinatown, Inside Out, Terminator, Schindler's List, Psycho, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, Mad Max: Fury Road, La La Land, The Lion King, Goodfellas, The King of Comedy, E.T. Groundhog Day, Cinema Paradiso, City of God, Cold War and many more.

This not-so-little exercise is a nice reminder of why we do what we do, especially in the wake of a pandemic that blurred the line between fantasy and reality.