Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Past Lives And The Beauties Summoned: My 2010 At The Movies

"My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware the beauty is summoning him." - Andrei Tarkovsky

In a way, a catalogue of downfalls, having missed out on most of the Cinema One Originals and Cinemalaya and the "indie" section of the MMFF and some of Cinemanila and the stray Star Cinema fluke or two, and on the polar opposite, having seen nearly everything Hollywood saw fit to dump on us save for Skyline but I doubt if that counts as a sin of omission. Not that this caveat is anything new. As this is more of an indulgence than a civic duty and isn't really a job, it's perpetually been at the mercy of things like sloth and not having the time and the making of money and the getting of a life.

Mondomanila, it must be said, comes on like some Makavejevian depression musical only Khavn can hallucinate. I champion it heartily even as I hold back from placing it on my list out of my involvement in it and the implied nepotism that comes with picking something you were a part of. Also, I liked at least three other foreign films enough
- - -Unstoppable, The Ghostwriter and The Social Network - - - to honorably mention them. The rest of 2010's domestic and foreign cinephile fad gadgets remain unseen to me, until 2011 at least, when these things tend to remedy itself.

Geography has a bearing on my imperfect system, such as it is. 70% of the list must have been publicly screened in Manila during the year, regardless of screening venue or nature of run or if it even had a run, as long as it was in country and in public. The other 30% will be given over to 2010 films that weren’t screened nor released domestically regardless of format, with enough room for that stray 2009 film my radar picked up a little too late. The only criterion I uphold is love and that got me as far as 20 this year, making it a 14:6 ratio. This year, I also tried ranking. It’s a superfluous business, all told, but not without its moments. Still, I might consider going back to alphabetical next year. This is in descending order, but if you're the type who's prone to obsessing on rank, know that I urge you to watch all these with equal fervor, if only because you really owe it to yourself to bite into something more nutritious from time to time before you go back to making do with Jon Favreau tentpoles and Katherine Heigl rom-coms.

The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia, Russian Film Festival) : A bit of a cheat but we can cut Andrei some slack here, can't we? This was, after all, a film event, if not the film event of the year. Certainly was for me if only for how, after being inundated with 3D and HD and IMAX, none of it was still half as glorious as watching Tarkovsky - - - specifically this Tarkovsky - - - in 35mm.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand): All the serene arcana we've come to expect of Joe is here, of course, gorgeous and charged in the ways they usually are and also in ways that they usually aren't. An epistle but not so much to death but to the grace you find in dying right.

Ang Damgo Ni Eleuteria (Remton Suazola, Philippines,Cinema One Originals/Cinemanila): The single take technique counts as insanity, and as a plus given how insanity gets factored in less and less in films these days, but it doesn't show off so much as gives the piece buoyancy and in doing so attaches a sensation to the nonchalance with which we shrug off in real life the social malaise - - or any social malaise for that matter - - - at its heart. Plus, it's funny as all hell.

Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Banna) (Urupong Raksasad, Thailand): Of course, the title's meant to be ironic. These peasant families will toil the land until they're no longer able but will never attain the heavenly home in the fields the film's Thai title literally translates into. Like some Third World Days of Heaven and every bit as ravishingly envisioned.

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France, French Film Festival): In which the divvying up of a family inheritance turns into a consensual dissolution of mundane history and every single member an accesory to their own obsolescence. If anything, an epitaph to the impermanence of things and the eternal hold they have on us.

Ang Ninanais : Refrains Happen Like Revolutions In A Song (John Torres,Philippines, Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series, Netpac/Cinemanila): After twisting a tongue he neither speaks nor understands until it's nothing but pure sound , John Torres proceeds to feed his elusive, sometimes poignant, often lovely, terribly mysterious object through its badly broken codes.

Sketches of Kaitan City (Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, Japan, Cinemanila): Starved of levity as these bleak tales of ordinary sadness are, there's something in its wintry air that keeps everything gauzy and afloat, a metaphysical helium perhaps, that at points almost passes for hope. Almost.

Kano: An American and His Harem (Monster Jimenez, Philippines, Cinemanila): There is that implied metaphor on how we as a country have always been beholden to the smarmy wiles of America but this is almost an anatomy lesson in the machismo that is often flown like a flag of male virtue here. The fiendishly charismatic Victor Pearson may have struck a lot of people as virtually diabolical, and enraged a few enough to want to do the filmmakers bodily harm, but in some circles, he could well be some kind of hero.

Cameroon Love Letter (For Solo Piano) (Khavn de la Cruz, Philippines/Africa, Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series): Every word like a dagger drawing blood, every complaint freighted with loss, every memory leaking toxins, every line of worst fit, all tangled up in blue and threaded by that mournful, gorgeous piano fugue. Funny how you can't tell a breakup letter from a suicide note sometimes.

Vox Populi (Dennis Marasigan, Philippines, Cinemalaya): The naysayers weren't being merely pissy when they said this looked ugly and tacky, it is ugly and tacky, but then that's a function of the milieu and also the whole point. Ugly and tacky as our cities can get, they're even uglier and tackier during elections. But in nailing the Philippine condition on a surfeit of comic energy and without exoticizing anything, it pays the price by disappearing into an obscurity it doesn't deserve.

Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, Japan): Turns out Jens Lekman got it wrong
- - -the end of the world is not bigger than love. Anime video game endorphin for sating my inner geek the way Scott Pilgrim can't quite do anymore.

Madeo (Mother) (Bong Joon-Ho, Korea, Cinemanila): Essentially a returning to the territories Bong covered in The Host
- - -the tensile strength of family members and the loosing of monsters on a placid community, only this time the family member and the monster is one and and the same.

Police Adjective! (Corneliu
Porumboiu, Romania): A police procedural that delights more in the tedium of procedure and where every conversation - - - be it about the lyrics of an inane pop song or the moral fallout from arresting a teenager for breaking a law that will most likely not be one soon - - - blows up into a discourse with equal degrees of gravity and consequence.

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France, Cinemanila): It's a bit like The Wire transposed to the French penal system, that is, if you go by how the overlapping ethnicities bear heavy on the power struggles of the underworld and also if you go by the ferocious dispersal of energy in charting the apotheosis of a crime lord from the ground up.

Detective Dee And The Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Tsui Hark, Hong Kong): Just when you think all the chaos and opulence couldn't get any more berserk and contaminated, there's Andy Lau doing martial arts battle with magic deer. Oh boy. Sure is nice to have you back, Mr.Hark. Please don't go off and make things like Missing anymore. Or anything with Jean Claude Van Damme in it.

Love In A Puff (Pang Ho-Cheung, Hong Kong):
Boy meets girl during their smoking breaks - - -
now there's a rom-com high concept with universal appeal that it seems only Asians can pull off , as it's the lack of hurry and the lack of the need to rub everything in and the insistence on actuality as a style that make this warm and lithe and
swoony. The
Rohmer vein a lot of people insist it taps isn't just for
the way Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue talk in circles but also, and more so, for
the sensual causality of their brief encounters.

Senior Year (Jerrold Tarog, Philippines, MMFF): The effect is less of rekindling that rarefied and possibly false sense of magic we inflate our high school memories with but more like observing the social dynamics of a species seemingly removed from us yet somehow not. Were we ever this impetuous in our youth, this oblivious? Jerrold is actually saying we still are.

Monsters (Gareth Edwards, USA, Domestic Release): Either the lack of resources forced its hand or there really is an aesthetic at work here that warrants looking out for as Gareth Edwards may turn out to be that rare thing in Hollywood, an ex-FX man familiar and possibly even infatuated with the virtues of restraint. More than the dreamy and shapeless and awkward languor of his lo-fi sci-fic love story, it's really the world
he builds from parts of ours and parts of something else, and of which he only shows us the parts made of rustle and shadow, that makes this such an immersive trip.

Piranha 3D (Alexander Aja , USA, Domestic Release): The dismembered penis scene towers above all but then again I haven't seen Jackass 3D yet. Alexander Aja pees in Hollywood's punch.
Lap it up, fanboys.
Anarchic, almost.

Art & Copy (Doug Pray, USA, Special Screening): The making of scam ads is like masturbating in front of a mirror pretending that noodle in your hand is bigger than it really is, only more deluded because you also pretend you're a genius when you're really just another sad wanker. No sad wankers here.

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