Monday, December 31, 2007

Cinematic Highlights of 2007

Lav Diaz's Death in the Land of Encantos

Cinematic Highlights of 2007

What better way for a film lover to celebrate the coming of 2008 than to give due recognition to the brilliant films that were released the past year. Living in the Philippines, where the censors are both cruel and stupid and the distributors are tardy or entirely negligent in releasing their gems (like P. T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood, Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Sean Penn's Into the Wild, among other widely released favorites), has made it very difficult to make a comprehensive list of cinematic highlights. More obscure titles (like Eric Rohmer's Romance of Astrea and Celadon or Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, again, among many other arthouse favorites) will most likely never reach these shores.

The ones that were shown here (through commercial runs, or the several film festivals, or DVD's) were weeded out, and to my surprise, there were very few disappointments (like Zack Snyder's culturally callous 300, Michael Bay's overlong and overly jerky Transformers, and David Slade's witless 30 Days of Night) and numerous pleasant surprises (like Sam Raimi's whimsical Spider-Man 3, Kevin Lima's enchantingly romantic Enchanted, Bard Bird's deliciously wonderful Ratatouille, Judd Apatow's touching Knocked Up and Greg Mottola's hilarious Superbad). The crop of films from the Cinemanila International Film Festival (Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris, Anton Corbijn's Control, and the grindhouse flicks from Quentin Tarantino's personal collection (Eddie Romero's The Ravagers (1965), a Pacific war flick in dire need of a reassessment and Cirio Santiago's The Muthers (1976), the quintessential female pirates cum women-in-prison exploitation flick)) do not disappoint.

On the other hand, there was definitely no shortage in quality when it came to local filmmaking talents. While the mainstream is still struggling in its self-imposed quagmire of uninspired moviemaking, the independent scene is brimming with talent, releasing various films that arouse intellectual discourse wherever and whenever they are shown (like Jim Libiran's Tribu, a valiant although imperfect effort in documenting the gang subculture evolving in Tondo, Dennis Marasigan's Tukso (Temptation), a Rashomon-like whodunit that subtly tackles the moral corruption that accompanies the real estate boom, Rico Maria Ilarde's Altar, a definite step-forward for horror auteur Ilarde, Brillante Mendoza's Foster Child, a lazilly crafted but still engrossing docu-drama on the state of foster parenting in the country, and Khavn dela Cruz's 3 Days of Darkness, the director's personal "fuck you" to the brainless horror films the mainstream is thriving on).

For my yearender list, I thought it best to separate Filipino and foreign films. As with all other lists, mine doesn't have the pretense of being comprehensive or peerless (and will most likely be a work in progress). It is also highly personal, subjective and will obviously lack the films that I have not seen (thus, if you don't find the film you love here, it is either I have not seen it or I don't find it noteworthy). And now the lists:

Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar

Jade Castro's Endo



Anonymous said...

Except for number 3 and 5 of Top 5 foreign films, which i haven't seen, i agree to the other 3 which were engaging. 4 months is something that I would want to see again. As for Ploy, I missed this when it was shown in Gateway and am intrigued with it.

I'm also looking forward to Diaz's Encantos, never mind if its really that long. If I survived his Heremias, then I can make it through Engkanto.

Autohistoria was something that I didn't expect because of the director's way of telling it but its refreshing (for me). Same with his Indio Nacional. Torres' film was, unfortunately, a truncated viewing as my companion got bored with it but I would want to see it in its entirety again. Sana lang, ma screen uli.

Endo was another good film and so is Confessional.

As for Kidlat Tahimik's Perfumed Nightmare, more than ten years ko na itong gusto makita starting with the Southern Winds film festival in Megamall and when it was screened lately, na miss ko na naman. Sana, next time, I will see it na.

Thank you very much sa email. Really appreciated it.

Anonymous said...

My ten Best for 2007

1. Gone Baby Gone
2. Bridge to Trebithia
3. Lars and the Real Girl
4. No Country for Old Men
5. Away from Her
6. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
7. The Blade Runner (Final Cut, Released 2007)
8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
9. Eastern Promises
10.Red Road

All seen on DVD (I suppose you saw No Country on DVD...). In the late 70's and early 80's, writing film criticism for the Star (Now the Philippine Star Sunday Magazine and the Entertainment Portion of the newspaper - Editor Joane Ramirez) there were no DVDs and the early Betamaxes were grainy and unreliable. Film lovers had to be content with what was released by commercial distributors, and that meant we did not get to see the best of world cinema (and a lot of great American indies except during Imelda Marcos' MIFF. Distributors in the Philippines also released their movies six to 10 months after the US release.
Film piracy and ease of access and copying has had two great effects for modern movie goers: 1. As as strategy to combat piracy, the studios (US) began distributing their films on the same date as the US release (which means we see movies earlier because of the time difference); and 2. a lot of non-commercial cinema is available on DVD, pirated or otherwise. For example, Louis Malle's "Lacombe Lucien" opened to great critical acclaim in the 70's but was never shown in the Philippines. A few weeks ago, I found a copy at Metrowalk together with never released films from Ozu, Mizoguchi and Carl Dreyer.

I buy "originals' whenever I can. But finding a good movie at Metrowalk or Quiapo, purchasing a pirated masterpiece is irresistible, because you may not be able to find a copy again.

The Legal Process said...

Well said "Anonymous." Am old enough to sympathize. Star Wars was shown in 1976 almost five months after its US release. We got to see Fellini, Bergman and others only during Swedish and Italian Embassy screenings at the mint new PICC.

Where did you find Bridge to Trebithia?

The Legal Process said...

Forgot to say this. Cinema should reach a wide audience. On these terms, Lav Diaz is a huge failure because he is so self indulgent. Diaz' problem is either one of conceit or a terminal inability to edit, which is why his films are long, boring derivative and a waste of one's time and money. He would do the moribund Filipino film industry a great favor by committing harakiri or if he doesn't have the balls to do that, at least go to films school to learn movie editing.

The Legal Process said...

That was: "he should go to film school..."

Noel Vera said...

Heh, RAA is a funny guy. I have a long list of moviemakers who I feel should stick his tanto in his belly (I would love to act as kiashakunin), Michael fucking Bay and George Lucas among them, but not Diaz. If anything, he's one of the most valuable filmmakers working today.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks estan, anonymous, raa, and Noel,

Great top 10 list anonymous guy, I too enjoyed The Bridge to Terabithia and No Country For Old Men, and yeah, saw both on DVD (copyright gods have mercy on my soul).

RAA, with all due respect, I beg to disagree. Diaz may be too self-indulgent (especially with his insanely long films), but his films are never boring and definitely not a waste of time or money. He knows how to edit (Hesus Rebolusyonaryo is fantastically edited, and his latest Death in the Land of Encantos, is masterfully edited, although it does reach the 9 hour mark), has a definite visual stamp on his films, and is very generous in pouring out what he knows through the characters he crafts. His films were never meant to make money or to waste the time of those people unwilling to immerse themselves in his works, and cinema (and filmmakers like Stan Brakhage and other avant garde directors can attest to this), is not judged by how it may appeal to the masses (or even to the close-minded cinephile crowd). Diaz's films, despite their grueling form, has found an audience and will continue to find audiences worldwide. Why compromise for the state of mind of the present when films are supposed to last forever. At one point of our history, it will probably gain a broader appeal (as with the works of Griffith, Tarr, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Hey dude, stumbled on your blog through a link from a young filmmaker's site. Good reads! Will be checking back more often, especially for your reviews of local cinema, which are way more perceptive and erudite than the drivel by "critics" that I read in the papers.

Keep it up! I especially enjoyed the entry on Resiklo and the ensuing comments... Hehe.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks armth,

I'll try to live up to these expectations. There are other great reads in the net too, there's Dodo Dayao's Piling Piling Pelikula, Chard Bolisay's Lilok Pelikula, Jojo de Vera's Sari-Saring Pelikulang Pilipino, and a whole lot more. Of course, legit film critics (not the broadsheet drivel you're talking about --- cough Nestor Torre cough Butch Francisco cough) like Noel Vera and Alexis Tioseco are maintaining their own blogs. Pretty exciting, actually.

Anonymous said...

hey oggs still waiting on your review of brilliante mendoza's latest film tirador, i think its one of the best filipino film in 2007

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks anonymous (I hope you'll provide us a name or at least a pseudonym next time),

I wasn't able to catch Tirador during its screenings in UP but I've been hearing great stuff about it. I'll try my best to catch it whenever it comes my way.

jayclops said...

Hi Oggs, have you seen Control and I'm Not There already? They are my personal favorites, so far, and I haven't seen No Country..., Before The Devil..., 4 Months..., and others.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Jay,

I haven't seen I'm Not There (but I'd love to, big fan of Dylan, Haynes, and Blanchett). I saw Control, reviewed it for Not Coming to A Theather Near You, you can find my review there. There are lots of holes in my Best List, but from what I saw, 2007 is a pretty solid year for films .

jayclops said...

Oh, and I also liked The Lookout and Once as well. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on these films. :D

jayclops said...

That's great, it'd be good to hear a Dylan fan talk about a film that tries to ruminate the "many lives" of the icon. Personally, I think if the film would be more accessible, it would lure those who are yet to know his enigmatic genius. And yeah, I remember reading your review on Control, sorry bout that, hehe.

digitalburyong said...

Jampacked year, Oggs! It's great you've seen a lot this year, diverse and hard-to-finds alike. Unfortunately, I don't have much time in my hands. I can't even find time to drop by the Mogwaifest. Shame. Anyway, looking forward to a great 2008 as well. Heads up!

Noel Vera said...

For what it's worth, I thought Tirador was flawed, but an interesting change for Mendoza. He's trying to move from his trademark verite style to something more classic, a noir look and style. It doesn't quite work, but kudos for him for trying.

Thanks for the mention too, oggs.

It's sad to think that Lav should be penalized for doing something different. What, is he sucking up so much money that the poor Michael Bays and Tony Scotts of the world can't make their films? Is he pushing out those people, stealing them of their audiences? Let a thousand flowers bloom, they say--not necessarily all the same KIND of flower, right?

Incidentally, though, if Bay and Scott were to drop dead tomorrow, I would plant exactly one rose each on their graves. And piss on it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Oggs,

Thanks for the mention of Tukso in your yearender. I am also pleased that you mentioned Bedspacers. I was the Art Director for that film, also the prompter giving Laurice Guillen her lines from Tea and Sympath.


Anonymous said...

Audience and indulgence! *yawn* 2008 and counting...happy new year Oggssss

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Chard, Noel, Dennis and Raya,

Noel, Mendoza is trying so many things at once and that's one of the problems I have with him. He's done propaganda, socio-drama, docu-drama, melodrama, queer socio-drama, queer exploitation. Aside from Manoro, he hasn't done anything that really wowed me to recommend his works to everyone I know.

Dennis, no problem. If your films can't get any love from the broadsheets, it'll get love from the blogs. I was immensely surprised by Bedspacers, which led me to conclude that Gosiengfiao isn't merely a director of camp. He's intelligent, distinguishing, formal, with a brilliant eye for details. Guillen was terrific in Bedspacers, now I know a reason why.

Raya, Happy New Year too! It was great seeing you in Mogwai.


Where did you get to see Bedsppacers? I was told that there was no longer any copy available. I am interested because not only was I the Art Director of the film, I even had two cameos -- one with Laurice Guillen as the prompter in the Tea and Sympathy homage.

Thanks for your mention of Tukso. It's interesting how you see it in relation to the real estate boom.


Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Dennis,

I saw Bedspacers around a year ago during the CinemaOne Film Festival wherein they had a retrospective of Gosiengfiao's works. I think they used a DVD copy, and the print was terrible but still watchable.