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Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 2) March 6, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Music, Noypi, Yearender.
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(Unfortunately the office let in a firebug recently, the firebug not necessarily a person but ill luck. Most of the files in the list are in the office PC, and since they say it will take weeks before everything goes back to normal—meaning the electricity, water, and work responsibilities—the list may not continue by then. Blame me for not having any back-up file. Anyway, the library and the books are just fine. Fahrenheit 451 almost happened!

Now let’s go on with the list, before my life suddenly turns into a complete charade.)

Honorable Mention Part 2

ANTICHRIST (Lars von Trier)

As far as Antichrist is concerned, Lars von Trier has made two extreme declarations. First, that it is the most important film of his entire career; and second, that he, Lars von Trier, the honky masturbator of the silver screen, is the best film director in the world. Clearly it was the latter that most people picked up—regardless of any film he thinks is his best work is gravely overshadowed by his self-proclamation. Not that he has no right to say it, but such pronouncements are not at all surprising, not something out of his character, not something a man who revolutionized cinema will be afraid to say. His balls speak for him. Who else can say that and be taken seriously? The two hardly go together.

To top it off, he dedicates Antichrist to Tarkovsky—Tarkovsky who saw The Element of Crime and hated it, von Trier never hiding his admiration for the Russian filmmaker. Which is just polarizing, because Antichrist echoes Tarkovsky’s works, especially Mirror, whose treatment of memory is possibly the closest a filmmaker can get to filming its exact fleetingness and certainty. But let’s be honest, von Trier can neither do a Tarkovsky nor imitate a Bergman—he is simply incapable. Comparisons do not come as defense decently; two dead men against one diabolic living is rather unfair to the latter, though if von Trier goes dead right now that’s completely another story. The argument won’t hold water considering respects are paid differently to both the living and the dead. But one thing’s certain though: that statement of being the biggest filmmaker in the world is sure to haunt him forever, not because it is unsubstantiated, but because the world and its history have always preferred humility to arrogance. People will always be unfair to him; and he will continue being disdainful of them. Contempt, contagious—there goes a nice working title.

That said, Antichrist covers as much as those two statements need as defense. His requirement of restriction is putting two great actors—Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg—in possibly the most excruciating roles of their life. The strain on them is too incredible to ignore, how von Trier belabors them physically and emotionally, the resulting film as strenuous as their performances are. Antichrist isn’t going anywhere; even if Dafoe and Gainsbourg start to hack each other to pieces, arm by arm, leg by leg, and skin each other from head to toe, it will only be visually messy and heavy—but the point is still not moving anyplace. It’s a stagnant work whose idea of spiritual mutilation begrudges even atheists; and its images are some of the most disturbing von Trier has ever thought of. While the visuals in his previous works are tasteless and obscene, they dissolve and are just labeled as “tasteless and obscene”; in Antichrist, however, they stick like a leech, the blood that comes out of Gainsbourg’s clitoris spurts near the tongue, warranting taste. “Alert the Sensory” is needed as a warning.

At some point the camera can be heard praying, asking for forgiveness after allowing such torture be seen by fraud-lovers and sado-masochist-wasters. Hats off to von Trier, he’s made his Daddy Lucifer mighty proud.

COLORUM (Jobin Ballesteros)

Half-impressive and half-disappointing but one can feel the promise of goodness, something out of ordinary coming from a road movie involving two men, far from sex but has the tension of it. This isn’t the type that wins in festivals (or Venice, for that matter) but it sure isn’t hungry for any recognition. Its modesty is remarkable enough.

ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola)

Hey now, hey now. That fireworks scene remains indelible.

FISH STORY (Yoshihiro Nakamura)

The childish start stretches for quite a while, but when it grabs its arms it starts to pull its act together, neatly, interestingly. Fish Story has the makings of a great film—with that ambition, hook, and humor—but it decides to be spare in its telling, the way it connects the crashing of a comet in 2012 with the disbandment of a 70s punk band whose song provides the most essential element of the film. Save for some dull moments, irritating crying, and deliberate display of coolness, Fish Story is delightful, done with a certain fondness for the old-fashioned. The song itself, played over and over in the film, is one treasure to look for.

AWAY WE GO (Sam Mendes)

Away We Go almost picks up where Revolutionary Road misses, that couple wanting to move, that couple sharing a dream of escaping, finding a better life, moving on from being fuck-ups. The crisis of not knowing where to go and where to settle pervades Away We Go, away being more operative than go, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as we, who, unlike Leo and Kate, are meek and understated, but the interest in their characters’ trajectory is much like the same. They are in their mid-30s, she pregnant, he an insurance agent, and they travel to places and meet their friends and family to decide where to settle down.

Needless to say it’s a road movie, but there’s not much car-happenings that happen, Mendes preferring not the journey but the destination. Surprisingly, like the two characters, he leaves it subdued. His control owes more to subservience than temper, which is good because it’s something new and something he’s never done before. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida take the wheel, punching the script with dry observation and spot-on wit, more like writing their life and telling their private jokes in public. The sultry tunes of Alexi Murdoch provide comforting warmth, their tight embrace keeps the mood tucked in. As it unfolds, one can feel the effort in holding back, in keeping the film as restrained as possible. Home is a hard place to find, but the couple eventually find their way there, the two of them still together.

Being in thirties is depicted as such years of anxiety, of being in limbo for god knows how long. But having someone—having someone at least—makes the madness bearable. A couple do not only live their life together; they also die their life together, as Away We Go argues. As with writerly films there is that danger of condescension, which Away We Go is being chided for, but it seems more like a minor complaint than a shortcoming in this otherwise honest-to-goodness film.

►► Next: 30 Films I Slept With in 2009

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