Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 4) March 12, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Animé, Asian Films, European Films, Literature, Noypi, Yearender.
25. PONYO ON THE CLIFF (Hayao Miyazaki)
Good stories are those that are told over and over again, and even in the alteration of plots and endings, they still come out as fascinating as when they were first narrated. Such case is Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, spun with all amazing skill and excitement by Miyazaki in Ponyo on the Cliff. The concerns of the young fish wanting to be human after befriending a young boy are not as deftly paced as the plot of Spirited Away, but Miyazaki gets away with the humor and the eye-popping visual action, taking advantage of every possible facet of 2-D animation by foregoing every possibility of dead space.
The rendezvous of the young and the young at heart can always be found in Miyazaki’s quirks; not to mention how they mirror, no matter how obliquely, our actual circumstances (i.e. the tsunami in Ponyo reminiscent of Ondoy, the extinct creatures underwater like the extinct changes we tend to expect from our government, and the joy of childhood friendships and their little preoccupations like our personal memories. . .) The feat of Studio Ghibli as a producer is that it can beat the socks off Disney anytime, may not be in terms of box-office success but of sheer talent, and Miyazaki in the front line, and Miyazaki as one of the greatest living directors today, is here to prove that wonderful storytellers are the friends that will never—ever—disappear from us.
Oh, the poor critic who gets threatened to be hit in the face by a multimillion-earning studio director. If only the reason to get hit is good enough to deserve it. Which only proves the critic’s point even more; only proves that the multimillion-earning studio director needs learning; only proves that his refusal to learn from Joyce Bernal is his loss (not mine). Unsubstantiated remarks kill a critic; but they also make criticism fun, not because of hurting upon saying hurtful truths, but because they allow escape from vapid writing, and turgidly academic discussions. Digression—oh, how I love it—is the manna and the kryptonite. And Joyce Bernal sure has both. Between For The First Time and Kimmy Dora, which is which is already a giveaway. After watching Kimmy Dora, even I—I must admit—have something to learn from the director, and I won’t be too insecure to acknowledge it. Overpraised it may be, Kimmy Dora should be followed with another hit in the studio director’s face for him to up the game, but my fingers, as you can see now, are reluctantly crossed.
23. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL, NEW ORLEANS (Werner Herzog)
That this turns up in local shores is puzzling enough. With that title and Herzog at the helm, what should we expect from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans but zaniness? The moment we see Nicolas Cage jumps into the water to save a prisoner from drowning inside his cell, Herzog has already dropped the bomb right then and there. Not only Cage does it like he’s not “acting” at all, he also makes “over-the-top” as a description rather lame. As the bad lieutenant in the title, he’s more wasted than the ruffians he should be arresting. He sniffs pot like hell and scores a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend, whom he shares his cocaine with.
One cannot be mistaken on saying that this is more than a cop movie. The way Herzog injects the much talked-about iguanas and crocodiles in the film, and even shooting from their point of view, he’s more concerned with the fun that goes along with being a crackhead than being boringly judgmental about it. Exposing that corruption means throwing away the serious intentions in the lieutenant’s character, but Herzog does so with such moonstruck unpredictability that it never bogs down once the wit knifes through. The bad lieutenant, of course, is not thinking whether he’s acting funny or not—he’s too busy looking for crack to even think—only Herzog does that logic, and majestically at that. The characters and the story surprise as much as they compel the audience to double up in their drollness.
At the center of the film, Nicolas Cage draws inspiration from Klaus Kinski but delivers something completely his own. With his charmless face, buggy eyes, trippy mannerisms, and unreliable authority, it’s hard to make it sound like a compliment that this is the role that he would always be remembered with fondness. He doesn’t only size up to expectations; he exceeds them. He walks like a bomb about to explode, ready to incur danger anytime. The aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina notwithstanding, he makes the film feel more like a classic joke that no calamity can ever find the strength to wipe out. That scene when he laughs hysterically and says, “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” we can’t help but be bowled over and call it not a day but a knockout.
Never thought getting dragged to hell would be this fun. In that case, Mrs. Ganush, why don’t we start with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Yes? Yes? Off to the Palace, then!
21. A PROPHET (Jacques Audiard)
Much of what makes A Prophet a terrific crime piece owes to Jacques Audiard’s clear and present main character, that even his vagueness is clear enough to provide depth. Malik is a young inmate sentenced to six years in prison, and his Arab descent scores him a place in the Corsican gang, doing favors and receiving protection in exchange. Murders are expected, as well as shortchanging, alliances, and revenge. The glamour and sophistication one expects to see in a French film are nowhere near, but the constant ambiguity and overwhelming individuality, coming from a society whose president never escapes the grotesque scrutiny of its weeklies, prevail. There is no paucity in Audiard’s resentment of taboo subjects; for the representation of Muslims and Arabs is necessary and not done on a whim to be controversial. Ignoring the ever-discussed multiculturalism in France, aggravated after the implementation of Sarkozy’s social and economic policies, cannot do anything but disservice. So much that the film happens mostly inside a prison—which is rather deliberate in showing that it is nothing different from what is outside—A Prophet stays away from judgment but lingers on the attempt to illustrate a life from nothing to something, from knowing how to read and write to killing and rehabilitating. A lot has been said about the film, mostly praises and comparisons to The Godfather, but there’s this particular scene that also deserves a mention. That part in Marseille when the car hits a kangaroo and it all turns bloody and the men who drive Malik hunt and shoot them on the wayside, even picking them up to eat them afterward—that echoes a bit of the famous hunting sequence in Renoir’s Rules of the Game, when the rich guests ruthlessly shoots birds and rabbits one by one, unaffectedly. Exactly seventy years apart, in some strange and cruel place, the two films say hi to each other.
►► Next: 30 Films I Slept With in 2009 (#20-16)