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Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 7) March 21, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Noypi, Yearender.

10. HIMPAPAWID (Raymond Red)

Himpapawid does have its faults; but its faults are also worthy to be examined, worthy to be taken into consideration in context, their subtext even complimenting its idea of social disregard punctuatively. Someone complains about its lack of humanity, but what here is not human? What here is not humanity? What here is futile and hopeless? Everything. Raul is our vicar; and the vicarious misery we feel upon seeing his fate tells more about our situation than his’—our life outside the three-cornered confines of cinema. Red’s return to feature-length is every bit arresting, completely compelling, and depressingly defying.

9. ACCIDENT (Pou-Soi Cheang)

One need not see Johnnie To’s name in the opening credits to guess how related he is to it, far from being its director, considering Accident’s utter perfection, but its producer, To’s unmistakable hands guiding Soi Cheang like a proud guardian, coming up with something even better than Vengeance, a whole lot tighter, way satisfying, more gripping, and much exciting.

Accident presents a group of hitmen who commit crimes by staging accidents, by making them look like accidents, meticulous and thorough in carrying out their job that any mistake—as little as a cigarette butt thrown unconsciously—can turn the plan into shambles. Turning point happens when the job backfires: when the accident happens to each one of them. The leader of the group, Ho, begins to suspect his team after the death of one; the idea of being killed in an accident has too much irony he can’t accept. Only when he uncovers things by himself, fumed by the painful memories of his dead wife who also died by accident, has he able to realize his paranoia, unfortunately, when things are already too late to undo.

Mathematics—that’s what Accident is incredibly good at. Not the type of mathematics in films that involve scientists and geniuses, but the mathematics of brilliant metteurs en scène, the gift of staging scenes meaningfully. It’s that relationship between sound and image—how the two manage to produce a formula, how these properties produce the exact result, the precise answer using the equation, and how the calculation is overwhelming in its execution. Remarkable is that final accident—the use of light and mirrors to accomplish such intricate act—only it is overshadowed by the necessary drama that pulls it off; but in a way, like the second accident—the one that involves the tram and the old man electrocuted—there is also that fear of missing a frame, of relishing every little detail of it, of not blinking, of gasping while eyes are glued in front.

The suspense of seeing how the accidents take place, not to mention seeing how they are planned, makes it seem that Accident indulges so much in execution, but to one’s surprise there is more to it than meets the eye, more to it than the compelling narrative, more to it than a shallow cliffhanger, and more to it than a precise and out-and-out moral drama. Multiple viewings can never wear this out; this taut thriller, among other films about to appear in the list, makes Asian films teem with confidence and bleed of bravura—as always.

8. KINATAY (Brillante Mendoza)

I may have to eat these words in the future, recklessly falling into the trap of hasty conclusions and careless lapse in judgment, but since I still have the privilege of saying it now, I have to say: the biggest contribution of Brillante Mendoza to local cinema is not his films, but the popularity of them in foreign festivals.

That was something I wrote before Mendoza won the Best Director prize in the Cannes Film Festival; and after watching Kinatay I still stand by it, though to a lesser conviction; but when I saw Lola, a few months later, I realize I should just have to ignore any context.

The moment is the film and not the individual moments in the film. Kinatay is the film for a criminal in deathrow to see; something that will make him appreciate his death even more; something that will give him hope in darkness. But the darkness of the film is not in the heart; it’s in its soul. That’s why it never dies; it tends to linger in afterlife; it wanders off. Stays. Slays. Space.

7. TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

The newspaper being flown by the wind in the beginning of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata is anything but ominous. The mother hurries to close the door and wipes the wet floor as she looks out and sees the leaves of the trees swaying. It is the only time when the rain is actually shown falling; the first dialogue tells about a storm brewing yet it never really rains for the rest of the film. Kurosawa, using that ploy, presents a more destructive storm, the Sasakis’ fall as a family and each one of them individually, like a slowly sinking ship waiting for the sun to come up before finally giving in.

Tokyo Sonata is a thrifty, thrifty film. Instead of presenting the family’s corruption by pointing its fingers at the cause—that cause simply being the father’s unemployment—it points at the effect. From there it has able to peel each other’s differences: the father’s authoritative stance and pride, the mother’s calm yet cheerful unhappiness, the eldest son’s seeking for things outside his home and country, and the youngest’s desire to enroll in a music school.

Every family member seems to yearn for different things—save for the mother, who at first is the element that keeps them altogether but circumstances, eventually, prove to be stronger than her—and the dining table is the only place where they meet, albeit silently, albeit thinking of different needs. There is no “unemployment” of ideas in Kurosawa’s search for answers. There go the spiraling lines of jobseekers and the walking unemployed before sunset, the moving train behind the curtain, the interviews of Japanese children favoring the deployment of their own countrymen to the Middle East, the offscreen effect of the father’s friend committing suicide, the burglar who robs the wife and realizes he is a loser in everything, and the emphasis on Kenji playing Debussy in the end; that even without seeing the entire film, watching that particular scene alone is already worth the pull.

The transition from the first half that focuses on the father’s unwillingness to disclose his situation holds very well till the second, when each one of them starts to go through their own “existential disquiet”. The harsh things ahead surprise yet they don’t come out surprising; they don’t feel contrived but “deserved”, something that’s been waiting for the right flicker of moment to come, like, as mentioned above, a slowly sinking ship. The second half is unsettling; but it hits the spot right at the very sore. The family sinks at the bottom—but a home will never disappear unless its members allow it, and the Sasakis didn’t, they fell and stood up—and Kurosawa, in his pointblank compositions and moving stillness, nails both a priori and a posteriori assertions in Tokyo Sonata that are reflective but never in themselves contradict each other.

6. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino)

I can never be aware what impact Pulp Fiction made in the 90s, but I can always account for what Inglourious Basterds did to me in the noughties, before closing the year and sealing it tight, watching it twice in the cinema, both leaving the theater past midnight, enveloped by exhilaration, which, considering the subject of the film, is the last thing that I should let myself feel. But there I was, two December nights—first with myself, and second with two of my friends—moved, delighted, amazed. . . like a young writer’s first encounter with books, with pages of love and happiness, with kites of poetry.

Only in Inglourious Basterds I finally convinced myself to like Tarantino, for even though Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, and both the Kill Bill films are kick-ass, I can’t find the love that I’m looking for, the right piece of nail that holds everything together, that nail that firms up the images and dialogues in their place. True enough, I fell in love with Christoph Waltz the first time I saw him, that exalted man, I whispered to myself, and the bumpy ride in Tarantino’s hansom, from the shooting of the Jews under the floorboards down to the etching of a masterpiece on a Nazi’s forehead, is one rewarding mess of power, larger than life, larger than cinema, larger than the rest of everything I felt that year. This is what I’m watching cinema for, methinks, that largeness to engulf me, to allow myself to be engulfed in, to admonish any invitations of the cerebral, to hold the hands of pleasure. . .

Tarantino is one of the most famous figures in pop cinema culture, and for him to curse history, to curse race, and to curse the language of cursedom with this film, it is only fitting to remark that Inglourious Basterds is the most glourious movie of his entire career, so far and yet so good.



1. critic after jizz - March 21, 2010

surprise, surprise! After all this hullabaloo about your suppose bias with mendoza you rank kinatay ahead of independencia–though i beg to differ.

2. mikey - March 21, 2010

totally agree with Inglourious Basterds – my top tarantino film and 2009’s best. i’m glad its in your top 10 but hoping it would be higher.

3. marcromyjos - March 24, 2010

OMG how many films did you watch. Can you do a review of Up in the Air?

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