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Best of 2001

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  • Noel Vera
    2001: a film odyssey Noel Vera The search for good cinema in the year 2001 started out with one of the worst Filipino films in years, Yam Llaranas’
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2002
      2001: a film odyssey

      Noel Vera

      The search for good cinema in the year 2001 started out with one of the
      worst Filipino films in years, Yam Llaranas� �Balahibong Pusa� (Pussy
      Hairs), an unholy mix of MTV, San Miguel Beer commercials, and Mike de
      Leon�s �Kisapmata,� half-baked and barely digestible. It was screened
      side-by-side with Gil Portes� �Gatas sa Dibdib ng Kaaway� (Milk in the
      Breast of the Enemy), a plodding if passably crafted (at least it didn�t
      look like a San Miguel Beer commercial) love triangle between a woman, a
      guerilla, and a Japanese officer in World War 2.

      Hollywood was looking thinner than usual--not just ribs showing, but
      backbone as well, with movies like John Landis� stupid �Susan�s Plan,�
      Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hank�s decently done if not extraordinary
      �Castaway,� and Mr. Madonna Ciccione (sorry, Guy Richie�s) totally familiar
      �Snatch� (a Xerox copy of his first film �Lock, Stock and Two Smoking
      Barrels�). Slightly better if not much more exciting were films like
      Cameron Crowe�s �Almost Famous,� Stephen Daldry�s �Billy Elliot,� and Lasse
      Halstrom�s �Chocolat�--�personal visions,� yes, but no one would consider
      those responsible to be much more than lovable eccentrics. Then there�s
      Kevin Smith, whose �Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back� proves as eloquently as
      ever that Smith should do radio dramas, preferably about deaf-mutes.

      Possibly the best of the mainstream movies would be those found at stream�s
      edge--the produce of ornery visionaries, like Steven Soderberg with his epic
      (if patchy) �Traffic;� Philip Kaufman with his sanitized (though still
      strikingly beautiful) Marquis de Sade biopic �Quills;� and Robert Altman�s
      maddeningly strange (and strangely playful) �Dr. T and the Women.�

      But amidst these little grace notes blundered in the big-budgeters--movies
      like Baz Luhrmann�s �Moulin Rouge� (which managed to make the extraordinary
      seem syrupy and stupid), Ridley Scott�s repulsive �Hannibal� (which made his
      slipshod �Gladiators� look classy), or Michael Bay�s atomic bomb of a movie
      �Pearl Harbor� (which asserted that the real reason the Japanese started the
      Pacific War was so Josh Hartnett could impregnate Kate Beckinsale). And
      something called �Harry Potter and the Sorcerer�s Stone,� of which the less
      said about, the better.

      It wasn�t all multimilliondollar duds, however. Ringo Lam�s latest Van
      Damme vehicle, �Replicant,� featured Lam�s characteristic low-key
      storytelling, always a pleasure to savor. John Carpenter�s �Ghost of Mars�
      turned out to be his best work in years, his umpteenth remake of �Rio
      Bravo,� this time with Martian zombies. �Jeepers Creepers� is Victor Salva�s
      partially successful attempt at horror, with one of the tensest first ten
      minutes I�ve ever sat through. And Tim Burton�s �Planet of the Apes� was a
      keen guilty pleasure (I can�t actually call it a good movie, which it
      wasn�t), with perhaps Helena Bonham Carter giving the hottest performance of
      the year, as an ape with a thing for humans.

      As the year wore on it became more and more apparent that the multiplex fare
      was far less interesting than the stuff you found elsewhere--on video, in
      film festivals, in tiny alternative theaters like Titus Brandsma Center or
      Brash Young Cinema, where projection equipment was little more than a DVD
      player and TV set. The first really exciting event in the 2001 calendar was
      Japan Foundation�s annual �Eiga Sai� series--this year, featuring classics
      like Kon Ichikawa�s delicately witty �The Makioka Sisters� and Yasujiro
      Ozu�s quietly tragic �Late Spring.� Plus two rarities: a sentimental early
      Kurosawa, �One Beautiful Sunday� with its memorably mawkish ending
      (�everyone clap your hands!�), and Seijun Suzuki�s �Zigeunerweisen,� a
      bizarre meditation on the line between life and death from one of Japan�s
      most accomplished action filmmaker. The Foundation�s anime festival was
      almost as exciting, with Ozamu Tezuka�s �Space Firebird 2772,� Isao
      Takahata�s great �Grave of the Fireflies,� and Taiji Yabushita�s �The White
      Snake� (the first ever color anime feature) and �The Orphan Brother� (an
      animated adaptation of �Sansho the Bailiff�).

      In comparison, this year�s Cine Europa seemed about as exciting as mud, with
      the marked exception of Michael Winterbottom�s wonderful
      �Wonderland�--kitchen-sink realism done by a talented filmmaker. Highlight
      of the French Spring Film Festival was probably Michael Hannake�s �Code
      Inconnu� (Code Unknown), about the communication that occurs between people,
      or failure of.

      Children�s fare didn�t fare too well--Disney�s �Atlantis� was a stunning
      bore, Pixar�s �Monsters Inc.� light-hearted fluff. The most memorable
      moments in an animated film this year had to be the nasty, under-the-belt
      Disney-bashing Jeffrey Katzenberg inserted into Dreamworks� �Shrek,� from
      the parody of Disneyland�s Main Street to Shrek�s observation that Lord
      Farqhuad (a cruel caricature of former Disney executive Michael Eisner�don�t
      forget the �r��) has to be overcompensating for something when he had all
      those tall towers built.

      None of them even begin to match the magic of Lotte Reiniger�s �The
      Adventures of Prince Achmed,� an indescribably beautiful one-hour animated
      epic made way back in 1926, entirely out of cut-out silhouettes, and shown
      at the Metropolitan Museum through the graces of the Goethe Institute.
      Which goes to show you, the latest in computer animation equipment is
      nothing--nothing--compared to a good imagination.

      As for Filipino films, it has not been a good year�not good at all.
      Llaranas came out with the incoherent �Radyo� (Radio), while Assunta de
      Rossi starred in three stinkers--Maryo delos Reyes� �Red Diaries,� Joey
      Romero�s �Sisid� (or Dive, with a storyline that sounds suspiciously like
      Lou Ye�s �Suzhou River�) and Joel Lamangan�s �Hubog� (Curve of a Woman).
      And Erik Matti decided (or so he claimed on premiere night at UP Film
      Center) that he was trying to make his own �Manila By Night� with the
      incomparably odious �Dos Ekis� (Double Cross)--a movie twice as bad as the
      original �Ekis� (Cross), one of the worst films of 1999.

      Some of the most consistently good work being done in the local film
      industry was Joyce Bernal�s romantic comedies. Her �Pangako�Ikaw Lang�
      (Promise�There�s Only You) and �Pagdating ng Panahon� (When the Moment
      Comes) are unpretentiously commercial fare; they�re also largely well-paced
      and well-told (Bernal started out as an editor). Chito Rono teamed up with
      Amado Lao to make Rono�s best work in years, �La Vida Rosa� (Life of Rosa),
      a noir thriller with style and (rare for Rono) genuine heart. Tikoy Aguiluz
      and Ricky Lee adapted Nick Joaquin�s play �Tatarin� (Summer Solstice) and
      produced his most light-hearted work yet, a stylish erotic comedy about the
      War between the Sexes.

      The year ended in a flourish of good films, thanks to Cinemanila--exotic,
      imaginative stuff like Im Kwon Taek�s epic �Chunyang,� Nonzee Nimibutr�s
      sensual �Jan Dara,� Jan Svankmajer�s grotesque �Otesanek,� Harry Sinclair�s
      poetic �The Price of Milk,� Danis Tanovic�s blackly comic �No Man�s Land,�
      Jung Ji-Woo�s ironically titled �Happy End,� and Arturo Ripstein�s
      blasphemously beautiful �Divine.�

      The best films of the year? I can think of two--Kim Ki Duk�s �The Isle,� a
      film about a quiet lake resort and its wordless woman caretaker that is by
      turns sexual, sadistic, and surreal (sometimes all three at the same time),
      and Lav Diaz�s �Batang West Side� (West Side Avenue), a five-hour meditation
      on the Filipino-American community in particular and the Filipino people in
      general.

      Quite an odyssey, with �Batang West Side� being the particularly important
      find.

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)


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