Best of 2001
- 2001: a film odyssey
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
Quite an odyssey, with �Batang West Side� being the particularly important
(Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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