2004 – A Year in DVDs

12 Dec

55 films over 365 days.

Not many, don’t you think?

Yet, it can be perfectly described as a struggle, to truly watch and examine those 55 films in a year, when immersing oneself to a world of imagery and dreams has become a luxury I always look forward to.

Whenever my fingers tip-toed along the shelves of Esplanade Library on a certain day or night, whenever any 30-minute would be well-spent spoiling myself over fabulous collection of DVDs and video cassettes, whenever a sudden additional load of a few pounds filled in my bag, I made sure that those films were meant to be appreciated, just like any finer things in life.

Mistakes, errors, disappointment encountered, a few of them indeed, for no matter how hard you keep your standard up, stumbling upon undesired ones might make us regard the counterparts deeper, and more honest.

I may not equip myself with a good excuse over the horrible selection on the films like The Big Bus which shows that a spoof flick may work hazardously to the film itself, or some promising works that only work best at the surface, at the mere concept or ideas turned horribly wrong like Scenes from A Mall or films that could knock everyone off yet unclear in the direction taken, like Searching for Debra Winger.

In a spirit of the late Frank Sinatra during the holiday spirit, melancholy season towards the end of the year, I can only mutter:

“Regrets/I have a few/But then again/To few to mention …”

I present to you my list of DVDs I have seen from the period of 1 December 2003 – 30 November 2004. They are worth your time, your piece of mind, your laughter, your tears, your anger, your joy, your bitches, your word-of-mouth, and your repeated viewings.


Tears of the Black Tiger (Thailand, 2000)

How should one revive a dying genre when the audience seem to be contaminated with formulaic films? Apparently, Wisit Sasanatieng was daring enough to blend the spaghetti-Western theme with your below-average soap-opera story of love lost, and found, and shattered. The result was beyond expectation. A visual feast enhanced by dazzling images and imaginative settings, in a lush colors that spark vibrancy of what would be a mere dramatic cliche.

If you are familiar with Visa advertisement card, look out for scene stealing turn from the taxi driver guy on the ad!

Brief Encounter (UK, 1945)

Long time ago, I always thought that this film dealt with theme of outer space, alien, extraordinary creatures, hey don’t point your fingers, we do encounter them briefly as suggester by those B-grade sci-fi flicks 🙂

Yet, this is David Lean in his pre-Doctor Zhivago or Lawrence of Arabia days, those Hollywood glamour days. This is David Lean at his utmost frankness layered and covered with emotional restraints perfectly conceived by Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard who went to their extreme in baring their souls upon this tale of unrequited love. After all, Lean placed a remark to the filn industry that never looked back ever since: infidelity is a grandeur.

Truly Madly Deeply (UK, 1991)

Can’t help noticing the pattern that right after David Lean’s film, the next on the list is the film from a director widely regarded as the modern Lean due to his magnificent magic in adapting impossibly-adaptable literary works. And like Lean himself, Minghella’s first work actually allows us to see another side of his sensitivity towards domestic matter, wrapped in a feel-good humor and ability in transcending dreams into reality.

Sadly, the film was not widely known for its time release coincided with another similar film, no matter how sappy and over-the-top melodramatized the latter is, but no actress can pull it greater than Juliet Stevenson in portraying a widow in grief over her husband’s death while her emotional mind still clinging on to him. More than just a pleasant romantic comedy, the film’s surprise twists throughout will surely leave you hooked and long for more.

Bullets Over Broadway (USA, 1994)

Any devotees of Woody Allen’s films would be quick to note that this film is commonly treated as his last good work over the last decade, which I can’t agree more (ok, I still marvel his Sweet and Lowdown). Any film of Woody Allen set in his homeland, New York, with a set of characters showing the diversity of the city’s vibrant and dynamic pulse of life would only show his excellence in understanding the depth of filmmaking, and surely would enhance his penchant on lingering over old-school jazz. Broadway at its peak on ’20s, how can you go wrong from that?

How can you go wrong when your usual list of cast always boast a superb ensemble of A-list actors?

In brief, quoting Dianne Wiest in her Oscar-winning role as an aging diva Helen Sinclair here: “No. Don’t speak.”

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (USA, 1969)

The dance scene, no, the derby sequence, wait, no, the whole film itself would be forever immortalized in numerous episodes of any television series or films trying to depict the turbulent times of Depression era. A young Sydney Pollack, full of idealism, brought Horace McCoy novel into an uncomprising film which might be painful to sit through in some parts, not to mention that the unbelievable turns from every single cast would enhance the effect of grim. Little the director himself knew, that this film would be highly regarded as part of 70s filmmaking movement, daring, anti-establishment, and honesty on storytelling.

A Man and A Woman (France, 1966)

When you find yourself in love, when you indulge yourself over the feeling of longingness, when you relive every single second of the rollercoaster ride of upheaval emotion, your mind start wandering freely, your gaze will reflect your desire, your gasp will sound like a relieving breeze soothening the chaotic heart. Claude Lelouch masterfully captured those senses and skilfully crafted this film by relying on an amazing presence of Anouk Aimee who ignited sparks in every turn she made, in every stare she tells directly to the camera, and at her intimate scene with Jean-Louis Trintignant, she defines how sex scene in films should be created: passion and desire that comes from within.

Same Time, Next Year (USA, 1978)

An affair that has lasted for more than a quarter of a century. From a naive, newly-married woman to a megalomaniac. From a paranoia husband to a man of freedom. From a constant set to wonderful changes of character-development seen in the very front of your eyes. Here’s another look at infidelity shown in a feel-good manner and wittiness over bantering clever punchlines, yet the vivid portrayal of characters caught haplessly in the changing of times that span from a naive 50s to rebellious 70s make us wishing how we could become them. One of the most indelible turns from Ellen Burstyn, she conceived her role (or roles, I would say) perfectly, as if she herself breathes on it.

The film that I would always wish to adapt myself.

Band of Outsiders (France, 1964)

This film would mark the height of New Wave French cinema, as afterwards, with the world heavily focused itself on wars, somehow the coolness and style derived from everyday life has never been resurrected. Jean-Luc Godard played along with the gangster genre, injected the film with a straight narrative plot and voila! Anna Karina, Sami Frey, and Claude Brasseur formed a ‘two’s a company, three’s a crime’ presence that would take almost four decades later for Bernardo Bertolucci to pay a tribute in his The Dreamers. I can’t extend my comment as my mind’s filled with one word to sum this film : FUN!

La Promesse (Belgium, 1996)

I picked this film by coincidence, not knowing what film should I chose to meet my quota of 4 films that I can borrow for a week from the library, and I came across its cover which filled in the critics’ comments. Yeah, those so-called artwork designs really got me this time!

Yet, hardly I regret seeing this. In fact, watching this Belgian film exploring the tough life of its (mostly) illegal immigrants proved to be one of the few occurences in film watching where I had to applause over its decision to leave the film open-ended. Think of a good growing-up film combines with a darker version of Dirty Pretty Things, what you’ll get is an unforgettable ride in a fast pace of thrills in reality.

Manhattan (USA, 1979)

Like you, I also put Annie Hall as one of my favourite films. Like you, I also find Woody Allen is at his utmost peak of creative sharpness during this era. But to me, Manhattan tops it all with his more comprehend understanding on mature, adult, heterosexual relationship in a much more complicated yet endearing manner. Woody Allen may not be able to play any other character than himself, Diane Keaton may not completely shake off her Annie Hall persona yet, Meryl Streep may not be given enough exposure in her character’s lesbianism, the film itself may lack of quirkiness in which Annie Hall is more favorable, but Allen excels in his exploration of The Big Apple and its longing for stability in love, marking Manhattan, to me, a must-see for everyone wishes to understand essentiality of emotional fulfillment in a relationship.


Kal Ho Naa Ho (India, 2003)

I can sense a lot of smirks in the air.

“What a crap!”

“Aaarrggghhh … Bollywood!”

“Nehi nehi!”

“Goodness! What are you thinking?”

Do you want to know what I truly think?

I think this film was blessed with its well-thought setting in New York, allowing the atmosphere of the whole film to roam freely, not necessarily bound by the cliche, overused and poorly conceived stage set in Bombay. Yet, the director, Nikhil Advani (in his remarkable directorial debut here) manages within the limited space of The Big Apple to capture the feel of New Yorker and the city’s immigrants as reflected on the characterization of his actors here, at times silly, at times taking life as it is, at times struggling with their cultural identities.

It may still be artificial as any other Bollywood formulaic products, thankfully, perhaps taking a lesson or two from Douglas Sirks during his glorious days, Nikhil Advani believes that you can still deliver a knock-out film that will sweep off the audience and the critics’ feet over its believability, its superb editing, and its well-conceived direction.

For the first time, I applaud Shah Rukh Khan for having understood enough not to let his usual over-the-top dramatic presence hinders us from appreciating his character, his low-key performance proves good for him in showing that he can truly act, well, although I prefer for the top billing to be given to Preity Zinta as she manages to carry her role with her charismatic ingenue. However, my salute goes to two supporting actors.

Saif Ali Khan, despite his other-worldly handsome look which may work against him, does a surprising job gradually rising from a mere sidekick to be an inseparable element of the story, while maintaining his comic timing that never seems to get off-key. There’s a sense of relief for everytime he appears on the screen, be it a comical scene or a serious one, he’s never caught offguard, completely blend himself into his role in such a relaxing manner one can only wonder if it is his true persona or a mere acting.

In contrast, Jaya Bachchan delivers an understated, terrific performance as a mother burdened with a guilt and seeking redemption in her religion and detachment from her own root. Perhaps, she feels more freedom whenever she doesn’t have to act along her partner that will always surely overshadow any actor acted alongside him: Amitabh Bachchan.

Yes, I can’t believe I could give such a lengthy comment on a Bollywood film, but I speak honestly as I could remember even when I finished watching Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, I did question terribly amount of flaws in the film.

The same experience did not occur with this film, in fact, it’s the other way around.

— Wait! It’s not over yet! Look out for THE 10 DVDs of The Year, coming up next! —

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Posted by on 12/12/2004 in English, Film


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