10 DVDs in 2004

19 Dec

Notice how I insist in not using ‘Top 10’? Why does it have to be ‘top’, suggesting that these 10 DVDs would be on ‘top’ of any other DVDs, while we can’t help championing what many people have been campaigning: arts should not be put in competition. Again, this debate will drag on another issue how films have to be treated separately from ‘arts’, or have films achieved a special place in arts, it will just nicely serve the endless mind-boggling discussion while the ship has sailed away far from the intended destination …

No ratings given (if your curiosity is really that freakingly high, ask me personally about the ratings I gave to these films) as I believe that such an intangible, fragile works have to be appreciated with an open mind and objective point of view, which will exclude any existence of numbers and figures.

No ranking orders either as they are scatteredly placed to avoid any preference, the fairness of arrangement that I can think of lies on the date of viewing itself.

These are 10 DVDs which gave me a thrill and pleasant film-watching experience that I personally will be more than excited to revisit and relive the experience:

Central Station (1998, Brazil)

What appears on the surface as a typical sappy flick of how a sudden appearance of a stranger in a woman’s life would change her character and life altogether proves to be completely wrong.

Fernanda Montenegro in her worthy Oscar-nominated role shines in a chilling, uncompromising portrayal of an anti-heroine facing a tough life every second and minute of her life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, only to be confronted with an innocent presence of a young kid hopelessly searching for his father, the journey taken together would be a trip their lives have been unknowingly prepared.

Walter Salles has all the good qualities in his hands, a tight, well-written script enhanced with a breathtaking, gorgeous snap shots of Brazilian panoramic view that only adds this already beautiful film an additional magic.

Touching, without being a tear-jerker.

Inspiring, without being preachy.

And finding oneself, without compromising honesty.

400 Blows (1959, France)

Anyone citing any films on growing-up-is-hard-to-go-through story would definitely have to include this psychologically brutal film mirroring reality in a convincing manner. An autobiographical of Francois Truffaut? Well, what is not autobiographical whenever we surrender ourselves to immerse in our works? A certain influence contributed in it would be marked in a certain extent, resulting how ‘personal’ your works turn out to be.

Which is what makes 400 Blows compelling to watch, something you can’t even find in the future Antoine Doinel series as Truffaut may had been trapped into the dangerous territory of sequel-making. A continous threat, indeed.

Days of Wine and Roses (1962, USA)

To date, at the time of writing, a mere mention of the title, just the title, still gives me a shudder and a certain degree of … fear. Fear of being one, an alcoholic. An acute alcoholic who worships the majesty atmosphere in being taken to a seemingly realm world of blunt and illusion. An acute alcoholic who seems to be unable to kneel down picking up the shattering life broken into puzzling pieces. An acute alcoholic who drowns himself, willingly and unwillingly at the same time, to a place of longingness and loneliness.

Mind you, this is a Hollywood film, the one that goes beyond a manufactured norm of censors, the one that was painstakingly created to give a chilling effect thanks to the superb performances from Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick who amazingly step into their character’s skins, so much so that you can’t help wondering, do they, or don’t they? They might be doing the torture of themselves, which translated into an amazing showcase of pain and disgracefulness of alcoholism.

No smile, no laughter, no flirtatious look, no usual cracks of nice, sweet Lemmon.

No glance of beauty of those enviable blond hair of Remmick.

If you think Blake Edwards only does his best at Pink Panther series, think again. Think of how a master in slapstick, physical comedy will do in his darkest hour yet.

Repeated viewing? Think again.

Jules et Jim (1962, France)

How nice it is to see two entries from Francois Truffaut here, considering that I often detest his works made in 1970s to be exact, but along with 400 Blows, Jules et Jim marked his entry as an auteur in an era of what they refer as French New Wave cinema, a ‘little’ breakthrough in the history of filmmaking, unconventional, rebellious, yet you can’t help reeling for more.

And who wouldn’t fall in love, condemn, and empathy with Jeanne Moreau as she began to wane in the tragedy set by herself?

Being an audience of modern cinema myself, I can’t help trying to trace how this film would evoke a sense of sentimentalism in a relationship-of-three going to make the companies overwhelmed by the outburst of emotional feelings a la Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair, or in a little shift of pace, Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien

His Girl Friday (1940, USA)

Even when I just began typing the title, I found myself smiling widely while staring at this notebook, rekindling the good memory still lingers on my mind when I remember how jolly it was watching this film, enjoying every single minute, and I mean every second of chattiness, witty lines and everything that makes this cleverly written film as a towering landmark of screwball comedy.

Not even today, way past of Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan era or at the hype of Before Sunset and such, can romantic, comedy, or combination of both make a good use of punchlines which are skilfully crafted and catered at a great speed that wouldn’t leave you a hiss of chance to catch your breath from laughing.

Cary Grant, being an actor named Cary Grant himself, may be only doing what he does best as usual: suave, charming, a gentleman’s gentleman who dares risking himself as an object of ridicule while still maintaining his charisma that will surely sweep off every ladies’ feet and be envied by other guys in the room, but in doing so, he couldn’t be any better here under the masterful direction of Howard Hawks, whom I have to tip my hat off in being one of the few directors who defined romantic comedy itself along with the likes of Ernst Lubitsch and such.

Of course, in an era of tough woman, Rosalind Russell bares and blends herself whole-heartedly in her Hildy Johnson character, a smart, sassy, independent, smart journalist Hollywood can only dream of, which would forever be carried over to her other performances, notably those she did superbly in Auntie Mame and Gypsy.

Not even just a filler for your rainy Saturday afternoon, I can see myself going to put it highly on my library …

Zelig (1983, USA)

I was fooled!

Oh dear good old Woody Allen‘s films, how you never fail to amaze me, to the state of glee!

If you think that this time around Woody Allen still sticks his nose to usual theme of psychological problems of modern human beings in their own paranoia, narcissm, insecurities and longingness, all I can say is that you can be right, but you can be wrong as well. The subject, Mr. Zelig himself, no matter how you may analyze and interpret him as having a mentally-challenged mind, he lives and breathes himself like a chameleon. At least we’ve got one thing clear, but a mere narration of this story would only bury this film deep down underneath his other great works.

This time around, he made a documentary. Or shall I say, a ‘documentary’? You watch it yourself, you decide, because I can’t stop giggling now, a few months later, that …

I was fooled! In a much delightful way!

Breathless (1960, France)

Jean Paul Belmondo in his dress-to-the-nine suit, that hat, that cigarette at the corner of his mouth, taking a stroll along a pedestrian corner in Paris, humming, only to be interrupted by the lovely sound of …

“New York Herald Tribune!”

Jean Seberg in her tight T-shirt, short hair that strengthens her sassiness instead of being boyish, appearing from the right side, walking slightly brisky, and turning herself around Belmondo to begin their short, sweet, murderous affair …

Those indelible images that captured and melted hearts of many filmgoers at that time, and until now, I am sitting here casting my mind back in one hot Thursday afternoon watching the two rascals indulging themselves in their own time that seems to stand still.

How I was transported to their world of dangerously addictive crime of passion without even realizing that a certain presence of a director did mastermind this all, and certainly the world would always welcome Jean-Luc Godard as the most prominent director, the most reliable and knowledgeable film scholars-cum-film critics the world of cinema would always be able to rely on for all his outsanding works that speak for one thing: a film can be unflinchingly cool.

Now I know why Bernardo Bertolucci was in despair of making a tribute by presenting this annoying film called The Dreamers

Young Frankenstein (1974, USA)

Not just a little giggle, I am now laughing!

Such a zany, insane yet brilliant this ‘mad’ man who goes by the name of Mel Brooks, master of parody whom Wayans brothers and other aspiring cheap comedy directors should take a lesson or two that parody itself need not be grossed out to generate good laughs. It all lies on the writings, that’s what this madcap film trying to say, and how to make it comical at the same time.

One can only wonder what went on in Brook’s mind when he directed the film, or rather, what were
Gene Wilder and Brooks thinking?

A genius, a superb film indeed!

And do consider this trivia: The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

See? I can’t even give my proper comment here, hahaha! Ask me, just ask me personally! 🙂

Black Orpheus (1959, France/Brazil/Italy)

A Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice gets a Samba treatment that helps to launch and refine a new genre of Latin jazz as what we see today. Surprisingly faithful to the core of the original story, this film is as blatant as it can be in portraying the real low-life of Rio de Janeiro, completed with innocent, naive romances that would seem to go nowhere as their fate could only be destined and shattered by the Death, in a presence that seem to make a good joke of Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal. Still, with maddening and deafening projected images of that (in)famous Rio carnaval serve as a platform of the story, watching the film seems like surrounding yourself with a pulsating beats of laid-back jazz while sipping a fuzzy warm of chocolate coffee in one hot Saturday afternoon, yet you feel distance away from the reality as you position yourself under the shower of fabricated air.


Darling (1965, UK)

Many people would be quick to point out Midnight Cowboy should be considered as John Schlesinger‘s main breakthrough in presenting a gay character explicitly.

I place that notion to this film, on top of other sexual freedom wraps the film in a cold, unpretentious manner which greatly helped make the film stands the test of time, no matter how it is considered ‘mild’ by today’s standard … of what? Bare-it-all sex? Isn’t it better to have it subdued?

And isn’t it better to have it suited and tailored perfectly fitted to the era where the characters breathe their lives in?

Watching Julie Christie transforming herself on the mask of many characters we seem to be unable to trace the roots would only enhance my admiration to her terribly believable persona that she holds until today, a glowing innerself she projected out to the character she embodies well, and witnessing her breakdowns was one of the very few difficult times I had to bear throughout countless film-watching experience.

How can one envy of all the willingness to rebel in an era of being opressed while keeping the good elements of both sides …

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Posted by on 12/19/2004 in English, Film


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