Let’s get it straight and done!
The year 2004 was filled with film-watching experience like no other years have ever been.
The year marked my first entry to the real world of working life, of desk-bound stressful overworked and underpaid job, which most of the times left me feeling exhausted with a little energy inside to concentrate or even just a pay a little particular attention to the films I watched.
In brief, you can’t be more right, my dear readers … I often found myself sleeping and snoozing inside the cinemas! Especially during the first few minutes, especially when the films start at 7 pm which means that I need to rush down from my work that ends at 5.30 or 6 pm or even 6.30 pm at times, by the time I was rushed into the theatre, I’ve got to take a little time to catch my breath while staring at the big screen, starting to wonder if I have missed some crucial parts.
Familiar with the scene above? Welcome to the club then.
Alas, film-going experience has evolved to become an inseparable part of our enrichment in lives. Be it for social gatherings with friends, acquintances, lovers or haters in indulging over pop-corn flicks, or providing the food for thought in watching arts-y flicks during the festivals, previews, premieres, or special screenings, the feeling of being put inside a darkened room for two or three hours of your day and watching a presentation of certain human beings’ lives as seen by a certain set of eyes has always been stamped in our habitual routine that not even temptation of pirated DVDs can ever replace.
As the years go by, so does the memory of certain films.
Certain unforgettable films.
Whereas for the list of films presented below in different categories, they have shown certain distinctiveness to be qualified as films worth revisiting, or simply remembering. These films stand out from the rest of mass products unavoidable in the treatment of films as industry, and these films prove that believing in what you create in filmmaking process shall prevail and be reflected on the big screen.
You may find disagreement here and there as I have anticipated, after all, one shall not be controlled by other people’s opinion towards a certain work of arts. The beauty of film-going experience as a communal activity is that it detaches completely from forcing one degree of perception. In fact, when you sit comfortably in those plushy seats, begins your 2-3 hours adventure of your own, starring and directed by your own thoughts, the whirlwind may be loathed, or loved.
These are my journeys.
In alphabetical order,
PAR EXCELLENTE! category:
1. 2046 (HONG KONG)
The film that has tested the cinephiles and audiences’ patience is surely worth a wait.
The latest Wong-Kar Wai’s egoistical indulgence in film-making is presented in such a grandeur style where every single scene screams for ‘arts’ and having Christopher Doyle at the helm of cinematography has never been any better.
Captivating images that speak for themselves, combined with some soul-filling scores peppered throughout that strongly injects some indelible presence (now whenever I hear Connie Francis’ “Sibonay”, all I can think of is seeing Zhang Ziyi appearing for the for first time in the film) makes you hooked throughout despite its absurdity which only exist eternally in your mind.
Surely being a fan of his previous works himself, this is the time for WKW to head an ensemble of cast other director can only dream of.
Yet, I will single out Zhang Ziyi for surprisingly carries her role in such a slicky way that will simply makes you bewildered and longing for more of her. The confidence in her performance prevails above other actors, not even Tony Leung in his most brooding role ever, or Faye Wong in her understated presence, or Gong Li in her scene-stealing role.
The picture perfect of how stylish filmmaking needs not to be over-the-top, and manages to sexily subtle its morality.
2. ARISAN! (INDONESIA)
Oooohhh! If you follow this blog religiously, you may remember how I trashed this film in my posting about Festival Film Indonesia (FFI).
I did though, I admit that. Yet, since I only blasted the performances from some of the actors here, I can’t help giving this film a high credit, for stating out loud the supposedly-taboo or potential controversies that can be smartly avoided by playfully toying along some light touches without necessarily degrading the initial intention to … show-off!
In a sweet manner, indeed. The urban theme appearing on the screen is presented in such a way of terrifyingly real, yet, its gorgeouseye-candy appealing proves to be a treat for the eyes. Yet, the strongest point of the film lies on the chemistry of Nia DiNata and Joko Anwar. Unpretentious, dreamy, blatantly honest without necessarily degrading, Joko’s script managed to balancewittiness and harsh reality some people see towards gay and hedonism issue, and he tackled this potentiallyflickering problem by taking observer’s side who could give objective point of view and not being judgmental. With such a blessed script like that, it’s up to Nia then to give a certain direction, and the path she chosecouldn’t be more tuneful. After making me scratching my head and feeling puzzled upon watching Ca Bau Kan and its misled drive towards80s melodrama, we can sense Nia was indulging herself in her free-est way of freedom, exploring her sensitivityin seeing her society and translate her views to the camera as if she has been with us throughout all this time. An outsider with a high degree of curiosity who peeks into a circle that goes wider, she represents most membersof society in general.
An Indonesian film that will surely leave its mark in the history.
Oh, one more thing.
Arisan stands out as one of the most surprising film-going experiences I’ve ever had. And to that, I salute Cut Mini Teo.
Never be a household name in the recent hype of celebrity-obsessed entertainment world nor in sinetron, she delivered a superb performance to the extent that by the first time she appears wearing a loose red T-shirt, trying to seduce her husband, we know well that she has stepped into the skin of her character, Mei Mei, comfortably, that we couldn’t even think of any other actress perfectly fit into the role other than her. On why she was missed out in FFI nomination is definitely beyond my comprehension, as to my humble opinion that Tora Sudiro and Surya Sahputra should not be cast on the first place.
3. BEFORE SUNSET
Two long-lost lovebirds found each other again after their one-nite encounter over a night-ride on a train.
And that’s what this film is all about.
The talk of two connected souls that have been cruelly separated by the arrogance of the world and its never-ending demands to bend down to manifactured rules, conceptions, or anything that fits the narrow-mindedness of “this-is-how-you-should-live-your-life” frame. Yet, there will always be a moment of bliss in such a hectic life, in one romantic afternoon among the streets of Paris, where they stand as the silent witness of how two emotionally-attached lovers need not be politically correct in speaking out their minds, where the sky is the only limit of all conversation topics in the world one can think of, where finally, confronting the truth resulted from the longingness of quenching heart’s contented thirst is the greatest adventure one human being has to endure and to be tested.
(aduh maap, gue jadi terharu pas nulis semua itu)
Once again, Richard Linklater has done and shown how psychological, philosopical screenplay needs not be rising our eyebrows to indulge on it, in fact, isn’t love in life itself is full of lyrical words?
With such powerful script crammed with emotional lines, it is only up to the actors to carry them, and Julie Delpy, my personal preference for the upcoming Best Actress nomination race in Academy Awards, magnifies the screen with her fragile presence which simply make us longing for her words, and never once to get bored with them.
Ethan Hawke, in a supporting performance seemingly intended to boost up Delpy’s, may not be giving a heartfelt performance he once did in Training Day, yet his relaxed, easy manner reflecting him playing as himself here does add essential relief to already-refreshing atmosphere.
A film to remember, indeed.
4. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Have you ever been in love?
Then you know what it’s like to be in this movie. Literally.
Ask ourselves, how glad it is to be in love, at the initial stage. As the love itself progresses, you lure yourself to the web of entangled senses and illogical thoughts. Yet, at the end of it, you can only bear the pain so hurtful that you may decide to end your logic’s life.
Yes, we are all way too familiar with the story. But you may not be prepared to see this film, no matter how often you fall in and out of love.
For the first time, Charlie Kaufman’s mindful script gets a jaw-dropping visual shock that Spike Jonze himself never attempts to breach in Being John Malkovich or Adaptation.. Michael Godry, in his feature-film directorial debut, shockingly chose to go deeper by exploring what goes inside that tiny brain of Jim Carrey’s character when he goes through a painful breakup from his girlfriend, Clementine, played wonderfully by Kate Winslet who donned many inspirations of hair colors.
What we see mirrors what we actually think when we leave the door of a certain relationship, numerous memories filled the particles of brain, sometimes they are interconnected to one another, marking a difficult and unidentifiable pattern to trace. Thus, you can imagine how more complex it can be when you need to erase the memory of your past relationshipt that goes awry, and here’s what Godry excels at. The picturization of the brain itself is shown to see a collection of memories, they can be painful to remember or simply great to indulge in. The more you walk through the path of your brain, the more you realize that at the end of the day, the good memory prevails. The loving memory of how we begin the relationship, when the world is all ours in the hands of giggling lovers full of promises they speak to themselves.
The film is about revelation, that despite hatred, a relationship is built on love itself.
I shamelessly proclaim that I shed many tears upon walking out of the cinema after the film ends.
5. FACING WINDOWS (ITALY)
The first film in 2004 that I took a chance to do repeated viewings, all with paid tickets.
Imagine a world stands before you, a world of routine and normality where you are a mere humble, passive player getting stuck on them.
You’ll never know what a stranger may bring upon you.
An encounter on the busy streets of Rome in a daylight may cause your life a lifetime change at its own stake.
That’s what happens as we go along the life of Giovanna, a woman who has to sacrifice her 20s to be a breadwinner of the family, thanks to the love she bears with her down-with-luck husband, no matter that he has tremendous amount of unconditional love to her. When they stumbled upon an amnesiac, lonely old man who can’t seem to recall his whereabout, they discover that throughout the entire process of helping him finding out his existence, they do in fact helping their own existences that seem to crumble. Especially Giovanna’s.
From the hidden desire she has carefully kept from her dashing, charming neighbor to the revelation of past forbidden love, every characters in this film are connected by one boundary: unrequited love ahead of its time.
The tangibility of two-dimensional presences may be gone long enough, yet the memories of them all will forever linger on the minds and thoughts.
That is why, you will be forever put under the spell of the very last scene in this film where Giovanna’s set of sightings haunt and long for that memory.
6. IN AMERICA
At times lyrical, at times sentimental, most times autobiographical, and this time, Jim Sheridan has proved that his sensitivity is the greatest force of all.
Based on his own life experience of coming to America for the first time to try his luck, the film revolves around a family consists of a struggling actor (Paddy Considine who at both times shed and enhanced his unusual charisma), a faithful wife who goes the distance to save the mental of the family (always-underappreciated Samantha Morton in her less showy role), and their guardian angels (impossibly cute Sarah & Emma Bolger), all are bound in the longingness of stability, security and a little glimpse of hope from the toughness of New York.
Downluck after downluck, they stumbled upon one of their neighbours who happen to suffer from AIDS (played convincingly by Djimon Hounsou), and chose to live reclusively in his apartment, making him feared by his surroundings, except for that two angels who brought a bright shining light of life, and eventually brought the family itself up, although it does not necessarily mean complete …
In the tradition of recently released Nobody Knows, or Sheridan’s own My Left Foot, an inspirational drama needs not be cheesy, weepy, or worse, melodramatic.
When it comes to autobiographical picture, despite the subjective point of view the director wishes to hold, it is still considered the best to let the the occurences flow naturally,expressions caught on camera may be the sincerest acting showcases that suit well to a film of this nature.
Moving, inspiring and exhilarating as well, In America enhances my thirst for matured family drama like this.
Which turns out to be surpassed by a surprising entry from one bizarre family called …
7. THE INCREDIBLES
By any means, I challenge Pixar will be able to come up with something better and more magnificent than this.
This is it, the ultimate, the grandest, the one that defies all the common (mis)conception rules of how a good animation film should be.
C’mon, the first to get PG-13 rating, and ain’t that something?
The first Disney film that highly regards the presence of a mother as a strong-billed, decisive woman instead of a mere home-maker that will only get killed haplessly (yes folks, I’m talking about that Bambi!). Instead, Brad Bird places the role of Helen in such a vital position that it’s hard to detach her from the whole structure of the film.
Equipped with a strong sense of womanhood heard from the voice of Holly Hunter, Helen Parr, the Elastigirl would be forever noted down to history of Disney as the singular rarity of mother-character in Disney flicks, which not just tend but ALWAYS overlook this fact.
The fact that would impossibly be substituted even with the presence of such a sidekick character, a la … Edna Mode!
I wholeheartedly applaud the extra-ordinary ability of Brad Bird in coming up with a scene stealer who provide continuous hilarious laughter, and speaking of that accent, what is that? One linguist may scratch his bald head to come up with a scientific answer for this, as well as the original thought of superhero-costume-design!
No childish soundtrack, instead Brad opts for classy, jazzy swing.
No creepy talking inanimate object, instead human beings are presented at their most humane.
No sequel? We’ll see. 😉
8. KILL BILL VOL. 2
I happen to be surrounded by people who prefer the first installment. I understand why.
The first episode glares our eyes with shocking visual treatment which at times, resemble most to Japanese manga and anime, which surely will keep us captivated by those strong images. Whereas for the second installment, Quentin Tarantino departed greatly to what has been his cup of tea: punchlines, dead-panned dialogue, and this time, he enhanced them with a slick tribute to Italian western, and, old Chop-suay kungfu genre! No other director has been bold enough in making an attempt to this.
A defining contribution to the culture of pop cinema, again. Picking up what’s left on Kill Bill Vol. 1, Uma Thurman in her signature role as The Bride has finally completed her revenge. But as the saying goes, “It’s not the destination, but it’s the journey”, so does the film that revel in the process and the journey the character has to undergo before she reaches her ultimate destiny: to kill Bill, as simple as that.
Well, simple may be too simple to mention, for the entire film is wholly dedicated on bizarre elements of filmmaking peppered with surprising punchlines and banterings that at times look or sound silly and fake, as it is intended to be by Tarantino himself. The maniacal hysteria of Daryl Hannah or the brooding boredom of Michael Madsen, and the suavetowering figure of David Carradine whose character hints at fragility of a human being getting brokenhearted, they all help defining the characterization of the Bride as one helluva woman with a soft touch of delicateness, and who could be more perfect in portraying the character than Uma Thurman? The way she carries the sword, the way she stares at you, driving breezily in an open air, or the way she carresses her daughter, we see Uma not merely playing the Bride, she embodies the Bride.
In the response to the lack of strong woman character who can carry the film by herself, with a magic touch of lower-grade pop culture that has an art of its own, Kill Bill vol. 2 is one single contribution that deserves ahigh regard.
9. THE RETURN (RUSSIA)
How many times have we heard ‘growing up is hard to go through’?
How about ‘growing up is mentally challenging’?
Because it is the entry to one’s manhood?
One may call this film the most psychologically brutal film on puberty and on reaching the rite passage of adulthoodin a certain young boy’s life.
I am not sure whether I would be completely in agreement with that statement, for what follows may be strongly resembling that fact, yet what goes deeper between the characters, among the still images and wordless scenes, are more thought-provoking to explore. The smirks, the smiles, the coldness of Russian people as has been stereotyped for decades, have enhanced the calm, haunting look of the film.
The story itself revolves around a widow and her two sons at their teen years, suddenly have to face their father, the man they only know from a single photograph and he has been away from the family for 12 years. On that summer, the holiday trip proves to be one unforgettable journey that will change the course of their lives, forever.
Andrei Zvyagintsev cleverly shot the film in a bleak atmosphere without even a single glimpse of bright colors that would evoke a sense of joy, as he prefers to dwell on psychological inter-relationship among the three main characters, Andrey,Ivan, and their father.
As the film progresses, we will see that each other has kept their own hidden thoughts from each other, about each other, all these years as they are hopelessly trapped in their unfulfilled longingness of tender and care. Matched with a gorgeous landscape any budding filmmaker can only be jealous of, Andrei tactfully brings out the utmost inner acting from the two young actors who are relatively newcomers, and we can see that he gave a considerate amount of freedom for them to interpret the characters they play on their own, resulting on unbelievably natural performances that slip along the whole film perfectly.
Such a terrific swansong for Vladimir Garin, the young actor who played as Andrey, as this would be his one and only film he ever made.
10. THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER
My top-10 list ends with … an ex-minister?
Not just another ex-minister to my opinion since, well, he is the one who caused the change of many major turmoils, strategically and sporadically spread through certain keypoints that have shaken the whole world.
Within 80-minute duration of the film, the shortest among listed here, we are presented with horrifying footages that provoke many eyebrows-raising questions on the foreign political policy of United States.
After all, this is the story about Henry Kissinger, you may love or loathe him or both at the same time, but he has stood on his own, delivering many regulations, orders or acts that were condemned and praised altogether. One of the most dismissed-by-large recipients of Nobel that I can think of in recent history.
Welcome to the world of documentary, at the time when truth seems to be blurred with fiction.
You may claim that fact has become stranger than imagination, the harsh reality can be transformed into a pop-corn flick.
The reason of choosing The Trials of Henry Kissinger over Fahrenheit 9/11 or Super Size Me or Capturing the Friedmans, a few documentaries I felt lucky to see last year, could be addressed to his stature of being a larger-than-life real-life man who has gone to extremes by himself in handling political situation in such a way they had affected and altered (literally) the lives of millions. The presentation of the film itself may not be bold or innovative a la those films mentioned, yet Eugene Jarecki, the director, let his findings speak for themselves.
Like a conductor who only conducts beautifully composed piece of Strauss and still resulting in something pleasant for the ears to hear, so does Eugene here. The truth of Henry Kissinger may be objectionable, yet, history has noted.
Are we done? Not yet!
These films below are following closely behind. Ladies and gentlemen, you have no idea how much you are gonna miss if you chose to skip these films.
In no particular order,
HIGHLY COMMENDATION! category:
DOGVILLE (Denmark) resonances American way of life in a chilling manner that only Lars Von Trier would be able to direct convincingly, with the best role Nicole Kidman has ever played on screen so far.
LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE (Thailand) with its dreamy-like whimsical quality proves that you can get your own film eventhough Christopher Doyle’s doing the cinematography.
LOST IN TRANSLATION states loudly in its silence that each and every one of us needs some recognition and acknowledgement of our existence, not necessarily having romance attached.
EVIL (Sweden) portrays the youth anger and rebellious manner the way James Dean would be proud of.
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (Argentina/Brazil) charms even those anti-revolutionary style of Che Guevara with an honesty and innocence of road-trip adventure
21 GRAMS is a puzzle of human minds and their fate that will leave you thinking over about death and redemption. Naomi Watts at her darkest and most intense role ever.
BIG FISH leaves your eyes wide open in amazement that Tim Burton should have directed Forrest Gump!
THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as harsh as a political movement should be, so is the film.
SPIDER-MAN 2 belongs to those rarity of better sequels, and this time, it defies the common concept of how a superhero should be portrayed and thereby, I accept that Sam Raimi is one visionary director.
MARIA FULL OF GRACE (Colombia) and its bleak portrayal of drug smuggling makes a way of a newly born star named Catalina Sandino Moreno.
SUPER SIZE ME shows that a nail-biting documentary can be freakingly hilarious!
HARRY POTTER & THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is the darkest, yet the most accurate adaptation of the beloved whiz-kid story so far.
MEAN GIRLS is my pleasant surprise of last year, thanks to Tina Fey and her unbelievably tickling script that evokes genuine laughter throughout!
JAPANESE STORY (Australia) may resemble Lost In Translation a lot, yet Toni Collette carries the vehicle on her own very well, so much so that you could not help feeling symphatized.
MYSTIC RIVER has an exceptional ensemble of cast, and with the superb line-up consists of Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden under the titular direction of Clint Eastwood, expect a strong dose of good dramatic acting.
THE SEA INSIDE (Spain) leaves you smiling widely over its lift-up mood and this time, Alejandro Almenabar roams his imagination freely.
ZATOICHI (Japan) stomps its feet hard, loud and cheerful, like you’ve never seen any Japanese martial arts films before!
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (Canada) strikes off preachy, tear-jerker element and substitutes it with an insightful look of capitalism in telling the story of a family starts crumbling down.
LOOK AT ME (France) is painfully real and refreshing at the same time in presenting manipulative people only to stumble upon honesty and innocence that prevail at the end of the day.
SPELLBOUND sweeps off my feet over its cutesy portrayal of obsession and American dream, through a spelling contest that, believe it or not, has become a cult!