Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Best of..." poll sneak peek


My number 1 film of 2006

For some years now, it's been a tradition of sorts for me to take part in the Top 10 Theatrical Films portion of the Best of... poll over at the Mobius Home Video Forum. (Unfortunately, the ballots and results from some of the earlier years have been lost but interested parties can check out my -- and many other Mobians' -- 2005 votes over here while those for the years 1999 to 2001 can be accessed via this page.)

The deadline for submitting this year's ballots is midnight today, 31st January (though, because of the time difference, I actually have fourteen more hours to do this than those who reside in the U.S.A.'s Central time zone... ;b). Consequently, the past few hours have seen me putting the finishing touches to my poll submission and then sending it off to be recorded and tabulated.

If all goes as planned, sometime next week, the results of this year's votes will be announced and displayed on Mobius' Arthouse, World & Hollywood Cinema discussion board. (More than by the way, I do hope that I won't be the only the only Asian Cinema discussion board regular who will take part in this poll -- or the sole female, as turned out to be the case one year... ;S)

However, especially for those of this blog's readers who don't actually frequent the Mobius Home Video Forum, I'm going to go ahead and provide a sneak peek here of my personal picks -- and accompanying write-ups -- for the 10 best theatrical films of 2006 (i.e., those cinematic offerings which I viewed in theatres (including the non-retrospective sections of film festivals) and/or had a theatrical release in their home territory in 2006):-

1) Exiled (Hong Kong, 2006)
Director Johnnie To’s stylish quasi-sequel to his artful The Mission (Hong Kong, 1999) is a filmic masterpiece which is laden with virtuosic set-pieces and rich references to Milkyway Image movies past that’s guaranteed to awe, please and even exhilarate those of us who are already his fans (even while being unapologetically obtuse for those folks who still are not).

2) Still Life (Mainland China, 2006)
The deserved winner of the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, this bravura Jia Zhangke offering’s strengths lie in its: willingness to show more than tell; and ability to pretty much seamlessly incorporate fanciful visuals – like a UFO and flying building! – into what generally feels like a revealing along with contemplative documentary-style look at a rapidly changing China.

3) My Name is Fame (Hong Kong, 2006)
In a perfect world, this compelling portrait of the down-but-still- alive-and-kicking Hong Kong film industry would be director Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon), actor Lau Ching Wan and the local film industry’s “come-back” movie. Since it’s far from being that, I’ll settle for this earnest offering being recognized as one of 2006’s better along with more admirable and well-meaning cinematic efforts.

4) V for Vendetta (U.S.A.-U.K., 2005)
Viva V! A major English-language blockbuster with a dramatic plus subversive political message, this big budget offering comes across as a courageously combustible as well as seriously resonant work in more ways than one. All in all (and I trust that Hong Kong film fans will appreciate this piece of high praise), this James McTeigue-helmed work both reminds me, and rivals that, of those from Tsui Hark at his very best.

5) Princess Raccoon (Japan, 2005)
If you thought that Seijun Suzuki’s Pistol Opera (Japan, 2001) was already amply weird and wonderful…here comes one more highly entertaining, wildly fantastical and gorgeously surrealistic “performance art” piece from surely the most imaginative – and amusingly mischievous? – octogenarian auteur on the planet! :b

6) Joyeux Noel (France-Germany-U.K.-Romania, 2005)
This tri-lingual World War I drama from director cum scriptwriter Christian Carion which re-creates a seemingly improbable real-life event provides a timely and lump-in-the-throat reminder of what people who are on opposing sides at particular moments in time – but at peace at others – can have in common, for good as well as bad.

7) Fearless (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2006)
Serious in tone, instructive in intention and uplifting in spirit, this historical bio-pic from director Ronnie Yu also happens to be a hard-kicking martial arts extravaganza that’s a superb showcase for the action talents of Jet Li, the wushu master who, for all of his attempts to become a Hollywood star, is so much better utilized and more charismatic in Chinese language works.

8) Election 2 (Hong Kong, 2006)
A thought-provoking sequel that not only makes sense but also actually trump s the first Election (Hong Kong, 2005), this forceful political offering with triad drama trappings from director Johnnie To, an auteur who currently is at his absolute peak, is a brave and substantive work which successfully chills and horrifies on more than one level.

9) Forgiveness (South Africa, 2004)
The winner of the Human Rights and Youth Jury prizes at the 2004 Locarno International Film Festival (as well as a nominee for the Golden Leopard award), this understated movie with the intensely powerful story about truth, reconciliation and forgiveness is all the more effective because it smacks of absolute reality.

10) The Host (South Korea, 2006)
Who would have thought it (possible)? Here’s a monster movie from director Bong Joon-Ho that, unexpectedly and much to its credit, possesses gobs of humor and some spot-on sarcastic political criticism along with proficient acting from the leads (and some of the support players), great swathes of pathos, thrills and spills, an environmentalist message, plenty of action and wicked special effects. Oh, and a rather interesting acting plus looking monster too! :D

13 comments:

hdoong said...

cool list and rather surprised that V FOR VENDETTA actually ranks number 4(!) in your list. Perhaps, for the benefit of your readers, you could expand a bit on your list by listing down your shortlist of perhaps 20-30 films that you have considered? ;-)

re STILL LIFE, it's genius, so to speak, to incorporate "fanciful" visuals, which to me is magic realism on screen, as well as a socio-political commentary. The three Gods playing videogame and the final tight-rope scene is most apt. as in THE WORLD, he also uses such "fanciful" visuals whereby animated sequences appear after the character uses his/her mobile phone, another sympbolism, i think, that mobile phones are a means for us to escape into another world.

just me said...

I've not seen too many movies on your list. HK films aren't easy to get in Cantonese in S'pore and hence, I've watched a lot fewer of them than when I lived in the States. "Exile" did get released with a Cantonese soundtrack and when I get it back from my cousin, I'll watch it.

Saw "V for Vendetta" which I liked and also saw "Fearless" which I don't like as much as other HK film fans it would seem.

I found the "Fearless" storyline too cliched for my liking and while the action sequences were rather good, at times it seemed brutal simply for the sake of being brutal.

The whole story never connected with me emotionally. Most of the characters seem to be there to move the story along and the only one we get to know is Huo Ruanjia but his story was cliche and was probablly the biggest reason why the whole movie felt emotionally distant to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't see MY NAME IS FAME mentioned very often as part of any top lists, but I also found this movie very enjoyable and "different" from the myriad triad flicks that came out of HK last year. This movie has a soul and is uplifting and though it's also a bit cliche, it grabs you by the way the main characters play their parts...excellently. Sean Lau is under-recognized, imo, for his ability to assimilate into various types of roles - crime figure, lover, sad sap, etc. He's never dull. Same with Francis Ng but he isn't as underrated as Sean. It's got to have something to do with his looks(?).

I couldn't get into FEARLESS bc it seemed like the same old story of a young guy who's a rascal until some life-changing event brings out his serious side. The fight scenes were cool though. I mean, that's what you watch a Jet Li film for, basically.

I did not totally get V FOR VENDETTA. Just couldn't wrap my little brain around it.

EXILED and ELECTION 2 were masterful, Johnnie To works. Where EXILED demonstrated dramatic gunplay in close proximity and closed spaces, ELECTION 2 showed the cold-blooded mechanics of "gathering" votes. Can't wait for PTU 2.

Can't wait to see THE HOST and I've got MEMORIES OF MATSUKO waiting for me.

YTSL said...

Hi hdoong --

"Perhaps, for the benefit of your readers, you could expand a bit on your list by listing down your shortlist of perhaps 20-30 films that you have considered? ;-)"

Nah...since if you look at the following old entry on this blog, you can get a fairly good idea of what other films I considered for my Top Ten list:-
http://webs-of-significance.blogspot.com/2006/12/by-numbers-look-at-my-2006-movie.html

Instead, let me discuss STILL LIFE a little bit more: More particularly, the tight-rope scene may be more real than magical realist. I.e., a mother of a friend of mine recently visited the Three Gorges area. Post her visit, she told me that as the boat she and her tour group were on sailed through that area, they actually spotted someone walking on a tight-rope strung across one part of the river!

Hi "just me" --

"HK films aren't easy to get in Cantonese in S'pore"

This is such a travesty and tragedy! :(

As for FEARLESS: I hear you (and "anonymous") re the cliched aspects of the movie. And yet, when watching the film, I felt that tired as the message, etc., might seem to some, it's still something that others don't seem to have learnt and/or know about!

Hi "anonymous" --

Am glad that "My Name is Fame" also spoke to you. Sometimes, I think that the reason why it's not on many top lists is because not many people went to watch it on account of its title and poster coming across as on the stupid side. (So, yes, yet another Hong Kong movie hard done by by bad marketing, etc. for it!)

As for Sean Lau: Yeah, he's not the most handsome actor in the world but I think that he does have his fans...especially those who know him (better) as Lau Ching Wan! ;)

As for your having a "little brain": If you could wrap it around ELECTION 2, surely it can't be that little! ;D

Oh, and yeah, MEMORIES OF MATSUKO does sound like a "must check out"... :)

hdoong said...

whoa, you mean the tightrope walking is really what they are doing? amazing.

YTSL said...

Hi again hdoong --

Yep re there apparently being people who walk the tightrope in the Three Gorges area. To add to my friend's mother's story: She complained to me about her -- and, presumably, her fellow tour members as well -- not having been given advance notice of this apparently fairly regular activity by their guide. Consequently, she did not manage to take any photos to record what she witnessed as her boat passed by (and, if memory serves me right, under) the tight-rope walker! ;S

eliza bennet said...

The only thing I really liked in Memories of Matsuko is the flawless performance by the lead actress.

I find this director's film cluttered and untidy. But of course this doesn't make the film bad. It is an improvement over Kamikaze Girls (a film I enjoyed more but for different reasons- and it was equally cluttered)

just me said...

re: HK films with no Cantonese soundtrack in S'pore.

Yes it really sucks and if there is one thing I'm really not happy with my government about is that they allow French films to be screened in French, German films to be screened in German, Thai films to be screened in Thai etc but HK films have to be screened in Mandarin??!?!?! =(

Previously, I would grumble but then make do with buying the import dvd with Cantonese soundtrack but it is becoming increasingly difficult those these days. I think I should write in and complain.

I think the idiot local distributors of HK films think that S'poreans don't care or prefer their Chinese movies in Mandarin so they want to pay for the rights to the Cantonese soundtrack. But partly I also think that there has been a dwindling of interest in HK cinema in S'pore and hence, far fewer parallel imports with the Cantonese soundtrack.

Oh and Lau Ching Wan is my favourite HK actor. But because I refuse to watch HK films unless they are accompanied with their original soundtrack, I haven't seen him in anything for a while.

I'm going to have to import Election 1 and 2 I think as I'm a big Johnnie To fan and I've yet to watch both those films as they don't seem to be available in Cantonese in S'pore. =(

YTSL said...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

Thanks for reminding me that MEMORIES OF MATSUKO has the same director as the very enjoyable KAMIKAZE GIRLS! :)

And "just me" --

Not that it's any consolation at all but Malaysia has the reverse problem from Singapore with regards to Chinese movies: i.e., often times, the Cantonese dubbed version of Mandarin language movies get shown here (rather than the original language in which they're made)!

And yep, I find this pretty stupid in view of the fact that -- as is the case in Singapore -- French films get shown in French, German films in German, Thai films in Thai, etc., etc. :<

"I think the idiot local distributors of HK films think that S'poreans don't care or prefer their Chinese movies in Mandarin so they want to pay for the rights to the Cantonese soundtrack."

Actually, I think I had read that it's (in line with) Singaporean government policy to encourage the use of Mandarin and discourage the use of Chinese dialects in the country.

Oh, and just to let you know: ELECTION 2 (and possibly 1 as well -- though I can't remember this as vividly) has dialogue in Mandarin as well as Cantonese. And one of the stupidities of the one Chinese language policy of Malaysian and Singaporean distributors is that it obscures the fact that, increasingly, in Hong Kong itself as well as Hong Kong movies, one can hear both Mandarin as well as Cantonese being spoken...

just me said...

re: Actually, I think I had read that it's (in line with) Singaporean government policy to encourage the use of Mandarin and discourage the use of Chinese dialects in the country.

I know that other Chinese dialects aren't allowed on free-to-air TV and radio except for Rediffusion. Although I don't know if Rediffusion is still around.

But now that the Speak Mandarin campaign is almost 30 years old and most Singaporean Chinese can speak Mandarin, there has been a relaxation by the government and dialect words and phrases can now be heard on TV and radio. Singapore-made films often include use of several dialects and some of them include a lot of dialect too.

What I feel is that while the government isn't actively encouraging the use of Chinese dialects and there are probably rules on HK films screening in Cantonese except at the film festival, they haven't actually been insisting that HK films be released in Mandarin on vcds/dvds/vhs either either.

Rental of TVB and ATV drama serials in Cantonese have always been available and local distributors have released HK films on vcds/dvds with Cantonese before. There were also a lot of parrallel imports from HK and Malaysia which carried the Cantonese soundtrack.

I think local distributors probably don't want to pay the extra to release in Cantonese for the same reason that Malaysia dubs Mainland films in Cantonese and America dubs (or used to) HK films in English, local distributors think that locals don't really care and will be willing to buy a cheap vcd with Mandarin soundtrack anyway.

The sad thing is, I think that the local distributors are probably right. A lot of Singaporeans I know don't mind watching HK films in Mandarin as they are used to dubbed HK tv and films and Mandarin means that they won't have to read subs. Only purist like me feel really unhappy about the lack of the Cantonese soundtrack on HK films. =(

I think I should write to the government to at least encourage the use of the original soundtrack in HK films. I'm not sure if there are rules preventing that or if it a decision on the part of the local distributors. But I feel that if Singapore is really serious about encouraging filmmaking and art in S'pore etc, then not messing with the original soundtrack would be a good place to start.

YTSL said...

Hi again "just me" --

"Rental of TVB and ATV drama serials in Cantonese have always been available (in Singapore)"

Didn't know that! Thanks for that info.

"I think local distributors probably don't want to pay the extra to release in Cantonese for the same reason that Malaysia dubs Mainland films in Cantonese and America dubs (or used to) HK films in English, local distributors think that locals don't really care and will be willing to buy a cheap vcd with Mandarin soundtrack anyway."

Actually:-

1) Malaysia doesn't dub the Mainland films in Cantonese. Rather, the dubs are done elsewhere (Hong Kong?) and Malaysian film distributors get offered a Cantonese or Mandarin option. Also, I don't think there's any extra expense in going for the original language option.

2) It is more expensive for Americans to go to the extra trouble of dubbing a Hong Kong movie into English than for the movie to be shown in its original language.

3) One recent development in Malaysia with regards to CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER: First, the Cantonese dubbed version was shown. But the film distributors have brought the film back for a second run -- and wonder of wonders, this time, the version shown is the original Mandarin language one! :)

"I think I should write to the government to at least encourage the use of the original soundtrack in HK films...I feel that if Singapore is really serious about encouraging filmmaking and art in S'pore etc, then not messing with the original soundtrack would be a good place to start."

Go for it!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi (again):

MY NAME IS FAME received HK Film Award noms for best actor, best newcomer, best supporting and best screenplay. Wooho! But does it stand a chance? Not so sure.

Johnnie To's two films for best director and best film. Splitting the vote can't be good, could it?

hkfaa.com doesn't have the latest list of noms up yet. check monkeypeaches.com instead.

I'm a Daniel Wu fan and he's been nominated for best new director. In a field of three. The Heavenly Kings was pretty original.

I am GurlonFilm.

YTSL said...

Hi again "(I am) GurlonFilm" --

Thanks for the heads up re the HKFA nominations.

I think MY NAME IS FAME stands a good chance for the Best Actor award. Lau Ching Wan is way overdue for recognition (from his peers -- If memory serves me right, he already received a HK Film Critics Society award some years back for his LA BRASSIERE work).

And yeah re the potential split vote for Johnnie To. So sad if that would be a factor in his losing out to a Mainlander as a result at the *Hong Kong* Film Awards... :S

On a lighter note: Yeah, I'd agree that THE HEAVENLY KINGS is pretty original! ;b