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Posted: Jun 30 2008, 06:55 PM
Member No.: 682
Joined: 23-January 05
Found this going through old computer files...
Mobius Best of 2003 Individual Ballots: HE through LUC
Re: Mobius Best of 2003 - Final Results -- Todd Harbour
» Posted by: Todd Harbour , 02/16/2004, 00:38:23
New York, New York
10 BATTLE ROYALE 2 – Fukasaku is a better moviemaker than his son, and BATTLE ROYALE 1 is a better movie than BATTLE ROYALE 2, but the wildly provocative politics are more than enough to balance out the wildly boring narrative.
9 DREAMCATCHER – if future generations want a snapshot of the bubbling, boiling psyche of the American people as they invaded Iraq please refer them to DREAMCATCHER. Aliens sodomize hard-drinking super-powered folksy folks and get their butts kicked by a retard whose name sounds a lot like "Dubya". Morgan Freeman grows his eyebrows like Lo Lieh and intones Department of Homeland Security palaver before he chases Tom Sizemore with a helicopter. So much noise, so much anal fear, so much paranoia.
8 FROM JUSTIN…TO KELLY – and a cult classic is born. People rhapsodize over old fashioned cult movies that are declawed and rendered toothless by the passage of time, but why do we ignore the treasures sitting in our laps? Probably the only totally entertaining American movie of the year, FJ2K is the kind of movie we need more of in order to cancel out the breast-beating, hair shirt movies like MYSTIC RIVER that exploit dead children for middle-brow respectability and don't have the honesty to say so. FJ2K is also an antidote to the "sex is scary" BS on display in so many Hollywood movies this year.
7 SAVE THE GREEN PLANET – mistakenly labeled a comedy, there's not much to laugh at in this spiritual companion piece to RUNNING ON KARMA. Director Jang Jun-Hwan uses violence to decry violence. Makes sense to me.
6 MEMORIES OF MURDER – just about everything a good movie should be. Pity about that ending, though.
5 GOZU - if David Lynch still made coherent movies, he would have made GOZU. Takashi Miike's thematic follow-up to ICHI THE KILLER continues to explore the yakuza sex drive with unpredictably icky results.
4 RUNNING ON KARMA – this "whatzit" from Hong Kong is a martial arts, comedy, romance, police thriller, that becomes a Buddhist plea for an end to all violence. Meditate upon Andy Lau in a giant, latex muscle suit and achieve enlightenment. Om…
3 LOTR 3: THE RETURN OF THE KING – Sauron's all-enveloping, disembodied vagina continues to chase sensual, earthy hobbits all over the scorched earth of Peter Jackson's id. A man as frumpy as Jackson must not get laid much, and it shows. Look for the extended DVD to take that jumping on the bed scene in Frodo's boudoir to its logical conclusion as Viggo Mortensen does more than just make goo-goo eyes at the Fellowship.
2 INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 – a sequel that elevates its predecessor to the level of grand opera, rarely has a movie whose title contained a numeral been this eye-opening. The first two INFERNAL AFFAIRS movies have supplanted THE GODFATHER as the crime epic to beat and, like THE GODFATHER, I fully expect part III to be a stinker.
1 ONG BAK – not since Jackie Chan’s 1994 DRUNKEN MASTER II has an action movie been this good. The 27 year old star, Panom Yeerum, is my new god, and all others must bow down before his ability to kick gravity's ass on a regular basis. Here's hoping whoever picks this flick up for US release sticks it right on their "Do Not Distribute" shelf: a movie this good should be hard to find.
9. PUNCH DRUNK LOVE
8. "Futurama" Volume Two
7. 28 DAYS LATER
6. A MIGHTY WIND
5. X2: X-MEN UNITE
4. "The Family Guy" [tie between the two seasons - is that allowed...
hope so =)]
3. FINDING NEMO
2. LORD OF THE RINGS: TWO TOWERS Extended Edition DVD.
1. LOONEY TUNES Golden Collection
A brief apology is necessary here. When compiling this list, I was determined to avoid festival films that had not received a qualifying U.S. release. For the most part, I followed this directive; unfortunately for my resolve, though, I realized the most amazing film I saw this year was only available at festivals. My apologies, but I feel compelled to include it. Maybe someone will get the hint and pick up U.S. distribution rights! I’m also sorry I couldn’t think of ten DVDs that impressed me; I watched plenty of decent DVDs, but most of them were backlist titles. I’ll try to stay on top of DVD releases in 2004. Finally, I’m sorry I didn’t see more new releases this year. I’m sure I’m missing some outstanding films, but I’m also sure they’re on someone else’s list.
Top Ten Films of 2003:
10. THE EYE (Danny Pang & Oxide Pang, Thailand/Hong Kong, 2002) Though not the best horror flick I’ve seen, this SIXTH SENSE-style movie had a few ingenious twists, and I’m glad it received U.S. distribution. Definitely worth watching!
9. BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (Justin Lin, USA, 2002) This entertaining film has a beautifully wicked streak of black humor and a Brett Easton Ellis-ish view on the hollow lives of the rich and over-achieving. Strong (and attractive!) actors; intriguing plot.
8. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (Gore Verbinski, USA, 2003) This fairly entertaining swashbuckler is worth watching for Johnny Depp, alone! I wish there had been more of him and less of the Orlando Bloom romance subplot, but overall I found this one of the better adventure movies to come out in recent years.
7. CHAOS (Hideo Nakata, Japan, 1999) This delightfully intricate suspense story FINALLY received a U.S. release. It’s the story of a kidnapping—but as layers are peeled away, it becomes evident there’s more to it than meets the eye.
6. IN AMERICA (Jim Sheridan, Ireland/UK, 2002) This beautiful movie could easily become a tear-jerker, but—like the family it features—it never lets tragedy overcome the wonder of life. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen narrated by a child, and the two young stars are amazing.
5. DEMONLOVER (Olivier Assayas, France, 2002) This was near the top of my top ten last year, and I’m happy to include it (again) now that it officially qualifies. Unfortunately, some of its gloss has worn off over the past twelve months, and I haven’t viewed it again to renew its sheen. Certain scenes still linger in my mind, though, testifying to the power of the images…
4. HOLES (Andrew Davis, USA, 2003) Though not quite as beautiful and gritty as the source novel, this Disney feature was great fun. It’s the story of a boys’ detention camp in the desert; a long-dead outlaw; and the points at which the past, the present, and fate intersect. Superb acting from Shia LeBeouf of EVEN STEVENS fame. (If you haven’t read the book by Louis Sachar, by the way, I highly recommend it!!)
3. FULLTIME KILLER (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, Hong Kong, 2001) Actually, I think this was in my top ten DVDs last year. Now that the film has finally gotten the release it deserves, I’m happy to include it in my top ten movies! The more I watch this, the more I respect it. Though I initially believed this was a simple action flick rife with predictable plot twists and poor editing decisions, I have become increasingly convinced of its brilliance as a narrative of globalization and disappearance.
2. BOUNCE KO GALS (Masato Harada, Japan, 1997) Six years after its initial run in Japan, BOUNCE KO GALS was finally released in the U.S.—and what a wonderful film it is! Young girls become friends, help each other, and take advantage of the dirty old men who attempt to take advantage of them. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in the plot, and the characters are beautifully developed. Disturbing but entrancing.
1. DEKADA 70** (Chito S. Roño, Philippines, 2002) Someone please pick this up for distribution! This riveting, unsparing film is the story of a woman, her family, and a decade of political turmoil that changes their lives. Exquisite.
** No qualifying U.S. release. Sorry!
Top Ten DVDs:
8. MON-RAK TRANSISTOR (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand, 2001. R3, MegaStar) The picture is less than satisfactory (noticeable pixellation on dark scenes), but I’m delighted this charming romantic musical/drama/comedy is now available on DVD!
7. KILLER TATTOO (Yuthlert Sippapak, Thailand, 2001. R0, Kam & Ronson Enterprise Co. Ltd.) Four bungling assassins haunted by their pasts, one slick killer bent on vengeance, and a (slightly rambling) plot with plenty of explosions and humor. Plus, there are evil Americans and a Thai character who thinks he’s Elvis. What more could you ask for? (Besides a better disc with improved subtitles…)
6. ROAD MOVIE (KIM In-Shik, South Korea, 2002. R3, Enter One) Fascinating movie about a man at the end of his rope, a nomad who is gay, and their gradual realization that they only have each other. Beautiful, memorable, bittersweet.
5. BLOOD BROTHERS (Chang Cheh, Hong Kong, 1973. R3, Intercontinental Video) Actually, I would like to laud the entire Shaw Brothers collection! But since I have limited space, and I haven’t seen all of them, I’ll include only this one, my favorite thus far of the recent releases. Superb acting from Ti Lung and David Chiang!
4. VERSUS special edition (Ryuhei Kitamura, Japan, 2000. R1, Media Blasters) Zombies…yakuza…gore. Life (afterlife?) is good—and so are these two discs! One is full of special features; the other has a decent transfer of this fabulous flick.
3. WILD ZERO (Tetsuro Takeuchi, Japan, 2000. R1, Synapse Films) Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf, Drum Wolf, and a fan boy called Ace battle aliens and zombies—and they look extremely cool while doing it. Rock ‘n’ roll!! Nice image, a few fun features (such as the WILD ZERO drinking game and a behind-the-scenes music video), and the greatest punk rock band ever.
2. LEE CHANG DONG BOXED SET (LEE Chang Dong, South Korea. R3, Spectrum) Three outstanding movies; two discs of extras; and, I believe, the only way to get a copy of the mesmerizing, out-of-print PEPPERMINT CANDY. Nice transfers; compact box.
1. MY TUTOR FRIEND limited edition boxed set (KIM Keyong-Hyeong, South Korea, 2003. R3, Starmax) The oversized “fried chicken” box (available in “regular” or “barbecue”) is a veritable treasure trove! It includes the OST, magnets that are also bottle openers, clever advertising posters, stickers, and a variety of other nifty promo items. And oh, yeah: the feature disc, itself, is great. The extras are fun; the transfer is decent quality; and the movie is thoroughly enjoyable!
There was simply a ridiculous amount of great DVD releases this past year, so limiting my favorites to just ten is not an easy task. To make things less complicated I confined my choices to domestic (U.S.) issues and only picked one disc per company. For elaboration on why these titles made my final tally please check out the Top Ten of 2003 roundup at the Mondo Digital website. ( http://www.mondo-digital.com ) (Ed. Note: I'll be damned, Bruce even plugs in his to 10 lists!)
10 A Virgin Among the Living Dead (Image)
9 Flavia the Heretic (Synapse)
8 Escape 2000 (Anchor Bay)
7 Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (Animeigo)
6 Scrapbook (Sub Rosa)
5 Seven Women for Satan (Mondo Macabro)
4 The Touch of Her Flesh / The Curse of Her Flesh / The Kiss of Her Flesh (Something Weird/Image)
3 Emanuelle in America (Blue Underground)
2 Nekromantik 2 (Barrel)
1 I Drink Your Blood (Grindhouse)
On the other hand, I only caught a measly 28 films theatrically last year, several of which were revival screenings and thus not eligible. While I'm sure there were better or more important films released in 2003, the following were all fun or surprising to me and I felt I received my $8.75 worth - and that's really all I ever ask. Sometimes a bare breast or a smashed head is just what it takes to put a smile on my face.
10 Freddy vs. Jason
9 The Rundown
8 Swimming Pool
7 28 Days Later
6 Bubba Ho Tep
5 Final Destination 2
3 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
2 Bad Santa
1 Kill Bill, Vol. 1
Ellicott City, Maryland
FAVORITE DVDS OF 2003- Wow. Each year keeps getting tougher and tougher to pick my favorites. We are truly in the "Golden Age" of the DVD Revolution, as more and more acclaimed classics and obscure oddities are showing up, in pristine condition, with great extras, than ever before. Three trends in my DVD buying that I see: 1) Music DVDs are really starting to take advantage of the format, with superior sound quality and unearthed extras. Everybody from Pink Floyd to Minor Threat are putting out quality packages. 2) TV on DVD! I always thought it would be silly to buy TV shows that you had seen for free, but that's exactly what I've been doing. I love the season sets, like CHARLIE'S ANGELS and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (which just missed my top 10). 3) Budget DVDs. I love getting a bunch of obscure movies I've never had the chance to see in big box sets for little $$. Yes, the picture quality is not great, but there is a great sense of discovery in these sets. Brentwood's DEADTIME STORIES should be in my Top 10, but since there are many here who have valid reasons for despising Brentwood, I decided to pass. Anyway, picking a Top 10 this year was brutal, but here goes (all are Region 1 releases):
10 TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE- I love the 'Warner's Night At the Movies' and the wealth of extras
9 VALLEY GIRL- MGM's 80's catalog dump in August was outstanding, and this was the crown jewel
8 SOUTH PARK SEASON THREE- some truly hilarious episodes; the 'commentary minis' were refreshing
7 ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK- Carpenter's early films were genius; a nice selection of extras as well
6 ALIEN QUADRILOGY- a ridiculous amount of extra material, almost too much. Almost.
5 LED ZEPPELIN- the best music DVD put out thus far. Period.
4 PSYCH-OUT/THE TRIP- MGM Midnite double-feature that is smartly put together; I loved THE TRIP
3 ICHI THE KILLER- the movie blew me away and the Miike commentary was just as jaw-dropping
2 SPAGHETTI WESTERN COLLECTION- the 'Westerns Al'Italia' short is my favorite DVD extra ever
1 ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST- the best movie ever made, with the best cinematography, and the best score, the best credits sequence, the best "reveal"...it's just the best.
I'm skipping the Best Films of 2003 part because most of the 03 stuff I saw was family films with my 6-year-old daughter (FINDING NEMO was great, and I even loved stuff like THE LIZZIE MAGUIRE MOVIE) or light romantic comedies with my wife. The few things I did see that I loved included 28 DAYS LATER, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, and the last 45-50 minutes of KILL BILL. UNDERWORLD was also much better than I'd heard, and the DVD is worth picking up. I also haven't seen BUBBA-HO-TEP yet, and with my Bruce Campbell fixation, I can't do a Top 10 of 03 without having seen this! Maybe I can sneak it on my 2004 list!
Top DVDs 2003:
10. Band of Outsiders (Criterion)
9. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Celestial--R3)
8. The Adventures of Robin Hood Special Edition (Warner Brothers)
7. The Living Corpse (Mondo Macabro)
6. Space Is the Place (Plexifilm)
5. By Brakhage: An Anthology (Criterion)
4. The Spaghetti Western Collection (Blue Underground)
3. Once Upon A Time in the West (Paramount)
2. The Hills Have Eyes Special Edition (Anchor Bay)
1. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection (Warner Brothers)
Top Films 2003
10. In My Skin
9. Friday Night
8. Kill Bill Vol 1
6. Millennium Actress
4. Dog Days
2. Le Fils
*DVD Brief commentary:*
1. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection (Warner Brothers)--56 Warners Classics returned to all their multihued glory. Though short a Tashlin, Avery or Clampett or two there's more than enough here to satisfy any animation fan.
2. The Hills Have Eyes Special Edition (Anchor Bay)--My favorite Wes Craven movie got the SE treatment, and damn did it look great. Killer commentaries and extras as well.
3. Once Upon A Time in the West (Paramount)--Leone's masterpiece looked and sounded better than ever, came with nice additional features and cost me less than fifteen bucks. I'm laughing.
4. The Spaghetti Western Collection (Blue Underground)--Four seminal Eurowesterns in a well priced box set from the DVD company of the year. Tons of added extras, too.
5. By Brakhage: An Anthology (Criterion)--A little macho avant-garde madness from the image maker par excellence. A nice tribute to a fallen figure of film.
6. Space Is the Place (Plexifilm)--The best science fiction free jazz blaxploitation release of the year.
7. The Living Corpse (Mondo Macabro)--Beautiful reissue of a Pakistani vampire classic coupled with excellent documentary background stuff. Just aces.
8. The Adventures of Robin Hood Special Edition (Warner Brothers)--One of the great pure popcorn movies from one of the greatest periods in American film. Who needs an overrated Johnny Depp as a pomo pirate when you can have Erroll Flynn romping around Nottingham? Lots of great bonus material rounded out this package.
9. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Celestial--R3)--This is just a placeholder that could easily be swapped out with a couple other Celestial releases I bought this past year (was Have Sword Will Travel a 2003 release? If so, that one maybe should be here instead--though there are those damned birds murdering the final scene....). But as tribute to Gordon Liu, we'll put this one first.
10. Band of Outsiders (Criterion)--Godard in gangster guise is simply a lot of fun, especially with the sparkling Criterion transfer. Loved the visual glossary as well.
I also enjoyed: from Celestial: Buddha's Palm, The Super-Inframan and The Enchanting Shadow, from Paramount: Targets, The Tenant, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, from Mondo Macabro: Alucarda, The Diabolical Dr Z, Seven Women for Satan and Mystics in Bali from their UK arm, and from Blue Underground: Daughters of Darkness, Baba Yaga, Salon Kitty, Vampyres, The Crazies, Dead and Buried, Q the Winged Serpent. More? Criterion's The Pornographers, MGM's Countess Dracula/The Vampire Lovers, The Comedy of Terrors/The Raven, The Howling, and Outer Limits Season 2. Something Weird: Chained Girls/Daughters of Lesbos and Angels/Getting Into Heaven. Milestone: The Films of Grant Munro as well as The Cook and Other Treasures. Wellspring: Beware of a Holy Whore and The Niklashausen Journey, VCI: The Scar/The Limping Man, Blonde Ice, and Target Earth. Singles: The World of Geisha (Kimstim), Experiments in Terror (Other Cinema), Drole de Drame (Home Vision Entertainment), Laugh With Max Linder (Image) and The Cat Returns (IVL-R3).
Fave Alpha cheapies: The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle, The Head, Warning From Space, Lady Gangster, Sound of Horror and Manos, the Hands of Fate.
Other companies whose stuff often turned up at my doorstep: Panorama Entertainment, Mongkol, Universe Laser and Video, Mei Ah, Tartan UK, Artificial Eye, Caballero, Alpha France and Herzog DVD.
Sadly neglected company of the year: Synapse. I promise to make up for it by snapping up Lemora, Singapore Sling, They Call Her One Eye and the Street Trash SE in 2004.
*Film Brief Commentary:*
I'll confess that I actually went out to the movies a lot less this year than in any year probably in the last twenty. The combination of ten dollar tickets, chatty talkers, cell phone ringing and the brutal amounts of advertising at the megaplex now makes me stay home more often than I used to. Still, I did go sometimes, and at least there's still a rep house, a film archive, the Landmark and a 4$ second run house that forgoes the car commercials in my town. So I'm not yet a complete DVD hermit--though there are a couple in this list below that I viewed inside the comfort of my home.
1. demonlover--Oliver Assayas' cryptically confusing story of international corporate hijinks hit all the right notes for me...shot beautifully, great performances, loads of mystery. Loved it.
2. Le Fils--A slow meditative and naturalistic rumination on revenge with a brilliant acting from the principals...the shop tool soundtrack is just ideal.
3. Ten--For me, few filmakers working today are of the calibre of Kiarostiami, and this digital video take on women in Iran gives a peek both inside that society and the technique of a great craftsman.
4. Dog Days--Another austere and disturbing glimpse of people from Austria...while certainly not the cheeriest film ever made, it's insightful though harsh. Also an interesting look at how the global monoculture has spread its tendrils in European society.
5. Irreversible--More bitterness and disturbance here accompanied by swirling techno and dazzling high-wire camerawork. Acted just spectacularly--I don't really want to see this one again, but its power is undeniable for me.
6. Millennium Actress--This Japanese anime was the single most touching and human film that I saw in 2003. The characters here had more life than many of the live action pictures that I saw. Can't wait for Tokyo Godfathers.
7. Hukkle--Nearly wordless weirdness, this film uses utterly captivating imagery to hold interest throughout. Incredible storytelling by pictures and sound alone.
8. Kill Bill Vol 1--Being an inveterate fan of many of the same movies as the director, this amazingly built structure reinvents, purees and spits up so many chunks of the celluloid past that it's almost hard to believe it stands up. Not flawless, but really enjoyable.
9. Friday Night--The sexiest movie I've seen since In The Mood For Love. Also plays as a paen to Paris, gorgeous city of light.
10. In My Skin--Last place here goes to Sorbonne graduate Marina de Van's intellectual gore film. I now think that every philosophy student should have to make a gore movie in order to matriculate.
I probably should have seen: City of God, Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary, A Mighty Wind, Capturing the Friedmans, that Lord of the Rings thing (I'll go when it hits the four buck ad-free place, I promise). Bus 174 I'm seeing Thursday, so that just missed the cut here.
Most enjoyable trips to the megaplex: X2, Finding Nemo.
Worst movie that I paid to see: Matrix 3. Zion is obviously where old war movie cliches go to die.
Disappointment of the Year: Elephant.
Film reissues of the year: Quai de Orfevres, Le Cercle Rouge, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, Valerie and her Week of Wonders.
Marlin Perkins award: Winged Migration.
General comment on 2003 movies:
Visually beautiful but slow paced and short on plot or fast paced but somewhat unbelievable plots describe some of my favorite 2003 movies.
2 KILL BILL An ‘over the top’ movie fan's tribute to favorite Asian movies. Enjoyable for that reason alone.
1 PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN A movie based on a theme park ride? A fun ride of a movie with a great performance from the ever versatile Johnny Depp.
MOVIES ON DVD
10 MEN SUDDENLY IN BLACK Hong Kong, R-all, Mei Ah. A funny dark comedy about four men trying to cheat on their wives. Their wives find out and set out to foil them. A very clever movie with lots of laughs. Eric Tsang, Jordan Chan, Candy Lo, and Teresa Mo star.
9 DOUBLE VISION Taiwan, R-3, ERA Home Entertainment. Tony Leung Ka Fai, David Morse & Rene Liu in a police procedural murder mystery with supernatural /superstitious overtones. Tony Leung gives an excellent performance as the Taiwanese policeman who has to solve the case and deal with FBI agent David Morse.
8 PTU Hong Kong, R-all, Mei Ah. Lam Suet is excellent as a bungling policeman whose gun is missing. Simon Yam is a fellow office who helps him. The action takes place during one night. Very sparse movie. The lighting and several scenes with Simon Yam and his men walking the streets reminded me of a stage play. Also reminds me of an old fashion noir movie.
7 FLOATING LANDSCAPE Hong Kong, R-all, Universe Laser & Video Co. A rather slow paced movie that created a languid mood that stayed with me long after the movie ended. Karena Lam ventures to Qingdao looking for a scene her deceased boyfriend (Ekin Cheng in weirdly lit flashbacks) painted before he died. She meets a postman played by Mainland actor Liu Ye who offers to help. Not the "disease of the week" movie I had anticipated but a study of grief, loss and love. Visually beautiful with many details that considerably enrich the movie. Lam's white raincoat, Liu's grubby postman jacket, wallpaper in Lam's rented room in a former seaside resort hotel, Jimmy Liao's drawings & animation of them. No surprise that William Chang is credited as main cast image director and Ben Luk as art director.
6 COLOUR OF TRUTH Hong Kong, R-all, Mei Ah. Anthony Wong and Jordan Chan star in this police story about morality. Wong is superb as a policeman who may or may not have murdered his fellow officer (Lan Ching Wan) ten years earlier. I thought Wong's performance was much stronger in this movie than in Infernal Affairs II. Wong often plays the second lead or has a cameo role so it was a treat to see him in such a 'meaty' lead role.
5 MEMORIES OF MURDER South Korea, R-3, CJ Entertainment. Song Kang Ho and Kim Sang Kyung star in this beautifully filmed movie based on a true story. Between 1986 and 1991 a serial killer murdered several women in rural Gyunggi Province. In addition to the murders this languidly paced movie is also a character study of the two policemen-one a violent local cop and the other a more sophisticated city cop sent to help. As the movie unfolds the two policemen begin to reverse their roles. The country policeman treats suspects with less violence while the city cop becomes more brutal.
4 GREEN TEA China, R-all, Beijing Asian Union Film Co. An enigmatic visually beautiful movie with Vicky Zhou Wei and Jiang Wen. Zhou plays a conservative young woman who goes on blind dates that take place at a teahouse. Jiang Wen is one of her dates who becomes interested/curious about her. Zhou also plays a sexy piano player. Are the two the same person? Cinematographer Christopher Doyle does such a wonderful job creating a mood that the plot became secondary to me.
3 RUNNING ON KARMA Hong Kong, R-all, Mei Ah. When I saw the theatrical trailer for this movie I had no idea what kind of movie it was. Andy Lau in a bodybuilder suit a la Love on a Diet and Cecilia Cheung, looking anorexic as the tabloids said, walking down the street with bodybuilder Lau? Watching the DVD I became engrossed in this off beat quirky story about a policewoman (Cheung) who is helped by a former Buddhist monk now a bodybuilder (Lau) who see future events. Director Johnnie To never fails to surprise and entertain. Lau & Cheung give very good performances.
2 THE TRANSPORTER Jason Statham & Shu Qi in an entertaining action movie directed by Corey Yuen. Francois Berleands gives a wonderful performance as the detective. Lots of fun car chases too. Who speaks better English Shu Qi or Francois Berleands? Who cares.
1 SO CLOSE Hong Kong, R-3, Era Entertainment. This is the movie Charlie’s Angels wanted to be. An entertaining, fast paced action movie with three beautiful women-Shu Qi again, Karen Mok and Vicky Zhao Wei. Plenty of fights, car chases again and stylish clothes. Shu Qi looks gorgeous in her white outfit as she struts across a Hong Kong office building lobby with her silky hair blowing in the wind. Do Hong Kong office buildings really have windy lobbies? Oh yes, Corey Yuen again.
Note: I almost never go out to theaters anymore, so I have far fewer titles to choose from in this category than most participants. Most of these I actually saw only because they were released on video or shown on television in the past year.
10. CINEMANIA - This shot-on-video documentary is affecting in many ways: for showing the dark side of movie obsession, the essential loneliness of large urban areas, even the emptiness of friendships between two people deflected from one another by a mutual obsession. This movie touches on something very true, even basic, about life in the late 20th/early 21st Century that no fictional film has had the courage to acknowledge.
9. SPIDER - It may be Cronenberg's Neil Jordan movie, but it's also his first truly first-rate movie since DEAD RINGERS. Great performances by Fiennes and Richardson help to put this story powerfully across, and you can feel everyone's dedication to the project.
8. IRREVERSIBLE - A harrowing ride, but as streamlined as a new model sportscar. It may be overly schematic and exhibitionistic, but the experiment is a success -- as is its blazing audacity. No sucker punches here.
7. LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION - What is great about this movie is that you never feel that anyone but the real Warner Bros. cartoon characters are onscreen at any time -- a triumph, considering that Mel Blanc has been dead a long time and that none of the original Warners creative team were involved. It is also unmistakably a Joe Dante movie, and a new one is always worth rejoicing. There are weaknesses, like the absence of chemistry between Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman, and more story than a film of this length needs, but as satire and entertainment it's remarkable. Who needs Roger Rabbit?
6. 28 DAYS LATER... - A potent distillation of George Romero's entire zombie trilogy into a single dark odyssey, this also comes closer to capturing the essence of Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND than any other movie to date. I can imagine Romero seeing this, picking up his marbles and going home, but I hope it inspires him to make the creative comeback he's capable of.
5. KILL BILL, VOLUME 1 - The most stylish American film of the year, a real eye-popper, but Tarantino's dialogue is beginning to show traces of being read by too many yes-men. Saved from its own narcissism by a palpable love of action cinema and a true, loving absorption of all the lessons and fetishes Tarantino has ever learned/acquired from his many hours spent in the dark. Chiaki Kuriyama's Go Go Yubari is my favorite screen character of the year.
4. THE EYE - I've still not seen JU-ON THE GRUDGE, which I hear is even better, but this was the best crafted horror film I saw all year. Skillfully made, poignant and occasionally hair-raising. The Brothers Pang restored my faith in supernatural suspense.
3. PISTOL OPERA - In a sense, this is the real KILL BILL. Whereas Tarantino is inspired by films he's digested, Seijun Suzuki looks within for his own inspiration. If it doesn't hold comparison with his best work, it finds the maestro still conjuring indelible images in an era that bombards us with images, which is no small triumph.
2. AMERICAN SPLENDOR - The most interesting things happening in American movies now, to me, are comedies that dryly portray the often involuted absurdity of daily life (like GHOST WORLD) and the trend of celebrity bios that blur the lines between truth and fiction (such as ED WOOD and even ADAPTATION). This unflinchingly truthful movie, which manages to cram an extraordinary number of major life moments into a comparatively short running time without feeling overstuffed, touches on both and extends them further. A tribute to what can happen to anyone, if they show a little initiative -- and a lot closer to the facts of my own life than I'd ever want to admit, or have the courage to show in a movie. ("Joyce, where the hell is that Ornette Coleman album?") Giamatti and Davis are wonderful. The only thing I dislike about it is the jazz great wannabe score, with its off-by-a-note simulacra of Miles Davis' "So What" and "Green on Blue" -- so close, you can tell they were used to temp track the scenes. I'm betting Harvey finds them phony, too -- the originals must have been too expensive.
1. LOST IN TRANSLATION - Sofia Coppola's THE VIRGIN SUICIDES got a lot of favorable attention, and I liked it too, but this sophomore effort represents a quantum leap in subtlety and sophistication. It's very nearly a science fiction movie, this somewhat inverted 21st century story of two inscrutable Americans who make potent contact with one another in the Las Vegas-like nightmare that is Tokyo; the lives and jobs depicted here literally didn't exist so very long ago, and it says a lot about the acceleration and compression of our world that this story seems to speak to us so directly. Bill Murray, always a shaggy dog actor at best, blossoms here into an unexpectedly moving presence. His almost Lincolnesque poker face -- contrasted with the warm but unforthcoming beauty of Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte -- affords almost limitless room for audience projection, and because of his readiness to be funny, the film never feels pretentious. Murray's expression, as his character Bill is asked to pose for a commemorative photo after bidding his first, fumbled farewell to Charlotte, is really heartbreaking; it may be as close as an eye has ever come onscreen to weeping without actually shedding a tear, and I think he deserves the Oscar for it. The last line of dialogue may go down in history as one of the movies' great, endlessly debatable mysteries; in the short term, that impassioned mumble is one of those brilliant touches that -- like the final, acrostic sentence of Nabokov's story "The Vane Sisters" -- is so perfect, it can never be repeated by anyone without seeming derivative or second-rate. And I ask you, has a movie ever had a more captivating main title? Thank God for movies like this and Soderbergh's SOLARIS, which prove that the art film is alive and well -- in America, of all places.
*1. EYES WITHOUT A FACE - If reissues counted, EYES WITHOUT A FACE remains a stunning achievement. Arguably the Ground Zero of art and sleaze cinema fusion, but also a film of tremendous poetry and savagery. It was heartening to see how much discussion this re-release generated on the internet, and between friends, because it shows that the brilliant works of Franju (easily overlooked among French directors for not belonging to a movement) will be remembered.
10. FIREBALL X-L5 THE COMPLETE SERIES - I'd never seen this series before, but every episode is a marvelously sustained, naive delight. I started laughing when Steve Zodiac's name appeared above the credits, like a real star, and never stopped. I must confess to a big crush on Venus, who Sylvia Anderson brilliantly voiced in the manner of a vapid European starlet. Somehow, this puppet series anticipates every sci fi movie Antonio Margheriti ever made.
9. THE MONKEES SEASONS 1 and 2 (tie) - Brilliant conceptual packaging, enjoyable commentaries and extras, there's not much more one could ask for.
8. DANGER MAN THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON - Where #7 all began, and thus indispensible, though not quite on the same level.
7. SECRET AGENT aka DANGER MAN MEGASET - This is much more than a complete series in a box; it's a magnificent performance that extends over years, developing subtly and brilliantly and often through ellipsis. Patrick McGoohan's John Drake is a protagonist whose adventures present him in disguise, and we only get a sense of who he really is by reading between the lines of all these episodes -- and the episodes start out on a level of feature film excellence and get progressively stronger from season to season. The great thing about this show is its courage in showing that Drake was not always necessarily working on behalf of the right side of a political argument, but had to persevere with the end goal in mind. This set is worth all the Bond box sets combined.
6. LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION - The cartoons look better than ever, many are presented with isolated music tracks, and the extras are comprehensive, delightful and educational. A great beginning.
5. CAN DVD - This two-disc set (plus one music CD of new music from various group alumni) collects all the film and video that exists on the German progressive rock group CAN. I've always loved them, so much that I actually broke into tears as I watched the 2002 video footage of them receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award on German television, and when one commentator cited them as an inspiration to artists everywhere. They certainly were to me, and this set not only shows them in action onstage and in the studio, but encapsulates their musical and creative philosophies magnificently.
4. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST - My favorite film of all time, this disc would have rated higher with superior extras. The presentation is perhaps still incomplete, but it looks and sounds absolutely breathtaking, especially in the new 5.1 remix. It left my heart so full, that the supplements (particularly the commentary) came as a letdown. Why Paramount allowed John Carpenter to fumble through his talk is beyond me; it's an insult to Leone's masterpiece to have it discussed by someone who clearly hasn't seen it more than a couple of times, and long ago.
3. LON CHANEY COLLECTION - A superb tribute to a man who remains, more than a century after his birth, one of the greatest and most articulate of film actors. Three rarely-seen features, a reconstruction of one of his lost films, and perhaps the single greatest documentary ever made about an actor's life and work, plus a trio of commentaries by Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake. Extraordinary and extraordinarily moving.
2. THREE COLORS TRILOGY - Say what you like about Harvey Weinstein; he made this magnificent trilogy possible. And his company has treated Kieslowski's swan song with the respect it warrants, with impeccable commentaries (with the warm involvement of all three female leads) and detailed supplementary features. BLUE still needs to be remastered with the lyrics to the closing music included in the subtitles, but one comes out the other end of this viewing experience infinitely enriched in soul.
1. FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT'S ADVENTURES OF ANTOINE DOINEL - Everything you ever need to know or see about Truffaut's great series. THE 400 BLOWS in anamorphic widescreen, giving us the most beautiful Paris you can see on your TV screen. STOLEN KISSES on video for the first time in French with English subtitles. Delphine Seyrig! Claude Jade! Extraordinary packaging, presentation and executed on every level with perfect taste.
Honorable mention: THE MONDO COLLECTION (Blue Underground) - In all fairness, I couldn't vote for it because I haven't grown the balls to watch all of it yet. But the fact that this set establishes a new level of comprehension and beauty of presentation for an American DVD release is indisputable.
Additional comment: What can you say about a year in which your Top 10 list can't accomodate the LORD OF THE RINGS expanded editions? Criterion's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, BY BRAKHAGE, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST or THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER? Something Weird's OLGA TRILOGY and FLESH TRILOGY sets? Image Entertainment's NAKED CITY volumes? Kino's MIDNIGHT WHISPERS (as time goes on, I believe this was the best new movie I saw this year)? Mondo Macabro's THE VAMPIRE and THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z? THE SOPRANOS SEASON 4? THE room-thundering KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, for Chrissakes! Or the many important import releases I've seen in the past twelve months, including Elite's superlative Jess Franco restorations? The market is far too saturated with high quality.
If this keeps up, Top 10 lists, as far as DVDs are concerned, will have to become obsolete.