Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Top 10 Favorite Films of 2013

I admit it. I like making lists, ever since I was in elementary school. I kept notebooks of pop song charts (similar to Billboard's) week after week throughout Junior High and High School years. I'm not as obsessive as back then now. I wonder where those lined notebooks have gone....

I always feel giddy about making an year end list each December/January. It's one of the rare pleasures that makes the dreadful Christmas/New Year Holiday season a tiny bit tolerable. It was a remarkable year for films. But I feel I wasn't as vigorous as I was in 2012, going out of my comfort zone to find more challenging cinema. Nonetheless ended up watching some great films, thanks to New York Film Festival and unlike past few years, many of my favorites came from the US filmmakers.

I was pussyfooting around and changing my top 10s according to industry standards, whatever that is- usually only listing films that got domestic theatrical distribution. But this is my blog and I feel like meeting that particular restriction silly in this day and age, with plenty of sources to watch films. So I decided to consider all my film festival and series viewings as well from now on.

So without Further ado:

*Click on the titles for full reviews

1. The Act of Killing - Oppenheimer
Crazy. The Act of Killing stars former paramilitary gangsters in Indonesia (preman they are called, from English words free man), who carried out killing estimated one million people accused of being Communists in the years 1965-66. But unlike other countries where peace and reconciliation (however difficult and uneasy they have been) came after horrendous dictatorships and mass killings (think of most Latin America), in Jakarta, most of the military who came to power 50 years ago are still in charge, with the help of the organized street gang known as Pancasila Youth, which boasts 3 million memberships. It's quite unfathomable by Western standards: killers are roaming proudly, telling people their grand, detailed stories, even on TV talk shows. It's the winners who write history. For losers, there isn't anyone left to voice their opinions- as the protagonists in this documentary says, "we exterminated them all". Joshua Oppenheimer asks one such gangster, the lean, flamboyant Anwar Congo if he can reenact killings in front of the camera. Without any irony or shame, Anwar goes along with it in detail with his fat sidekick compatriot Herman in tow. He demonstrates the easiest, most efficient way to kill a human being. It's the truth. That's how it happened. But as Anwar goes through garish movie-making business (complete with dancing girls and waterfalls and John Barry's 'Born Free' playing in the background), his conscience start to catch up with him. He admits having nightmares of haunting ghosts of the people he killed. Adi, his friend from killing days flies over with his family to be in the film, coldly observes that if the scene they are doing is too good, everyone who sees it will realize that they were worse (cruel and sadistic, in their words) than the commies they were accusing of being. Adi doesn't have any qualms about his past deeds and he sleeps fine at night. George Bush invaded Iraq even though Saddam had no WMD. Americans wiped out American Indians. Again, it's the winners. Geneva conventions? Human Rights? Please. Morality shifts for the winners.

But it's Anwar playing a victim getting tortured and killed that breaks him. He goes silent, then asks the filmmaker that if what he's feeling, the fear that takes over his whole was what was happening to all the people he killed? Oppenheimer tells him, "No, it was much much worse. You are just playing part in a movie. But those people you killed, they knew they were going to die." The Act of Killing might be the most powerful and cathartic documentary I've ever seen. It's no wonder Herzog and Errol Morris got involved in executive producing it. The credits of The Act of Killing is still riddled with 'Anonymous' from co-director down. The political situation in Indonesia is still too dangerous for many people who are involved. It's certainly the most important movie this year, any year.

My interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer

*According to the film's website, streaming, DVD and Digital downloads will be available on Jan. 7th. Please visit the film's website be clicking here.

2. Blue is the Warmest Color - Kechiche
Ketchiche doesn't leave out the sexual nature of this rather conventional film about first love. Amazing performance by its star Adèle Exarchopoulos.

3. Hors Satan - Dumont
As I wrote more indepth about Bruno Dumont's examination on faith in the review of his new film Camile Claudel 1915, Dumont's fast become one of my favorite directors of recent years. He certainly is charting a new territory in filmmaking.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis - Coen
Finally, A Coen Bros movie with a heart!

5. Her - Jonze
Jonze possesses a sensibility and acuteness of a generation who grew up on computer. This film is a cult classic in the making.

6. Museum Hours - Cohen
Observational, fluid and quietly affecting, one of the real surprises in the 2013 movie going experience.

7. Exhibition - Hogg
Human relationship expressed with space and sound, this is Joanna Hogg's breakthrough film. I am expecting more great things from this talented director.

8. Paradise: Love - Seidl
I'd love to witness Seidl's method first hand. Even after reading about his method and interviews I still have no idea how he brings out the worst of human tendencies in ordinary people.

My interview with Ulrich Seidl

9. 12 Years a Slave - McQueen
A masterful filmmaker still honing his narrative storytelling skills. His brevity to tackle things other artists wouldn't dare is truly commandable.

10. Only Lovers Left Alive - Jarmusch
Jarmusch, you are too cool for skool.

The rest:

Beyond the Hills - Mungiu
Bastards - Denis
Only God Forgives - Refn
Like Father, Like Son - Kore-eda
Paradise: Faith - Seidl
A Touch of Sin - Jia
Gravity - Cuaron
Nobody's Daughter Haewon - Hong
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Resnais
Stoker - Park