It is inevitable in this day and age not to have an "online-only" friend -- people you consider very good friends, with whom you interact constantly online, but have never really met.
For this documentarian, meeting that kind of friend proved to be a disaster, and he gives us insight about what went wrong. It doesn't have to be a disaster all the time though. Dean Francis Alfar and I, for example, became blogger friends years and years ago, until he finally came to Dumaguete to visit me. We've been very good friends since then. It can happen. Would you be willing to meet with an "online-only" friend?
I’ve been spring-cleaning for three days now. The last part—culling and sorting—takes forever, especially sorting. Papers, documents, etc. It’s very therapeutic though, filing and putting things in their proper places, throwing things away, discovering old stuff. I found my grade school valedictorian “medal,” for example, and it was awesome.
9:08 PM |
Nico is Nothing But a Third-Rate, Trying Hard Douchebag
Watching Emmanuel Borlaza's Bituing Walang Ningning (1985) again, after so many years of this film being just memory, and I think the real villain is Christopher de Leon's Nico Escobar. A privileged music exec who doesn't seem to do any real work, he dates the most successful singer in the country, but wants Lavinia to give up [almost] everything to be his wife. Spurned by Lavinia who only wants to live to her best potential, Nico proceeds to groom some Eliza Dolittle character named Dorina to challenge Lavinia, like some petulant six-year-old Svengali with influence and money. And when Dorina in fact succeeds to become the fast-rising singing sensation in the country, Nico gives her the same ultimatum: give up everything and be my wife. The douchebag! Of course this being the 1980s, Dorina gives up everything for love. In the showdown concert that ends the movie, Dorina shares the same stage, and song, with Lavinia in some mid-80s version of female camaraderie. On stage, we behold the ex and the current -- both victims of Pinoy patriarchy which strongly determines the shape of female success. That this was once framed by Pinoy pop culture of old as a "romance" that celebrates "love triumphant over everything else" makes me cringe.
But that's me being a feminist. As a lover of 80s melodrama, I loved it.
Last February 2018, the British Film Institute invited over a hundred programmers, critics, and filmmakers to vote for the 30 greatest LGBT films of all time. This is their list [plus some runners-up]. I don't agree with many of them (Theorem? seriously?), the list smacks of cinephile snobbery (Funeral Parade of Roses? really?), and it's missing out some of my favorite ones (The Wedding Banquet, for one). But it's a good list (Portrait of Jason? oh yeah!), and gives anyone a good start to begin their own hunt for queer titles. I've seen 23 out of 30, so here's to completing this one...
☑ Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
☑ Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)
☑ Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)
☑ Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
☑ Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
☑ Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
☑ My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985)
☑ All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)
☐ Un Chant d’Amour (Jean Genet, 1950)
☑ My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)
☑ Tangerine (Sean S. Baker, 2015)
☐ The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
☑ Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
☐ Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan, 1931)
☐ Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998)
☑ Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)
☐ Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)
☐ Je, Tu, Il, Elle (Chantal Akerman, 1974)
☑ Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989)
☐ Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
☑ Beautiful Thing (Hettie MacDonald, 1996)
☑ Stranger By the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013)
☑ Theorem (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968)
☐ The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)
☐ Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)
☑ Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
☑ Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967)
☑ Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
☑ Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1971)
☑ Pink Narcissus (James Bidgood, 1971)
☑ Sunday Bloody Sunday (John Schlesinger, 1971)
☐ Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011)
☑ Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969)
1. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, United States and Italy)
The key to understanding Call Me By Your Name as an adaptation of Andre Aciman's lyrical novel is the film’s famous last shot: a prolonged take of Elio's crying face that lasts for more than three minutes. (As a cut, that's an eternity in film...) Here is an example of where the book's poetry gets its cinematic treatment: in its pregnant silences, in its knowing gestures, in the perfectly placed score, in the expressiveness of the actors' faces. All the torment and longing in the book is in that last shot: Elio and his heartbreak as the camera's sole focus, in the only grammar film knows: faces. [Ingmar Bergman once famously said that cinema is all about human faces.] That the camera lingers on his face as the music swells doesn't only acquaint us to Elio's enduring torment though. It also reminds us that life does go on, because there is his mother and Mafalda behind him setting the table for dinner, and then finally calling Elio by his name, to remind him and us that what shatters us doesn't necessarily annihilate us. I have been shattered myself, to pieces, but I am still here.
2. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, United States)
Greta Gerwig's film is a thoroughly enjoyable directorial debut from a filmmaker who has already given us a fascinating character study in Frances Ha, and pushes that even deeper in this new story about a forceful girl, her coming of age, and her brittle battles tinged with affection with her equally forceful mother. This should be another run-of-the-mill story about disaffected teenagers, but it is precisely observed, marvelously acted, and wonderfully paced, it easily is one of the best films of the year.
3. Faces Places (Agnes Varda and JR, France)
Can a documentary be this quirky, idiosyncratic, and endearing? Varda's latest, which she has collaborated on with the photographer and visual artist who goes by the name of JR, is categorically a documentary, but it rises above that label by also being a contemporary take on French New Wave sensibilities [that beginning...] with all its the narrative inventions. It is also a heartfelt examination of art and the artist, and what can art can do for communities.
4. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States)
5. Wonder (Stephen Chbosky, United States)
Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of the popular YA novel by RJ Palacio is a wonderful surprise, a tearjerker that earns its tears, dwelling with nuance on sentiment. I love it. Jacob Tremblay's performance as Auggie, a boy with a craniofacial disfigurement, is rich and allows us to see once again that his masterful turn in Room was not a fluke. But he is surrounded by a supporting cast that holds its own, the actors giving so much depth to characters that could have been cardboard forgettables if not done right. Julia Roberts slays as the mother, but Noah Jupe as Auggie's best friend almost steals the movie with such an open-faced and organically endearing performance. Roger Ebert once said that he is moved most by movies where characters are kind to each other. This is the embodiment of that, to use Auggie's teacher's word, "precept." There are no villains in this movie, only ordinary people trying to deal with challenges, trying to do their best, and trying to show what humanity they can in their everyday lives. Everyone should see this film. And bring boxes of Kleenex.
6. The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected (Noah Baumbach, United States)
7. The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey, Ireland, Canada, and Luxembourg)
8. Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin, United States)
9. Brad’s Status (Mike White, United States)
I love the cinema of anxiety of Ben Stiller. In films such as While We're Young, The Meyerowitz Stories, Greenberg, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he's consistently good at portraying generational angst and embodying the subterfuges of doubts. He takes that persona up several notches in Mike White's Brad's Status, which is also very much the cousin of Ingrid Goes West in portraying the ugly psychology of social media envy. Stiller is Brad Sloan, a 40-something nonprofit consultant who, in accompanying his son on a tour of colleges in Boston, suddenly gets gripped by the feeling that he has become a failure -- especially in comparison to three college buddies who have since scaled the heights of fame, wealth, accomplishments, and influence. This could have been a film that plows through privileged, self-pitying drivel but White is deeper than that, and wiser to expectations. In the middle of the film, as Brad self-pityingly pontificates about the necessity of selling-out to an idealistic Millennial, he gets no pity; he gets told instead: "Trust me, you have enough." Which is the point of the movie really, and it is a lesson arrived at very beautifully and poignantly, and makes this film one of the surprising best of the year.
10. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, United States)
Guillermo del Toro's film is basically Splash meets E.T. meets 4 1/2 Weeks. It is charming, I like it, the performances in it are surefooted, and it has enough Del Toro sadism to make it more interesting and pushes it beyond the fairy tale that it is, but I just hope it won't be forgettable in the years to come.
11. In This Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi, Japan)
Sunao Katabuchi's film is an anime that reminds me of the power of Grave of the Fireflies, one of the most searing anti-war films there is. Like that film, it underlines the horrors of war with its intimate depiction of ordinary lives impacted by it. In this case we follow a girl from Hiroshima who then marries off to Kure, and we see her dealing with family, with love, with expectations, with marriage, and finally with war. The way it hopscotches through time, basically from the early 1930s to the mid-1940s, makes this an epic of the intimate sort, but we stay with it because Suru is such an interesting character, full of texture and surprises and dreams and doubts and kindness and resourcefulness and bursts of anger. That she provides commentary to her life with her uncanny talent to draw and paint adds another dimension to the film: art as a lens to make sense of outer chaos and inner turmoil. But what happens when even that is taken away from you?
12. Ang Larawan (Loy Arcenas, Philippines)
13. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, United States)
How to describe the immense pleasure of Michael Almereyda's film? It is a strange trip through words and mindsets, a chamber drama that stirs so much philosophical ferment. What is memory? Who are we? How must we be remembered? What is human? This should be unfilmmable material but Almereyda gets just how to frame Jordan Harrison's play to make it alive, immediate, intriguing. In the near future where AI has progressed definitely, an ailing woman in her 80s, played with saucy perfection by Lois Smith, chooses to have an interactive hologram of her husband in his prime as company, talking to it, making it more human by supplying it with memories she is having an increasingly difficult time grasping herself. That is only the premise. The film dives deeper, regaling us with conversations that probe philosophical depths, and gives us an experience I last had watching My Dinner With Andre and Before Sunset.
14. Newton (Amit V. Masurkar, India)
A dramedy about a naive but idealistic bureaucrat sent to the wilds of Central India to oversee the general election in a rebel-infested region -- is a wry take on the limits, both comic and tragic, of democratic ideals. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Sometimes the best way to make clear what ails society is to laugh at its problems.
15. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone, United States)
The films of Stephen Cone are always so finely observed, so deeply human, so respectful of the differences that define us, and Princess Cyd is no different. Here he takes a slight detour from his usual subject matter -- the minutiae of the lives of suburban Christians -- but stays within his other big theme -- the sexual awakening of gay adolescence. Cyd is a teenage girl who comes to visit her aunt, a best-selling novelist, and their interaction becomes a rich dramatic showcase of the relationships between women, between generations, between the artist and her audience, and between the artist and the inspiration that fuels her craft. I could call this the sapphic version of Call Me By Your Name; both are triumphs of the cinematic examination of humanity, art, and desire.
16. mother! (Darren Aronofsky, United States)
Years ago, when I was a little kid, the children of the neighborhood would troop over to my house, knock on the door, and ask my mother if I could come out to play. She'd go to my bedroom where I'd be curled up with a good book, and she'd say, "Your friends are here." My heart would sink, and I'd dig deeper within the intimate comforts of my bed and tell her: "Tell them I'm not home." This is to say Darren Aronofsky's mind-fuck of a movie was made for me, and for all the agoraphobic, introverted people out there. It's an in-your-face, what-the-hell-is-going-on film that will be remembered in the years to come, the way the divisive enigmas of Repulsion, Last Year in Marienbad, and L'Avventura have been remembered. It's message: hell is other people. Don't watch it: it's probably not for you.
17. Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, United States)
The documentaries of Frederick Wiseman are films you develop a taste for. They are not for everyone. Their fly-on-the-while approach, constantly observing, endlessly unspooling without any hint of design or editorializing, can be taxing for those who are not familiar with his work. But for those who are, they are brilliant pieces of the documentary tradition, endlessly fascinating and intrinsically human. In his latest, he turns his cameras on the New York Public Library, observing its daily minutiae -- going through the stacks, going through the lecture rooms, going through the meeting rooms -- to finally tell us an immersive story of a cultural institution that is fascinating for how it lives out its existence, and how its very existence is a testament to American intellectual history.
18. BPM [Beats Per Minute] (Robin Campillo, France)
19. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia)
Andrey Zvyagintsev's film is bleak and unforgiving, a contemporary Russian answer to L'Avventura minus its glamorous depiction of ennui and detachment. Like that Antonioni film, the drama springs from a mysterious disappearance and the subsequent search, but Zvyagintsev strips it all down to a savage, if cold, realism, giving us a parade of truly despicable monsters for main characters. But it is a riveting watch.
20. Lipstick Under My Burkha (Alankrita Shrivastava, India)
21. Thelma (Joaquin Trier, Norway)
Joachim Trier never disappoints, and in his latest, he dips into the supernatural and explores the webs of psychology, religious fundamentalism, and sexuality. Thelma has powers she is not aware of, and when she comes to the city to study in university, she unleashes it when she meets a girl she finds herself growing attracted to, disturbing her ultra-religious upbringing. Gorgeous cinematography, indelible performances.
22. Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, Thailand)
23. Patay na si Hesus (Victor Villanueva, Philippines)
This road film, about a family taking a fraught-filled van journey from Cebu to Dumaguete to attend the funeral of the estranged father, is uproariously funny, but its drama also cuts deep. It will affirm your love for Filipino film, and it will make you believe Bisaya filmmaking has become a formidable force. The audience I saw it with tonight hooted and laughed -- and by God, there's nothing like the nuances of Cebuano to really relish every line-reading. You will thank the cinema gods you caught this gem of a film.
24. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (Griffin Dunne, United States)
Griffin Dunne's fascinating new documentary on the writer Joan Didion begins with her voice-over, reading from the preface of Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968): "I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder." I felt this kind of paralysis early this year -- but I think most writers do. I'm glad for this film; it is a fascinating portrait of an important literary voice. Who has read "Goodbye to All That" and not been astounded by that sheer command of language?
25. Kedi (Ceyda Torun, Turkey)
26. Jane (Brett Morgen, United States)
27. Motherland (Ramona Diaz, Philippines and United States)
28. Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman, United States)
Eliza Hittman's film is gritty and sumptuous all at once. It's an indelible and honest portrait of an aimless teenager who finds the pressures of family tragedies and friendly delinquencies too much to bear, and so soon turns to anonymous sex with older men to fill a gaping void he can't even begin to define. This is not a film about being in the closet. It's a film about the death of affect, and it's tragedy that has its dark consequences.
29. Birdshot (Mikhail Red, Philippines)
30. God's Own Country (Francis Lee, United Kingdom)
31. Frantz (François Ozon, France)
32. The Florida Project (Sean Baker, United States)
I remember Roger Ebert once writing that one of the rare pleasures of the cinema is the camera just observing ordinary people doing what they are doing. Sean Baker's film is a film about two things: (1) meticulous world-building, and in this case the colorful maze of cheap motels surrounding Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and the close-knit community of low-wage earners who rent out rooms by the week; and (2) the long unfurling of days for a bunch of spirited children going about play both innocent and naughty. (Sometimes they play in the adjacent playground; sometimes they unwittingly burn abandoned buildings to the ground.) There is immense pleasure in us watching all these, and part of the charm is the film reminding us of our own carefree wanderings as children. But the story cannot be all aimless, and so it is grounded in the travails of a single and irresponsible mother, her sunshine of a daughter, and their testy but subtly affectionate relationship with the motel's gruff but kind-hearted manager, played winningly by Willem Dafoe. Their indelibly etched characters propel the final act's turn towards tragedy, which is only implied, but since we have seen these people in their most intimate circumstances, we feel for them.
33. In the Fade (Fatih Akin, Germany)
Fatih Akin is known for films following the travails of immigrants in his home country of Germany, understandable given his Turkish roots. In In the Fade, he tackles the repercussions of a brutal hate crime, and explores the theme via a young German mother [played with searing heartfeltness by Diana Kruger] losing both Kurdish husband and son to a neo-Nazi instigated bombing, and feeling everything else collapse around her when even justice is denied her. This film is a film about grief and loss, and the despair that descends when nothing else makes sense in the world.
34. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, United States)
35. Last Men in Aleppo (Firas Fayyad, Syria)
36. Mudbound (Dee Rees, United States)
37. 4 Days in France (Jérôme Reybaud, France)
What to make of Jérôme Reybaud's Jours de France? I can't quite define this film. It is this and that, but not quite, and ends up surprising us with such rare pleasure only to be found in poetry. And yet here's the premise: a young French man leaves his older lover, and Paris, to wander aimlessly the French countryside in an Alfa Romeo, guided only by Grindr, hookups via public toilet graffiti, and random encounters with people, a lot of them older women who embody not just quirky characters but also a philosophical type. They have sex or earnest conversations, always ended in an abrupt way, and then the movie becomes a chase of sorts. What to make of it? The only way to experience this film is to surrender to it and its fine idiosyncrasies, and by the end you get poetry so profound it is astonishing.
38. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, United States and Greece)
I love the films of Yorgos Lanthimos without exception. They are strange, inhabiting a world of such unique perspective, mostly of the comic sort that is a delicious mix of alienating, illusory, and gruesome. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a worthy addition to his strange films, using the depths of Greek tragedy to explore a film about revenge and justice. A surgeon befriends a boy after accidentally killing his father on the operating table. The friendship becomes deep but also creepy and when the doctor finally tries to let go, the boy sets a curse on the doctor's family that will leave them paralyzed and sick until he chooses to kill one of them. "It's the only thing I can think of that's close to justice," the boy tells the bewildered wife, in a deadpan delivery that's both perfect and innocent and chilling.
39. The Post (Steven Spielberg, United States)
In the wake of SEC's revocation of Rappler's registration, I couldn't help but feel chills while watching Steven Spielberg's film. Could a film be more relevant now to our times? It is about the WashingtonPost's battle with the Nixon White House to print stories about the Pentagon Papers, which chronicled classified government lies about the Vietnam War. We need good journalism now more than ever, especially in the face of an undemocratic clampdown. To paraphrase a bit the film's thesis at the end, "The free press [must have protection] to fulfil its essential role in our democracy. The press must serve the governed, not the governors." Meryl Streep's Katherine Graham gives a rejoinder: "You know what my husband said about the news? He called it the first rough draft of history. We don't always get it right, we're not always perfect, but I think if we just keep on it -- that's the job."
40. The Farthest (Emer Reynolds, United States)
41. Get Me Roger Stone (Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank, and Daniel DiMauro, United States)
42. Darkest Hour (Joe Wright, United Kingdom)
43. A Fantastic Woman [Una Mujer Fantástica] (Sebastián Lelio, Chile)
44. Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow, United States)
Kathryn Bigelow's film is a gimlet-eyed dramatization of racial brutalization, the Algiers Motel killings by cops of black young men at the height of the Detroit Riots in 1967. It was too tense for me, I couldn't bear watching it. But I did anyway, and I'm still reeling from the fact that fifty years hence nothing much has changed.
45. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, United States)
46. The Square (Ruben Östlund, Sweden)
47. The Wedding Plan (Rama Burshtein, Israel)
48. Strong Island (Yance Ford, United States)
49. Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh, United States)
50. Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, United States)
As a huge fan of Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows (2014), I'm glad that he managed to carry over his unique sense of funny in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and still able to come up with strong Marvel product. Was giggling all throughout the film. [My favorite bit is Matt Damon and Sam Neill in cameos as Asgardian thespians, with a giggling Anthony Hopkins clearly having fun.]
51. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, United States)
I love the film -- and it does require immersion and multiple viewings to be completely appreciated. Brian Raferty opines: "The new Blade Runner is an immersive experience, the kind that requires you to put down your phone and get lost in a big, bewildering world for hours on end. That doesn't seem like a huge sacrifice in the binge-era, when people are capable of shotgunning an entire season of a TV show in a weekend, and certainly, smashes like Titanic and Avatar were just as lengthy. But those movies promised the spectacle of romance, and vice versa. Blade Runner 2049 offers something a little stranger and chillier, and in a year already ruled by fear, maybe that's too much to ask of audiences. That said, I hope more people catch up with 2049 before 2017 is over. We don't get big-studio movies this smart and audacious too often, and we should enjoy them now, lest they be relegated to the off-worlds forever." Yes to cinematic audacity! Same reason why I loved mother! -- for the sheer filmmaking chutzpah you don't often see today in a world of cookie cutter superhero movies. The Best of the Rest
52. Logan (James Mangold, United States)
53. Hostiles (Scott Cooper, United States)
54. Garden Party (Florian Babikian, Théophile Dufresne, Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon, Vincent Bayoux, and Lucas Navarro, France)
55. Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer, United States)
56. Respeto (Treb Monteras II, Philippines)
57. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (Matt Tyrnauer, United Kingdom)
58. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, United States)
59. Get Out (Jordan Peele, United States)
60. The Lost City of Z (James Gray, United States)
61. A Taxi Driver (Jang Hoon, South Korea)
62. The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, United States)
63. Paris 05:59: Théo and Hugo (Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, France)
64. Revolting Rhymes (Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer, United Kingdom)
65. All the Money in the World (Ridley Scott, United States)
66. The Disaster Artist (James Franco, United States)
67. The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs, United States)
Azazel Jacobs' small film is droll and delightful. And I love its use of a grand orchestral score to underline the dramatic turns in the lives of the characters we follow. A middle-aged couple, on the brink of a breakup and involved in passionate affairs with other people, find a spark in their relationship, throwing everything in their lives into merry tumult. It's domestic fun, jaded and hopeful at the same time.
68. On Body and Soul (Ildiko Enyedi, Hungary)
69. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, United States)
70. Smaller and Smaller Circles (Raya Martin, Philippines)
71. 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Petersen Vargas, Philippines)
72. Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski, Finland)
I love the formal contradictions in Dome Karukosi's biopic of the artist and gay cultural icon: there is sexual restraint in the depictions of the life, and sexual abandon in the depiction of the art. For some reason, it works, and what we have is a breathing, organic story about a man trapped in the institutional homophobia of his time but seeking unshackling in his erotic art. My life, in other words.
73. Crooked House (Gilles Paquet-Brenner, United Kingdom)
74. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, United States)
75. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, United States)
76. Battle of the Sexes (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, United States)
The events of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' meticulous dramatization of the Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs tennis match for the ages, may have happened in 1973, but it is very much a statement of the current times: how women have to battle clowns to prove their worth is not just a gender in sports story, it is also a story of contemporary politics. Billie won, Hillary lost -- because apparently people prefer clowns for president. The film is tight and enjoyable, and it wears its politics on its sleeve. Good for the film.
78. Já, Olga Hepnarová (Tomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda, Czech Republic)
79. Ferdinand (Carlos Saldanha, United States)
80. Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater, United States)
Richard Linklater's film is a surprise. I was prepared to ignore it; I wasn't interested in watching a film about three Vietnam veterans thrown together in an unexpected reunion to accompany the dead body of the son of one of them, who was recently killed under mysterious circumstances in Iraq. But I forget this was a Linklater film, and he has always made films of deeply human rhythms, and this film is characteristic of that. It is in turns funny and sad, and in equal measure. The scene inside the train with all three of them, plus a marine assigned to accompany them, is a beautiful and very funny sequence, showcasing the tight chemistry of Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne. Linklater has made better, greater films; this is a satisfying good one.
81. First They Killed My Father (Angelina Jolie, Cambodia and United States)
Angelina Jolie's film is remarkable for a Hollywood treatment of the Cambodian genocide. Unlike 1984's The Killing Fields, it is not framed as a white man's story. It is a searing tale and doesn't flinch from the gruesomeness and dread of its subject matter, and may be Jolie's best film.
82. Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, United States)
83. It (Andrés Muschietti, United States)
84. Columbus (Kogonada, United States)
85. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, United States)
I love Bill Morrison's love letter to old movies. It looks like a well-made PowerPoint presentation, but it feels like an immersive time machine. The film, about the 1978 discovery of long-lost silent films in an abandoned swimming pool in an old gold rush town in the Klondike, glories in the preserved rushes of lost cinema but also uses them to tell the story of hardy men and a plucky town and their rise and fall in Arctic wilderness.
86. Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, United States)
87. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson, United States)
88. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (Paul McGuigan, United States and United Kingdom)
89. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, France)
Bertrand Bonello's film is both bland and compelling. In its relentless and high-strung tracking shots of a bunch of disaffected young people in Paris planning to blow up key points of the city in the name of anarchy, it becomes an exercise of dread and strange negotiations for empathy. By the time the gang gathers together in a mall to watch the media coverage and to avoid police surveillance, it becomes too loose to be believable, so much so that the tragic end comes only as a relief from a story that was going nowhere. I watched the film three times in a row.
90. Roman Israel, Esq. (Dan Gilroy, United States)
91. Coco (Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, United States)
92. The Star (Timothy Reckart, United States)
93. Home Again (Hallie Meyers-Shyer, United States)
It got critical drubbing, but that's to be expected: Hallie Shyer-Meyer's directorial debut is (egad) a female domestic fantasy picture, a nasty nasty thing for male critics. I liked Home Again, it's light and silly like a minor James L. Brooks film with the sensibility of a Nancy Meyers film. (Meyers happen to be the director's mother.) It showcases Reese Witherspoon going back to the romantic comedy mode that made her a star, but surrounds her with three young men who fulfill every white girl's fantasy: one for sex, one for IT needs, one for babysitting (hahaha). But it's an enjoyable romp, and should be taken as that.
94. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, France)
95. War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, United States)
96. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, United States)
97. Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, United States)
98. Okja (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea and United States)
99. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismaki, Finland)
It shouldn't work, the across-the-board awkwardness of Aki Kaurismaki's film -- the script, the acting, the pacing. Yet it does, all the awkward elements making up a genial, thoroughly enjoyable whole. Can comedy be made out of the Syrian refugee crisis? Apparently it's possible. A Syrian asylum seeker seeking a lost sister defies Finnish authority and finds an unlikely ally in a man who, upon the breakup of a marriage and sheer luck in gambling, finds himself owning a restaurant staffed by misfits. That description alone makes it sound like two movies, but Kaurismaki finds a way to reconcile both parts, and even give them both depth and high stakes.
100. Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon, United States)
101. The Sense of an Ending (Ritesh Batra, United Kingdom)
102. Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes, United States)
Todd Haynes' film is a curious thing. It's not Haynes' best film, it's not closer to any one of his best films, but I like it. It's tender and surprising and has a funny way of bending time to tell a story of two deaf teens making their way into the big city in search of answers and personal revelations.
103. The Final Year (Greg Barker, United States)
The last 20 minutes of Greg Barker's The Final Year is the very soul of the documentary, which is part a story of world diplomacy at work and part a story of abject horror where the Unexpected monstrously comes true. The film has been, from the start, a chronicle of President Barack Obama's final year in office, and it follows various staffers and diplomats in his team as they try to put the last efforts at diplomacy and policy to ensure his legacy, and to ensure that America and the world is benefitted a template for further progress. Near the end of the film, all the characters we've followed so far are settling down for Election Night, all celebratory but also complacent in their self-assurances that they've done a good job so far -- only to see, as the deluge of news coverage comes in, all of their hard work slowly and surely coming apart: the expected winner, Hillary Clinton, loses the presidency to Donald Trump. There is a scene within those last 20 minutes where a top staffer tries to find the exact words to define his horror, and couldn't. He stammers and stammers, and his eyes betray his disappointment: all that hard work was for nothing. What lesson can we glean from The Final Year? That good work is not good enough, perhaps? That we cannot be complacent in the presence of enemies who will do almost anything to unravel all your good intentions, perhaps? This was a painful watch, if only because we're seeing all these with the benefit of hindsight. What brilliant people they are, and how naive.
104. Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, United States)
105. Stronger (David Gordon Green, United States)
I hate it when people say a film feels like an after-school special because that basically means we have eschewed intimate stories in cinema in favor of spectacle and bombast. Hence, too many superhero and Transformers movies. David Gordon Green's film, which follows the life of one survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, comes close to such ghetto-izing but the story deserves big screen treatment, and it is saved for the most part by Jake Gyllenhaal's focused performance -- but my God, that eye-rolling first half. Still, it manages to lay bare its conceit: being declared heroic is not necessarily inspirational for the heroes themselves. It's all image, image can be toxic, but image is also necessary. Green manages to hurdle these complications, but I still wouldn't want Miranda Richardson for a mother.
106. Beatriz at Dinner (Miguel Arteta, United States)
From Star Cinema's Cathy Garcia-Molina, perhaps because she knows what makes a Filipino moviegoer tick, my take on this film was more visceral, immediate, and emotional. By God, I tried hard to remain above it all, to disregard the conventional manipulations of this Star Cinema confection -- but I was truly a mess when the film was through with me. And I don't think I was alone in that regard: the theater I was in was filled with people suddenly made quiet with contemplation for their own familial misdeeds. (It's Ozu's Tokyo Story with more hope.) For who among us there in the darkened theater could not identify in ways with the travails of the Bonifacio family onscreen? Who among us do not delude ourselves constantly into thinking we're too busy to see an aging parent at least for the weekend? Who among us do not harbor resentments for being ignored, for being belittled, for being "used" by kin? I finished Seven Sundays emotionally adrift, but in a good way, sending me off on a contemplative mood that made me ask what else I can do to make up for all the "pagkukulang" I have for the family.
108. Félicité (Alain Gomis, Senegal)
109. Lovesong (Kim So Yong, United States)
110. The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal)
111. Ten Meter Tower (Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, Sweden)
112. Arthur Miller: Writer (Rebecca Miller, United States)
113. Novitiate (Margaret Betts, United States)
114. Final Portrait (Stanley Tucci, United States)
115. Marshall (Reginald Hudlin, United States)
Reginald Hudlin's film is not about the legal genius of the titular character that we want but it is good enough. It's not strictly a biopic; it is a dramatization of a case he fought in the American South, where -- through a surrogate played by Josh Gad -- he defended a black man accused of raping and attempting to murder a white woman. Chadwick Boseman doesn't really display gravity as Thurgood Marshall, merely going through connect-the-dots paces plus some heavy-handed speech making, but he's not bad. The film is not bad, too; it's just forgettable.
116. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Poland)
What to make of Agnieszka Smoczynska's film? It has man-eating mermaids, Polish rock bands, and nightclubs. It is a horror musical that is also a love story, loosely based on the fairy tale of The Little Mermaid. It screams cult film, and perhaps one day it will become. I liked it, I found its deliriousness fascinating, but it feels a little too on the nose with its ladling of strangeness. There's nothing organic about its weirdness.
117. Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears, United Kingdom)
Stephen Frears' film, a chronicle of the controversial friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant [later her mushi], is good entertainment that suffers from an inconsistency of tone -- first it is comic, and then it is melodramatic -- but I can see its future as supplement or fodder for classes on race, colonialism, and privilege. It made me laugh, it made me commiserate, but it is not memorable filmmaking.
118. The Party (Sally Potter, United Kingdom)
Sally Potter's film is a delightful skewering of liberal bourgeoisie mores dressed up as a dinner party among friends quickly gone to hell. These are my people.
119. It Comes at Night (Trey Edward Shults, United States)
120. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (André Øvredal, United States)
121. Dina (Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, United States)
122. Icarus (Bryan Fogel, United States)
123. My Friend Dahmer (Marc Meyers, United States)
124. Breathe (Andy Serkis, United States)
There are three ways to make films about people with disability with a gung-ho spirit: be gritty like My Left Foot, be sentimental like Andy Serkis' Breathe, or be a bit of both like The Theory of Everything. The first and the last make critics fall all over themselves in admiration. The middle doesn't stand a chance: its sentimentality give it a target on its back, and will be dismissed as maudlin. I harbor strong suspicion over critics who always insist on irony, on grit, as if that's the only way to tell a story. I like sentimentality, especially if it's well-made. And Serkis' film about a British adventure who gets polio in the old days when the disease was an absolute death sentence, and who gets a new lease on life because of a plucky wife, hits all the sentimental highlights, but it is well-made, it's not saccharine, and its heart is in the right place.
125. Good Time (Ben and Josh Safdie, United States)
I'm getting really tired of these spawns of Quentin Tarantino by way of Guy Ritchie: quirky, stylized actioners with bad-ass but interesting macho anti-heroes. I hate most how critics, mostly male and white, salivate over them while usually being condescending to musicals and women's films. So I'll be condescending to Josh and Ben Safdie's film: I like Robert Pattinson in Twilight better. At least he's not trying too hard there. (He's not trying hard at all.)
126. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, United States)
127. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James, United States)
128. Graduation (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
Cristian Mungiu's film tries hard to be the Romanian answer to the corkscrew tense dramas of Asghar Farhadi, with their moral subterfuges, screeching secrets, and domestic battlefields, and it works -- but not with the scintillating gravity of those Iranian films. Here, a doctor goes through hoops to ensure that his daughter gets a good score for an exam in order to get a Cambridge scholarship, and finds himself entangled in small-time corruption. It unfolds with requisite certainty, but I don't find myself getting draw in by the film.
129. The Lego Batman Movie (Chris McKay, United States)
130. Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, United Kingdom and Poland)
I was prepared to dislike Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman's animated film -- made up entirely of oil paintings -- about the last days in the sad but artistically productive life of Vincent Van Gogh. It sounded too much like a gimmick, and I wasn't impressed with its animation, which looked like filtered rotoscoping. And true enough, the animation wasn't what drew me in; it was its unusual choice of narrative that did. It eschews biography and went instead for a detective story, as we follow a mailman named Armand Roulin (played winningly even in animation by Douglas Booth) as he finds himself tracing what happened in the days that led to the painter's death. Was it suicide? Or murder? And whatever the case was, what brought it on? Surprisingly the film makes us interested in finding out the answers, and that is its redeeming grace.
131. Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, United States)
132. The Boss Baby (Tom McGrath, United States)
133. Rebel in the Rye (Danny Strong, United States)
Cathy Garcia-Molina, the doyenne of directing in Star Cinema's stable of talents, knows what makes us tick and what makes us giggle and scream as Filipino moviegoers, so much so that what she does in her films almost feel like templates now, all cinematic storytelling that has the beat of a worksman's efforts. No pretense to art here, just a well-produced commercial product that will sate an audience who has no intention to watch art either, demanding only to see beloved actors doing their thing, nostalgia part of the package. Sharon Cuneta is being Sharon Cuneta, the megastar. Robin Padilla is being Robin Padilla, the bad boy of Philippine cinema with the roguish heart of gold. This wasn't my cup of tea, but nonetheless I laughed and sniffed along with the rest of the crowd who saw it in the theatre with me, and I knew this was the kind of film mainstream moviegoers actually love, and that I have no right to feel above it all. Still I admire it for daring to put into the spotlight menopausal romance, sidelining the secondary romantic pairing of the story that catered to a younger crowd. Our older movie stars can teach these starlings a thing or two about star power, and endurance.
135. Permission (Brian Crano, United States)
136. 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (Jason Paul Laxamana, Philippines)
Of course it easily reminds one of (500) Days of Summer, from which it borrows many conceits -- although to detail them now could entail spoilage, so never mind that. But whereas Marc Webb's film was a romantic fantasy that limned lightness, Jason Paul Laxamana takes his film down surprising darker paths, finally subverting in crucial ways the romantic comedy mold it purports to embody. It's not a perfect film but I like it very much: every aesthetic choice Laxamana makes here seems inspired, from the spot-on casting [JC Santos and Bella Padilla bring charm and groundedness to their roles as stuttering poet and lost soul rocker] to happily imploding the cinematic myth of the manic pixie dream girl, from precise cinematographic and editing choices to giving a dexterous story that encompasses years and yet never losing the narrative line in the complicated unfolding. The poems are a little too Lang Leav for me, but that's a minor thing. We've seen Jason do wonders before in Babagwa and Mercury is Mine, but it is in this film where he comes to his full powers as director.
137. American Made (Doug Liman, United States)
Doug Liman's film is not bad but it feels like one of those recent Tom Cruise starrers where you get to ask questions like, "Isn't he too old for these kinds of shit?" Also feels like Liman dipping into the trend of narco drama coupled with feisty period coloring, like Narcos meets American Hustle. Feels too much of a derivative to be truly interesting.
138. Secret Superstar (Advait Chandan, India)
This worldwide hit -- about a girl who dreams of singing superstardom but who has to contend with an abusive father -- has the subtlety of a train wreck. It could have sold its outlandish promises though if the lead had a small amount of appeal to her, but Zaira Wasim is charmless and the overwrought screenplay does not help either.
139. Downsizing (Alexander Payne, United States)
It always fascinates me that filmmakers (Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Ridley Scott, etc.) often turn to Matt Damon to try out their most outlandish stories that are a bit off their usual narratives -- and either succeed spectacularly [The Martian] or fail miserably [We Bought a Farm]. Alexander Payne turns to Damon to try out an idea in Downsizing: what if it becomes possible to shrink people in size in the name of the environment? It's fascinating stuff, and the build-up of the world of the story does not disappoint, but it soon loses its focus and you're not quite sure what point Payne is ultimately trying to get at: is it a moral fable about the refugee crisis, a diatribe against social inequality, a call for environmental awareness? what is Christopher Waltz doing here? what's the point of the last act? why waste Kristen Wiig? why isn't there a real film starring Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern as husband and wife?
140. Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh, United States)
I get that it would be quite a challenge to adapt Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express for contemporary audiences: the novel is iconic and its bizarre solution is quite well-known, and the 1974 Sidney Lumet film, while not perfect, is beloved and some would say cannot be topped for the sheer star power it unleashed by casting some of the greatest actors at that time. Kenneth Branagh tries anyway, and while his attack on the story is unique -- the 2017 film becomes the moral education of Branagh's Hercule Poirot -- and also while its cinematography is gorgeous, the new film feels rushed, feels like too much of its own thing, and feels like it needed a different director to get it right. Lumet set the stage for the moral decisions of the story's main characters by beginning the 1974 film with a tense shadowy prologue that recounts a grisly child murder, and that tone informs our understanding of the conundrum at the heart of the murder in Christie's tale. Branagh dispenses with that, opting to go for brief (if half-hearted) flashbacks scattered all over the film, and choosing instead to open it with a detecting yarn that would showcase the moral sense of order of Poirot, which informs the conceit and the finale of the movie. I'm fine with that, but the angle does not present an interesting build-up for the story, so no matter how much the rest of this great cast try to engage us into the minutiae of their lives and their lies, they couldn't get us to care.
141. Happy End (Michael Haneke, France)
142. Our Time Will Come (Ann Hui, Hong Kong)
143. The Glass Castle (Destin Daniel Cretton, United States)
144. I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, United States)
Do you have a friend who wrongly believes himself to be a good comedian, who makes bad jokes that don't land, and who giggles after the punchline thinking he has given the best joke in the world? Craig Gillespie's fourth-wall busting comedy about the skating life and tribulations of figure skater Tonya Harding starring Margot Robbie is that kind of friend. It thinks it's so smart in its deployment of stylistic devices, and you can feel the film cracking itself up -- but it is unfunny, and is a guaranteed trip through the worst excesses of humanity with some of the most despicable characters on earth.
145. Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen, United States)
In a recent PBS documentary about the life and work of Woody Allen, we learn that the director has a peculiar way of writing a screenplay: he has what is literally a bucket where he puts in scraps of papers with random story ideas on them, accumulating over the years, and when he needs to write a new film, he dips into it and develops whatever it is he takes out of the bucket. I think he needs to get rid of that bucket, or retire. Because he has been rehashing ideas of late, to lesser returns, and in Wonder Wheel his dialogue, usually witty and cerebral, has become a repository of cliches and sounds tired, and no amount of star power -- Kate Winslet in this case -- can redeem it. Do we need another Woody Allen bimbo with a guileless heart? Do we need another run-in with the mob? What is Justin Timberlake doing here? Worse, what is David Krumholtz doing here? All he does is appear in a scene so perfunctory it deserves cutting. Not even Vittorio Storaro's hyper saturated cinematography could be of any help: it feels like a cop out, a distraction the movie needed to make us look away from how dead this story is.
146. I Love You, Daddy (Louis C.K., United States)
I see why people say Louis C.K.'s beleaguered film is inspired by Woody Allen's Manhattan, especially in its choice of black and white cinematography to capture the lives and whimsies of bourgeois New Yorkers, but it has none of that classic film's poetry and sense of grandness. What it does instead in that vein is to highlight the creepiness of its May-December romance, and in the light of the comedians recent troubles, you have got to ask: why was this film made? To its credit, it does ask questions we normally shy away from, so there's that.
147. Goodbye Christopher Robin (Simon Curtis, United Kingdom)
Simon Curtis' film, about the life of the writer A.A. Milne and the inspirations behind the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, is as odious as Margot Robbie's atrocious British accent. God, I hated this movie.
148. Siargao (Paul Soriano, Philippines)
149. Bar Boys (Kip Oebanda, Philippines)
It is Fame for law students, minus the sophomore and junior years, and it is excisions like this, among others, which make Kip Oebanda's Bar Boys a failure in structure. Contrary to how it is marketed, for example, there are only three "bar boys" instead of four, Kean Cipriano's character quickly being relegated to the wayside as the barkada who couldn't make the cut in the law school entrance exam. [Not a spoiler.] In a story that purports to be an examination of friendship braving the wild storms of law school, keeping him in the mix would have been vital to the storyline. Instead it makes other narrative choices that constantly fall flat while embracing the hoary subplots of bad teleseryes. Too bad, because the premise of following the lives of law students actually sounds interesting -- but the film only demonstrates a sophomoric effort that does try its best, but fails the cinematic bar nonetheless. That heart attack scene is contrived, overlong, and cruel. And that final scene in the Supreme Court? An embarrassment.
150. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, United States)
I am still on the fence with regards the merits of Martin McDonagh's head-scratching effort of a film, beloved and hated by many in equal measure. First of all, it feels very much like several tragic characters in search of a story; but the search is muddled, and when one of them suddenly has no definitive arc, it gets the double whammy of an exit: cancer AND suicide. (Is that a spoiler?) I mention that specifically because it feels typical of the film's many overreaches. Even the acting feels that way, including Frances McDormand's. The film is about her feisty mother seeking justice for the rape and murder of her daughter, and she does that by taunting the local police for their alleged laziness via the inspired act of putting up the titular billboards accusing them of inaction. The town, and the police, overreacts to the mother's overreaction, leading to more instances of overreaction, including TWO acts of arson, but hey, there's a nice interlude involving, umm, suicide. There's another nice, but pointless, interlude involving, umm, dating little people, which comes out of the blue and is also just as quickly dismissed. There's also a monologue about pedophilia in the Catholic Church, so you may call the film by its real name: everything including the kitchen sink. In the final analysis, the film feels overall like a cinematic exercise of giving humanity and redemption to unlikable characters, and tries to accomplish that by making the third act about forming unlikely allies of the protagonist and the antagonist, both suddenly bent on accomplishing a final mission of the most dubious moral merits. Are we supposed to root for any of these people? Why is this film getting critical love?
151. Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie, United States)
Trish Sie took a beloved small film before all these sequels happened, Hollywoodized it to such grotesque bloatedness -- explosions! car chases! -- and thought we could still care for these acapella troopers. No go. This was cinematic sin, its every pitch dirty and unwanted. I abhor everyone involved.
152. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Jake Kasdan,United States)
153. Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad (Joyce Bernal, Philippines)
154. Geostorm (Dean Devlin, United States)
Some movies stay with you. You leave the theater pondering perhaps, or your heart perhaps touched. Some are utter vexations to the spirit. Dean Devlin's Geostorm is the cinematic equivalent of a root canal gone awry. No, that's too kind. Geostorm is cow feces mixed with that hairball clogging your bathroom drainage, tossed together in a lovely salad, with pus dressing.
The nod to the ending of Mike Nichols' The Graduate in Antoinette Jadaone’s Never Not Love You (2018) -- which remains for me to be the perfect movie metaphor for the imperfections and uncertainties of romantic love -- is enough commendation for the new film, which I enjoyed very much. It's unapologetically commercial, but that's not a bad thing, especially if it works and the craft behind it is impeccable. I have never seen a James Reid and Nadine Lustre tandem before, but I can understand now the electric chemistry between them, which I think is buoyed by and large by the subtleties with which they seem to understand their roles, that of two young people in love who must deal with work/life balance. They're very good. The story's certainly not new -- but what story is? -- but I appreciate the filmmakers' grace in the handling of its material. It doesn't go hysterical, and it doesn't go cute. But Jadaone has already proven she's more than a capable filmmaker; when she's given the right set of actors to work with, like in this movie, she astounds.
And I finally did it! I'm back in Dumaguete. Four days, three major stops, 35 towns and cities, 763 kilometers, and twenty-four total hours of driving later, I've officially accomplished one major item in my bucket list: a #NegrosIslandOBT. Thanks to my fantastic companions, Xandro Dael a.k.a. Driver, and Felix Dela Peña Mosqueda III a.k.a. Caterer.
Everything starts with a whim, a small measure of guts, and the mindset of just heading out into the unknown. To appropriate the quote from the cross-country hiker in the documentary In Pursuit of Silence, "We can come up with reasons for doing anything, but only in doing it can we really understand it. [Our] intuition was that it was a good thing to do, that [doing this was] important to do in many ways and should be explored, not explained.