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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

entry arrow12:59 PM | Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Bobby Pontillas and Andrew Chesworth's One Small Step (2018) is basically the prologue of Up + the prologue of Contact + the epilogue of Cinema Paradiso repurposed to become a tale of a girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut.

Psychotherapy becomes animal business in Alison Snowden and David Fine's Animal Behaviour (2018), a good enough effort that metaphorizes through animal stereotypes our quirks and neuroses. Doesn't offer anything else, but funny in places.

How do you animate dementia in old age? Louise Bagnall's Late Afternoon (2017) tries, and comes up with a stream-of-consciousness style of animation that feels just right. And yet it is also strangely detached even if it strives to make us cry.

In Domee Shi's Bao (2018), we get a strange mix of culinary and empty-nest drama. It's cute in many places, but also sometimes creepy in its narrative choices. [She eats her "son"!] Props for occasional Pixar weirdness.

Trevor Jimenez's Weekends (2018) is so painterly it sometimes distracts from its story of a boy shuffling in-between the houses of divorcing parents. Gorgeous and sad, at the same time.

VERDICT: In order of preference, Weekends > One Small Step > Bao > Animal Behaviour > Late Afternoon.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

entry arrow8:33 PM | Quick! Do You Know Where the Old Casa España District in Dumaguete Is?

Part 4 of the Dumaguete Heritage Series

Quickly now. Do you know where the Old Casa España District in Dumaguete is?

No one now would probably know. Unless you are of a generation that knew Dumaguete from around war time, and more concretely if you came from before that, a place called the Old Casa España District—a name which evokes a particular time and a particular way of life especially in the sugarlandia of Negros—would not be a familiar one.

It is a place forgotten in history, and is perfect testament to the constant erosion of cultural memory. And truth to tell, I wasn’t even aware of the name until some time last year when I read an extended version of Lorna Makil’s article, “The Streets of Dumaguete,” which identified the triangular area near the City Hall bisected by Burgos St. and Tan Pedro Teves St. as the “Old Casa España District,” literally the district of the old Spanish houses. From that article, Makil, a famed sociologist and widow of the great Filipino tenor Elmo Makil, had written of these two streets: “These are two very short thoroughfares that begin at Sta. Catalina Street and end in Rizal Boulevard. On the Dumaguete street map, they almost form the shape of a triangle, with Tan Pedro Teves Street diagonal to and merging with Surban Street near the Boulevard.”

Then she identifies the origins of those street names, recalling notable Dumaguetnons from the past who are ironically also no longer remembered significantly: “Tan Pedro Teves was the Presidente [or the equivalent of mayor] of Dumaguete from 1903 [to] 1907, and then from 1934 [to] 1940. The word ‘Tan’ before his name was a title of respect given to officials of high rank—I suspect perhaps a shortened version of ‘Capitan.’ Don Luis Burgos was a well-known sugar planter whose wife was haciendera Doña Tomasa Gomez from Avila, Spain.”

And then she writes: “The area bounded by these two streets used to be called Old Casa España District, where the homes of wealthy and important Spanish-Filipinos used to be (some of these houses still stand, looking old and neglected now).”

Some of those houses are still there, the best preserved of the lot being the Serafin Teves Mansion, the elegant lady of the block now housing a Gerry’s Grill—of which we are happy to note has withstood the caprices of time and I am sure the temptations of “modernizing,” from being torn down, notwithstanding the glorious place it has in Dumaguete history. [I must say I miss the traditional cobalt green paint it has always boasted—but that’s beside the point.] Then again, Serafin Teves house is of the most recent vintage of all the houses in that block, built in the early decades of the 20th century in the succession of construction of the so-called “sugar houses” along the Boulevard, which became the foremost city homes of the local landed class. This house, residence of Don Serafin Lajato Teves, the governor of the province in 1956-1959, was built in 1936 from designs by architect Julio Victor Rocha, and at its prime had seen a glittering parade of visitors, including presidents [and presidentiables], ambassadors, high-ranking ministers, movie stars, and beauty queens.

Behind the mansion are the older Spanish houses, which today are a series of three lovely wooden houses of the design Oriental Negrense hacenderos mostly favored at the height of their wealth. The best representation of this architecture are those houses around Mojon Church in Bais, in the vicinity of the Central Azucarera de Bais, all of them company houses of the famed sugar mill, founded in 1918, and all still stately in their imposing, if withered, grandness—like abandoned belles in a Southern gothic romance.

The Dumaguete remnants of the Spanish casas along Burgos are a throwback to those glory years, but now obscured literally and metaphorically by abandon and perhaps forgetfulness—but the fact that they are still around in 2019 is a beacon of hope that perhaps some enterprising developer could see the diamond in the rough, and make thorough use of them while still preserving the history embedded in the old wood panels and the exquisite design. (It can be done.)

The preservation of Burgos Street itself—now a bricked pedestrian walk, following City Resolution No. 299 which was approved way back in 2002, which called for its rehabilitation and for its declaration as a pedestrian street—should be taken as a positive step towards that kind of development. Burgos Street is being envisioned as the connecting artery that will ultimately link the two most significant city parks—Paseo de Rizal [or the Rizal Boulevard] and M.L. Quezon Park. Imagine these three points [Rizal-Burgos-Quezon] as one long interconnected pathway for tourists and locals to walk along and consequently enjoy the heritage, and beauty, of Dumaguete.

A “heritage walk,” if you will.

You start with the “pantawan” [constructed in 2017] somewhere at the northern end of Paseo de Rizal, and you go along southwards following the famed walk of the National Hero as he promenaded the shores of Dumaguete in 1896. At the Serafin Teves Mansion turn from Rizal to Burgos, you walk westward, hopefully with the heritage houses of the Old Casa España District finally in restored glory along the Burgos pedestrian walk, perhaps now boasting of cafes and restaurants and shops. The “heritage walk” ends at Quezon Park, perhaps now also fully restored with the monument of Rizal also rehabilitated, and perhaps [finally!] an additional monument constructed for its namesake. [The landscape architect and heritage conservationist Paulo Alcarazen has been consulted by the City with regards the best way a restoration of the park should go. But more on the park in a future installment of this series.] The jewel of this “heritage walk” would be the Old Presidencia itself, formerly the City Hall, soon a satellite of the National Museum of the Philippines, and soon to showcase the best of our local art and culture, as well as our history.

I have actually seen an architectural video rendering of all these—and the promise of its fruition is breathtaking. But I know, given the fickle politics that we have, that it will take time, and will demand as much the strong fortitude of those with a vision to make Dumaguete a vibrant place of heritage. The hope now is for all these to become, soon, a reality we can all enjoy and gladly claim in the name of City of Gentle People.

To be continued…

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entry arrow5:51 AM | Shichuan Cuisine Comes to Dumaguete

It has been a while since Dumaguete had a real Chinese restaurant. Mei-Yan has long faded in our memories, and there was that Hong Kong-style hot pot restaurant, whose name escapes me now but was located in front of what is now Robinson's Place, which existed [and also closed] way before the mall opened. Chin Loong loosely labels itself as one, and let's not talk about Harbor City, which in fairness satisfies our occasional hankering for dimsum.

But here comes Halang-Halang, now on its soft opening at the corner of San Juan Street and Santa Catalina Street, and its vast array of Sichuan cuisine promises to be a delight for locals. What we had: poached chicken with ginger and spring onion sauce, sliced beef with chili powder and wansoy, soup noodles, and Chongqing-style fried rice. Surprisingly spicy, but overall a delightful meal. There's so much to try on the menu, and we will definitely go back.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

entry arrow11:25 PM | A Portrait of Fearlessness

I have a simmering anger for people who dismiss those who work in the media as “fake news,” knowing full well how hundreds of journalists have DIED in the pursuit of truth, and are often targets of dictators who want news skewed to render their wrongdoings perceived as right. Watching Matthew Heineman’s A Private War (2018), starring Rosamunde Pike as the fearless journalist Maria Colvin who died in 2012 in a nail bomb targeted specifically for journalists covering Assad’s murderous reign in Syria, is a powerful and saddening experience. it makes me proud of being a journalist, and also makes me ask the uncomfortable question: why am I not doing more like she did?

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

entry arrow11:01 PM | Mood


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Friday, January 25, 2019

entry arrow11:00 PM | Elio and Oliver, A Year Later

When Call Me By Your Name came out in 2017, I watched it three times in a row, and then three more after that. Tonight, I watched Luca Guadagnino's adaptation of Andre Aciman's novel again after more than a year -- and it feels like I'm seeing the film in a new light, even seeing scenes I don't even remember seeing before. This time around, the film is also so much more languid, more tender, more tentative, but also surer of its depiction of despair. The music by Sufjan Stevens, I realize even more now, is just exactly right: the lush and lilt of its themes capture the exact kurot to the stomach that falling in love -- and falling into heartbreak -- brings. That last tearful scene, extended to the brink of longing and despair. That scene at the station as the train departs. That quiet scene in the car with the mother, who knew a brush of hand against hair was enough to bring comfort, and understanding. That midnight meeting at the balcony when we hear the refrains of "Visions of Gideon" for the first time. So much of this is real, and it brings me back so easily to that untethered, reckless time when I was young and falling in love for the first time like it was the last time I could breathe.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

entry arrow7:26 PM | Imagine if We Tear Down the Campanario for a 7-11…

Part 3 of the Dumaguete Heritage Series

Read the title. That’s probably one way of registering the horror of the loss of heritage—and perhaps it is a crude example, but what translates these days as a galvanizing way of underlining the issue?

What can we imagine to make us understand there is value in cultural memory? Perhaps to imagine the Banaue Rice Terraces left crumbling to the ravages, through the combined battery of climate change, earthworms, and abandonment? To imagine the entire of Intramuros demolished to make way for another mall? To allow an original copy of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere be eaten by termites because of sheer neglect? These are extreme examples of course—and thank God these scenarios are probably not happening, given that these are popular examples of our patrimony with the attendant conservation efforts that come with that.

But imagine if we tear down the Dumaguete campanario—popularly referred to locally as the bell tower—simply because the lot it occupies is prime real estate, and all that history does not make capitalistic sense the way a 7-11 branch could.

It would most likely initiate a cry of revulsion among most Dumaguetnons who are now used to its towering presence as both landmark and symbol of the city, never mind if most of them do not probably know its complete history. Most of us would probably claim value in the bell tower’s continued preservation, citing that Value is not only measured in monetary returns—and we would be right, of course. And we would probably save the campanario from that theoretical demolition—except that we forget that thousands of other items of heritage that truly compose the cultural and historical makeup of Dumaguete City are slowly disappearing, under our watch, simply because we do not know, or we do not care, or we do not do enough.

Previously, I’ve recounted the story of the Old Presidencia—the current City Hall, now being restored to its old glory as once envisioned by the great Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano—and how its fate had been emblematic of how Dumaguete has dealt with its heritage. I wrote then: “For all our self-declared trappings of being a city of the arts and culture, of being a university town, we still lack the wherewithal to make sure our heritage is preserved. And we are surely losing it, as surely as we had almost lost the Old Presidencia to neglect and lack of information.”

Because we had almost in fact lost it.

It is easy to lose heritage, even something as monumental as the Presidencia. It would actually be easy to lose the campanario, too.

Think: it was almost so easy for Vigan to lose its heritage houses. Today, we cannot think of Vigan in Ilocos Sur without those 16th century heritage houses, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is today cited as the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia.

In the late 1980s, these same houses were decaying, and most of them were scheduled for demolition. When conservation efforts were at first suggested, there was vocal resistance from the community, most especially the owners of these houses.

The late Augusto Villalon wrote of that struggle in 2011 in the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “The early days of raising heritage awareness in Vigan during the late 1980s saw most residents and local government against conservation. Some were adamant. They saw conserving heritage as being restrictive, preventing development of their privately owned properties, and a move to freeze Vigan in 19th-century darkness. [But] resistance gradually wore down. The municipal government prepared the necessary documents and protective legislation required for World Heritage nomination… [and] heritage laws were written, thoroughly discussed with the resident community in a series of public consultations, and finally passed.”

Today, that conservation effort has been a thorough success, and it has brought a constant stream of visitors and tourists to the place, and has exponentially revitalized the economy of the area.

But imagine if the idea of conservation did not hold sway—and so imagine those same heritage houses subsequently falling to the hungry maw of a demotion truck. It is important to note from Villalon’s report that Vigan people did not at all care in the beginning. There is good reason for that: cultural memory is so intangible, and that intangibility is so difficult to comprehend. Most people do not see value in old things, that’s for sure. Anything ancient or decaying for most of us is trash, while the bling of the new is always attractive. Even the most educated among us do not necessarily take to heart the idea of conservation.

Take, for example, Silliman Hall. Today the university where it stands takes pride of the architectural and historical heritage the building stands for—it is the foremost example of American Colonial Eastern Stick-style architecture in the country, and boasting of a hall that has seen many important historical personages pass through: Emilio Aguinaldo once gave a lecture here, Carlos Garcia once stayed there as a student, and its stage—repurposed from an old opera house in New York—has seen many important cultural events since the turn of the 20th century.

What we have forgotten is that before its restoration in the early 2000s, the building had become a lowly bodega, and with the ground floor cubicled into assorted office spaces. People thought of the building as an eye sore. While there was the famous anthropology museum occupying the second floor, even this was susceptible to neglect—and in 1985, the museum was burglarized, with many priceless and valuable artifacts stolen.

In 2013, when I was editing Handulantaw, a coffee table book that chronicled the history of the art and culture of Silliman University in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Silliman University Culture and Arts Council [then the Cultural Affairs Committee], I became aware of the horror for the way Silliman was in fact almost negligent of a lot of its heritage. I heard of the story of a Fernando Amorsolo painting found gathering dust in a corner of the Buildings and Grounds Department—until someone recognized it for what it was, and properly called attention to it. I saw with my own eyes some books from the personal library of the late Albert Faurot relegated to the bottom of some forgotten shelf at Guy Hall, becoming fodder for termites. No one knew either what happened to the priceless paintings and drawings that Dr. Faurot once owned. [But thank God we have his harpsichord, which was restored in the early 2000s, and is currently on display at the lobby of the Luce Auditorium.] The posters for the theatrical productions that Ephraim Bejar and his contemporaries directed in the 1970s and 1980s at the Woodward Little Theatre have not been archived, and are probably gone. I still hope the recordings of the Ulahingan epic, done on perishable cassette tapes by the late Elena Maquiso, have been preserved properly. We don’t have the complete titles of all significant Silliman authors, not even the Tiempos—and the manuscripts to their works have remained uncollected and unarchived. What about the recordings of Elmo Makil, Emmanuel Gregorio, and Constantino Bernardez? Where is the seashell collection of Miriam Palmore? Is the memorabilia of Eddie Romero properly archived? Is there a plan to replace the cross that towered over the Chapel of the Evangel, designed in 1965 by the famed architect Chen Chi-Kwan? Has anyone collected the paintings of Jose Laspiñas?

There are many other heritage matters that concern Silliman alone—I heard one friend for example asking out of the blue, “Have we thoroughly documented every inch and property of the stained glass windows of the Silliman Church, just in case there is an earthquake and we have records to fall back on?” [The answer is no.]—and to date, there is still no office devoted to heritage preservation and archival matters.

And this is already Silliman University, which already has a record of valuing heritage.

In response to my previous article, another good friend of mine, a loyal alumnae of Silliman and a daughter of two of its beloved [now long retired] faculty members, wrote me in confidence: “Just read your piece on the Arellano building… Because this was the exact sentiment I felt when a couple of years back, I hunted for the black and white vintage tiles of the Silliman Cafeteria, which was part of my childhood—and discovered, to my horror, that they had [just] been painted over with a coat of white paint…I also saw a sad pile of tiles belonging to the 100-year old Silliman Church standing in one corner as they tore it down to make way for the ‘new and improved’ entryway to the sanctuary. The irony is that all this ‘pillage’ was done under our own noses.”

And without a peep from anyone of us, who should know better.

Imagine what else we are losing, in the wider scheme of Dumaguete, right under our noses. But that’s another article.

To be continued…

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Friday, January 18, 2019

entry arrow9:36 AM | When Death Comes

By Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

entry arrow12:37 PM | Taking Back Control of My Life

Today I start taking back control of my life and I know exactly where to start.

I’ve identified one huge thing that I am passionate about but, alas, also one that has kept me from fulfilling what I’ve needed to do—although I am perfectly aware it can stand postponement or delay. So I’ve deleted all its manifestations in my laptop, just so I cannot be tempted to while away my time with it when I can use time for other more important things.

There’s also Task Paralysis. It’s real. Defeating it is really all about imposing clarity. And so, just now, I’ve finally managed to transfer and record all the unfulfilled to-do’s from last year’s Muji notebook to this year’s new one. All the previous and still important to-do’s have been bulleted—and lined up like the way they are right now on the pages of my notebook, they’ve attained a kind of concrete presence and are no longer some specter I cannot seem to defeat, because unseen. They suddenly seem doable.

Let’s do this, 2019.


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Monday, January 14, 2019

entry arrow9:23 PM | In the Light of Arellano

Part 2 of the Dumaguete Heritage Series

Before 2018, the Dumaguete City Hall had been a conundrum: the rough outlines you could see of it from the vantage point of Santa Catalina Street, which traverses the place apart from the M.L. Quezon Park, suggested a small but elaborately styled building of some Spanish import although only a shadow of it was obvious to the undiscerning eye. Most of that original elaboration—we didn’t even know then who had designed the building—had been lost or hidden over the years, all in the increments of expansion and done in the name of horror vacui, that tendency for people to occupy and build upon every available space. You could say the devolution of the City Hall over the decades sprung from pure bureaucracy—a complete takeover of function over form. A turret defaced. A narrow walkway filled in to provide more office space. A veranda also vanished, again to make way for more office space. It was, in other words, an ugly affair: a building that had become a Frankenstein monster of mindless renovation and expansion.

For many decades, most of us in Dumaguete could not even think of declaring Pride of Place over this unfortunate state of affairs. We saw other places and their City Halls— our sister Negrense city of Bacolod easily sprung to mind as having a government center that by design also throbbed with local pride—and so we demurred about comparing our own, thinking: What else can we do? Can we even do anything?

When we visited City Hall then, it was to transact quickly with whatever city offices we had to deal with, in and out in a speedy manner, opting as we walked through the quadrangle and climbed the curving stairway and crossed the hallways, to be blind from the grime that had accumulated over the years, or the courtyard that had become a giant parking lot, or the inexplicable presence of an elementary school embracing a government center. Not to begrudge space for public education—but did other cities have public schools operating in the midst of their city halls? We thought this, but who were we to say something? Could we even do anything about it?

And then sometime in 2017: a great discovery. Upon the retrieval of the original plans from the Department of Public Works and Highways central archives, it was confirmed that the City Hall—then the Presidencia—was in fact designed in 1936 by Juan M. Arellano, perhaps the greatest of all Filipino architects, done in the elegant if scaled-down Spanish-American-Filipino “Mission Style” architecture. (The construction was finished in 1937.)

Arellano, of course, was the brilliant genius behind some of the most iconic heritage buildings in the country, and would have been declared a National Artist for Architecture had he not died at the age of 72 in 1960. (The Order of the National Artist was inaugurated in 1972, and part of its stipulation is that it cannot be given to artists who have died before that year.) Still, he had a dramatic career, which had seen him design such places as Manila’s Metropolitan Theater (1935), the Legislative Building (1926, which now houses the National Museum of Fine Arts), Jones Bridge (1921), the Bank of the Philippine Islands Cebu Main Branch (1940), and the Manila Central Post Office Building (1926).

Beyond the national capital, he was much sought after to design various provincial capitols and city halls, and out of such commissions would include the old Jaro Municipal Hall (1934), the old Iloilo City Hall (1935), the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol (1936), the Cebu Provincial Capitol (1937), Misamis Occidental Provincial Capitol Building (1935), and the old Cotabato Municipal Hall (1940)—most of them done in the classical Greek style, save for the last one, which incorporated the neo-vernacular architectural style and featuring Muslim motifs, and Dumaguete’s, which drew on the town’s mélange of Spanish and American influences. That he had taken the commission to do the presidencia of a small (but burgeoning) town perhaps attested to the appeal of Dumaguete even then.

The Presidencia Arellano designed faced the Quezon Park, which was already in place since 1916—but his friend the Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti added to the park the sculpture and fountain of three women bearing a basin around the time Arellano supervised the building the Presidencia in 1937. Monti stayed in the Philippines from 1930 until his death in 1958. During his stay, he worked with local architects and sculptors on major projects commissioned by the government and private individuals. Several of Monti’s sculptures are part of Metro Manila’s landmarks. His statues can be seen in front of public buildings or plazas, while his relief work decorate many exterior and interior walls in heritage buildings.

And what for us this discovery of Arellano and Monti?

To know that this uglified building has been a small masterpiece of an architectural giant suddenly gave many of us a new way of looking at it. That it was something finally to be treasured, and its past glory and beauty retrieved. Also that how easy it was to lose sight and then neglect something so beautiful, so important to our heritage—simply because we often do not know, and do not care.

Now the Old Presidencia is being reconstructed and restored, and finally to become a satellite museum under the auspices of the National Museum of the Philippines, which would finally house the artifacts and heritage materials of our history, culture, and arts. It is slated to open in early 2019. (The public declaration by the National Museum of the Old Presidencia as an Important Cultural Property is scheduled on March 6.)

But the story of the Old Presidencia is emblematic, more or less, of how Dumaguete deals with its heritage. For all our self-declared trappings of being a city of the arts and culture, of being a university town, we still lack the wherewithal to make sure our heritage is preserved. And we are surely losing it, as surely as we had almost lost the Old Presidencia to neglect and lack of information.

To be continued…

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Friday, January 11, 2019

entry arrow8:16 AM | Two Images From an Early Friday Morning

I felt like doing a traditional Dumaguete breakfast today, so puto maya and tsokolate it is at the painitan. I'm starting early today at Buglas Co-Work Space above Allegre. The view of the boulevard is fantastic today, even if downcast.

Happy Friday, everyone!


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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

entry arrow8:05 PM | The Films of 2018, List 3: The Top 50

A General Introduction

Sometime early in 2018, I resolved to watch as many films as I could and duly rank them according to how I liked them, and briefly note how each one impressed me. It proved to be a herculean task, so much so that sometimes the ranking sufficed but the brief annotation did not; often it was because of some difficulty having to set my thoughts on each film right after viewing it: opinion, I quickly found out, was a flighty, restless bird, and a film I thought I liked after an evening's screening would somehow evolve to some lesser evaluation the next morning. The otherwise also proved true: I would have visceral hatred for a film, but once I started putting down my thoughts in words, I would surprise myself by actually possessing some admiration, often begrudging, over it. And the whole exercise proved to be taxing. How does one exactly find the time to watch at least three movies a night, just to keep up with the sheer volume of film being produced worldwide? I watched a total of 204 films last year; I barely cracked half the titles in my list.

But 2018, on the whole, has certainly been a fantastic year for film, and while Hollywood films consumed most of my attention this year -- it is simply because they are easier to access -- I have noticed that the rest of world cinema has been muscling Hollywood out in producing films that are not only excellent in terms of technical execution, it has managed to produce most of the dazzling and memorable films of the year. Take note of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma and Chang-dong Lee's Burning, which remained with me weeks after I watched them. On that note, I must make mention the fact that I have not seen many Filipino films this year. Philippine Cinema, without doubt, is one of the most vital national cinemas in the world, but it is one that has become the sole province of the Manila-based cineast, that privileged creature who has access to festivals and cinematheques. I have decided not to be bothered by this fact.

Please note that as of January 9, these are the major films I have yet to see, and are thus unranked: At Eternity's Gate (Julian Schnabel, United States), Ben is Back (Peter Hedges, United States), Boy Erased (Joel Edgerton, United States), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, United States), Destroyer (Karyn Kusama, United States), If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, United States), On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder, United States), and Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, United States and Italy), as well as Ash is Purest White (Zhangke Jia, China), Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy, Russia and Kazakhstan), Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, Colombia), Border (Ali Abbasi, Sweden), Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon), Dear Ex (Chih-Yen Hsu and Mag Hsu, Taiwan), Girl (Lukas Dhont, Belgium), Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany), Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan), and Tale of the Lost Boys (Joselito Altarejos, Philippines and Taiwan). On to the lists...


1. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico)

Alfonso Cuarón's ode to memory and nostalgia, filmed in stark black and white, is very much like opera: you are either indifferent to it, or you are moved passionately by it. I love Roma enough to have seen it so many times and yet remain convinced subsequent viewings will still give me more morsels of beauty to discover, and I believe that most people who are firmly in the camp of indifference know that they have missed out on something vital their callous hearts just cannot see. Everything about this story about a middle-class Mexico City family in the 1970s and their relationship with their household help is rich anthropology.

2. Burning (Chang-dong Lee, South Korea)

This is the film of 2018 that has stayed most with me -- it is forever haunting me with its themes and ambiguities, and I am still remembering the performances that have only deepened with time: Yoo Ah‑in's lost uncertainty, Jeon Jong‑seo's sad longing, Steven Yeun's charming boredom. Also the telling moments: that conversation over marijuana, that dance before the setting sun, that yawn. That is also a chilling study of human psychosis pushes this into thriller territory.

3. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, United States)

What a hoot this was. A perfectly anachronistic historical dramedy -- about a sapphic rivalry in Queen Anne's court in 16th century England -- that has no intentions of being faithful to historical fact, only to its quirks and atmosphere -- which makes this a signature Yorgos Lanthimos film that also dares to be accessible. My favourite Lanthimos will always remain Dogtooth with its comic and unsettling strangeness, but The Favourite is in a class all its own because of its sharp screenplay and the way the actors deploy its lines with barbed line-readings that had me laughing all throughout, until of course that dark, dark, ambiguous ending.

4. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, China)

The late Hu Bo's four-hour epic of despair is deliberate in its mapping out a landscape of depression. That this was assembled after the director's suicide in 2017 also gives it a patina of death -- but also a kind of urgency. It follows four different individuals in a forlorn-looking Chinese city, connected in one way or another to each other, as they deal with various indignities in their lives, and feeling bereft. Life has no meaning for them, and when they hear of the titular elephant which becomes emblematic for how they bear with life, the film becomes a kind of a quest for meaning.

5. A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, United States)

To say that this film was anticipated is to understate things. I prepared for this film by watching the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, the 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason, and the 1977 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, each one with diminishing returns, although all undeniably hypnotic with how they've managed to create a blueprint for love and loss, success and failure in tinseltown. It explains why the story still resonates, and explains why we have a 2018 version with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper -- and to my astonishment, manages to return to the quiet magic of the 1937, the iconography of the 1954 version, and the template [and thank God, only the template] of the disastrous 1977 version. It improves on all of them, and makes the story the version for our times. It has been said that the first half is so much better than the second half, and it's true: but it doesn't matter. By then you've been ensnared into the charm of the movie.

6. RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen, United States)

There is something extraordinary in Betsy West and Julie Cohen's biographical documentary of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even when the unfurling of it seems quite ordinarily paced, and ordinarily told. And perhaps that technique of presenting her magnificent life was the right way to go about it, because it has only enhanced everything about the Notorious RBG and perhaps best reflected her true nature: unassuming, shy -- but steely brilliant and calculating in her foundational build-up of a legal legacy. This is such an inspiring film, and is one of the best films of the year.

7. Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland)

I am always tempted to dislike the films of Pawel Pawlikowski because of the sheer formality of his cinema. [I liked Ida very much, but not without some resistance.] His films are too composed, too beautiful, too distant -- but it's exactly those qualities that also draw me in eventually. In Cold War, he retells the disjointed love story of his parents -- the father's a musician and collector of folk music and the mother's a singer -- whose connection to each other is as real as the geography and politics that also separate them. The performances are first-rate, and the cinematography is so deliberate in its beauty it almost breaks the heart.

8. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, and Robert Persichetti Jr., United States)

It is the sheer inventiveness of this film -- both in its storytelling and in its technical execution -- that makes this perhaps the best superhero film of the year, and perhaps also the best Spider-Man film ever. Maybe it is also the freshness with which it tells its story: it was about time Miles Morales got his cinematic treatment. Much has been said about the film's treatment of multiverses and superspider-powered characters and comic book aesthetics, so we will not venture into that. It is simply a singular experience, and I wish everyone had that with the largest screen possible.

9. Sorry Angel (Christophe Honoré, France)

A young man, a student, has an affair with an older man, a jaded writer with HIV. It is not an easy relationship, and it is often tumultuous -- but it is also marked with genuine love and generosity. In gently, and starkly, chronicling this relationship, Christophe Honoré comes into his own, fulfilling much of the promise of his early films. Vincent Lacoste and Pierre Deladonchamps -- also fulfilling the rugged promise he exuded in Stranger By the Lake -- are so lovely to look at.

10. Never Not Love You (Antoinette Jadaone, Philippines)

The nod to the ending of Mike Nichols' The Graduate in Antoinette Jadaone’s Never Not Love You -- 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.

11. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, United States)

The hype is true about John Krasinski's A Quiet Place: this very quiet film -- the sound of popcorn being eaten in the theatre is louder -- is taut and tense from first frame to last, making this the best horror film of the year so far, and simply superb cinema, period. Its horrors start in media res: there are no explanations for why monsters have taken over the world; we learn that they may be blind but they can detect the slightest sound and they attack with such ferocity, within seconds. Into that premise we are introduced to a family who survive by living by their wits (and sign language). We observe them make specific adjustments required by life lived on the edge, which is the film's greatest strength. Add to that the details of a silo, and a nail, and your nerves will become frayed. To say more is to do disservice to this feat of filmmaking by director and actor Krasinski. This needs to be seen on the big screen, however. To see this film in a smaller screen [a laptop, for example], with a minimal hold of its immersive sound design, is to diminish its power. See it, and don't breathe.

12. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, United States)

This is awkward and scintillating, all at the same time, an astonishing naturalistic look at the anxieties and dreams of teenagers. I liked its conceit, which is grounded very much on the way things are now: Elsie Fisher's Kayla runs a YouTube vlog where she puts on a wise persona, if a meandering one, giving advise about the travails of popularity and confidence for young people like her -- which is really a kind of defence mechanism for how she is in real life: painfully shy and eternally convoluted about what she wants. The ending feels unearned, but as observational cinema, this is top-notch.

13. Wildlife (Paul Dano, United States)

Actor Paul Dano taking on the director's chair for this project promised that the resulting film would be performance-centered -- and in that respect, we are not disappointed. Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan as husband and wife battling out a precarious, poverty-stricken marriage in a small American town in the early 1960s indeed give the performances of their career, particularly Mulligan in the mode of self-destructing housewife teetering between boredom and anger. But Dano also gives us a beautiful-looking film that is so sure of its composition it becomes immersive.

14. The Guilty (Gustav Möller, Denmark)

There's nothing claustrophobic about this thriller set exclusively within the four walls of a Danish emergency dispatch. It does that through sheer mastery of technicality, as well as sureness in storytelling, giving us a great thrilling arc with dizzying twists and chills, centred in the grounded performance of Jakob Cedergren as Officer Asger Holm who, while taking calls one night, has to battle both personal demons and the emergency of a kidnapped woman in the van of a man who might kill her. We don't see any of this, but we feel every nuance of the drama reflected on Cedergren's voice and face.

15. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy)

This film shouldn't work, but it does. Everything about its premise and its conceit shouldn't make it work, but it does. I still cannot define what actually makes the film work, but by the end of it, I simply surrendered to its charm, and to its uncanny magic realism which stirs in the middle of its very Italian neorealism. Perhaps it is Adriano Tardiolo as Lazzaro? He has such a handsome and open face, perfectly made for cinema -- and on that happy and untroubled face, we see the turbulence of the story meeting its match.

16. 22 July (Paul Greengrass, United States)

Paul Greengrass' 22 July, about the terrorism attack that exploded in Norway in 2011 has a different agenda than most movies of its kind -- is terrorism a genre? -- most of which, like Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and even Greengrass' own United 93 (2006), are thorough and unsettling dramatisations of what happens before a very public tragedy, its crux the unfolding of the horror, be it a school shooting or a hijacking or whatever contemporary terrors we have come to accept as "normal" in this increasingly fraught world. Greengrass turns over that expectations from the very beginning, where he chooses to start off with the horror and then proceeds to give us a film that showcases the various pathways the aftermath can take [a trial, a hospital recovery, a nation confronting its nationalist pockmark], when things slow down to the new normal and the survivors have to make do and take account of the horror that has upended their lives. For that formalistic difference, I applaud the film.

17. Paddington 2 (Paul King, United Kingdom)

Paul King's Paddington 2 is a thief of hearts. How could a sequel to a forgettable 2014 adaptation of a beloved children's literary classic achieve such unexpected heights of cinematic delights? If you have seen the first film, you would not have expected the studio to press the green light that attended this 2018 effort, which towers over the first one with such gusto. The titular bear, still living in London with his human family, unfortunately lands himself in prison and must clear his name with the help of family and newfound prison friends. The film has a touch of Wes Anderson whimsy to it, but the film is its own sweet thing, and I am in love with it.

18. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, United Kingdom)

I am not fond of the earnest political shade that has made the career of Armando Iannucci, having puzzled over the critical acclaim for his film In the Loop (2009) or his television series Veep. But The Death of Stalin I get very much, and I appreciate the precarious balance it achieves in its examination of the murderous macabre and its deployment of the the mischievous madcapness. Could one create a comedy out of the bloodthirst of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and the chaos and betrayals that followed his death in 1953? It shouldn't be possible, but Iannucci goes on a limb, jumps from it, and lands and achieves comic impossibility. It had me cringing and laughing at the same time.

19. First Man (Damien Chazelle, United States)

The greatest strength of Damien Chazelle's First Man, the film of Neil Armstrong's quest for the moon, is also its weakness: its profound interiority. Armstrong as a public figure had always cut a no-nonsense, restrained personality, eager for the work and subsuming everything else -- including overt emotionality -- into a terseness that would never be yielding. It's difficult to build epic films -- and NASA's quest for the moon can never be not epic -- around terse characters, but that's the challenge Chazelle set himself to do. And in many ways, it correlates very much with the claustrophobia of the whole astronaut experience of journeying into space. We usually think of space movies as all horizon and floating and infinity, but Chazelle pins the entire story in the point of view of astronauts trapped in dark tin cans hurtling through the void, unable to see much else except the limited view of their porthole windows. So as we explore Armstrong's character in all his unemotionally, grounded by Chazelle in tight extreme closeups, we also explore space in the confines of that claustrophobia. It works magnificently, but I can understand why this can be so underwhelming to many people who are used to space movies done in congratulatory beats and celebratory scenes. There are none of that here, and if you accept the film through its insistence of telling its story via that tone, you will find this one extraordinary.

20. Manto (Nandita Das, India)

Nandita Das provides us a suitable blueprint to effectively tell the story of an acclaimed real-life writer, in this case India's [and later, Pakistan's] Saadat Hasan Manto, well-known for his scintillating and sometimes scandal-ridden short stories. Most films of its kind have found some footing in cliches -- in scenes with typewriters and sheer adherence to biographical detail -- without dramatising successfully what made their writings powerful and memorable. This film does that ably, jumping straight into one slice of Manto's storied life -- the turning point of his career during the days of the partition of India upon its independence from British rule -- and seamlessly incorporating into it, without any comment, scenes from his most powerful stories. It is an engaging historical dramatisation devoid of the mothball smell of historiography.

21. Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh, United States)

A lonely boy and his race horse. That essentially is the story of Andrew Haigh's latest foray into quiet, intense, and sad lives of seemingly ordinary people, his followup to the wonderful 45 Years. In this searing tale, fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson [played with winsome lowkeyness and great candor by Charlie Plummer] tries to navigate life in the Pacific Northwest with a loser for a single father, and finds himself having a summer job tending to a fading race horse named Pete who he learns later on is bound for the slaughterhouse. And then he starts to lose people around him, first his father, and then a succession of others, and he finds himself going cross-country with Pete, whom he has rescued, on a search for his father's ex-girlfriend who had once offered him a home. The loneliness, the search for home is stark, and Haigh respects its slow burning intensity.

22. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, United States)

Debra Granik has made a name for herself as a chronicler for people whose stories are never told in movies. Particularly those of the rural kind: hardy folks with their deep dramas trying to get through life despite extraordinary circumstances. She did it in Winter's Bone, and she does it again in Leave No Trace, where we follow a very young girl who lives with her war veteran/PTSD-anguished father off the grid somewhere in the forests of Oregon, where isolation from the rest of the world is the only balm for the father's uneasy mind. Of course, that idyll proves ultimately unrealistic, and both are soon taken by authorities to live "normal lives" elsewhere. But it is about the girl's growth, and the girl's coming of age, and Thomasine Mackenzie proves equal to the difficult task of her role's tricky depiction.

23. We the Animals (Jeremiah Zagar, United States)

Justin Torres's 2011 YA novel was famously unfilmmable because of the rambling nature of its storytelling which is from the point of view of a gay Puerto Rican boy in the cusp of losing his childhood innocence. But Jeremiah Zagar solves it by bending to it, and what results is a transfixing drama that is both stillness and whirlwind, a riot of performances centered in indelible sense of place and time, and mood.

24. Mission: Impossible—Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, United States)

The sixth outing of this franchise that never seems to tire out is even better than the last. We follow Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as usual, and the plot is labyrinthine as usual -- with twists upon twists, and betrayal upon betrayal than fly with such gleeful abandon, even if its set pieces, all marvellous, are meticulous plotted out. Everything nears perfection in this movie: the emotional payoff, the give-and-take between the characters -- Cruise can be so generous -- who are all so richly etched, and the constant winks of references that feel like a full chuckle but never overstays their welcome. (Did you get that A Few Good Men reference?) And that music. It felt so organic and tightly woven into the narrative, it made me stand up and pay attention when I needed to.

25. Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu, United States)

This delirious fantasy of Asian opulence does its job well in many levels: it improves on the source material, it is ambitious in its Hollywood-sized act of representation, it is a first-rate example of its genre, and it genuinely gives us very human characters to root for. This fish-out-of-water story is endearingly made that by the end of the film, you will find yourself clapping for its happily ever after. Unless of course you're a wart for whom nothing can ever be pleasing.

26. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, United States)

Paul Schrader's First Reformed is a painful film to watch. It is austere in its sweep, and deeply philosophical, and easily reminds you of the films of Robert Bresson. Ethan Hawke plumbs the depths of a haunted minister who believes in divine order even in a chaotic world but secretly nurses doubts and pains, which are brought to fore once more when he encounters a couple who presents him with a dilemma. The husband is in despair over this question: what good is living in a world which we are slowly destroying? That despair soon infects, and the film takes us into the minutiae of that infection, and makes us question whatever hope we hold out.

27. Where is Kyra? (Andrew Dosunmu, United States)

Everything is bleak by design in this small film by Andrew Dosunmu, which also functions as a vehicle for the tour-de-force performance by Michelle Pfeiffer who plays a jobless middle-aged woman struggling to make ends meet on her elderly mother's social security checks -- and finds herself in the deep end, unable to find reprieve, when her mother dies. It is a film stark with the desperation of destitution, without once losing its human thread. The story is bleak [you may call it stylishly dark], and the cinematography [a masterpiece of dread by Bradford Young] is even bleaker, with everything lit in the darkest possible way. It can be a hard film to enjoy, but once you accept the film's design, you focus more on the story, and you begin to feel more for the plight of Pfeiffer's sad woman. And then it becomes unbelievably tense in the end.

28. Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio, United States)

Sebastián Lelio's Disobedience is a worthy follow-up to his A Fantastic Woman [2017], but here he takes a slow-burning pace to distill a story about a woman who goes back to her Jewish Orthodox community in London after her rabbi father's death, to be rightfully confronted for why she left in the first place: to seek independence, to seek connection. What we later also learn is that she left after a shattering romance with another woman in her community, someone she eventually meets again, this time as someone married to another good friend, the late rabbi's fervent disciple. It's a fraught character study, and we follow three quiet lives thrust into a whirlwind of choices -- and the pleasure we get from this drama derives from witnessing that. What a showcase of acting this is, what precise filmmaking as well.

29. Shirkers (Sandi Tan, United States and Singapore)

Sandi Tan's documentary -- about the loss and recovery of the similarly titled feature film she made in her teens in Singapore in the early 1990s -- is all of these: an ode to cinema, a riveting detective story, a heartbreaking confession, a reunion with estranged friends, and a psychological profile of a charming loser determined to squash other people's grand ambitions. Every inch of this movie -- especially the footages of the lost film -- is immersive and wholly satisfying.

30. Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, United States)

I expected to like Greg Berlanti's Love, Simon, his heart-fluttering adaptation of the YA hit Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, written by Becky Albertalli. I did not expect myself, however, to tear up near the end, to see a gay version of the pivotal moment in Never Been Kissed. Representation counts, and in the movies much more so. But this one had a bit more gravity that it purports to be about an ordinary boy perfectly accepting of the fact that he's gay. No self-hating angst here, no terrors of the closet; the landslide that he has to navigate through is not even about the usual self-pitying refrains about having to hide; it's about the repercussions of having to lose love. During one dramatic highlight in the film, Nick Robinson as the titular hero, upon being outed online to the rest of the school, tells his sister matter-of-factly: "Why should I deny [being gay]? It's not something I'm ashamed of." And that statement felt very revolutionary, indeed, to be uttered in a mainstream teen romantic comedy. Most older gay people I know who have seen this movie has said variations of the same sentence: they wished this movie came out when they were teenagers. I completely understand that sentiment. I wished I saw this when I was younger.

31. Love, Cecil (Lisa Immordino Vreeland, United Kingdom)

Lisa Immordino Vreeland's wonderfully constructed documentary follows the life and works of the Oscar-winning British costume designer Cecil Beaton, whose eccentricities and aesthetics seem to be truly made for a cinematic telling. It is a gorgeous film, and it follows a very gorgeous subject who knew it, and flaunted it -- to popular culture's overall delights.

32. Juliet, Naked (Jesse Peretz, United States)

Ethan Hawke is on the record in saying his Tucker Crowe in Juliet, Naked -- a legendary and reclusive musician -- is the older version of his romantic douchebag Troy from Reality Bites. I get the comparison; his Tucker is still a man needing to grow up -- but nonetheless Hawke infuses into his character the same sense of identifiability that made Troy indelible (and romantic, if nihilistic) in 1994. But the film is not really about him. It's about a woman named Annie (played with so much fidgety charm by Rose Byrne) who deals with her long-time boyfriend's obsession over the legend of Tucker Crowe by anonymously disparaging the reclusive singer online -- and gets the surprise of her life. How and when do we grow up? Is it possible to love a man bent on self-destruction? These are the fun questions this comedy asks -- and refuses to answer. And it makes all the goodly difference.

33. Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis, France)

The key to Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In is complete immersion in its dialogue, and how else to approach a film that's loosely based on Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse? Denis does this by having us follow Juliet Binoche, who gives a splendid and very naturalistic performance as an artist who feels untethered in life as she searches for meaningful connection with one man after another. Each encounter becomes emblematic of particular kinds of relationships, and the haphazard ways we have of distilling love from our pursuits -- and of course all these is marked by conversation that ranges from the silly to the sublime, but mostly sublime. It is a thinking person's romantic comedy.

34. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

I am so conflicted about Lars Von Trier's The House That Jack Built, his controversial film about the confessions of a serial killer. On one hand, it's a film that does not shy away from the chilling gore required of its story. On the other hand, it's a very thought-provoking thesis on art and aesthetics. Like, WTF. And the literal "house" in the end, like WTH. The film is so sick -- but at the same time, it's so well done.

35. The Endless (Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, United States)

I love the enigma of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's The Endless, and the less said about that enigma before you start watching the film, the better. Let's just put in the initial story: two brothers have escaped a UFO death cult and ten years later have found themselves living less than satisfactory lives in the outside world. An invitation from the cult camp comes in the form of a videotape, and the younger one -- who has better memories of life inside it -- wants to go back for a visit. The older brother accompanies him, wary about what might happen. Then things turn stranger. And let's just it has something with unseen monsters and time and loops and immortality... It's a head trip, and a genuinely scary story, and I love it.

36. Tully (Jason Reitman, United States)

Charlize Theron gives a tour-de-force performance as a stay-at-home wife with a newborn driven to the edge by the harsh demands of keeping house, only to reluctantly find relief in the form of the titular night nanny, who gives her more than peace of mid, Tully also gives her a renewed sense of self. But of course everything is not what they seem to be, eventually -- which makes for an ending that's truthful and also heartbreaking. It's a return to form for Jason Reitman and screenwriter Cody Diablo.

37. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, United States)

I found 2012's Wreck It Ralph a chore to watch, never quite taken in by its nostalgia for old computer games. [Then again, I was never really into computer games, even in my youth and childhood, mindful even then that my addictive personality might easily be swayed.] So it was quite a surprise for me to find myself loving Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps it is finally speaking my language, and thoroughly examining my own present addiction to the Internet? It is a fun romp, with occasional emotional moments -- "A Place Called Slaughter Race" was certainly both a hoot and a dig at the heart.

38. A Simple Favor (Paul Feig, United States)

A vlog-sharing single mother befriends a acerbic, fashionable woman from her son's school -- and finds herself drawn to mysterious disappearances, murder, mistaken identities, and money. There is no explaining the twists and turns of this stylish, noirish comedy. There is only experiencing it, and surrendering to its silliness.

39. The Kindergarten Teacher (Sara Colangelo, United States)

How does Maggie Gyllanhaal do this? She constantly gives us characters that are ciphers in their sexuality or flawed in their moral compass, but she manages to imbue them all with a humanity that's resonant and understandable, that we turn to root for them somehow, even though they sometimes do the most questionable things. She plays the titular teacher, bored with her domestic life and yearning to find some original creativity in her to add some spark to it. She joins a poetry class where she remains unnoticed, encumbered by unoriginal verse -- until one day, she stumbles upon one of her young students spouting poetry like a genius, and she proceeds to make herself mentor to the boy, over whom she feels overprotective, convinced that the world will conspire to stifle his creativity, just as it had done with her. Soon she's also passing off the boy's poems as her own in her poetry class. And lest you think you know where the story is going, it proceeds to unravel in unexpected ways -- still leaving you devastated and disturbed by the questions the film raises.

40. Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher, United Kingdom and United States)

There's a scene in Bohemian Rhapsody where the titular song finally gets a protracted radio play and release. EMI had refused to release it because they thought the 6-minute running time was too much for radio, and that the "gibberish" lyrics would likely confound people. ["What does Bismillah even mean?"] True enough, after that release in 1975, the critics pounced harshly on the song. In the film, as we get an earworm of the finished product, we see snippets of the reviews that came out that year. Time Magazine opined: "Unfortunately, Queen’s lyrics are not the stuff of sonnets." The New York Times called it "pretentious and irrelevant." Rolling Stone described it as “brazen hodgepodge.” But the song proved to be a popular hit, and has since become a rock anthem and an all-around favorite. The film about Queen and the life of Freddie Mercury just recently came out, and the critics are echoing the sharp barbs of 1975. The reviews have been harsh, but I have a feeling this film will have legs. It will be a blockbuster. The people I know who have seen it actually love the film -- and I did too, even given its obvious flaws. (It had a very troubled production.) The film sold what it needed to sell, and its final moments, where it basically restages the famous Live Aid concert of 1985, is an electric blend of film and concert music, with Rami Malek embodying Mercury's panache and sexuality with fantastic approximation. I came away from the film forgiving its flaws, because the music simply got the best of me. There was an old man by his lonesome sitting near us in the theater; by the time "We Are the Champions" blared from the screen, I could see him wiping away tears. If that's not a demonstration of the film's power to entertain, and to occasionally move, I don't know what will.

41. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen, United States)

The Coen Brothers conceptualized this project for Netflix as a mini-series, but on the way to its making, it became a feature-length film instead, albeit of the anthology variety -- and we have a fine, if disturbing, film peopled with eccentrics in the American Wild West trying to live out their unquiet lives and dark intentions in a string of stories that vary in length and effectiveness, but on the whole is nonetheless a feat of imaginative storytelling. My favourite remains the sad tale of a limbless young man who travels with an ageing impresario from town to town in a wagon that converts into a small stage where he recites Shelley's "Ozymandias," Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, among others. What happens to him is emblematic of the overall dark vision of the Coens.

42. Hereditary (Ari Aster, United States)

From the filmmaker who gave us The Strange Thing About the Johnsons and Munchausen, short films of visceral and disturbing power which taught us never to trust family, Hereditary seems to be the perfect showcase for all the neurotic horror Ari Aster is capable of. It is partly a possession film, partly a film about mitigating grief, and partly a film about mental illness in the family -- and for all its worth, it deserves all the kudos its getting for its originality, its pace, its dread. To say anymore is to rob it of its power to surprise, and it twists and turns a lot, and drags you into its infernal world.

43. The Rider (Chloé Zhao, United States)

How far will you go to go back to the thing that once thoroughly defined you, if doing so endangers your life? That in a nutshell is the drama, and the pulsing motivation, in Chloé Zhao's The Rider, which follows a very talented rodeo cowboy [played with effortless groundedness by Brady Jandreau, a real cowboy] who now has to content with life out of the rodeo circuit after suffering a major injury while in competition. The rodeo of course continues to have a pull on him, and the film tracks his emotional journey, which is about his own redefinition. It's a Western for our age, and I loved it.

44. One Cut of the Dead (Shinichiro Ueda, Japan)

Fiiiine. Shinichiro Ueda's One Cut of the Dead proves a movie is not defined by its first 30 minutes, but its last 30. I almost gave up on what had seemed to be a badly-made film about a zombie apocalypse descending on a film crew making a zombie movie -- and then it suddenly turned more meta than its initial meta conceit. Is this the first footnote movie? Reminds me so much of Nabokov's Pale Fire, which gives you the idea of how much the movie rises above itself.

45. Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, United States)

How does one dramatise the small domestic turbulences of trying to conceive, using all methods and approximating all the madness in the relentless cycle of full-hearted efforts? With curve balls of humour, with knowing details in scene-setting, with performances that are down-to-earth as they are truthful. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are the couple we follow, both of them writers, and we follow them relentless as they go about their days looking for ways to find a child, from in vitro fertilisation to surrogacy to adoption. Into their efforts are embraced various members of their family, especially their niece -- and the film by Tamara Jenkins becomes that: a constellation of humanity trying to do the best they can in the pursuit of their desires, even when they sometimes get lost in that pursuit the end goal almost becomes secondary to the earthquakes of domesticity they find themselves in. A beautiful film.

46. BuyBust (Erik Matti, Philippines)

Erik Matti's BuyBust is a relentless film that has as its spiritual predecessor movies like The Raid from Indonesia, where the action involves a group of law enforcement officers winding through the maze of a rat trap [in this case, a fenced off estero in Tondo that goes by the lovely, ironic name of Gracia ni Maria] after an encounter with criminal elements turns awfully awry. They are soon surrounded on all sides and in all tight corners by murderous elements -- men, women, children, parlor gays -- whose randomness and anonymity is the driving horror of the spectacle, whose plot has one goal in mind: finding the exit. The show of violence -- all those guns, all those knives, all those bats, all those bloody fisticuffs -- is choreographed in a furious way that lays bare the thirst for blood of an enraged mob, and there were times during the extended sequences of repetitive bloody action that I was tempted to give up on the film altogether, because too much. But what made me stay was the realisation that this film perhaps best reflects the Philippines as it has been for a while now: an expression of the Filipino id that has resorted to violence to settle scores and "solve" assorted problems [in this case, a drug war] only to reveal that the corruption is intrinsic, and there are no heroes, and we are just mincemeat country in thrall of goons in power. This is an exhausting film, to be honest -- but it's very well made, and it speaks about the way we live now in brutal honesty, and it is important.

47. Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle, United States)

The reason why I love documentaries is how they demonstrate again and again how nonfiction trumps fiction in the weird department. Sometimes it's for laughs and amazement, and sometimes it's for tears and bewilderment. Tim Wardle's Three Identical Strangers begins like the former, and ends like the latter. Three teenage boys, following a strange set of circumstances, find out they are triplets and have been separated by the adoption agency to three different sets of families. But the real story is deeper than the "reunion" angle we are first offered with, and is actually more devastating. It ultimately asks the question: which is more powerful in the shaping of our destiny, nature or nurture? The film tries to settle for an answer, but there is no settling here. Everything is unsettled, and sad.

48. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, United States)

I have not been stoked by a Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, for me the pinnacle of his filmmaking marking the height of his evolving style since his debut in Bottle Rocket in 1996. Everything since 2001 -- yes, even Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) -- feels just like a tightening of his aesthetic quirks, too stylised to be genuinely witty and involving. Except Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, which was a triumph of form and storytelling, and which first gave us the idea that animation as a device is very much part of the Wes Anderson arsenal. Much of that is demonstrated once more in Isle of Dogs, Anderson's subtle but also gloriously frenetic take of a dystopian Japanese society bent on exiling their dogs to an island of trash. It is a brilliantly conceived film whose twists and turns could only be done in animation, and only in a Wes Anderson mise en scene.

49. They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (Morgan Neville, United States)

There are countless of documentaries about Orson Welles, but there is never enough. This one, covering the making [and the unmaking] of his last film, The Other Side of the Wind, documents the protracted shoot and editing which lasted years, and the eventual legal obstacles that kept it from achieving wholeness for decades, until Netflix came to the rescue in 2018. And it is an able film that illustrates very well the Wellesian theme of filmmaking as an endeavour of supervising over "divine accidents." As a glimpse into chaotic genius, into intrepid filmmaking, into a very specific period of cinema [the 1960s and 1970s, when European atmosphere was all the rage], this film fulfils every cineast's desires of knowing more about the man.

50. Annihilation (Alex Garland, United States)

In Annihilation, novelist Alex Garland [The Beach and The Tesseract] proves to us that his first directorial effort Ex Machina, which received rapturous reviews when it was released in 2014, was not a fluke. His sophomore cinematic effort has the tautness of craft you could expect only from veterans, and his sense of wonder -- demonstrated in his visual extrapolation of the strange topsy-turvy world [a topographical cancer of wonder] from Jeff VanderMeer's novel -- remains unmatched. This is a brooding, intelligent sci-fi that does not necessarily translate to be everyone's cup of tea, but it a rewarding watch.

Previously: The Rest Outside of the Top 50 and The 25 Most Disappointing

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

entry arrow7:20 AM | The Films of 2018, List 2: The Rest Outside of the Top 50

A General Introduction

Sometime early in 2018, I resolved to watch as many films as I could and duly rank them according to how I liked them, and briefly note how each one impressed me. It proved to be a herculean task, so much so that sometimes the ranking sufficed but the brief annotation did not; often it was because of some difficulty having to set my thoughts on each film right after viewing it: opinion, I quickly found out, was a flighty, restless bird, and a film I thought I liked after an evening's screening would somehow evolve to some lesser evaluation the next morning. The otherwise also proved true: I would have visceral hatred for a film, but once I started putting down my thoughts in words, I would surprise myself by actually possessing some admiration, often begrudging, over it. And the whole exercise proved to be taxing. How does one exactly find the time to watch at least three movies a night, just to keep up with the sheer volume of film being produced worldwide? I watched a total of 204 films last year; I barely cracked half the titles in my list.

But 2018, on the whole, has certainly been a fantastic year for film, and while Hollywood films consumed most of my attention this year -- it is simply because they are easier to access -- I have noticed that the rest of world cinema has been muscling Hollywood out in producing films that are not only excellent in terms of technical execution, it has managed to produce most of the dazzling and memorable films of the year. Take note of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma and Chang-dong Lee's Burning, which remained with me weeks after I watched them. On that note, I must make mention the fact that I have not seen many Filipino films this year. Philippine Cinema, without doubt, is one of the most vital national cinemas in the world, but it is one that has become the sole province of the Manila-based cineast, that privileged creature who has access to festivals and cinematheques. I have decided not to be bothered by this fact.

Please note that as of January 8, these are the major films I have yet to see, and are thus unranked: At Eternity's Gate (Julian Schnabel, United States), Ben is Back (Peter Hedges, United States), Boy Erased (Joel Edgerton, United States), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, United States), Destroyer (Karyn Kusama, United States), If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, United States), On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder, United States), and Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, United States and Italy), as well as Ash is Purest White (Zhangke Jia, China), Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy, Russia and Kazakhstan), Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, Colombia), Border (Ali Abbasi, Sweden), Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon), Dear Ex (Chih-Yen Hsu and Mag Hsu, Taiwan), Girl (Lukas Dhont, Belgium), Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany), Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan), and Tale of the Lost Boys (Joselito Altarejos, Philippines and Taiwan). On to the lists...


Every list has an end point, and one simply cannot accommodate everything in one's Best 50. The following titles are the ones who are essentially the runners-up in this game, all of them films I really loved. They entertained me and made me think, and any one of them could have made it to the Top 50, but one has to make sacrifices.

51. Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard, United States)

What I admire about Drew Goddard is the consistency of his obsessions in film, at least in those he has directed, which includes the genre-wrecking meta-horror movie Cabin in the Woods: he is fascinated with surveillance, and he is intent on bending genres he loves. What he has done for horror he now does for film noir, and he does it with the twists, betrayals, and elegance of old but with a palpable subterfuge of undermining the entire exercise with loads of the ironic. Here he gathers several people with secrets into a lonely hotel somewhere in the borders of California and Nevada, and their collective encounter unleashes mayhem and bloodshed, much to our delight.

52. American Animals (Bart Layton, United States)

Bart Layton's American Animals would have been sad if it weren't also very funny. A stylish dramatisation of the botched University of Transylvania library heist -- where four privileged young men in an upscale Kentucky neighbourhood thought to steal rare books from the library's special collection, including first editions of Audobon's The Birds of America and Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, only to have everything fall apart for bumbling execution and sheer lack of preparation -- it is a gripping film that rips apart white privilege and youthful boredom, made the more engaging by talking head participation of the real culprits in the crime.

53. Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)

54. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, United States)

Oh, the think-pieces this Marvel concoction has spawned, each one more elaborate and thought-provoking than the one preceding it. It is not puzzling, the pop cultural cache it has engendered; so much can be said about its relevance [some would also argue non-relevance] for our troubled times. What cannot be denied however is the film's pulse throbbing with pure entertainment. It is crafted to amaze, and what breakthroughs it has accomplished are just icing on the cake.

55. Malila: The Farewell Flower (Anucha Boonyawatana, Thailand)

Anucha Boonyawatana's Malila: The Farewell Flower is deliberately slow -- almost prayerful in its slowness, in its respect for the pregnant pause, in its contemplative pillow shots and close-ups. I take that as its way of being meditative with its themes, which cover death, loss, love, and farewells, all woven together like the jasmine blossoms they fashion into decorative bunches. Two men in the Thai countryside -- one about to be ordained a monk, and the other about to die from lung cancer -- reignite their passion for each other as they prepare to embrace what the rest of their lives entail for them. It is a lovely film, and Sukollawat Kanarot and Anuchit Sapanpong are lovely leads. And then in the second half, it turns into a surprising hallucinatory quest.

56. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (Ol Parker, United States)

All the material really needed was a better helmer, and Ol Parker directs Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again into one of those rare sequels that vastly improve on the original. What fun this was. All the old cast are in it doing their bit with equal measure earnestness and irony, mellowing into the ABBA songs with such ridiculous joy it is impossible not to be infected by it. And the new flashback cast proves equal to that infection, and as led by Lily James as the younger version of Donna, we get a movie that resonates with characters we are surprised to know we actually care about. And in Lily James, we are also treated to a star-turn that burns; she is a surprise, the human foil to Cher's glorified cameo -- which is still fun, no matter how unnecessary.

57. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, United States)

What a strange, lyrical, violent film that is at once both riveting and funny and repulsive. Lynne Ramsay never shies away from subject matters such as this, and this time she chooses to follow a man on a mission to free a girl from white slavery, anchoring it on the superlative performance of Joaquin Phoenix. A strong casting choice, because Phoenix always manages to combine gravitas with quirkiness. My favourite scene has to be the killing in the kitchen, which ends in such a remarkable way I still cannot get over it.

58. The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard, United States)

Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers is the French filmmaker's first English-language film, and he carries over to this new effort the same intimate probing into human relationships he had sharpened in his earlier French films, but perhaps with a sharper eye for the picturesque. [It is truly a beautiful-looking film.] Here, Audiard delves into the Western genre, and follows two sets of men -- assassins who are brothers [the titular siblings], and a scout and his subject who are at first adversaries and then comrades, as they cross the Wild West in gold-prospecting territory. The story itself is nothing much -- it is simply a chase -- but such simplicity is perhaps what is necessary in a film interested more in composition, and mood, and relationships. And for a very violent film, it is also surprisingly tender.

59. On Happiness Road (Sung Hsin-Yin, Taiwan)

60. The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr., United States)

61. Widows (Steve McQueen, United States)

I can see the appeal of doing a heist movie by Steve McQueen. It makes for perfect filmmaking exercise, especially if you want to put your own twist to the genre. Here, the twist is gender: a bunch of professional thieves die in an explosive accident, taking with them millions they have taken from a certain mob boss. Now that mob boss is after their widows to put up the missing sum -- or else. It's Ocean's 8 with grittier feel, and the performances here, especially that of Elizabeth Debicki's, make the story feel lived-in and vital. But the film overall just slips away from me, tempting to be unremembered.

62. Tea With the Dames (Roger Michell, United Kingdom)

The set-up for this documentary is simple enough: Roger Michell, of Notting Hill fame, has gathered together, for tea, four of the best British actresses who not only happen to be dames, they are also fast friends who have matured together in the teeming world of British [and also American] theatre and film. We are essentially invited to eavesdrop on an extended conversation between Dame Eileen Atkins, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, and Dame Maggie Smith as they reminisce over their lives and their careers, dropping delicious gossip about this and that, with the ghost of Sir Lawrence Olivier [Plowright's husband] being the most present. On the whole, this is a very slight film, but you're in the company of greatness and that's all that matters.

63. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada, United States)

64. All About Nina (Eva Vives, United States)

65. I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Zambia)

66. What Keeps You Alive (Colin Minihan, United States)

I love that the lesbian relationship at the cold heart of this well-made thriller feels ordinary and matter-of-fact, and that adds greatly to the effectiveness of this story. Colin Minihan presents a story of a couple seemingly in love as they venture into a vacation in a nice cabin somewhere in some woods -- until one of them is pushed, literally, into the realisation that her wife is a psychotic serial killer and she is her next prey. Minihan stages all these with sterling editing and pacing, and while the motivations of the characters often feel contrived, she does everything with finely wrought tension that you are simply drawn into enjoying every murderous turn.

67. Museo (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico)

68. The Clovehitch Killer (Duncan Skiles, United States)

69. Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker, United States)

70. Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore, United States)

71. On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke, United Kingdom)

Ian McEwan's novella about a marriage gone awry gets a wonderfully realised adaptation in Dominic Cooke, which uses the story's conceit about time and memory as its basic narrative form: it hopscotches through time, going back and forth in memory as it contrives to tell the story of a young couple in love whose incapacities in sex renders have repercussions for their future together. Saorsie Ronan gives a committed performance as the young wife and talented violinist and Billy Howle as the historian husband is odious but I guess necessarily so. Are we prepared to make certain intimate sacrifices in the name of love? The film says we should, at the risk of future regrets. That it does a fine point doing that is the film's greatest achievement.

72. Science Fair (Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, United States)

73. Colette (Wash Westmoreland, United States)

74. Alpha (Albert Hughes, United States)

This is really just a simple story of a boy and his dog -- only that in this conceit, the world is that long ago past when man was just slowly inventing society and civilisation and dog is really some primordial wolf, perhaps the perhaps of its kind that would become the modern-day domesticated dog. The movie is their relationship, developing from initial distrust to one of friendly alliance -- and the simplicity of the story is augmented by the grand vista of the film's cinematography, so lovely, so perfectly composed.

75. Jonathan (Bill Oliver, United States)

76. The Cleaners (Moritz Riesewieck and Hans Block, United States)

Watching The Cleaners, the documentary by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck on the "gatekeepers of community standards" in Facebook who are mostly based in the Philippines, makes my blood pressure rise.

77. Searching (Aneesh Chaganty, United States)

78. BlackkKlansman (Spike Lee, United States)

79. Unsane (Steven Soderbergh, United States)

Steven Soderbergh on iPhone mode is still a genius. In Unsane, he follows a woman taken into the wards of a psychiatric hospital against her will, and descends to madness and paranoia when she finds her stalker among the staff. It is an effective thriller with a committed performance by Claire Foy, and I love how stripped down and DIY it feels: it makes the horror more chilling.

80. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, United States and Canada)

When Nicolas Cage tells the rampaging being bent on devouring him, "You're a vicious snowflake," I knew this was going to be my favourite Deranged Nicolas Cage Movie. What is going on in this film? Simply put, it is both deranged and beautiful, its bloodbath and mayhem interspersed with so much inexplicable beauty I simply have no words to describe what makes it work. But it does. Let's just say it's about a couple in love but terrorised by a demonic biker gang slash cult. But enough said of this film, the better. Part of the pleasure is surrendering to the ridiculousness of its premise, and finding it all very, very entertaining.

81. The Tale (Jennifer Fox, United States)

Is there a more wrenching film this year than Jennifer Fox's biographical investigation of her own sexual abuse in The Tale? The story begins with an older Jennifer [played by Laura Dern] who only has good memories of a childhood learning to ride horses, taught by a young couple who seems to only have her best interest at heart. Those memories were golden for her. Years later, her mother unearths an essay she had written as a girl, which points to some shady shenanigans from that childhood. And then the memory slowly unfurls. And the devastation mounts. It's a perfect study of repressed memories and the lengths we go to survive trauma, and it's a perfect testament to the #MeToo times.

82. Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, United States)

What else can one say about Anthony Russo and Joe Russo's ambitious chapter-ender for the second phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It's long and bloated, for sure, but it's also grand and dexterous, managing quite well the almost impossible task of juggling so many characters and storylines into a cohesive whole, and gives us a complex villain in Thanos who eclipses all the other half-hearted villains that came before this. The film, a coda in the series, ends everything in the rightful melancholic note that quickly reminds us how much we have actually emotionally invested in all these characters for the past decade. All that came before was build-up and intensive characterisation; this is the reckoning. This is the rare Marvel movie that made me think.

83. Christopher Robin (Marc Forster, United States)

Marc Forster has proven once more that he is the director to go to if we wanted reimagining the fantasy staples of our childhood. He did Peter Pan in Finding Neverland, and in Christopher Robin, he gives us a surprisingly heartfelt live action rendering of Winnie the Pooh and friends. It is a sentimental film, but it works just enough to skirt mawkishness. And Ewan McGregor as the adult version of the title character manages to underline the film's theme about the beauty of remembering our childhood sense of wonder and play. I was moved by this movie.

84. Aquaman (James Wan, United States)

85. McQueen (Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, United Kingdom)

What I love sometimes about fashion documentaries is how someone else is always bound to hijack the focus from the subject. The fearless Grace Coddington ran away with The September Issue, which was ostensibly about Vogue and Anna Wintour. Now, in Ian Bonhôte’s McQueen, about the iconoclastic fashion designer Alexander McQueen, I was more riveted by Isabella Blow, a fashion maven who ultimately becomes a tragic figure in the film [like McQueen, she also died of suicide, in 2007] — but she was somebody who we best remember as always having an unerring eye for beauty, although the industry she thoroughly loved paid her back by betraying her.

86. To All the Boys I've Loved Before (Susan Johnson, United States)

The rom com has seen its resurgence in 2018, thanks in large part to Netflix, and in this cute tale of a girl whose never-meant-to-sent love letters to five different crushes actually get sent, we get also a redo of our expectations. I have a feeling the film is actually a better take of the YA novel this is based on. It's an enjoyable confection, and I am thankful for its feel for the genre, enough so that it can remake it in its own way.

87. L'Amant Double [Double Lover] (François Ozon, France)

François Ozon is not new to the film of stylish mystery -- he is a capable master of many genres, and a prolific one at that -- but this is the first time I've seen him handle something approaching the noir. A disturbed former model seeks therapy, and ends up in a relationship with her psychiatrist. That relationship leads to the mystery of the film, and the conundrum of the title: her partner has lied to her about having a brother, and that brother is in fact a twin -- the total opposite of him -- and this unleashes in her conflicting sexual urges. To say more is to rob the film with its steady doses of surprises. But it is sleek and disturbing, and totally deserving of a place among Ozon's masterpieces.

88. The Price of Everything (Nathaniel Kahn, United States)

89. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, United States)

90. Dumplin' (Anne Fletcher, United States)

91. Ideal Home (Andrew Fleming, United States)

I smiled a lot during the entire course of Ideal Home, Andrew Fleming's comedy about a very stylish, often bickering middle-aged gay couple -- one is a Martha Stewart type with his own lifestyle show, and the other is his director and collaborator -- whose lives are suddenly upended with the arrival of a grandson whose uncouth ways at first unsettles, but soon teaches everyone about love and kinship. It's so full of gay stereotypes but brandishes them with so much carefree, knowing abandon that I was just simply taken by it. Plus Paul Rudd. Paul Rudd always does gay so well.

92. 1985 (Yen Tan, United States)

There's something almost noble about this story, set in the titular year, about a young closeted gay man who returns to his childhood hometown and to his fundamentalist Christian family, to see them perhaps for the last time. He has HIV/AIDS, but he keeps it a secret from everyone, touching base with the people in his life, before getting back to the big city to live the rest of it. It's poignant and well-made, and the performances are emotional without being too earnest.

93. King Lear (Richard Eyre, United Kingdom and United States)

94. Come Sunday (Joshua Marston, United States)

95. The Little Stranger (Lenny Abrahamson, United States)

96. The Seagull (Michael Mayer, United States)

This is probably the most accessible cinematic rendering of one of Anton Chekhov's most famous plays. I did not care for Sidney Lumet's 1968 film, and my take on that film largely coloured my initial acceptance of this 2018 offering, despite its stupendous cast. But after a rough 20 minutes, where we also had to wade through the unapologetic American accents of everyone involved, the film does prove to have a good sense of structure, and a good sense of the tragedy that lies at the heart of this story. The cast feels mostly wasted in uninspired direction -- but the screenplay is good.

97. Quincy (Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones, United States)

Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones, Quincy Jones' actress daughter deliver a finely tuned biography of the music legend, which is occasionally poetic and frequently honest, asking us to consider Quincy Jones' rise to the top as a consequence of family tragedy, but also talent and grit, and ultimately a dance with mortality.

98. The Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, United States)

I wish sequels didn't have to exist for our favourite films, and Brad Bird's first take to this super-powered family in 2004 is one of my favourite things in animation. It was just brilliantly conceived: the tug of the narrative especially, and the brilliant 1950s aesthetic of the animation made us sit-up all those years ago. We do get more of the same in this belated follow-up, but more of the same feels almost like an anti-thesis, no? I enjoyed the movie -- I enjoyed most of all the multi-powered shenanigans of Baby Jack-Jack, which alas did not have a pay-off -- and the gender twist of having ElastiGirl take on the world while Mr. Incredible does domestic duties is perfectly suited to our contemporary gender sensibilities. The villain the film introduces is truly heinous, too, but the reveal in the end felt like a disservice to its conceits, and also like a twist we somehow knew was coming. It didn't feel like a surprise, but it felt like a kind of let-down. I probably wouldn't feel this if the 2004 film was a bust, but it was brilliance. And how does one exactly follow up to brilliance?

99. Sid and Aya (Irene Emma Villamor, Philippines)

Sid and Aya bills itself as "not a love story," but of course it is. It is just that the film, Irene Emma Villamor's follow up to Meet Me in St. Galen and Camp Sawi, opts to frame the love story in grittier subtext, giving us two people of disparate economic circumstances [informed by such lived-in know-how regarding current class struggles] who choose to establish a transactional relationship, only to find themselves overwhelmed by how quickly it could blossom to something else real. Anya is a flighty barista with dreams of making it to Tokyo as an entertainer, beset with family responsibilities she cannot escape. Sid is a relentless stockbroker bent on making it big in the rat race and whose insomnia could be a metaphor for the deadly dullness of his ambitions. They meet, of course, in a coffee shop, the favourite haunt of Villamor's assorted cinematic characters, and both proceed to go about Manila late at night, in cinematography so lush and precise cinematographer Pao Orendain should be lauded. This could have easily been another Star Cinema confection the way the story promises to be on paper. But Villamor chooses to tell it in elegant spurts and ellipses that you are quickly reminded this is not your usual Filipino mainstream cinema. True, it dips occasionally to the needlessly histrionic, especially when we are in the company of supporting characters making up Sid's and Aya's extended families -- but it mostly even-keeled, and in the central performances of Anne Curtis and Dingdong Dantes, we get committed depictions of complicated lives. The film ends in an ambiguous happy note, but it left me devastated for some reason. That is a compliment.

100. Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, United States)

I love two things about veteran filmmaker Ron Howard's take on the Star Wars universe in Solo, the charming rogue Hans Solo's origin story: [1] that it is an old-fashioned heist story, with twists upon twists of betrayals, and [2] that it is so far away from being any part of the whole family soap opera that is the Skywalkers, because caring for a universe that is determined for the most part by the emotional minefields of that family story has become such a stretch. The film does what it does, and executes it with panache and dispatch that is satisfying, and I don't mind very much that it lacks the quirkiness it promised to have when this film was still being directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It's enough that we get the backstories of how Han came upon Chewbacca, and the Millennium Falcon, and Lando Calrissian, although new characters Val Beckett and L3-37 could have used more screen time for the delightful turns. It lacks the gut-wrenching end of Rogue One, the previous standalone movie in the Star Wars franchise, but I've learned to appreciate films for the accomplishment of what they set out to do, not to how they fit my expectations. Solo is all right: I grinned myself through it.

101. Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, United States)

I love how Ant Man embraces whole-heartedly the fact that it is a "minor" film in the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, literally and figuratively, and thus goes about it knowing it is a palate cleanser after the busy, busy episodes of Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. And so it could afford to feel small, and still be brilliant about it. Peyton Reed comes back to direct, and injects into the narrative some female-centered conceits of The Wasp and the search for Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet van Dyne in the Quantum Realm. It's all good and fun in fits of snickers -- only to be reminded of Infinity War gloom right at the end credits. The movie is a filler, knows it is a filler, and does mighty things to being a filler. I hope people get that.

102. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley, United States)

103. Whitney (Kevin Macdonald, United States)

Is it difficult to separate the music legend from the cautionary tale? This is the second biographical film centering on Whitney Houston, one of the greatest pop singers of the 20th century, albeit the officially sanctioned one, and once more we are dragged through a tale of incest, sexual abuse, drug use, parental neglect, homophobia, and so on and so forth. Perhaps it is to justify the real life tragedy, and within reason, the film makes a convincing case for finding fault in certain people -- mothers don't fare well in this documentary -- but for once, I just want to focus on the music.

104. Studio 54 (Matt Tyrnauer, United States)

Matt Tyrnauer revisits the story of Studio 54, the legendary pop cultural mecca of the late 1970s, and does a fine job in assembling exquisite footage and wizened talking heads, in an effort to take a closer look into the behemoth that defined the excess and the glamour of that decade, which would soon fizzle out in the Raegan reckonings of the 1980s and the spectre of AIDS. In its straightforward, if nostalgic, documentation of those heady days, Tyrnauer demystifies the discotheque for our age, but at the same time ponders on the magical that made it happen in the first place.

105. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (Jerrold Tarog, Philippines)

This sequel to Heneral Luna takes a quieter tact than its predecessor, which has proven divisive. Some really like it, some really find it a disappointing follow-up. I was not in the least interested in the way the film tries to deepen our understanding of the life of the historical Gregorio del Pilar -- his subservience to a flawed leader for example, or his tendency to embody the playboy of the Katipunan set -- but once the film kicks into high gear in its depiction of the Battle of Tirad Pass, it drew me in. What a tense third act that was, what splendid direction, what awesome cinematography.

106. Meet Me in St. Galen (Irene Villamor, Philippines)

107. Alex Strangelove (Craig Johnson, United States)

Gay teen romance finally finds a John Hughes in Craig Johnson, and in Netflix's Alex Strangelove, we get a coming out tale about a likeable enough high school boy whose quest to have sex -- finally -- with the right girl, his best friend and fellow vlogger, gets derailed when he finds himself getting attracted to another boy. It's a simple enough tale that's not explored too often in mainstream cinema, but then again, it's difficult to present a nuanced story about two boys in love with a girl standing in the middle of that romance, and still remain fair to the girl's side of the story. Johnson, however, manages to balance everything, and all characters just go adorably towards their fate while still maintaining the complexity of the sexual identity in millennial times. That it has that bittersweetness John Hughes was popular for in his teen tales is the icing on the cake. This is an adorable film.

108. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot (Gus Van Sant, United States)

This is Gus Van Sant's love letter to AA, done via the memoir of the late cartoonist John Callahan, who found hard-earned redemption from his alcoholism through iconoclastic art, the persistent love of friends, and a very good AA sponsor. Which all proved daunting, considering the devil-may-care nihilism of the anti-social Callahan in real life. Joaquin Phoenix gives his role his usual intensity, and manages to convince us of Callahan's humanity even through his worst excesses. Jonah Hill is effective in his role as a wise-cracking, no-nonsense AA sponsor, and gives the film an unexpectedly elegant gravitas.

109. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (Stephen Nomura Schible, United States and Japan)

Coda is Stephen Nomura's intimate documentary on the life and rumination of the famous Japanese composer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto, Oscar winner for the score of The Last Emperor. It has its own sense of urgency, defined for the most part by the Fukushima disaster that begins the film, and then the eventual diagnosis of cancer that the composer receives -- which leads him to reassess his life and his art. It is a little too scattered in places, not quite certain about how to shape this fascinating artist's story, but it goes about its randomness with style, and that helps us digest the film more.

110. The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery, United States)

As reportedly Robert Redford's last foray into acting, it seems proper that the esteemed actor -- a Hollywood legend -- would mark his retirement with a role that calls to mind Redford's preference for playing the ordinary chap going against all odds, but doing so with charm and aplomb. In this case, it's a gentleman bank robber who finds meaning in his life by leading this kind of criminal life -- until a young police officer finds it in his best interest to pursue him to justice, and until a woman comes into his life seemingly ready to understand his life choices. It's a slight film, but enjoyable enough because of the charm of its performers. That this is Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek's first time to star together is astounding -- but at least we got this pairing, after all these years.


These are the films that I also liked, but not as much as the preceding list. These are good and very admirable movies, many of them well made, except that they lacked something extra to truly move or engage me.

111. And Breathe Normally (Ísold Uggadóttir, Iceland)

112. Ramen Teh [Ramen Shop] (Eric Khoo, Japan and Singapore)

Eric Khoo's ode to ramen, memory, Japan, and Singapore feel heartwarming, and it is. It's just not a very good film. It's about a young Japanese man working in a small ramen shop in Tokyo who feel estranged from his distant father, both of whom are still grieving over the death of their Singaporean mother and wife. After the father dies, the young man takes it upon himself to go back to Singapore to learn how to make ramen teh from an uncle he has not heard from in years. So the film becomes a story of recovering memory. That's nice. But I was unmoved, because frankly it's not really a well-made film.

113. Gemini (Aaron Katz, United States)

114. Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley, United States)

115. Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub, United States)

Marc Turtletaub's Puzzle is a modern-day version of David Lean's Brief Encounter -- although in this case, the affair is not brief, it is more than an encounter, and it is certainly not chaste. Kelly Macdonald plays a bored housewife whose life is too-centered in the running of a house to be aware of the world outside, until the gift of a box of jigsaw puzzles turns on her curiosity, leading her to an illicit romance with another puzzle enthusiast, much to the chagrin of her husband. Perhaps in that sense this is a retelling of The Bridges of Madison County? Macdonald plays her housewife just right, but I am led to fully commit to the decisions she has to make in the story.

116. Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Matt Tyrnauer, United States)

117. The Children Act (Richard Eyre, United States)

Emma Thompson gives a vivid portrait of a British judge who has to make a life-or-death decision over the case of a young man, still 17, debilitated by leukaemia and whose chances at life is complicated by the fact that he is a Jehovah's Witness. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, it delves deeper into the ramifications of that decision -- but the twist feels a little too outlandish, and one wonders if the story dives into complication just for the sake of complication. It's still compelling story-telling, but the pursuit of its themes is a little too unbelievable, you come away from it curiously underwhelmed because unreal. But Thompson gives the story an electrifying performance, which redeems it.

118. Deadpool 2 (David Leitch, United States)

The sophomore effort is always the tricky thing: how does one top the high expectations brought about by the successful first outing? The simple answer is this: YOU CAN'T, and people will always be disappointed one way or the other, and not always over the same thing. The Pitch Perfect sequels imploded by doing the standard Hollywood way of stretching the formula: be more, no matter how ludicrous "more" is. [Thank God, that franchise is dead.] David Leitch's Deadpool 2 is "more" -- it has more blood and gore, more CGI, more humorous pop cultural references, and more cameos -- but it is Teflon in this regard: by being the meta monstrosity that it is, "more" is part of its cinematic genes, and thus the film works whether you wanted it to or not. I liked Deadpool 2. It had me in equal parts wincing and laughing, and I've approached it by understanding what it was trying to do and judged it by whether it managed to accomplish that. Well, it knew what it was, and it did what it did -- so what else could we ask for of it?

119. Beautiful Boy (Felix Van Groeningen, United States)

Beautiful Boy is directed so horribly, not even Timothee Chalamet's chilling performance as a young man spiralling into addiction hell and taking his family with it can save it from the mess it makes. What is even more galling is that you get a sense that Felix Van Groeningen feels he is going about things in the best possible way, and you cannot help but hate him for the audacity of his conceit and style.

120. Smallfoot (Karey Kirkpatrick, United States)

Who knew? Warner Brothers is not known for churning out animated feature films that stay with you, the way Disney and Pixar does it, for instance. But Karey Kirkpatrick springs a surprise, and gives us a film that is funny, and with songs that are begrudgingly brilliant. A yeti accidentally comes upon a human being -- his community of yetis call the "mythical" creatures "smallfoot" -- and his pronouncements lead to a banishment. Egged on by friends, he goes on a short quest to find an actual "small foot" to redeem himself. That's the story, but it soon proves to be able to go beyond the strictures of narrative to become something else. There is a problem with the third act, but then again I couldn't see any other way out for the filmmakers to deal with the moral conundrum they had to wrestle with. That we are actually talking about "moral conundrums" is one of the best surprises Smallfoot gives us.

121. The American Meme (Bert Marcus, United States)

122. Destination Wedding (Victor Levin, United States)

This is probably the most misunderstood film of the year, garnering terrible reviews when it came out. But something about it felt deliberate that I had to make myself see it on the level of what the film was trying to do -- and I think the film accomplished exactly what it set out to do, and did it with a side of charm that's strangely wrought, but then again, it involves Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, who play it hammy and do a marvellous job at it. It's a romantic comedy involving two of the worst misanthropes this side of the genre, two admittedly anti-social persons, and that's an initial difficulty for the filmmakers, given that we are supposed to feel that this two ultimately deserve love, and given that the film entirely surrenders itself to their banter, with a nary a line of dialogue from the cast that surrounds them. I took that as the film's way of making us feel the wholly interior, wholly removed from humanity existences these two inhabit. And so we get their diatribes against everyone else in the world, why life has no meaning, and why love is a trap. But of course that's just all preamble to the biggest irony the movie leads to: even misanthropes need love.

123. Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg, United States)

Much has been said about Steven Spielberg's return to form in Ready Player One, a blockbuster based on the nostalgia-ridden fanboy fantasies of Ernest Cline -- that this is the filmmaker rediscovering the old joys of E.T.-style pure entertainment and that this is a just treatment of the controversial [and often rabid] mindset of fanboy culture the Cline material was totemic of. Both are correct, but I am more satisfied of the film over one simple critical criterion: I enjoyed it, despite myself. I enjoyed its realization of a video game world, and I enjoyed its conceits, and I enjoyed the final act bathos I knew was engineered to move me. I'm a sucker for finely tuned sentimentality, and Spielberg is its primary genius.

124. Ocean's 8 (Gary Ross, United States)

This retread of the testosterone-filled heist trilogy should be a welcome thing: it's a film that takes actressing very seriously, and what a treat to have to witness a cast like this trying to do the men of Ocean's Eleven (and its sequels) better. Only that it doesn't really: it's fun enough (especially Anne Hathaway's glorious self-knowing performance), and it's good enough, but it doesn't live up to its promises. The eight don't really get to do anything, and we wish they did.

125. Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle, United States)
126. Mid90s (Jonah Hill, United States)

Crystal Moselle's Skate Kitchen and Jonah Hill's Mid90s are essentially the same story following the same essential beats -- lonely kid in a somewhat dysfunctional family finds friendship, with all its attendant camaraderie and challenges, with a bunch of skaters. And then we get that beyond the passion for skating, everyone has lives on the brink of some personal disaster. The only difference is the gender flip. Moselle's film follow girls -- which is a refreshing take. And Hill's follow boys, but gives it texture by setting the story in the titular timespan, and infuses it with a sensibility that reminds me of Larry Clark, minus the edgy stuff. They are very good films with very observant eyes, clearly made with autobiographical passions. They, together with the documentary Minding the Gap, make 2018 very much a year of the skater movies.

127. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville, United States)

This documentary on Fred Rogers, icon of children's television and moral voice for the transforming power of the arts, has become one of the year's most successful documentaries, which means it has definitely found an audience. It's a fine document chronicling the life of a pop cultural hero. And yet something about it plods, which leaves a sense of disinterestedness in its subject that I cannot shake.

128. Johnny English Strikes Again (David Kerr, United States)

129. Chappaquiddick (John Curran, United States)

I still do not get the appeal of Jason Clarke, but I can understand why he has been cast in the role of Ted Kennedy in his prime: perhaps because of the physical beefiness, and perhaps because of the quiet machismo both inhabit. But he does a fine job detailing the late politician's privilege and turmoil as he and Kennedy-adjacent friends dealt with the infamous Chappaquiddick accident where a young woman drowned while Ted was behind the wheels of the car that had plunged into the river. The film makes an epic over an incident.

130. Stella's Last Weekend (Polly Draper, United States)

Part of the pleasure of Stella's Last Weekend is seeing actual brothers Nat Wolff and Alex Wolff play siblings in a movie directed by their mother. It's the nuances they give off -- you could see they're performing with so much knowledge of each other's history, and a lot of that contribute to the success of the story, which is about dying pets, betrayal, and the lost love. The chemistry helps, given that most of the characters are simply unlikeable; yet by the time we get to the ending, we have learned to care for them, which is telling of the film's undercurrent of charisma.

131. I Kill Giants (Anders Walter, United States)

Anders Walter's I Kill Giants really is a retread of A Monster Calls, the 2016 dark fantasy directed by J.A. Bayona, but I don't mind the shared DNA of grieving child, fierce embodiments of psychological monsters, and dying parents. There is sincerity in the storytelling, and there is wonder in the raw performances of its young leads. It feels a little bit too stretched-out as a story, but never mind that.

132. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, United States)

The last film directed by Orson Welles -- arguably the greatest and most influential American film director -- has finally hurdled all its legal troubles and has been assembled, according to the vision of the late filmmaker. We rejoice of course. This film has become legendary for its unfinished status, and now that it is here with us, it is simply a gift. That is its sole saving grace. Because the film itself -- a thinly veiled self-assessment by Welles where he follows the travails of an ageing director [played by the great John Huston] contemplating his last film, also titled The Other Side of the Wind -- is not much to look at, and is incoherent in so many places, it becomes a chore.

133. Postcards From London (Steve McLean, United Kingdom)

Steve McLean took a long time to get his follow-up to Postcards From America (1990), but here he is with Postcards From London, and he retains his stylish take that reminds me somewhat of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle (1982) but minus its brazen sexiness and danger. Which is strange because he puts the glorious Harris Dickinson front and centre in this tale of naive boy from Sussex who finds himself in London becoming a special kind of male escort: someone who titillates you intellectually in post-coital bliss, and someone who aspires to become an artist's muse. It's a strange tale that should have worked, given how McLean stages this in theatrical soundstages and through tableaus -- but it is mostly lifeless. It's very pretty to look at though.

134. The Wife (Björn Runge, United States and Sweden)

Meg Wolitzer's novel never mentions that the literary prize at the centre of the story is the Nobel Prize; that's a detail original to the film. And that is its greatest strength. Because it gives exquisite detail to a ceremony we are not really privy to. But the film is not a documentary about the Nobel Prize; it is the domestic drama about a housewife who has to come to some reckoning when her novelist husband receives the prize -- and we soon learn he's not totally deserving of it, because of certain secret reasons. As essayed by Glenn Close, the film becomes a watchable drama of her character's inner struggles, and she is very, very good in the role. The film that surrounds her however is a failure in execution, constantly uninspired in its aesthetic choices and pacing.

135. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski, United States)

136. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, United States)

Take the absurd zaniness of Terry Gilliam's Brazil and mix it with the social message of Martin Ritt's Norma Rae complete with a hood vibe, and you will get Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, an idiosyncratic comedy about a down-and-out black man who finds himself becoming a telemarketer, soon ensnared in the strange games of labor relations and slavery and climbing the ladder of success ... and human experimentation? It's funny in bits and pieces, but I'm not sure it holds up as a whole of a piece.

137. I Feel Pretty (Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, United States)

Sometimes you just wish a film didn't have to hit its predictable marks, especially given a strange dramatic development you just wished the film stayed in. But Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein wants a formulaic redemption story, so this is what we get. Amy Schumer is a New York girl working for a cosmetics company in the bowels of their online shopping department, and seriously plagued with a body image problem and crippling self-doubts. That is until she hits herself in the head in a freak gym accident, and suddenly sees herself in a new light: she finds herself very beautiful. The conceit of the film is that we never get to see what the character sees in her "new" body, and so it is abstractly fascinating to find Schumer going about her new life with such zest and charisma. But the third act calls, and you quickly lose interest.

138. Mercury 13 (David Sington and Heather Walsh, United States)

Mercury 13, David Sington and Heather Walsh's documentary on the women pilots tested for space flight in the 1960s but who were eventually denied their chance to fly by NASA, is eye-opening and saddening, giving us another potent document on male privilege and the fight against discrimination. It unfolds chronologically, offering us a taste of the earlier days of flying from the female perspective, and gives us the expected beats of feminist narrative. But it fails to give new insight, and engages only this much. I think it's a matter of framing.

139. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (Genndy Tartakovsky, United States)

This third entry in the Hotel Transylvania series gives us more of the colourful lives of the monsters we have come to love -- somewhat -- but transposes everything from a hotel to a cruise ship bound for the Bermuda Triangle, and also gives us a story where Dracula falls in love. It's all cute, and arguably unnecessary. But Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter's Laboratory fame is an animation legend, and if he wants to continue with his Transylvanian monsters shtick, well, let him.

140. Peter Rabbit (Will Gluck, United States and Australia)

Ugh, fine. I was so prepared to hate Will Gluck's all-too-contemporary adaptation of Peter Rabbit -- I did not want another miscalculation like 2015's horrid The Little Prince -- but there's something about it that eventually won me over. Maybe just the general huggability of the CGI rabbits [with the titular character voiced by James Corden]? Maybe it is just the endless charms of Rose Byrne, and the unexpected pratfalls of Domhnall Gleeson? The movie is a tale about warring neighbours who soon unite for the common good, in this case love, and it can be commended for telling a story where there are really no villains. Which is refreshing. I giggled all throughout, always against my will, and in the end I just surrendered to it. Certainly not a film that will prove to be a classic, but it will do.

141. Psychokinesis (Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea)

For South Korea's first superhero movie, Yeon Sang-ho's Psychokinesis is absolutely bonkers, a kimchi-styled Hancock with a dash of Batteries Not Included for measure. Which probably is for the best. This is not your superhero movie of the Marvel or DC mold; this is an Average Joe finding out he has telekinesis and can fly, deals haphazardly with his newfound powers, and tries to use it for the good as he fights to save his relationship with his estranged daughter and aid her in her neighbourhood's fight against a mob-controlled developer eager to raze their neighbourhood to make way for a cheap commercial complex geared towards Chinese tourists. (Ha.) It's all bumbling comedy in the execution, and perhaps that's for the film's benefit. I enjoyed it, but it was a little too bumbling for comfort, hitting all the usual predictable dramatic notes I could see the ending from far away. I enjoyed Jung Yu-mi's brutal and ditsy Director Hong, however, a true delight -- which proved a satisfying counterpoint to Shim Eun-kyung's exasperating Shin Roo-mi. Perhaps that's the source of my ambivalence for this latest film by the director of Train to Busan -- Roo-mi's the emotional fulcrum that the story insists we must root for; I couldn't buy her awful, one-note characterisation, hence I could not root for the film's conceit. When you're rooting for the villainess instead of the damsel in distress, there's something wrong with the story.

142. Veronica (Paco Plaza, Spain)

A Spanish entry into the ouija board subgenre of horror movies, Paco Plaza's Veronica makes up for its too-subtle scares [frankly, it is not very scary] with its command of cinematic inventiveness. That it also immerses us thoroughly into the relationships of the siblings the demons of the film would soon be terrorising is also a commendation; their tribulation is our torture -- and for that, we are grateful.

143. 6 Balloons (Marja-Lewis Ryan, United States)

Marja-Lewis Ryan's 6 Balloons is one of those small films that thrive quite well in their smallness: without expectations attending it, it manages to surprise, and not just because it is effective filmmaking, it is a film that delves into a difficult topic and limns it well. Two siblings try to get through a day and a night, challenged by the fact that the brother is heroine-addicted, needs a fix, and can't seem to get into rehab, and the sister loves him but has had enough. It is affecting drama, with adequate performances from its two leads, and I liked it.

144. Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (Jun Robles Lana, Philippines)

I hated her excruciating performance in That Thing Called Tadhana (2014), but when Angelica Panganiban does hijinks comedies, as she did in Here Comes the Bride (2010) and now in Jun Robles Lana's Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes, she shines as a talent -- which frankly unfortunately boxes her in, but what can you do? A performer is defined by her strengths, and she is a comedienne through and through. In this comedy of manners that crosses over to LGBTQ territory, she teams up with Judy Ann Santos, and both play hapless wives to two men who have suddenly left them for each other. Drama, and much hilarity, ensues. The film is a little too long, but it is an enjoyable romp.

145. Tomb Raider (Roar Uthaug, United States)

I found the reboot of Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander gripping and relentless, the caricature of old stripped away to give us an origins story, actually -- Lara Croft before her adventures, brave and obstinate and strong and vulnerable in equal measure. That bike chase. That endless action trying to escape from close calls. That delicious Daniel Wu.

146. Pacific Rim: Uprising (Steven S. DeKnight, United States)

Guillermo Del Toro's touch that made the first Pacific Rim film fun and idiosyncratic essentially is absent in this Hollywoodized update on the robots vs. monsters story, directed by Steven S. DeKnight. Forget Mako Mori -- the character from the first film, whose character arc defined a new way to view female roles in film [the so-called Mako Mori Test is an adjustment of the more famous Bechdel Test] becomes practically inessential fodder in this cinematic effort to sell merchandise. That very thing, Mori's irrelevance, becomes the new film's gaping hole where its heart used to be. For the regular popcorn crowd though, I doubt that would matter: the film -- which centers on a sneak appropriation by kaijus on jaeggers -- delivers on the action and the spectacle, and alas that seems enough for almost everyone. I enjoyed the film, frankly speaking, but I had to readjust my expectations to that of unthinking audience member, which spells "forgettable" for this latest entry in a franchise that could have been the epitome of being the "anti-Transformers."

147. Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall, United States)

What is puzzling about Mary Poppins Returns is that Mary Poppins Returns is barely in it. Sure, she's in almost every frame -- but the story of this film, directed by Rob Marshall with so much reverence for the original the latter seeps into the frame, unfolds without much contribution by Emily Blunt's titular character. She mostly observes, prompts others into various instances of song and dance, embodies sly naughtiness in prim and proper casing ... and that's about it.

148. Green Book (Peter Farrelly, United States)

This is Driving Miss Daisy in reverse, but still retains much of that old film's problematic racial undertones. A slightly racist Italian-American man becomes the chauffeur and assistant to an African-American concert pianist as he tours the Deep South, and hijinks and an unlikely friendship occur, just as formula dictated it. It's charming enough and it works enough -- but one of the year's top best? I don't think so.

149. Lionheart (Genevieve Nnaji, Nigeria)

150. Early Man (Nick Park, United Kingdom)

151. The Oath (Ike Barinholtz, United States)

This is what happens when divisive politics enter the personal, ruining a family's Thanksgiving and generally leading to blood and mayhem. The President of the United States has issued some decree -- is this even legal? -- that all citizens must sign a patriotic oath, swearing loyalty to the Presidency, and the deadline is Boxing Day. The usual political divide sweeps the country, pitting everyone against everyone else. It's a comedy, of course -- but it also feels prescient. It is the dark comedy to define these times. I only wish it was better written, and better directed.

152. Hotel Artemis (Drew Pearce, United States)

I could see this as Jodie Foster's answer to Old Men Actioners, trending of late and mostly starring Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington and Sylvester Stallone. She plays an ageing, often heartless nurse with a secret past who somehow runs a special hospital, called the Hotel Artemis, which is dedicated to providing instant medical care for the city's wounded and ill criminal underworld. With the city in the throes of a deadly riot, the visitors to the hotel rise considerably, and deadly drama ultimately ensues with the arrival of a ruthless kingpin, and a wounded police officer. It's an amusing, if forgettable, exercise in style that has Foster enjoying her game.

153. A Cool Fish (Rao Xiaozhi, China)

154. Lu Over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa, Japan)

155. Intimate Strangers (Lee Jae-Gyu, South Korea)

156. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (Yuasa Masaaki, Japan)

I love films that make me do work, that is structurally challenging, that do not easily give away their secrets to me -- but I must say that even Yuasa Masaaki's The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is one animated film that went beyond my ken. I don't think it's bad -- I even like the unusual style of its animation -- but it's a little too idiosyncratic for me, and perhaps it may be due to not understanding cultural subtleties. It's about a girl who can outdrink anyone as she goes out to town with a couple of friends -- and some sort of mayhem occurs, one episode after another. It's quirky all right, but I wish I understood it just a bit more.


These are films that are seriously flawed in some fundamental ways, but they have something that exempts them from becoming total disasters. That something, or several somethings, made me enjoy them at some level, but they are in the long run, forgettable titles.

157. Bel Canto (Paul Weitz, United States)

Great books often do not make great movies -- even something as brilliant as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is still awaiting its appropriate cinematic rendering, although you will have to convince me that Baz Luhrmann's 2013 effort was already not that. This new film is adapted from the superb book by Anne Pratchett, a sinewy combination of opera and terrorism, a story that explodes when a bunch of rebels in an unnamed South American nation holds hostage the partygoers in the Vice President's palace. The party had been in honour of a visiting Japanese businessman who is being convinced to build factories in the country, and he has been led to attend because of the promised presence of a great opera singer, played by Julianne Moore, whose voice had been the one captivation in the Japanese businessman's life. The book is human and deliberate in its design, while the film is a collection of images without vision, gathered together in want of a better execution. But that final sequence though will break your heart. What is art and how does it humanise us? is the film's big question. Despite its many, many weaknesses, the film does manage to give us some answers.

158. Backstabbing for Beginners (Per Fly, United States)

I guess it couldn't be helped. How does one dramatise the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme scandal for film? Per Fly tries hard, giving the story a lot of fictionalised cloak-and-dagger sheen, helped for the most part by the committed performances of Theo James as a newbie diplomat suddenly caught in the crossfire and Ben Kingsley Jr. as a corrupted U.N. official, but the film ultimately slogs along, unable to fire up a story of a scandal that's really about high-level bureaucracy. But if you're in the mood for high-minded thrillers with realpolitik undercurrents, this film is tailor-made for you.

159. Bleach (Shinsuke Sato, Japan)

160. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Lasse Hallström, United States)

161. Down a Dark Hall (Rodrigo Cortés, United States)

Rodrigo Cortés takes on the YA novel by Lois Duncan, which posits that art and artists are haunted creatures [and enough said in that regard, lest we spoil the story's biggest conceit], and updates it a bit by giving the girls we follow delinquent pasts. Because of their transgressions in society, they are forced to enroll in a boarding school -- a good alternative to prison, they are told -- with only five of them as students, and just as many teachers. Strange, no? But what's stranger still is the way the students suddenly develop artistic and academic abilities they never possessed before -- and soon the story becomes a haunted mansion story. Cortés tries, and the film never relents with its craftsman pacing, but something is off about the film. We are never really terrified, and we never really feel for the characters. Only Uma Thurman as the French head mistress seems to be having a grand time, but she was Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin, so she knows what to do exactly in a story that amps up the visuals but falls short of the heart.

162. The Darkest Minds (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, United States)

Some time in the near future, an epidemic has killed 90% of children, including teenagers, rendering the survivors with enormous powers, the veracity of which a shocked society has divided into colours in pop-up concentration camps -- the relatively safe blues, greens, and yellows, and the extremely dangerous reds and oranges, the last two of which are always slated to be exterminated. The film follows an orange girl who has survived by pretending to be a green, and upon escape from camp, joins a ragtag bunch of superpowered kids in search of safety. It's forgettable entertainment, but passes the time well especially if you're just up to nothing in general. It's essentially YA dystopian drama with a touch of the X-Men, and while the film was ravaged by critics upon release, a no-expectations approach actually yields small pleasures, especially from the committed child actors. Plus I'll watch any film with Harris Dickinson in the cast.

163. Mary Shelley (Haifaa Al-Mansour, United States)

It's a paint-by-numbers biography of Mary Shelley, the writer behind Frankenstein, and how she survived her testy relationship with her husband Percy Shelley, anchoring that stormy relationship to the stormy night in the Swiss house where she first concocted her famous monster. The production is lush, and there are moments where the film struggles to become a better vehicle for the story, but it ultimately falls flat -- and largely because of the casting.

164. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan, United States)

165. Blockers (Kay Cannon, United States)

This comedy -- about parents going to extreme comic lengths to make sure their daughters don't succeed in their pact of losing their virginity come prom night -- has its moments of delightful shenanigans, and the leads are fine in what the movies requires of them. But it's ultimately a forgettable effort, and you know the movie is aware of that. I wish American comedies are not made to be disposable, but there you go.

166. Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis, United States)

Garth Davis's sophomore effort is well-intentioned, and I very much wanted to like it: who doesn't want a proper reassessment of Mary Magdalene, victim of centuries' worth of character assassination in Biblical lore? This one promised to be a proto-feminist take on Jesus' great disciple, the only one who was there at his death and then at his resurrection, but denigrated to prostitute by a Church not keen on making a woman a major figure in Jesus' story. Davis tries hard -- but there is no gravitas to his version of the Gospel, and while Rooney Mara displays some strength as the titular character, she is much too contemporary to be taken seriously. Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, however, is a tougher pill to swallow. It's a film done in by its miscasting.

167. The Last Movie Star (Adam Rifkin, United States)

Somewhere near the end of Adam Rifkin's The Last Movie Star, Vic Edwards, the former movie star played with autobiographical undertone by Burt Reynolds, provides an interesting insight about life, correlating it to a film's narrative arc: "People will forgive a shitty second act if the third act moves them." Truth to tell, the first and second acts of this movie are quite shitty and banal, but something about the third act moved me. In Rifkin's film -- a sophomoric effort that needed a better screenplay -- Reynolds is offered a chance to examine his own film persona, that of box office king, sex icon, and famously assholic actor, and what results is a searing reckoning of a life either well-lived or squandered. That the film does this by pitting the old and greying Reynolds in actual "conversation" with his famous [and younger] movie roles in Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance adds a certain gravity to the effort. It's easy to dismiss this film as being too minor, too much wastage of the stature of the actual movie star starring in this, but if we're generous enough to accept this as Reynold's confession, we will see that perhaps we have been given a privilege of a movie star baring his soul.

168. The Polka King (Maya Forbes, United States)

Jack Black always does well playing characters who are endearing and untrustworthy in equal measure. School of Rock is the epitome of that precarious balance, and he does it again in this biopic of an infamous Polish emigre who has translated his polka music fame into an elaborate, if silly, pyramid scheme. That it is based on a true story is simply one of its brazen characteristics. As a commentary on the American Dream, it is a sharp rebuke. As a vehicle for Jack Black, it is a well-conceived comedy that makes you laugh and makes you sigh in resignation at the same time.

169. Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence, United States)

The Atlantic is right in calling Francis Lawrence's Red Sparrow as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as directed by Paul Verhoeven. It is Cold War drama -- but terrifyingly set in the contemporary -- that follows a former Russian ballerina as she ascends the ranks of the espionage world as a "sparrow," the name for agents who are trained to seduce marks, and it is executed with the panache of a burlesque. As a spy thriller, it lacks the tension of a cat-and-mouse game; instead it substitutes that expectations with vigorous sex and violence that only serve to mildly titillate. But Jennifer Lawrence's commitment to the title role elevates the film somewhat. The most powerful scene in the film -- during a training class where she is made to undress and provoke a fellow trainee to have sex with her in front of everyone else -- illustrates that commitment: this is clearly the actress' way of getting back at all those men who ogled her naked photos when her phone was hacked a few years back. When the classmate, who had earlier tried to rape her, failed to "rise" to the occasion, she finally answers her instructor's question and directive at the start of the class. What does he want? "Power, that's what he wants," she says, and demonstrates that she can take it away from men when she is in-charge of her own body. Alas, the scene has nothing much to do with the rest of the film's story. But good on Jennifer Lawrence.

170. The Nun (Corin Hardy, United States)

The Nun -- an expansion of The Conjuring cinematic universe which traces the origin of Valak, the evil entity from The Conjuring 2 that takes the habit as part of its corporal form -- knows what it is, and delivers just as much. Which means there is no real disappointment in this schlocky by-the-numbers horror film. It does what it does, it doesn't pretend to be anything else, and it gets its job done.

171. Fahrenheit 451 (Ramin Bahrani, United States)

Ramin Bahrani contemporarizes Ray Bradbury's classic by making it a reflection for our latest foibles in the world, tantalisingly played out as harbingers for a future without books, and with a hatred for critical thought. I admire it for sharpening the book's argument that the book burnings did not actually begin with the censoring fire men; it began with the people themselves complaining too much of the things that "offend" them in literature and popular culture. It lacks some of the book's subtlety and complexity as it jettisons some of its narrative elements -- and perhaps that's what makes the new HBO film a bit too much of a lowkey affair, curiously lacking bite, even as it deals with heavy issues.

172. Book Club (Bill Holderman, United States)

I really expected more from a film that stars the combined star power and actressing gusto of Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen. They are a quartet of successful women whose humdrum lives get a charge from reading 50 Shades of Grey for their titular book club. The banter was fun, and the promise of what it could be kept this from becoming too much of a bore, but even the sheer enjoyment of the actresses on screen cannot elevate the flimsy material, and it ultimately becomes forgettable even halfway through. The film is as bad as the Photoshopping of the actors' faces in their younger photos together.

173. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Eli Roth, United States)

It feels like a throwback to the Amblin titles of yore, which is fodder for nostalgia. And that can be good. It's also a surprise to find Eli Roth of Hostel infamy behind the wheels of a children's movie, which is about an orphaned boy sent to live with an eccentric uncle, who turns out to be a warlock, and sets about learning magic from him. Eventually, it boils down to a confrontation with an evil but dead warlock who has nefarious plans to erase the world via magic, connected somehow to the mysterious ticking of a clock hidden somewhere in the house. Lots of cute stuff, too, including a topiary lion that goes about its business in the most random way. But I cannot get fully behind a story where many of the plot points move along simply because the boy central to the story makes a lot of stupid decisions.

174. Venom (Ruben Fleischer, United States)

There's a buddy comedy bubbling beneath this unlikely superhero movie -- plausible since this is from Ruben Fleischer, the director who gave us Zombieland, who infused the horror movie with comic chops. Whether this was the intention for Venom we don't exactly know, but then again, it's a film that doesn't know what to be, and seems designed to be completely forgettable. Tom Hardy is a hero for trying to make this material work, and he wins us over with his commitment to this role, and when the movie indeed limns towards the comedy of living with an alien monster inside of him, it can be a chuckle and a half. But this is very much Marvel's equivalent of DC's Catwoman, that misbegotten Halle Berry project.

175. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (Ari Sandel, United States)

I am not a child. It has been a long time since I read a Goosebumps novel by R.L. Stine. I am not the audience for this movie. I cannot tell whether this is a good film or a bad film -- I remain indifferent to it. Does it engage? I don't know. Does it have some modicum of charm? I don't know. Did I at least enjoy it? I don't know. I am not the audience for this movie.

176. Game Night (John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, United States)

Game Night has an ingenious premise: fun, game-playing couple and their friends go through a suddenly all-too-real-and-with-such-bloody-high-stakes "game night" courtesy of a brother and his shenanigans with the elements of the criminal underworld. But the laughs are flat, and the performances are phoned in, and the film endures twist upon twist upon twist, it might as well be a game of Twister. A disappointment of no real consequence.

177. A Midsummer Night's Dream (Casey Wilder Mott, United States)

Casey Wilder Mott transports one of William Shakespeare's most famous -- and most engaging -- comedies into contemporary life with all its sensibilities. The lovers and the fantastical creatures of that play suddenly become denizens of Los Angeles, going about Hollywood like its some enchanted forest. The line readings by some of our favourite television actors are bad. It is a charming mistake of a production, but still very much a mistake.

178. Pope Francis: A Man of His Word (Wim Wenders, Germany)

179. Maineland (Miao Wang, China and United States)

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Previously: The 25 Most Disappointing

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