This day was far from perfect. But you know what? I bulldozed my way through it anyway -- irritation and exasperation aside [and at one point I was close to breaking down] -- and I did the best I could, and I think I did a pretty good job. So thank you, Wednesday. You threw bricks at me, and now I have a brick house.
Last year was the year I resolved not to watch movies on the grind, the way I did it in 2018, which exhausted me and temporarily turned me off anything cinema. But alas, the love for film proved stronger than any disdain, and so we were soon back at regular screenings but no longer with a compulsive need to watch everything. For this list, I refuse to limit my choices to just ten or 25, since every year there are more films to cherish, and lists like this should be a document on how much I've enjoyed a film year -- hence the word "favorite" instead of "top." I also didn't get to watch everything on my must-watch list given the usual vagaries of release dates and distributions, hence no 1917 (Sam Mendes, United States), Honey Boy (Alma Har'el, United States), or Waves (Trey Edward Shults, United States) -- but surprisingly, the no-watch list proved more livable than usual. I've also decided to complete forego Filipino films as a protest against its Manila-centric distribution, and I've also decided to forego the usual write-ups. So here goes...
The Best of the Lot
1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig, United States)
2. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
3. Aquarela (Viktor Kossakovsky, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and United States)
4. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, United States)
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, France)
6. Asako I and II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, Japan)
7. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, United States)
8. I Lost My Body (Jérémy Clapin, France)
9. Ad Astra (James Grey, United States)
10. 63 Up (Michael Apted, United Kingdom)
The Films That Blew My Mind or Moved Me
11. The Great Hack (Johanna Noujaim and Karim Amer, United States)
12. The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles, United Kingdom, United States, Italy, and Argentina)
13. The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester, United States)
14. Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, United States)
15. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, United States)
16. Midsommar (Ari Aster, United States, Sweden, and Hungary)
17. The Report (Scott Z. Burns, United States)
18. Varda par Agnes (Agnès Varda and Didier Rouget, France)
19. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, United States)
20. High Life (Claire Denis, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Poland, and United States)
The Films That Made Me Go Hmmm...
21. In Fabric (Peter Strickland, United States)
22. Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, United States and Chile)
23. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, United States)
24. Knives Out (Rian Johnson, United States)
25. Diane (Kent Jones, United States)
26. Bombshell (Jay Roach, United States)
27. Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
28. Missing Link (Chris Butler, United States)
29. American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, United States)
30. Primal: Tales of Savagery (Genndy Tartakovsky, United States)
The Films That Weren’t Perfect But I Liked Nonetheless
31. Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan, United States)
32. Truth and Justice (Tanel Toom, Hungary)
33. Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany)
34. Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, United States)
35. Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold, United States)
36. The Nightcrawlers (Alexander A. Mora, United States)
37. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot, United States)
38. Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (Max Lewkowicz, United States)
39. Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, United States)
40. Jojo Rabbit (Taiki Waititi, United States)
The Films I Found Myself Surprisingly Enjoying
41. Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of the Skywalker (J.J. Abram, United States)
42. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, United States)
43. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov, North Macedonia)
44. Climax (Gaspar Noé, Belgium and France)
45. Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane, United States)
46. Un Rubio [The Blonde One] (Marco Berger, Argentina)
47. Luce (Julius Onah, United States)
48. Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott, United States)
49. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, United States)
50. Ghosts of Sugar Land (Bassam Tariq, United States)
The Films That Not Everybody Loved But I Genuinely Liked
51. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher, United Kingdom and United States)
52. Atlantics (Mati Diop, Senegal)
53. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia)
54. Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez, United States)
55. Weathering with You (Makoto Shinkai, Japan)
56. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, Portugal)
57. Crawl (Alexandre Aja, United States)
58. Piercing (Nicolas Pesce, United States)
59. Cats (Tom Hooper, United States)
60. Last Christmas (Paul Feig, United States)
An American adaptation of Bong Joon Ho's Parasite  has been announced, and people are going ape-shit about it. [See this Esquirepiece that calls the entire enterprise "offensive."]
I don't mind.
I actually like the idea of "remakes," given of course two things:  audiences should always try to see the brilliant original, and  creators should always strive to produce new material instead of rehashing what already came before.
Still, remakes create a kind of synthesis of the inspiration and the inspired -- and sometimes when a different culture does a take on something, something entirely new can come out of it [e.g., Summertime, the 2001 South Korean film directed by Park Jae-ho, which is a remake of Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights, 1985].
Most remakes of course are terrible [e.g., George Sluizer's 1993 remake of his own 1988 The Vanishing]; some are misunderstood experiments in style [e.g., Gus Van Sant's 1998 reworking of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, 1960]; some are better recreations by directors finally coming into their own [e.g., Leo McCarey's An Affair to Remember from 1957 is so much better than his own Love Affair from 1939]; some become equally great as the original but give a delightful tinge of difference [e.g., Sebastián Lelio's Gloria Bell from 2019, a remake of his own 2013 Gloria -- I honestly like the Julianne Moore version better]; and some are delightful experiments in cultural mirroring [e.g., the entire unlikely "franchise" of Perfect Strangers, the 2016 Italian film that has spawned remakes in Spain, South Korea, China, India, France, Turkey, Greece -- each one a virtual copy of the other, but each one nuanced by sharp cultural differences]. Without remakes or rehashes, Philippine cinema wouldn't have its parody of everything as diverse as James Bond [For Your Height Only, starring Weng Weng in 1981], Batman or Dracula [Batman Fights Dracula, 1967], and Three Men and a Baby [Rock-a-Bye Baby, Tatlo ang Daddy, 1988] -- all of which have since given us campy delight.
I guess the only criterion is to be a good film, or, echoing Ezra Pound, to make old things somehow "new."
Romnick Sarmenta was the James Reid of my late 1980s childhood. He was inescapable; he was on every notebook cover. Every day in grade school, over recess or the school vegetable garden where we’d toil daily in the late afternoon, my classmates and I would go to war arguing who best deserved him in a love team: Jennifer Sevilla or Sheryl Cruz. I was pro-Jennifer for reasons I no longer remember [it was probably because I saw them together in Huwag Mong Buhayin ang Bangkay in 1987, which starred Jestoni Alarcon in his prime], and I burned with anger when somebody suggested otherwise. I’d brandish my trowel menacingly, and say, “Sheryl looks like a cat.”
Ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please. I went, I saw, and I liked Tom Hooper's adaptation of Cats, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on the children's poetry by T.S. Eliot. Admittedly, the low expectations helped. Also being familiar with the story -- a simple compendium of various types of Jellicle Cats introducing themselves before going to a ball where one of them gets chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer -- allowed me to suspend logic and disbelief and just lean back and enjoy the sheer madness of the movie, the surreality of every creative choice, the bizarreness of the digital furs, the inexplicable horniness of it all. The film feels very much like Grizabella herself, the former glamour cat, now ostracized and seeking some sort of redemption while waxing nostalgia for the days when she was beautiful. When she sings "Memories," her torch song, I was genuinely moved. Like her, Cats has its heart in the right place. But I've always loved films that go where the timid dare not go. [I have a special place in my heart for Darren Aronofsky's mother!] This was sheer camp, a film ready-made to be misunderstood -- and guess what, it indeed was, and received such a fierce critical drubbing from almost everyone that I had to become suspicious of the lynch mob. It is not a great film, but it will become legendary: first for its excesses and camp, and maybe one day, finally for its heart.
I'm riding random waves of emotions today, and I don't know why. Everything is just so beautiful and so sad all at the same time. The mere thought of puppies and kittens will probably make me cry. And sad, contemplative songs have been breaking me all day.
This song, for example.
I've filed this under unexpected things that made me cry today. In "Batang Bata Ka Pa," Noel Cabangon takes an APO Hiking Society classic and in a duet with his son Gab lends this intergenerational dialogue in song about growing up and making mistakes more than a measure of pathos.
Here is a video of the Cabangons singing the song with the APO themselves...
I really don't mind being emotional today though. This is probably hormonal, but I feel strangely human.
Hope Tinambacan's nostalgic posts about missing Minimik in Dumaguete has me in stitches. [For the young ones, Minimik was this alfresco bistro and beer garden in front of CocoGrande Hotel along Hibbard Avenue that was a beloved watering hole for Sillimanians, especially of the musical variety -- which was a given since it was operated by Diomar Abrio, a music professor at the university.]
It was a regular beehive, the place students would meet in after school, listen to music by Dumaguete bands, have foam parties, and develop a taste for Red Horse and Tanduay -- really the "national drinks" of Dumaguete.
Together with El Amigo and Hayahay, Minimik formed the unofficial triumvirate of watering holes in Dumaguete that proved formational for the growth of the local music scene, and operated throughout most of the 2000s until 2013. [If you wanted karaoke, you just crossed the street and rented a room in Country Gents, also gone.]
It wasn't all wild nights. It was also a wellspring of creativity: it was in this place that LitCritters, a writers group, was formed, and it was also here that the Belltower Project, a network of local musicians, also had its roots. God knows what else Minimik inspired.
From what I can remember, the owners of the property allegedly were so disturbed by the raucous nature of the place they resolved to take it back, and then soon after set up in its place a bistro of a very Christian variety called _______, a name with lofty Biblical significance that I can't remember. Crickets. Absolutely crickets. Nobody came to the Christian would-be watering hole. Now it's just this sad, empty, boarded up lot devoid of life, but full of misbegotten good intentions.
It occurred to me that it has been twenty years years since James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted (1999) was released. I was ambivalent about the film that year. ["Ambivalent" is an important word in the movie.] Screening it today, everything is different about it. I get it now. I feel its power, its intentions. And while Angelina Jolie -- who won an Oscar for the film -- has the showier performance, Winona Ryder's has subterfuges that spoke volumes. What is it about me now that made the film change for me? Perhaps I'm older. Perhaps I understand now the subdued pain of mental health disease more, having gone through anxiety and depression myself. And it occurs to me that the best art is like this: it is rediscovered to be embraced by a more understanding time.
It's fascinating to note how the weather could change from my window perch at Starbucks Dakong Balay: only an hour ago, the view of the sea was all blue and Wednesday mid-afternoon heat, and now it's the color of slate, the tiny acacia leaves on the street dancing frenetically in the gusts. There are suddenly raindrops on the window pane.