Monday, January 11, 2010

From a Filmgoer's Logbook: The Best of 2009

Agnes Varda's The Beaches of Agnes

Lav Diaz's Melancholia

Marlen Khutsiev's I am Twenty

End of another year. Time to trot out the shortlist to name the past year's best and brightest. Best of the best. Cream of the crop. There was, true enough, a lot of that: The year of our Lord 2009 represented a good and decent -- if not great -- year for our national cinema, proudly upheld and championed by a brave, young and gritty new generation of independent filmmakers. This was the year that small, unassuming films catapulted to fame and global profile by winning major awards at international film festivals: "Lola" in Dubai, "Engkwentro" in Venice, "Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe" in Cairo, "Sanglaan" in Lyon, "Astig" in Pusan and "Baseco Bakal Boys" in Thessaloniki and Torino. These days it’s par for the course for our independent films to receive invitations to major festivals overseas, even to the Holy Grail of festivals. "Independencia" was in Cannes' "A Certain Regard" section, "Manila" was in its Special Screening, and "Kinatay" director Brillante Mendoza upped the ante in international participation for our filmmakers as he won Best Director at the same festival. The gains of the retrospective of 46 Filipino films at the Paris International Cinema Festival in 2008 have been bolstered by another retrospective at the 50th Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 2009, showcasing thirteen of our recent filmic artifacts, a point of pride for the Filipino cinephile and the nation as a whole.

In 2009, the three pillars of Filipino independent film festivals – Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, and Cinema One Originals – were in fine form and seem to have established themselves as such: the three-cornered bedrock buttressing and underpinning independent film ascendance. Most of the globe-trotting award-winners mentioned above were fresh from debuting in these three film festivals before heading overseas and reaping prizes. A film enthusiast couldn’t ask for anything more. (Less taxes? More filmmaking incentives? The relaxation, if not abolition, of censorship? Too much? ) Seriously, 2009, as a whole, was a filmgoer’s dream, the newly minted as well as the little-shown classics (Conde, Avellana, and more) were there to be experienced at the various film festivals.

It was, however, a year of tragic losses too. The sudden death of film critic Alexis Tioseco, for one, brought a pall to the film community. Young but committed, he was not a mere armchair critic but a kind of activist for local filmdom. He was onto big things, championing independent filmmakers, crusading for the preservation of our filmic heritage, and campaigning for the reformation of commercial filmmaking. According to sources, Tioseco was working to find distribution if not assume distribution himself for the voluminous works of Lav Diaz. He was here for the long haul, and he would have done much, much more doubtless, until a fateful night in 2009 preempted it all.

As for a simple, dilettante blogger like me, I count myself lucky just to be on the sidelines to witness a sort of ascendance, if not a full-fledged renaissance, of our national cinema. In 2009, I managed to see around 200 or so films, but the real badge of honor for me was managing to see many of the premieres of Filipino films at the major film festivals, namely Cinemalaya, Cinemanila, and Cinema One Originals. My shortlist reflects that for the most part. This list is also redolent of films screened at the Cine Adarna and the Videotheque at the UP Film Institute. (Hey, me aircon na ang Videotheque, pero medyo amoy ataul pa rin.) Some of the films on my shortlist, however, have never screened at any of the local cinemas, and are likely never to do so -- a regrettable likelihood that I hope I’m wrong about. The year that was also saw me sampling many Russian film classics, mostly those named by in a list entitled “The 55 Best Russian and Soviet Films, 1908-1999”.

So, without further ado, my shortlist for 2009.


Melancholia (Lav Diaz)

Independencia (Raya Martin)

Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza)

Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe (Alvin Yapan)

Anacbanua (Christopher Gozum)

Last Supper No. 3 (Veronica Velasco)

Lupang Hinarang (Ditsi Carolino)

Baseco Bakal Boys (Ralston Jover)

Lola (Brillante Mendoza)

Agonistes (Lav Diaz)

Biyaheng Lupa (Armando Lao)

The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda)

Import Export (Ulrich Seidl)

Four Nights with Anna (Jerzy Skolimowski)

35 Rhums (Claire Denis)

Nanayo (Naomi Kawase)

Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve)

The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa)

Material (Thomas Heise)

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)

Tulpan (Sergei Dvortsevoy)

Mother (Bong Joon-ho)

Hunger (Steve McQueen)


Father Sergius (Yakov Protazanov)

July Rain (Marlen Khutsiev)

By the Law (Lev Kuleshov)

Road to Life (Nikolay Ekk)

Spring on Zarechnoy Street (Marlen Khutsiev)

The Red Snowball Tree (Vasili Shukshin)

Five Evenings (Nikita Mikhalkov)

Khrustalyov My Car! (Aleksei German)

Brief Encounters (Kira Muratova)

One Hundred Days after Childhood (Sergei Solovyov)

Welcome, or No Trespassing (Elem Klimov)

Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano (Nikita Mikhalkov)

I am Twenty (Marlen Khutsiev)

Gamlet (Grigori Kozintsev)

The Days of Eclipse (Alexander Sokurov)

Spiritual Voices (Alexander Sokurov)

The House on Trubnaya Square (Boris Barnet)

Bontoc Eulogy (Marlon Fuentes)

Manoro (Brillante Mendoza)
The Sun in a Net (Stefan Uher)

Profound Desire of the Gods (Shohei Imamura)

Mind Game (Masaaki Yuasa)

Mouth Agape (Maurice Pialat)

China is Near (Marco Bellocchio)

Transient Life (Akio Jissoji)

The Wrestlers (Buddhadev Dasgupta)


  1. I think you should just do one list--Filipino and foreign side by side. Then some retro viewings. But that's just me.

  2. I keep thinking about that too. Let's see...

  3. Great list!

    I'm envious. I haven't been watching films as much as I used to, and more than half of your list are stuff I'd love to watch, but couldn't because of time restraints.

    Let's have coffee soon.

  4. Hi Oggs,

    Thanks! I know the kind of work you are in and I can imagine the long, long hours you must put in. My brother is a (corporate)lawyer too, and there is not a passing day that he doesn't wish for a change of profession. For someone under a lot of time restraints, you still produce a steady stream of superb reviews. I imagine film reviewing must be, to some degree, your way of unwinding.

  5. I second oggs on the list. Much as I haven't seen nearly all of the foreign films here (even on the retro list) , I have now added them to my ever-increasing backlog. Good call on Mother, though.