How I Survived 2018: Films I Became Obsessed With

I don’t generally make lists (I don’t believe in them) but I’m going to half blame Daniel Waters & his excellent cinema-personship for my desire to list the things I saw this year (I read his list today & was like….yeah, there’s some shit I want people to know about) and the fact that I’m getting old & I forget titles of things & such.

Warning: you will definitely see a pattern to much of the content here. I like Korean film and TV. A LOT. Like, not just as a hobby, but like…9/10 things I watch on a daily/weekly/monthly basis are Korean. There’s many many many reasons for this: I love the actors, the political intrigue plots, the corruption angles, the action sequences and the absurd number of serial killers or extremely violent murderous villains with amazing hair and immaculate taste in clothing that are existing in Seoul at any given point in the Korean movie environment.

That said, these are the films I watched this year that blew my mind or just made me super happy to be sitting in a darkened theater with other folks. Or, in some cases, home with my cats.

Please note that this is a mix of new and older films. But all were new-to-me.

 

성난황소 Unstoppable (English title) / Angry Bull (literal title) – dir. Kim Min-Ho, 2018

Ma Dong-seok is one of my favorite actors ever & the villain in this- Kim Sung-oh is mindblowing. That burgundy suit he wears is 80,000 shades of YESSSSSSS. Also the action in this one was just superb. Flimsy narrative but if you just go: “Cool. Revenge story. Lots of action & badassery” this is great!

 

꼬방동네 사람들 People in the Slum / People of Kkobang Neighborhood– dir. Bae Chang-ho, 1982

The Korean Film Archive did a hellova job restoring this classic working class drama and it’s worth watching just to see that gorgeous work alone. But the film itself is also great. Mind you, it definitely gets dramatic– like OH GURL THAT MUSIC SWELL dramatic- but I loved this film. And the lead actress Kim Bo-yeon 김보연 is excellent. It’s available to watch here on YouTube for free. thanks to the Korean Film Archive. Also, this article is really great & talks a bit about Bae Chang-ho who was nicknamed the “Steven Spielberg of Korea.”

people of the slum

Amateurs (Amatörer) – dir. Gabriela Pichler, 2018

This very queer, very funny, very touching comedy made my AFIFest sooooo great this year. I’m a huge fan of movies about adolescent girls saying “fuck you, I’m going DIY you stupid adults” and this is that movie. I died of laughter, I cried a looot and I would see it many more times. There are at least 5 languages spoken in this film- Swedish, Tamil, Arabic, German and English. It is about filmmaking, classism, capitalism and tiny backwater towns with a lotta bureaucratic outdated ways. It is loving and punk as fuck.

AMATEURS-by-Gabriela-Pichler

Pig (Khook) – dir. Mani Haghighi, 2018

This movie is so funny my sides hurt from laughing. A serial killer is on the loose picking off film directors in the local Tehrani film scene one by one. It’s all at once a satire, a parody of filmmaking as an industry and creative pursuit and ridiculously self-aware. The main character has some amazing rock t-shirts that he wears throughout and the film is just a blast. Want to rewatch many times.

 

마의 계단 The Devil’s Staircase – dir. Lee Man-hee, 1964

It’s safe to say that this is one of my new favorite film noir/thrillers that has ever been made. If you know me, that’s saying a GREAT DEAL. I will now profess my new addiction to Lee Man-hee and his work, completely setting the groundwork in Korean cinema for the thrillers and horror work that everyone loves today. This film actually scared me at one point! Goddamn Exorcist does nothing to my fear tendrils. If you love Diabolique by Clouzot (1955), this film is just as terrifying in its paranoia and intensity. Again, for those interested, it is available to watch here for free thanks to the marvelous Korean Film Archive.

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Cam – dir. Daniel Goldhaber, writer Isa Mazzei, 2018

This film is tits-out incredible. Having been connected with the sex worker world for most of my teen and adult life, I have watched it change drastically based on technology. While those things evolved, the misogyny and judgey-ness stayed exactly the fucking same. For Goldhaber & Mazzei to make this brutally brilliant and powerful film that stands alone as a great thriller/horror film but also functions as critical analysis of agency and identity in an online sexual universe. HFS. I’m alllllllllllllll in. This was my kind of movie. I cannot wait to see what they do next. Tickets already bought & paid for.

화녀 Woman of Fire- dir. Kim Ki-young, 1971

I worship at the film cans of Kim Ki-young. That’s why 2 of his films are on this list. For reference, popular modern Korean directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook both call this legendary director a huge influence on their work.

화녀 is a seriously dark and disturbing work. It’s erotic and powerful and troubling and visually fucking stunning. This film’s objective is to make you feel unsafe. Domestic bliss, familial calm, any home/hearth bullshit is tossed out the window to make room for psychosexual violence, lust and manipulation. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Oh- and it’s also available for free here thanks to the Korean Film Archive! Have a stiff drink or some ice cream on hand. You might need it.

1971 - Woman of Fire (screenshot 3)

Akasha – dir. Hajooj Kuka, 2018

It may sound odd, but this is an incredible feminist rom-com about a small community set in the Sudan, against the backdrop of the Sudanese Civil War (which is a huge part of the narrative). If that sounds weird and crazy, it is. It has been so long since I’ve seen a film with the humor, feel and joy of 1930s screwball comedy (sans the overwhelming whiteness) that this almost put me into cardiac arrest at how divine it was. Find it. See it. Everything about this film is just amazing.

저는 영화를보고 있어요 Default / National Bankruptcy Day dir. Choi Kook-hee, 2018

Full transparency, I’m a nut for Kim Hye-soo. She’s a hellova actress. And Yoo Ah-in has been one of my main dudes since I watched him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Y’all loved in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning this year. You know you did (I did too, FTR). This is a pretty amazing film especially if you are not entirely well-acquainted with the HFS RAGING disaster that was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Kim Hye-soo plays a financial analyst at the Bank of Korea who is beyond aware of the damages that the IMF will do and has to combat the Very Male industry that she’s in. The film doesn’t shy away from the overt sexism that businesswomen have to face in powerful positions. It’s infuriating and depressing but she is brilliant in this role.

The Night Comes for Us – dir. Timo Tjahjanto, 2018

This Indonesian blood ballet is so exceptionally choreographed and violently HELL YES that I can’t even think about how much I loved it without grinning and wanting to watch it again with other people.

Hold The Dark – dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2018

It is extremely rare that the litany of horrors that indigenous communities have to handle on a day to day basis make appearances in what we might consider mainstream-esque (or at least a Netflix-sponsored) thriller. Hold the Dark is a difficult film to completely parse. I need to watch it again, for sure. But the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it certainly made me think: yeah, this is something I valued highly. The darknesses that this film explores are various: dying children, the inability of white folx to respect indigenous cultures and their rights, animal behavior, and more. Jeffrey Wright is incredible. And I stand by the statement I tweeted after I watched this: HTD is a Christmas movie.

어도 Iodo – dir. Kim Ki-Young, 1977

Out of all the films I watched this year (Mandy included) this is the one that really blew my fucking mind. For all intents and purposes, it is a murder mystery and a genre film done by Kim Ki-young. The extremely pithy Wikipedia synopsis reads: “When a man from an island ruled by women disappears, the man suspected of killing him investigates his past.” But that’s like saying “yeah, people die during wars” or “Having the flu makes you feel crappy.”  어도 is like if Ken Russell and Alejandro Jodorowsky were Korean, got REALLY HIGH and REALLY FEMINIST and were like: “Let’s make our version of The Wickerman, include prerequisite themes of sex, power, gender and erotics, and make a commentary on the erasure of shamanic culture in Korea.” Sound good? HAHHHHHHAHAHAHAH. It’s fucking mindbending and hot.

I love it when US films go strange places but honestly? We just don’t have the history to do it this well. Our history is racism, colonialism and fucked up power structures. Kim Ki-Young is the  goddamn master of mindfuckery in cinema and I love it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch it here, thanks to the amazing Korean Film Archive!

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There were plenty of other films-

도둑들 The Thieves – dir. Choi Dong-hoon, 2012  

Wild Search – dir. Ringo Lam, 1989

Destroyer – dir. Karyn Kusama, 2018

Shoplifters – dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu, 2018

버닝 Burning – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2018

아시스 Oasis – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2002 (Yes, I like this film. No it doesn’t make me a monster. In fact, this is probably one of the most powerful and beautiful films I watched this year).

Sorry to Bother You – dir. Boots Riley, 2018

Skyscraper – dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2018

The Ranger – dir. Jenn Wexler, 2018

And so many more.

These are the movies I can’t get out of my head and make me glad that I do what I do (watch & appreciate cinema & its interaction with human life and politics and whatnot).

I hope that maybe you’ll check out one or more of these. If you do, let me know what you think!

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One Way or Another

In regards to the New Year, Benjamin Franklin said, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”

However, good ol’ Ben also tried to tenderize a turkey through electrocution, and ended up electrifying himself, so I can’t say that every one of his plans, suggestions or pieces of wisdom were 100% solid.

I’m more of a fan of the Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde school of thought.  Mark Twain said of New Year’s Day that it was “the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” And Mr. Wilde? Well, he essentially followed in the same vein and stated plainly, “Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”

In essence, New Year’s can be looked at in many ways.

I have one way of looking at 2010. It SUCKED. But I have one way of looking at 2011: it’s going to ROCK. HARD.

My personal highlights of 2010, the few that occurred, were all film related. The TCM Film Festival was amazing. The Reel Thing Conference in Hollywood and the AMIA/IASA Conference in Philadephia were unbelievable. In the spirit of that, I will celebrate that with a list of my favorite films of the year. In general, I feel that “top 10/25/etc” lists are slightly on the silly end of things and they almost shout “Look at me! Look what I watch! YOU should watch this stuff too!” And some people’s lists are exactly that. My list is not intended to be so. Maybe you’ll find something you’ll like or want to watch, but if not, no big deal. As I am on the path to trying to become an archivist, this is more for me to remember the films that I enjoyed in a particular year than anything else. So…welcome to my Filmic Forum of 2010.

General Rules:

-There is no order of ones I liked best to least based on numerical value, except for #1-3. Those are self-explanatory. Aside from those, I loved them all equally.

-This list is also based upon the films I’ve seen. I have not yet seen Blue Valentine, Dogtooth, Rabbit Hole, White Material, or I Love You Philip Morris (all films I want very much to see).

-The starred ones at the end are kinda my “special selections.” The ones without stars are the definite ones, without any qualms. The last 2 are quite good films, but not my very favorites.

1) True Grit

2) The Illusionist


3) Kick Ass


Valhalla Rising

The Ghost Writer

Animal Kingdom


Splice

The Fighter


Mother

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Social Network*

Black Swan*

All I can say is that with the new Malick film coming out this year, and a few other things that look promising, let’s hope that 2011 is a better year for American film-making than it has been. We used to be good, but I’m losing my faith. This year’s list has quite a large amount of foreign work on it, and it seems like that is where the bravery, creativity and good film-making is going.

In any case, have a great new year, and hope your holidays were great!

Top 5 Films of 2008…

All right cats & kittens, here we are- end of the year- and I know that AT LEAST one of you would like to know what my top 5 films of 2008 (that I have SEEN) are.

Well, y’know what?
Not only am I going to tell you, but I’m going to SHOW you.

I will post a trailer for each one of my favorite films of this year, with a brief description of why I adore it and think it rocked my socks more than the, well, um, embarrassingly large amount of other films I have seen within the year. Although, that said, truth be told…the large amount of films wasn’t always recent films so I guess that doesn’t really count. BUT THESE DO!!

And these films are EXCELLENT. Seriously. Really really really good. This is the first year I have gone to see new films multiple times in the theater in a VERY long time (many many years…perhaps since Lost Highway or American Beauty) and it is with great passion and cinematic drive that I urge you to partake in these pieces of celluloid. It’s been a shitty shitty year for me in my personal life, but good GOD it’s been a great year for me with movies!

So here’s the way it’s gonna work. I’m gonna post my top 5, but they will NOT, I repeat NOT be in any kind of qualitative order. In other words, there’s just simply no way that I could like one of these over another over another. They are all so different and so amazing in their own ways, and I cannot put one above the other. So, think of ’em on the same scale of Cinema Love, and enjoy.

Lemme know whatcha think, k?

Celluloid kisses and Reel-y big hugs,

Ariel

I don’t play favorites very often, if at all, but if pressed…this was my very favorite film of 2008. The first 45 seconds left me thrilled, stunned, and shocked. This is not your average film. More than anything, this is absolutely nothing at ALL like Waking Life. Don’t even *think* about comparing the two. This film is brutal, gorgeous, and relentless. I think I probably cried through 70% of the film, half because of the sheer magnificence of the art and splendor of the cinematic story before me and half because of content. The animation and the process (of which Folman has several articles/interviews available) are beyond compare.
I can truly truly truly say that I have never seen anything like it.
This film is out now. You will be doing yourself a complete disservice if you do not SEE THIS FILM. The soundtrack, the visuals, the EVERYTHING…perfection. Waltz With Bashir. AMAZING.

If nothing else gets you, the performances ALONE are enough to warrant the ridiculous amount of money theaters are charging for admission these days. However, it’s not just that. This film virtually *drips* with quality. To me, it was like watching the most sensationally intense boxing match I had ever seen in my life. So much so, that at times, it even seemed to be photographed in slightly that manner. Alongside the obviously interesting historical issues and the simply fascinating discussion on the media (including media figures), this film also focuses on the viewer’s own emotional positionality, toying with it a bit, based on the magnificent performances and incredible story in tandem. I dug that part A LOT. Well played, Mr. Howard, one of the best you’ve done!

OK, so aside from my fascination with (read: massive crush on) Robert Downey Jr.for the last 20 years, my absolute adoration for Jeff Bridges and my newfound interest in Terrance Howard (after Hustle & Flow), this movie rocked me. It is a solid and striking film, and I say that not just because I’m a comic book geek, not just because it was fun and exciting, and not just because it was well-written and structured (although it was all of those things and more). What is truly arresting about Iron Man is Favreau’s choice to lay bare the multitude of issues surrounding war as a business and an economic industry, and what that really means, in such an updated, contemporary fashion. Anyone who says that comic book movies are just fluff pieces with no transitive value, needs to experience Iron Man in all its glory. Seriously.

Yeah, I’ve been raving about this left, right & center. FINE. See, I love wrestling. I do. I wouldn’t have written a 35-pg paper about wrestling (that I eventually presented at a international conference) if I didn’t love it. But that’s not the only reason I love this movie. I love this film because it’s accurate as HELL and grips your heart in a choke-hold, refusing to let go. The balls-out emotional intensity is matched only by the wrestling itself, which, I might add, was great. But you DON’T HAVE TO LOVE WRESTLING TO LOVE THE MOVIE. My only criticism was Evan Rachel Wood. She was not good. At all. But the rest of the film was graphic, brutal, and painful in all the right ways. I cried. A lot. Great performances, great characters, and WOW, um, Marisa Tomei? HOT!
On a more personal level, I *finally* feel like a film has been made that will help dispel the myth that wrestling is easy and “fake,” and without any real consequence, something I appreciated beyond measure.

At first, I was just ecstatic about the choice to replace Mrs. Scientologist herself, Katie Holmes, from the first film with…well, anyone. Little did I know it was only going to skyrocket in OMFG HOW AMAZING CAN THIS BE-ness from there. Suffice to say that 2008 was a damn fine year to be a comic book geek who also happens to spend many of her waking hours ‘neath the silvery screen. It’s incredibly difficult to enunciate (at least in a professional or eloquent sense) my feelings about Chris Nolan’s work on The Batman, other than…IT RULES. I kinda turn into a 14-year-old boy. My academic side would like to tell you, however, that this is probably one of the most (if not THE most) faithful comic-to-film adaptations that has been done thus far, both thematically and content-wise. Not only that, but the performances were startlingly good, and the skillful direction and the only-when-needed use of digital effects was gratefully noted and appreciated.