Sunday, February 03, 2013

Best Films of the Last Decade

I have always refrained from assessing whether a particular year had a good cinematic output mostly because a majority of foreign films were out of reach for me. This meant I was a few years behind in catching all the newest film titles and as a result, many excellent titles missed my end of the year list. For example, past omissions have included personal favorites such as The Strange Case of Angelica, Mysteries of Lisbon, My Joy, West of the Tracks and Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth. I had a 2 year delay for the first three films and it was almost 4 years before I finally saw the Costa. But ultimately at the end of the day, I can only judge what is available to me. With that in mind, I decided to tally up my top 10 film lists from 2003 - 2012 to determine a personal best cinematic viewing year. I cut down lists from some years which had more than 10 titles, such as 23 films in 2009.

A quick rundown of lists from 2003 - 2012.

Top 10 films of 2003

1. Lost in Translation (USA/Japan, Sofia Coppola)
2. And Now...Ladies and Gentlemen (2002, France/UK, Claude Lelouch)
3. Mr & Mrs Iyer (2002, India, Aparna Sen)
4. Teen Deewarein (India, Nagesh Kukunoor)
5. Adaptation (2002, USA, Spike Jonze)
6. 21 Grams (USA, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
7. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002, South Korea, Park Chan-wook)
8. Gangaajal (India, Prakash Jha)
9. Haasil (India, Tigmanshu Dhulia)
10. Saathiya (2002, India, Shaad Ali)

Top 10 films of 2004

1. Exiles (France/Japan, Tony Gatlif)
2. Monsieur Ibrahim (2003, France, Francois Dupeyron)
3. Kontroll (2003, Hungary, Nimrod Antal)
4. Samsara (2001, India co-production, Pan Nalin)
5. Carandiru (2003, Brazil co-production, Hector Babenco)
6. Kopps (2003, Sweden/Denmark, Josef Fares)
7. Control Room (USA, Jehane Noujaim)
8. About Baghdad (USA, Sinan Antoon & 4 other directors)
9. Checkpoint (2003, Israel, Yoav Shamir)
10. Before Sunset (USA, Richard Linklater)

Top 10 films of 2005

1. Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (Brazil, Marcelo Gomes)
2. Yes (2004, UK/USA, Sally Potter)
3. L’Enfant (Belgium/France, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
4. Sepet (2004, Malaysia, Yasmin Ahmad)
5. Cache (France co-production, Michael Haneke)
6. Mountain Patrol/Kekexili (2004, China/Hong Kong, Chuan Lu)
7. Head-On (2004, Germany/Turkey, Fatih Akin)
8. Brokeback Mountain (USA/Canada, Ang Lee)
9. Good Night, and Good Luck (USA/France/UK/Japan, George Clooney)
10. Turtles Can Fly (2004, Iran/France/Iraq, Bahman Ghobadi)

Top 10 films of 2006

1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Romania, Cristi Puiu)
2. Dosar (2006, India, Rituparno Ghosh)
3. El Violín (2005, Mexico, Francisco Vargas Quevedo)
4. Tzameti (2005, France/Georgia, Géla Babluani)
5. The Bet Collector (Philippines, Jeffrey Jeturian)
6. Khosla Ka Ghosla (India, Dibakar Banerjee)
7. The Descent (2005, UK, Neil Marshall)
8. The Lives of Others (Germany, Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck)
9. Election 2 (Hong Kong, Johnny To)
10. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005, South Korea, Park Chan-wook)

Top 10 films of 2007

1. Foster Child (Philippines, Brillante Mendoza)
2. Dans la ville de Sylvia (Spain, José Luis Guerin)
3. Slingshot (Philippines, Brillante Mendoza)
4. Children of Men (2006, USA/UK, Alfonso Cuarón)
5. Black Friday (2004, India, Anurag Kashyap)
6. The Bourne Ultimatum (USA, Paul Greengrass)
7. Zodiac (USA, David Fincher)
8. Rendition (USA, Gavin Hood)
9. Ratatouille (USA, Brad Bird)
10. Drained (2006, Brazil, Heitor Dhalia)

Top 10 films of 2008

1. Rachel Getting Married (USA, Jonathan Demme)
2. Happy-Go-Lucky (UK, Mike Leigh)
3. Wonderful Town (2007, Thailand, Aditya Assarat)
4. The Fall (2006, USA/India, Tarsem)
5. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (India, Dibakar Banerjee)
6. Gomorra (Italy, Matteo Garrone)
7. Silent Light (2007, Mexico, Carlos Reygadas)
8. Tell No One (2006, France, Guillaume Canet)
9. Rock On (India, Abhishek Kapoor)
10. WALL·E (USA, Andrew Stanton)

Top 10 films of 2009

1. Be Calm and Count to Seven (2008, Iran, Ramtin Lavafipour)
2. Breathless (2008, South Korea, Yang Ik-June)
3. Wendy and Lucy (2008, USA, Kelly Reichardt)
4. Police, Adjective (Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu)
5. Buick Riviera (Croatia, Goran Rusinovic)
6. Call If You Need Me (Malaysia, James Lee)
7. Karaoke (Malaysia, Chris Chong Chan Fui)
8. Birdsong (2008, Spain, Albert Serra)
9. Everyone Else (Germany, Maren Ade)
10. Milk (2008, Turkey, Semih Kaplanoglu)

Top 10 films of 2010

1. Kill the Referee (2009, Belgium, Y. Hinant/E. Cardot/L. Delphine)
2. Liverpool (2008, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso)
3. El Pasante (Argentina, Clara Picasso)
4. The American (USA, Anton Corbijn)
5. R (Denmark, Tobias Lindholm/Michael Noer)
6. Manuel De Ribera (Chile, Pablo Carrera/Christopher Murray)
7. The Robber (Austria/Germany, Benjamin Heisenberg)
8. Carlos (France, Olivier Assayas)
9. Shutter Island (USA, Martin Scorsese)
10. The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009, Serbia, Mladen Djordjevic)

Top 10 films of 2011

1. Le Quattro Volte (2010, Italy co-production, Michelangelo Frammartino)
2. Do Dooni Chaar (2010, India, Habib Faisal)
3. Drive (USA, Nicolas Winding Refn)
4. A Separation (Iran, Asghar Farhadi)
5. Dhobi Ghat (India, Kiran Rao)
6. Another Year (2010, UK, Mike Leigh)
7. Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Chile co-production, Patricio Guzmán)
8. Aurora (2010, Romania co-production, Cristi Puiu)
9. The Kid With a Bike (Belgium co-production, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
10. Melancholia (Denmark co-production, Lars von Trier)

Top 10 films of 2012

1. Holy Motors (France, Leos Carax)
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
3. This is Not a Film (2011, Iran, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi)
4. The Master (2012, USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. Gone Fishing (2012, Argentina, Carlos Sorin)
6. The World Before Her (2012, Canada, Nisha Pahuja)
7. Found Memories (2011, Brazil co-production, Lucia Murat)
8. The Bright Day (2012, India, Mohit Takalkar)
9. Unfair World (2011, Greece/Germany, Filippos Tsitos)
10. Sleeping Sickness (2011, Germany co-production, Ulrich Kohler)

Best overall year

All the years contain many strong films but 2009 has the best overall selection with 10 outstanding entries. On top of that, there are 13 other worthy selections in 2009 that would have made an adequate top 10 substitute.

The Storm (Turkey, Kazim Öz)
Border (Armenia/Holland, Harutyun Khachatryan)
In the Loop (UK, Armando Iannucci)
The Limits of Control (USA, Jim Jarmusch)
Zidane (France, Douglas Gordon/Philippe Parreno)
Ain’t No Tomorrows (Japan, Yuki Tanada)
The Happiest Girl in the World (Romania co-production, Radu Jude)
The Hurt Locker (USA, Kathryn Bigelow)
The Class (France, Laurent Cantet)
District 9 (South Africa/New Zealand, Neill Blomkamp)
Katalin Varga (Romania co-production, Peter Strickland)
I Killed My Mother (Canada, Xavier Dolan)
The Prophet (France, Jacques Audiard)

2010 and 2011 are the next two best years with the highest number of personal favourites.

Top 10 from 100 films

In order to pick 10 titles from these quality 100 films, I ignored the previous year’s ranking and threw all 100 films into one big pot so that all entries were on equal footing. Even though the final list consists of films from 10 different directors and 9 countries, all the films either feature a journey or are shot in a verite style.

1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Romania, Cristi Puiu)

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is called a dark comedy but it is entirely possible to view it as a bloodless horror film where the audience is given a front row seat in witnessing the slow disintegration of the title character. Even though Mr. Lazarescu is slowly edging towards his death, no one around him seems to notice because they are all weighed down by a bureaucratic system and can’t look up to see the obvious.

2. Foster Child (2007, Philippines, Brillante Mendoza)

In 2007, Brillante Mendoza pulled off a unique feat by making two powerful films, Slingshot and Foster Child, in the same year. The two works share many production similarities as both are shot in roughly the same amount of time (10 and 11 days respectively) in locations next to each other and utilize a verite style where actors are integrated with the slum residents to create a unique mixture of fiction and reality. However, the two film differ by their focus on the resident’s lives. Slingshot looks at how corruption and politics mixes with poverty while Foster Child looks at foster care in Philippines and individuals who adopt children and look after them. Foster Child smartly balances both the macro and microscopic view by depicting the larger hierarchal structure of adoption and the tender individual relationships that form between the children and those that care for them. As a result, the film is heart-wrenching and leaves a lasting emotional impact.

3. Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005, Brazil, Marcelo Gomes)

Johann is a traveling salesman who cleverly uses cinema to sell aspirin. As engaging as his encounters are, what elevates this work is the director’s decision to overexpose the film negative. This gives each frame a yellowish tint which perfectly conveys the heat and brutality of the almost endless Brazilian landscape. The overexposed film shatters the fourth wall and ensures the audience gets a sense of Johann’s struggles thereby making them a passenger on his journey. The film also smartly shows how people’s idea of freedom varies and what makes one person happy can be torture for another.

4. Liverpool (2008, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso)

Farrel, a lonely man, leaves a ship’s confined space and heads off into the vast open land in order to seek closure from his past. Alonso’s flexible camera film allows one to breathe in the environment and take in all the sights and sounds while observing the weight drop from Farrel’s shoulders as he makes his way through snow covered paths to his goal.

5. Exiles (2004, France/Japan, Tony Gatlif)

Exiles follows two characters who leave Paris and head to Algeria to find their roots. Since this is a Tony Gatlif movie, flamenco musical sequences are present but this time a touch of Rai music is added to the mix. The music, which consists of a hypnotic 11 minute trance segment near the finale, heightens the emotions thereby ensuring an immersive work.

6. Samsara (2001, India co-production, Pan Nalin)

A beautiful soulful film that explores the philosophical question "How do you prevent a drop of water from drying up?". A Buddhist monk renounces his religious life for the worldly pleasures of sex and love. But despite getting married, he begins to realize that satisfying one desire always leads to more desires. The movie highlights his spiritual journey but more importantly, it tackles the spiritual question from a woman's point of view as well. It is always men who are willing to get up and leave for the mountains. But what about the women they leave behind? Did anyone ask what happened to Buddha's wife?

7. Be Calm and Count to Seven (2008, Iran, Ramtin Lavafipour)

This stunning poetic film opens with fast boats landing on a beach, followed immediately by burqa covered women hurriedly unloading goods off the boats and disappearing into mud houses. The contents of those bags are revealed later on in the film but both the contents and act of smuggling are minor details. The most important aspect of this film is observing the way of life on a tiny beautiful island in the Persian Gulf. If the character’s didn’t speak Farsi, then one would imagine the fishing village setting was Yemen or North Africa . But the film is Iranian and shows a rarely seen side of the Persian country.

8. Holy Motors (2012, France, Leos Carax)

Leos Carax creatively captures the essence of cinema from the silent era to contemporary times while paying homage to key genres throughout.

9. Dans la ville de Sylvia (2007, Spain, José Luis Guerin)

Guerin beautifully strips cinema down to its bare essence capturing every sound found in a vibrant European city, right down to a bottle rolling down a cobblestone street, in following a man's return to the city where he met the lovely Sylvia 6 years ago. It is clear that the man is haunted by memories of Sylvia and seems to encounter her ghost in every female he crosses.

10. Breathless (2008, South Korea, Yang Ik-June)

Breathless draws a direct line from domestic abuse to a gangster life. In doing so, the film clearly depicts the dangers of a violent life, both in a household or in a gang, and demonstrates that there is a consequence to every violent action even if sometimes that consequence takes two generations to manifest itself. Yang Ik-June’s debut film is a rare film that has a purpose for every brutal violent scene and as a result film makes a strong case for leading an anti-violent life.

Children of Men and Once Upon a Time in Anatoalia were very close to making the top 10 and are worthy runners-up.

Countries represented

There are 30 countries represented but 3 nations make up 43% of all films, with USA having 21 films, India with 14 and France 8. Here is the list of nations arranged by inclusions:

USA: 21
India: 14
France: 8

Brazil, Germany, Iran, UK: 4

Argentina, Belgium, Malaysia, Philippines, Romania, South Korea: 3

Chile, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Turkey: 2

Austria, Canada, China, Croatia, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Serbia, Sweden, Thailand: 1

Note: in the case of co-productions, the primary country is selected.

Film distribution breakdown of all 100 films

Total number of films seen due to film festivals: 53
Multiplexes: 20
DVDs: 18
Arthouses/indie cinemas: 8
online streaming: 1

The high percentage of titles from USA, India and France is not surprizing as these three countries have a prolific film industry and an established distribution scheme which ensures their works are easily available around the world. This is especially true in Canada where American, Indian and French films are quite accessible via cinemas and DVD/online streams. In fact, for a better part of the last decade, French films were more easily available than Canadian films which were mostly found only at film festivals.

However, the difficulty of seeing films from other countries becomes an issue if film festivals are taken out of the equation. For example, all three Filipino titles came from attending VIFF for two years. So now that I am not attending VIFF, my access to quality Filipino titles has declined drastically. Another decline has come from the closure of a local indie DVD store that specialized in carrying classic and contemporary Asian films of all genres. Therefore, many titles from Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea have fallen completely out of my regular viewing schedule. Plus, the shutdown of some mail rental stores such as Videomatica in Vancouver has also hurt in getting access to foreign films. The online film streaming sites in Canada do not have a fraction of the collection that worthy arthouse/indie DVD stores carried previously.

It seems that every year I am forced to repeat similar words about the difficulty of seeing global cinema but the truth is the foreign film distribution model in North America is broken, unless one lives in New York. Foreign film distribution is similarly in bad shape around the world but no such distribution problems exist for substandard Hollywood productions which are available in every part of the world.

A few other observations

2012 is the only year when all 10 films came from 10 different countries.
2003 contains the lowest number of countries represented with 4.
2009: 9 of the 10 films were made available due to film festivals.


Sam Juliano said...

Sachin, this is absolutely one of your most remarkable posts, and it again shows that your taste and insatiable appetite for quality arthouse cinema is second to none. The grave irony of this incomparable presentation is that I am not really a big fan of the clinical DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (though I love the director's other acclaimed masterpiece) nor LIVERPOOL. But obviously I need to see both again at some point, sooner than later. It is clear from this list and the nation round-up that I am fatally behind with Indian cinema, as are other blogger friends. And no list can really be comprehensive without attending to that glaring omission. I am eager to see the films of Mendoza and Gomes as well. There are a number of your choices that I do love for sure, like CHILDREN OF MEN, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, L'ENFANT, WALL-E, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, ANATOLIA, HOLY MOTORS, A SEPARATION, LE QUATTRO VOLTE, ANOTHER YEAR, THE HURT LOCKER, MELANCHOLIA, THE KID WITH A BIKE and DRIVE, but as I say I need to see a number of your choices. I would have liked to see THE TURIN HORSE, THE TREE OF LIFE, DOGVILLE, THE ARTIST, THE FOUNTAIN and LOURDES on your list among some others, but I know the competition is fierce with this kind of remarkable comprehensiveness.

This is really something.

Sachin said...

Thanks so much Sam. I do wonder how MR. LAZARESCU will hold up if I revisit it now. It might not be as high but LIVERPOOL might climb a bit higher :)

My rules of only picking top 10 films from each year meant many films fell out such as TREE OF LIFE (#11 in 2011), THE TURIN HORSE (#18 in 2011), SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (#12 in 2008), UNCLE BOONMEE (#15). Whereas, DOGVILLE, LOURDES, THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA, COLOSSAL YOUTH, MYSTERIES OF LISBON got left out because they never got a proper release in my city & as a result I only ended up seeing the films a few years after they were released. I am planning another list which will look only at 2003-2012 films no matter when I saw them. So that should fix some things :)