I love films more than I love books and I’ve watched some supremely beautiful films this year. Of the many dozens I’ve watched, this is a list of my favourite ones.
The Lives of Others (2006)
There’s tragedy, humanity and a tersely written screenplay in a film set five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall about East German secret policing of its dissident populace and a member of the secret police who expresses more humanity than he is allowed to. The silent brooding power of the film lies in the whispers of love, resistance and loss heard behind closed doors and spied walls. Few films I have watched have as satisfying a conclusion as this one for all its historical tragedy.
In Boo Junfeng’s acclaimed feature film, a prison warden with a dark family history of a hanged criminal father, learns the ropes of the prison hangman in a fast-track promotion to heir executioner. As much as the ending is faulted for its directorial laziness, I have never seen a more breathless local film as this. It has not fallen into the traps of didacticism, emotional gaudiness or inaccessibility that quite frequently plagues local films and remains as potent as it is humanising. I say without a doubt that this is my favourite local film.
A Single Man (2009)
Colin Firth, dressed impeccably in the retro over-designed fashion of the 60’s Cold War with a bespoke shirt and suit, polished Oxfords and hipster glasses, plays a depressed homosexual English professor who spends a day preparing for his evening suicide. With intermittent hot flushes of colour that dies back into monochrome, accompanied with bits of a soundtrack by Shigeru Umebayashi, I at times feel like this is American cinema’s equivalent to Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Every scene threatens to rip you apart for its sheer beauty. Dammit, more films should be made by fashion designers.
Sicario has this heightened level of tension that never diminishes throughout nor leave you at the conclusion of the film that you feel like you’re suffering from priapism. You can see what’s going on, but you don’t know what’s going on. The stirring dynamics and talent of Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin breathes intensity into every corner of this film. Never imagined drug wars could be so thoroughly gripping from start to finish.
Spirited Away (2001)
Adorable with every bit of Hayao Miyazaki’s magic.
Rogue One (2016)
By the final crescendo of the film as the credits broke, I was embarrassingly hyperventilating. Being a film lover, I have watched many remarkable films in my life and I dare blaspheme intellectual and cultural sensitivities by saying that this could easily be one of the best visual experiences I’ve ever had. By some magic of screenwriting, pacing, storyboarding, composition and music, the potential for jaw-dropping oomph of space opera has been expertly captured, unlike the other Star Wars films. It is by no means without faults, but it has quite boldly gone where no Star Wars films have gone with its moral depth and invigorating complexity. At its worst, it is a film that has ticked every box on a list of action-blockbuster cliches, but it has carried it out so well, you wouldn’t think it as cliche. Oh and also Darth Vader, holy shit.
The mise en scene is adorable: the colour palettes and the Satie-inspired music especially. And the soulfulness leaves you feeling quite very fulfilled.
New World (2013)
I think Koreans do better contemporary gangster films than any other film industry. This one ranks of the blood spilled by Hong Kong’s seminal Infernal Affairs and Japan’s Takeshi Kitano, but yet with the refined suits and cigarettes of George Clooney. It has arresting visuals that even the most violent scenes make you appreciate the thoughtful cinema behind it.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
John Hurt, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch all in one film dealing with John le Carre’s MI6 and 70’s British fashion. Need I say more? It damn well did the book some damn justice. (I do however very much want to watch the 1979 one with Sir Alec Guinness and Ian Richardson).
1987: Untracing the Conspiracy (2015)
In a concise 57 minutes, Jason Soo uncovers in voluminous loudness an unpalatable segment of our history so saturated with the stank state narrative. This is a documentary of paramount importance: most detainees would die off in a matter of years without any official revisiting of this episode and this would be the only counter-narrative around to get anywhere near scratching what is the truth of our 1987 experience. This is one film, of the few, that has made me angry, and for that, it is one of the most favourite films I’ve watched this year. Thank goodness it isn’t banned and it’s still available with some restricted screenings around the island in forefront cinemas of cultural development and political dissidence.