Sunday, September 27, 2009

Roman Polanski arrested in Switzerland

Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland--where he is to be feted with a lifetime achievement award--for his decades-old child rape case.

Here's the news.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Film-Otaku: Finalist for the Philippine Blog Awards!

Film-Otaku is a finalist in the "Best Entertainment Blog" category of the 2009 Philippine Blog Awards! Thank you to the PBA selection committee!

Here is the link to the list of finalists in all the categories:

Pinoy Film Focus: Kinatay (2009)

(The Execution of P)

Director: Brillante Ma. Mendoza

Writer: Armando Lao

Cast: Coco Martin, Mercedes Cabral, Julio Diaz, Jhong Hilario, John Regala, Maria Isabel Lopez

Runtime: 105 minutes

Kinatay, the film that won Brillante Mendoza the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, can be (and has been) called many things: indulgent, violent, in need of trimming, to name only a few. But one thing that cannot be said of it is that it is senseless.

Peping (Coco Martin), a criminology student and recently married, accepts the invitation of Abyong (Jhong Hilario) to join him in assisting Kap (a police captain; Julio Diaz) in an unexplained operation. Drawn by the need for money and other benefits that would come along with getting on Kap's good side, he accepts. What Peping does not know until it it too late for him to turn back is that it involves a long journey out of Manila with a kidnapped prostitute/junkie (Maria Isabel Lopez), who in the name of vengeance guised as justice is brutally abused and ultimately butchered. Peping is shocked by what he is made to go through, and he does not seem to be able to recover by film's end. His eyes are glazed, expression dead, and we know that the experience will for a long time haunt him.

The protracted trip out of Manila may be slightly overlong, though it is effective in setting a dark, chilling mood that would permeate until the end. It is thus with a sort of morbid anticipation that the viewer, having been made familiar with the primary plot of the film (it is difficult to think of a casual viewer going into a screening of this controversial film without prior knowledge of that), awaits the scenes of butchering. Peping knows--or at least has an idea of--what is about to happen, and so do we. Ultimately, those who expect unbearable amounts of blood would be disappointed, as the much-hyped scenes are not nearly as monstrous as we have been led to believe, but the tension, the sense of waiting, never dissipate...for both Peping and the audience. This power of the film rests in the unfortunate fact that these things do happen in the Philippines. Whereas foreign journalists are quick to dismiss the film and its contents as gratuitous and senseless, it is all too real for us.

The film is not an easy one to watch (much like Lars von Trier's Antichrist, this film's competition in Cannes), but there are rewards to be had for the effort. Notwithstanding the raw strength of the message and the images used to convey them, Brillante Mendoza has given us a film that shows that Filipino films and their makers could go places where many have not dared to go. May this challenge and motivate them to do so soon.

Image source

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Official: Ded Na Si Lolo is Philippine Entry

Ded na si Lolo, one of six films produced by APT Entertainment and the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI) under its Sine Direk project, was chosen as the country’s entry to the Foreign Language Film category of the 82nd Oscar Awards scheduled next year.

The six-man committee, which was headed by National Artist for Film Eddie Romero, chose Ded na si Lolo (directed by Soxie Ropacio) over In My Life (directed by Olive Lamasan), a Vilma Santos starrer still being shown in local theatres.

Local films exhibited in theaters for at least seven consecutive days within the period of October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009 were eligible for selection.

Lola, a film by Cannes best director winner Dante Mendoza which was the country’s entry in the recent Venice Film Festival, started its theatrical run on Wednesday, September 23 though it was pre-screened by the FAP Oscar-committee upon the director and producer’s request.

FAP Director General Leo Martinez allowed the committee to review the film for consideration provided that if it would be selected, announcement will only be done on its first day of exhibition.

Lola, together with Jay (a Cinemalaya project), composed the final four that the committee trimmed down from its short list of 13 films

In the final voting, Ded na si Lolo won over In My Life with a 4-1 vote. The committee chairman could only vote in case of a tie in the voting.

The main cast of Ded na si Lolo includes Gina Alajar, Elizabeth Oropesa, Manilyn Reynes, Dick Israel, Roderick Paulate, Perla Bautista and BJ Forbes.

The production staff is composed of the following: Director-Writer Soxie Topacio; Cinematogapher Journaline Payonan; Editor Danny Anonuevo; Production Designer Edel Templo-nuevo; Costume Designer Luming Medrano; Music Composer Noel Cabangon; and Sound Mixer Joey Santos.

The FAP Oscar committee is composed of the following; National Artist for Film Eddie Romero, senior adviser of the Academy and also the chairman of the selection committee; Actor/Director Robert Arevalo, FAP adviser; Director Jose Carreon of the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI); Director William Mayo of the Philippine Motion Picture Directors’ Association (PMPDA); Manny Morfe of the Production Designers Guild of the Philippines (PDGP); and Director Elwood Perez, (PMPDA).

The nine other films considered by the committee were: Pitik Bulag (ALV Entertainment); The Last Viewing (Davis Entertainment); Kamoteng Kahoy (APT Entertainment); Concerto (Solito Arts Productions and Seiko Films); Baler (Viva Films); Bente (APT Enterainment); 100 Martinez-Rivera Films);Manila (MJM Productions and Bicycle Pictures); and Adela (Bicycle Pictures).


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ded Na Si Lolo: Philippine Entry to the Oscars

No official word yet from the Film Academy of the Philippines, but various web sources are reporting that Soxy Topacio's indie comedy film Ded Na Si Lolo (literal translation: Grandfather is Dead) has been selected as the entry of the Philippines to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 82nd Academy Awards. If this is true, FAP chose to ignore Lola, directed by Cannes winner Brillante Mendoza, shown recently in the Venezia, and generally praised critically. Ded Na Si Lolo has yet to be shown outside the Philippines or win any award here. Could this be another in the long line of careless selections made by the FAP? We'll see, but I'm personally not optimistic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lars von Trier's Antichrist

It's a supremely beautiful film...but also monstrous and deeply unsettling.

Lars von Trier, one of my favorite filmmakers, has done it again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Winners of the 66th Venice International Film Festival

Venezia 66
- Golden Lion for best film: Lebanon by Samuel MAOZ (Israel, France, Germany)
- Silver Lion for best director: Shirin NESHAT for the film Zanan Bedone Mardan (Women Without Men) (Germany, Austria, France)
- Special Jury Prize: Soul Kitchen by Fatih AKIN (Germany)
- Coppa Volpi for Best Actor: Colin FIRTH in the film A Single Man by Tom FORD (USA)
- Coppa Volpi for Best Actress: Ksenia RAPPOPORT in the film La doppia ora by Giuseppe CAPOTONDI (Italy)
- “Marcello Mastroianni” Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress: Jasmine TRINCA in the film Il grande sogno by Michele PLACIDO (Italy)
- "Osella" for Best Technical Contribution: Sylvie OLIVÉ for the film Mr. Nobody by Jaco VAN DORMAEL (France)
- "Osella" for Best Screenplay: Todd SOLONDZ for the film Life during Wartime by Todd SOLONDZ (USA)
- Orizzonti Prize to Engkwentro by Pepe Diokno (Philippines)
- Orizzonti Prize for Best documentary to 1428 by DU Haibin (China)
- Special Mention to Aadmi ki aurat aur anya kahaniya (The Man’s Woman and Other Stories) by Amit Dutta (India)
Controcampo Italiano
Controcampo Italiano Prize to: Cosmonauta by Susanna NICCHIARELLI (Italy)
Kodak will offer to the awarded director 40,000 euros in negative film stock - 35 or 16mm, chosen by the winner - to shoot a new feature film.
- Special Mention: Negli occhi by Daniele ANZELLOTTI and Francesco DEL GROSSO (Italy)

Corto Cortissimo (Prizes awarded on 10th September 2009)
- Corto Cortissimo Lion for Best Short Film to Eersgeborene (First Born) by Etienne Kallos (South Africa, USA)
- Venice Nomination to the European Film Awards 2009 to Sinner by Meni Philip (Israel)
- Special Mention to Felicità by Salomé Aleksi (Georgia)
“Luigi De Laurentiis” Award for a Debut Film
- Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film to Engkwentro by Pepe DIOKNO (Philippines) - ORIZZONTI
as well as a prize of 100,000 USD, donated by Filmauro, to be divided equally between director and producer

Persol 3-D Award for the Best 3-D Stereoscopic Film of the Year (Prize awarded on 11th September 2009)
- Persol 3-D Award: The Hole by Joe Dante (USA)


Friday, September 11, 2009

Open Letter to the FAP Oscar Committee

Dear Sirs:

Good day! We have been informed through an official press release on your website of the films shortlisted for consideration as the official Philippine entry for this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

As a fan of Philippine cinema and the owner of the Film-Otaku blog, I had recently reviewed our country's submissions to the Oscars in this category over the years. I have written an article on it, which I have entitled "Why the Philippines Has No Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Nomination." Here is the link, in case you would like to read it:

As I have noted in the article, an aspect of the films being chosen from every year that FAP and the other bodies concerned with the selection have failed to utilize thus far is their presence and performance in international film festivals. While this is of course not the only basis for the quality of a film (and indeed at times the choice of a film as a competition entry in some in these festivals can be questionable at best), it is important in that it brings significant amount of attention to a certain film among the international film community, which is essentially what we are targeting when sending a film for contention in such an arena as the Oscars. A great performance, as reflected by actual awards or critical praise, would certainly be desired and much needed bonuses.

In light of this, I would like to recommend, in my humble capacity as a fan of cinema and blogger on film, and with no disrespect to the other films being considered, that your committee view and ultimately select Lola as our entry to the 2010 Oscars. I am certain that you are aware that it was in competition at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. Its director is no less than Brillante Mendoza. A controversial figure, surely, yet for good reason. He did, after all, win the Best Director prize in the recent Cannes Film Festival (though for another film). The international film community knows and respects Mendoza. Venezia has historically been a great starting point for films vying for Oscar consideration. And there is already at least one good review out online (the link:, with more critics said to be generally pleased with the film.

Timing is key. While we may not be able to select Kinatay as our entry (and indeed, one would have to be wary of making it our selection despite the Cannes win, given the Academy's general distaste for violence in this category), its director, now world-renowned, has another film among your options, and it has been screened in one of the largest and most important film festivals in the world. Additionally, Lola's plot dwells on very humanistic themes that tend to go over well with Academy voters. The fact that the central performances are by two veteran actresses may also likely appeal to a panel that is of generally more advanced age than voters in the major Oscar categories. Please consider taking advantage of these factors and give the Philippines a fighting chance in the Oscar category that we have long dreamed of being nominated for.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely yours,

Ronald Allan L. Cruz

The Philippines Choosing Its Oscar Entry

An eight-man committee of the Film Academy of the Philippines began reviewing a short list of for the country’s entry to the best foreign language film category of the 82nd Oscar Awards scheduled next year.

Scheduled for showing on Wednesday, Sept. 9 are the films Pitik Bulag of ALV Entertainment and The Last Viewing of Davis Entertainment.

Aside from these two films, seven other films were recommended by the selection committee members for review while screening for three other films was requested by their producers.

These local films were exhibited in theaters for at least seven consecutive days within the period of October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009.

Included in the short list are the following films: Kamoteng Kahoy (APT Entertainment); The Last Viewing (David Enertainment); Concerto (Solito Arts Productions and Seiko Films); Ded na si Lolo (APT Entertainment); Baler (Viva Films); Jay (Pasion para Pelikula Productions); Bente (APT Enterainment) and 100 (Martinez-Rivera Films).

The films whose producers requested the committee to review are Lola (Centerstage productions); Manila (MJM Productions and Bicycle Pictures); and Adela (Bicycle Pictures).

The FAP Oscar committee is composed of the following; National Artist for Film Eddie Romero, senior adviser of the Academy and also the chairman of the selection committee; Actor/Director Robert Arevalo, FAP adviser; Director Jose Carreon of the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI); Johnny Delgado of the Actors Workshop Foundation; Director William Mayo of the Philippine Motion Picture Directors’ Association (PMPDA); Manny Morfe of the Production Designers Guild of the Philippines (PDGP); Jess Navarro of the United Film Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (UFEG); and Director Elwood Perez, PMPDA.

The list of committee members had been forwarded before the August 3, 2009 deadline to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which conducts the Oscar Award.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Surprise Films in Venice Competition

Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? and Brillante Mendoza's Lola have been announced as two Surprise Films in Competition at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. This brings to 25 the total number of films in competition, with Herzog having two.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On Alexis Tioseco

Remembering Alexis A. Tioseco
(Feb. 11, 1981 - Sept. 1, 2009)
By Quark Henares
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:11:00 09/04/2009

"SO," he said, holding up his fist as if he were holding a microphone – "what's your favorite Stanley Kubrick movie?"

I was thinking to myself, "Oh my God. And I thought I was a dork," as I stared in bewilderment at this tall and lanky teenager with short cropped hair who crouched in attention and periodically looked away while talking to me.

He would then follow his older brother Chris around as they interviewed up-and-coming filmmakers for an Inquirer 2bu special on new Philippine Cinema.

It was the summer of 200 – the first time I met Alexis Tioseco.

After that I'd see him around the 2bu offices, since we both became writers for the section. Fellow writers nicknamed him Ardie, since he supposedly resembled an aardvark. Without fail, every time I'd run into him he'd do the same thing. He'd hold his fist up and go.

"Mr. Henares! Top 5 John Hughes films?"

"Mr. Henares! Godfather 1 or 2?"

"Mr. Henares! `The Lord of The Rings' is boring! Would you agree or disagree?"

Soon after we became part of a group who would gather in this food arcade in Ortigas every Wednesday to drink beer and talk about cinema and other people (mostly just other people). Since we were all very creative we came up with the most creative name: The Wednesday Group.

This was where Alexis and I became friends, talking about everything from cinema to who the hottest girl in his then-campus UA&P was, to hip-hop music.

Around that time I released my first movie and found it touching how, being the very naïve college kid he was, he'd champion it in forums and message boards like PinoyDVD and Pinoy Exchange.

Even then you could see how much he loved cinema, writing away and making argument after argument about movies that were read by a total of 15 people.

And then he saw Lav Diaz's "Batang West Side," and his life was changed forever. Watching Lav's opus prompted him to lead a life dedicated to furthering and promoting Filipino film.

He wrote to film festivals and critics incessantly, asking them to watch certain movies he felt strongly about. He championed filmmakers like John Torres, Raya Martin (also a former 2bU correspondent - ed) and Sherad Sanchez before they made their first features.

I asked him once why he didn't pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. "This is where I can make a real difference," he told me. "There are already so many great filmmakers. Why try to be one of them when I can help make their work known?"

A few years ago Alexis's father, Boy Tioseco, passed away. His loving and warm family asked him to stay with them in Canada, where he had grown up. After all, he wasn't that interested in the family business anyway and he didn't really have anything to stay for in Manila.

He opted to stay, because he knew his place was here, and his work was here.

He loved Manila so much that he even convinced his girlfriend, fellow film critic and programmer from Slovenia, Nika Bohinc, to stay with him.

And this, to me, was a legendary love story – of two wonderful people who didn't grow up here and didn't have to stay, made a decision to live in this country despite everything it was because of their love for each other, and their love for cinema.

And this is how we repay them.


I haven't been able to sleep. This all just doesn't make sense in my head. People who commit suicide have an air of finality around them, like they were ready to die. People who are sick give us time to grieve a little and be ready for their exit. Alexis and Nika were living life to the full, making plans and literally changing the world.

You don't just end a film in the middle of Act 2. Even the vaguest, most challenging film by Alexis's beloved Apichatpong Weera- sethakul wouldn't have that. It's not proper storytelling, and it's not the right way for two wonderful people dedicated to its masterful art to say goodbye.

It's weird when someone you love is suddenly gone. You get these snippets of memories, remember insignificant details, and that's what gets you crying. In the past two days I've had so many flashbacks, and they usually involve Alexis and Nika being really happy – Alexis with that wide-eyed, mouth-opened smile, and Nika with her sly grin and raised eyebrow …

Reels of memory

Alexis is making Lia and I edit his "Amazing Race" audition tape. In it, he and our friend Chris Costello go "I'm Chris. ½ Irish, ½ Filipino." "I'm Alexis, ¼ Chilean, ¼ Italian, ½ Filipino." "Together, we make one full Filipino!"

Nika sees a bunch of giggly Assumptionistas screaming at each other next to her at Mag:Net. She turns her head, looks at me, and mimics their faces. I laugh uncontrollably. Every time we see each other after that we make that face.

Alexis is raving about chocolate polvoron. "I've had polvoron before," he tells me, "but have you tried this chocolate polvoron? It's ridiculous." A few months later this obsession is replaced with one for Boy Bawang. That kind of lasts for four years.

I'm at Alexis's house early in the morning for a Super Noypi shoot. I'm surprised to see him up and about. He sits on his father's bed and puts in an obscure Eastern European film. He brings out his notebook and starts making notes. This is at seven in the morning.

I catch Alexis and Nika buying tickets for "Drag Me To Hell." I run up behind them and start shouting, "Are you two buying tickets for a film that is supposed to be entertaining? !" There is a look of shame in Nika's face, followed by a defensive "We love all cinema, Quark," declaration from Alexis.

Nika is complaining about food poisoning. "Oh my God my best friend for two days was the toilet bowl." The cute little blonde then starts making vomiting motions.

I'm with Alexis and Cecile. After much prodding by Tioseco, we watch Godard's "Une Femme Est Une Femme." He ends up falling asleep. He always falls asleep.

I'm sitting in Alexis's class, filled with eager students excited about the hot teacher and about being able to watch films in school. He announces that the first film will be a two-hour silent by Murnau. There is a collective groan.

Last dinner

"Have you seen this thing on the Internet? Keyboard cat? It's crazy," Alexis says, eyes wide, getting ready to launch another one of his monologues. Nika rolls her eyes and says, "Oh no. This is not even funny." He then goes on to talk about a scene from the gameshow, "Where in The World is Carmen San Diego," and how Keyboard Cat expertly appears in the youtube vid to play off an annoying contestant. He may be internationally respected Alexis Tioseco, but to me he was still that lovable dork.

At the height of his career, when Alexis was already flying around the world to judge for festivals, hanging with his idol Jonathan Rosenbaum and maintaining the renowned Asian cinema website Criticine, we weren't really seeing eye to eye creatively. He called me a sellout during a public forum and also didn't agree with me joining the Metro Manila Film Festival. Normally this would cause a rift between friends, but it didn't affect our relationship in the slightest.

Later that day we still ended up exchanging names to stalk on Facebook and debating on whether Wong Kar Wai really deserved all that praise. I think it's because we both knew that the other was coming from a genuine love of cinema anyway, and that was the only thing that mattered, really. Alexis would go against all odds and fight the biggest names tooth and nail for what he believed in, and I'm proud he did that till the very end.

I told him once, when he started petitioning against the Metro Manila Film Festival back in 2005, "Ano ka ba [What's wrong with you], Alexis? Don't you know there's no hope for the film industry? "Wag na tayong maglokohan [Let's not kid each other]."

He answered, in his Canadian accent, "Hay naku [Oh], Quark. I will dedicate myself to changing your view on that."

And he did. He really did.

Thank you, Mr. Tioseco.

One of the few
By Philip Peckson
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:16:00 09/04/2009

A LITTLE more than a year ago, I handled Alexis a draft of a film review I had written. I did so with pride for in this review I had powerfully exposed, I thought, the film's many failures. He liked some parts, recommended changes to several, but asked me this question: "Isn't it much harder to write about what you love than what you hate?" And then I stood like a man whose vanity has been called and worsens his shame because he envies the sincerity of another. Most critics love to criticize and a few criticize because they love something else. Alexis, you were one of the few.

Alexis the Great
By James Gabrillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:13:00 09/04/2009

ONE of the greates minds of the day, a stem in the heartening flow of contemporary writing and criticism, has passed on. Last Tuesday, Alexis Tioseco and his partner Nika Bohinc were shot dead inside their Quezon City home.

Alexis, film critic and teacher, possessed a clear and remarkable voice that championed local culture. Brisk reviewing would never suffice for him: He surveyed the possibilities of the medium and always kept the crucial – instead of the trivial – at the center of his analyses.

But more than that, he was an immensely kind man with a talent for friendship. His colleagues and students describe him as a shy gentleman, but he always exuded a kind of warmth and exuberance for the people around him. He had a rare combination of ability and modesty.

Alexis promoted his fellow countrymen's reappraisal of their outlook on local film culture. The journey was never easy, but his tireless spirit was a reminder of the power of reason as a force for good.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that a writer "ought to write for the youth of his generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward." Anyone who reads Alexis' work comes away astonished by his intellect and taste. A number of us come away changed forever.

The flowering of true film criticism in the country is unimaginable without him. Then again, his writing spoke for the moment and beyond. So Alexis Tioseco may have died, but his words endure.

A world without Alexis
By Philbert Ortiz Dy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 23:14:00 09/04/2009

I WOULD like to talk about courage.

Despite us having many of the same friends and working in the same field, I met Alexis Tioseco only this year. It was January, in Rotterdam. We were both there for the festival; I as trainee of the young critics program, he as festival guest, as the accepted authority on the films of our region.

I told him I didn't know what to expect, and I was kind of scared. It's one thing to be panning the latest Joel Lamangan movie at home. It's another thing to suddenly be in an international film festival, talking with people who have a lot more experience and knowledge about film.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

Over the next few days, every time I ran into Alexis, he would be introducing me to another critic, another festival programmer, another obscure filmmaker whose work I had to see. He would introduce me by talking about my work. "He sat through Melancholia and blogged the entire thing," or "he did a set report on a Joel Lamangan film." And people would give a knowing chuckle, and let me into their circle. Alexis vouched for me, after all.

I do not know what I would've done without Alexis. Holed up in my hotel room, perhaps hiding from the Germans berating me for not having seen much Skolimowski, just trying to get through writing my festival reports, I could not imagine what it must have been like for Alexis just a few years ago, taking on this criticism thing all on his own, being sent to strange lands, having his opinions questioned, challenged and asked for by people with decades of experience above him.

We all know, of course, that Alexis did swimmingly, and that he had become one of the most respected and beloved critics of the region. Soft-spoken, eloquent, and so confident in what he had to say, Alexis easily won over the international critics' community.

Fighting for change

I would like to talk about courage.

A few months back, Erwin Romulo asked me if I could write a cover story for the Philippines Free Press about the Cinemalaya Film Festival. I told him there wasn't anything to write about, since Cinemalaya hadn't screened the films for the press.

Then he proposed I write an opinion piece about the failings of Cinemalaya, reassessing the festival's goals. I replied, "I could do that, but that sounds like Alexis territory."

See, while I have spent most of my career simply writing about movies, Alexis was the guy you'd go to for the bigger picture. He was the guy who would fix things, going after the systemic flaws of the industry as a whole. He once rallied some of the industry's top filmmakers to put their names on a position paper critical of what the Metro Manila Film Festival had begun. He's been the champion of our cinematic heritage, fighting for a way to keep prints of old films from disappearing completely.

And he'd been talking about the flaws of Cinemalaya long before I even became aware there were problems. Again, it was Alexis territory, and I feared encroaching on that space.

Erwin urged me to write it anyway. When it was published, Alexis made sure that it was read by everyone who mattered. He was interviewed on TV, and he kept quoting my article as if I had said things he couldn't have said any better.

But though I talked a good fight, I was never the one at the vanguard of the argument.

Alexis was. Everytime.

He stayed

I would like to talk about courage.

I always cringe a little when people talk about a senseless death, because it implies the existence of a sensible death, of which there is no such thing. Life, for all its drama and irony, is the sensible way to be.

Every death, be it noble, natural, random, painful or quick, is like a tear in the very fabric of our consciousness. There is a void left where a person used to be, and no level of understanding will ever make that better.

On the morning the news broke of Alexis and Nika's death, the term was used liberally. By it, of course, people meant that the circumstances of their death were by no means logical, that they could not trace a line between the previous events of the couple's lives that would lead them to such a horrible fate.

But even that is not accurate. The line is actually pretty clear.

They are gone because they stayed.

Alexis could've gone back to Canada, or used his credentials to get a job pretty much anywhere else in the world. He could've, like so many others, taken one look at the insurmountable tasks facing anyone who genuinely wants to change things in this country, and abandon it all for greener pastures, brighter shores.

And Nika could've stayed in Slovenia, closer to her family and everything she'd already worked for in her country.

But they were here. Out of love. Alexis stayed out of love for our cinema. Because there was so much he wanted to fight for, because he was brave enough to fight for all of it. And Nika, dear Nika, stayed out of love for Alexis, finding the courage to leave almost everything behind for a dreamer and his dreams.

Love gives us courage, after all.

I would like to talk about courage, because I am afraid of a world without Alexis. He was a colleague, an ally, a friend, someone who gave me courage to keep doing what I do, even if no one is listening.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Top 13 Horror Films

Because I love making lists, here's my Top 13 Horror Films. There are a number of critically acclaimed and cult-classic horror films that I have yet to see (among them Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, [Rec], Scream, and Japanese classics like Onibaba and Kaidan), but I've had a good helping of many titles in the genre over the years. This list may change as I get to watch more of the older films that I've missed, but here are my favorites so far.

My honorable mentions:
The Blair Witch Project (1999) - ahead of its time, chilling, unfairly bashed nowadays; The Descent (2005) - one of the best and most genuinely frightening films of recent years; The Haunting (1963) - bar none, the best haunted house film of all time; Itim (1976) - eerie and atmospheric, quite possibly the best Filipino horror film ever made; May (2002) - creepy yet endearing, with a breakthrough performance from Angela Bettis, an instant cult classic; Night of the Living Dead (1968) - the low-budget classic that started it all; Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) - one of the pioneers, dark and mesmerizing, with a masterclass performance from Max Schreck; El Orfanato (2007) - an atmospheric Spanish horror film that proves that kids can be creepy; Shutter (2004) - the original Thai film, simply spine-tingling; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - gory and realistic, Leatherface is horrifying!

Titles I have to re-assess: Takashi Miike's Odishon (1999), and the first three Alien movies (maybe at least one of the first two should have made the list...)

Titles I have to see NOW: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Scream (1966), The Wicker Man (1973), Japanese horror classics, more zombie films, Lovecraft-inspired horror movies, and loads more!

And now...


13. Suspiria (1977)

Director: Dario Argento
Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini
Oscar nomination/win: None

It's one of those films that many love to hate, if only because they believe the cult following has been built on its gore and its dazzling visuals. Of both,
Suspiria has loads. But it also has hypnotically eerie music courtesy of the rock band Goblins, fine set pieces, and a terrifying premise in the existence of three witches, the evil ancient Mothers. Inferno and La Terza Madre are inferior sequels, but Suspiria is Dario Argento's best and starts off an ultimately memorable and worthwhile trilogy of mystic horror.

12. Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf; 1968)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman
Oscar nomination/win: None

My favorite director, the master Ingmar Berman, tried his hand at horror and came up with a chilling, hair-raising masterpiece that may be counted as one of his best. Just like Bergman's most intimate films (among them
Persona, one of my favorite all-time films), it is the general sense of stillness and the interplay of characters that make Hour of the Wolf such an involving movie. While the concept of the dark hour and the talk of apparitions are in themselves already creepy, it's when the managerie of strange entities manifest their true forms that the film becomes an example of pure horror.

11. The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Oscar nomination/win: None

The word I would use to describe Stanley Kubrick's
The Shining is "claustrophobic." That, and "mesmerizing." The splashes of red, the repeated invocation of "redrum," Jack Nicholson's leering is a film strengthened by the sheer power of its individual parts. I have seen this only once, but my memories of the scenes are as vivid as when I first saw them. I have a feeling that this, perhaps the best of the adaptations of Stephen King's books (though he himself reputedly did not like it), would have ranked higher after a second viewing...which I intend to give it soon.

10. The Birds (1963)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette
Oscar nomination: Special Visual Effects

The Birds
is not a truly frightening film, and many would wonder why I consider this a better "horror" film than many people's favorite, Psycho. But birds attacking for no given reason and, at the end of the film, seeming to be an unstoppable force of violence against humans is no laughing matter. Pecked eyes, children being chased by a swarm of irate black birds, Alfred Hitchcock's interesting shots of Tippi Hedren's horror...the whole film works and stands up to repeated viewings.

9. Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters; 2003)

Director: Ji-woon Kim
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim, Geun-yeong Mun
Oscar nomination/win: None

Just like the Japanese, Koreans have come up with some of the more interesting and memorable horror films in recent years. Of all of them,
A Tale of Two Sisters may be the best. It feels a bit long and indeed takes its time to clarify why all of the strange things have been happening, but it's well worth the wait. Psychologically chilling, it's one of the smartest and most engaging horror films out there. It's also one of the most well-acted. With this and the recent Hansel & Gretel (2007), I'm convinced that Korean children are among the best child actors in the world.

8. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osment), Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Original Screenplay, Editing

Inarguably still M. Night Shymalan's best. He'll have a hard time topping or even matching this one. Elegant and memorable twist aside, the film is an extremely well-crafted drama that also happens to be genuinely hair-raising. Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette give astounding performances, Bruce Willis is also in fine form (could this have been his best singular performance, aside from his John McClane in
Die Hard?), the plot is strong and never wavers...all these amidst some of the scariest ghostly apparitions put in film. The Sixth Sense has the quality that every big-budget horror film should strive for. In my humble opinion, it should have won the Best Picture Oscar over American Beauty (then again, I'm a horror fan).

7. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Nicola Cunningham
Oscar nomination/win: None

I know what you're thinking. It's definitely one of the best British comedies in recent years, if not THE best. It's a humorous homage to Romero's zombie films. Does the presence of zombies make it a genuine horror film? Well, ask yourselves how meticulous and convincing the makeup and acting of the zombies were (at par with the best of Romero's films) and how frightening they were when they were beginning to go out into the streets and when they were massing around the pub, how hopeless the situation of Shaun and his friends quickly becomes amidst the humor. Enough said.

6. The Omen (1976)

Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Harvey Stephens
Oscar nomination: Original Song
Oscar win: Original Score

For me and a lot of horror fans, the musical score plays an integral part in making a film truly scary. There is no better example of this than
The Omen, the ultimate anti-Christ movie. Ravenous dogs and baboons, chilling deaths, scary nannies, and an unknowingly diabolical mother-hating child all play to the Jerry Goldsmith's spine-tingling chorals and Latin chants. The most prominent is the "Ave Satani," probably the Academy's bravest choice ever for an Oscar nomination (I'd love to see how it was performed on the stage, if it was). The performances by the actors, in particular Gregory Peck, are superb. Avoid the 2006 remake like the plague.

5. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Oscar nomination/win: None

Zombies in a mall! It may sound like an absurd idea, but it makes for what many rightly consider the best zombie film of all time. Notwithstanding the own mundane horrors brought about by consumerism (which Romero none-too-subtly pokes at with this film), locking yourself in a big building with swarms of mindlessly hungry undead is truly an experience in terror. I'd take being alone in a dark mall over sharing it with zombies anytime. Of the many scenes involving the living dead, perhaps the most memorable are the scene in the elevator and the jolting attack from behind a mannequin. This is also the film where we first hear the chilling words: "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

4. The Others (2001)

Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Cast: Nicole Kidman
Oscar nomination/win: None

One of the finest ghost films, also with a twist that while more predictable than that in
The Sixth Sense still packs a punch. Nicole Kidman's performance here is flawless, but the real strength of The Others lies in the visual darkness of the film, an atmospheric flavor that is tied to the entire plot. This is an example of those horror films that make one shiver in fright.

3. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer
Oscar nomination: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar win: Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon)

Starting off with an eerie lullaby, the film, one of auteur Roman Polanski's best, moves quickly from an exploration of ambition, married life, and raising a family to the diabolical workings of Satan and his inconspicuous minions. Or is it all a product of Rosemary's paranoia? Whatever the truth (it's likely both), this is definitely one of the gems of the horror genre: finely crafted, tense, superbly acted (particularly by Mia Farrow and Oscar winner Ruth Gordon), and, for its implications on how much we can truly ever know about our caring neighbors, genuinely frightening.

2. Ringu (1998)

Director: Hideo Nakata
Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada
Oscar nomination/win: None
Japanese Academy nomination: Actress (Nanako Matsushima)
Japanese Academy win: Most Popular Film

The premise of a cursed videotape may still seem silly to many, but watching how events unfold in this seminal Asian horror masterpiece should easily drive those thoughts away. Eerie sounds and tones (and the lack thereof) contribute to the dark, foreboding atmosphere that is the power of the original
Ringu. And of course, the malevolence of Sadako, in my opinion cinema's scariest creation (interpreted from the novel), takes it to an entirely different level of pure terror. Can anyone honestly say that the way they look at TV sets did not significantly change after seeing that unforgettable scene? I cannot ever agree with those who think that the American version is superior on any level.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller
Oscar nominations: Picture, Director, Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Supporting Actor (Jason Miller), Supporting Actress (Linda Blair), Art Direction-Set Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing
Oscar wins: Adapted Screenplay, Sound

Is there any question? Our generation may not find Regan MacNeil's Pazuzu-possessed, mangle-faced, pea-spitting, head-turning appearance as horrifying as our parents' did (a lot of them could not sleep for many days afterwards), but the power of
The Exorcist to disturb and put to question faith and the rightness of the world has not wavered. This is as demonic as a film of such astounding quality can get. Even without Regan's spider-climb down the stairs in the director's cut, her possession is truly a horrifying abomination. It deserved its 10 nominations and should have won more than the two that it got. I don't foresee a horror film being so well made and honored with as many accolades in the near future. The Exorcist may be one of the most powerful films ever made, regardless of genre.