13 Assassins (十三人の刺客 / Juusan-nin No Shikaku)
Takeshi Miike has dabbled with a vast genre of films, some bordering on the weird, but his 13 Assassins is as accessible as can be, telling the story of 13 heroic samurai who have to band together with a common objective to rid an evil Samurai lord from his existence of Earth. And Miike pits you against that evilness itself through painting a picture of something so vile, you'll celebrate when the right heads roll. Carefully crafting the swordsmanship and the abilities of each of the Assassin, and designing to play out like a heist film, this is one film you'll not want to miss.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the best actors of his generation, and Seth Rogen play best of pals who have to cope with the possibility of death through cancer, an invisible enemy who strikes fear, doom and gloom on those it inflicts. Balancing comedy with solid drama about life, death, love and friendship, it also stars Bryce Dallas Howard as such a bitch of a character (and in another turn as the scheming villainess in The Help) that it reminds you of those who will withdraw when one runs into difficulties. Very true to life indeed, as friends will reveal themselves to be those who deserve to be called that, or otherwise. The eclectic soundtrack also helped.
Silence is golden, and The Artist is primed for awards season with that trip down memory lane. Michel Hazanavicius makes an ode to silent cinema, and to do that isn't an easy feat requiring the delicate skills not to alienate modern audiences weaned on sound and colour. The film singlehandedly tells us what makes films great, and how fame is as fleeting as can be, while painting a pseudo-historical look at the development of the film industry during the time centered around the Great Depression.
Evolution! followed by mean guitar riffs, banging of the drums and powerful bass. It didn't hurt when Yukihiko Tsutsumi had to rely on a gimmick to creatively overcome the primary lead's lack of English proficiency, since it was something that worked wonderfully. No music no life, and Beck tells the story of a rock band wannabe that's to do battle with engineered pop, you know, those that rely on mass choreography, pretty faces, and voices that require digitized tweaking. It's the quintessential zero to hero story done right, one that I'm almost always a sucker for.
I haven't thought much of Ryan Gosling's performance until two films, released almost back to back here, shook me and demanded my attention. I have to admit now that besides Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling is one of the stars to watch, as he conquers with his brooding race car driver character here forced into doing a lot of nasties to protect the ones he loves. Ultra cool with that uber Euro-chic feel, Nicolas Winding Refn's film begins so deliciously quiet, before building itself with a romantic core with Carey Mulligan as a love interest, then finally exploding into life. Crime does not pay, but when you mess with the wrong guy, don't be surprised when he comes to collect his share of dividends with interest.
The Ides of March
And Ryan Gosling compensates his lack of talk in Drive with The Ides of March, as he plays a relatively green political campaigner up against the seasoned likes of his mentor and adversaries. Surrounded by a brilliant cast of Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood, Gosling shows that he's a one man tour de force in this political thriller where the stakes are high in a fight for political survival, with trips, crosses and double crosses part of the arsenal required, including a scheming mind where information is currency and knowledge is power.
Ignore All Detour Signs
Of all the local films released this year, it is this documentary about the band I Am David Sparkle, that had the most heart and sincerity in story telling, with the filmmakers getting under the skin of the band in their quest to make their invitation to SXSW become a reality. Many obstacles get in their way from logistics to legislation even, but its title serves a reminder to everyone of us of the need of perseverance when it comes to fulfilling one's dreams. And this is how they did it, despite stacked odds sometimes beyond their control. And the music, is pure nectar to the ears.
If you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall of one of the biggest financial institutions at the cusp of the collapse of the financial industry in recent years, then Margin Call, the brilliant debut feature film of J.C. Chandor, will be your ticket to do just that. The powerful cast alone with the likes of Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany and Zachary Quinto with his unmistakable thick eyebrows, is worth the price of an admission ticket, as you'll be kept riveted over events that will unravel in less than 24 hours, where the new financial mantra of "Be First, Be Smarter, or Cheat" sounds so much sexier and doable, than just "Greed is Good". We now have a new defining film taking over Wall Street as the movie about Wall Street., and Margin Call is it. No real heroes or villains here, only capitalists out to ensure the safety of their rump.
SuckSeed: Huay Khan Thep (SuckSeed ห่วยขั้นเทพ)
You'll see a number of films above that has music play a big part in them, but what about a band that doesn't have what it takes to be a band? Why that's not stopping this bunch of rag tag students from forming their own in what I deem as Thai production house GTH's movie of the year. New director Chayanop Boonprakob paints a wacky quirky picture that features Thai bands, themes of friendship and romance, and piled up loads of comedy, that it's difficult not to enjoy a story about a band that sucks. And watch out for actor Pachara Chirathivat who is poised to become a major movie star, showing off his perfect comedic timing here that makes his character so silly in self-belief, it's actually endearing.
You are the Apple of My Eye (那些年，我们一起追的女孩 / Na Xie Nian, Wo Men Yi Qi Zhui De Nu Hai)
Novelist Giddens Ko made a film that resonates so much, I am tongue-tied when asked to provide superlatives for it. It touches a raw nerve with just about every male population in Chinese speaking Asian territories, that it made all of us brethren in a certain way when reminiscing the good old days in school spent with our respective cliques, with romantic interludes more unsuccessful than otherwise, when it comes to chasing the skirt of the most popular girl in class/school. It has its share of sappy romantic moments and its laugh out loud comedic scenes that bordered on the bawdy that teenage males with raging hormones do not know what else to do with, and is that story that comes straight from the heart, encapsulating everything that is that walk down memory lane back to the good old school days. Utterly unforgettable.
and the Meritorious 20 that came so close:
Attack The Block
The Dirty Picture (द डर्टी पिक्चर)
I Saw The Devil (악마를 보았다 / Akmareul Boattda)
Let The Bullets Fly (让子弹飞 / Rang Zi Dan Fei)
Life Without Principle (奪命金 / Dyut Meng Gam)
My Week with Marilyn
Never Let Me Go
White Vengeance (鸿门宴传奇 / Hong Men Yan Chuan Qi)
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara