Thursday, January 3, 2008

The best of the best of the best, sir!

There are so many "best of" lists around this time of year, it's hard to make sense of it all. So it helps that Mark Bourne at has compiled The Best of the 'Best of' Lists.

Oh sure, there's a lot of the usual suspects, like No Country for Old Men by the Coen Brothers (there's posters for it hanging at the Lido in Bangkok! It's coming!) and Atonement (also due to hit Bangkok). Among the questions he asks about all these lists: "Who is Apichatpong Weerasethakul and what's all this fuss about Syndromes and a Century?"

Just for fun, I went through the article, and clicked on all the links, just to see what I could find.

At the top of the heap is the list by Kaiju Shakedown's Grady Hendrix, in his day-job as a writer for the New York Sun. Unsurprisingly, he has some Asian films on his Top 10, like Takeshi Miike's Zebraman (No. 10, dare I see it?) and Satoshi Kon's mind-melting Paprika (No. 9). And at No. 5: Dynamite Warrior (one of my Top 5 Thai films of 2006). Says Grady:

Just when you thought an action movie couldn't surprise you, this off-the-wall, Thai concoction by Chalerm Wongpim rides a wooden rocket right up your nose and blows off the top of your skull ... bouncing stunt-people off the burly backs of water buffalo, and featuring an unhealthy obsession with a virgin's menstrual blood, it's a black-magic vs. Muay Thai blowout.

Hendrix' Sun colleague, Nichoas Rapold, listed Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century at No. 4 on his Best Movies of 2007. Rapold says:

The director here opens out his magic of memory and desire on a grander scale, across distinct eras in the nation's effort to modernize ... [he] imbues his idiom of long takes and pellucid photography with an irresistibly sunny sense of contemplation. You can feel the love, and the heartache, and for all this, the gentle filmmaker faced blinkered censorship of the film back home.

Syndromes also made the runner-up list of Jeffrey M. Anderson at Combustible Celluloid. And it is mentioned Not Coming to a Theater Near You's Two-Thousand Seven in Review by Leo Goldsmith. Not Coming's Ian Johnston gives it a mention in his review, too, putting it alongside Still Life by Jia Zhang-ke.

Syndromes is No. 1 at Zero for Conduct, with Michael Atkinson describing it as "a dream had by us all, and just as maddening and gorgeous."

Atkinson's No. 1 choice is repeated at IFC, where Syndromes and a Century is also listed at No. 7 by Matt Singer, who writes: "Like all of Weerasethakul's work, this gorgeously shot film is endearingly odd and oddly endearing." Allison Willmore lists it at No. 6, saying "Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes movies like he's never seen one before."

Yes, with the exception of Thailand's cultural watchdogs, it seems there is no end of love for Syndromes and a Century, which played to wide acclaim at film festivals throughout 2006, but opened in theatrical releases in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2007. At home in Thailand, censors wanted to, well, censor it, so the director pulled it from release.

Time Out London's Wally Hammond had it at No. 1, saying:

Apichatpong Weerasethakul offers, among other filmic pleasures, cinema’s sweetest gift, a vision of happiness."

Gosh, that doesn't sound like the type of film that ought to be censored, does it?

Slant's Ed Gonzalez picked Syndromes at No. 8, right below Johnnie To's blistering Exiled. It was also an honorable mention by Nick Schager.

The prestigious Sight & Sound year-end listing (PDF) had Syndromes and a Century nestled between No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which got me to thinking: I wonder if Apichatpong could make a western? I think it'd be a blast, perhaps some kind of tale about some cluelessly evil authority figures holding a child hostage, and will only release the kid if they can cut off his arms and legs?

IndieWire's critics' poll has Syndromes at No. 4, below the Coens' No Country, and just ahead of that Romanian abortion drama, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Feeling overwhelmed by it all? Well, head on over to Metacritic, which tabulates all the Top 10 lists by all its critics. Here is where you'll find Syndromes listed No. 1 on the list by Newsweek's David Ansen and No. 10 by the Onion AV Club's Scott Tobias (Nathan Rabin reviewed it). Overall at Metacritic, Syndromes has a 71/100 rating.

Meanwhile, over at good, old Rotten Tomatoes, Syndromes is at No. 66 for 2007, with a 87% (Fresh!) rating, based on 38 reviews.

In all, I have to say I'm disappointed that Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger, which finally saw a theatrical release in 2007 in the U.S., did not make any of the year-end lists that I've scanned so far here. Not that I blame critics for overlooking it at year's end. After all, the film was made in 2000 and had languished in the vaults of Miramax until it was rescued by Magnolia. It's confusing, I know.

But even more disappointing is that the one place I finally saw it mentioned was at, of all places, Twitch, in An American Film Geek's Bottom 3 for 2007. Worse than 300? Worse than Ocean's Thirteen? Worse than Spider-Man 3? Worse than The Simpsons' Movie? Heartening, though, is an outpouring of comments taking the writer Jim Tudor to task for his choices.

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