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1 Mulholland Dr. (USA, 2001, David Lynch)
2 The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (USA, 2003, Errol Morris)
3 Oldboy (South Korea, 2003, Park Chan-Wook)
4 The Godfather (USA, 1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
5 Blade Runner (USA, 1982, Ridley Scott)
6 Andrei Rublev (Russia, 1966, Andrei Tarkovsky)
7 3 Iron (Bin-Jip, South Korea, 2004, Kim Ki-Duk)
8 Annie Hall (USA, 1977, Woody Allen)
9 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor, Sweden, 2009, Niels Arden Oplev)
10 Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari, Japan, 1953, Yasujiro Ozu)
11 Three Colours: Blue (Trois couleurs: Bleu, France, 1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
12 Irreversible (France, 2002, Gaspar Noe)
13 The Godfather Part II (USA, 1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
14 Inception (USA, 2010, Christopher Nolan)
15 Only Yesterday (Omohide poro poro, Japan, 1991, Isao Takahata)
16 Audition (Japan, 1999, Takashi Miike)
17 Rashomon (Japan, 1950, Akira Kurosawa)
18 Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-Hime, Japan, 1997, Hayao Miyazaki)
19 2001: A Space Odyssey (USA/United Kingdom, 1968, Stanley Kubrick)
20 Once Upon A Time in the West (C'era una volta il West, Italy/USA, 1968, Sergio Leone)
21 Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka, Japan, 1988, Isao Takahata)
22 Ran (Japan, 1985, Akira Kurosawa)
23 Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok, South Korea, 2003, Bong Joon-Ho)
24 Talk To Her (Hable con Ella, Spain, 2002, Pedro Almodovar)
25 Memento (USA, 2000, Christopher Nolan)
26 Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, Japan, 2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
27 Alien (USA/United Kingdom, 1979, Ridley Scott)
28 Festen (Denmark, 1998, Thomas Vinterberg)
29 Hana-Bi (Japan, 1997, Takeshi Kitano)
30 A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon, South Korea, 2003, Kim Jee-Won)
31 Blue Velvet (USA, 1986, David Lynch)
32 Ring (Japan, 1998, Hideo Nakata)
33 Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai, Japan, 1954, Akira Kurosawa)
34 Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, Italy, 1948, Vittorio De Sica)
35 Koyaanisqatsi (USA, 1982, Godfrey Reggio)
36 GoodFellas (USA, 1990, Martin Scorsese)
37 City of God (Cidade de Deus, Brazil, 2002, Fernando Meirelles/Katia Lund)
38 Ed Wood (USA, 1994, Tim Burton)
39 Secrets and Lies (United Kingdom, 1996, Mike Leigh)
40 Close-Up (Nema-ye Nazdik, Iran, 1990, Abbas Kiarostami)
41 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Zealand/USA, 2001, Peter Jackson)
42 Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt, Germany, 1998, Tom Tykwer
43 Rear Window (USA, 1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
44 The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, Germany, 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
45 The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover (United Kingdom, 1989, Peter Greenaway
46 Paprika (Japan, 2006, Satoshi Kon)
47 Tetsuo (Japan, 1988, Shinya Tsukamoto)
48 8 1/2 (Italy, 1963, Federico Fellini)
49 Metropolis (Germany, 1927, Fritz Lang)
50 Monsters Inc (USA, 2001, Pete Docter)
51 La jetee (France, 1962, Chris Marker)
52 Downfall (Der Untergang, Germany, 2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel)
53 Mirror (Zerkalo, Russia, 1975, Andrei Tarkovsky)
54 My Neighbour Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, Japan, 1988, Hayao Miyazaki)
55 The Straight Story (USA, 1999, David Lynch)
56 Akira (Japan, 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo)
57 Solaris (Russia, 1972, Andrei Tarkovsky)
58 No Country For Old Men (USA, 2007, Ethan Coen/Joel Coen)
59 The Elephant Man (USA, 1980, David Lynch)
60 Goodbye Lenin! (Germany, 2003, Wolfgang Becker)
61 Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg, Russia, 2002, Aleksandr Sokurov)
62 My Neighbours The Yamadas (Hohokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun, Japan, 1999, Isao Takahata)
63 Lost Highway (USA, 1997, David Lynch)
64 Raise the Red Lantern (Da hong deng long gao gao gua, China, 1991, Zhang Yimou)
65 Batman Begins (USA, 2005, Christopher Nolan)
66 Citizen Kane (USA, 1941, Orson Welles)
67 Millennium Actress (Sennen joyu, Japan, 2001, Satoshi Kon)
68 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (New Zealand/USA, 2002, Peter Jackson)
69 Red Beard (Akahige, Japan, 1965, Akira Kurosawa)
70 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (United Kingdom/USA, 2005, Mike Newell)
71 Let The Right One In (Lät den rätte komma in, Sweden, 2008, Tomas Alfredson)
72 La Haine (France, 1995, Matthieu Kassovitz)
73 The Empire Strikes Back (USA, 1980, Irvin Keshner)
74 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (USA/New Zealand, 2003, Peter Jackson)
75 Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan geumjassi, South Korea, 2005, Park Chan-Wook)
76 Sans Soleil (France, 1983, Chris Marker)
77 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (USA, 2004, Michel Gondry)
78 Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no takkyubin, Japan, 1989, Hayao Miyazaki)
79 Hero (Ying xiong, China, 2002, Zhang Yimou)
80 The Shining (USA/United Kingdom, 1980, Stanley Kubrick)
81 Stalker (Russia, 1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)
82 The Spirit of the Beehive (El espiritu de la colmena, Spain, 1973, Victor Erice)
83 Don't Look Now (United Kingdom, 1973, Nicolas Roeg)
84 Nineteen Eighty-Four (United Kingdom, 1984, Michael Radford)
85 Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi, Japan, 1948, Akira Kurosawa)
86 Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, Spain, 1988, Pedro Almodovar)
87 The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band: Eine Deutsche Kindergeschichte, Germany, 2009, Michael Haneke)
88 Eraserhead (USA, 1977, David Lynch)
89 The Conversation (USA, 1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
90 Chungking Express (Hong Kong, 1994, Wong Kar Wai)
91 Open Your Eyes (Abre los ojos, Spain, 1997, Alejandro Amenabar)
92 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (USA, 2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
93 Das Boot (West Germany, 1981, Wolfgang Petersen)
94 12 Years a Slave (USA/United Kingdom, 2013, Steve McQueen)
95 Brazil (United Kingdom, 1985, Terry Gilliam)
96 Vertigo (USA, 1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
97 M (Germany, 1931, Fritz Lang)
98 Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le Pianiste, France, 1960, Francois Truffaut)
99 In a Year of Thirteen Moons (In einem Jahr mit dreizehn Monden, West Germany, 1978, Rainer Werner Fassbender)
100 The Room (USA, 2003, Tommy Wiseau)
One of the most remarkable films ever made
Kim Ki-Duk's films portray a black world view, one by which our selfish impulses cause us to destroy each other and, ultimately, ourselves. They are driven by the central character's desire to escape this world, in their own ways eventually finding a way out of the reality that engulfs them. In Real Fiction (2000), the protagonist disappears into a day dream in which he has revenge on all those who wronged him in the past; in Spring Summer Autumn Winter... And Spring (2003), a Buddhist monk lives, literally, on an island separated from the rest of the world; any contact with the outside world results in tragedy, be it a visiting mother fleeing with her child (she drowns, though the child, gratefully, survives), or the monk's apprentice running off with a girl (he ends up murdering her and is wanted by the police); in Bad Guy, the eponymous protagonist tries to find solace through his own love fantasy; and then there is 3 Iron, Kim Ki-Duk's magnum opus and one of the most remarkable films ever made.
3 Iron seems to tie all the visual and thematic aspects of Kim's films together, neatly and impressively, making it the "ultimate" Kim Ki-Duk film, much the same way Fitzcarraldo is the "ultimate" Herzog- or North By Northwest was the "ultimate" Hitchcock film. Like every Kim Ki-Duk film, the protagonist is a rank outsider from mainstream society. Like Bad Guy, the character plays his part almost entirely mute (and on this note, both Jo Jae-hyeon's and Lee Hyun-kyoon's performances have to be utterly applauded for being both wonderfully subtle and yet so forcefully expressive). Once again, we are faced with a latent dual reality, where the protagonist escapes the world around him, but is also brutally dragged back into it. Like Bad Guy, 3 Iron is a strange love story, albeit a far more assuasive one, where both the characters decide to disappear into "their own world".
However, 3 Iron defies explanation. Can you imagine trying to pitch this to a Hollywood producer? "Ok, there's this guy and he, like, breaks into people's houses. He washes their clothes, dishes, bathrooms -.. he even wears their clothes, sleeps in their beds, and repairs stuff for them, like clocks or broken toy guns (with hilarious consequences in the latter's case!). One day he breaks into a house, thinking he's alone, but meets an abused wife. When her husband returns, he proceeds to attack the old philanderer in a very original way (which neatly ties in with the title of the film... you'll see) and she runs off with him. They then enter "his" world and live "his" life together, breaking into houses, etc, before they get dragged back into the real world with all the pain and suffering it brings". Yeah! That'll really get the 18-25 demographic rolling down the aisles! Chances are I would have been kicked out midway through the second sentence, though if I'm really honest I wouldn't actually mind trying to pitch this to Don Simpson, just to see the reaction on his face.
But it really would be doing this movie little justice to try and "summarise" it in some neat little way. It needs to be watched, it needs to be experienced, like all the great movies. There is no real "idea" in this film, necessarily, nor is there a big "statement" of sorts - Kim Ki-Duk is not a "statement" film-maker like Godard or Eisenstein. Rather, like Lynch, he prefers to make films that work on an instinctive level, in that they draw a gut emotional reaction from you that cannot necessarily be articulated or expressed in an intellectual manner. Is it any coincidence, then, that Kim, like Lynch, primarily hails from a painting background, and actually wanted to be a painter before he became a film-maker?
Paintings are an apt analogy, since every frame is clearly carefully and thoughtfully choreographed (characters are either separated (in both the physical and emotional sense) by vertical-, or they are united by horizontal lines). But putting aside any visual- and textual comparisons to Lynch, Kim Ki-Duk also draws a lot from Wong Kar Wai in terms of narrative, and anyone who has seen Chungking Express should notice comparisons to 3 Iron in that both concentrate on a character who breaks into someone else's house/flat and lives their life without them noticing, or how one song is ceaselessly repeated to emphasise both the love between the two central characters and, furthermore, the characters' wish to escape reality (though 3 Iron does so more on a less literal level, as I mentioned before) - in Chungking Express, it was California Dreamin' (a song that will never be the same for me after that film, and I suspect a lot of people feel this way), while in 3 Iron it's "Gafsa" by Natasha Atlas.
Still, I suppose I can conceptualise and intellectualise to my heart's content - somehow I doubt that any of this will spur you to watch this movie. But I think it should. This film deserves to be seen. It's a tender, thought-provoking, and ultimately (and quite strangely) heart-warming film, as well as, quite possibly. an indication that Kim Ki-Duk is slowly coming of an age as a film-maker, moving on from an entirely pessimistic worldview to one that is more reassuring and serene. Yes, there is suffering and darkness, but there is also hope, and I think, this, ultimately is what 3 Iron is trying to tell us. It is, in short, utterly required viewing, not to mention the work of a true genius. And it's really not very often I bandy this word about.
Lauras Stern (2004)
Shades of Miyazaki
Laura's Star is an extremely amiable children's movie full of imagination and charm. Something tells me Hayao Miyazaki may have been an influence on De Rycker and Rothkirch, since Laura's Stern (or Laura's Star) carries with it shades of Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service and, to a slightly lesser degree, My Neighbour Totoro. I could be wrong of course, but it's easy to draw this comparison simply judging from the aesthetics and the likable narrative of this film and, if anything, it's meant as a compliment. Still, there's a hint of triumphalism here in that I'm glad to see one of my favourite film-makers having a bearing on other directors and animators, as well they should.
In any case, I have absolutely no hesitation recommending Laura's Star to anyone with young children - or for that matter people like myself who just happen to have a weakness for all things cutesy and good-natured.
A cinematic tour de force
"It is up for the viewer to take for herself what Koyanisqaatsi means. For some people it's an environmental film, for some people it's an ode to technology, for some people it's a piece of sh-t, for other people it moves them deeply. It depends on who you ask" - Godfrey Reggio
So, Koyanisqaatsi. Boring junk to some, an involving masterpiece to others, and God knows what other adjective-noun combinations are out there (you can probably guess my opinion from the rating above). Most of these descriptions are fairly subjective, but it would definitely be wrong to regard Koyanisqaatsi as anti-cinema. It is anything but. Cinema, in its purest form, is a marriage of sound and visuals; everything else is just decoration. Dialogue? Storyline? Koyanisqaatsi harks back to an age when cinema was simply a filmed record of a situation. Was it not the Lumiere brothers who are generally regarded as the first pioneers of cinema? And is it not the case that their films comprised of nothing more than situations like a couple feeding their baby, workers leaving a factory, or the (in)famous Train Leaving A Station, which went down in folklore as causing people to flee the auditorium in panic thinking they were about to be hit by a train as it approached them on-screen? Koyanisqaatsi is cinema returning to its roots, to the days when the possibilities for film as an art form were wide open, free of commercial constraints and fickle audiences too narrow in scope to accept anything other than what they view as the given norm.
In a way it's fairly irrelevant what Koyanasqaatsi meant to me on a personal level, though I might get to that later. What's important is what Koyanasqaatsi represents. It's an interesting attempt (and a successful one in my view) to illustrate how a narrative can be created simply by editing together seemingly loosely related scenes and images. It reminds me of another cinematic milestone, the Kuleshov experiment, in which two separate images where edited together to create a third meaning, and which helped establish what is now known as Russian montage (and speaking of the Russian montage tradition, anyone who has seen Vertov's The Man With The Movie Camera will no doubt find traces of it in Koyanisqaatsi and vice versa). Koyanisqaatsi takes it one step further, perhaps even to its logical conclusion, using editing to create a new meaning for the entire narrative as a whole. It works on a gut level and sparks an emotional response, in a way it demands a response, be it boredom, amazement... it really depends on the person (as illustrated by the Reggio quote above). As such it's an example of cinema at its most subjective.
Coming back to the influence Man With A Movie Camera no doubt had on this film, I think what Godfrey Reggio has done here is take this specific style of film-making and turn it into what I, personally, view as a cinematic statement on humanity- and our technology's relationship with the environment around us. It's a pessimistic film, filled with Cold War anxiety (though it hasn't lost any of its relevance) - and in retrospect, I also found it reminiscent of an age when America still had a strong avantgarde movement in the shape of people like Reggio or Laurie Anderson (and in a way it's an interesting coincidence that 1983 also gave birth to another experimental documentary, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, which is equally rich in scope and tackles the same philosophical issues, albeit from a slightly different angle).
I really wonder if the western world could produce a film like this today, in an age where cinema audiences are more fickle than ever, demanding a cut every three seconds and some sort of "surprise twist" at the end, with hardly a niche left for the Godrey Reggios of this world. But in a way I suppose it doesn't really matter. Koyanisqaatsi, to me at least, is one of the richest cinematic experiences anyone could possibly hope to have, and I doubt I'll see a film which will move me quite like this for a long time to come.
Ultraviolent fantasy or eloquent Humanistic statement? Probably both
To many, this is the movie that started it all. But what's interesting about Akira is that, while it is largely credited with introducing anime to the West, it barely raised an eyelid on its initial release. Most Japanese critics' lists from 1988 barely gave Akira a mention, instead deciding to concentrate on films like Grave Of The Fireflies or My Neighbour Totoro, at least as far as animes were concerned. But while these are perhaps (and in my opinion definitely) superior in quality, their success in western countries was more slow-moving and therefore not as much of a shock to the system as Akira was.
When Akira was first screened in Europe and North America in the early 90s, most people had simply never seen anything like it. Distributors, unaware of the tradition of adult-orientated animation in Japan, didn't have a clue how to promote this feature (some billing it as a kids' movie), and equally audiences suffered from the same confusion (in some cases parents taking their children to a film which features scenes such as a person exploding before mutating into a garish cyberpunk mess of flesh and cables). This confusion resulted in Akira being something of an underground success, but it also ensured the movie cult status across western countries, though perhaps for the wrong reasons.
Is Akira a hyperviolent, sadistic fantasy? Or an eloquent statement on modern civilisation run amok, with technology getting the better of its masters and planet Earth having its divine revenge on those who mutilated it? It's possibly both. Most aficionados of Japanese animation (and also some Japanese live action, witness films by Shinya Tsukamoto or Takashi Miike) are aware that stylised violence is nothing particularly new to the genre (for now wanting to avoid the age-old discussion of anime not being a genre in and of itself but rather a style of animation which incorporates several genres like horror, sci-fi, adventure, etc and indeed, it would do great disservice to the artistic integrity of many anime artists to simply lump them into one category). However, another fairly consistent, and perhaps ironic, feature of these "violent" narratives is the humanistic message inherent within them, and that, as opposed to many Hollywood narratives which use violence in a Biblical way (ie. the Good guys are justified in using violence against the Bad guy), a narrative like Akira, which stems primarily from both a Buddhist- and Shinto background, avoids lazy good/bad categorisations and instead uses violence to make a clear point - That it does not lead anywhere but tragedy. While perhaps the gratuitously stylised nature of the violence ends up clouding this message, the sheer fact is that, unlike in many mainstream narratives, violence is not rewarded in films like Akira. In fact, in Akira it culminates in the end of the world. Some resolution.
As much as Akira has attracted attention for its violent content, so the convoluted narrative has caused accusations of it being confusing at best and incoherent at worst. While it's very likely that some of the Buddhist symbolism within the film (Tetsuo's final transformation into a new cosmos, as hinted at during the final credit sequence, being a case in point) will go over a few people's heads, the storyline itself is fairly simple: Tetsuo, a bullied and insecure individual, is subjected to a genetic experiment which unleashes a hidden power within him, and, in his anger, destroys the world which he feels rejected him. As well as being a somewhat abstract statement on disaffected youth (a rather appropriate topic, given that I'm writing this at the time of the Paris riots), I would regard Akira as a document of its time. Even though it's set in the future (but then any sci-fi is just an abstract futuristic representation of the time it was made in anyhow), Akira excellently sums up the blind and ravaging short-sighted materialism of our age. That aside, Tetsuo's mutation has been described by some as allegorically representing Japan's disproportionate wealth bubble of the 1980s, while Tetsuo himself is the product of a world driven by greed and avarice.
I have to admit that Akira left a huge impression on me when I initially saw it 10+ years ago. In fact, as with so many others, it probably helped to start my fondness of east Asian cinema. I wouldn't be surprised if, ten or twenty years from now, Akira is widely regarded as one of the most influential movies ever made (if it isn't seen as such already, witness the influence it had on Hollywood films like The Matrix), and that future generations will justifiably view it as an all-time classic.
The end of an era
Red Beard marked the end of an era for Kurosawa. It was the last of his period costume dramas (excluding Ran and Kagemusha, though these were more of a glorious revisit to his 'old' style anyhow), the last film he shot in black and white, and the last film he ever made with Toshiru Mifune, thus ending what is, to me at least, the finest director-actor pairing in the history of cinema. Perhaps it is for these reasons that I look on this film with so much fondness, and it remains one of my favourite Kurosawa films (alongside Ran and Rashomon). That aside, it is also filled with warmth and sincerity, but then that's to be expected from the man I consider to be the greatest director of all time. Highly recommended.
Or: How Hitchcock turned an average script into a good film (again)
I think this film underlines precisely why Hitchcock is, justifiably, regarded as one of the all-time greatest directors. With Notorious he basically took a fairly average script and turned what could have been a lacklustre film noir into an involving thriller, full of Hitchcock's trademark apprehension and suspense. All the Hitchcockian devices are there - the MacGuffin, those eerie pans and focuses on suspect devices (though, curiously, the heroine is not a blonde for a change but Hitchcock's one-time object of desire, the one and only Ingrid Bergman).
Say what you like about Hitchcock, he understood, possibly better than many of his contemporaries, that the script itself is merely the skeleton of a film. Neglect the rest, ie. camera, sound, editing, casting, etc, and you still end up with only less than half a body of work. The story itself is nothing special; it's the techniques Hitchcock used to tell the story which matter and which draw you into the narrative. While the set admittedly does look somewhat outdated (Grant and Bergman obviously never went anywhere near Rio De Janeiro, instead being cast in front of a screen), you can't fault Hitchcock or anyone else directly involved in the making of this film for constraints put upon them by film-making procedures of the day. In other words, blame the studio system, not the cast or the director.
Notorious, alongside Rebecca, was the movie which firmly established Hitchcock in the Hollywood elite and gave him the platform on which he could create his more experimental works, starting with Rope and moving on to Rear Window and Vertigo, and in a way it can be seen as part of the bridge between Hitchcock's noir-ish work of the 1940s and what was, to all intents and purposes, his avantgarde period of the 1950s. In other words, it's a benchmark film.
Recommended to fans of the director (though I'll suspect most of them will have seen Notorious already) and 1940s film noir in general.
Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)
Tragedy masquerading as Horror
This isn't so much a review of A Tale Of Two Sisters as it is a discussion of some of the smaller plot details, so I advise you NOT to read this review if you haven't seen the film, because doing so will absolutely ruin a few surprises for you.
In a way A Tale Of Two Sisters is far from original, at least from a purely superficial aspect - some of its iconography is taken straight from Ring or Dark Water, while the storyline itself (especially what Brendt Sponseller calls the "rubber reality" aspect of the narrative) is reminiscent of films like Fight Club (lead character interacts with someone created in their mind), Mulholland Drive (character creates alternate reality in a psychogenic fugue), as well as other minor aspects of Lost Highway, Jacob's Ladder, and basically every film under the sun dealing with mental illness, plus Amenabar's films (The Others, Abre Los Ojos), Memento (particularly with regards to the torturous nature of memory), et al. Thankfully all these similarities do not detract from the film's overall emotional impact, and I personally found A Tale Of Two Sisters an extremely moving and rewarding experience.
Many people have commented on the "confusing" nature of the narrative, but I personally found the storyline to be fairly self-explanatory, even if it is in part portrayed in a non-sequential manner. The narrative only becomes confusing for some because, midway through the final third, the story switches from a purely subjective setting (ie. Soo-Mi's warped perception of reality) to an objective one, with a flashback at the end explaining the origins of Soo-Mi's nervous breakdown and subsequent mental illness. The shift in emphasis is bound to throw some people off guard, but structurally I found it somewhat reminiscent of aforementioned Mulholland Drive (even though we're not dealing with a character's perception of reality via a dream but instead their own schizophrenic tendencies - something which, in turn, reminded me of another Lynch movie, Lost Highway). To be honest, I don't really regard A Tale Of Two Sisters as a Horror movie as such, but rather a tragic story of a family's breakdown as well as an honest look at a character's mental illness (and I hasten to add that fans of psychoanalytical cinema are going to love this film).
That aside, the cinematography in A Tale Of Two Sisters is incredible and visually this is one of the most beautiful films I've seen this side of Wong Kar Wai's 2046. The performances are also fantastic without exception, and I expect to see more of the four lead actors in the future; not to mention the music, but then east Asian films without a great soundtrack seem to be few and far between these days.
It's very likely that some people will look past the finer artistic points of A Tale Of Two Sisters and simply dismiss it as "yet another Asian horror film", oblivious to its aesthetic beauty and honest psychoanalytical approach. But then each to their own. If you can ignore some of the film's platitudinous aspects and simply take it for what it is at heart, ie. an extremely tragic, heart-breaking story, then I see no reason not to recommend it.
A pleasant surprise
I have no idea why this movie got such a small-scale cinema release. It certainly can't have anything to do with the quality of the film. I was surprised by Duma, because it's an extremely well-directed film which treats its audience with far more respect and intelligence than a lot of so-called "family" fare available. Also, as opposed to many films with animal protagonists, Duma doesn't treat them as objects of half-witted hokey slapstick fun, but instead makes the entire friendship between human and animal seem extremely touching and authentic.
In a way there is something almost Miyazaki -esque about this movie, in that it draws you into the narrative not with half-baked nudge nudge wink wink references which only adults will understand, but through its intelligence and excellent sense of drama alone; not to mention the great performances by Eamonn Walker and Alexander Michaeletos - two names to look out for in the future if their performances here are anything to go by. At any rate, Duma is one of the few cases where the possibly over-used moniker "A film for all ages" definitely applies. Recommended if you can find it.
El espíritu de la colmena (1973)
A masterstroke of allegorical film-making
I was about sixteen years old when I first saw The Spirit Of The Beehive, the first so-called "art house" movie I was ever fully confronted with. I say "confronted" because I had simply never seen anything like it before, and in a way I felt almost offended by its ambiguity and symbolism. How dare a movie suggest I tie all the loose ends together? I want everything on a plate, right there, explained! Then I watched it again. And again. And eventually it dawned on me: Film-making does not necessarily have to be about what we are *meant* to inscribe into something - it's what we, personally, subjectively, read into it, based on our experience and perspective of the world. Victor Erice's Espiritu De La Colmena introduced me to a whole new approach to film and cinema, and one which paved the way to my admiration for directors like Tarkovsky, Marker, and generally any unconventional film-maker under the sun. For that alone it holds a special resonance to me.
While there is definitely a point to be made that this film is, first and foremost, a haunting look at the innocence of childhood, the subversive political meaning was something which is primarily the result of an attempt on my behalf to tie all the loose ends together, and the conclusion below is something I arrived at based on my own personal understanding of the narrative.
On the surface, The Spirit Of The Beehive is about a family which attempts to cope with the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. It bears mentioning that the fact that this film even dares to address the conflict in such a direct manner suggests that, two years before Franco's death, the tight censorship regime in Spain was slowly but surely loosening its grip of the domestic film industry. Up to that point many films made in Spain during the Franco era were only able to address the civil war or Franco's regime in a strongly metaphorical manner or via subversive narratives (a case in point being much of Bunuel's work, albeit done in exile, or Saura's La Caza). In fact, much of Spanish cinema during that point in history can be regarded as an excellent case study in how allegories can be used as a way of averting tight censorship.
That said, political commentary on a tangible level would not have passed the censors even at such a late stage in Franco's reign, and thus most of the criticism in ...Colmena is driven by a sense of mutual understanding between spectator and narrative. The start of the film is a case in point: a shot of a few children watching James Whale's Frankenstein (with the narrator proclaiming that "You are about to see a monster") is followed by a cut to the girl protagonist's (Ana's) father. For now assuming that this narrative is driven exclusively by metaphors, does Victor Erice suggest, with that cut, that the girl's father is the "monster" in question? Or, does he, on a more profound level equate the word father to monster? Franco called himself the "father of the nation", and with that knowledge in mind an audience could easily read that scene as a highly ambiguous, yet still extremely effective, criticism of Franco (ie. suggestively calling Franco a monster). However, due to its strongly ambiguous nature, not a single censor would be able to pinpoint that scene and say, without any discernible doubt, that this is indeed the case. It's a wonderful example of allegorical film-making, and how film techniques can be generally used to make an intrinsic statement which relies as much to the techniques applied as it does on the audience's intelligence and ability to understand the more profound meaning behind the images.
I remember once reading the viewpoint that Ana herself represents the Spanish nation, and I can see what the intention of that statement is when you consider the monster=Franco equation I outlined above. The monster Ana meets in her daydreams (as she imagines meeting the Boris Karloff figure she saw at the Frankenstein screen) is a figure which lulls her into a false sense of security and turns out to be a threatening presence; and the symbolism itself becomes very plain once the monster=Franco and Ana=Spain (though I'll admit that this is not the most original reading of the film, and aditionally one which doesn't even begin to scrape at the amount of symbolism apparent).
If only Erice was as prolific as he is imaginative, since El Espiritu De La Colmena makes up for only one third of his entire output in over thirty years (his other two films being the equally brilliant El Sur and Quince Tree Of The Sun). Needless to say, it's cinematic genius, and a flawless work of art bar none.
A strange but wonderful animated masterpiece
Japanese animation has brought forward many films which are regarded as classics of the genre (for now ignoring the fact that anime isn't really a genre in and of itself, but rather a style of animation which encompasses several different genres, eg. horror, comedy, sci-fi, etc), but for some reason Macross: Do You Remember Love is seldom mentioned alongside gems like Akira, Ghost In The Shell, or Mononoke Hime (and pretty much every other Studio Ghibli effort) - something I find quite difficult to understand. I was lucky enough to catch this movie on late night TV several years ago and was completely spellbound by it. It has a simple storyline (boy loves girl, while humanity's future is threatened by warmongering cyborgs - hey, it's anime) but an innocence at heart which very few movies, even animated ones, are able to match. I was even luckier when I discovered a subtitled VHS copy of it, and it has since become one of my favourite animated movies of all-time.
For its time, the standard of animation is quite impressive. This movie must have taken at least a few people's breaths away when it was initially screened in 1984, because, even when you compare it to Japanese animation of the time (including Hayao Miyazaki's much-lauded feature debut Nausicaa), the level of detail and movement on display is mind-boggling. People don't just move their eyes and lips (as was the case in virtually 99% of animation then); their hair moves, their clothes show wrinkles, whilst the background details are nearly inch-perfect. Macross itself doesn't just look like a huge intergalactic space station, it also *feels* like one. I can think of few films which display a similar attention to detail as DYRL, and for that reason alone it deserves its rightful place in the animation hall of fame, next to anything Disney or Ghibli have ever brought forward.
The storyline, as mentioned before, is fairly straightforward (and admittedly clichéd at times), but thankfully this doesn't sidetrack from its unique charm, especially as the narrative progresses from a bogstandard battle of Good vs Evil into something else entirely, which I won't describe in great detail lest I completely ruin the surprise for you - however, I will say this: the ending itself is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. Quite aside from the strangely moving premise of J-pop saving the universe, the entire choreography of that scene is an utter stroke of genius. It's a bizarre ending, but strangely enough it works.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert on the Robotech series - in fact, I know pretty much next to nothing about the other instalments in the Macross/Robotech series. But I like to think that I know good film-making when I see it, and Do You Remember Love certainly is that. It's an unsung classic of Japanese animation which does not deserve to fester in obscurity, but instead requires widespread recognition as the ground-breaking work of art it truly is. Simply put, it's wonderful.
(NB, I want to point out that this review concentrates solely on the subtitled version of Macross: Do You Remember Love, not the dubbed and narrowed-down version of the movie entitled Clash Of The Bionoids, which, as many here have pointed out, is a monstrosity to be avoided.)
Ladri di biciclette (1948)
One of the most important films ever made
It's extremely difficult to write a review of Bicycle Thieves without mentioning the influence it had on world cinema, but had it not been for Bicycle Thieves directors like Kurosawa, Ozu, or Satyajit Ray (who in turn went on to inspire the vast bulk of the Hollywood renaissance, ie. Coppola, Lucas, Scorcese, etc) would have been deprived of one of their biggest influences. In other words, no Bicycle Thieves means no Pather Panchali, no Ikiru, no Tokyo Story, and therefore no Godfather, Taxi Driver or The Conversation. It might sound like an exaggeration, but without Bicycle Thieves, at least one quarter of the last half-century's greatest movies might have never been made.
Many reviews here have already commented on the superb level of acting (which is remarkable given that virtually everyone is a non-professional) and the moving storyline, so it's difficult to add anything of substance. That said, I still can't decide whether the outlook of Bicycle Thieves is pessimistic, subversive, or neither. Andre Bazin famously called Bicycle Thieves the only true communist film of the 1940s, but I'm not entirely sure if that applies. There are allusions to the class struggle (particularly during the scene in the restaurant), but the film falls short of directly calling for a radical social change, instead portraying the working class of Italy as hopelessly divided by its own poverty, unemployment and greed. While that in itself may suggest De Sica's desire for a proletariat united against injustices posed by the system (an old Marxist chestnut), it's still a comment the film never makes in a literal form - if it's there, it's hidden away somewhere in the narrative for the audience to decipher themselves. In that respect Bicycle Thieves quite clearly differs from many other Italian neo-realist movies like Ossessione, because it does not directly criticise the capitalist system, instead preferring to remain ambiguous and leaving the audience to arrive at their own conclusions about the fate of Antonio and Bruno (the most lovable and sympathetic father-and-son pairing I've ever seen on film, I hasten to add) and of Italian society in general. In a way it's probably for the best that De Sica has chosen to portray the message of the film in an ambiguous light instead of patronising his audience with lectures and slogans (a la Ken Loach), since it enables him to portray social injustice without running the risk of alienating his audience, something which many politically motivated film makers inadvertently tend to do.
Its ideological implications aside, Bicycle Thieves is a cinematic milestone as well as one of the most emotionally moving films you'll ever see. Highly recommended.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
The ultimate anti-masterpiece
I don't believe that the "Worst film ever"-label really applies to Plan 9 because this film is SO bad, so phenomenally inept that it's a total hoot from start to finish - in fact, it's probably one of the most entertaining movies you're likely to see (even if not for the reasons intended). From the utterly bizarre "Criswell Predicts"-opening (which makes absolutely no sense and doesn't seem to have any relation to the rest of the film whatsoever), to Bela Lugosi's infamous "last scenes", and some wonderfully weird dialogue ("Inspector Clay is dead ...murdered... and somebody's responsible!"), this is an absolute must-see for any film lover, even if as a mere guideline in how NOT to make a movie. Perhaps best viewed with Tim Burton's biographical masterpiece of director Ed Wood as a companion piece either beforehand or afterwards.
"Words create lies. Only pain can be trusted."
It's probably an exaggeration to describe Audition as extreme (its mixture of gore and realism is nowhere near as bad as in, say, Irrerversible or A Hole In My Heart), but that shouldn't sidetrack from what is ultimately a very challenging and unorthodox film. While the idea of a film changing genres midstream is nothing new or radical in itself (From Dusk Till Dawn is a good example), the way in which Audition suddenly hits you with its own surrealistic brand of Freudian horror is wholly untypical because the change in genre is not just a gimmick (likein aforementioned Dusk Till Dawn) but is used to directly comment on whatever has preceded it during the storyline.
One thing which struck me about Audition is how complete and accomplished it all seems. I say this because most of Takashi Miike's work (including films I sincerely enjoyed, like Ichi The Killer or Dead Or Alive) does appear a bit rushed at times. No doubt this is in part due to Miike's notoriously insane work rate - an average of three films a year - but it makes Audition all the more remarkable. This is in no way meant to downplay Miike's other work, it's simply to emphasise the strengths on display with Audition: nigh-flawless acting, stunning cinematography, a very intelligently and thoughtfully constructed narrative, and some of the most memorable (albeit disturbing) imagery I've ever seen on film.
To regard the final third of Audition as a feminist revenge fantasy is true to a degree, but I think it's also to oversimplify the more cerebral aspects of the narrative. Graham White made some excellent points in his review of the film here, and it's difficult to add anything of substance, but I personally interpreted the final third as a physical illustration of the mixture of guilt and fear Aoyama feels towards both his old and new wife; guilt at his late wife for remarrying, and at Asami for holding a fake audition and furthermore lying to all women involved during the audition (a point where Aoyama himself says he feels like some sort of criminal). In any case, people who take this film at face value are missing the point because the final third is an extended metaphor (even if the myriad of different interpretations we can arrive at illustrates how richly textured the narrative is).
Unfortunately the film's ingenuity is often ignored due to its violent content, and as a consequence Audition is stuck in a double bind of sorts, too violent for serious movie goers and too intellectually challenging for gore fans. This is probably a gross generalisation of its audience, but the fact that people constantly bicker about its "boring" start and it's violent ending, while very little attention is paid to the thematic elements of the narrative, seems to suggest that this film has largely been misinterpreted in what it actually set out to achieve. Audition does not simply aim to comment on the state of relationships between men and women, it also aims to challenge our perception of film genre by playing around with conventions to such an effect that it deliberately shocks and destabilises its audience. Ultimately, this is what makes Audition such a challenging movie. We as an audience have become so accustomed to the lazy generic categorisations of movies that when we see a love story we want a romance, and when we see horror we want gore. Finding the two mixed up challenges our expectations and demystifies the notion that everything about a film can be summarised by the one genre it's meant to fit into. I hate using the word post-modern, but this is what ultimately what this film is, since it's very conscious of the conventions it plays with. Furthermore, this is not simply a case of romance mixing with horror, but also with realism mixing with extended metaphors, and the latter eventually taking over the narrative completely - it's very rare that this sort of thing happens in film, but needless to say it only adds to the clever originality on display here.
If a mainstream audience is willing to dismiss a film as radical and wonderfully uncompromising as this simply because it does not meet their narrow expectations of what films are meant to be, and if they are unwilling to embrace a different kind of film making and widen their scope, then I expect the fault not to rest with the film itself but with the audience that has rejected it. I for one am glad to have seen it,
Rules are there to be broken
To many Mirror is possibly Tarkovsky's most inhibitive and uninviting work, be as it may not a story in the traditional sense but rather an assemblage of images, scenes, and thoughts which at first sight seem to have very little in common and just drift back and forth with no obvious literal explanation. It's only after repeated viewings and the realisation of what it actually was that Tarkovsky tried to achieve that it dawns that this is more than just a bunch of random scenes, but a timeless and highly important masterpiece which defies explanation. But I'll try anyway.
I personally hold Tarkovsky in very high esteem. There are many directors I would regard as good or very good (for instance Kubrick, Kieslowski, Ozu, or Miyazaki), but there are only two directors I regard as absolute geniuses: Akira Kurosawa and, yep, Andrei Tarkovsky. Interestingly this is for two solely different reasons - whereas I admire Kurosawa for the manner in which he managed to perfect the art of cinematic storytelling, Tarkovsky deserves praise for wanting to shake cinema out of its complacent acceptance that films should simply tell a story and little else. Mirror is further proof that Tarkovsky's body of work (which is limited in quantity - a mere eight films - but rich in scope) establishes that the Hollywood mode of narrative is not the only way in which film can create an emotional response from an audience. Of course Tarkovsky is not alone in having done so (Marker and Greenaway immediately spring to mind), but what distinguishes him from other "art house" directors is that he has managed to take this style of film making and drive it to a stage that can be described as almost perfect.
I personally interpret Mirror as a man's life flashing before his eyes before he dies; his relationship with his wife and mother (both played by the same person, in an ingenious move on Tarkovsky's behalf), his children, his friends, the history of his home land, his own childhood. However, Mirror is deliberately structured in such a way that it can, and will, be interpreted differently by different people depending on how they inscribe their own personal thoughts and feelings into the narrative. This is where Tarkovsky's genius comes to fore - to create a film which does not dictate to an audience how to feel by manipulating them via music or mise-en-scene, but to make it the other way around. In the case of Mirror, we, the audience, dictate the emotional response created by the images on screen and, that, ultimately is that makes it such a wonderful work and a true rarity. This is possibly another way the title of the film can be interpreted, in that it illustrates a wholly reflective style of cinema.
Those not accustomed to a slightly more disjunctive cinematic style are likely to dismiss Mirror as boring or dull because it may not necessarily correspond to their expectations of film. However, it is still something I would regard as required viewing for everyone since it shows that cinema can be beautiful without necessarily following the rules Hollywood has imposed on the rest of the film making community, and that ultimately rules are there to be broken. A masterpiece, no less.
Andrey Rublev (1966)
The gospel according to Andrei Rublev
As someone who has seen this movie roughly five times and regards it as the greatest masterpiece in the history of cinema, I find it difficult to fathom how anyone can think that Andrei Rublev is "slow" or "boring". It is true that it's slow-paced, and perhaps too demanding in its unconventional structure of narrative, but I would prefer this to anything commercial cinema releases in its quest to appeal to as broad a market a possible. In other words, given the choice between a film that treats its audience with respect and gives you enough credit to assume you are willing to sit through roughly three hours of lengthy dialogue and long takes, not to mention some of the most mesmerisingly beautiful visuals ever seen on screen; and one which treats its audience like a demographic that can be appealed to like consumers, not individuals with their own dreams, fears, hopes and aspirations, I know which type of cinema truly bores me.
It is often the case that art serves as a mechanism used to comment on social- or individuals ills; rarely however, if at all, does it reflect on itself and its own function to humanity. This is what makes Andrei Rublev a unique and important film, since it addresses the role of the artist in the world. Any questions regarding historical accuracy (or rather lack thereof) towards Rublev's personal life are slightly pointless, since the character is merely used as a vehicle to drive the thematic elements of the narrative. That's not to say that Rublev here is an empty shell, it's simply that Tarkovsky used him as a means to impose his personal views on the subject. Why create art? Does being an artist mean expressing love for humanity? If so, why should one express love for something which seems to hate itself? These are just a few of the questions which arise from viewing this film (and some of which Rublev seems to ask himself, illustrated by at first a naive belief in the good in all humanity, then disillusion, and eventually a rekindling of faith), but it makes the montage of Rublev's work at the end of the film all the more effective, since it creates an understanding of the pain and anguish that lie behind these images.
To regard Andrei Rublev as one movie (assuming that the general definition of a movie is simply a big chunk of storyline) would do some injustice to the brilliantly unorthodox nature of its narrative, in that it's a collection of eight mini-story lines, all of which can be viewed as individual pieces, and three of which could easily pass as masterpieces in their own right. My personal favourite is the third one; Rublev's dialogue with Theophanes The Greek over the self-destructive nature of humanity is, to me at least, one of the most moving moments on film (this is possibly due to Theophanes voicing an opinion I personally arrived at some time before initially watching this film - and one I unfortunately happen to agree with).
Like most of Tarkovsky's movies, Andrei Rublev demands repeated viewings so the film can be absorbed and understood in full. But by doing so you'll begin to realise that this is possibly the most rewarding of all cinematic works, and consequently the most wonderful. The best film ever made? I certainly think so.
Tokyo Fist (1995)
Stomach-churning, but ultimately rewarding
Watching a movie by Shinya Tsukamoto is a bit like staring into the deepest pits of hell, or the darkest recesses of the male psyche, whichever way you want to put it. But then the two seem fairly synonymous, at least if the sheer visceral anger in Tokyo Fist is anything to go by.
Those aware of Tsukamoto's feature-length debut Tetsuo (1988) will be familiar with the basic premise in Tokyo Fist; flawed relationship between man and woman is brutally disrupted by an outside element which challenges the protagonist to a potentially lethal, and eventually soul-destroying, duel. Similarly to other pioneers of horror (eg. Cronenberg, Miike), Tsukamoto chooses to use all kinds of repulsive visuals. Just to give you an idea, if a face almost literally falling off after a boxing match is too much for you, it's probably best to stay away from this film.
However, the brutal imagery is not completely pointless. Tokyo Fist portrays male anger with such honesty that it is sometimes painful to watch, but that's really the point since violence is not something to be cooed at or to be admired (which is what many Hollywood movies seemingly aim to achieve, witness the way audiences are prompted to cheer for the good guy as he murders the baddie). The violence in Tokyo Fist is allegorical in nature, ie. it stands for something else than just simply fists flying: the inability between men and women (and, indeed, men and men) to understand each other ultimately leads to the kind of extreme violence we see on screen. This, ironically, makes Tokyo Fist a part of the great humanist tradition in Japanese cinema, alongside Rashomon and other such movies, because, even though it uses extreme imagery to make a point, it makes the same point all the same: if we relish in jealousy, revenge and anger we will only end up destroying each other, and ultimately ourselves. Does Hollywood ever deal with violence this eloquently?
Also, as with Tetsuo, the characters in Tokyo Fist seem to live entirely in a world of their own. Many shots frame them either alone, or surrounded by an anonymous mass which fails to notice them or appreciate their presence (even as Tsuda stands in the middle of a shopping mall, his face beaten to a pulp). I can't think of another film-maker who sums up urban alienation as brilliantly as Tsukamoto does; the sheer contradiction of city life, in which a great mass of people are all huddled together at close range, and yet find themselves completely lonely and alienated from one another.
For all intents and purposes, Tokyo Fist is a movie which requires a strong stomach and an open mind. But it's a great achievement all the same.
Tokyo 10+01 (2003)
Cheap, tacky, but fun
Tokyo Eleven is an extremely tacky but very amusing send-up of Battle Royale, full of bad jokes and abysmal acting, both of which are quite obviously intentional. I gather it's one of those b-movies made by a bunch of people who were simply out for a laugh and didn't take themselves too seriously, so I can't really fault them for having made it. Besides, a lot of 10+01's humour is very tongue-in-cheek, which ultimately means it's very entertaining.
One of the film's main selling points (if you can call it that) is the fact that Masanobu Ando aka Battle Royale's Kiriyama stars in it, which should attract fans of the actor and/or BR. Ando himself is obviously in on the joke, which makes Tokyo Eleven (and Ando) all the more endearing in my eyes.
No, this isn't exactly Tarkovsky, but then it isn't meant to be. It's simply a fun movie to watch, preferably in the company of friends and ailed by plenty of booze.
28 Days Later... (2002)
A modern classic.
Perhaps I'm a little biased. After all, this is set in the city I live and work in, and seeing Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus, which I pass by every morning and which are usually teeming with crowds of people, completely empty was enough to send shivers down my spine. Usually when you watch a movie like this it's located in some nondescript Midwestern village, which makes it easy to detach yourself from the events unfolding on screen. But seeing them occur in the place you call home is something that gives it an entirely new sense of reality, and one I was previously unaccustomed to.
Still, judging 28 Days Later entirely on its merit as a film, it's easy to arrive at the conclusion that it's a fantastic achievement, as well as a coming-of-age of sorts for director Danny Boyle; I can't say the MTV-inspired vanity of The Beach, or the self-consciously trendy posturing of Trainspotting appealed to me, and to my shame I initially expected 28 Days Later to be given a similar treatment. Thankfully, my fears proved unfounded, discarded straight after a opening sequence which is at once effortless and fearsome. The rest of the movie was a joy. A terrifying joy, but a joy nonetheless.
It's true that sometimes minimalism can be more effective than overblown bravado, and it's definitely true for this movie. It's the scenes of complete silence which get to you the most; an entire metropolis empty. The grainy picture serves to add a documentary-style quality to the film, which makes the whole situation seem almost too real to bear. Definitely a wise choice to film this on digital video.
You will occasionally meet people who thought 28 Days Later wasn't 'scary' or 'gory' enough. These are the same people who will tell you that 2001 was 'boring', or that Memento was 'confusing'. Ignore them. Others didn't understand the purpose of the second half, or were confused by its change of pace, feeling that it distracted from the movie as a whole. However, I personally regard the second half as very important because, as another reviewer pointed out, it makes a very succinct point: What is scarier, the end of the world, or having the world repopulated by maniacs? That, I think, is where the real Horror of 28 Days Later lies.
28 Days Later, like the Romero zombie flicks of yore, is ultimately an allegory of the days we are living in, an age in which we are constantly confronted with violence by the media (much like the ape right at the start of the film), where violence begets violence, and humanity faces an uncertain future. I applaud Danny Boyle's bravery in making 28 Days Later because he undoubtedly took a big commercial risk when the majority of the cinema-going public might prefer escapism to words of caution. Remember, Rage is a human-made disease. Quite the allegory there.
Like most great masterpieces of their time, 28 Days Later has been misunderstood by a considerable amount of people. I have no doubt it will go down in history as a classic, the one movie which perfectly sums up the confused era we are living in. And even if you didn't like it, it would be advisable to give 28 Days Later another chance; it's a haunting experience when looked at from the right angle. Danny Boyle has many years left in him, I hope he'll continue making more movies like this.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Life in Hounslow *can* be fun
Gurinder Chadha seems to go from strength to strength with every movie she directs."I'm British But... succinctly portrayed Asian life in contemporary Britain, while Bhaji On The Beach took the subject into the feature film; With Bend It Like Beckham she goes one step further, effectively mixing social realism with comedy and romance to equate an entertaining feature with a sharp script and great acting (Rhys-Meyers and Parminder Nagra are surefire bets for future Hollywood stardom).
One thing to commend "...Beckham" on is that, in spite of its generic constraints (typical love story, narrative of underdog comes good against the odds, etc), it is as accurate a portrayal of modern Britain, or at least London, as mainstream cinema is ever likely to give us. The soulless terraced houses of Hounslow (ever a familiar sight to this Brunel alumni) or the acknowledgment that (shock, horror) ethnic minorities live in Britain are a stark but welcome contrast to white-washed bogus like Notting Hill or Bridget Jones's Diary.
It would be interesting to see what Chadha will do with a more adventurous genre, because stylistically she's certainly more Lucas than Loach (and that's a compliment).