I’m Having My Own Oscars: 2017

We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!

Best Films 

  1. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
  2. Loveless (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)
  3. Western (dir. Valeska Grisebach)
  4. On Body and Soul (dir. Ildikó Enyedi)
  5. Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
  6. Raw (dir. Julia Docournau)
  7. mother! (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
  8. Wajib (dir. Annemarie Jacir)
  9. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
  10. 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)
  11. Lady Macbeth (dir. William Oldroyd)
  12. The Levelling (dir. Hope Dickson Leach)
  13. The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund)
  14. The Ornithologist (dir. João Pedro Rodrigues)
  15. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
  16. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)
  17. The Other Side of Hope (dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
  18. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh)
  19. Foxtrot (dir. Samuel Maoz)
  20. Holy Air (dir. Shady Srour)
  21. Daphne (dir. Peter Mackie Burns)
  22. Heartstone (dir. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson)
  23. The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
  24. Detroit (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
  25. Blade Runner 2045 (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

I am still planning on writing a few additional reviews for some of the films above (as well as for Wind River that I just recently watched and was somewhat disappointed with) – but for now, here’s a link to a podcast where I talked about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s in Slovene though, so an English version is definitely coming soon!

What about 2016? Here are my favourite films from last year.

What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.

James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro

Best Documentaries

  1. Austerlitz (dir. Sergey Loznitsa)
  2. I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck)
  3. The Family (dir. Rok Biček)
  4. Playing Men (Matjaž Ivanišin)
  5. Safari (dir. Ulrich Seidl)
  6. Machines (dir. Rahul Jain)
  7. Whose Streets? (dir. Sabaah Folayan)
  8. Strong Island (dir. Yance Ford)
  9. Liberation Day (dir. Uģis Olte & Morten Traavik)
  10. Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun)

lady-bird-film (1).jpg

Best Women-Directed Films

For the longest time, I thought I was doing my part when it came to women directors; that I am watching as many films made by women as possible, that I am absolutely doing my part at helping the cause. But around 2015, after reviewing the list of films I watched in the past year, I realised that I was living in a bubble – less than 10% of the films I’ve seen every year have been made by women. And I decided to flip that percentage around.

Now, I believe many will stop at this point and say: but hey, there’s not even enough films made by women to do this! Or even if they are, they probably aren’t any good. I am not going to say that every film written or directed by a woman is automatically good – far from it, just as with male directors, there’s a number of them that are pure crap and almost unbearable to sit through (I am quite sad to say that three out of four “worst films” of the year that you will find below were directed by women). But there’s also so many of them that are REALLY good, even if they are not as well known as, let’s say, films by Scorsese or some other big-shot male Hollywood names. Here’s 15 of them that I liked most this past year – for a more extensive list, visit my Letterboxd page:

  1. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
  2. Western (dir. Valeska Grisebach)
  3. On Body and Soul (dir. Ildikó Enyedi)
  4. Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau)
  5. Wajib (dir. Annemarie Jacir)
  6. The Levelling (dir. Hope Dickson Leach)
  7. Mudbound (dir. Dee Rees)
  8. Detroit (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
  9. Let the Sun Shine In (Claire Denis)
  10. Beach Rats (dir. Eliza Hittman)
  11. Sami Blood (dir. Amanda Kernell)
  12. I Am Not a Witch (dir. Rungano Nyoni)
  13. Miss Stevens (dir. Julia Hart)
  14. Band Aid (dir. Zoe Lister-Jones)
  15. Landline (dir. Gillian Robespierre)

Most underrated films

  1. Princess Cyd (dir. Stephen Cone)
  2. Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper)
  3. Person to Person (dir. Dustin Guy Defa)
  4. The Incredible Jessica James (dir. Jim Strouse)

Best animated features

  1. Window Horses (dir. Ann Marie Fleming)
  2. Loving Vincent (dir. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman)
  3. Louise by the Shore (dir. Jean-François Laguionie)
  4. Nuts! (dir. Penny Lane)

Best short animation films

  1. The Box (dir. Dušan Kastelic)
  2. Manivald (dir. Chintis Lundgren)
  3. Debiut (dir. Katarzyna Kijek)
  4. Xoxo Hugs and Kisses (dir. Wiola Sowa)
  5. The Blissful Accidental Death (dir. Sergiu Negulici)
  6. Ježeva kuća (dir. Eva Cvijanović)
  7. The Best Customer (dir. Serghei Chiviriga)
  8. Surpresa (dir. Paulo Patricio)

Biggest disappointments

  1. Requiem for Mrs J. (dir. Bojan Vuletić)
  2. Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins)
  3. Let Him Be a Basketball Player (dir. Boris Petkovič)

Worst films of the year

  1. Fifty Shades Darker (dir. James Foley)
  2. The Bad Batch (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
  3. Fun Mom Dinner (dir. Alethea Jones)
  4. Rough Night (dir. Lucia Aniello)

Best actresses

  1. Saoirse Ronan /Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
  2. Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  3. Emily Beecham (Daphne)
  4. Garance Marillier (Raw)
  5. Cate Blanchett (Manifesto)
  6. Maruša Majer (Ivan)
  7. Annette Bening / Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women)
  8. Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
  9. Carey Mulligan / Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
  10. Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In)
  11. Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth)

Best actors

  1. Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
  2. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
  3. Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer)
  4. Claes Bang (The Square)
  5. John Boyega / Will Poulter / Algee Smith (Detroit)
  6. Mohammad Bakri / Saleh Bakri (Wajib)
  7. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
  8. Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories)
  9. Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound)
  10. Javier Bardem (mother!)
  11. Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)

 

Outside of a dog, a book is (wo)man’s best friend: 2017 in literature

I wanted to pursue things, to know things, but I could not match the means of knowing that came naturally to me with the expectations of professors. The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, and free.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Before I share my favourite films of the year, I decided to shake things up a bit by sharing all the books I read this past year – along with some quotes that resonated with me the most.

Lots of feminist stuff here though, so beware!

(5): absolutely fantastic

  1. From #blacklivesmatter To Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (“The forgetting is a habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body.” An eloquent and poetic letter from father to son that rips apart American racist history and illuminates the dreadful reality of a black body.)
  3. No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein (“Nothing has done more to help build our present corporate dystopia than the persistent and systematic pitting of working-class whites against Blacks, citizens against migrants, and men against women. White supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia have been the elite’s most potent defences against genuine democracy. A divide-and-terrorize strategy, alongside ever more creative regulations that make it harder for many minorities to vote, is the only way to carry out a political and economic agenda that benefits such a narrow portion of the population.”)
  4. Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis

Feminism involves so much more than gender equality. And it involves so much more than gender. Feminism must involve a consciousness of capitalism, and racism, and colonialism, and postcolonialities, and more genders than we can even imagine, and more sexualities that we ever thought we could name. Feminism has helped us not only to recognize a range of connections among discourses and institutions and identities and ideologies that we often tend to consider separately. But it has also helped us to develop epistemological and organizing strategies that take us beyond the categories “women” and “gender”. Feminism insists on methods of thought and action that urge us to think about things together that appear to be separate and disaggregate things that appear to naturally belong together.

Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

(4): really, really good

  1. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis
  2. On Female Body Experience: Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays by Iris Marion Young
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  5. Adulthood Is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

(3): not perfect, but with lots of valid points

  1. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
  2. The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit (“Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and of what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent, to live and participate, to interpret and narrate.” This is my favourite Solnit’s book so far.)
  3. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks (“If any female feels she needs anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”)
  4. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
  5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

(2): either not that well written or lacking in substance

  1. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (“Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being”.)
  2. Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
  3. The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti

(1): unreadable

  1. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She “Learned” by Lena Dunham (Just because you had a hit TV show does not mean you have enough to say to write a book. I found this book’s tone and writing style insufferable, and therefore the whole book horrific and unreadable. But maybe I’m not being entirely objective here, because I really can’t stand Lena Dunham.)
  2. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson (This should be a good book. This could be a good book. But you can’t write a book the same way you would write a comedy skit. The narrative is filled with unnecessary pop cultural references, hashtags and other dope words that only hip millennials with an Urban Dictionary diploma would understand.)

 

The Box (2017): what happens when one thinks outside the box?

Dušan Kastelic, primarily an illustrator and comic books artist, first broke into the scene of animated films in 2004 with his short film Animator’s Animated Autobiography. From there on he continued working as an animator with films such as Chicory ‘n’ Coffee (2008) and Wall of Signs (2009), and while his whole filmography is very much impressive, this year’s The Box / Celica marks his best work yet.

The Box, a beautiful yet unapologetically dark 3D animation is set in a small box (or a prison cell, as the Slovenian title would suggest) where a group of flat-headed people is fast asleep. Unwilling to look around and see their tragic and miserable situation, they surely are as good as blind as they sleep and snore through life with their eyes wide shut. Yet they are not just unable to see – they are also unable to move, as their legs are rooted into the grounds, intertwined with strong and resilient wooden roots that keep them “in their place”. They are in a box alright – in a box of their mind that prevents them from thinking, behaving or even looking any different from what is expected, of what is considered “normal” and “acceptable”. They seem content with their blindness, lack of freedom and inability to move – just as most people are content with not standing out, instead sharing their exact worldviews, values and opinions. Not thinking for yourself is always the easiest option for which the majority opts for, as anything else all too quickly results in harsh judgements, rejection, loss of friends and general nonacceptance. And just as most people these creatures are perfectly happy about being stuck in one place, as they convince themselves there is no place better than the comfort of their home, their country, of them being surrounded by people who share their language, values, nationality, race, sexuality, religious beliefs and political orientation. They are miserable creatures, no doubt, but unable or too afraid to change anything about their situation, or themselves. Or perhaps they are just too far down the road of self-denial to truly comprehend the extent of their miserable and gloomy existence.

However, this sameness and unanimity in being stuck and unable to see soon gets shaken up with a sudden appearance of a little guy whose eyes are glowing with curiosity and hunger for life – and who doesn’t care much about behaving as expected. He is happy, lively and eager to try new things, but this obviously means that he’s disrupting the alienated, disconnected and passively accepted reality by his relentless goofiness and attempts to break free. He is thinking outside the box, and as life would have it, his flat-headed co-habitants are not too happy about it.

People all too often get annoyed by those who stand out, who act, dress or think differently, who are unwilling to conform. By people who are different, who stand their grounds, who speak up when they are not expected to and are unapologetically themselves, no matter the situation. And this little guy is no different – as any child, he is looking at the world in front of him as full of possibilities, full of things to learn and experience. Yet we are not meant to be this way, we are not expected to reach for the stars, experience new things and change our existing situation – at least not without provoking and infuriating some people first; people who cannot bare to think of change and living up to one’s full potential, as we should be happy with what was given to us and not wanting anything more. The older creatures therefore try to put him into his place, just as any adult, whether a parent or a teacher, does with a child when they act differently, ask too many questions, or dream of things that are supposedly too romantic, idealistic, utopian and unachievable. And yet the little guy doesn’t lose his quirkiness and sense of humour – he stays true to his peculiarity and nonconformity, even when he grows up overnight and becomes one of the adults. But if he was simply seen as an odd kid who still needs to learn how to behave inside of the box, he becomes a true social anomaly as soon as he grows up. Him being different, happy and curious about what life has to offer annoys his flat-headed neighbours to the point of mockery and aggression – and finally an absurd attempt to flatten his head, making him one of them once and for all. But just as it is hard to make people see the truth of their life and situation, it is also hard to make people unsee once they have broken free from their mental chains and comprehended the truth around them.

People who think outside the box will always be judged, criticised and all too often rejected by people surrounding them. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop being ourselves, that we should give in to society’s expectations and keep quiet when our conscience tells us otherwise – since the life of a cheerful and spirited creature is, despite his outsider status, still more rewarding and valuable than life of a blind, boring, snoring one.

The film received its first accolades at Festival of Slovenian Film, where it won the award for best Animated Film. It recently got even further recognition at the Festival of Animated Film “Animateka”, where it won the Audience Award. I only hope for more of such success in the future, since Slovenian animated film scene deserves more support and recognition.

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (2016)

When we first meet Rosie Ming, a tiny stick figure in Ann Marie Fleming’s animated feature Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming, she is a beret-wearing twenty-something Francophile who still lives with her overprotective Chinese grandparents. But as any youngster at her age, she is getting restless and tired of her quiet and uneventful Vancouver life. As an aspiring artist, it comes as no surprise that her severe case of wanderlust is predominantly directed towards Paris, a city of artists and poets she romanticizes in her poems. She eventually decides to self-publish her ambitious effort at poetry in a smartly titled book “My Eye Full – Poems of a Person Who Has Never Been to France”, and soon enough, she receives an invitation to present her work at an international poetry festival. Only it isn’t an invitation to the country she worships and idolizes, but to someplace least expected: Shiraz, Iran. Much to her grandparent’s disapprovement, she packs her black chador, learns some basic Persian and boards the plane – and what follows is a lovely and charming animated story about expanding one’s worldview, discovering one’s identity and finding one’s artistic voice.

We don’t know much about Rosie’s heritage as we tag along for the drive towards Iran – except her being half-Chinese, something her small slants of eyes immediately suggest. Yet her eyes are not the only thing about Rosie that is drawn with astonishing simplicity, since her whole body is nothing more than a stick. Compared to the other characters, drawn in a lively, full-bodied, Cubistic design, she is still a naïve, not yet a fully formed girl, who has much to learn about world’s history, her heritage, her poetic origins and herself.

The way her grand-parents react to her announcement about going to Iran, resonates perfectly with current state of xenophobia and islamophobia that reigns over contemporary Western society. And yet, as the film’s narrative slowly unfolds before our eyes, we get to discover a much more complex story that is hidden in the background. What is perhaps this film’s greatest attribute is how it manages to tell a beautiful personal story about Iranian revolution, war, dissidence, political imprisonment and Iranian diaspora, through which it makes us understand Iranian cultural and political history. And with that, it manages to vanquish all prejudices against this rich and exquisite ancient culture.

The animation is vibrant and visually rich, as the director Ann Marie Fleming hosted a whole palette of fellow animators who helped her create a dynamic tapestry of different styles and visual approaches, each of them creating a different tale about history, myths and poetic language of this magical, yet strangely unknown Persian culture. Her minimalistic figure is absorbing these otherworldly and mythical lessons about history, art and life throughout the entire film, and even if she doesn’t get visually fuller or bigger, she still experiences a personal and artistic growth, as she transforms herself and her art through a trip of self-discovery.

However, there is also a deeper message in this animated feature than a simple nod to the idea of how meeting and absorbing new and different cultures makes as better people. Underneath it all there is also a simple, yet most essential message for these divisive, alienating times: no matter where we are coming from, what is our background, culture or nationality, we are all human and therefore more or less the same. We may speak different languages, but poetry simply transcends those linguistic differences; just as basic human connections should transcend our differences in race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality. Through poetry we get to feel another person’s love, sorrow, hope for a better future. Let it be English, German, Chinese or Persian, the meaning and emotions are the same, even if the sounds differ. We are more alike than we are (or ever were) different, and we should therefore strive towards learning about and accepting different cultures, myths, arts and traditions, as we may learn a great deal about ourselves in the process.

Perhaps the reason Rosie stays a stick is because there is still so much more to learn and understand about the world. Since there are still continents, people and cultures that are waiting to be discovered, embraced and appreciated in all its uniqueness; waiting to be liberated, once and for all, of all the stereotypes, preconceptions and prejudices that form our current eurocentric views.

window-horses-2016-001-rosie-and-map-of-iran

Reviewed at International Festival of Animated Film “Animateka” in Ljubljana, Slovenia.