Amber's Tops for 2008

It's the end of yet another year, and another year of relatively few compelling films hitting the big screen in our fair city. So, I admit that I'm being rather subjective when it comes to release dates; maybe some of these were released a bit sooner on big screens in other locales. Whether you're a late-comer or one of the millions of film fans not in NY or LA, this is where the wonder of DVD comes in. Here's a quick run down on 10 of my favorites that became at least available this year.

10. Teeth- US, Directorial debut from Mitchell Lichenstein. A fun twist on both the coming-of-age story and the lady revenge tale, Teeth is campy, quirky and hilarious without stooping to stupidity. (Note: Domestic DVD available.)

9. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)- Sweden, Directed by Tomas Alfredson. A neat twist on the tired, contemporary vampire genre with a delightfully insidious, misanthropic take on love and need. (Note: If you missed this in the theatre, the domestic DVD will be out in March.) Dex reviews here.

8. The Orphanage (El Orfanato)- Spain, Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Bearing the phantasmagoric and gothic sense shared by producing pal Guillermo Del Toro (Devil’s Backbone), this film has just the right amount of creepiness and atmosphere, but it is the psychological disturbance that sets it over the top. (Note: Domestic DVD available.)

7. Old Garden (Orae-doen jeongwon)- S. Korea, Directed by Im Sang-soo (President’s Last Bang). A sweet, sad and beautifully shot story about romantic love, political rebellion and time. (Note: This has never been released in the US, but I saw it this year. You can pick up a R3 DVD with English subs from Sidus CNI.)

6. Chocolate- Thailand, Directed by Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-bak). Flat-out, action-packed comedy thrill-fest. Uma Thurman, hang your head in shame: JeeJa Yanin’s coming to get you. (Note: It looks like the US DVD will come out through Magnolia someday. In the meantime, there’s a UK R2 with subs from Cine Asia.) Pike Bishop reviews here.

5. Love & Honor (Bushi no ichibun)- Japan, Directed by Yamada Yoji (Twilight Samurai). This final installment in a magnificent trilogy portraying samurai at the end of an era takes a fresh look at truth, gossip, duty and honor. (Note: Domestic DVD available.)

4. Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Buda as sharm foru rikht)- Iran, Directed by Hana Makhmalbaf. Centering around a plucky, young Afghani girl attempting to go to school so she can “learn to read funny stories”, this film is one of the most gut-wrenchingly sad tales of children, war, religion and politics. (Note: Once more, this film hasn’t broken out of the odd film fest on these shores, but there’s a UK R2 DVD available from Contender.)

3. The Sun Also Rises (Tai yang zhao chang sheng qi)- China, Directed by Wen Jiang (Devils on the Doorstep). While not as automatically compelling as Devils on the Doorstep, it is quirky, political, somewhat disturbing and gorgeous. I can’t help feeling that there’s more to this series of tales than I got at first blush. (Note: Yet another fantastic movie that no one will put out in the US. Luckily, there’s a swell Hong Kong R0 DVD from Joy Sales available.)

2. Mad Detective (Sun taam)- Hong Kong, Directed by Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai (Exiled, Election, etc). What could have been a merely solid detective story becomes an artful masterpiece in the hands of the gifted Johnnie To. (Note: Apparently IFC films will be distributing this someday. For now, there’s a R0 Hong Kong DVD from Mei Ah or a UK R2 DVD from Masters of Cinema.)

1. Inside (À l'intérieur)- France, Directorial debut of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. A top-notch scary splatter flick that also happens to contain a (maybe too) well-hidden socio-political backbone. (Note: Again, we’ve never gotten a stateside release, but at least the domestic DVD is available.) Dex reviews here.

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