“Boy” (New Zealand). Coming-of-age films are usually little more than a list of calculated clichés— the loss of innocence, the absent father, excessive child profanity. Not so with “Boy.” While this low-budget effort does feature some familiar elements, the final result is still a strikingly original work,mainly due to a hilarious and hugely quotable screenplay and an ensemble of relatable characters all brilliantly portrayed by the relatively inexperienced cast. Already the most successful New Zealand film of all time, “Boy” is the perfect example of how effective a simple story can be in the hands of a capable director.
“A Town Called Panic” (Belgium). A cowboy named Cowboy, an Indian named Indian, and a horse named Horse—these are the protagonists of the unparalleled burst of cinematic energy that is “A Town Called Panic.” Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier based the film on their televised series of the same name. It is the most visually captivating movie of the year, utilizing its basic stop-motion animation in a way that puts the polished 3D of “Tron:Legacy” and “Alice in Wonderland” to shame. Like a lower-budget, more artistic “Toy Story 3,” this film buzzes with visual ingenuity and childlike energy, and an out-there plot that has the main trio traveling the world and fighting evil mermen from an alternate dimension hidden in the Earth’s core.
“I Love You, Phillip Morris” (USA). Despite an over-reliance on rubber-faced antics and high-concept comedies, there’s no denying that Jim Carrey is an exceptionally talented actor, and “I Love You, Phillip Morris” features what is arguably his most powerful performance to date. Beyond that,it’s also an immensely entertaining and heartfelt film, depicting the amazing-yet-true story of genius con artist Steven Jay Russell, who broke out of jail a record number of times just so he could be reunited with the love of his life, Phillip Morris. Funny without being crude, romantic but not sappy, this is an intelligent and bittersweet exploration of obsession, identity, and the incredible lengths one man went to for love. Who would’ve thought that collaboration between Ace Ventura and the writers of “Cats & Dogs” could have resulted in such a genuinely moving experience?
“Cats & Dogs 3D: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” (USA). There’s plenty to enjoy in “Cats & Dogs2”—provided you’re in the right state of mind. Watch it with keen attention and you might be tempted to poke your own eyes out. Watch it with the right mentality and you’ll laugh yourself silly over how truly and awesomely terrible it is—even for a talking animal spy-spoof movie. Dogs fly around in jet packs, cats frolic in secret underground lairs, and brain cells are slain by the millions. With painfully lame jokes, cut-and-paste special effects, and a bargain-basement cast, “Cats & Dogs 2” is an aggressively bad movie, and one that embraces its rubbishness with endless relish.
“The Eloquent Peasant” (Egypt). It’s only 20 minutes long, but this film has more depth and resonance than most features manage in an hour and a half. Based on an Ancient Egyptian story, “The Eloquent Peasant” is a parable on justice, persistence and dignity. When a peasant’s donkey is stolen by thieves who, in turn, accuse him of theft, he is forced to take his complaint to the king. Dismissed at first, the peasant repeats his attempts at finding justice, going as far as to shame his ruler into doing the right thing—unaware that the king is only postponing his ruling to continue to enjoy the peasant’s eloquence. Hypnotic and haunting, this short film was masterfully directed by one of Egypt’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Shady Abdel Salam. Originally shot in 1969, “The Eloquent Peasant” was beautifully restored in 2010 by the World Cinema Foundation under the supervision of Martin Scorsese. Film enthusiasts and history buffs should seek out this film.
“RoboGeisha” (Japan). There’s genius, there’s madness, and then there’s the sheer blood-gushing lunacy of “RoboGeisha.” Armed with buzz-saw lips, armpit blades, anal swords and breasts that shoot bullets and scalding hot milk, two young geisha sisters battle it out on the streets of Tokyo, leaving a steaming heap of severed limbs in their wake. The plot is joyously incomprehensible, substituting logic with a series of demented events that involve atomic bombs, buildings that fight (and bleed), killer fried shrimp and, of course, lots and lots of giggling schoolgirls. “RoboGeisha” is a rabidly demonic film made by people who clearly suffer serious mental issues. Here’s hoping they never resolve them.