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The Doomed Generation

TAXIDERMIA Image 36
Here Media/Regent Releasing

The past decade marked a remarkable transformation in the way we experience movies. It was the decade of the iPod after all. In an attempt to compete with the convenience of home entertainment systems and combat piracy, Hollywood once again embraced the 3-D format. Meanwhile, independent distributors utilized video on demand to reach a broader audience while cutting distribution costs.

Gone is the Miramax business model, and along with it boutique distribution arms such as Fine Line Features, Fox Atomic, Paramount Classics, Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures. Miramax itself, once untouchable, is now on life-support. Several smaller outfits that did not jump on the VoD bandwagon also failed to make it: Cowboy Pictures, New Yorker Films, the Shooting Gallery, THINKFilm and Wellspring.

On a more personal note, some of the greatest voices in film criticism became orphans. Thank goodness many of them continue to blog for our collective benefit, because the world of cinema would not be the same without them. Here's hoping that all my struggling colleagues will once again find platforms worthy of their talents.

Martin Tsai's Top Movies of 2009

TAXIDERMIA György Pálfi’s sweeping absurdist fantasy spans three generations and half a century under various political regimes and cultural climates. Ironic, sweet and ultimately horrifying, this allegory compels us to re-examine our never-ending quest to advance the human race.

THE HEADLESS WOMAN An existential mystery about an amnesiac woman reorienting herself to her world after sustaining a head trauma in a car accident, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel’s film challenges our perceptions of class, gender, profession, memory and the interpersonal relationships that collectively form our identities.

IL DIVO Paolo Sorrentino's take on the enigmatic Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti is the biopic to end all biopics. Relentlessly gripping and stylish, the film truly spellbinds with its surrealist flourishes.

KATYN This is obviously the film that Andrzej Wajda, whose father died during the Katyn massacre, spent his entire career preparing to make. Mr. Wajda exhibits tremendous restraint and wisdom in depicting his parents’ harrowing ordeal.

KABEI: OUR MOTHER Yôji Yamada's little-seen treatment of Teruyo Nogami's memoir of her childhood in WWII-torn Japan and the resilience of her single mother eschews sentimentally almost entirely, yet it builds to an emotional crescendo that will leave few unmoved.

RED CLIFF This obviously does not approach any of John Woo's classics, but it's plainly a labor of love. Even though the North American cut is half the length of the original, the enormity of the undertaking is evident.

UP Watch the first 15 minutes without shedding a tear. I dare you.

AN EDUCATION An unusual coming-of-age story that doesn't sugarcoat any growing pains. Lynn Barber lived and learned, and director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby handle Ms. Barber's autobiography with tremendous respect and care.

A SERIOUS MAN The Coen brothers have consistently left me cold with the somewhat condescending way they tend to treat their own characters. Their latest is no exception, but this time they dare to ask the big question about the meaning of life.

UP IN THE AIR By no means a perfect picture, but its depiction of corporate downsizing is undeniably timely and resonant. While one could take or leave the "Jerry Maguire" part, the unknown actors who play the anonymous redundant workforce will stay with you for a long time.

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The Criterion Collection

Martin Tsai's Top Movies of the 2000s

YI YI (A ONE AND A TWO) Edward Yang's final film is a grand thesis on life itself. In between the wedding and the funeral that serve as its affecting bookends, "Yi Yi" benignly observes the seemingly mundane daily existence of a typical nuclear family and unfolds with melancholy, humor, understanding and uncommon grace.

GOODBYE, DRAGON INN A eulogy to the moviegoing experience of yesteryear without the engulfing sentimentality of "Cinema Paradiso," there has never been a love letter to the cinema as succinct as this deadpan masterpiece from Tsai Ming-liang.

THREE TIMES This triptych about love, time, and fate encapsulates the moods and preoccupations that have inspired Hou Hsiao-hsien throughout his career.

THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU Cristi Puiu's satire of the rundown post-Communist Romania is by turns droll, frustrating and finally miraculous.

SPIRITED AWAY An elaborate modern classic that rivals the entire Hans Christian Andersen catalog, Hayao Miyazaki here proves to be the best storyteller of our time.

THE FALL This celebration of imagination and innocence is staggeringly powerful. Besides, every frame is perfection.

CURE Stylish and sly, Kiyoshi Kurosawa thinks up an ingenious whodunit with an awesome twist that will mindfuck you for a long time to come.

AUDITION The prolific Takashi Miike has been — perhaps unavoidably — inconsistent through the years, but this understated melodrama is undoubtedly him at his genre-pushing best.

SPIDER After perfecting William S. Burroughs's unfilmable "Naked Lunch," David Cronenberg succeeds again by fully realizing this schizophrenic tale from Patrick McGrath.

RINGU Sadako's cursed video is possibly the scariest thing ever filmed.

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