10/10: Yung Chang

The director of This is Not a Movie, a documentary on journalist Robert Fisk currently playing in Virtual Cinemas, Up the Yangtze, and the upcoming Wuhan Wuhan, shares his ten (or twelve) favorite films of the past ten years.

I love hybrid filmmaking, that siphoning yet expanding process into the interpretation of reality. As I look back into this past decade, I see a throughline amidst these varying films, similar to what the journalist, Robert Fisk, says in This is Not a Movie about reporting: “…as a journalist you’ve got to be neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer.”

From present to past:

1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020) Brilliant filmmaker Eliza Hittman twists you through what is clearly NOT an after-school special. Men and their laws are dogs. I hate seeing the worst of me reflected through Hittman’s gaze and yet that is what makes this film so powerful. It left me shattered and recalling that Jim O’Rourke song.

2. Murmur (Heather Young, 2019) I had recently euthanized my dog. This film, with Heather Young’s empathetic direction and a once-in-a-lifetime performance by non-professional actor Shan MacDonald, had me weeping by its denouement. Powerful, quiet storytelling.

3. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018) Raw to the core, this film by the late Hu Bo is a tragic and heartbreaking rendering of the Chinese flyover country experience — so visceral that even though I watched it on a tiny airplane monitor, I felt like I was thrust into a cinematic VR universe. This film is the modern equivalent of Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu (1997), but made through the vision of a 八零后 (post-80’s reform generation) filmmaker who sees nothing but a moral wasteland in his version of China. Exceptional soundtrack by Wuhan band Hualun, composers of my next feature doc, Wuhan Wuhan.

4. The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017) My partner and I were in the throes of figuring out how to care for a newborn child, and upon seeing this film, my heart was ripped into pieces. I was an emotional wreck, in the best sense. This is hybrid cinema in a rapturous cinematic palette, with such pristine instinctual filmmaking by Sean Baker and a pint-sized Gena Rowlands-esque performance by Brooklynn Prince.

5. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) I love Moonlight for every filmic reference to Wong Kar-wai and the sweeping score by Nicholas Britell, and for all the choices the genius Barry Jenkins makes in this perfect movie. Mood and tone is everything; it humanizes. 

6. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015) / Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2015) Torn between these two films, as I love them both — hence I include them here from 2015. The Assassin is a Chinese Fu poem. Timbuktu is the opposite yet shares a kindred relationship through their serenity and abstraction where the narrative explodes in unsparing truths.

7. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2014) The best thriller I’ve seen this decade, and then there’s Hitchcock. Debate.

8. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) This film caught me at a most sensitive time in my life. The best romance I’ve seen this decade. Second to that is Roman Holiday (1953), so you know where I’m coming from.

9. Three Sisters (Wang Bing, 2012) Filmmaker Wang Bing is China’s truth-teller. Told through the perspective of three sisters in rural Yunnan province, this documentary burns with the earth-shattering reality of the rural disenfranchised. The microcosm of a small family torn apart by the economies of survival is a despairing depiction of a future unknown for these young siblings.

10. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2011) I would argue that this masterpiece is a documentary. Discuss.

11. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2010) This is the 21st-century anti-Scarface. Malik is a metaphor for the newcomer who comes with nothing and struggles for everything. I love when the French do this with genre films. Have you seen Vincent n’a pas d’écailles (2014), the French take on the superhero genre?

Yung Chang’s This is Not a Movie is now playing Virtual Cinemas.

10/10 is an ongoing series in which we ask cinephiles to name their ten favorite films from the last ten years (currently, between 2011 and 2020).