Friday, February 09, 2007

2006: The Year in Cinema

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With cinematic offerings like Norbit and Epic Movie, Febuary is always something of a dry spell for movie fanatics, which is just as well, because we're all at home in front of the computer, drafting up our Top 10 Best lists for the previous year. And what a year 2006 was! While I didn't make it to see every movie this year which looked interesting (The Queen, Volver, and Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima epics are probably going to have to wait until they reach my local video store), I still saw enough to prove that anyone who says that there are no good films made anymore is full of it. With that said -

1. Children of Men - Alfonso Cuaron's best film to date is this year's Munich: an armrest-clawing thriller that gets your heart pumping at a thousand beats per minute, and a beautiful meditation on all we hold dear that will set your mind reeling with philosophical questions for days afterward. For a science fiction film about a future where all women are unexplainably infertile, the world in which the characters live seems devastatingly possible, and yet its conclusion is one of the most genuine and uplifting the cinema's seen in years. It's not often a film comes along that should be required viewing for every inhabitant of this planet, but Children of Men is surely it.

2. The Departed. Many labeled this film as a "lesser Scorsese" work, and once again harped on Jack Nicholson's performance for being an "over-the-top self-parody," which I can respect. I can also respect the dietary preferences of dung beetles, even though I don't personally agree with their opinions. The latest work from America's greatest living filmmaker is a cops-n'-crooks genre masterpiece which succeeds on every level, with fine performances all around (especially the incomparable Mr. Nicholson), a cracking script, and camerawork that's nothing short of perfect. Honestly, what more could you want?

3. The Fountain. Darren Aronofsky's third feature is a rare breed of philosophical sci-fi art film, sharing more in common with 2001 and Solaris than the cold and calculating Requiem for a Dream. The movie employs painterly special effects and an astonishing visual sense, but at its core is one of the most sincere love stories of the past decade. Its mixed response from critics and indifference from audiences (not to mention its notorious booing at the Cannes Film Festival), I believe, is due to the fact that it's been so long since we've seen a vision so earnest and openly spiritual that we've forgotten what one looks like. Give it ten years, and I'm sure this one will be ripe for rediscovery.

4. Linda Linda Linda. This highlight of the New York Asian Film Festival was not only an example about what I love so much about Japanese cinema - that it's not the destination that matters so much as how you get there - but also the best film about what it feels like to be a teenager since Dazed and Confused, and a 114 minute concoction of pure rock-and-roll spirit. Three Japanese schoolgirls and a Korean foreign exchange student form a band, which will perform two songs by 80's J-punk group the Blue Hearts for their school's talent show. That's all the plot there is. There's no music-hating principal or rival band who attempt to rig the talent show; the beef of the movie is in shy, sideways glances, hallway conversations, hilariously misunderstood cultural customs, and finally seeing these girls rock their hearts out like there's no tomorrow. By the end of the movie, we actually feel like they're our friends, and we're cheering them on too.

5. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazahkstan. Speaking of hilariously misunderstood cultural customs, the cinematic debut of Sacha Baron Cohen's friendly but horrifyingly offensive Kazahk alter-ego was hands-down the most fun I had in a theater all last year. Though detractors will argue that this film brings nothing new to the table, I disagree - this is a comedy, and in comedy, there are certain things that are always funny. Exposing unwitting Middle Americans as the racist louts that they are, like the man slipping on the banana peel, is something that never fails to bring a chuckle to my lips. In our nauseatingly PC political climate, Mr. Baron Cohen is a shining light and a guiding star.

6. The Proposition. The western has sadly fallen out of fashion in our day and age, and seeing a truly great example of the genre, in which the director breathes live into the time-honored conventions and makes them seem fresh and new again, seems to be as rare as a sighting of Bigfoot. Even though the action is transported to the Austrailian outback, Nick Cave and John Hillcoat havehave still woven together a dirt-caked, sun-dried cinematic tapestry of murderers, lawmen, and grey shades of morality that would make Sam Peckinpah proud. Along with some brilliant turns from Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, John Hurt and Emily Watson, Ray Winstone gives his finest performance to date as the conflicted Captain Stanley.

7. Pan's Labyrinth. The beginning of our century has seen a wealth of movies directed by unabashed dorks, but standing head and shoulders above the recent work of Harry Knowles' drinking buddies is the latest from Guillermo del Toro. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, this dark fantasy proves that magic spells, wicked stepfathers, and belief in faries isn't just kids' stuff that can sometimes contain elements of dark, psychological turmoil and allegories of real-life good and evil, but that with great storytelling, the two are often inseperable. More than The Chronicles of Narnia for grownups, this film is not only a hard-hitting message about obedience in the face of evil (a message needed more than ever in our post-9/11 climate), but an affirmation that made-up stories are as important a human need as food and water.

8. Monster House. A film that exceeded my expectations more than any other last year, this suburban supernatural adventure caputred the spirit of the Amblin productions of the 80's like E.T., Poltergeist, and The Goonies down to a T. It's a kid's movie with balls, humor, spectacular visuals and a genuine sense of peril, the likes of which is hardly ever seen outside the works of Brad Bird and Pixar. If I ever become a dad, I would love to watch this with my kids.

9. Fanfan la Tulipe. The published critical community always cheat on their top 10 lists by including a decades-old foreign film that was given a beleated arthouse release in the U.S. on that given year. In 2006, Jean-Pierre Mellville's dull and dry espionage adventure Army of Shadows was the popular favorite, which critics included on their yearly top 10's so they wouldn't have to admit that they loved Talladega Nights. I've decided to do the same, but to include the brilliant 1952 French film Fanfan La Tulipe, which combines the swashbuckling adventure of the old-school Erroll Flynn pictures with the cheeky sexual innuendo of Austin Powers, not to mention the radient beauty and charisma of Gina Lollobrigida. I can only hope and pray that someone like Criterion will release this soon, and the fortunate few of us who saw this at New York's Film Forum won't remain so few for long.

10. Tideland. If the highly disappointing The Brothers Grimm gave us a watered-down, studio lap-dog Gilliam, Tideland is surely Gilliam Unbound. This is a movie that begins with a ten-year-old girl helping her hippie father (Jeff Bridges) shoot himself up with heroin, and only gets weirder and more fucked-up from thereon in. The result is a deeply disturbing piece of work that I wouldn't reccomend to anyone outside of die-hard fans of the director, and being one of those myself, I loved it. Jodelle Ferland (the little girl from Silent Hill) gives what is surely one of the greatest child performances of all time as Jeliza-Rose, an innocent whose imagination and goodwill keeps her afloat on a sea of darkness.

Honorable Mentions - since there were too many good ones this year.

Inland Empire. David Lynch's 3-hour MiniDV epic is more fractured and experimental than anything he's attempted before. As Homer Simpson said of Twin Peaks; "this is amazing...and I have no idea what's going on."

A Scanner Darkly. Richard Linklater once again uses Waking Life's style of rotoscoped animation to bring the most faithful Phillip K. Dick adaptation to the screen. Like Children of Men, it's a not-too-far-off future that seems highly possible, given the way things are today.

12 and Holding. Outside of my friend Dave, who went to see this with me, I don't know of anyone else who saw this film. Which is a shame, because it's one of the best films about the dark nature of childhood that I've ever seen, and one of the few films this year that actually brought tears to my eyes.

Snakes on a Plane. A movie that delivers every ounce of pure, dumb, honest escapism that the title promises. If there's a film fan alive who's not delighted by the sight of Samuel L. Jackson running through a plane's baggage compartment, zapping doped-up repitles with a taser, I hope I never meet him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a shame, and I do hope more westerns come back someday. They're such a mesmerizing genre.

Great list!


1:57 PM  
Blogger J.L. Carrozza said...

Great list, minor gripe though at the mysterious absence of Letters From Iwo Jima.

I did a similar post in my LJ, albeit with just my top 4:

3:06 PM  
Blogger SteveTP said...

Nive list. still haven't seen children of Men myself, but it's sounding like something i'd love. Glad to see i wasn't the only person who loved The fountain, it finished #3 on my list as well.


8:44 PM  
Blogger RC said...

huh, i hadn't ever heard of linda linda linda tell i saw your list...

interesting and reflective list for sure.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Bemis said...

Excellent list - I'm looking forward to Tideland in particular. Norbit is a hate crime.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I saw 12 and Holding and I liked it a lot. Not quite honorable mention territory for me, though.


7:49 AM  
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