Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Last Call for 2006; You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 7, 2007

Overall, I think 2006 was a pretty good year for film. I generally feel that way about every year, pretty much. There are always highs and lows, of course. But some years I actually have trouble making out my Top 10, because there aren’t 10 films that I really loved enough to place somewhere on the list. That’s not the case with 2006, thankfully. Lately I’ve been catching up with last year’s films on DVD that never played anywhere near me (courtesy of Netflix) and, while only one of those made my list, it reminded me that there were even more good films out there than the ones I got to see in theaters. So, looking back on the year in general, it’s hard to be too disappointed.

I could easily make out a Top 15 or even a Top 20 list (if I pushed it), but I feel that kind of defeats the purpose. The whole point of making out a Top 10 list is that you have to make tough choices. It’s not about tossing off a random list of all the films you liked this year – it’s about picking 10 films, and only 10 films, that represent the absolute best cinema of the year to you. If someone was in a coma for the entirety of last year and wanted to catch up, but only had time to watch 10 films, which 10 films would you recommend they watch? Which films would make for absolutely essential viewing for that calendar year? Some tough calls have to be made, and a couple of movies that I really loved didn’t make the cut. That’s the breaks. I’ve also been rearranging the order of the films that did make it up until the last minute (literally) but the final 10 feels absolutely right to me.

Of course, such lists are always arbitrary by nature, and as usual I feel compelled to remind the readers that this is all just my opinion. These are the 10 films that worked the best for me personally. Each person’s list will be different. That’s as it should be. These are my personal favorites, the films that blew me away. The list has no more or less meaning than that. So just have fun with it, because I certainly did.

This year, I’ve decided to do something different than previous lists, where I just basically named the 10 films and left it at that. From now on, I think I’d like to list the films in descending order, along with a short explanation as to why each film made the list. You know, like the real critics do. Films that won’t be on the list, because they never played close enough to me that I could see them, include: Volver, Little Children, Letters from Iwo Jima, Venus, Notes on a Scandal, Inland Empire, The Last King of Scotland, Perfume – The Story of a Murderer, A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation and The Science of Sleep. I imagine the list would be different if I lived in New York or Los Angeles, but…I don’t. So if anything, my list is more accurate about what most of the country actually gets the chance to see during a given year. Although I did go pretty far out of my way to see a couple of these – that’s just how it works when you live in the middle of nowhere. You have to do what you have to do.

So, without further ado, let’s get started:

10) The Black Dahlia – yeah, I said it. Deal with it. Brian DePalma’s film is both a solid adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel (which I’ve actually read, unlike most critics it seems) and a total DePalma film through and through. What were people expecting, exactly? DePalma at his best is pure cinema joy, and DePalma doing noir equals his best work in years. Maybe audiences just aren’t in tune with the guy anymore. Their loss.

9) Borat – I’m not typing that ridiculously long title. You know the movie I’m talking about. Easily the most hysterical straight comedy in years, and one that completely captured the zeitgeist. No movie this year said more about Who We Are Right Fucking Now than Borat. Just one thing though – can people please stop imitating the guy already? Much like Austin Powers, it’s not funny when you do it, OK? Just stop it.

8) United 93 – still the most harrowing experience I’ve had in a movie theater this year. Watching the system completely break down at the nation’s worst time of crisis ever is more frightening than any horror film could ever be. But seeing a small group of people courageously rise up against an act of evil is more uplifting than any so-called “inspirational” film could ever be. It could never be “too soon” for that.

7) Lady Vengeance – the one film on the list that I saw on DVD. Chan Wook-Park is responsible for some of the most stunning cinema of the last few years, and the Korean director’s final installment of his “revenge trilogy” is nothing less than astonishing. The story of a woman recently released from prison after 13 years, Lady starts out as a simple “woman on a mission” revenge flick and takes an unexpected turn into something more painful and heartbreaking. If you liked Wook-Park’s Oldboy, this is simply a must-see.

6) Curse of the Golden Flower – I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say that Zhang Yimou is a filmmaking god. After Hero and especially House of Flying Daggers, a new Yimou film is now a must-see event in my book, and Curse does not disappoint. Just a gorgeous, incredible film that demands to be seen on the big screen. Don’t expect a lot of martial arts in this one though – it’s more of a Shakespearean family drama (and we all know how those turn out) with massive battle scenes. So visually sumptuous that your eyes can’t take it all in. Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li are just amazing. This is one of those films that you wish didn’t have to end.

5) Little Miss Sunshine – yes, this has been criticized in some circles for being “another indie comedy about a dysfunctional family”. What these curmudgeons don’t get is that it’s a really damn great indie comedy about a dysfunctional family! Think of it as this year’s Sideways, if you must. It’s a movie that sneaks up on you, that starts out as a simple ensemble comedy but gradually resonates with something deeper. It’s about the impossible quest to be perfect, and if you can’t relate to that, you must live an incredibly privileged life. The irony of it all is that Olive really is the true “Little Miss Sunshine”, as well as being one of the best characters and performances of the year. If Abigail Breslin doesn’t deserve that Oscar, I don’t know who the hell does! What a perfectly cast film, with Kinnear, Collette, Carell, Arkin, Breslin and Paul Dano just hitting all the right notes and playing it beautifully. (Remember when people were talking about Carell for Supporting Actor? What happened to that?) Intelligent, hysterical and heartbreaking, this beautiful little indie flick drives circles around 99.9% of Hollywood’s recent so-called comedies.

4) Pan’s Labyrinth – forget about building that fence, because the Mexicans are here, and they’re kicking ass! (Also see: #2 and #3) Guillermo del Toro’s bitterly sad adult fantasy can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I saw it as a young girl’s reaction to the tragedy and insanity of the war-ridden world around her. Whether or not her fantasies are “real” is beside the point. While some audiences may have trouble connecting with the film, del Toro’s vision and skill are breathtaking, and only point to greater artistic leaps in the future. (Note: technically I saw this after my self-imposed Feb. 1 cutoff date, but it’s so damn good that to leave it off the list for a technicality would be criminal.)

3) Children of Men – Alfonso Cuaron’s devastating film transcends the conventions of typical science fiction to simply be a great film, period. Too bad the Academy didn’t see it that way, but screw ‘em. The justifiably praised groundbreaking camera work is just a bonus – the real draw here is a great story, terrific acting and a sensibility that seems to herald the next wave of filmmaking. This is Tomorrow’s Movies Now, the beginning of an upgrade that we should feel privileged to witness. Those who complain that the birth drought was never explained – congratulations, you completely missed the point of the film. You’re not supposed to know why (or care), just see the effect it has on an increasingly desperate and hopeless world. If Borat is Who We Are Now, this is the epitome of Where We Are Now. Absolutely nerve-jangling stuff, not because it feels like a movie but because it feels like real life.

2) Babel – somehow this movie has gained a reputation as being overly earnest and politically correct. Those people obviously didn’t see the same movie I did. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s smartly observed mosaic of life on three continents takes his usual intertwining storyline gimmick to a new level of sophistication. An incredible film that anyone who gives a damn about the world around them should see. But politically correct? Tell that to the Moroccans! (If I ever get injured in a place like that, just shoot me and get it over with. Please.) If Abigail Breslin doesn’t get that Supporting Actress Oscar, it should go to Rinko Kikuchi, a young Japanese actress who I’d never seen before, but hope to see again many times. Fantastic piece of work.

1) The Departed – I’m not one of those people who insist that “Scorsese should only do gangster films”. Bullshit! Marty has earned the right to do whatever he wants, and he’s proven he can pull off just about anything. Well, anything but Gangs of New York, which technically is a gangster film. But there’s no denying that he’s firing on all cylinders with this one, a remake (of the HK cop film Infernal Affairs) good enough to make me forget that the original even existed. Everyone’s at the top of their game, even Mark Wahlberg who for my money hasn’t given a great performance since Boogie Nights. Until now. Not to mention the wonderfully over-the-top Nicholson, the fantastic DiCaprio, Damon, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen! Great soundtrack, great cinematography, great editing – hell, I’ll bet the catering on the set was awesome! Scorsese at his best is just cinematic bliss. It’s no surprise that this was his biggest commercial hit ever – I mean, why wouldn’t it be? I can’t imagine anyone with even half a brain not liking this film. But please, enough with the sequel talk. The Departed deserves to stand on its own.

Well, there you have it. Once the Oscars are over in a couple of weeks, we can put 2006 to bed for good. My thoughts on this year’s lineup? Seems pretty good, actually. I have few genuine complaints. For once it seems like the Academy was actually paying attention. I have to say that I’m really rooting for Scorsese this year – give him the damn Oscar and get it over with! How much longer does the man have to wait? Doesn’t seem like the competition is really that strong this year, so even if another movie wins Best Picture, the time is absolutely right for him to win Best Director. And he deserves it.

More than the Oscars though, I’m looking forward to 2007’s lineup really getting started. For me, the heavy hitters will begin with the March 2 release of David Fincher’s Zodiac, a film that I am foaming at the mouth to see. Of course there are tons of films I’m looking forward to seeing this year, but that’s the first big one as far as I’m concerned. So far, not much has interested me except Joe Carnahan’s surprisingly fun Smokin’ Aces (how did that get buried in January?) and Luc Besson’s bizarre kiddie flick Arthur and the Invisibles (I didn’t hate it, but good lord, what a weird film). As usual, I’ve spent much of the first two months of the year catching up on the films I wanted to see last year. Now it feels like this year can finally get off the ground, and there are plenty of treats, big and small, to look forward to. As always, I can’t wait to start digging in.

But for God’s sake, if I ever decide to sit through Norbit, stop me however you can. Use physical force if you have to. I’ll thank you later.

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