Parallels abound between the last 365 days both within and without the multiplex. While mainstream fare alternated – with few exceptions – between unwatchable garbage and over-praised mediocrity, the mainstream media and elite government powers continued to dive further into a quagmire of unbelievable political treachery and inconceivable stupidity. Anything good or challenging that managed to escape from the popular outlets was quickly and ruthlessly shot down (Miami Vice, Marie Antoinette, Lady in the Water), while tidy formula (Little Miss Sunshine) and predigested insight (Babel, Little Children) passed as edifying entertainment for the masses; even the best of the Oscar hopefuls are only above average (The Queen, The Departed). In other news, the reign of the box office continued to see originality sacrificed in the name of marketability, while mindless pundits questioned whether or not Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stones’ overt 9/11 examinations were “too soon,” somehow forgetting that the likes of Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee had already begun grappling with the moral questions facing our world since 2001 through their own War of the Worlds and 25th Hour. As the voice of reason attempted to permeate politics from the counterculture sidelines, indie filmmakers and true artists provided their own insight through frontal documentary exposes (The War Tapes, Iraq in Fragments, An Inconvenient Truth and When the Levees Broke) and balls-tight attempts to push the medium as a whole to new levels of possibility (thank you, David and Darren). The passing of the late Robert Altman only made the year’s running themes of mortality more poignant, and rest assured, we have not even begun to feel the loss created by his departure. Quality was often sparse, but 2006 was salvaged by the fact that the best films of the year didn’t just entertain us, but framed their feelings – and ours – within a larger framework of our world unfolding and unraveling onto itself.
The experience of the meta-puzzle Mulholland Drive teeters on one’s ability to recognize and accept the alternating rhythms of dream and reality within. The even more monstrous Inland Empire takes things one step further; watching the film is not unlike entering into the labyrinth of a mind, exploring each individual quarter and the memories, dreams, longings, and fears that occupy them. Shifting in and out through layers upon layers of reality, David Lynch’s masterpiece is many things at once: a love story within a love story, a commentary on the dream factory, and an unmistakably uplifting tale of emotional fulfillment. It’s also a glorious “fuck you” to studio-financed, watered down filmmaking and a testament to art as a daring and uncompromising act of creation. Let this one into your bloodstream and the experience is terrifying, transformative, and unforgettable.
Chickenshits cowered at the expansiveness of Michael Mann’s digital photography and unforgiving lack of audience condescension. Their loss is our gain. Miami Vice is the best Hollywood film of the year, and possibly the high water mark of the director’s impressive catalogue. Unfairly tied in name to a television series with which it bears only fleeting and superficial ties, Vice strikes the most resilient chord Mann’s recurrent themes have ever felt, and redefines the boundaries of visually-driven filmmaking in the process. That so many have denounced the film is akin to passengers scrambling in the wake of dust kicked up by a runaway train. For those who can keep up, it’s an unparalleled rush of tingling sensations, and for the first time in years, macho swagger is actually cool.
Like any worthwhile piece of humanistic work, L’Enfant is unyielding in its gaze at free will gone awry. Precisely calculated yet anything but overbearing, the film posits the viewer outside a series of events we desperately seek to alter, yet it is this physical disengagement that makes the eventual redemption of the titular sinner that much more of a cause for celebration.
Lady Coppola saw what was possibly the years worst bout of auteur rejection, with critics apparently thinking that the appropriate follow-up to her moody masterpiece Lost in Translation should be…a formal historical drama. Forget the literalists and the elite historians. Marie Antoinette – by breaking down formal boundaries typically adhered to with stuffy absolutism – brings us closer to the time, place, and people being depicted than the most slavish of textbook interpretations could possibly muster in its own wet dream of itself.
Filmed in 1969 but never released stateside until this year, Army of Shadows’ longevity is evidence to the timelessness of oppression and revolution. Masterfully constructed and emotionally devastating, it bears witness to the cost that often accompanies the choice to do the right thing in the face of adversity (it also serves as an antidote to the Wachowski-endorsed bumper-sticker liberal tripe that is V for Vendetta).
A match made in heaven and manifest in Nashville, Heart of Gold is like attending an autobiographical dream theater. As Young’s lyrics weave bottomless insight into the mysteries of life and death, Demme’s documentation (in a masterful return to his Stop Making Sense roots) amplifies their deeply personal affections as well as the communal, familial ties of all those partaking on stage.
Chaotically dissonant yet exquisitely interconnected, 4 paints Russia and its various protagonists as representatives of a world at conflict between the natural and the mechanical, self-destructive and self-perpetuating. Hardly a country-specific attack, the mind-blowing events within suggest the psychological and moral decay of the entirety of humanity.
Like Marie Antoinette, Three Times further proved that the notions of time and place are but shallow garments lavished upon timeless human emotions. Here, three separate love stories emphasize the multifaceted nature of human emotions, emotional fulfillment and physical longing. Amidst varying styles and characters, director Hsiao-hsien strikes a nearly unparalleled note of eternal spiritual unity.
Love him or hate him, you have to give Darren Aronofsky props for having the balls to make The Fountain. Perhaps the most daring mainstream film in years – if not ever – this dreamy sci-fi mini epic throws all pretenses to the wind and goes for the gut of it’s out-there storyline, unconcerned by standards, conventions, and what is or is not acceptable. Many have called the film a failure. What then, exactly, would have been a success?
The harmful, often unseen consequences of our actions are regularly masked or justified by the dutiful fulfillment of our roles in society. With piteous sympathy, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu watches the unraveling of humanitarian values over the course of a single night, as one man is shuffled without proper treatment from hospital to hospital, the victim of a system where adherence to ones job description trumps both compassion and sensibility. Sometimes seen as a black comedy, its absurdity is undercut by the panging real-world inspirations for its downward spiral of events.
A Prairie Home Companion, Mongolian Ping Pong, The Proposition, Happy Feet, The World According to Sesame Street, The Black Dahlia, Infamous, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Gabrielle, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, Casino Royale, Inside Man, Old Joy, Iron Island, The Science of Sleep
Running Scared, Let's Go to Prison, America: Freedom to Fascism, Tsotsi, Clerks II, X-Men: The Last Stand, My Super-Ex Girlfriend, V for Vendetta, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Babel, The Marine, Zoom, The Da Vinci Code, Basic Instinct 2, The Good Shephard