Jan 1, 2007

2006: The Year in Film

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


  1. Impressive. Most impressive. Very professional and handsome and well realized. (I'm jealous.) I do hope you catch up with VOLVER soon cuz it's right up there for me. A current fave, for sure. For my part, I'll do my best to track down L'ENFENT. But don't worry: if I could, I'd buy tix now for the 9th when INLAND EMPIRE opens in SF.

  2. Nice List. Good to see Miami Vice getting it's due, and good to see someone else who disliked the Good Shephard. Sad to say I've only seen one of your ten, but am waiting on L'enfant, Three Times, and Lazarescu from Netflix- hope others such as Inland Empire make it to DVD soon. You also opened my eyes to 4 which looks interesting so thanks for that.

    Of what you haven't seen I would highly recommend Brick, it's my favorite of the year. And I wouldn't be in any rush to see Art School Confidential or Thank You For Smoking.

  3. Hmm... not even an honorable mention for Lady in the Water huh? At least you talked about it in the essay above. I really like the list although I do have blind spots still (4, L'enfant).

    In my opinion, from the films I've see on your list the best one is Three Times (my rating - ***1/2).

    As far as your blind spots are concerned Brick, THe Bridge, Curse of the Golden Flower, and Letters From Iwo Jima are the best ones on there. But don't forget World's Fastest Indian unless you already saw it.

  4. Ryland: Thanks! Getting just the right pics and look took quite awhile...and even then, my perfectionist self wants to go back and tweak things (which I'm disallowing myself from doing just because, if I did, the job would never be done. Definitely get to Inland Empire when you can. Volver will be at my local art house in a few weeks, so, finances pending, I'll check it out then. I need to catch up on Pedro's stuff, but I loved Bad Education so I can't wait for this one.

    rob g: I do think that Miami Vice will be better remembered in time, when people more readily realize that blockbuster quotients and a shaky production are completely separate from something called aesthetic quality.

    And as for The Good Shephard, my respect goes to De Niro for tackling an important topic he obviously has a lot invested in. That doesn't change the fact that it's three hours I'll never get back. Brick is currently next to my television; I had surgery today, so during my recovery I'll be indulging in plenty. Again, thanks for the encouragement.

    Stefan Vlahov: I wanted to include Lady in the Water...and about ten other movies as well. I adored it, but I already feel that I cheated by expanding the Honorable Mentions list to fifteen rather than just ten. Despite my early cynicism, 2006 turned out to be a pretty good year, as long as ones viewing choices weren't entirely guided by the mainstream multiplex. I can't wait for all the blind spots you mentioned (especially Iwo Jima and The Bridge), and will have to make a note of The World's Fastest Indian. It does look like a lot of fun. Thanks again!

  5. Anonymous4:27 PM

    Nice List. I have Inland second. but what the hell is up with the first and second sentence of the Miami Vice paragraph? sounds very very familiar. Much like Ed Gonzalez. B-).

  6. anonymous: I won't deny the similarity, but I'd chalk that up to my general involvement with Slant and the overwhelming support most of that site's contributors are showing for the film. Any actually comparable lines of praise are otherwise purely coincidental, as I'm not in the process of plagiarism, let alone of my editor, let alone here for all to see.

  7. Anonymous2:24 PM

    That's true. The paragraph is pretty kick ass anyway. I really gotta see "Miami Vice". Hopefully it will snow tonight so that way there wont be no school tomorrow, giving me pretty much the whole day to rent it. Anyway, keep the the projection booth. I've gotten pretty attached to it. Those top ten images and the Oscar winner predictions are really really good.



  8. Re: "Anonymous"

    Thanks again. Hope you get to see it soon. So, where are you located that the snow is affecting you too? (I have this werid feeling that I know you and you're just one of my friends tracing my steps...).

    And thanks...glad to know I've appealed to some people. I do plan on keeping this site..."A Film Odyssey" eventually got to me just because the title was really heavy-handed, just blah. This one's still a bit obvious, but there are different ways you can read into it, which satisfies me a bit more. Glad you like the images and all too - I really want content to be of the utmost importance, but if I can use my meager graphics skills to make it look a bit snazzy, that's fun too.

  9. Anonymous7:15 PM

    Well, I'm pretty sure we don't know each other. I live in the suburbs of New York (yes, Westchester.) In fact, today we did have no school (I'm in 9nth grade), but I was not able to watch "Miami Vice" due to a trip with friends to go ice skating. It's usually every weekend that my family and I head to NYC for a dinner and a movie; has to be good, ofcourse. I am still dying to see "INLAND EMPIRE" for the third time, but my dad refuses (he liked it, not as much though.)

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

    Thanks a lot