Friday, February 09, 2007

The Ten Best Films of 2006 - (Year End Round-up, Pt.1)

The Ten Best Films of 2006 - (Year End Round-up, Pt. 1)

We know, we know. You have anxiously been awaiting our Ten Best Films list for 2006. Well, it’s here. So stop complaining. Jeez. We must say that unlike last year, we had quite the devilish time narrowing down our final list. We enjoyed many flicks this past year, with an unbelievable amount of Foreign Language Films trampling over each other to gain access into our coveted group. We almost said: “Screw the American directors; we’re going with those crafty Foreigners!” Still, they managed to acquit themselves quite well with a strong finish.

In composing a list of what we consider to be the Best Films of the Year, we always rely on the same criteria. First, we have to think the films are uniformly fine across the boards: Directing, Acting, Writing, Production Values, etc. Secondly, while we may find the subject matter off putting (You’ll understand in a minute.), it has to be a film that absolutely held us captivated throughout its playing time. And finally, it usually boils down to the director for us. If there is not a strong directorial vision behind the proceedings, we simply cannot label that film one of the year’s best.

So, that being said, we applaud the creators of some of the more memorable films of the year even if they didn’t make our final cut. Cheers and champagne to the men and women who brought us: Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story”, “Bubble”, “L’Enfant”, “The Notorious Bettie Page”, “Brick”, “La Moustache”, “The Proposition”, “The Departed”, “The Queen”, “La demoiselle d’honneur”, “The Last King of Scotland”, “49 Up”, “Gabrielle”, “Les temps qui changent and Vers le sud”.

Still, attempting to adhere to the standard requirements of a "Top Ten" list left us feeling supremely aggravated that we couldn't squeeze in two more:

Almost making our final cut was the Cinéma vérité splendors to be found in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”.

And the deliriously romantic “Three Times”. Both films are not to be missed, and you should drop whatever it is you’re doing and run out and see them! Now! Without further ado, our Ten Best Films of 2006! (Please click on the title for links to our full reviews.)

10. “United 93” – Well, it had to happen. Hollywood had to take a cinematic gander at the grotesque brutalities that occurred one September morning in 2001. This year brought us Oliver Stone’s monumentally sugary and overbaked “World Trade Center” and its antithesis, our number ten flick: “United 93”. Unsparing in its ability to juggle the brutal, sensationalistic and emotionally devastating finale this film is a modern masterpiece on attempting a “Docudrama”. While many will quibble or complain about writer / director Paul Greengrass’ fidelity to the actual final moments aboard the doomed flight, we applaud his sense of dispassionate control. For he obviously knows what Oliver Stone never did – emotions are more honestly earned when you do not pander to your audience.

9. “Le temps qui reste” / “Time to Leave” – François Ozon's haunting tale of one man’s self exploration while the clock ticks away rapidly on his young life. What could have been supremely sappy or altogether miserable in execution is filled with crisp filmmaking, deservedly earned emotions and a cool reserve that help carry it through to its poignantly elegiac ending. While many might be turned off by its subject matter, they would be foolish to miss out on such an intelligent and visceral film experience. With the added benefit of la grande dame Jeanne Moreau's lovely supporting turn!

8. “INLAND EMPIRE” – David Lynch’s maddening, opaque, erotically charged and mystifying sojourn into the fractured psyche of an actress who falls into the rabbit hole of her nightmares. Anchored by Laura Dern’s brilliant performance, we were absolutely riveted throughout its lengthy playing time and completely forgiving of its slight meanderings due to Lynch’s commitment to his own film language. Frustrating? Yes. Mesmerizing? Always. Brilliant? We think so. So there.

7. “Babel” – Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s global hodgepodge dealing with amongst other things, the separation anxiety of miscommunication in the communication age. The visual agility and dramatic flare that González Iñárritu instills in his films is breathtaking. His ability to handle complicated and weighted multi storylines is unparalleled. Every actor in the piece, professional and amateur has been judiciously selected to breathe life into the fascinated characters from around the globe.

Whew! Lovely. Planes hijacked by fundamentalist terrorists, a young man’s dying days, a schizophrenic breakdown and four bleakly intertwining stories . . . good times at the movies in 2006, huh? Patience, dear readers, patience.

6. “Volver” – At this point, Pedro Almodóvar can do no wrong. The mighty Iberian master of mise en scène returns (!) with a rollicking comedy of manners focusing on a quintet of women who must learn to deal with some very stubborn ghosts, both real and imagined. His candy colored playground has never looked more luscious and his leading ladies justifiably shared the top acting honors at the Cannes Film Festival. Standouts include the brilliant Carmen Maura making her own return to Pedro’s playground and Penélope Cruz in a career altering performance that proves her acting mettle. Bravo, Pedro, Bravo!

5. “El Laberinto del fauno” / “Pan’s Labyrinth” – A dark, menacing, magical and entrancing fable come to life. Guillermo del Toro has finally been recognized for his visionary and textually opulent filmmaking. Is he indeed the next great genre director? He certainly has our vote. And if he can continue to churn out his ghostly tales with the same skill and storytelling abilities that he displays in this wicked gem, we will be fans for life.

4. “Children of Men” – The third Mexican Auteur to hit the theatre patrons between the eyes with their daring do, is still the best. Our beloved Alfonso Cuarón turns sci-fi on its ear with his unbelievably taught and anxiety ridden dash through a decaying urban maze. This movie should be screened in Film 101 Classes the world over to instruct the next generation on the proper method to mine the most cinematic gold out of worn concept. Yes, we’ve seen plenty of post-Apocalyptic futures in the movies, but none told as brilliantly as this.

3. “Flags of Our Fathers” / “Letters from Iwo Jima” – No, we are not cheating and trying to sneak in an extra movie. (Like last year. So sue us.) These flipside flicks had the audacity to examine a war we all thought was noble, and expose the brutal savagery and manipulative theatrics that lay underneath.

While “Flags of Our Fathers” was a fine expansion and critique on the “Heroic G.I.” film mythology – it was “Letters from Iwo Jima” that reached for the unsparing passion and haunting poetry of the casualties of war. Viewed together, they are a monumental moviegoing achievement helmed by that cowboy with a heart of a poet – Clint Eastwood.

Patience? You think domestic violence, child abuse, the death of the human race and two war films where barely anybody is left standing is an improvement??? Okay, fine. Here you go, the top two films of 2006:

2. “Marie Antoinette” – What a joyous time we had bathing in the opulent lifestyle at the court of Louis XIV and his paramour, the misaligned and mythologized Marie Antoinette. But who would have guessed that Sofia Coppola would cut through the brocade wallpaper to reveal the mercurial splendor of a young girl who suddenly finds herself amidst the bitchiest power struggle this side of your typical suburban high school cafeteria. It played like an unimaginably witty and well crafted lost hybrid film: one part John Hughes and one part Francis Ford Coppola. (Which is only a comparison to Hughes’ youthful viewpoint and Coppola senior’s visual storytelling skills, but make no mistake; Sofia is very much her own stylist.) A gem from the opening shot to the tremulously emotional ending.

And finally, to cap off our list of depressing . . . er, brilliant filmmaking, a light hearted look at death. Honestly!

1. “A Prairie Home Companion” – We absolutely loved the time we spent with Robert Altman, Garrison Keillor and their insanely talented bunch of actors that charmed the pants off of us. When we saw this film last summer, we adored it and practically begged everybody within earshot to run and see it. When Robert Altman passed away in the fall, we went back to visit his final film and were thunderstruck at the emotional resonance his death imbued his swansong with. Now, one cannot help but be even more moved at his delicate hand in crafting this wistful, funny, touching farewell to an era that has faded away into the ether. No other director in recent memory loved actors as much as Altman did, and how fitting that his grand finale is the best tribute the old lion could give to his performers and his craft. A gem that we feel doubly honored to have experienced so close to his farewell.

And to those that asked, here are the films we disliked the most. The films that made us want to cry for their lack of creativity, artistry and talent. In short, buswrecks:

The Ten Worst Films of 2006

10. “V for Vendetta” – A science fiction film for people who consider Playstation® to be the embodiment of cinema.

9. “Friends With Money” – If a movie can be said to be completely without form nor function, this would be it. A masturbatory screenplay that delves into the paper thin psyche of a batch of bored spoiled housewives and considers the questioning of a man’s sexuality as comic gold to be mined ad nauseam. Wrong on every count.

8. “The Break-up” – Once upon a time, Hollywood movies thrived on witty repartee between bickering couples as they explored their relationships with humor and honest emotions. That time is officially over.

7. “X-Men: The Last Stand” – The final word on the matter of size. It doesn’t matter.

6. “The Da Vinci Code” – How to suck a tired overwrought concept completely out of any creative juices, or the main reason Tom Hanks should retire permanently. Yesterday.

5. “Shortbus – Years ago, a great director was asked about the craft of film directing. He said that casting was the biggest percentage of a director’s job, and if he got that right, the rest was gravy. In that case, whatever percentage that John Cameron Mitchell had left to play with after casting the worst bunch of rank-amateur-reality-TV-porn-star-wannabes wasn’t worth even one percent of our time. Naming it “Shortbus” is offensive to the intelligence level of the ‘Tards that actually ride shortbuses.

4. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” – The worst movie sequel since the fourth “Jaws”.

3. “Miami Vice” – The death knoll of big screen adaptations of recherché television shows of the past that belong in syndication or in the trashbin of history. Michael Mann better come up with something great for his next outing, or he is officially as dead to us as the litter of corpses found in the overblown finale to this piece of tripe.

2. “Dreamgirls” – An 80s music video homage to moviemaking by committee. Not an ounce of thought or emotion has gone into this larger than bloated recreation of an already featherweight Broadway musical that deserved to be remembered and never revived. To say that Eddie Murphy steals the show by recreating old SNL routines and that “American Idiot” failed contestant Jennifer “Sheneneh” Hudson doesn’t completely embarrass herself in her latex level emotional complexity is the best we can offer. Other than our sincere condolences.

And finally, the Worst Film of 2006 is:

1. “The Fountain” – The most aggravatingly futile attempt to wax poetic on the mystery to life. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” was more philosophical, “X-Men: The Last Stand" was more romantic. We will say that watching Hugh Jackman perform fellatio on a tree trunk was only slightly gayer than the boys in “Shortbus”, but only by a skootch. One to avoid like an open herpes sore.

Coming soon, our favorite performances of the year! Bless you all!

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