Monday, January 01, 2007

Best of 2006: Top Ten Films of the Year

With this, we shall bid farewell to the year that was and move on to something new. This year had a lot of really great films, and for me, represented a continuing evolution in the way I view cinema. I'm less and less interested in narrative, more interested in style and emotion. The year's best film is a perfect example of this, and a lot of others on the list are too. So, read on and find out...

10. Idlewild - I was waiting for this film for a while, and, apparently unlike the rest of the world, it totally lived up to my expectations. The musical is one of the most distinctly cinematic genres, and this is one of the few film musicals that feels fresh and now. For whatever reason, it's become a conservative genre, rehashing the same classic hits and packaging pre-existing songs into cash in jukebox narratives. This one does use some pre-existing songs, but it feels distinctly new and alive, incorporating those songs seamlessly into its world. The final performance sequences rank with the most purely fun material you'll see at the cinema this year. It may not be boldly groundbreaking, but it delivers on exactly what it promises.

My Review

9. Manderlay - Von Trier remains one of the most challenging, confrontational filmmakers working today. This film, finally released in the US in early 2006, expands on the world of Dogville, presenting a similarly constructed allegorical world that poses challenging questions about the United States and its history. It's ridiculous to criticize Von Trier for making this in spite of the fact that he's never been to the US. He is aware of what our national policy has produced, our attitudes have global reach and he is forcing us to confront those attitudes. The stage setting never feels gimmicky, instead it allows us to focus on the actors and their characters. While it doesn't quite match Dogville, this is still extremely powerful cinema, anchored by a fantastic lead performance from Bryce Dallas Howard.

My Review

8. Funky Forest - This is the oddball on the list, a Japanese film I saw at the New York Asian Film Festival. It's a three hour long journey through a hyperactive subconscious, full of comedy skits and bizarre images. This is truly like nothing you've seen before, a relentless assault of strangeness. There's the deadpan comedy of the Guitar Brothers, the oddness of a UFO abduction and alien dance sequence and the hilarious Homeroom stuff. Like another bizarre three hour film on this list, it's more an experience than a narrative, and that's a great use of cinema.

7. Babel - Inarritu expands on his previous work, taking the small scale dramas of Amores Perroes and 21 Grams and throwing them onto a global canvas. What makes this film so powerful is the way we're completely sympathetic to every character when they're on screen, in spite of the fact that their agendas are in conflict. But, seeing the events from their side, makes us realize that there's no us/them, it's all one massive human organism surging forward. Chieko's trip to the nightclub is one of the year's best scenes, a fantastic swirl of light and motion. This is the best multicharacter ensemble drama since Magnolia.

My Review

6. The Departed - It lacks the intellectual gravitas of some of the films on this list, but few can match it for pure entertainment value. Scorsese takes Infernal Affairs as a base and then throws on massive amounts of operatic excess, in the acting, cinematography and violence. Every single actor seems to be having the time of their life in this movie, and Wahlberg in particular has never been better. The film allows Scorsese to create a canvas of pop excess, one that was still compelling even though I already knew what would happen next. This is what a remake should do, take the original story, but film it with a different spirit. The restraint of the original is all gone, replaced by a distinctly American voice.

My Review

5. Marie Antoinette - Another vastly underappreciated film. People who criticized the film for its embrace of materialistic excess totally miss the point. For Marie, consumerism is the only way to escape from the strict, limited role she fills in the court. Few moments in film are as joyous as the montages of her at her country estate, the Malick inspired journey through beautiful natural landscapes, and her nighttime frolic with her crew. This is the most alive, real period film since Barry Lyndon, and part of what I think is so jarring is that the film depicts its historical subjects as people with flaws rather than caricatures out of history books. Even if Marie wasn't exactly like this, she was the eighteenth century equivalent of a Paris Hilton, so it makes sense to position her in that context. I can guarantee that this will one day experience a positive critical and cultural reevaluation.

My Review

4. The Science of Sleep - I was a bit shocked to find this film on no other top ten lists I've seen. This darker 'remix' of Eternal Sunshine goes to a rawer emotional place than that film, replacing Charlie Kaufman's ironic wit with a character arc that's distinctly Gondry's. I love the way a small, everyday story is made huge through the dream sequence visuals. In our own minds, minute conflicts, like the letter incident, are played out as epic dramas, and few films have captured that sense better than this. The film feels so close to Gondry, it's painful to watch some moments, that's the sign of a good film, that it can move us so. Bernal and Gainsbourg have fantastic chemistry and I love the ambiguity of the ending. This is a film full of visual wonder and emotional power, that's what the medium is all about.

My Review

3. The Fountain - A wildly ambitious film, I'm just happy that Aronofsky finally got a chance to tell his story. This is the kind of movie that's pounced on by critics for not quite acheiving what it sets out to do, and I'd agree that there's some missteps. But, I'd rather see a film that's so challenging and packed with material that doesn't quite make it than one that sets out to do something small and aces it. The Fountain is the most cosmically alive film since 2001, and though its scope is more focused, it still tells some vital truths about the human experience. The final twenty minutes or so are absoultely sublime, with two of the year's most powerful images: the plants bursting out of the conquistador, and the future Tom being ripped apart in a burst of light. No moment in cinema this year made me gasp like seeing that small white dot of light on a black screen explode into a gush of image and beauty. With this, Aronofsky proved he can do more than just his 'hip hop montage style,' and I'm very curious to see where he goes next.

My Review

2. INLAND EMPIRE - Ordering these last two was the toughest thing about this list. I went back and forth a bunch of times, and came out with this order. But, these last two films are nearly equal, and both a jump ahead everything else on the list. Anyway, what can I say about this film that I haven't already? It's a totally new use of cinema and one of the boldest artistic reinventions of any director ever. After two viewings, it's only just begun to reveal its secrets, and I think I'll watch this film again more times than any other on this list. There are moments in here that have an almost mystical power, like nothing I've ever seen before. I love that Lynch continues to push his art forward, while it may not be as consistent as Fire Walk With Me or Mulholland Dr., there are moments in here that eclipse anything he's done before. And the closing credits sequence is one of the most joyous things I've ever experienced in film, the perfect capper to a strange, enthralling journey.

My Review (2) (3)

1. Miami Vice - I went back and forth on the number one, but a third viewing of Miami Vice put it over the top. I was enthralled right from the opening cut, which dumps us into a nightclub with no exposition, no context, only a weirdly outfitted dancer and the sounds of Jay-Z/Linkin Park. The DV photography is absolutely gorgeous, the best use of the new technology to date, giving us seemingly endless cityscapes and oceans that stretch out as far as we can see. The relationship between Sonny and Isabella is perfectly presented, giving us just enough that we can feel what the characters are feeling, a search for joy in the moment, but always aware that the relationship will not last. I love the final moments of the film, as Sonny watches Isabella disappear out to sea and they each return to their lives. Beyond narrative, Mann has an unparalleled eye for aesthetic greatness, be it in the sequence at Yero's club, or just in Gong Li's fantastic sunglasses and suit when she's walking off the plane. The film creates a cohesive, stylish world, one you drift into when you watch it. That's what I want from a movie, to be fully immersed in something totally other, yet completely relatable. This film did it, and that's why it's the best movie of the year.

My Review (2)

Next up, I'll post my Screening Log for the second half of 2006, with star rankings for everything I saw. Then, at some point later in the month, I'll post my Academy Award nominations/winners, which will wrap up 2006. And tomorrow, look for my preview of 2007's films. Six of this year's top ten films, the top six, were in the 2006 preview, so it's worth taking a look at. And here at the start of 2007, just a thanks to everyone who read the blog last year, and keep reading this year. And, just to recap.

1. Miami Vice
3. The Fountain
4. The Science of Sleep
5. Marie Antoinette
6. The Departed
7. Babel
8. Funky Forest
9. Manderlay
10. Idlewild

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Miami Vice was one of my top films of the year too. So incredible. I wish it got more love. Ditto The Fountain.