Sunday, March 04, 2007

2006 Top 10 Movies

While overall this was not a particularly interesting year for film, there are always a number of good movies made. As always, because I live in Albuquerque and because I don’t go see everything I should, I don’t feel this list is complete. This year was particularly frustrating with this because my ability to catch up on 2006 movies I didn’t see was hampered by a problem with my Netflix that only just got fixed. In addition, I would have watched more recent movies but my favorite store is closing and I want to get some of those films watched while I have the opportunity. Why watch “Little Miss Sunshine” when I could view Werner Herzog’s “Even Dwarf’s Started Small”?!

Among the films that I didn’t get a chance to see are Little Miss Sunshine, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Flags of Our Fathers, Little Children, The Lives of Others, and several others. But what can you do?

Anyway, here we go.

  1. Letters from Iwo Jima. A nearly flawless war film. Flags of Our Fathers really didn’t look that interesting to me. But Eastwood does a remarkable job humanizing the Japanese in the battle. I was recently reading an article, I think in The Nation but I could be wrong about that, which argued that Eastwood was a) a hack director and b) had not discussed the barbarity of the Japanese war effort. While the first point is somewhat true, at least in the sense that he is vastly overrated as a director, the second point is absurd. What good would a movie be that focused on this issue? Even though the Japanese did do awful things, it’s not as if all the Japanese soldiers were bad people or that they don’t have interesting stories worth telling. Now last year, this film would have ranked no higher than #4, but that’s the weakness of ’06 for you.
  1. Children of Men. Some threw out an aesthetic Stalinist argument that this film was overrated because it did not have a positive political message. Absurd. This was an excellent, if not great, film. The lack of a political message made it all the stronger. The acting was solid and the story excellent. What’s ridiculous is how this film got snubbed with the Oscars. Bleh.
  1. Pan’s Labyrinth. Every day I like this film more. At first, I wasn’t blown away. But some films just stick with you. I like In the Mood for Love and Yi Yi more and more everyday. This film is similar. I’ve never seen anything like this before. After 100 years of film, that’s saying something. I suspect that in a year or two it will be my favorite film from ’06. Also, it’s just the best use of fantasy I have ever seen.
  1. Brick. A fine and underrated movie. Takes the film noir concept and puts it in the modern high school, which I was a bit skeptical about at first. But it works really well. The kid from “Third Rock” is the star and he can act really well. There are some slightly silly parts to the story but it’s fun and well-done. First rate entertainment here.
  1. Clean. One might question this choice since the film originally came out in 2004. But it was not available in the United States until 2006 and other people have included it in their lists so I will. Maggie Cheung is a phenomenal actress. She also speaks perfect English, having spent most of her childhood in London. So why is she not cast in more films? She’s incredibly beautiful and an amazing talent. What a waste to not use her. In this film, she plays a rock star/heroin addict whose husband, also a musician, dies of an overdose. She deals with her addiction, tries to keep her son, and deals with her in-laws, one of which is played by an excellent Nick Nolte. It’s the most honest portrayal of drug use I have seen on film—neither condemning nor celebratory. Not a perfect film but a very good one.
  1. Volver. Another solid effort from Almodovar. I’m not sure if Volver equals the greatness of his last two films, Talk to Her and Bad Education. But it’s better than most filmmakers will ever produce. Penelope Cruz is great as is Carmen Maura Mostly, I’m glad they get away with the crime. In American movies, some kind of justice would have to be meted out, or at least a lot of guilt. Not in this case. Refreshing.
  1. The Queen. There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t been said. Helen Mirren is great. The story is very solid. Stephen Frears does an excellent job with the archival footage of Diana and making a movie that lesser filmmakers would botch big time. When is Frears going to win an Academy Award by the way? What a deserving director. Sounds like Thallberg material to me.
  1. Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. The Zhang Yimou film of the year that didn’t suck, as opposed to Curse of the Golden Flower, which was awful. A simple story of a Japanese man, estranged from his son, who goes to China to film a folk tale performance that his dying son never had the chance to do. A simple story. Simple stories usually make the best pictures I think. Well worth watching.
  1. Old Joy. Another simple story. Filmed in the forests of Oregon, Will Oldham and Daniel London play old friends who are drifting apart. They go camping and try to figure out what’s up. They never really address the issue, but instead skirt around it. Really pretty little film.
  1. Notes on a Scandal. Judi Dench eats up the screen. What’s not to like? Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy are also strong.

Honorable Mention,

11) Babel—love/hate here. Good acting abounds, especially in the Japanese part of the film. But guess what? People’s lives can be interconnected and good things can happen too. IƱarritu’s style is beginning to bore me.

12) Borat. Funny as hell, if not a great film. It is my opinion that much of the backlash against the film by writers and cultural commentators was really because of the Jewish jokes. They hated that but couldn’t say anything because Baron-Cohen is Jewish. Just a theory.

13) An Inconvenient Truth. A well-made documentary. Really just a lecture but surprisingly good. Boy do I wish Gore was running in 2008!

14) Last King of Scotland. The movie totally falls apart at the end. But Forest Whitaker is off the charts amazing. A well-deserved Academy Award.

15) The Departed. I have documented the many problems I have with this movie. Shockingly overrated, though of a certain quality. I am glad that Scorsese finally won his Oscar. And it is better that he win for a film like this rather than The Aviator. Still, a very problematic film.