Saturday, January 6, 2007

The inevitable...The Best of 2006

With no apologies, here are my favorite films from 2006 (in alphabetical order):

On Screen

  • 4 (Ilya Khrjanovsky) In a very uninspiring year at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, there was this Russian gem. 4 may represent some sort of post-modern Communist conundrum, but more importantly it is a visceral experience that is equal parts disturbing, mundane, bizarre and totally engrossing.
  • Casino Royale (Martin Campbell) It is time for me to admit that guilty pleasures have equal merits as the highbrow arthouse cinephile brain vomit. Bond has never been better. Daniel Craig gives a much needed swagger to our favorite debonair secret agent. If you aren't hooked by the first amazing foot-case, just leave the theater.
  • Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa) Sitting in an almost empty house at the Walker Art Center, I felt almost as dislocated as a film lover as the protagonist in this amazingly beautiful and mesmerizingly cyclical film. I realize that this film of non-action would make most want to poke a stick in their eye, but what isn't interesting about that? I was pumped to see this film after reading Mark Peranson's ode to Pedro in CinemaScope 27. I was not disappointed. Costa's film gave me visual and narrative fat to chew on for days.
  • The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu) Two and a half hours of looking at death (or a life lived) right in the face. The Parkway, with all its various spores floating though the air, wins the award for the most daring programming. Once again, one person's stick in their eye is another person's fire in their heart. This very personal journey for Mr Lazarescu is also story of humanity, in all it's failures and glories.
  • Gabrielle (Partice Chéreau) In trying to support the Oak Street in it's programming decisions, I went to see a film that I didn't have much interest in. But it turns out that turn-of-the-century Paris and failed marriages have more to offer that I expected. Chéreau takes the simplest of plots and turns it into a tour de force thriller, slyly masquerading as a lazy day period piece. Gabreille is anchored by its namesake with the powerhouse performance of Isabelle Huppert.
  • Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) Guilty pleasures abound! Despite what you (or I) think about the young queen director of girl nostalgia, this is nothing but intoxicating superficial sensory entertainment. Like we used to say in art school: fuck art, let's dance!
  • Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt) Screened at the Sound Unseen festival, this gentle, poetic film examines two men who have grown apart since their idealistic college days. If the premise sounds ho-hum, think again; this film is brilliant! Beautifully shot with candid portrayals by Daniel London and Will Oldman (aka Bonnie Prince Billy), Old Joy is an homage to the bittersweet beauty of life and friendship.
  • The Proposition (John Hillcoat) Hillcoat's brutal and unapologetic Aussie Western is spot-on perfect. Penned by Nick Cave, it is dark and unforgiving.
  • The Queen (Stephen Frears) Who would have thunk it: a riveting film about the Royal Family's response to Princess Di's death. Helen Mirren simply disappears in the film and embodies her character.
  • Volver (Pedro Almodóvar) In my perfect world both Helen Mirren and Penelope Cruz would get Oscars for their performances. Almodóvar is back in fine form (with Carmen Maura) and Cruz is unlike you have ever seen her. Easily the most charming movie of the year.
  • Workingman's Death (Michael Glawogger) This highly aestheticized documentary was meant for the big screen. (Unfortunately, staying true to the state of screening options in the Twin Cities, Workingman's Death screened at the lowest common denominator of a big screen in the Bell Auditorium.) The film focuses on five different types of manual labor in five different locations: Ukraine, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and China.
On DVD (aka the films no one has the sense to release here in the US)

  • Election 2 (Johnny To) Proving that he can follow up a Cat III hit with an even better Cat III hit.
  • Exiled (Johnny To) Hong Kong belongs to Johnny To. And so does Macau. A very worthy follow-up to The Mission, that far exceeded my expectations. To's version of a post-modern pastiche action film comes naturally, and for the viewer the result is euphoric.
  • Funky Forest: The First Contact (Ishii Katsuhito)Redefining what film and narrative can be, all of Ishii's finest skills come together in this film for on of the funniest, smartest, bizarrest and coolest films of the year. Never coming to a theater near you.
  • Hanging Garden (Toyoda Toshiaki) Toyoda's films just keep get better and better, as he further hones his edgy filmmaking into some sort of quirky family drama.
  • The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov) This should have been the film to make Sokurov an arthouse star. Ogata Issei gives one of the most amazing performances as the defeated Emperor Hirohito. Diplomacy meets a tyrant.
Very Very Honorable Mentions
As always, I don't see as many movies as I would like and there are all those stupid distributors that like to put things out at the very end of the year, which means the beginning of the next year for most mortals.

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