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The Year in Review (2006)

Well, now that I've made this effort to try and write more regarding my film-viewing experiences, it seemed to make sense that I join the masses and make some sort of year-end review. Of course it won't be any sort of conventional press top 10 seeing as how: a) I don't want to just restrict myself to just 2006 films, b) I didn't even see that many 2006 films, and c) there definitely aren't ten 2006-release films that I saw that deserve to be on any sort of best-list. All the following lists are in no particular order. And on a sidenote, while two of my three 2006 films were officially released in 2005, they were for all intents and purposes 2006 films, and since they both showed up in many other critics' 2006 lists, I figured I was justified in leaving them there.

THE NUMBERS

I watched 64 films this year, my most since 2003 when I was still at Carleton taking film studies classes. This certainly came as a pleasant surprise. About 1/3 of these were 2006 films, which I'm pretty happy about, seems like a good number for balancing staying in touch with the present state of cinema while still focusing on catching up with 100 years of past cinema!

THE GENIUS OF MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI









My highlight of the year has to be my voracious watching of the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. So many of these films would have been on my year end list that I figured I really should just make a separate section for them. In January, I had the opportunity to see the theatrical re-release of The Passenger. What an indescribable experience it was to be able to take in that last breathtaking shot in a darkened theater! This would inspire me to immediately watch La Notte (which had been sitting at home unwatched for weeks). The framing in this film is just about the best I've ever seen. I was on a roll now, and was definitely getting that same giddy sense of anticipation that I had experienced while blitzing through and discovering the works of Stanley Kubrick and Jean Renoir. Next up was Blow-Up, yet another bona-fide masterpiece. And perhaps most surprising of all though was Le Amiche which may not bear his characteristic auteur-ish qualities but which doesn't change the fact that it's a beautifully complex melodrama, one of the best films I saw all year long and one that I would proudly put up alongside the rest of his best. Without a doubt, right up alongside Kubrick as one of my favourite filmmakers of all-time.

THE BEST OF THE PAST (watched in 2006)
(not including any of the aforementioned Antonioni films, all of which would have made this list)









George Méliès Shorts (Landmarks of Early Film #2)
I admittedly got this DVD more out of historical obligation. But I can honestly say that I treasure it now just as much for its entertainment value. Méliès stuff has withstood the test of time. You would think that short films shot 100 years ago from a single angle on a single set would be pretty boring, but ironically in Méliès' case it's just the opposite! His shorts are a feast for the eyes, and not just because of his famous camera tricks. His films are like meticulously choreographed dances with layers upon layers of action happening all at once in the same scene! I literally watched The Hilarious Posters 3 or 4 times consecutively in order to observe all the characters separately. Because the camera never cuts or moves, there is no principal action and you're eyes aren't forcibly locked onto any particular thing which allows them to be wonderfully overwhelmed when the mayhem ensues! There's no need for any patronizing contextual disclaimers ("it's great... for its time), Méliès stuff might be historically significant but it's also a real joy to watch!

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
Wily old Bunuel and his inimitable irreverent humour. Overall I didn't find the actual satire of this film as effective as That Obscure Object of Desire or Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, (except of course for the classic dinner scene on the toilets!) but it's still undeniably funny and unmistakably Bunuel!

Back to the Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)
OK I'm cheating. I'd seen these before this year but never appreciated them the way I do now. The trilogy as a whole works together so wonderfully with the recurring characters and situations. The first one though is definitely a head above the rest in terms of its entertainment value and the clever writing, not to mention the fun Oedipal bits. 1.21 Jigowatts!!!

Mission to Mars (2002) (original review)
Thank goodness for a select few dissident film critics otherwise I would never have even considered seeing this film. It has changed the way I view the separation between pop and art in cinema. I truly believe that 10-20 years from now, once people have been removed from the moment this film will be re-assessed as a masterpiece and hopefully De Palma gets his well-deserved due.

THE BEST OF 2006









The New World (2005)
Exactly how Malick managed to squeeze this unapologetically arthouse film into so many mainstream theaters across North America continues to pleasantly baffle me. By the time I got around to watching it, there were probably only about 20 people in the theater, and by the end of it only about half remained. This film is more poetry than it is prose, both in terms of its dialogue and its visuals. There's really only 3 characters to speak of: Smith and Pocahontas, and the land itself. Just as important to Malick as the characters themselves is capturing a sense of the time and the place which they inhabited.

United 93 (2006)
Haven't had such a harrowing film experience since In the Bedroom. The suspense is there right from the beginning since we all know exactly how everything is going to end. To paraphrase Hitchcock, if you surprise the audience, you have them for 5 seconds, if you let them in on the secret and maintain suspense, you have them for an hour. Greengrass miraculously manages to make a very slick fast paced film without having to resort to anything fancy formalistic devices beyond a shaky camera. His confidence in the material selling itself (which it does in spades) is admirable. On the flipside, he also manages to straddle that line between empathy and sympathy for the passengers themselves just as well.

Three Times (2005)
Starting with that first beautifully choreographed billiard scene with Smoke Gets in Your Eyes playing I knew I was going to love this film. With the majority of films which employ this silent and languid-paced style that Hou Hsiao-Hsien's films do, there always seems to be an air of pretension and the characters slightly wooden, even in some of the great ones. What continues to impress me about Hou is how he's able to employ this style and yet his characters are able to come off as completely human. Hsu Chi is both fantastic and gorgeous to boot!

THE BEST OF THE REST

OK, so Bon Cop, Bad Cop wasn't absolutely one of the best films of 2006 but it deserves to get a very special mention because it's probably the most entertaining Canadian film I've ever seen. Anyone who knows anything about the state of Canadian cinema knows that it's a miracle that we even made a mainstream film that managed to claw its way into theaters, and even more of a miracle that it was actually entertaining! And while box office receipts usually mean nothing to me, having it finally kick out Porky's as the highest grossing Canadian film in Canada meant the world because it actually meant that Canadians were watching a Canadian film! Incroyable! Let's hope that we can keep the ball rolling and have this just be the beginning of a new era for our film industry! Won't say much more since I already put all my patriotic thoughts to a journal entry awhile back.

And here's the best of the rest: fantastic films I saw this year which didn't quite make any of the lists, but all deserve a special mention nonetheless

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Flowers of Shanghai (1998) (review)
Marie Antoinette (2006) (review)
Stranger Than Fiction (2006) (review)
Little Children (2006) (review)

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3 Comments:

Blogger elaine s said...

SPOILER

I was disappointed with marie antoinette. I was waiting for a climatic ending involving a beheading. AFter reading wikipedia, i found out that all the action and drama pretty much happens post arrest. maybe it is because sophia coppola didn't set out to make an action film....but what is a marie antoinette film without the thing (beheading) that makes her famous? I found wikipedia 5x more exciting and interesting to read than watching sophia coppola's film.

January 05, 2007  
Blogger elaine s said...

and I think you should make a list of most disappointing films of the year (which is different from worst films of the year). Can you believe that Martin Scorcese is msot probably going to get best director for The Departed eventhough he basically made the film worse than the original? I wish i could get a best director award for screwing up an original film. okay I'm done ranting. Oh yeah...and more ranting that has nothing to do with your blog but has to do with imdb....on their votes for year's best poll...since when did borat become a documentary?

January 05, 2007  
Blogger Jon said...

Like I was saying in my review, I think Coppola made a really smart move with the intro to the movie which pretty much screams out that this won't be a typical biopic. She's essentially telling a coming-of-age story. I think the material is elevated though thanks to her direction and Kirsten Dunst's performance. I'm also sure everyone was able to treat it more seriously because it was Coppola directing along with the fact that it's based - if only loosely - on the life of a real life historical figure which always lends credibility to any film, for better or worse.

I actually thought about making some sort of list of disappointments of 2006 but figured it would be a little too snooty, especially for someone who really didn't see that many films. But definitely Departed would have been on there.

January 07, 2007  

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