Thursday, January 4, 2007

2006: I Like Moviefilms

Sorry about the gratuitous Borat reference there; that sort of thing jumped the shark sometime around last August. But hopefully my lameness will not continue as I reveal:

The Best Movies of the Year!

(In my humble opinion, your mileage may vary, and any other appropriate internet abbreviations)

Rather than break this down into categories like I did with comics, I'm just going to list a top ten. So much for consistency! But first I'll list a few movies that I have not yet seen, which may or may not have made the list if I had: The Good German, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Tideland, Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles, The Curse of the Golden Flower, The Promise. And probably several others. Also, I heard United 93 was really good, but I can't bring myself to sit through it. So on to the awards!

Honorable Mention:

Brick was a fun integration of noir tropes into high school culture. Joseph Gordon-Levitt especially stands out as a very good young actor who I think will continue to win acclaim. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story was an hilarious behind-the-scenes look at conceited filmmakers goofing their way through a difficult literary adaptation. Stranger Than Fiction was a good piece of metafiction, with a restrained (but still very funny) performance by Will Ferrell and a lovely and quirky turn by beautiful and charming Maggie Gyllenhaal as the romantic interest. Dave Chappelle's Block Party was a good look at the comedian and his personal struggles with financial success before his storied "breakdown", with some incredible musical performances. And Little Miss Sunshine was much better than I expected (although not perfect), with quirky characters, funny situations, and possibly my favorite climactic scene of the year.

Extra Honorable Mention for Movies that Deserve Wider Recognition:

Down in the Valley had great performances from Edward Norton and Evan Rachel Wood in a story about growing up, loss of innocence, and all those sort of themes (see my review here). Edmond was a freaky David Mamet excursion through stylized dialogue, sexual (and monetary) obsessions, racism, and violence. Fun stuff! The Proposition was a grimy, fly-filled look at civilization, violence, and civilized violence (here's my review). Bubble was an interesting experiment by Stephen Soderbergh, with nonprofessional actors in a small-scale story about the relationships of workers at a doll factory. I liked it a lot. And Wassup Rockers was one of Larry Clark's best movies, in which he eased up a bit with the teenage sexuality and focused on likable lower-class kids going about their lives.

Special Award for Good Animated Movies in a Year of Animated Mediocrity:

Cars suprised me with a fun story, good characters, and some of Pixar's best animation ever (which is saying a lot), and Flushed Away continued Aardman Animation's streak of hilarious, fast-moving, gag-filled joyrides.

My Top Ten Films of the Year:

I always have trouble ranking my favorites, since each year the top five or so are always pretty much a tie. I managed to decide on a ranking, but it could probably change, depending on my mood or the day of the week. So keep in mind that I think the top seven or eight in this list are nearly equivalent in quality. On with the list!

10. The Prestige

Christopher Nolan weaves an intricate tale about Victorian-era magicians and their tricks and rivalries, with great performances by Christian Bale (one of my favorite actors) and, to a lesser extent, Hugh Jackman (There's also a great minor role by David Bowie as Nikola Tesla). It's a movie that really had my thinking about it and analyzing it for weeks after I saw it. Very enjoyable.

9. Friends With Money

An excellent ensemble piece, with a cast that includes two of my favorite actresses: Frances McDormand and Catherine Keener. It's a good examination of relationships between friends and between couples, and how money can affect our lives, for better and for worse.

8. Babel

Alejandro González Iñárritu is currently one of my favorite directors, and he continues his run of twisty, multi-plot films. This one is especially ambitious, with four separate stories on three different continents, all set in motion by a simple act that leads to violence, death, and emotional upheaval for many characters. Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, and Gael García Bernal are the standouts in a really good cast.

7. Shortbus

John Cameron Mitchell's infamous "sex film" ended up being one of the most emotionally moving films of the year, even with plenty of hardcore porn-style scenes. It was a very interesting experiment, and it has one of the most beautiful CGI effects I've ever seen. And great music too!

6. The Departed

Somehow, Martin Scorsese is still managing to make great films, 40 years into his career. Amazing. I enjoyed Infernal Affairs, but this English-language remake is even better, with a great cast that included Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio, with stellar performances by Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg. Tons of intense scenes, great background music, and a wonderfully-realized Boston atmosphere make for an incredible experience.

5. Marie Antoinette

It seems Sofia Coppola can do no wrong with me, since I loved this critically-derided film. Kirsten Dunst plays the character beautifully, with a naivete and exuberance that bring a hated historical persona to life. Jason Schwartzman is also great as the dorky, impotent King Louis XIV, the 80's-music soundtrack sets the mood perfectly, and the sets and scenery have to be seen to be believed. Absolutely beautiful!

4. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Tommy Lee Jones makes his directorial debut in this modern western that deals with illegal immigration and life along the U.S.-Mexico border. There's some great performances (especially by Jones, Barry Pepper, and Dwight Yoakam) and beautiful scenery; plus, it's really funny!

3. The Fountain

I'm a sucker for ambitious sci-fi films, and I'd been eagerly awaiting this one since I first heard about it something like five years ago. It was great to finally see it realized, and to have it not be a disappointment. Darren Aronofsky really brought his vision to life, telling a story (or was it three stories?) of life and death that spanned 1000 years and included conquistadors, the Spanish Inquisition, monkey brains, and bubbles flying through space. All the plot and ideas were great, but the best part of the movie was the relationship between Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Without that foundation, the rest would have been beautiful, but mostly empty, spectacle. And you can't talk about this movie without mentioning the effects. The outer space scenes were done mostly in a low-tech manner, without the aid of computers, and they come off beautifully. It's an awe-inspiring movie, and it was worth the wait.

2. A Prairie Home Companion

Robert Altman's final film was a fitting end to his career, with it's discussion of death and loss in the midst of giving great performances. A great cast (Did Altman ever have any other kind?) brings to life a semi-fictional version of Garrison Keillor's radio show on it's last night, and it's an experience to behold, with beautiful music and goofy skits by Keillor, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly, and others. Kevin Kline is another stand out, playing Guy Noir, the ex-private-detective head of security for the theater. He has one of my favorite lines of the year: "She was wearing a Mount Rushmore T-shirt, and those guys never looked so good. Especially Jefferson and Lincoln. Kind of bloated, but happy." Priceless!

1. The Science of Sleep

Michel Gondry has an imagination like no one else on earth. Watching the stuff he comes up with in his movies gives me a goofy grin that lasts for weeks. His low-tech effects are charming, and the songs he picks fit the mood perfectly (which makes sense, since he has directed lots of music videos). This story of a guy who has trouble distinguishing dreams and reality is wonderful, and Gael García Bernal plays him perfectly. Bernal has been quickly becoming a favorite of mine, although I never realized he had the skill for comedy that he demonstrates in this movie. He's great, especially in crazy sequences when he has to act while wearing giant hands, walking around naked in his sleep, or building a cardboard city with his mind. I don't think I enjoyed any other film more this year.
And that's all for the year. It was a pretty good year, considering I managed to mention over twenty films in my top ten list. And I could probably come up with a few more if I put my mind to it. Here's hoping 2007 is just as good, or even better!