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CRITICS' POLL '06 | The Comments: Critics Defend Their Orphan Pick

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire December 21, 2006 at 1:58AM

[Our 107 participants collectively cited a total of 189 films; of those movies, 68 garnered a single, defiant Top 10 mention from a maverick voter. Below, some critics defend their orphan picks.]
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[Our 107 participants collectively cited a total of 189 films; of those movies, 68 garnered a single, defiant Top 10 mention from a maverick voter. Below, some critics defend their orphan picks.]

It's all very well for critics to denounce "The Good German" as a slab of artifice, to compare it negatively with "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca," and to trot out cliches about film noirs and femme fatales--all of which avoids dealing with the movie's seriousness and its mood of paranoia and despair. The morally squalid labyrinthine necropolis of Soderbergh's "Germany Year Zero" perfectly evoked the nation's shattered psyche, and was made all the worse by America's occupation. (Sound familiar?) The masterstroke was the lack of heat between Clooney and Blanchett. In a city where women were raped en masse in 1945, love was all used up. Don't believe that "play it again" stuff.--Graham Fuller

The complete list of indieWIRE Critics' Poll results, including links to individual ballots, is available here at indieWIRE.com

The best documentary to date that I've seen about the military occupation of Iraq, "The War Tapes" was shot there by five national guardsmen from New Hampshire. The narrative focuses on three of them: one grew up in Lebanon, speaks Arabic, and plans to re-enlist; another thinks the war is about oil and describes his nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder; the third argues that he's fighting for democracy, but he's taking medication for his nerves and his wife insists he's no longer the same person. Director Deborah Scranton and producer-editor Steve James don't foist any particular thesis on us, but they arrange the material so we're obliged to think about it, and the feeling of immediacy is constant.--Jonathan Rosenbaum

I usually run the other way from any Hollywood feel-good-about-myself message film, but "Blood Diamond" is one of those rare movies that manages to deliver a rousing action story and first-rate performances (particularly Leonardo DiCaprio as a South African soldier of fortune), along with a sermon.--Molly Haskell

Any filmmaker eager to offend middlebrow sensibilities could have made a movie about the repercussions that ensue when a nice young woman (Melinda Page Hamilton, in a miraculously naturalistic performance) confesses to having once blown her dog. But it takes a fantastically demented mind to conceive of such a ludicrous, revolting scenario and then pitch it as Bobcat Goldthwait does in "Sleeping Dogs Lie"--not (primarily) as sick black comedy, but as a serious, often downright earnest treatise on the potential pitfalls of exposing every crevice of your past and soul to those you love. A disquieting sweetness and sincerity lurk beneath the film's admittedly juvenile surface; those who avoided what they assumed to be an endless parade of asinine canine-boner gags missed the most incisive examination of long-term romantic relationships in ages. Granted, it looks like crap...but, then, so does "Inland Empire."--Mike D'Angelo

Reminiscent of the textures and line quality of Philip Guston and Cy Twombly, William Kentridge's "9 Drawings For Projection" concretizes the physical pull of the past. Movements carry the lag-time of memories, which we eventually erase simply by acting in the world. Kentridge orchestrates a melancholy love triangle during the final years of Apartheid, and in so doing achieves a stunning historical dialectic. The gravity of the political violence--we frequently see black Africans gunned down, marching in police lines, or herded into mass graves--serves as counterpoint to the domestic drama, but never belittles it. Rather, the personal pain of Kentridge's protagonists serves as partial explanation of the ways in which people who are otherwise capable of deep feeling can cordon off the brutality around them. Kentridge's obsessive erasures and redrawings emphasize vision's intimate connection to blindness.--Michael Sicinski

"Stick It" is the only film of 2006 that captured the spirit of musicals at their heyday. Bursting with sexuality, Busby Berkeley-esque gymanstic sequences, and a raft of wittily slangy put-downs, it announces Jessica Bendinger as an honest-to-goodness auteur. With this and her screenplay for "Bring It On," she's made two of the most pleasurable pop creations of the past 10 years.--R. Emmet Sweeney

"It's Too Soon"--that cowardly phrase planted in the public's mind by the mainstream media--keeps Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" from the people who might especially appreciate its value. The phrase seems designed to control popular sentiment while Stone endeavors to particularize and analyze the huge mix of personal and political feelings that have mounted in the American psyche ever since the sad events of 9/11. "World Trade Center" is never so untrustworthy as an attempt at an "official" remembrance of that day. Stone (and screenwriter Andrea Berloff) make a historical dramatic history that says far more than Paul Greengrass's dour, uninspired, TV-style "United 93."--Armond White

Michael Glawogger's panoramic paean to global labor, "Workingman's Death" could buckle under the weight of its own near-mythic vision, but the purity of its intent and the intimacy of its execution seem to offer its subjects a little more air. The passages depicting sulfur mining in Indonesia and a slaughter yard in Nigeria are viscerally overwhelming, rendered with technical bravura that suggests an Alan Clarke Steadicam hitched to Werner Herzog's fervor. Anyone tired of their job may want to check this out.--Jay Kuehner

"The Wild Blue Yonder" is a brother film, separated by 35 years, to Werner Herzog's "Fata Morgana," in which the vision-seeking apostate weaves a mock-semi-doc fantasia around the NASA shuttle mission STS-34. At play in the fields of absurd physics, rapt as the astronauts float in no-gravity space, attend to personal hygiene with surreal difficulty, and sleep strapped to the wall, Herzog sees all of it as a metaphor for space-lost human loneliness, after the Earth has been decimated by complaisance and hope lies only on an alien world, which has also been wrecked by consumerism and industry and entertainment and remains now, thanks to footage taken under the Antarctic rime, a barren, blue world with a liquid atmosphere and a sky of ice. He's a poet's poet's cineaste. The film played for a week at IFC, then went straight to DVD, which, as I keep saying, should count as a release in any case these days.--Michael Atkinson

"To my eyes, there was no better visual representation of the grandeur of daily struggle than watching the Man guide the Cart through pre-dawn Manhattan as a monstrous MTA bus bears down on him in Ramin Bahrani's "Man Push Cart," a first feature of unmatched elegance and a very un-Indiewood-style restraint.--Susan Gerhard

Regularly dismissed as an ADD action hack, Tony Scott's sixth collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer has a title that can be taken as a provocation: "Deja Vu" seems to invite glib puns about the recurrence of heated fast cuts and heavily filtered celluloid, of slick surfaces and pretzel plot twists wrapped around eye-popping explosions. Yes it delivers, but the director has long moved on from mere action work toward ambivalent psychological thrillers, employing an expressionist visual style corresponding to heightened emotions. Maybe the comparative restraint and metaphysical bent of Scott's masterpiece, a surveillance-era post-Hitchcock concoction that dares to begin with a nine-minute bravura sequence of dialogue-free "pure cinema," will help viewers see past the prejudices. It's one of the most mind-boggling action sequences of recent years, in which some of the great Scott's major motifs are condensed into one awesome pile-up of overlapping motion.--Mark Peranson

The complete list of indieWIRE Critics' Poll results, including links to individual ballots, is available here at indieWIRE.com