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December 21, 2006 1:58 AM
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CRITICS' POLL '06 | The Comments: The Worst, the Overlooked, and The Death (and Rebirth?) of Film C

Kirsten Dunst in "Marie Antoinette". Image courtesy Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment

THE DESCENT: The Worst Movie Ever Made and Other Low Points

Wow, what a terrible year.--Jeff Reichert

Winter Passing," "Trust the Man," "American Gun," "Wah-Wah," "Twelve and Holding," "Coastlines," "A Good Woman," "Ask the Dust," "Loverboy," "The Lost City," "Shadowboxer," "The Wicker Man," "Confetti," "Lucky Number Slevin." By my count, I saw the worst movie ever made more than a dozen times this year. In 10 years of year-ending, I've never had such a hard time compiling a list of movies I was unreservedly unenthusiastic about. Thank heavens for "The Fallen Idol" and "Out 1"; otherwise I might think I'd simply lost my love of the art form.--Sam Adams

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

The greatest oddity for me in 2006 was seeing what passed for pleasure in the minds of America's highbrow critics. Could they really find bliss in the drony, books-on-tape literalism of "A Scanner Darkly"? Were they seeing some holographic dupe of Setsuko Hara's wan smile as they saw Shu Qi mumble her way through "Three Times"? Did they succumb to sleepy-time even once as Mr. Lazarescu hacked up another bloody clot of phlegm? And might they not feel the urge to sneak next door and take a gander at Lindsay Lohan's freckles just once as they watched those two dull Gen X-ers sit in the jacuzzi, rediscovering their "Old Joy"?--Matthew Wilder

For all the heartfelt Robert Altman eulogies, a truly meaningful tribute to the late auteur would be a moratorium on second-rate "Nashville"-style ensemble pieces that seem increasingly to be the province of every Tom, Dick, and Emilio.--Nick Schager

Sometimes critics are accused of acting like they're smarter than the movies they're reviewing. But what if it's true? The experience of watching "The Fountain" was a sad one. Even though Darren Aronofsky can't even bite Maya Deren and Jordan Belson correctly, I couldn't loathe it with relish. It's a half-baked undergraduate treatise on some really heavy concepts, man, stuff like life, and death, and the spirit. (Dude!) And yet it's so painfully earnest that I mostly came away feeling sorry for it. More than anything, it's a symptom of our times, where Eastern mysticism and Buddhist tenets are watered down into self-help bromides for soccer moms and fratboys: Enlightenment-flavored Ovaltine.--Michael Sicinski

Eddie Murphy provided "Dreamgirls"' only tangible connection to the taproot of R&B, more than Jennifer Hudson's showgirl belt or Beyonce's bland brassiness. I wonder if even B. herself realizes how perfect she is for the role of a lead singer with "no personality."--Sam Adams

What does it say about our world that you can lose "American Idol" and win an Academy Award for doing basically the same thing?--Matt Singer

I don't doubt that many viewers (by viewers, I always include paid film critics) consider the events of a film like "Babel" (or, more specifically, the film "Babel") to be "true," in that the film "accurately" "captures" "global" "states" of "injustice." Let me point out that the film is itself a crime against humanity, and possibly the worst film ever made, and that any random Japanese schoolgirl who can fake sign language could play that particular part. Now that the international court in The Hague is done with Milosevic, I put forth Inarritu.--Mark Peranson


A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR TRENDS: The Year of Follies, Unnecessary Acting, and Aging Indie Rock Dudes

For me, 2006 was the Year of Follies. The only distinctive movies came from auteurs taking a Ron Burgundy cannonball into the wading pool of their private obsessions. Terry Gilliam made a bedtime story for the children of Darfur, Tikrit, and New Orleans in "Tideland," then endured the indignity of having critics scold him for exposing child actors to very bad things! Mike Judge made a time-capsule portrait of Bush America in "Idiocracy," then saw President Murdoch veto his resolution when (rumor has it) the corporations he mocked came a-crying. Sofia Coppola remade Edie and Andy's "Poor Little Rich Girl" on a dazzling epic canvas, then got spanked by critics who weren't in on the lack of a joke. And in "Inland Empire," David Lynch's reinvention of movie narrative reaches new, "Finnegans Wake"-like peaks. Keeping track of the eight or nine parallel worlds is rough duty, but the effort pays off in spades.--Matthew Wilder

2006 was a movie year of grim reality, insofar as the deaths and atrocities of the past could be substituted for those of the present. Regardless of what one thinks of "Apocalypto," or even "The Departed," this cultural bloodline between battlefield and multiplex is hardly new. The Vietnam era was also something of a golden era in cheap, drive-in horror, let's recall. Apart from the "Saw" and "Hostel" franchises, the budgets are higher today and the filmmaking more polished. But death retains its sting, even if that sting only registers as an echo.--Brian Miller

If 2005 was the Year of the Documentary, with audiences streaming to nonfiction films in unheard-of numbers, the inevitable upshot was that 2006 was the Year of the Docudrama. People like seeing the Truth, but, just as much, they like seeing Television. The two most acclaimed films of the year, judging from critics groups, are the British-made, pro-Diana teleplay "The Queen" and British TV director Paul Greengrass's "United 93," a film I swore I already saw on A&E, though not with so much "realist" shakycam. I'm not sure why it exists. I'm more excited for the remake of "Black Christmas."--Mark Peranson

Despite the cranky conversations inspired by the screen adaptation of "High Fidelity," we had to wait six years for movies that fully explored the romantic rituals and passive-aggressive tendencies of aging indie rock dudes. Alan, the hero of "Mutual Appreciation," is the most likeable of this new posse, though he doesn't realize that the miniscule amount of career heat he gets after moving from Boston to New York will likely be all he gets. As for Josh, the musician turned booking agent in "The Puffy Chair," his behavior suggests that his years in the indie-rock trenches have turned him into a weasel with anger issues. The two friends in "Old Joy," wary of making uncool commitments to straight-world institutions like child-rearing and steady employment, feel increasingly aimless and defenseless. Encouraged to believe they were better than the straights by dint of their superior musical taste, they're forced to concede that some problems can't be fixed with the right mix CD.--Jason Anderson

Notice how the Mercedes Benz Smart car keeps popping up in duds? Designated comic relief on wheels by the likes of Ron Howard ("The Da Vinci Code"), Ridley Scott ("A Good Year") and Shawn Levy ("The Pink Panther"), this nifty little mover better find itself a new agent pronto.--Tom Charity

One of the joys of 2006 was watching furtively ingenious morsels of acting fall to the floor even when the performer's craft was strictly unnecessary. Watch the effort Jordana Brewster takes to fill out the pure abstraction of her woman-hating closeups in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," or Vincent D'Onofrio trying and failing to steal scenes from Vince Vaughn with an excess of Method technique in "The Break-Up." They could've phoned it in, but I for one am happy for the wasted energy.--Matthew Wilder

Given how indispensable digital effects have become, it's pleasing to note the defiantly low-tech nature of some of the year's multiplex champs. While much of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" was slick, noisy bombast, the real fun stuff--Jack Sparrow's fruit skewer, the duel on the mill wheel--testified to the old-fashioned pleasures of a well-choreographed stunt. The parkour-enhanced chase scene in "Casino Royale" was 2006's most thrilling action sequence for the same reasons. And of course, there was the epic battle between Borat and his producer Azamat, a scene so simple in its means, so relentless in its execution, and so potent in its impact, you could almost smell the testes. No piece of CGI could elicit the same awe.--Jason Anderson


FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Underrated, Overlooked, and Misappreciated

Terry Zwigoff's "Art School Confidential" is defensible as a conventional satire, but its most authentic quality is its unrelenting bitterness---if it eventually gets bogged down in a half-assed serial-killer plot, it's only because the audience doesn't deserve any better. There's hardly a shortage of commentators bemoaning the degraded state of American culture, but only transgressors like Zwigoff and Sacha Baron Cohen seem to understand that it might be necessary to sacrifice the niceties of good taste and fine art in the process.--Joshua Land

"Art School Confidential" would make a great double bill with Welles's "F for Fake": they're both about art frauds and fraudulent experts. A hilariously lowbrow assault on the pretense of objectivity in the art world, its key phrase, repeated over and over, is "What do you think of their work?" The answer is always different because our opinions are constantly shaped and censored by how we want the people around us to think of us. Case in point: If I wasn't so afraid of being laughed out of the critical community, it'd be a lot higher on my 10-best list.--Matt Singer

"Idlewild" was a feistier, fresher musical than "Dreamgirls," not least by virtue of bypassing the disco doldrums to draw a direct line of descent from rap back to the jumpin' jiver himself, Cab Calloway.--Tom Charity

The treatment of "The Pursuit of Happyness" as a feel-good star vehicle instead of what it is, a toughminded view of how the ruthlessness of the Reagan era begat our second great depression, suggests that film critics are now reviewing the advertsing instead of the movie.--Charles Taylor

"Broken Sky" was this year's one true triumph, director Julian Hernandez's full-color announcement that he is one of the greats. But it was also an indie failure; the valiant, tasteful folk at Strand Releasing just couldn't muster whatever it is that gets critics and audiences to pay attention. Maybe the media had played its gay card with all the praise for "Brokeback Mountain," but somehow Ang Lee's film did not build a constituency for a sensitive, experimental film that uses two young gay male college students as an allegory for how individuals are built, broken, and resurrected by passion. The majesty of "Broken Sky" makes visionary Hernandez look like a dinosaur walking among pygmies.--Armond White

"Click" was a genius movie idea, an inspired metaphor for 21st-century living. See, the key word isn't 'universal'. The key word is 'remote'. That's how we come to fast-forward through the best bits. Too bad for screenwriters Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe that Frank Coraci is no Frank Capra, and Adam Sandler is no Jimmy Stewart either. Even so, you take what you can get. I have to confess I was moved.--Tom Charity

The puritans who attacked "Marie Antoinette" fashion fetish missed its conceptual rigor. If it weren't for the pink high-tops, the movie could have been directed by Straub-Huillet.--Sam Adams

Sofia Coppola's continuing fixation on girls without goals has so far produced three of the most inspired and sensitive portraits of female alienation in modern American film. Marie Antoinette is as lost at Versailles as Charlotte in "Lost in Translation" and Lux in "The Virgin Suicides." It's a hermetic, specialized, and consistent artistic vision, and the problem for some critics may be that it's also a very feminine one.--Jeannette Catsoulis


APOCALYPTO: The Death (and Rebirth?) of Film Culture

For the kind of person who thinks the glass is half-empty, it would be easy to find apocalyptic portents in this year's film culture. For starters, Wellspring, one of the country's most adventurous distributors, folded its theatrical arm. If it still existed, I'm sure Tsai Ming-liang's and Alexander Sokurov's latest films would have been released in the U.S. by now.--Steve Erickson

Non-controversy of the year: Unscreened movies. Are audiences really dying to know the critical cognoscenti's take on "Bloodrayne"? The real issue is the industry's increasing reliance on low-grade seat-fillers with no greater aim than to pack in bored teenagers for a decent opening weekend. Who cares if they tell their friends how hard "Employee of the Month" sucked? We got ours.--Sam Adams

"Snakes on a Plane" still makes me laugh. Internet nerds got all excited about this shitty movie then when it finally opened were devastated to learn that they'd wasted six months of their lives writing blogs about...a shitty movie!--Matt Singer

Most Urgently Needed Motto of the Year: CRITICISM MUST OPPOSE HYPE. Five good reasons why: "Dreamgirls," "Borat," "United 93," "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Departed."--Armond White

The worst development for U.S. film culture was the ravenous and destructive takeover/makeover by New Times of the Village Voice's film section, whose distinctly downtown attitude has been folded into a misbegotten (and surely doomed) strategy to create some sort of "national" weekly claimed to be "alternative."--Robert Koehler

What happened at the Village Voice, and at other places to our colleagues, is going to continue until we as a community figure out what to do. Most of us can't speak up because we need the jobs we have. But we are watching the murder of American film criticism and we need to keep saying as loudly as we can, where we can, that the editors who are eviscerating it are cravenly obliterating the one thing that stands between the public and the millions of publicity dollars studios have at their disposal--to promote their own movies or swamp the alternatives. Sure this is in our own best interests. But increasingly it's clear that arts editors and the higher ups who put morons in those jobs are perpetuating a standard of journalism that, were it to be attempted in the news or the op-ed departments, would start an ethical air-raid siren wailing. I don't care that I rarely agreed with Dennis Lim or with Michael Atkinson, who I've taken to task in this poll in past years. I care that people who are serious film critics are losing their jobs to be replaced by publicity or by some jerk-off who thinks "Notorious" is ok--you know, for some boring old black and white thing. I don't think the audience for film criticism is gone--and I think we have to find a way to make our readers care about criticism being an endangered craft. I don't know the answer. I do know we need to start answering the idiots who would destroy what we do.--Charles Taylor

Where the hell was highbrow film culture when Mike Judge needed it? Idiocracy is by no means a masterpiece. Parts of it are excruciatingly muddled, and its politics can be a bit dodgy. ("Heh heh.....he said 'eugenics.' Heh heh...") But the film teems with ideas and a healthy dose of rage. (It's essentially Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" rewritten as dystopian satire.) Fox successfully killed the film for reasons which still remain unclear; this is the movie that earned the title "Flushed Away."--Michael Sicinski

What the fuck, 2006 edition: Fox's unfathomable shitcanning of "Idiocracy." Opening in seven cities in North America, the movie made "Duma" look like a wide release. L.A., Chicago, sure. Austin, of course. But Atlanta? And not Philly or New York or DC? Clearly Mike Judge's acid satire was more imminently prophetic than he realized; the morons are already running Hollywood.--Sam Adams

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's "Little Miss Sunshine" was far from 2006's worst film, but it was the most depressing. If "indie" has come to mean regurgitating '80s Hollywood comedies like "National Lampoon's Vacation" and cosmetic attempts at edge like having an old man snort heroin and read porn, it's better off dying.--Steve Erickson

After flirting with irrelevance for much of the last decade, the Sundance Film Festival has made a real comeback over the past couple of years, launching left-field hits like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Illusionist," and introducing visionary American independent films like "Police Beat," "Old Joy," "Brick," and "C.S.A.: The Confederate States Of America." Sundance is becoming worthy of its position again.--Noel Murray

Moviegoing may be dying a slow death, replaced by video-on-demand, Netflix, and HBO original programming, but cinephiles can now strain their eyes watching YouTube and UbuWeb, where everything from Stan Brakhage shorts to Michel Gondry music videos to Jean-Luc Godard's "Weekend" (available in its entirety in 10-minute installments) can be watched on a 4" by 4" screen.--Anthony Kaufman

After all the handwringing over Mark Cuban's day-and-date "Bubble" stunt (which overshadowed the significant virtues of the film itself), IFC First Take appears to have won the day. Now that there's a Comcast/HDNet truce on, we can stop and appreciate what Jonathan Sehring and Ryan Werner have done for our faltering film culture. Often they're releasing the kinds of films the late, lamented Wellspring used to supply, and so far it seems to be working. The secret: While the new Hou or Chereau dies a predictable death in coastal arthouses, folks like me living in the sticks pay $5.95 a pop, subsidizing the celluloid for your urban asses. (You're welcome.)--Michael Sicinski


ART FILMS CONFIDENTIAL: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You. Hopefully.

Highlight of the "Out 1" screening at the Moving Image: the elderly gentleman next to me snoring in rhythm to Juliet Berto's counting game in her apartment.--R. Emmet Sweeney

Pedro Costa's "Colossal Youth" is a loving act of portraiture, allowing near-homeless immigrants in Lisbon to quietly assert themselves as full-fledged, dignified subjects. Costa asks us to ponder their poetry over and over, to study the lines in their faces, to pop a squat in their noisy bedrooms and just listen. It's progressive Heideggerian cinema, open to the world and slowly letting it reveal its beauty and power.--Michael Sicinski

Landing in the lion's den of Cannes's Palme d'Or competition, Pedro Costa's epochal "Colossal Youth" exposed an ideological division in the world film community. Where one stood on Costa's radical, poetically austere work defined how one measured what mattered in contemporary cinema: The fashionable sheen and star power of the Spanish Pedro's "Volver," or the concern for the body, physical space, light, real time, and poverty of this Pedro's "Colossal Youth." There is simply no in between.--Robert Koehler

Diehard Tsai Ming-liang aficionados will no doubt recall that this leading light of modern Taiwanese cinema is actually a native Malaysian, but who could have anticipated a sex comedy-slash-love/hate letter to old Kuala Lumpur as scrungy and narratively schizoid as "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone"? Fans of the footstompin' fellatio follies of Tsai's last film, "The Wayward Cloud," that's who. Tsai burrows beneath the seediest sidestreets and half-finished architectural skeletons of the monsoon-moist city in ways that even Malaysia's brave new breed of cine-indies rarely dare. Brutally suspicious of K.L.'s racially polyglot society, "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" shifts the director's love-in-the-ruins paradigm only slightly--but just enough to remind us that even the moldiest mansions can prove breeding grounds for desire, and that scratching an itch only makes it worse when the bed bugs start to bite.--Chuck Stephens

Jia Zhangke's "Still Life" dives into the modernist flatness of DV to observe ordinary lives being disrupted by the Three Gorges Dam and subsequent flooding of entire towns, for the presumed greater good of China but largely due to encroaching Western capital. We see buildings and towers slowly demolished, and sometimes crumbling before our very eyes. Although no one will ever mistake Jia for a psychological realist, "Still Life" is a true leap forward for this highly political filmmaker. Instead of being mere puppets at the mercy of greater social forces, Jia's protagonists move through a shifting landscape, registering these changes on their bodies and their psyches. And yet they are never totally constrained by the history to which they are bearing witness. They feel, and act, and live. Still.--Michael Sicinski

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

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1 Comment

  • parisrampro | December 22, 2006 2:49 AMReply

    Common... the worst movie of the year has to be THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, a boring chop shop horror filled with cliche's and moronic ideas. Although, it is listed as a 2005 movie, I think it must has played for 1 and 1/2 days here. The joke is Elvis Mitchell who always pimps himself to idiotic films, at least played that he found some pretensious depth to this film. HA! This an the HOSTEL (another film listed as 2005 but didn't play until 2006) cannot be taken seriously and are borish and moronic.