For the final week of 2006 we are taking a look back at the year, offering a round-up of the ten best lists from the indieWIRE editors and our frequent contributors. Participants were invited to include films released theatrically this year, but each person devised their own criteria. We also encouraged participants to consider adding a sidebar of a few favorite undistributed films, to help us when we determine the participants in our next Undiscovered Gems series. Tomorrow, check back for Top 10 Lists from a host of insiders and bloggers. indieWIRE readers are invited to post their own top ten list for 2006 in the comments section below (and don't forget to include your name).
Eugene Hernandez, Editor-in-Chief
The best film of 2006 hasn't even opened in theaters yet, but prepare yourself, its coming later this week and must be seen on the big screen. Set amidst the civil war in Spain in 1944, Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" is a rich, dark (and beautiful) tale of a young girl who, with her mother, moves into the home of a captain in Franco's army. Played by breakthrough talent Ivana Baquero, the girl escapes the realities of her harsh life in a fantastical world where a mysterious faun explains to her that she is a princess. Del Toro's adult fairy tale, sometimes graphic and occasionally intense, stands out as one of the more original cinematic visions to come along in quite awhile.
1. "Pan's Labyrinth"
4. "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints"
5. "A Lion In The House"
6. "Marie Antoinette"
7. "The Road to Guantanamo"
9. "The Science of Sleep"
...and a dozen special mentions:
"The Puffy Chair," "Four Eyed Monsters," "Mutual Appreciation," "Romantico," "Quinceanera," "Sisters in Law," "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple," "Iraq in Fragments," "Little Children," "The Devil and Daniel Johnston," "Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul"
[Eugene Hernandez writes a blog that is hosted by indieWIRE.]
Brian Brooks, Associate Editor
No particular order:
"Iraq in Fragments" -- How anyone was able to get that kind of access and live to tell it is amazing. Even more amazing is how the most tragic of situations can be caught with stunning beauty.
"Half Nelson" -- Ryan Gosling is fantastic in this role playing a crack-using teacher with surprising sympathy. Co-star Shareeka Epps and director Ryan Fleck are both personalities to be watched.
"United 93" -- Going into it, I was afraid it would be portrayed with a huge dose of sap, but Paul Greengrass' look at this segment of 9/11 was told with the great respect due the passengers and crew of that flight on that fateful day.
"Babel" -- Not flawless, but nevertheless engaging. Despite some tragedy all around, it is perhaps a not so subtle commentary on how the first world manages to always fuck over the third. The Japanese segment was a particular favorite.
"Volver" -- Windy days in La Mancha, family antagonisms rising to the surface, and a mother ghost. Perfecto!
"Shortbus" -- So Americans aren't just a bunch of Republican buffet-eating, gun-shooting, inward-looking fundamentalist Christian prudes after all... This was the first time in six years I heard the American National Anthem and got goose bumps!
"Quinceanera" -- No "stars," low budget, a unique story-driven film with a lot of heart and soul. A true LA story from the east side of the 101 Fwy.
"An Inconvenient Truth" -- God I wish Gore's personality would've come through like this in 2000! Surprisingly engaging and even entertaining for a subject too many--like the U.S. government--would like to ignore. The worst part for me was that I watched it on a 14 hour flight aboard a 747.
"The Queen" -- This is a no brainer of course. A great story, direction and acting. Dame Helen Mirren portrayed the emotional side of a seemingly emotionless monarch with depth and regal flare, but it was Michael Sheen's depiction of Prime Minister Tony Blair that was the true piece de resistance.
"Marie Antoinette" -- Sumptuous scenes from Versailles, imposing court ritual and a revolution that is only a gilded cage away. This movie was maligned by some in Cannes and the exaggerated boos from its press screening there never went away. But forgetting that, the powerful opening of The Cure's "Plainsong" during the coronation scene depicted a fitting beginning to the slow descent from Europe's most glittering throne and was one of many magical moments in this stunning and unconventional interpretation.
Almost in the Top 10: "Little Miss Sunshine, "Man Push Cart," "American Blackout," "Wordplay," "The War Tapes," "The Puffy Chair," "Jesus Camp," A Lion in the House," "The Devil Wears Prada"
Still need to see: "The Road to Guantanamo," "Borat" (I'm the only one left), "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," "The Departed," "Little Children," "Pan's Labyrinth," "Inland Empire," "Brothers of the Head"
Best Undistributed: "Our Brand is Crisis," "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," "Camp Out," "The Life of Reilly," "The Refugee All Stars"
As indieWIRE's short film columnist, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight features made by directors who got their start making shorts. If you liked their longer films, check out their earlier work (most of which are viewable online at sites like YouTube).
In alphabetical order...
"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (Dir. Larry Charles) - Including "Borat" on this list is a kind of cheat since director Larry Charles's background is TV instead of short filmmaking. However, I can rationalize including this film because the "Borat" segments on "Da Ali G Show" are in effect mini-films. And what an excellent example of how to take a character who shines in the short format and have him carry a full-length film.
"Cars" (Dirs. John Lasseter & Joe Ranft) - Name me one little boy who didn't LOVE this passion project by Pixar's head honcho. [Lasseter's most famous short: "Luxo Jr." (1986)]
"The Departed" (Dir. Martin Scorsese) - Scorsese's latest flick should sweep up at the Oscars, don't you think? [Scorsese's short: "The Big Shave" (1967)]
"Half Nelson" (Dir. By Ryan Fleck) - This drama (tangentially based on Fleck's short film) will make you forget that star Ryan Gosling was once a Mouseketeer alongside Britney, Justin, and Christina. [Fleck's short: "Gowanus, Brooklyn" (2004)]
"Idiocracy" (Dir. Mike Judge) - Practically no one saw this comedy in the theater, but it's coming out in DVD early next month. Like "Office Space," the latest live-action feature by Judge is definitely a must-see cult classic. [Judge's short: "Frog Baseball" (1992)]
"Inside Man" (Dir. Spike Lee) - Spike Lee had a killer year with this highly enjoyable box office hit and the extremely moving multi-part HBO Katrina doc "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts." [Lee's short: "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads" (1983)]
"Marie Antoinette" (Dir. Sofia Coppola) - Not as great as "Lost in Translation," but still a visual treat. The soundtrack is arguably the best of the year. [Coppola's short: "Lick the Star" (1998)]
"Nacho Libre" (Dir. Jared Hess) - It's no "Napoleon Dynamite," but bonus points for having the year's most memorable poster. [Hess's short: "Peluca" (2003)]
"The Prestige" (Dir. Christopher Nolan) - Great casting, as Nolan recycles Christian Bale and Michael Caine from his big budget "Batman Begins" and then raises the stakes with Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, and David Bowie. [Nolan's short: "Doodlebug" (1997)]
"Thank You For Smoking" (Dir. Jason Reitman) - Young Jason Reitman makes a dazzling feature debut, surefootedly adapting a difficult satirical novel by Christopher Buckley. Additional kudos for hiring fellow short film alumni to make the delightful opening credit sequence. [Reitman's most recent short: "Lighting Will Guide You" (2006)"]
Kim Adelman writes indieWIRE's monthly Shorts Column.
TOP 10 FILMS OF 2006 (no ranking):
"The Dead Girl"
"Flags of Our Fathers"
"Death of a President"
BEST UNDISTRIBUTED FILMS (no ranking):
"Still Life" (Jia Zhang-ke, China)
"In Bed/ En la cama" (Matias Bize, Chile)
"Flanders" (Bruno Dumont, France)
"Skritek" (Tomas Vorel, Czech Republic)
"Hanging Garden" (Tooda Toshiaki, Japan)
"Gie" (Riri Riza, Indonesia)
"Taking Father Home" (Ying Liang, China)
"Taxidermia" (Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary)
[Howard Feinstein is a frequent festival contributor.]
Susan Gerhard, SF360.org
I got to view my favorite film of the year, "Zidane: un Portrait du 21e siecle" (still unreleased here, maybe forever?), only after the final game of the World Cup turned into an international incident with Zidane's now infamous head-butt to Materazzi. I was floored not just by how the climax of this Real Madrid-Villarreal game-gone-by (another explosion by/send-off of Zidane!) reflected 06's incident, but by how Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's soundscape and visual design created such a poetic take on the consciousness of a performer. They drew this nonfiction film as far away from the false emotives of the backstage behind-the-music talking-heads docs as they could and raised the bar for what "reality" filmmaking can be.
Top 20 released films
1. "Half Nelson"
4. "The Road to Guantanamo"
5. "Battle in Heaven"
6. "Man Push Cart"
7. "Duck Season"
8. "Tristram Shandy"
9. "Iraq in Fragments"
10. "A Prairie Home Companion"
11. "Heart of the Game"
12. "American Blackout"
13. "The Queen"
15. "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu"
16. "The Departed"
17. "Strangers with Candy"
18. "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos"
19. "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
20. "An Inconvenient Truth"
Top 10 unreleased in U.S. as of 2006, some coming soon to a theater near you, others of which, you'll never be lucky enough to see:
1. "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait"
2. "Colma: The Musical"
3. "Citizen Dog"
4. "Still Life"
5. "The Host"
6. "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone"
7. "Opera Jawa"
8. "Syndromes and a Century"
9. "The Last Communist"
10. "We Feed the World"
[Susan Gerhard is the editor of SF360.org, a joint publication from indieWIRE and the San Francisco Film Society.]
[My top ten list includes films I've seen that were released theatrically in 2006 in the U.S. and/or Brazil. Due to different film rosters and distribution schedules, I won't be seeing several American favorites until early next year, and American audiences may never see some of my Brazilian favorites. Frustrating, yes, but this was the only criteria that made sense for me.]
My favorite Brazilian film of the year was easily "Suely in the Sky." Intimate and above all sincere, it simultaneously introduced a rebellious character (she sometimes goes by "Suely") and a remarkable leading actress (Hermila Guedes, whose breakthrough performance gave the film its flesh and blood).
Otherwise, my favorite film of the year was "Pan's Labyrinth." What I admire most about this film, among many things, is how fantasy and reality harmonize to create such a perfectly devastating finale.
The remaining 8, in alphabetical order: "Climates," "The Departed," "The Devil's Miner," "Dia de Festa," "Grbavica," "Half Nelson," "The Hills Have Eyes," "Shadows of Time"
Festival highlights: "Syndromes and a Century," "Nuovomondo," "Dam Street," "En Soap"
Haven't seen (but looking forward to seeing): "Inland Empire," "Borat," "The Queen," "Lady Vengeance," "The Science of Sleep," "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Most Overrated: "Little Miss Sunshine" (it felt as meticulously calculated as a teenager's myspace profile)
[Based in Sao Paulo, Michael Gibbons writes occasional dispatches from Brazil.]
Top ten of 2006:
1. "The Departed" 2. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" 3. "The Road to Guantanamo" 4. "Flags of Our Fathers" 5. "Sweet Land" 6. "The War Tapes" 7. "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" 8. "Brick" 9. "Babel" 10. "Inside Man"
Films I still need to see: "Half Nelson," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Little Children"
Films that deserve distribution: "Choking Man," "Colma: The Musical," "Rock The Bells"
And here's some I enjoyed that open in early '07:
"The Lives of Others" - Coming off its dominance in the European Awards (and it is nominated for a Golden Globe), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's amazing film finally comes stateside. Set in 1980s East Germany, it follows a committed member of the secret police (played marvelously by Ulrich Muehe) who questions his profession after spying on a celebrated writer and actress couple. (Limited release begins in February)
"Black Snake Moan" - Sure to raise some eyebrows when it premieres at Sundance, Craig Brewer's follow-up to "Hustle and Flow" stars Christina Ricci as a young girl who has quite an appetite for the opposite sex. Samuel L. Jackson plays the man who tries to take the demon out of her. Filled with great blues music, this won't have the same acclaim as "Hustle and Flow" but will still find an audience. (Opens in February)
"The Wind That Shakes The Barley" - Winner of the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes, Ken Loach's intimate look at the beginning of the IRA and one family's tragic involvement is beautiful crafted and Cillian Murphy's performance is his best so far in his brief career. (Limited release begins in March)
[Jason Guerrasio writes the monthly Production Report column.]
1. "L'Enfant" - The brothers Dardenne have once again created a masterpiece of moral struggle, under-class woe and sublime redemption. No other movie this year made me physically shudder.*
The following nine continue to dance and shift on my hierarchy of favorites, so in no particular order, numbers 2 through 9: "Volver," "Battle in Heaven," "Climates," "Half Nelson," "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," "Children of Men," "The Proposition," "Old Joy," "The Science of Sleep"
The following films could probably have also made the list, depending on mood, temperament, state of digestion, at different times of the year, or if I could expand it to top 20: "Pan's Labyrinth," "Mutual Appreciation," "The Road to Guantanamo," The "Pusher" Trilogy, "Borat," "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," and Steven Soderbergh's innovative twofer "Bubble" and "The Good German" (definitely worth seeing, despite the critical drubbing).
Because of whatever reason I cannot wholly defend, I always find myself separating documentaries from my top ten. Here are my favorites: "Iraq in Fragments," "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" (*this also made me shudder, actually), "Dave Chapelle's Block Party," "Our Brand is Crisis" and "The Devil and Daniel Johnston."
Worth putting on your Netflix queue: "Inside Man," "The Prestige," "Wassup Rockers," "The Painted Veil," "Twelve and Holding," "I Am a Sex Addict."
Most overrated: "The Departed," "Flags of our Fathers," "Letters from Iwo Jima." Most regret missing: "Requiem"
1. "L'Enfant" - The Dardenne Brothers, two of a slight fistful of the greatest filmmakers in the world today, did it again. Are their portraits of spiritual, cultural, and, yes, financial crisis, becoming repetitive? Does it matter when the result is so morally resonant and shatteringly humane? The narrative is as propulsive as any action movie this year, with a catharsis to rival "The Bicycle Thief."
2. "Letters from Iwo Jima" - Has Clint Eastwood become American cinema's premier poet of pain? Lyrical, subtle, immensely sad, "Letters from Iwo Jima" single-handedly elevates "Flags of Our Fathers," while also standing on its own so sturdily that you forget it's even part of a pair. In a foreign tongue yet undeniably for American audiences unused to seeing such compassion for the "enemy," "Letters" is the great work of a fascinated, dedicated artist.
3. "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" - Many of the year's best films are about death, but none approach the subject with as much palpable loneliness, awe, and demystifying humor as Cristi Puiu's devastating crawl towards the inevitable.
4. "Three Times" - Hou Hsiao-hsien finally grabbed my heart along with my head with the gorgeous "Three Times." Yes, it's drifting, dreamlike, etc...but you know what? It's also thoroughly socially and politically engaged. That third story is the most misunderstood: a cutting critique of sexually "liberated" youths playing with each other's hearts with careless abandon.
5. "A Prairie Home Companion" - All things must pass, and they do with ease and a song in their hearts in Altman's charming, elegantly constructed toe-tapper. Altman's unexpectedly (to us, at least) final film was actually a fitting goodbye, and gives me hope that he was at peace with himself, his art, and his world. Just lovely, top to bottom.
6. "A Lion in the House" - It wasn't seen by many, since most weekly reviewers gently placed it aside as if with rubber hospital gloves--easier than to deal with this astonishing documentary's difficult subject matter (children living, and dying, with cancer; their parents by their side, sometimes for years). The fact of the matter is that "A Lion in the House" is the most emotional experience I've ever had in the theater, but never depressing: it's transformative and cleansing. The world is a better place with "Lion" in it.
7. "The Departed" - Scorsese was never gone--the exhilarating, kinetic, continuous cut-to-movement style he pioneered for American film with "Goodfellas" was later perfected in "Casino," and since then, even when he falls short ("Bringing Out the Dead," "Gangs of New York"), he always offers a little bit of something unlike anything you've ever seen. With "The Departed" everything just clicked beginning to end--and Leo emerged as the sexiest American actor working today.
8. "Clean" - Olivier Assayas keeps making great, deeply textured movies, but when will people start going? Maybe if distributors and critics knew how to handle them. Of course, "Clean" isn't exactly trendy. It stays on the peripheries of the music business that it both excoriates and also seems seduced by; and Maggie Cheung is as hypnotic as ever as the has-been rocker's wife trying to go sober.
9. "Fast Food Nation" - Contrary to belief, it's actually very much like a Linklater film. Discursive, complex, sad, funny, frustrating. Everyone speaks a lot, some are right, some are wrong, but Linklater's not gonna tell you who. It's not about fast food as much as it is about artificiality in American life. Catalina Sandino Moreno's final debasement on the killing floor is the most unforgettable ending of any American film this year.
10. "Inland Empire" - No, it's not even half the masterpiece that "Mulholland Drive" is--one gets the sense that he's somewhat tapped out after that great, cumulative artistic statement. But thankfully, no one quite gets at the stuff of dreams like David Lynch, and in using digital video, he seemed to transform cinema's visual landscape in one fell swoop.
Top Ten List, 2006 Films, Ranked alphabetically
1) "Half Nelson"
2) "An Inconvenient Truth"/"Who Killed the Electric Car?" (combined)
3) "Letters from Iwo Jima"
4) "Little Children"
5) "Neil Young: Heart of Gold"/"Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" (combined)
6) Old Joy
7) The Queen
8) Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
9) United 93
TOP UNDISTRIBUTED FILMS:
"You're Gonna Miss Me," directed by Keven McAlester
"Son of Man," directed by Mark Dornford-May
"Desire," directed by Julie Gustafson
"My Nikifor," directed by Krzysztof Krauze
"I Build the Tower: The Life and Work of Sam Rodia," directed by Edward Landler and Brad Byer
"Inland Empire" is a fun film to talk about, especially those rabbits, and Laura Dern's performance is a strong, committed one. But are all these people who think it's among the year's very best really serious or just being contrarian? I mean, the film has some problems -- length, for one.
[Steve Rosen writes indieWIRE's weekly box office column.]