By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire January 2, 2007 at 11:52AM
Happy New Year from indieWIRE. In our first article of 2007, we wrap-up a flurry of year end articles, mainly looking back at the best movies from the past year. It all started late last month with the first indieWIRE Critic's Poll, surveying 107 film critics about their favorite films of the year. Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" topped the poll, with Martin Scorsese voted best director for his acclaimed Hollywood movie, "The Departed". James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments" was named best documentary and Rian Johnson's "Brick" was voted best first film. Writer Peter Morgan topped the best screenplay ballot for "The Queen" and the film's lead, Helen Mirren was singled out as best actress (while Mark Wahlberg was highlighted for his best supporting performance in "The Departed"). Finally, the notice for best cinematography went to Emmanuel Lubezki for "Children of Men."
indieWIRE editors are paying particular attention to the films named in the best undistributed category because we'll use that info to help us curate the new Undiscovered Gems series showcasing unreleased films. The 107 critics picked Hong Sang-soo's "Woman on the Beach" as the best undistributed film and Anthony Kaufman explored the results in an article looking at other films also selected in the category. Film bloggers responded with their own ballots (see posts from Tom Hall, Matthew Curtis, Matt Dentler, Holly Herrick, Karina Longworth, Jared Moshe, Mark Rabinowitz, Chuck Tryon, and Gabe Wardell), offering their takes in the various categories.
We also polled indieWIRE editors and frequent contributors, as well as industry insiders and bloggers, seeking their top ten lists and encouraging a sidebar on the best undistributed titles of the year.
As the year came to a close, box office columnist Steven Rosen looked back at 2006, noting in his year-end column, "A surprising number of fall-release indies--especially those released by studio 'classics' divisions--that received good reviews had trouble finding an audience when they tried to expand. Right now, several of them are counting on Academy Award nominations to revive their fortunes...Paramount Vantage's highly praised 'Babel', Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's tough-minded but redemptive interlocking narrative about the way sorrow and tragedy binds us together as humans, never recovered from jumping to 1,251 screens from 35 in its third weekend. The distributor had hoped Brad Pitt's presence would propel the film. Fox Searchlight's 'The Last King of Scotland', do wdirected by Kevin Macdonald and featuring a sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated portrayal of Idi Amin by Forest Whitaker, had to retreat from a high of just 113 theaters on the Oct. 24 iWBOT, after its per-screen average had dipped below $4,000."
Insiders will certainly be watching the expansion of Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth", which opened with spectacular numbers in its debut weekend. All will certainly be monitoring the box office impact of likely Oscar nominations on the end-of-the-year specialty releases, including Almodovar's "Volver" from Sony Pictures Classics and Frears' "The Queen" from Miramax.
As for documentaries, indieWIRE columnist Jonny Leahan looked back at the year in a final column for 2006, "'In some ways, it was an unusual year for nonfiction films, and I wonder if it is the start of a tipping point of some kind'," AJ Schnack, director of 'Kurt Cobain About a Son', told Leahan in the column. "'On the one hand, I think everyone agrees that we saw a large number of really great films with a variety of subject matters and styles, but I think there's a perception amongst distributors and exhibitors that audiences have not responded to them or will not show up. It's the old 'no one knows anything' maxim... So there is this greater sense of risk with nonfiction, which perhaps was felt less strongly in the past two or three years. And where there is risk, there is trepidation, particularly with distributors, even the smaller ones, looking for big scores.'"
Finally, over the long weekend as insiders prepared to ring in 2007, we asked a few to share thoughts about 2006 and look ahead to the new year. Their comments follow:
"2006 was a very bittersweet year. It was such an honor to work with Robert Altman and such a loss to everyone when he passed away. Working with Altman and also getting to know Guillermo del Toro as we prepared for the release of 'Pan's Labyrinth' reminds us all why we got excited about movies in the first place. Overall, the year ended well, with many great films showing up to make '06 a good one.
As for 2007, the resolution is to continue to work with innovative filmmakers, break new ground in distribution and bring exciting projects to audiences worldwide. While doing this, we resolve to have fun and be profitable!"
- Bob Berney, President, Picturehouse
"It seems that everyone is talking about how in 2006 everyone became famous for 15 people. Technology helped make the creation and sharing of content rise to levels we have never seen before. While it was an exciting year - filled with promise for the future of independent media - Aaron Levine and I at Gen Art couldn't help but notice that the ideas were stale and under-thought. But as we prepare for programming in 2007 we have already seen a hopeful turn in the quality and meaningfulness of the submissions we are receiving and in the attitude and conversations being had among artists.
In 2007 the voice of the independent artistic community, the truth seekers and reflectors, will grow stronger than ever and through compelling storytelling (no matter the form) lead a charge that will help bring back balance to our world - environmentally, politically and socially."
- Jeffrey Abramson, Gen Art
"My final thoughts on 2006:
The absence of Wellspring was noticed, affecting the amount of good films I could see this year. For the supposed creative capital of the world, New York still needs a film organization that truly represents indie filmmakers. And by the way, the definition of indie isn't that difficult - the obfuscation stems directly from the profit motives of those claiming the term is meaningless, whether it's to sell bigger films or attract more sponsors.
Resolutions: Professionally, my resolution is to try to help fill some of those gaps through the organization I run. My personal resolutions - to email less, blog more and take more vacations."
-- Brian Newman, Executive Director, Renew Media
"2006 was a watershed year.
This was the year where federal, state and municipal production incentives contributed to a tangible and pronounced increase in production financing. Coupled with the increasing array of new distribution options that afford greater access and control, the climate for independent film has never been better.
I am optimistic about 2007 and the continuation of these trends."
-- Steven Beer, Greenberg Traurig
"Manohla Dargis, normally astute, made this sweeping generalization in her year end round-up: "This year's crop of nonfiction titles included PowerPoint presentations, cut-and-paste news reports and the usual exercises in dithering solipsism, precious few of which were well considered, shot and edited." She singles out "Our Daily Bread" as "a vivid reminder that aesthetics are part of the documentary ethos, not added value."
But "Our Daily Bread" was hardly alone. The more notable trend in 2006 is how many docs raised the level of craft and aesthetics: 'Iraq in Fragments'; 'The Bridge'; 'Rank'; 'Beauty Academy of Kabul'. Not to mention fall festival titles, squeezing into 2006 award consideration, such as 'Blindsight' and 'Kurt Cobain About a Son'. Not to mention earlier festival titles such as 'Black Sun' or 'You're Gonna Miss Me' that remain undistributed.
Not to pick on Dargis. The profusion of documentaries has left the whole critical community short-handed. Few reviewers can keep up with docs at the same level of expertise they devote to fiction. For comparison, look at the NYT Book Review: its editors wouldn't assign the same reviewer to both John Updike and Bob Woodward; and it distinguishes between fiction and nonfiction for separate "best of" lists. That coverage is woefully lacking in film. Most publications, including Indiewire, solicit a top 10 list of fiction films, plus one best documentary of the year.
It's time for that to change. At TIFF 06, we got a sample of next year's releases: 'The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair'; 'Ghosts of Cite Soleil'; 'The Killer Within'; and sneak preview clips of Michael Moore's 'Sicko'. Already I can't limit myself to choosing one best and the year hasn't even begun. Let's hope for 2007 that mainstream arts editors move towards a more informed, robust discussion of documentary."
- Thom Powers Documentary Programmer, Toronto International Film Festival; and Stranger Than Fiction @ IFC Center
"With the state of the film business these days and everything guided by the mighty dollar I was very grateful and fortunate that a small film like 'American Hardcore' could actually find a decent distributor and make a bang. Yes the USA still rocks harder than anywhere. 2006 was good.
For 2007 well as a very indie filmmaker you start all over again with a new project. You always come back to square one and then start the climb all over again. With more knowledge each time around.
- Paul Rachman, director, "American Hardcore"
"My looking forward is too sappy for me to put out there, so I'll just put a looking back:
On the eve of the election, fondly watching the cultural conservatives be too busy with their own self-immolation to go after 'Shortbus' (representatives in glass houses who IM congressional pages can't through stones). Awright, we probably didn't, um, penetrate their world anyway, but it was still a fun sideshow to watch."
-- Howard Gertler, producer, "Shortbus"
We invite you to share your thoughts on 2006 or professional resolutions for the new year in the comments below. All the best for 2007.