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CRITICS’ POLL ’06 | The Comments: The Best, From Mr. Lazarescu to Mr. Eastwood

CRITICS' POLL '06 | The Comments: The Best, From Mr. Lazarescu to Mr. Eastwood

In a year where many movies barely skimmed the surface, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” got under my skin. Its extraordinary long takes forge a practically physical connection between audience and subject; I’ll never forget the moment when I felt my own body jerk in response to Lazarescu’s spasmodic cough. Mr. Lazarescu slips closer to death, rendered mute and finally inert, relieved of his combative personality and reduced to his elemental physicality. There were plenty of bodies chopped up, mangled, dissected, and split open this year, but only one that we were encouraged to take as our own.Sam Adams

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

I saw “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” about 20 months and 2,000 movies ago, so the minute details of the film are vague–I do remember some fat drunk slowly descending into a state of catatonia, plus some more-than-typical asshole-like doctors. This is not a film that makes Romania look like the socialist utopia we all know it truly is.Mark Peranson

Cristi Puiu calls his film a love story. I call it humanity without sanctimony. If there’s any justice in the world, a notion that the film does its best to undermine, Ion Fiscuteanu should get the Best Actor Oscar, even though he’s unconscious for the last 90 minutes of the film.David D’Arcy

Contrary to popular American belief, everyone doesn’t think kids are a blessing or their production a divine event. With “L’Enfant,” the Dardenne brothers, by acknowledging both the commonality and tragedy of kids having kids, and the nurtured pragmatism of Bruno’s response to fatherhood, have produced one of the most humane movies of the year.Jeannette Catsoulis

L’Enfant” is the Dardennes‘ masterful “Rosetta” with a sickening, “Psycho”-esque twist: the person we think the movie’s about disappears half an hour in, and we’re left following a person we hated at first sight through a crazy honor-among-thieves world we know we can’t depend on.Donna Bowman

The Departed” managed to reinvigorate and at times even overshadow its already quite vibrant Hong Kong source material. (Christopher Doyle, eat your hat.) OK, so Martin Sheen‘s no Anthony Wong – how about the mouth on Mark Wahlberg? Or the riotously rat-infested payoff of the movie’s final shot?Chuck Stephens

Overlong and ultimately incoherent, “The Departed” was nevertheless a major return to form for Martin Scorsese after the prestige-picture anonymity of “The Aviator.” Loaded with Scorsesean obsessions (dig the glimpse of an “Exile on Main Street” CD case at a key moment), it might have sneaked onto my best list if not for those guys at my local multiplex whooping it up every time someone got his head blown off.Joshua Land

It is time to admit that Martin Scorsese is more interested in film preservation and history than in making personal studio movies. Fancy that. I feel his pain (and his resignation), but there’s still something deeply dispiriting about seeing a onetime feverish obsessive turned into a sighing clock-puncher. Maybe sadder still is the euphoric reception Marty got for abandoning his Oscar hunt and crafting a splurgy, big-budget episode of “Law and Order: SVU.”Matthew Wilder

On the basis of a first viewing, “Inland Empire” may be my favorite Lynch film since “Eraserhead.” Like that film, it has an apt metaphorical title that explains more than any plot synopsis could–and it also seems to hover around the specter of an unwanted child. Lynch once said that “Eraserhead” was about “Philadelphia.” “Inland Empire” is no less about Hollywood, and what a corrosive portrait it is!Jonathan Rosenbaum

I’ll probably lose another three hours of my life to seeing whether David Lynch‘s subcortical dream palace is structurally sound or a ramshackle trailer park of free-associative ideas held together with baling wire and blurry focus. But damn if Laura Dern doesn’t act as if it all makes sense–a feat that ought to earn her whatever worthwhile acting awards are left in the universe. I have no idea what she’s playing, and based on interviews, neither does she, but damned if it doesn’t feel real while you’re watching it.Sam Adams

Inland Empire” flung me, like “Mulholland“‘s poor Rita, into my own fucked-up blue box: Beforehand, I was a front-line defender, championing Lynch’s self-indulgence, his crazy moods, film after voluptuous film. I even liked “Dune.” But afterward…where did our love go, David? The visual panache, the formal rigor, the spell–was it all a dream?Joshua Rothkopf

For a pair of bracingly naturalistic turns in a pair of painfully slice-of-life post-graduate character studies, look no further than Will Oldham as a dimming free spirit in “Old Joy,” and Rachel Clift as an alt-weekly editor contemplating a fling with an indie-rocker in “Mutual Appreciation.” Both actors clearly know what it means to cling to “cool” even as your life’s slipping toward the tepid.Noel Murray

I’ve loved Kelly Reichardt‘s lo-fi reconsiderations of New Hollywood’s most cherished genre-memes since her “Badlands”-on-a-lunch-money-budget first feature, “River of Grass.” My feelings about almost every Richard Linklater film I’ve suffered through since “Slacker” have run to the opposite extreme. So while the appearance of “Old Joy” on my 10-best list seems natural, the inclusion of Linklater’s fear-soaked incarnation of Philip K. Dick’s most harrowing and heartbreaking book surprises no one more than me. From those Jack-Kirby-meets-Raw-magazine scramble suits to the haunting final thought–“I saw death growing up from the earth”–“A Scanner Darkly“‘s inescapably despairing analysis of lives sucked hollow by addiction had me hooked.Chuck Stephens

Both anti-drug and anti-War on Drugs, “A Scanner Darkly” shows how Philip K. Dick’s ideas, which may have been fanciful in the ’70s, mesh with the reality of the Bush administration’s surveillance. Its addicts live in a world where everyone, whatever their place in society, shares the same paranoia and backstabbing tendencies. The Panopticon has taken over the world of “A Scanner Darkly.” All the stoned bullshitting isn’t just there to kill time or establish character; it shows how jockeying for power is inescapable in every relationship, even over something as petty as whether a bike has eight or nine gears.Steve Erickson

It’s rare that a single shot stands out as better than all others in a movie year, but the long take in “Children of Men” where Clive Owen scurries his way through a battlefield is by far the best of the year, both technically and emotionally. Plus it’s a better adaptation of “V for Vendetta” than “V for Vendetta.”Matt Singer

The first and last filmgoing highlights of my year focused on babies in peril. Unlike 2005’s family-friendly newborn-heavy blockbuster (“March of the Penguins“), the 2006 offerings featured real-live tykes abandoned in a dank storage space (“L’Enfant“) and subject to mortar attacks and machine-gun fire (“Children of Men“). That the latter explicitly hints at Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and America’s current nauseating disregard for human life shows just how far we’ve come (or gone) in the last 12 months.Anthony Kaufman

Does it bug anybody that people are falling out of their chairs over a movie whose thesis is that QE2 and Tony Blair are just nice, harried, slightly neurotic people doing their jobs the best they can?Matthew Wilder

If Robert Altman had lived another 20 years, “A Prairie Home Companion” would still be one of the pinnacles of his career–it encapsulated and deconstructed his working style better than anything he’d done since “A Perfect Couple.” More than that, it communicated Altman’s belief that only together, and only when the gods smile their fickle smiles, can artistry turn into flashes of searing beauty.Donna Bowman

Months after I staggered out of a screening of “4,” half seasick from the camerawork and Bruegel-in-hell imagery, I still couldn’t get it out of my head. No other film this year has felt so new.Alison Willmore

Forget “Bad Santa.” “The Proposition” ends with a bloodbath as Ray Winstone and Emily Watson sit down to Christmas dinner, making it possibly the least festive Christmas movie since “Psycho.”Tom Charity

In “The Science of Sleep,” Michel Gondry finally puts the whole package together, integrating the old-fashioned romance and modernist whimsy that often seemed at cross-purposes in “Eternal Sunshine,” and better yet, channeling it all through the childhood tropes and regurgitated dream fragments of his music videos.Joshua Land

Clint Eastwood‘s two films should really be one–together they form a great tragic epic.Kent Jones

I’m still awaiting the chance to see “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” back to back. The great Japanese film critic Shigehiko Hasumi writes me that he likes both films but prefers the former. I prefer the latter, perhaps for the same reason–it tells me a story I haven’t already heard.Jonathan Rosenbaum

With no disrespect to Clint, wasn’t Richard Linklater‘s one-two punch a more educational shock to the system? Everyone knows that the Japanese died for their country’s honor. What most Americans don’t know–or care to know–is that they take better care of their beef.Ben Kenigsberg

CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA: The Inconvenient Truths of Borat, Al Gore, and 9/11 Movies

Borat” was the first movie marketed through YouTube. Fox sneaked trailers, selected scenes, and then the first four minutes of the movie on the site – even leaking “additional scenes” that weren’t in the movie but would usually have been withheld for the DVD. “Borat” was the perfect YouTube movie in many ways: a loosely linked selection of embarrassingly candid moments thrown into comical relief by open exposure. It doesn’t get more 2006 than this.Tom Charity

From “Borat,” a line of dialogue that just about sums up the year of Mark Foley and Ted Haggard: “Are you telling me that the man who tried to put a rubber fist up my anus is a homosexual?”Noel Murray

The most pleasant surprise of the year was hearing Sacha Baron Cohen speak fluent, Russian-inflected Hebrew when he professed to be speaking Kazakh. Could there have been a better jab at anti-Semitism than to have Borat be a closet Hebrew speaker?Saul Austerlitz

As the lawsuits against Sacha Baron Cohen continue to pour in, it’s worth considering who isn’t pissed off about their “Borat” portrayal. For example, was the scene where Cohen vandalizes an antique store selling Jim Crow paraphernalia staged? Surely America’s red states are home to plenty of actual buffoonery–as “Borat” amply demonstrates–but inventing straw men and passing them off as real is a method worthy of the “great warlord Premier Bush.”Benjamin Strong

No one except a humorless clod needs to be convinced of how balls-out funny “Borat” is. But watch it again, it not only gets funnier, but weirder too. Did that car salesman really just suggest the optimum speed for running down a gypsy? Once you know where the encounters are going, you can watch in awe as Sacha Baron Cohen manipulates his willing victims, seizing on the merest impropriety and leveraging it to pry open a deep well of intolerance. Maybe it’s not all fair, and it’s definitely not nice, but god forbid we live in a world where only fair, nice people are allowed to make movies. “Borat”-bashers can’t help coming off as uptight squares, grousing about ethics and exploitation as if Cohen’s targets were unlettered savages.Sam Adams

The Lost Art: Most documentaries still suffer post-9/11 malaise, mistaking partisanship for journalism. For that reason the best non-fiction films were the innovative musicals “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” and “Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!” Each was subtly political, each was populist. And the music was either devastatingly poignant or just plain fun. Once again, Jonathan Demme has saved the doc genre and now the Beastie Boys have revitalized it.Armond White

The most important film of the year, by any standard, featured a sweet, kind of chunky dude in a bad suit giving a PowerPoint presentation. I think that says it all.Andrew O’Hehir

The combination of Al Gore and a computerized slide show should have been the equivalent of a Sominex and NyQuil cocktail; instead the ex-veep returned to the passionate advocacy his years in Washington had all but bled out of him. Beefed up and dark-suited, he was global warming’s Elwood Blues, on a mission from God to take back the planet. Too bad he didn’t run like this in 2000; maybe he’d be president and George Bush would be giving PowerPoint presentations.Sam Adams

The underseen “Iraq in Fragments” holds a small, secretive, but world-shaking power: it dares to look at our current insoluble predicament not through debate strategy and talking heads, but through the tender blades of grass found in a Terrence Malick film.Matthew Wilder

In the first, most haunting “fragment” of “Iraq in Fragments,” an 11-year-old boy stands in for an entire nation-in-progress’s hopes as he contemplates his abusive boss — part Saddam Hussein, part Uncle Sam — and whispers, “He loves me like a son.” Instantly, James Longley‘s intimate, ground-level portrait of life during wartime snaps into focus. In a year full of Iraq docs, this is the only one that works from the inside out.Noel Murray

While “United 93” envisions Americans as nobler than their leaders, Lars von Trier‘s “Manderlay” implies that each is as bad as the other. Bryce Dallas Howard‘s officious liberal occupies a Southern plantation with the help of her gangster father’s goons and sets about distributing freedom as she sees it. Courting genuine offense rather than his typical kneejerk provocation, Trier indulges the latent racism that runs through much of his work, but the movie strikes home anyway, dynamiting the myth that freedom can be given rather than taken, and that merely unlocking the door is the same as giving people a new life. Now that they’re done with “Battle of Algiers,” maybe the military should be Netflixing “Manderlay” instead.Sam Adams

Essential Double Bill of the Year: “United 93” + “The Road to Guantanamo.” For all its merits, the Greengrass film ends up mythologizing the most reactionary gloss on the events of 9/11: the (doomed) heroic fight back of those passengers against the terrorists. No wonder right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh embraced the movie, it’s the story they want us to remember. Too bad “Road to Guantanamo” never got the media support it should have had. Mixing dramatic reconstruction with news archive and interviews with the “Tipton Three,” this DV documentary stands as an angry, urgent riposte to the Bush administration’s illegal, indiscriminate detention of “suspected terrorists.”Tom Charity

Call it “The Bourne Apocalypse“: pious ex-documentarian Paul Greengrass discovered the way to make the most emotionally wrenching white-knuckle action movie of all time–put us on a “Die Hard” thrill ride where we know we’re all gonna die! Oliver Stone, meanwhile, was lying when he repeated that Paramount mantra that “World Trade Center” was “not a political movie.” It is: it suggests ways in which America might have responded to its trauma–with unity and compassion, as the movie’s entirely apolitical characters do. Are critics and audiences so used to thinking of Stone as Sergeant Sledgehammer that they missed the irony of that Sam Fuller character at the end who heads to Iraq looking for payback?Matthew Wilder

A special award ought to go to air traffic controller Ben Sliney, who in restaging the confusion of that awful morning implicitly accepts his own role in the disaster–far more than one can say for his so-called superiors.Sam Adams

So that’s it. The best film of 2006. According to the New York Film Critics Circle. Is “United 93.” A film that’s been in my Netflix pile for 15 weeks. (Sigh.) Guess I better pop it in….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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