May 11, 2007

UMA 2006: The Top Ten

Titles 10-6 in my final Top 10 of 2006 have no interconnection going on, but 5-1 do indeed have a, completely coincidental, linkage. All five are films that involve people trying to make the world a better place. Sure, some may more superficial than others, but in their own way that's what they're about.

One is about a man simply trying to bring joy to those around him. Another is about a woman trying to make people happier by making them feel good on the outside. One is about a group of people who join together to make sure the world doesn't become any worse than it has already become. One has one single man trying to, quite literally, save the world from extinction while the last one involves a woman trying to repay a debt to those who have been betrayed. They may not all have the same gut-punch as each other, but I think the universal theme is there. We, as people, generally do stuff to try and make the world we live in more tolerable. Whether it is just trying to right a wrong, or to make sure the existence of human beings continues for years to come, they're all worthy stories and they're all the five best films of the year that I saw.

The rest of the my final top ten involves one woman making the most of a bad situation, a Hollywood bank heist thriller, an Australian indiginous tale, a scary cave expodition and a foreign ghost story. Every film in my top 10 was great and all of them have individual parts that I love more than others, but these were the films I decided upon for the top 10.

There were 5 others titles vying for the #10 spot, so I'll give a very brief un-numbered rundown of them (otherwise it becomes a Top 15!) and then move onto the Top Ten.

The Five Others
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Utterly un-PC comedy that was the funniest thing I saw all year.

The Black Dahlia
I was all set to include this, but thought a movie that inept really shouldn't be there. I think of it as a glorious debacle.

Breaking and Entering
Anthony Minghella's return to modern-day original tales really stuck in my mind for whatever reason. I think I appreciated it's mature take.

I fell completely under this film's Americana spell (I'm a sucker for Americana). And it was, for me, the best animation I have ever seen.

Happy Feet
This Aussie penguin movie was like a hit over the head with a mallet, except it felt good! It's groundbreaking use of animation and visual effects was triumphant.


10. Marie Antoinette

Sofia Coppola's bewitching adaptation of the French Dorphine's life wasn't a top ten placer when I first saw it, but since then it has ruminated in my mind and left me utterly transfixed. I keep remembering images and sounds that I know shouldn't be together, but they are. The sight of cons shoes during a montage of 17th century footwear was a surreal sight, add in the use of Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" on the soundtrack and it's a delighfuly sensory overload. What makes it a contender though is the subtle moments that director Sofia Coppola inserts. The sadness, the longing, and that dreamlike finale moment.

9. Inside Man

I had so much fun watching Spike Lee's bank heist thriller Inside Man. Really, I did. Stylistically it's just as good as number of Hollywood thrillers, but what sets it over the edge is the flare with which Lee turns the genre on it's head and inserts his own thematic ingredients. It's almost subliminal how he does it, especially if you are previously unaware of Spike and his films. Inside Man is just further proof that respected talented directors of smaller fare should get over their pretensions and give Hollywood a go. The rewards can be amazing.

8. Volver

Some have criticised the latest film from Spanish master Almodóvar as being "lightweight" and a reverse from his previously deeper work in films like All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Bad Education. Much like Inside Man above, Almodóvar proves here that talented directors don't need to constantly work within the rigeurs that audiences have set for them. Just because Volver isn't filled with AIDS-infected nuns or abusive film-noir priests or rapes-via-silent films, doesn't mean that Almodóvar's latest is bad. It just means he's stepping back and having fun. The film has ghosts and murder and melodrama and is funny. It has more life in it one five-minute sequence than twenty other films have in their entire runtimes.

7. Ten Canoes

Critics hail movies for various reasons, and sometimes those reasons I agree with and sometimes I don't. However, when it came to Ten Canoes, a film made by Australian maverick Rolf de Heer alongside the people of the Ramingining Community of Arnham Land, it becomes incredibly hard to guage it by mere critical reasonings. How to do compare a film such as Ten Canoes against other movies, when you have never seen anything like it before. Ever. This film is made using an entire cast of untrained indiginous tribe members and using traditional indiginous language. I had never seen anything like it before, and until someone else does the same trick, it's a once-in-a-lifetime film.

6. The Descent

There's really not much to say about Neil Marshall's American-set British-made horror flick The Descent than this: It scared the bejesus out of me. Seriously. The amount of times I jumped out of my seat (literally off of my seat), the amount of times I gasped in fright, the amount of times I brought my knees up to my chest. Well, it was a lot. Utterfly frightening. And, considering the horror films out there at the moment, that's a virtue worth celebrating.

5. Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Apart from being the best musical of 2006, and one of the best comedies to boot, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, directed by visual-extraordinaire Michel Gondry, is a big fat celebration of life. I truly believe that there is something inside every person on this planet (well, okay, maybe except for a few) that wants other people to be happy. In the realm of movies, nothing makes me happier than seeing real life people happy. It makes me happy. Dave Chappelle succeeded in making me happy and making the lives of all those people at his block party happy. There is such a sense of joy in the proceedings here that I found the irresistable. Throw in great music by the likes of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and The Fugees, and Chappelle's hilarious banter and you get one of the five best films of the year.

4. The Devil Wears Prada

One of my major pet peeves is when people discard "popcorn" movies or "pop" music simply because they represent the generic mainsteam. It's as if these people think it doesn't take anything to make a good popcorn movie or a good pop song. The abundance of bad popcorn movies and pop music is more proof than I could ever need as evidence of that fact. But, still, the stigma remains. It was with delight that I have watched The Devil Wears Prada five times already in it's short life of release. It continues to make me laugh, to fascinate me and to make me happy by pure virtue of it's existence. It's attitudes like "Oh, it's just a Hollywood comedy" that makes institutions like the Academy constantly refuse to warrent that comedy is a worthwhile form of movie making.

3. United 93

It takes a lot in this day and age to make a cinema full of patrons to sit up and be 100% silent. So silent that you can hear a pin drop. But that's what happened with Paul Greengrass' take of September 11, United 93. Made with such pin-point detail and attention to detail, 93 feels very much like the cross between a snuff film and a Hollywood disaster movie mixed with the sober-aftershock feeling of a talky think-piece. It may sound like a hard slog to sit through, and I imagine for many it most definitely was, but for people who have a desire to see today's world portrayed on cinema (and not merely 18th century politics or whatever) it is a thoroughly rewarding experience. It helps give the viewer a point of measure for one of the more criminally under-represented moments in the day nobody forgets.

2. Children of Men

An incredibly filmmaking achievement, Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men is the exact form of movies they don't seem to make anymore (Danny Boyle recently tried to do it with Sunshine but failed in the end). Science-fiction is a genre of film that I can love to the heavens one moment and despise to very next. I like it sci-fi actually utilise the "sci" part of it's name. A movie such as Contact is a perfect example. And while Children of Men isn't all mathamatical equations and problem solving (well, not that kind anyway) it has it's roots firmly in the world of science. The initial question of "why are women infertile" is a fascinating one. Just try and think of that in relation to our world. And then you realise that, surely, this film isn't far off the mark when it comes right down to it. Throw in amazing everything (acting, tech work, writing) and I have a movie that feels incredibly satisfying to my eyes, ears and my brain.

1. Jindabyne

For the first time in the years that I have seen plenty enough movies to form a cohesive top ten, I have an Australian film as my numero uno. 2001 was the year with the best change, what with both Ray Lawrence's other brilliant film Lantana and Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (they were upstaged by Mulholland Drive). But this year Lawrence and co have done the business. Jindabyne was an incredibly amazing experience for me. I can't tell you why exactly, but I just clicked into this film. Like I was a jigsaw piece connecting into the film's many carefully arranged pieces. I worshipped the ability to see a mature drama about the power of words, or the lack of them, and how they can affect people so much. I appreciated that it was aimed at adults and that characters have intelligent conversations. I cherished the camera zooms, the American accent of the Lovely Laura Linney, the twang on the soundtrack, the way Lawrence treats the audience as a traveller coming into the world for the first time. We don't know, or learn, everything about these characters, but we understand them completely.

Jindabyne is the very worthy, the very solid, the very amazing number one film of 2006.

...coming up, the actual awards...


J.D. Judge said...

[GASPS!] Yay! So you agree that the best Non-Australian film of 2006 was CoM too? Yay!!! I haven't seen Jindabyne (has anyone in the U.S. so far?) but believe me, when it comes out on DVD, I'll see it. I trust you that much. But where's The Fountain? I thought that'd be in your Top 15 at least.

JA said...

I am one of the few, the proud, the Americans who have seen Jindabyne, and it is as great as Glenn says it is. Well... I don't think it'd be my number one for last year, but it is really really great.

Go Glenn, terrific list. Love seeing The Descent get some (continued) love.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I've resigned myself to knowing people are fools Ja. I like knowing that I at least turned a few people onto the path of this film (and Lantana too).

I guess Americans just prefer American arthouse movies.