Overall, 2006 has been a pretty underwhelming year for new movies. Maybe we were just spoiled by the myriad delights of ’05, but there’s been very little to knock the socks off onscreen in the past twelve months.* Unable to actually put together a list of ten (or even six) great new films, I’ve made a list of people who have brightened my moviegoing world in 2006. And for the sake of balance, another list of those who’ve darkened it.
*I haven’t seen Inland Empire yet, though. Or Borat.
Children Of Men was the silliest (the inconsistencies, the limp ending, the prog rock) but easily the most wildly gripping film of the year, and it’s all thanks to one man. Cuarón proved with Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban that daft ideas and a rambling script don’t necessarily bar a film from greatness, and he reiterated that point with a vengeance here. Children Of Men starts quite literally with a bang, and just gets more intense.
For bringing joy, both as a straight actor in the goofy but weirdly emotional Stranger Than Fiction, and as a righteous comic in Talladega Nights. Ferrell must also be commended for his choice in co-stars (and let’s not pretend it’s really anyone else’s decision), most especially John C. Reilly and Jane Lynch in Talladega, and a glowing Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction.
I saw the epic TV adaptation of Lonesome Dove for the first time this year, and it just cemented my admiration for this most underappreciated giant of American letters. I also read The Last Picture Show, and discovered that what I’d presumed to be a great effort on the part of screenwriters and director was in fact all done by McMurtry—there is no greater literary adaptation, perhaps because the screenplay is lifted almost directly from the page, word for word.
The best film of 2007 is already This Is England, Shane Meadows’ intensely personal examination of skinhead culture in ‘80’s Britain. Flawlessly cast, beautifully photographed, the film is steeped in vivid, painful nostalgia for a time when this country seemed about to collapse, the rich getting ever richer while the working classes of all races turned on one another, seeking an outlet for their impotence and frustration. The relevance is clear, but never forced—Meadows values personality over politics, and every character here feels familiar, lived in: I had friends like these, and some of them were just as frightening.
I had the privilege of meeting some of the stars of this film after the screening, and a friendlier, more enthusiastic bunch you’ll never meet. It was like they were starstruck in reverse, amazed that journalists, filmmakers and fellow actors were being so downright nice to them all the time. They shouldn’t be—this is the best young ensemble cast in a British film since Quadrophenia.
This year I began to move outside the established Powell classics, tracking down The Thief Of Baghdad, One Of Our Airplanes Is Missing and 49th Parallel, finding that the level of perfection in image, sound and transition which characterises A Canterbury Tale, Colonel Blimp and A Matter Of Life And Death is present and correct in even the least of the great man’s works. I also revisited The Red Shoes for the first time since childhood, and found it unimaginably magnificent. The greatest of all time? Perhaps.
It seems that with each passing year Powell’s stature grows, and in 2006 the ongoing series of Criterion DVD’s brought his name back to public attention. Frustratingly, I bought the 9-disc Powell box set last year, before it was reissued complete with Tales Of Hoffman and Black Narcissus.
For The Intruder, which I saw for the first time in 2006 and which seemed, in the current filmmaking climate, so brave and overwhelming. Roger Corman’s direction is honest and visionary—there are scenes of real black American life here that wouldn’t be seen again for a decade at least. The story is direct and confrontational, pulling no punches. But it’s Shatner’s performance that centres everything, like a whirlwind of rage and hatred dragging all the characters into his centrifugal slipstream. And it’s a performance with actual layers- we’re never sure how much of his own bile Shatner’s preacher even believes. There’s a real sense of youth, of giddy experimentation, of manipulation, toying with lives, tossing everything up in the air just to see what’ll happen. Almost makes you forget he’s now advertising All Bran.
Your buddy-buddy and mine, Junior Bruce, one of the great comic asides, came roaring back across my personal movie radar this year with the DVD re- release of Death Race 2000. Don Steele was apparently a popular LA disc jockey in the ‘60’s, but if all he ever did was Junior Bruce it’d be enough. ‘Ripped up, wiped out, battered, shattered, creamed and reamed, a dancer on the brink of death… with half a face and half a chest and all the guts in the world, he’s back…’, it’s simply the giddiest, most lovably inane routine imaginable, but with an undercurrent of seething violence and wilful political treachery. And a memorable death scene, too.
My most memorable theatregoing experience of the year took place at the Green Man folk festival in Wales, where Sunburned improvised on their recent soundtrack to Ira Cohen’s 60’s utopian freakout Invasion Of Thunderbolt Pagoda. The film itself was wild enough, all fisheye close-ups of skulls and twisted faces, but the freeform intensity of the accompaniment brought things to another level. An essentially shallow, meaningless experience, perhaps, but refreshingly extreme and tangible.
For all it’s faults, 2006 has been a bumper year for performances by children and teenagers, notably Thomas Turgoose in This Is England, Shareeka Epps in Half Nelson and Nathan Lopez in The Blossoming Of Maximo Oliveros. But towering above them all was Zoe Weizenbaum’s astonishing turn as Malee Chung in Michael Cuesta’s Twelve And Holding, a performance of such sympathy and fragility it transformed a well written exploration of pre-teen disaffection into probably the best American film of the year.
Only 13 at the time of shooting, Weizenbaum plays a girl out of place in her own skin, aching to grow up and leave childish things behind her. It’s a very specific emotional trap; Malee is caught between her absent father’s disinterest, her mother’s distraction and her best friend’s all consuming grief, seeking love and affirmation in the appreciative gaze of a disillusioned, mid 30’s construction worker. Zoe Weizenbaum’s strength is that she makes the character universal, opens her up for the audience, gives her grace and charm and then strips her down to the emotional core. A scene near the end of the film, in which Malee attempts to seduce her intended, is almost unbearably terrifying.
I was tremendously impressed by her turn in Brokeback Mountain, but it wasn’t until I saw the otherwise unspectacular The Baxter that I realised what an immensely convincing, likeable actress Michelle Williams has become. This all coincides with ongoing repeats of early Dawson’s Creek, wherein she actually looks older than she does today, and has an oddly puffy face.
Special mention should also go to Peter Watkins and Errol Morris, both of whom gave me great pleasure this year, but whose works have been exhaustively covered elsewhere on this site.
For remaking Doc Hollywood with a bunch of creepy anthropomorphic motor vehicles in some kind of weird dayglo Yankee Doodle nirvana.
For coming up with You, Me And Dupree, and thereby further besmirching the good Wilson name.
For agreeing to be involved with the above two movies. Drillbit Taylor had better be good.
For becoming increasingly creepy, like she’s about to go mental and kill everyone in the room, even when it’s a romantic comedy.
For taking a great idea – what if President Bush was assassinated? – and making the laziest, least insightful, least thoughtful mock documentary of the year.
For taking himself far too seriously, automatically taking the devil’s advocate position and making ludicrous, sweeping statements with no basis in reality, like comparing Guillermo Del Toro to Orson Welles for no apparent reason.
For not even pretending to try any more. Must Love Dogs? C’mon.
For failing to release, respectively, the Twin Peaks Season Two box set, and the deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me.