This year I approach that annual ritual of the previous year recap with particular trepidation—not only do I lack the time but also any inclination to follow up last year‘s extended top ten countdown. No, for some reason lists and involved write-ups seem particularly distasteful as I approach my take on the state of cinema in 2006, even though from the very start I thought it was a particularly strong one (in fact, one of the very first ones I saw, back in March, was never toppled from its position as my favorite film of the year). So instead I present a quick look at highlights of my 2006 movie watching experience.
As the nation and world in general finds itself increasingly splintered, from two minority groups—the black and gay communities respectively—emerged two films that made a very blatant attempt to cross over dividing lines and find some underlying points of basic human connection. In Dave Chappelle’s Block Party the attempt was made through the communal experience of concert-going and the universalizing quality of music in general; more controversially, in Shortbus sex (and unconventional sexual expression at that) was the vehicle of choice for discovering and celebrating human connectivity. Even if both films ultimately got tripped up by their own good intentions, the mere attempt proved to be exhilarating, giddy, unexpectedly poignant, and finally, deeply uplifting.
“A Time for Love,” the lovely first third of Hou Hsio-Hsein’s unfortunately uneven Three Times, was a look at the first love and oncoming maturity filtered through the hazy patina of melancholy nostalgia; Linda Linda Linda is a talented young director’s unexpectedly insightful ruminations on the bittersweet experience of having to grow up and move on, whether one wants to or not (and it matters not to me that it got a mention on last year’s list).
But perhaps more effective at examining adolesence was two films that kept all the drama and emotional turbulence of the young adult experience but stripped them from their typical trappings entirely, opting to place them instead within highly-artificial narrative constructs. In Brick the fusing of the typical teen films and film noir conventions at first seemed little more than a clever narrative ploy, but it quickly becomes obvious how the loneliness, frustration, and social instability of adolescence eerily mirror the world of back-alley detectives and manipulative femme-fatales; less-well received but just as effective was the misunderstood Marie Antoinette, its almost lurid ornateness nailing the the self-consciousness and self-infatuation of the teenage mind.
The most moving instance of cinema bleeding into “real life” came as I awkardly tried to comfort my boyfriend as he sobbed well until well after the house lights came on after a screening of The Fountain; both it and Le temps qui reste (Time to Leave) offered up very moving articulations of having come to grips with death, the indescribable pain of absence and loss and perhaps most importantly, the ability to find some sense of peace beyond it.
There were more than a handful of notable performances to be savored in 2006 (though I’m not of the opinion Helen Mirren’s Oscar-approved turn as Queen Elizabeth is one of them), but as time passes it becomes increasingly clear to me what the best acting job of the year really was: Ted Haggard’s now infamous appearance in the documentary Jesus Camp. Raving against sexual sin, homosexuality and whipping his large, fawning congregation into a general frenzy, this…act (which blurs indecipherably the line separating performance and non-performance) inspired revulsion on my part until just several weeks he was revealed to be—surprise, surprise!—a practicing homosexual. The irony is so delicious simply because the “true story” proved to be so utterly pathetic.
But returning to the realm of traditional performances, the most memorable were also among the most unexpected: in Casino Royale Daniel Craig managed to seamlessly recontextualize and broaden one of his intense, inward-obsessed indie performances into the role of James Bond, one of the most recognized and extroverted cinematic characters of all time; in the otherwise forgettable Black Dahlia, Mia Kirshner managed to infuse a rather beside-the-point character with such a wild-eyed ferocity that her brief moments on screen have stuck with me long after memories of many other impressive performances have faded.
My apologies to Friends with Money, which I loathed while watching, but with the passing of months has taken on a nuance and poignancy in my mind that I admit now I initially failed to give it credit for.
And in a category all its own is L’Intrus which leaves me feeling utterly bewildered and generally inarticulate. Watching this film, it feels like Claire Denis has ushered us into another, unexplored playing field of cinema altogether. Where are we going next?
The films I haven’t seen that I feel had the biggest chance of making this list: The Science of Sleep, The History Boys, Duck Season, Half Nelson, Changing Times and Gabrielle. I look forward to catching up with them in the future.
(And because I know I’ll be asked, here it is, with links to my extended thoughts:
01) Brick (Johnson)
02) Linda Linda Linda (Yamashita)
03) Casino Royale (2006) (Campbell)
04) Dave Chapelle’s Block Party (Gondry)
05) Marie Antionette (Coppola)
06) Shortbus (Mitchell)
07) The Fountain (Aronofsky)
08) “A Time for Love” from Three Times (Hou)
09) Le temps qui reste (Time to Leave) (Ozon)
10) Volver (Almodóvar)
And somewhere away and beyond: L’Intrus (Denis) )