looking back to look ahead…

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) )

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3 thoughts on “looking back to look ahead…

  1. Hah! Love the dig at (praise for?) Ted Haggard’s “performance” in “Jesus Camp”; I haven’t seen the film unfortunately, but that will hopefully no longer be the case after my essay writing nightmare has passed. Freedom!

    It’s great that we’re in agreement about “Three Times” and its stellar first segment. I was considerably less enthused with what followed, but “A Time for Love” had me hooked. It looked delicious too (the camera movement!).

    “Friends with Money” improves on a second viewing, trust me. I liked what I saw last spring (a B- was my initial grade), but I caught it on the Movie Network last week while procrastinating, and I ended up sitting through the whole thing start to finish. I haven’t re-graded it, but it would probably shoot up to a B+ or possibly higher… even Jennifer Aniston impressed me this time around.

    I must say, I loved your commentary more than I like the specific ordering of your list (which is probably why you were reluctant to put it up at all) – “Brick” at #1 and “Volver” at #10? Ouch, you hurt me Jesse. But I’ll just take comfort in the fact that “Casino Royale”, “The Fountain”, “Marie Antoinette” and the Almodovar film were included.

  2. Of all these movies I have only seen two (three, if we count “Friends with Money”) and I’m really glad to see them in your top 10, although I think “Volver” deserved a higher position. Considering my recent fascination with Ozon’s “8 femmes”, I am doing my best to find a legal copy of “Le temps qui reste” here in Serbia, but I will probably have to download it and watch it ilegally, because it appears that a DVD still hasn’t been released here.

    Anyways, on the risk of sounding like a horny teenage girl that fancies you, I must say (yet again) how I love reading absolutely everything you write and this year’s movie recap is not an exception. I honestly hope you’ll write more in the time to come, because, believe me, “Memories of the Future” is one of the few websites I check up daily.

  3. Ali- I knew that you’d be less than pleased with the high ranking of Brick, but expected the ranking of several others would help balance it out.

    Did you happen to read the interview with Nicole Holofcener (director of Friends with Money) Andrew O’Hehir did over at Salon.com? It’s what pretty much single-handedly changed my opinion of the film entirely. Really insightful.

    Radovan- Thanks again for your enthusiasm–it’s always nice to know that someone is reading. :) I’m doing my best to try and shorten time between new posts. As for Volver… I loved it, but I’m afraid it hasn’t had the long-term resonance the fimls placed above it had, which is why it took a sudden drop on the final list. If I had to chose a favorite lead female performance, however, Penelope would definitely be it. She was miraculous in Volver.

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