Thursday, December 21, 2006

AKA Year in Review 2006: The Movies – Part One

The end of 2006 is almost upon us, so it’s time once again to hurl my body onto the burning embers of another year’s worth of popular culture. I notice that I didn’t do this last year, and that this is the first time I’ve done this since 2004. Then, like now, I’ve opted for a Top Twelve rather than a Top Ten. But, before I unveil the list, a few observations…

This year I saw far, far fewer movies than I have in previous years. There are many reasons for this: I was less enthused with what was available to me at any given moment; I seem to have less time to indulge myself; I’m tired. I don’t know where all my leisure time has evaporated to. Some serious lifestyle changes are needed for 2007, but I’ll save that for a different blog entry.

With that in mind, my Top Twelve is composed of what I have seen this year, without cleaving strictly to release dates. Some of this stuff I caught up with on DVD long after original theatrical release, and there’s a wild card as my twelfth entry on the list, as it was something that was made in 1963. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

As a result of my much-reduced movie-viewing (something I hope to address next year), there are some notable omissions – movies that I would imagine would have had a damn good shot at appearing on my Best of The Year list had I seen them. Missing in action, then, are Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, Joon-ho Bong’s The Host, Kevin Smith’s Clerks II, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver. Well, there’s always next year.

So in alphabetical order, here is the first half of my Top Twelve:

The Black Dahlia – Much-maligned on release, and not without justification, this movie is a colossal mess. The four lead roles are horribly miscast. Fiona Shaw’s manic, mannered performance looks like it has wandered over from another movie entirely. There is far too much plot and story vying for attention that it never really gets. It’s all over the place. That doesn’t stop Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the first part of James Ellroy’s LA Quartet from ending up in my Top Twelve. Audiences looking for noir ended up getting pulp instead, and that’s fine by me. I do so love me some pulp. It may be a mess, but I still loved it.

Casino Royale – Or, as I like to call it, Bond Begins. The icons need rejuvenating now and again. Sometimes it works (Batman Begins, the Doctor Who relaunch) and sometimes it doesn't (Superman Returns, the BBC’s Robin Hood relaunch). Casino Royale worked. Bond films are always entertaining diversions, but they’re rarely rewatchable. You just wander out of the cinema having enjoyed yourself, and forget all about it. Casino Royale strips away all the barnacles that have become encrusted on the 007 mythos over the decades (the gadgets, the girls, the suave debonair one-liners), and takes Bond back to basics. Daniel Craig is phenomenal, playing Bond as a bestial brute of a man. In a neat inversion of the formula, Craig becomes the eye-candy rather than the women, his body a rippling mass of cuts, bruises, cartilage and lethal simian musculature. He fails as often as he succeeds, but fights on with determination and animal cunning. I’d watch it again.

Hidden (Caché) – Michael Haneke’s tale of a middle-class French family terrorised by anonymous videocassettes delivered to their home is both ice-cold and razor-sharp in its forensic dissection of paranoia, guilt, culpability, and personal responsibility. Unsettling and truly brilliant, Hidden would make a nifty double-bill with David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

Inside Man – A heist movie to rank up there with the greats like Dog Day Afternoon (an obvious touchstone for this latest Spike Lee joint). To discuss it would be to spoil it, but I will say that Lee manages to create an exhilarating genre piece that still manages to seamlessly weave in dead-on observations about violence, the media, corporate America and living in post-9/11 New York. Glorious.

Little Children
– An examination of middles-class ennui that makes American Beauty look like the over-praised, overly-mannered Plastic Bag Full Of Nothing that I’ve always known it to be. Aside from the irritating and intrusive omniscient narrator that keeps popping up, this is a corker of a film with possibly Kate Winslet’s finest performance ever. So, so good.

Me and You and Everyone We Know – I have grown to loath the word “quirky”. It has become an all-purpose word that has lost its meaning. It’s hurled at anything that dares to be different or shuns formula and cliché. Miranda July’s beautiful look at how people interact and ache for intimacy and love is exactly the sort of movie that has probably been described as “quirky” many, many times. I would rather call it lovely, funny and uplifting.

The other six to follow. But before I leave, it’s time to get on the good foot with the Sucker Punch Christmas Advent Calendar Funk Nuggets! Today, I bring you the manly Minneapolis funk of Morris Day and The Time, the only band that could make Prince quake in his high heels. Everyone knows Jungle Love and The Bird, so I’ve gone instead for Jerk Out. From 1990, when the original line-up was reunited for Graffiti Bridge, here are those magnificent seven shameless hipsters making fools out of themselves and chasing girls. Oh Lawd…

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