By Marc Glassman
Parity hit the film world in 2006. While quite a number of good films were released during the year, there were few eye-popping masterpieces, and none at all solely in the English language. Perhaps globalization has hit the media scene. Certainly nothing out of Hollywood made much of an impact on critics or mature audiences hunting for adult fare during the holiday season.
The lack of brilliant mainstream films may have been a good thing. It meant that foreign films, American indies, animation and loads of documentaries got the rare opportunity to compete with Hollywood films. With such independent work costing a fraction of the amount of Hollywood flicks, it may finally dawn on distributors and producers that sassy artistic films should be supported rather than costly, dumb mainstream behemoths.
This was the year of surprises. Borat became a huge hit. Three Mexican directors—Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu—had international successes. Cate Blanchett was wonderful in three very different films, Notes on a Scandal, The Good German and Babel. Superman and James Bond attempted comebacks with 007 outscoring the Man of Steel at the box-office. Political films hit the theatres with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth being a surprise doc hit, The Queen flexing Oscar potential and United 93 showing up on a number of Top 10 lists. In the midst of it all, the greatest voice for maverick filmmaking, Robert Altman, passed away at the age of 80, leaving us with a final gift, the lovely Prairie Home Companion.
Here are my Top 5 lists for the year.
4. Pan’s Labyrinth
Five films exemplify the global films of 2006. Two are in Spanish (Volver and Pan’s Labyrinth), two in French, though neither by someone from France (Belgium’s Dardenne Brothers with L’Enfant and Austria’s Haneke with Caché) and one in a Babel—or is it babble?—of voices (Babel is set in Morocco, Mexico, Japan and California). What sets these films apart is their mature subject matter and artistic direction. No one has told the Dardennes, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke, Inarritu or del Toro that films don’t matter any more. They deal with spirituality, politics and passion. Two are arguably masterpieces—L’Enfant and Caché—and the rest will stand the test of time.
Best Performance, Male
1. Sean Penn, All The King’s Men
2. Tim Robbins, The Secret Life of Words
3. Matt Dillon, Factotum
4. Johnny Depp, The Libertine
5. Tommy Lee Jones, Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Sean Penn is fabulous as Willie Stark; too bad the rest of All the King’s Men doesn’t match his style and commitment. Depp, Jones, Dillon and Robbins continue to deliver exemplary performances—too often in the service of mediocre material.
Best Performance, Female
1. Kate Winslet, Little Children
2. Helena Bonham-Carter, Conversations with Other Women
3. Cate Blanchett, The Good German
4. Penelope Cruz, Volver
5. Naomi Watts, The Painted Veil
No one will notice Bonham-Carter in a small indie; too bad because she’s terrific as an aging lover having one last fling with, of all things, her ex-husband. It was a great year for actresses—Watts, Cruz, Blanchett and Winslet are all memorable in their films.
Best Supporting Performance, Male
1. Danny Huston, The Proposition
2. Dustin Hoffman, Stranger Than Fiction
3. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kinky Boots
4. Michael Caine, The Prestige
5. Hugo Weaving, Little Fish
Will anyone award Danny Huston’s amazing performance in an Australian Western? Not bloody likely, mate.
Best Supporting Performance, Female
1. Fernanda Torres, House of Sand
2. Evan Rachel Wood, Down in the Valley
3. Lili Taylor, Factotum
4. Parker Posey, For Your Consideration
5. Rachel Weisz, The Fountain
Fernanda Torres and Fernanda Montenegro, real-life mother and daughter, play three generations of mothers and daughters in the Brazilian film House of Sand. Stunt casting? Not with these two brilliant women.
1. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, L’enfant
2. Robert Altman, Prairie Home Companion
3. Michael Winterbottom, Road to Guantanamo
4. Pedro Almodovar, Volver
5. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Winterbottom and Inarritu prove that politics matter. The Dardennes craft another masterwork; Almodovar and Altman are merely excellent, as usual.
Best Screenplay, adapted or original
1. Guillermo Arriaga, Babel
2. Nick Cave, The Proposition
3. Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth
4. Guillermo Arriaga, Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
5. Michael Haneke, Cache
If people noticed scriptwriters, this would be the year of Arriaga.
Best Canadian Film
1. Manufactured Landscapes
2. The Journal of Knud Rasmussen
3. Monkey Warfare
4. A Simple Curve
Manufactured Landscapes showed that an artful, political doc could do well (relatively!) at the box-office.
Best First Feature
1. Brothers of the Head
2. Conversations with Other Women
3. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
4. Kinky Boots
5. A Simple Curve
Not a fabulous year for first features with a strange, sci-fi rock flick being the best of a poor group.
Best Animated Feature
1. A Scanner Darkly
3. Happy Feet
4. Over the Hedge
5. The Wild
Richard Linklater, Philip K. Dick, Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr. and Winona Ryder in an animated sci-fi film? Wow!
Best Foreign-Language Film
3. Pan’s Labyrinth
4. House of Sand
Maybe next year we should start an English-language category…
1. Manufactured Landscapes
2. The Devil and Daniel Johnston
3. An Inconvenient Truth
4. Into Great Silence
5. Sketches of Frank Gehry
Photographer Ed Burtysky, musician Daniel Johnston, architect Frank Gehry, politician/eco activist Al Gore and a group of impassioned monks invited us into five of the finest films of the year. Was this the year of the documentary—again?