best film:  Children of Men from Alfonso Cuaron

  • The narrative is an outstanding biblical parable, there is strong social undercurrents on pollution and immigration, but ultimately it is a masterpiece because of the sonic boom film style on display from Cuaron. Children of Men is  one of the textbook examples of film art in the 21st century: camera movement, long takes, even a dedication to a color design.
  • Again it is not just camera movement- the mise-en-scene is as beautiful as anything Cuaron has produced (ok ok– maybe Roma) which puts it up there with the masters.  The costume, graffiti, rabble, architecture as character (foreground/background) like the best work of Welles, Ozu or Rossellini.
  • Greens, greys and light blue  pervade—a defined color palette- Cuaron is back on his color (like he was with his greens in the 90s) after a bit of break with Y Tu Mama Tambien – the color is mood and it fits- it is Antonioni’s Red Desert or Kieslowski’s colour trilogy.
  • “Ruby Tuesday” is used twice for five seconds for great affect- once to show emotion on Clive Owen’s beaten face remembering his son, and the other with Michael Caine’s goodbye to his wife.

Dystopian influences—1984, Brazil, Metropolis, Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys– but this is its own thing as well.

  • Cluttered architecture (Welles’ The Trial)
  • Danny Huston’ gorgeous “Ark of the Arts”- theological of course but it makes for sublime compositions as well as just being tied to the narrative.
  • There are noir elements- this is a reluctant hero
  • The death of Julianne Moore (bit of a L’Avventura/Psycho killing off of the star early element) is shot in an absolute jaw-dropping oner—Cuaron is showing off with the ping pong ball trick, the entire thing is about four minutes, complicated action, cracking glass, flames, stunt work—the duration absolutely adds to the intensity of the scene.
  • Of course much of it is set in very green forest and woods
  • Operatic music at the barn during the pregnancy reveal—beautiful- and Owen says “Jesus Chris” which will be done again three times
  • Caine dazzles in his scenes- humor, life, vitality in a bleak world
  • The single greatest wall-art shot (and there are dozens) aside from the final frame may very well be the shot of the swing set through the broken glass—we go back to again when Peter Mullan confronts Owen.
  • The scene where she gives birth in a long take would be the best scene in just about any other film every made and it is probably the sixth strongest here- it’s a long take, intense, brilliant
  • The baby crying causing the cease fire and the long take (the longest of the film) of the point of view war zone tracking shot on Owen’s shoulder is transcendent

the finale is perfection

 

most underrated:   It is high time that Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola’s underrated follow up to 2003’s Lost in Translation, lands a spot on the TSPDT consensus top 1000. The Fall is an example of  ambitious visual filmmaking that deserves a slot as well. That said, the ultimate underrated choice in 2006 is The Fountain from Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky’s third film (and a longer wait after his sophomore effort Requiem For a Dream in 2000) does at least find room on the TSPDT 21st century consensus list — but at the regrettably low slot of #38 of 2006…

  • The Fountain film repeats the line “death is the road to awe” and awe is the best way to describe this film- luminous beauty unmatched by 99.9% of cinema ever made
  • The three stories (future, present, past) are woven together well but in a different way than Nolan’s Dunkirk, different than Requiem, and different than Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly which starts separated and gets closer and closer together as the stakes get raised almost like the dueling banjos in Deliverance.
  • Parallels can easily and rightly be made to 2001 (past, present and future)

The film is a wonder of set design—the most beautiful section may actually be the Spanish sequences set in the past- such ornate and beautiful design and lighting scheme.

  • That lighting of the entire film is purposefully the fading star (referenced often as is a focal point of the film’s narrative). It is similar to but distinct from Fincher’s green/black and Soderbergh’s yellow glow. It hovers between the two.

It is quite possibly both the most astounding film visually of 2006 and the best musical score of the year (Clint Mansell)

  • The camera is constantly moving in and out in a deliberate speed to keep the structured mise-en-scene symmetrical
  • Aronofsky’s visual triumph cannot be overstated—such meticulous construction detail paired with aching beauty
  • Aronofsky’s obsession with self-mutilation is alive and well here with Jackman giving himself a painful ring tattoo and the inquisitor’s self-flagellation
  • A film of ridiculous artistic ambition- go-for-broke cinema
  • If forced to pick a flaw (and to be clear the film is among the best of 2006—nowhere near the 51 on Metacritic) it is telling that Hugh Jackson has this role, in this film, and does not give one of the better performances of 2006.

 

Tarsem Singh’s The Fall is one of the highlights of 2006

the film was shot in over 25 countries…

…over the course of four years- clearly a miracle of location scouting and use of the long shot.

 

most overrated:  There are at least three candidates for the most overrated film of 2006. Pedro Costa’s work belongs here again with Colossal Youth ranked as the #3 film of 2006 according to the consensus. David Lynch’s Inland Empire does not deserve a slot in the top 10 either (it is #4 on the consensus list) and though it is superior to both of the previous mentioned films, The Lives of Others is actually the TSPDT consensus #1 of 2006 and it clearly should not be.

 

gems I want to spotlight:  Casino Royale is the best Bond film in decades (at least since 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me) and Joachim Trier’s Reprise is a blow-your-hair-back debut and Ming-liang Tsai I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone  is a film worth singling out for 2006. 

  • With his patented long takes, sparse dialogue, stationary camera, lack of close-ups, and undoubtedly his own unique rhythm —this is strong auteur cinema. Yet, like many of Ming-liang Tsai’s prior works (this is his eighth feature), there are a few stunning compositions, but also 15-20 minute stretches that simply do not impress
  • Opens on a composition of a man resting/sleeping/recovering in a hospital bed, opera is playing, the window open.
  • It is not just a title- the I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone describes the film—and the hypnotic (trance/dream-like) rhythm and sleepiness have to make cinephiles think of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (or vice-versa). The sort of existential malady (this film is about hurt people recovering and their caregivers) does not hurt that comparison either.
  • Most of the dialogue is incidental – or more often from the radio (whether it is talk radio or music the characters are listening to)
  • Alleys, stairwells, (41 minutes there is a strong one creating a frame within a frame), water, dilapidated and run-down like the theater and basement in Goodbye, Dragon Inn
  • Ming-liang Tsai trades Taipei for his native Malaysia
  • Motifs—a foreigner, a comic gag involving a mattress going back and forth, sickness and caregiving—there is a little of The Man Without a Past from Kaurismäki here
  • The standing water reflecting frame at the 27 minute mark- very strong—sort of a construction site (could be the same construction site as Ming-liang Tsai’s Rebels of the Neon God or Stray Dogs which comes after this film in 2013).
  • At 54 minutes- characters living separately, in isolation one floor above the other. Even when together, these characters in Ming-liang Tsai’s world are siloed.
  • The 65 minute mark shot with the door open on the right, the 70 minute long take in the alley
  • Fishing in the standing water at 86 minutes—magnificent frame
  • Stair maze at 90 minutes- that entire set piece is astounding
  • There’s even a sort of Blade Runner 2046-like dustbowl and two characters that have their making out interrupted (somewhat comically) by fits of coughing from the toxins. This like sort of plague fits with the perpetual rain and flooding which pervades Ming-liang Tsai films.

Starting at 112 minutes—the final shot that runs for four minutes. It is an absolute stunner. Ming-liang Tsai knows how to ends his films- Stray Dogs, The River, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, more- almost all with these amazing shots. Here all the motifs collide in what may be his finest shot. The reflection in the water, the mattress floating in, the sleeping of course, the sort of surrealist escapism (with the music dropping in and carrying beyond the black screen). Again it is just frustrating that there are such long stretches without a compelling composition.

 

 

trends and notables:

 

  • The Nuevo Cine Mexicano is the story of 2006: Alfonso Cuaron (the film of the year- Children of Men), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejandro Iñárritu (Babel) dominate 2006. Iñárritu will peak about a decade later but Babel is still a strong effort and regardless of what they would do the rest of their careers, 2006 will be a Mount Rushmore effort for del Toro and Cuaron. It seems fruitless and unfair to rank the various “waves” from French to Italian Neorealism to German Expressionism– but this Nuevo Cine Mexicano certainly feels like one of the most important storylines of 21st century cinema.

from Pan’s Labyrinth – the singularly most brilliant image is Ophelia entering that tree. The film is a baroque melding of worlds- black-heavy mise-en-scene- lots of greens on Ofelia as well but it is not quite as painterly (especially the non-labyrinth scenes) as The Shape of Water. The narrative is stronger though– fable and fairy table—Alice is clearly an influence, surrealism of David Lynch, Night of the Hunter with the point of view of the children to a wildly sadistic killer— Fanny and Alexander is there with the evil step father and Cinderella, too. It is eerily similar to The Shape of Water– the mark of an auteur- tragically sad, a meditation on escapism.

  • 2006 marks the first collaboration between legends Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson in The Departed (winner of the Oscar for Best picture as well). It marks the peak of the Scorsese/DiCaprio collaborations as well (to date at least- five and counting).

There really are not that many films in history that are both this high in quality and have so many big actors doing such splendid work. Usually a film with this large of a top tier ensemble (How the West Was Won, some of Preminger’s work in the 1960s) suffers for it and cannot find room for everyone— or the quality of the film just cannot match the firepower. The narrative soars- there may not be a breezier 2.5 hours in cinema history (a trait it shares with like four other Scorsese films from Aviator to Goodfellas)—it only slows in one or two scenes and usually with Nicholson riffing a little too much maybe- thinking about the rat scene with Leo but overall it is such an engrossing narrative.

The reoccurring “X’s” in the film’s mise-en-scene is a real achievement. Scorsese is an admirer of Howard Hawks’ 1932 Scarface and in that film they use the “X” to indicate a murder. This is  ingeniously done here.

  • Syndromes and a Century marks the full arrival of Apichatpong Weerasethakul as an auteur

from Weerasethakul—his most accomplished and formally magnificent film to date. If you combine all the most gorgeous images from this, Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours— eight of the ten are from Syndromes and a Century

the film is a series of cinematic paintings constructed formally- you have a very stark sterile hospital vs a tropical green paradise outside—in many ways it’s the same short film repeated twice

Stunning white set design- contrast—highly experimental

  • Like Aronofsky, Sofia Coppola (at age 35 in 2006 still) has started her career with three films in the top 10 of their respective year.

After Lost in Translation (and largely because it came after that masterpiece) Marie Antoinette was viewed as a major disappointment upon initial release. Further examination and study, however,  reveals this to be one of the most ambitious and visually stunning films of 2006. Sofia was given a larger budget for this after Lost in Translation and the money is up there on the screen as they say.

Sublime work for the best costume design of 2006- Milena Canonero worked with Francis Ford Coppola (The Cotton Club), Kubrick (Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon), Wes Anderson (Darjeeling, Life Aquatic, Grand Budapest), and also on Out of Africa, Titus,  Dick Tracy– an artist.

  • this happens from time to time with dueling projects (Dante’s Peak/Volcano- Deep Impact/Armageddon) but 2006 was a big year for magician movies- both The Illusionist and The Prestige were released and are very strong 2006 entries into the archives.

The Illusionist- a modest perfect storm for non-auteur archiveable cinema – from the cast (Paul Giamatti is a highlight), to the score by Philip Glass, to Dick Pope’s Oscar-nominated cinematography

It has really high caliber production set design and natural lantern lighting- not to mention this cinematic painting here

The Prestige shows off Nolan’s narrative deft right from the beginning- a man reading the diary of a man reading his diary. There are not many, three by my count, but there are some gorgeous establishing shots here. The intricacies of Nolan’s screenplay both reward the initial viewing with the shock parallel editing (Nolan trademark for sure) ending but also, it has the nuance to reward repeat viewings as well . Reminiscent in story to Ridley Scott’s  The Duelists going back and forth.   One of the more gorgeous still frame shots is the shot in the funeral area after Hugh Jackman’s wife’s passing. Yet another one is the field of lights almost like crops where Andy Serkis shows the Tesla technology to Jackman (above).

  • Believe it or not, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (the second one) was the number one box office film of 2006
  • There are four, strong, first-time archiveable films from new filmmakers in 2006. Andrea Arnold is a decade away still from her best work (American Honey) but Red Road is a strong debut. Asghar Farhadi would made Fireworks Wednesday  in 2006 for his first archiveable film.  Joachim Trier made Reprise in 2006 and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy arrives this year as well.

a marvelous silhouette  from Andrea Arnold’s Red Road

 

 

best performance male:  It is a weaker year here in 2006. There seem to be an unusually high number of films at the top that simply do not depend greatly on the performance of their actors (Syndromes and a Century, The Fall). Clive Owen in Children of Men walks away as the best male acting performance of the year. Leonardo DiCaprio follows Owen in The Departed. Leo’s star shines brightest even in in this company with all of his talented costars. He also fares better here battling with Jack than he does with say Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York. There is an argument for both Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon to join Leo (they finish second and third in The Departed) but they may be just on the outside looking in. The last official mention of 2006 here goes to Sergi Lopez as Vidal in Pan’s Labyrinth- “You may think I’m a monster”. Michael Shannon’s role in The Shape of Water is a slight variation on Lopez’s work here.

 

Clive Owen in Children of Men– he is jaded and world weary in all the best ways like a cynical detective from the noir era or an old Bogey character.

 

best performance female:  Young Ivana Baquero leads the pack playing the Ofelia in  del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Baquero’s co-star Maribel Verdu (also from Y Tu Mama Tambien) is next with Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette) and Rachel Wiesz (The Fountain) in third and fourth place. Julianne Moore may be fifth here but her part in Children of Men is still a critical part of one of the decades’ greatest works.

 

like Sofia’s debut The Virgin Suicides, another worthy director/actor pairing with Dunst in Marie Antoinette

 

 

top 10

  1. Children of Men
  2. Syndromes and a Century
  3. The Fountain
  4. Marie Antoinette
  5. The Departed
  6. Pan’s Labyrinth
  7. The Fall
  8. Little Miss Sunshine
  9. Letters from Iwo Jima
  10. Reprise

 

an exemplarity composition from Little Miss Sunshine

Yimou continues to round out his impressive resume with Curse of the Golden Flower

… whether it is Hero, Flying Daggers, Golden Flower… or Shadow coming over a decade later- these are distinctive palettes

Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto– a masterful shot that echoes Kurosawa’s famous shot of Mifune in Throne of Blood

from Almodovar’s Volver– his filmography gets deeper and deeper

Paprika- from the mind of the late genius Satoshi Kon

throughout his career Kon’s drawing has influenced everyone from Aronofsky to clearly Christopher Nolan (Inception) here

tough to leave of this shot from Herzog in 2006’s Rescue Dawn

a miraculous frame within a frame in Zhangke Jia’s Still Life

 

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Prairie Home Companion- Altman R
A Scanner Darkly- Linklater R
After the Wedding- Bier R
Apocalypto – Gibson R/HR
Away From Her- Polley R
Babel – Iñárritu HR
Blood Diamond- Zwick R
Borat – Charles R
Casino Royale- Campbell R/HR
Children of Men – Cuaron MP
Climates- Ceylan R
Curse of the Golden Flower- Yimou Zhang HR
Fireworks Wednesday- Farhadi R
Flags of Our Fathers- Eastwood R
Friends With Money- Holofcener R
Half Nelson- Fleck, Boden R
I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone – Ming-liang Tsai HR
Inland Empire- Lynch R
Inside Man- S. Lee R
Letters From Iwo Jima- Eastwood HR
Little Children- Fields R
Little Miss Sunshine- Faris, Dayton HR/MS
Longford- Hooper R
Marie Antoinette – S. Coppola MS/MP
Miami Vice – M. Mann R/HR
Notes on a Scandal- Eyre R
Offside- Panahi R
Old Joy- Reichardt R
Pan’s Labyrinth – del Toro MS/MP
Paprika- Kon R/HR
Private Fears In Public Places – Resnais R/HR
Red Road- Arnold R
Reprise- Trier HR
Rescue Dawn- Herzog R
Still Life – Zhangke Jia HR
Syndromes and a Century – Weerasethakul MP
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby  – McKay R
Tell No One- Canet R
The Black Book- Verhoeven R
The Departed – Scorsese MS/MP
The Duchess of Langeais – Rivette R
The Fall – Singh HR/MS
The Fountain – Aronofsky MS/MP
The Good German – Soderbergh R
The Host- Bong R
The Illusionist– Burger R
The Last King of Scotland – K. Macdonald R
The Lives of Others – von Donnersmarck HR
The Prestige – Nolan R/HR
The Queen-Frears R
The Wind that Shakes the Barley-Loach R
United 93- Greengrass R
Venus- Michell R
Volver- Almodovar R

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives