Wednesday, November 16, 2016

2006--The Year in Review

2006 is dominated by two movies for me: one, a sickeningly tense historical thriller about the new realities in the fight against terrorism, and the other, an utterly transporting epic about the power of imagination (actually, one of two such stories this year, both commandeered by young girls). Tarsem Singh's The Fall--which I didn't see until its summer 2008 US release--and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth were positively psychotropic in their assured visions, yet The Fall had so much more weight to it because of its tremendous lead performances from Lee Pace (as a depressed silent-era movie stuntman laid up with a broken body and heart) and the astonishing Catinca Untaru, a Romanian girl who at seven years of age delivers the kind of searing, funny, charming performance that actors ten times her age would love to have on their resume; her performance is a miracle, and I'm particularly glad to give this near-toddler my Best Actress nod. In The Fall, she plays a young hospital patient with an awkward arm cast who pays friendly visits to Pace's character and gets drawn into his vividly bold tales of fantasy. The Fall is such a superb film--surprisingly, maybe the greatest superhero movie ever (it gets to the heart of why we find such tales fascinating). It's so gorgeous as it tours us literally all around the world (it was filmed on location in over 20 different countries) and it's so damn moving that it's wholly difficult for me to not award it Best Picture (if I was choosing it as a film from 2008, when I first saw it, it'd win assuredly). But The Fall really had its first showing (probably unfinished) at a film festival in 2006, so I have to consider it a product of that time. Still, if I had one 2006 film to steer people towards, it'd be this one. I love Del Toro's cult hit, but it doesn't move me nearly as much as The Fall, though Pan's Labyrinth greatly impresses my eyes. However, given all this, I'm proud to award the top spot to among the most gut-wrenching movies ever made.

Paul Greengrass' United 93 is, markedly, the earliest narrative commentary on the 9/11 tragedy and, to date, the very last cinematic word on the subject. Will any film director ever in history be able to give us the sense of actually being there, on the earth, above on the flight, in the conference rooms and the towers, at that moment the planes hit the World Trade Center? United 93 sets an impossibly high bar. Greengrass made a daring choice in casting many of the aviation and military officials that were actually working that day (Ben Sliney, the newly-named Federal Aviation Administration's head officer, recreates his nascent hours on the job with such incredible power that I had to nominate him for Best Supporting Actor). This lends a dazzling palpability to what we see. But then we have the superb actors cast as the passengers on the doomed flight, all of them (the ones playing the terrorists included) forming a spectacular ensemble that inseparably mingles with the unimaginably authentic work from the real-life non-actors. The British filmmaker Greengrass gives more aching truth to his work with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd's textbook-correct handheld camerawork, while the obscuring sound design, sharp editing. and nearly invisible special effects are all perfectly utilized to put us right in the seats of some who lost their lives that day. United 93 is a film that succeeds horribly and magnificently even though we know how it has to end. To this day, after watching it over and over, it still gets my blood up. It's that powerful--I can't state it any more starkly. I stand in wonder: how did this filmmaker do it? How was he able?

I really adored many other movies from 2006--Alfonso Cuarón's astoundingly mournful and masterful sci-fi tale Children of Men (the perhaps rightful favorite of many movie lovers); the chilly but moving Cold War yarn The Lives of Others (led by the haunted Ulrich Muhe, who was dying of cancer while the film was being made); Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt's little-seen, low-key yet profoundly revealing story of fading male friendship; Todd Field's almost anthropological dissection of American suburban malaise Little Children (with one-time child star Jackie Earle Haley returning to greatness); Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, an eerie anecdote cementing this Thai newcomer's work as an alternative to stale Western cinema; the hilariously muscle-spraining Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a perfect translation of Sasha Baron Cohen's humor from the small screen to the big--a rare success in that fashion and one which made him a worldwide star; Shane Meadow's This is England, an exacting '80s-set recount of a British kid's intro into the punk-driven skinhead movement, with young Thomas Turgoose heading a superb cast; Darren Aronofsky's challenging, time-hopping romance The Fountain; and Robert Altman's cinematic wake, a raucously prescient farewell to movies and a worldwide love letter based on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. I, too, adored Martin Scorsese's maze-like crime film The Departed, but as I have already given accolades to this genius for Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, and A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, I'm not in the position of having to sheepishly hand him, as the Academy did, a make-up award for a fine but lesser film. I have no doubts as to the best movie of 2006: it's the one that captures me once I see a single frame of it and lets me go only at its brutally crushing end. There will, I hope, never be another like it. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.

PICTURE: UNITED 93 (US, Paul Greengrass) (2nd: The Fall (US/India, Tarsem Singh), followed by: Children of Men (US/UK, Alfonso Cuarón); The Lives of Others (Germany, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck); Old Joy (US, Kelly Reichardt); Little Children (US, Todd Field); Syndromes and a Century (Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul); Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (US, Larry Charles); This is England (UK, Shane Meadows); The Fountain (US, Darren Aronofsky); A Prairie Home Companion (US, Robert Altman); Inside Man (US, Spike Lee); Friends with Money (US, Nicole Holofcener); The Departed (US, Martin Scorsese); Pan’s Labyrinth (Mexico, Guillermo Del Toro); Away From Her (Canada, Sarah Polley); Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (US, Adam McKay); Inland Empire (US, David Lynch); Idiocrasy (US, Mike Judge); Casino Royale (US/UK, Martin Campbell); Tell No One (France, Guillaume Canet); Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (UK, Stephen Kijak); Babel (US/Mexico, Alejandro González Iñárritu); Alpha Dog (US, Nick Cassavetes); Paprika (Japan, Satoshi Kon); The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (UK/Austria/Netherlands, Sophie Fiennes); Letters from Iwo Jima (US, Clint Eastwood); The Prestige (US, Christopher Nolan); Half Nelson (US, Ryan Fleck); Longford (UK, Tom Hooper); Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders (US, James D. Scurlock); 12:08: East of Bucharest (Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu); The Hoax (US, Lasse Hallstrom); Notes on a Scandal (UK, Richard Eyre); The Prestige (US, Christopher Nolan); Marie Antoinette (US, Sofia Coppola); Apocalypto (US, Mel Gibson); The Wind That Shakes the Barley (UK/Ireland, Ken Loach); The Break-Up (US, Peyton Reed); Sherrybaby (US, Laurie Collyer); Manufactured Landscapes (US, Jennifer Baichwal); Jindabyne (Australia, Ray Lawrence); Black Book (Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven); Iraq in Fragments (US, James Langley); Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Germany/France/Spain/US, Tom Tykwer); The Queen (UK, Stephen Frears); The Bridge (US, Eric Steel); The Namesake (India/US, Mira Nair); The Little Death (US, Morgan Nichols); Rescue Dawn (US, Werner Herzog); The Good Shepherd (US, Robert De Niro); This Film is Not Yet Rated (US, Kirby Dick); Jesus Camp (US, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady); Little Miss Sunshine (US, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris); An Inconvenient Truth (US, Davis Guggenheim); A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (US, Dino Montiel); The TV Set (US, Jake Kasdan); The Illusionist (US, Neil Burger); Thank You For Smoking (US, Jason Reitman); Volver (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar); Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (US, John Schienfeld); Rocky Balboa (US, Sylvester Stallone); Infamous (US, Douglas McGrath); Dreamgirls (US, Bill Condon); Flags of Our Fathers (US, Clint Eastwood); Black Snake Moan (US, Craig Brewer); Hollywoodland (US, Allen Coulter); Monster House (US, Gil Kenan); Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (US, Stanley Nelson); Southland Tales (US, Richard Kelly); Happy Feet (US/Australia, George Miller); The Last King of Scotland (UK, Kevin MacDonald); The Host (South Korea, Bong Joon-ho); Shortbus (US, John Cameron Mitchell); The Black Dahlia (US, Brian De Palma))

ACTOR: Ulrich Muhe, THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2nd: Sasha Baron Cohen, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, followed by: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson; Thomas Turgoose, This is England; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed; Lee Pace, The Fall; Richard Gere, The Hoax)

ACTRESS: Catinca Untaru, THE FALL (2nd: Laura Dern, Inland Empire, followed by: Kate Winslet, Little Children; Julie Christie, Away From Her; Helen Mirren, The Queen; Judy Dench, Notes on a Scandal; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sherrybaby)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jackie Earle Haley, LITTLE CHILDREN (2nd: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed, followed by: Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland (won as Best Actor); Ben Sliney, United 93; Stephen Graham, This is England; John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jennifer Hudson, DREAMGIRLS (2nd: Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson, followed by: Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal; Frances McDormand, Friends With Money; Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine; Phyllis Sommerville, Little Children; Adriana Barraza, Babel)

DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass, UNITED 93 (2nd: Tarsem Singh, The Fall, followed by: Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men; Kelly Reichardt, Old Joy; Florian Henkel von Donnensmark, The Lives of Others; Todd Field, Little Children; Apiachapong Weerasethakul, Syndromes and a Century)

NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Germany, Florian Henkel von Donnensmark) (2nd: Syndromes and a Century (Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul), followed by: Tell No One (France, Guillaume Canet); Paprika (Japan, Satoshi Kon); Letters from Iwo Jima (US, Clint Eastwood); 12:08: East of Bucharest (Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu); Black Book (Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven); Volver (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar); The Host (South Korea, Bong Joon-ho))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN (UK, Stephen Kijack) (2nd: The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (UK/Austria/Netherlands, Sophie Fiennes), followed by: Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders (US, James D. Scurlock); Iraq in Fragments (US, James Langley); The Bridge (US, Eric Steel); This Film is Not Yet Rated (US, Kirby Dick); Jesus Camp (US, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady); An Inconvenient Truth (US, Davis Guggenheim); Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (US, John Schienfeld); Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (US, Stanley Nelson))

ANIMATED FEATURE: PAPRIKA (Japan, Satoshi Kon) (2nd: Monster House (US, Gil Kenan), followed by: Happy Feet (US/Australia, George Miller))

ANIMATED SHORT: EVERYTHING WILL BE OK (US, Don Hertzfeld) (2nd: The Danish Poet (Norway/Canada, Torill Kove), followed by: The Little Match Girl (US, Roger Allers))

LIVE ACTION SHORT: LA MORTE ROUGE (Spain, Victor Erice) (2nd: West Bank Story (US, Ari Sandel), followed by: Touch (US, David Hamilton))

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Florian Henkel von Donnensmark, THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2nd: Paul Greengrass, United 93, followed by: Nicole Holofcener, Friends With Money; Shane Meadows, This is England; Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, Old Joy)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, CHILDREN OF MEN (2nd: Sasha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hine, Peter Baynham, Dan Mizer and Todd Phillips, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, followed by: Todd Field and Tom Perrotta, Little Children; William Monahan, The Departed; Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, and Tarsem Singh, The Fall)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Colin Watkinson, THE FALL (2nd: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men, followed by: Wally Pfister, The Prestige; Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth; Barry Ackroyd, United 93)

ART DIRECTION: PAN'S LABYRINTH, Marie Antoinette, The Fall, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, The Fountain

COSTUME DESIGN: THE FALL, Marie Antoinette, The Fountain, The Prestige, Dreamgirls

FILM EDITING: UNITED 93, Children of Men, The Departed, The Fall, Inside Man

SOUND: UNITED 93, Children of Men, World Trade Center, Apocolypto, Casino Royale

SOUND EFFECTS: WORLD TRADE CENTER, Apocolypto, Letters from Iwo Jima

ORIGINAL SCORE: Clint Mansell, THE FOUNTAIN (2nd: Gustavo Santolalla, Babel, followed by: John Powell, United 93; Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal; Alexandre Desplat, The Painted Veil)

ORIGINAL SONG: “I Need to Wake Up” from AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Music and lyrics by Melissa Etheridge) (2nd: “O Kazakstan” from Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Music by Erran Baron Cohen; lyrics by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Beter Baynham, Todd Phillips, Dan Greaney, Jeff Poloquin and Patton Oswalt), followed by: “A Father’s Way” from The Pursuit of Happyness (Music and lyrics by Seal))

ADAPTED OR SONG SCORE: Richard A. Dworsky, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (2nd: Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls)

SPECIAL EFFECTS: CHILDREN OF MEN, United 93, Pan's Labyrinth

MAKEUP: PAN’S LABYRINTH, Apocolypto, The Fall

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