Friday, December 29, 2006

Camera Obscura - Best Movies of 2006

Before I offer up a list of the best from this year and the disclaimers which go with my selections, there are a few noteworthy movie news items to provide.

I was most happy to see what the first images of comic book legend Silver Surfer will look like in the second Fantastic Four movie out in 2007. He isn't all CGI - actor Doug Jones performs in a body suit which will get some CGI touch-ups and as fan, I am impressed. Here's to hoping they also do a good job creating the Surfer's boss, Galactus. More about the photo and the movie can be found here. And the first trailers are being shown with "Night At The Museum.

On Thursday, 25 more movies were added to the National Registry of Film for preservation and the list covers a wide range of films, as always. Some of the list includes:
Blazing Saddles
Groundhog Day

The complete list is here.

One of the best things about this year in movies was the stellar and influential collection of films from the Janus Collection. Not only did we get an massive boxed-set of DVDs and extras of the best from the Janus, many cities are hosting mini-festivals to allow folks to once again see these classics in a movie theatre. The Nashville Scene has the info about the festival playing in January 2007 at the Belcourt.

Among my favorites being offered are Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" and "The Hidden Fortress, a major influence on Li'l George Lucas, who borrowed much for his "Star Wars" tale -- instead of two robots, the story follows a tall and skinny and short and squat pair of peasants who stumble into a struggle between empires, aiding a heroic samurai charged with protecting an endangered princess. There is one astonishing and very funny scene of the two peasants caught on a massive staircase on a mountainside as thousands either flee or attack in a massive jail break.

Some others in the Janus Festival include "400 Blows", "La Strada", "Gimmie Shelter" and "Walkabout." And seeing these movies in a theatre is sheer bliss.

One of the best columns on the Best of 2006 is from The DVD Savant, whose list is properly titled The Most Impressive DVDs of 2006. His picks are perfection. Just go read it.

DISCLAIMER: My selections of favorites from 2006 are a blend of both new theatrical releases and releases from earlier years which became a regular part of my home viewing habits. There are several films from 2006 I haven't seen yet. And, naturally, the following represents something of my taste for obscurity. Some of these selections are .... aw, hell. I'll explain as I go.

Favorite Movies in No Particular Order:

"V For Vendetta" -- I avoided watching this in the theatres, as I am a massive fan of the Alan Moore graphic novel, so why ruin my memory with a bad movie? I finally caved and watched it this year and was most impressed with how the film kept the language and even the comic-panel style of imagery. Subversive and cautionary and very much a movie of it's time - plus a fantastic performance by Hugo Weaving from behind the mask.

"Grizzly Man" - Werner Herzog once again paints a picture of a madman and a doomed soul. Really more of a found artifact of the videotaped journal of Timothy Treadwell. Impossible to not be absorbed by Herzog's narrative.

"The Proposition" - Yes, a movie from this year makes the list!! Former rocker Nick Cave's script drops you immediately into a harrowing Outback western saga, and makes both a lyrical and ugly story. Add in the haunting musical score and the haunted faces and lives of the characters and this movie is a minor masterpiece.

Satisfying Sequels/Remakes: Two sequels, both hyped to death and big at the box office, actually impressed me this year - "X-Men 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest". The only drawbacks to X-3 was the poor Beast performance and Angel, who was lost in all the character threads. In Dead Man's Chest - my favorite performance of the year was from Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, who steals the screen whenever he appears. A remake I thought would be terrible was instead both careful to preserve the intent of the original and to enhance it as well -- "The Hills Have Eyes". The movie is about what it takes to turn a pacifist into a fighter and about the distorted creatures who make that pacifist transform. Just a brilliant remake.

"Pulse" -- No, not the remake from this year, which sucked, but the original 2001 Japanese version finally made available this year in the U.S. Relying on mood and shadow, it created an intense sense of dread for me. I was jumping at shadows for days. Not for every taste, I know, but for me it worked in spades as I watched the characters slip into despair, fear and then disappear into nothingness.

"Slither" - Part homage to horror films of the 1980s and the 1950s, plus part mindless escapism, I watched it several times, laughing often. Add in the hilarious and numerous DVD extras and this was some of the most fun I had with a film all year. Seek it out.

My Favorite of the Year:

This movie came out in 2004, but it was the one most often in my DVD player this year. It is a great comedy, has a fantastic musical score, is loaded with action scenes and has a romance story stuck in as well. The writer, director and star of the movie expertly crafted each frame and every performance is dead-on perfect. It's a kung-fu extravaganza, a Chuck Jones cartoon, and the supporting characters are famous for their previous roles in movies - from Bruce Lee's stunt double to one of the Japanese girls chasing Bond in "Man With A Golden Gun". The movie makes my obscure heart rumble with admiration every time I see it. If you haven't ever seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to watch it. Highest ratings for "Kung Fu Hustle".

Now I know this list is odd, eclectic and may not make much sense to you. That is why it's my list and not yours. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments - or just deride me for mine.


  1. la.barabbas8:07 PM

    great list (although I must disagree with POTC2. Didn't they already make this movie and call it POTC1?) Do you have an opinion on Idiocracy and Fox's handling of its release - or lack thereof? I didn't get a chance to see it but everything I've read said Fox was really unhappy with how it portrays US culture and pretty much tried to sweep it under the proverbial rug. And in this post-Borat world, that's pretty weird (although Idiocracy was 'released' long before Borat.) Speaking of which, where's Borat on your list?

  2. Tim Smasken8:31 PM

    "The Descent" is a masterpiece, transcending the cliches of a typical horror movie with sheer excellence in every category (writing/acting/directing/music/cinematography/you-name-it). It has been a long time since a movie has disturbed me on so many levels. I now have the DVD and the extras are great; however, this one is a must for the big screen. And if you missed it . . . shame on you.

  3. LAB - I read where Idiocracy is out on DVD in January ... since Mike Judge's previous film Office Space has become such a cult favorite, I am surprised that FOX abandoned the project. Then again, no company makes crappy decisions like FOX can. It's a wonder anything can survive their touch.
    And really, I thought POTC2 did much to expand on the whole sea-faring, barnacle-encrusted, crime and politics of the piratey life, and I simply enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Tim - yes, i am a slacker for not seeing "Descent" yet - hope to see it next week, but the list had to get posted today!

    I am curious if you watched the theatrical version or the DVD/uncut version. I understand the theatrical cut somewhat mangled the ending, but the unrated DVD puts it back together.
    Any thoughts on that??

    I am truly anticipating watching it, no doubt.

  4. oh one more thing, LAB - i chuckled a few times watching the Ail G show, but don't know if Borat can keep my interest for an entire movie -- i'll watch it in 2007. maybe it'll be on that list.

    when all is said and done for 2006 though, the very best was that massive 50-film release from Janus Films. Those are some of the best movies ever made and the newly mastered versions are gorgeous.

  5. Anonymous11:43 PM

    Hmm, I didn't like X-Men 3 so much. I felt like a lot of things were sort of glossed over or left hanging. I loved the opening scene that introduced Angel. But when he shows up later all grown up he falls short. I dunno, just kind of left me feeling duped for paying $15 to see it on the big Chinese screen.

    That said, must chime in with agreement on Grizzly Man. Dude was messed up. And, come on, you know you are DYING to hear the full audio of the "teddy bears' picnic" as I like to call it.

  6. In my small opinion,I thought POTC2 was a bit of a stinker.Idid see V thought and loved it.Inever read the comicsbut now I want to. Loved kung fu hustle.Add Million Dollar Baby to the list,very powerful stuff.

  7. Sorry for the spelling,slightly intoxicated

  8. I agree immensely with the whole "Kung Fu Hustle" thing, I'm constantly trying to get people to just WATCH the damn thing with me to see an awesome movie, but these Philistines can't get past the fact that they have to read the words.
    Woot also on the silver surfer trailer. The boys and I went to see Night at the Museum, and I was amazed at the trailer. I didn't think the movie was that far done, and it looked AMAZING.
    We've talked before about our mutual like for ol' SS, and hopefully they won't screw it all up.

    My favorite movie of the year was Brick, which you don't seem to mention.

    X-men 3, tho, was horrible. An abortion of a film. It totally skewered every decent thing about the first two movies (NIGHTCRAWLER? WHERE ARE YOU?) and turned it to formulaic action movie bullshit.
    I have to spit everytime I think of that movie. Grrr.

    Happy new year, Joe!

  9. Hey AT - I will place "Brick" on my list of movies to watch, thanks for the suggestion!

    I know I know - my liking of X-3 is due largely to the presence of Jean Grey as Phoenix. As I've said, I had many problems with the movie, but overall I did like it.

    And a happy new year to you and the kids!

  10. "Kung Fu Hustle" is one of the best things to happen in years. Right on. I saw "The Descent" in the theater. Ending made no sense at all. So if the DVD has a more sensical ending I'll have to check it out.

    Happy new year, Joe!

  11. Just saw Kung Fu Hustle and couldn't believe I waited so long to watch it. So. Fucking. Awesome. I will force everyone I know to see it.