by RISHI AGRAWAL
Yes, I am aware that we are two months into 2007 and that most critics came out with their Top Ten lists over a month ago. The lateness of this list comes from three factors: 1) First, and most obviously, I live in Indianapolis. It takes a while for some films to get to the Midwest. I do enjoy good movies, but I am not quite crazy enough to drive to Chicago just to watch things a couple weeks earlier. 2) I was a little lax in watching good films during the year. I tend to only have so many obsessions that I can keep afloat at one time. Movies have been a fairly pervasive theme in my life, but there are times when I am more interested in books or television or music. I had gone through a long movie slump during 2006. 3) To make up for this, I was probably a bit too thorough in watching films over the past couple months. I felt as though I was rewarded, however. One of the films on this list I only got around to watching two days ago. Ironically, seven of the ten films on this list I watched in 2007 rather than 2006.
Though a lot of people felt ready to declare 2006 a very weak year in film, I think there was a lot to be admired. In fact, when creating my Top Ten list, I found myself with thirteen films that I loved and was loathe to cut three of them. I could have cheated and made a Top Thirteen list, or suggested that some films were linked thematically and so they were tied for a position. But no, this is a genuine Top Ten list.
The films that have links go to my original review of the film, if it exists. Four of these films do not have reviews.
1. Children of Men – So is this a sci-fi thriller with strong characters and a good story, or is this a drama with exciting action elements? Any good movie with science fiction elements says as much about the present as about the future. The world is at a critical juncture right now, and Alfonso Cuarón shows us how a wrong turn can throw the planet into anarchy. This is the hallmark of good filmmaking – to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
2. United 93 – There is a scene in The History Boys where they are discussing the Holocaust, basically saying how it can’t be talked about. One of the teachers makes the point that there is nothing more distant than the recent past. I know that a lot of people argued that this movie should not have been made, that it was too soon. But this thoroughly-researched recreation of the events of September 11 came at just the right time. It was long enough that the initial pain had worn off, but recent enough that the details could still come to light. This is a film that is almost devoid of sentimentality or melodrama. It is subtle and understated, and it works.
3. Brick – It is rare to see truly unique filmmaking. What first-time filmmaker Rian Johnson has done is take two genres that have nothing to do with each other and made them collide. By blending a high school drama with film noir, Johnson shows us something we have never seen before. Subtle and mysterious, this film flips your brain.
4. The Queen – In a year that gave us Marie Antoinette on the big screen and Elizabeth on the small one, we are used to seeing countless depictions of strong monarchs, even female ones. This film gives us a picture of the monarchy in decline. You might think that a power struggle between Queen Elizabeth II and Tony Blair would not be fascinating, but this is a thoroughly engaging picture about politics and family, and about the private lives of public individuals.
5. Little Children – This is a witty and intelligent film about obsession in suburbia. Everyone wonders if they could have more out their lives, but few people actually explore the possibilities, being content with the way things turned out. The characters struggle with this dilemma, and find the pleasures and consequences of their actions.
6. The Devil and Daniel Johnston – It seems that there are a lot of documentaries out there for practically every subject. The music documentary, in particular, is an area that rarely gets a lot of attention but produces a lot of films. My problem with most documentaries is, while the subject matter might be interesting, there is no artistry involved. This is not only a fascinating subject for a documentary, but Jeff Feuerzeig makes plenty of interesting and unusual choices that does not only make this a great documentary, but a great film.
7. Letters from Iwo Jima – With its sepia tones and melancholy character sketches, this film feels like an old photograph. While making Flags of Our Fathers, the big-budgeted exploration of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood found there was another film to be made, from the Japanese perspective. In this smaller film, the Americans are seen as alien, strange invaders trying to take sacred Japanese soil. This will certainly be regarded as one of Eastwood’s finest films in an already impressive filmography.
8. The Departed – I rarely recall being so thoroughly engrossed in the plot of a film that all other considerations fall by the wayside. This is just a good story, no matter how you slice it. With fascinating twists and turns, it is easy to ignore the wonderful cinematography and dialogue. At the risk of sounding elitist, I realize that a lot of films that I like are unusual, things I would not feel comfortable recommending. This enjoyable film bridges the gap and can be loved by anyone.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth – This film blends reality and fantasy into a brutal world, where everything is dark and scary. Ultimately, the reality is much scarier than the fantasy world. This is certainly not for children or the faint of heart, but this film shows us that sometimes when our real lives are so horrifying, the unknown may be a better option.
10. The Science of Sleep – I often do not like randomness in movies. Even surrealism needs to have certain logical connectors to work. Still, I am a sucker for films that show me something I have never seen before and surprise me. The plot elements and dialogue in this film are thoroughly perplexing but so odd that we can’t help but be delighted by them. This is a joyous movie. And this is probably the most visually interesting film of 2006.
Well, after tonight’s Oscars, I am ready to say goodbye to 2006 and dive right in to 2007. Just as a fiscal year doesn’t quite match a calendar year, the “movie year” actually runs from March until February. By the way, in case anyone was wondering what three films were cut from my Top Ten list, those films are Babel (an ensemble drama about language and communication in a rapidly shrinking world), Bobby (another ensemble drama about the moments when idealism and politics are at odds) and Fateless (a Hungarian Holocaust drama that concentrates less on the strength of the human spirit and more on the dehumanization of the victims).