Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bill's Picks for the 2006 Oscars

Bill’s Picks for the Best Films of 2006.

I haven’t been able to see the German film “The Lives of Others” about a dissident East German writer before the Berlin Wall falls, yet (it still seems stuck in New York and LA in a platform release), and I expect to add it as soon as I can see it. So I’ll name fifteen films, and leave room for it, which I expect to be on the list. See below for update on this movie.

1. Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight, dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, R, Cinemascope) puts forth many issues in a spectacular road movie and makes all of its characters funny. The most interesting situation was the intense, silent teenager Dwayne (Paul Dano) looking after a suicidal gay uncle, with the teen’s epiphany on the road when he learns he is color blind from Olive (Abigail Breslin), who looks ever funnier as a bit pudgy girl at the beauty pagent – when brother Dwayne wants to protect her from the whole thing. The film came out just before the JonBenet tragedy made the news retrospectively with John Mark Karr—was that a coincidence? This film also provided an example of how well a socially edgy independent film can do.

2. An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Vantage, dir. Davis Guggenheim, PG-13), Al Gore’s epistle on global warming, proves that a college lecture can really work as theater, film, and entertainment. Will Leonardo Di Caprio’s “The 11th Hour” be as effective?

3. Babel (Paramount Vantage, dir Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mexico, R). First, a great title, based on the Bible story, and a metaphor for telling an international story (remember “Syriana”?) linking together characters, themes, and plot elements from all over the world. In digital projection, this film has a spectacular look, even if the Morocco scenes were supposedly shot in super 16.

4. Letters from Iwo Jima (Warner Bros/Dreamworks, dir. Clint Eastwood, R, Cinemascope, mostly Japanese) recreates the Iwo Jima battle from the point of view of the “enemy” and even the Japanese home front, and makes us ponder the personal sacrifice of war a little more deeply. The near black and white photography is fascinating.

5. Children of Men (Universal, dir. Alfonso Cuaron, R, UK) poses a nightmare apocalypse where women have stopped bearing children, a sociological warning that would suit Philip Longman. Clive Owen is riveting.

6. Blood Diamond (Warner Bros, dir. Edward Zwick, R, Cinemascope) shows Leonardo di Caprio as a grown man, profiteering from blood diamonds and dealing with the moral consequences.

7. Thank You for Smoking (Fox Searchlight, dir. Jason Reitman, R, Cinemascope) is a delicious satire on getting paid to promote someone else’s wares in public for a living – in this case, being public relations for the tobacco industry. The scene where Aaron Eckhart is kidnapped and “gets it” in the van is downright erotic, and Adam Brody still acts like Seth.

8. Notes on a Scandal (Fox Searchlight, dir. Richard Eyre, UK, R) is a delicious love rectangle with inappropriate relationships among teachers, students (at least one underage) and spouses, in a British prep school. Judi Dench is riveting as the vampire lesbian, willing to blackmail a female offender probably afraid of jail – and she winds up there anyway.

9. Pan’s Labyrinth (Picturehouse, dir. Guillermo del Toro, Mexico, R, Spanish) A girl retreats into her fantasy world in fascist Spain. This one film made me dream that night.

10. Little Children (New Line, dir. Todd Field, R, Cinemascope) From a major studio, this movie has enjoyed a long platform release to build an audience about its sensitive material, as middle class families face their own problems and prejudices when an offender moves to town and shows up at the community pool. From the opening train whistle (which replaces New Line’s musical trademark) this film casts a spell.

11. The Departed (Warner Bros., dir. Martin Scorsese, R, Cinemascope). I bet this film wins Best Picture at the Oscars, and it puts together an all star male cast in a drama about Boston’s mafia. Great storytelling, but not as important in message as some of the other films.

12. The Queen (Miramax, dir. Stephen Frears, PG-13, UK) seems to be the public favorite, as it traces Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) with her sons after the tragic death of Princiess Diana in Paris in August 1997. Subtle issues about the British monarchy come to the fore.

13. The Last King of Scotland (Fox Searchlight, dir. Kevin MacDonald, R, UK, Cinemascope) gives the history of Ugandan butcher Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) from the point of view of his young, ambitious personal physician Nick (James McAlvoy). The final torture scene is both brutal and nearly erotic. It’s become a major task for the movie industry to show Africa as it is and has been (but Amin predates the AIDS epidemic).

14. Bobby (MGM/TWC, dir. Emilio Estevez, R, Cinemascope) is a docudrama of the events that led to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 in Los Angeles. Some of the kids working as Democratic Party volunteers are funny, as is Asthon Kutcher.

15. United 93 (Universal, dir. Paul Greengrass, R, Cinemascope) reenacts Flight 93 as the passengers would have experienced it. Audiences repeatedly would leave the theater in silence. This is the most important theatrical release about 9/11 to date, and I think opens up more that Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. There have been several cable films about Flight 93, and at least one more book (about Mark Bingham) that seems very filmable for the future.

16. The Lives of Others (Sony Pictures Classics/Buena Vista International, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in German, R, Cinemascope) lives up to the hype, and if it weren't for the delay in showing and my desire to pick one of the nominated five, I think I would pick this German film about Stasi surveillance on an East German writer before the wall falls. The comparison of professional writing on typewriter drafts in the old days and the perception of writers as "threats" makes an interesting comparison to the issues raised by blogs and social networking sites today.

Fox Searchlight seems to have done particularly well this year, and independent films really can hit the market.

Picture: The old Varsity Theater in Lawrence, across the street from the Granada (previous post).

1 comment:

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