Earlier this week, when indieWIRE announced the launch of its 2006 Critics Poll, I spoke to Eugene Hernandez about organizing a parallel poll for bloggers who would like to participate. He agreed to the idea, and so for the next few days, you'll hopefully be seeing indieWIRE's network of bloggers (and others... everyone's invited!) posting their own ballots in the 2006 indieWIRE Blog Poll. If you want to join the conversation, feel free to post your own ballot on your blog or email it to me (see address at right) and I will be happy to post it here.
My official ballot in the poll is below. Thanks again to Eugene for the opportunity to participate!
The 2006 indieWIRE Blog Poll
Climates by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
I miss one film at The New York Film Festival and it turns out to be a classic; Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates was, hands down, the film of the year. I caught up with the film on its opening weekend at Film Forum and I was deeply impressed and moved; A gorgeous, languid story of the manipulations, revelations and emotional torments surrounding a painfully indecisive break-up, Climates was the one movie that broke my heart over and over and over again. I've read a few pieces of criticism that describe the film as some sort of masculine fantasy, but that's pure bullshit; Bahar (a stunning Ebru Ceylan) is the revelation of the movie, the heart and soul that keeps us wishing and hoping for her happiness. By the time the film ends, the devastating impact of the affair is felt precisely because we care so deeply for her. A tremendous accomplishment.
Zeitgiest, one of my favorite distributors, continues to fight the good fight; They released Climates back in October and I see the film has grossed around $50,000 to date. That's FIFTY THOUSAND dollars. I'll ask my obligatory question; Where are we as a culture when a great film like this can't make it in the marketplace? Shame.
Bringin' On The Heartbreak: Bahar (Ebru Ceylan) and Isa (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) in Climates
Daniel London and Will Oldham, Old Joy
To be honest, I'm a little tired of the Great Actor theory of performance. Instead of singling out an individual in an individual category, I would like to draw attention to two performances in a single film; Daniel London's Mark and Will Oldham's Kurt inhabit Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy with deep familiarity while exposing the inarticulate space that has grown between two close friends. Two moments stand out; Kurt's impromptu campfire revelation about his life's travels bring his character alive with uncertainty while Mark's reaction to Kurt's massage at the hot springs, his wedding ring sinking below the water line, underscores his own discomfort with his quickly-developing responsibilities (and hints at a depper connection between the two men than we might have imagined). To exclude one or the other actor from mention is impossible, and so my vote goes to both.
Into The Woods: Kurt (Will Oldham) and Mark (Daniel London) in Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy
Best Supporting Performance
Sergi López, Pan’s Labyrinth
The physical embodiment of the fascist aesthetic and pure villany, Sergi López's Capitán Vidal is the baddest bad guy to grace the screen in a long, long time. Lately, most movies seem to so wrapped up in feel-good depictions of heroism that the villains have become almost an after-thought. This has a two-fold effect, nullifying the impact of the heroism depicted by having the stakes set too low (Superman Returns being the best example of the lame villain ruining an otherwise entertaining film) while simultaneously boring audiences silly. How about a bad guy who raises the stakes to the level of life and death? In Pan's Labyrinth, López, an actor who has made a living playing creepy bad guys, plays Vidal with such a believable level of zealotry and evil intent that the fantastic elements in the movie feel absolutely valid; By the time the shattering final scene arrives, the tension and heartbreak are almost unbearable. Without a good villain, this movie would have been The Spirit of The Beehive meets Alice In Wonderland. With López, it transcends and is, in my book, an instant classic.
Cristi Puiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
I saw The Death of Mr. Lazarescu in 2005, but the film was released by Tartan USA in 2006 and it remains the best piece of direction I have seen this year; Dante Lazarescu's slow fade to black at the mercy of an indifferent health care system is at once harrowing, absurd and hilarious while packing a giant emotional punch. The pacing alone is worthy of accolades, but Puiu also draws such amazing performances from his actors that sometimes you feel as if you are watching a documentary. A wonderful achievement.
Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The Pusher Trilogy by Nicolas Winding Refn and Jens Dahl
Actually three films shot over the course of the past decade, Pusher I, II and III are the cinematic equivalent of the great European novel, and since all three films saw their US theatrical debuts in 2006, I couldn't resist awarding Nicolas Winding Refn and Jens Dahl with my Best Screenplay vote. I challenge any doubters to watch all three films, with their overlapping characters and long, tightly focused stories, and not be blown away by the humanity of the series. Magnolia Pictures put these films out this fall, and they came and went without making much of an impact. But again, I encourage you to grab the films on DVD as soon as you can and experience them for yourself; Mads Mikkelsen's performance as Tonny in the first two films is worth the price of admission, but beneath the thrilling surface of these tremendous stories is a deeply human portrait of men who can't seem to find a way out of their own contradictions.
Best First Film
The Puffy Chair by Jay and Mark Duplass
In my opinion, The Puffy Chair is the funniest movie of the past year (yes, better than Borat!) and is a terrific feature debut from the Duplass Brothers. Kathryn Aselton and Mark Duplass have real romantic chemistry, and Rhett Wilkins' turn as the touchy-feely brother from hell is great, but for me, Mark Duplass' frustrated attempt to get by and do the right thing is the funniest performance of the year. A highly gifted comic actor who always seems to make the unforeseen choice in order to perfectly illuminate his character, Mark is someone I could watch all day long and never get enough; Just watch that opening scene when he pops in the cellphone ear piece while sitting at the dinner table or that look of surrender in the doctor's office while sporting a newly-minted cast on his forearm. It's all gold. Plus, The Puffy Chair has the courage to finally deliver a downbeat ending that is both satisfying and totally earned, and for that, my cap is officially doffed.
The Wild Blue Yonder by Werner Herzog
My Herzog-o-mania reached its apotheosis this year when I was able to program a 14 film retrospective of Werner's documentaries at the 2006 Sarasota Film Festival. I was lucky enough to host the Southeast Premiere of The Wild Blue Yonder, Herzog's sci-fi fantasia on space travel and exploration. Using found footage of Space Shuttle crews in zero gravity and cutting it with scenes of scuba diving under Antarctica (or is it soaring through Andromeda?) while "interviewing" physicists and having Brad Dourif ranting and raving about the decline of human and alien culture, The Wild Blue Yonder is a film unlike any other, blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction with classic Herzogian curiosity about the wonders of human experience.
Space Walk: Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder
Pierre Milon, Heading South (Vers Le Sud)
Laurent Cantet drew mixed reviews for Vers Le Sud, his blistering look at feminine longing and sex tourism, but I have no idea why; I loved this movie. Charlotte Ramplng's award-worthy performance aside, the one thing that stands out for me is the look of the film; The bright sunshine, the deep blue sea and the almost creamy beaches are juxtaposed with the stark contrast of the character's flesh. Race, class and gender are at the heart of the movie, but Pierre Milon's photography does more to describe the sensual and transgressive attraction between sexually empowered, rich white women and the working-class young black men who fuck them for money than a million film theory books could ever articulate. Gorgeous and underappreciated; Kudos to Shadow Distribution for releasing the most beautiful movie of the year.
Just A Touch: Pierre Milon photographed Laurent Cantet's Heading South (Vers le sud)
Best Undistributed Film
A Perfect Couple (Un Couple Parfait) by Nobuhiro Suwa
At this year's Sarasota Film Festival, we were able to feature the US Premiere of Nobuhiro Suwa's A Perfect Couple (Un Couple Parfait) which, in my opinion, is the Best Undistributed Film of 2006. This movie will not be everyone's cup of tea; The story of a married couple who arrive in Paris for a friend's wedding at the precise moment when their own marriage is collapsing around them like a house of cards, A Perfect Couple features two great actors (Bruno Todeschini and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) working with Suwa on a hushed and still movie that feels like a collaboration between John Cassavettes and Tsai Ming-liang. Like Tsai, Suwa's camera is usually absolutely still as the actors move in and out of the frame, while the actors' improvised dialogue and their character's personal failings recall Faces-era Cassavettes. For me, the combination works perfectly. I know that some will find the film a little slow, but that is precisely what makes it feel so alive to me; When everything falls apart, sometimes there is nothing left to say. I have no idea what the commercial value of this film might be, but I know what I like when I see it. Interestingly, audiences will have a chance to see more of Suwa's work later in 2007 when Paris je'taime lands in theaters; His moving Place des Victoires starring Juliette Binoche and Willem Dafoe is one of the highlights of Paris je'taime and will hopefully bring Suwa the attention his work deserves.
Estranged: Bruno Todeschini and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi in Nobuhiro Suwa's A Perfect Couple (Un Couple Parfait)
Army of Shadows by Jean-Pierre Melville
Laura Dern in Inland Empire
Best Supporting Performance
Rob Brydon, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Sofia Coppola for Marie Antoinette (Sorry, haters! LOVED IT!)
The Science of Sleep by Michel Gondry
Best First Film
Somersault by Cate Shortland
Shut Up & Sing by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck (made me a fan of The Dixie Chicks... who knew?)
Matthew Libatique for The Fountain
Best Undistributed Film
Still Life by Jia Zhang-ke