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Friday, Dec. 22, 2006


A golden year


Just as one grows up and learns to avoid the reeeally bad dates, a film writer matures and learns to stay away from flat-out duds. Having said so, there wasn't much side-stepping this year, as the theaters were abloom with the exceptional, the charming, the intellectually/emotionally intriguing. Each brings back fond memories and moments of intense satisfaction. How could one possibly pick and choose a mere 10 from this veritable display case of sparkling gems? Sigh. Now if only one could make the same observation about . . . oh, never mind.

So, the top 10 of 2006 (in no particular order).

1. "The Descent"

One of the best low-budget horror movies to come out in a long time is also a commentary about the postfeminist state of modern womanhood. The premise: A group of high-powered professional women gather every year for an adrenaline-pumping adventure. The snag: the year before, one of the members lost her husband and baby daughter in a car accident. So this year, the trip is organized to "console" the bereaved by going down into a deep dark cave somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. Prepare to scream, a lot.

2. "The King"

Gael Garcia Bernal gets better with each movie and in this he goes one-on-one with such exalted talent as William Hurt and the mesmerizing Pell James. He plays Elvis, the illegitimate son of a Mexican prostitute and a Texas evangelist (Hurt). Fresh out of the navy, Elvis seeks out his long-lost dad only to be spurned, and so he finds other ways to get his father's attention, like seducing his 16-year-old half sister (James) and impregnating her. Next to Elvis, Oedipus pales.

3. "Green Street Hooligans"

Directed by former karate athlete and stuntwoman Lexi Alexander, "Hooligans" is an unabashed, unapologetic look at Britain's fanatic football supporters, better known as "firm members." They knock back many pints at the pub, yell their heads off at the game and have it out with fists and bricks. Wide-eyed Elijah Wood plays a visiting American who becomes immediately hooked by the glamour of the violence, and its sexy instigator Pete (Charlie Hunnam).

4. "Libertine"

Johnny Depp assures the viewer at the beginning: "You will not like me." And you won't. He plays the Earl of Rochester, who once fought for Charles I and helped restore the British monarchy, but eventually drank and debauched himself to death at the age of 33. In the process he managed to seduce actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton), offend and alienate everyone and suffer horribly from syphilis. The muddy streets, the perpetual misty rain and above all, the stench of pleasures gone stale . . . ah the poetry of it all!

5. "Me and You and Everyone We Know"

Miranda July's feature is about two lonely individuals who would like to connect, just not necessarily with each other. The candy-colored visual scheme and the suburban backdrop belies the murky chaos going on inside the heads of Christine (July) and Richard (John Hawkes), underscored by the occasional incidents of kinkiness that surface among the rest of the characters, like the two teenage girls who offer oral sex to Richard's 17-year-old son to see "which of us can do it better."

6. "Saraband"

Ingmar Bergman was among the filmmaking giants of the 20th century and he still has a few tricks up his sleeve in the 21st. This is his comeback film, the first after a decade-long silence, and the 88-year-old director has retained his fascination for relationships, familial bonds, passion and hatred. No punches are pulled as the cast (featuring just four actors, of which three are well over 60 years old) go at each other with all the emotional/verbal ammunition at their disposal.

7. "Miami Vice"

After this movie, I propounded a new theory: Work is the new sex, sex is the new work, sleep is the new vice. No one rests, EVER, in Michael Mann's screen adaptation of his own 1989 TV series -- the new Crockett and Tubbs (Colin Farrell and Jamie Fox) just don't have time for wisecracks.

8. "Darwin's Nightmare"

This haunting documentary by Hubert Sauper shows how the introduction of one fish into Lake Victoria, Tanzania, changed life and history on its shores. Called the Nile Perch, the fish destroyed most other species in the Lake, grew to gigantic proportions and became a prime export product. But the business/cash bypasses the locals and poverty, prostitution and HIV are still the norm.

9. "Hard Candy"

Hard Candy
Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson in "Hard Candy"

Cyberspace sex goes frighteningly awry in this modern-day fable of online dating. A 32-year-old photographer with a weakness for underage girls agrees to meet 14-year-old "Thongggrrrl" at a coffee shop and before he knows it, she has him bound up and gagged with his pants off. And yet this isn't a feminist battle-cry for empowerment, but a painfully astute observation about gender, relationships and miscommunication.

10. "Children of Men"

In this sci-fi horror tale based on the novel by P.D. James, the future is made bleak not from alien invasion or run-amok technology, but because women no longer have babies. The youngest person on the planet is 18 years old and he's killed by a frenzied "fan."

For other related stories, please click the following links:
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