Here we go, my favorite films of 2006! Except this is totally not-interesting if you don't comment with your own favorite movies! Come on, do it now!
No 5: Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood)
I'm in absolute awe of Clint Eastwood, 76 years old and still making 2 movies every year. And what movies! After winning the Oscar 2 years ago with "Million Dollar Baby" (not deserved if you ask me), he creates a masterpiece that will certainly bring some gold as well.
Iwo Jima is a great human piece, about regular people in a war that's bigger than their own lives. Watching Japanese soldiers battle Americans during the second World War is riveting. I personally love Japanese culture, and the difference in actions between those soldiers, and what we're used to in countless other movies is fascinating. "Flag of Our Fathers", the first part of this Eastwood dyptic, was one of them, and much less interesting. Iwo Jima is also amazingly directed, with a very quiet and intimate camera, and beautiful to watch.
It seems that great filmmakers can't go wrong with showing the enemy's side, as Takaha had proven in 1984 with his masterpiece, "Grave of the Fireflies".
No 4: The last king of Scotland (Kevin McDonald).
I was pretty surprised last week to see in the theaters a preview, announcing "coming soon", for this movie I watched more than 2 months ago. This is a movie of my favorite kind: small, with little marketing, that you go see without really knowing what you're in for (none of your friend want to go with you, of course) and that just knock you flat out.
"The Last King of Scotland" is the story of a 26-year old Scottish doctor, moving to Uganda in 1970. He soon becomes the friend and physician of Idi Amin "Dada", Uganda's president and dictator.
There is so much making this film great: the background first, Africa in the 1970's, of which I knew nothing. The colors, sounds and accents that simply move you to another place in time and in space. Interesting to notice that Africa doesn't seem to have changed much since the 70's.
The acting then, with a fantastic James McAvoy (he was the fawn in the dreary Narnia) and a always-underused Gillian Anderson. But most of all, there is Forest Whitaker. This amazing actor ("Ghost Dog" and so many other movies, actually guest-starring in ER) delivers here an incredibly powerful performance. There's no way you can't be petrified when he's on screen, literally inhabiting his role. He just won the Golden Globe for this, and if he doesn't get the Oscar... well, I'll be damned.
No 3: Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron)
Difficult to think of an action movie as one of the greatest of a year. Well, just think of Blade Runner (not an action movie according to some, but let's pass). Sometimes, what we see first as action movies are that good, that well written, that deep, that they deserve the title of "great". "Children of Men" is one of those for several reason. First, the action is top notch, as should be expected. The rawness and realism of this near-future Great Britain makes you think of current war zones, and of the actual condition some people have to live in today.
The reflection on the state of mankind, and what's really important to us (to defeat our enemies, or to see our children live?) has lots of depths - and the way it's brought here is both subtle and intelligent. One would not expect less from Alfonso Cuaron, the always sensitive director of "Y tu Mama Tembien" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban".
But even if you can't see past the action, it'll be impossible to stand up if you need to go pee, as I did myself for at least an hour.
No 2: Apocalypto (Mel Gibson)
Oh, how hard it was for me to decide if I should see the new Mel Gibson movie. I, of course, condemn his anti-semite rant last summer, and have little doubts about what he really thinks of Jews. But is the man and the filmmaker the same? And does he really need my money to build another church in his backyard?
I still don't know how to answer, so I went and saw the movie, but didn't pay for it (instead, I bought a ticket for another movie, produced by Jews). Yeah, well.
It's hard to describe Apocalypto. Yes, it's violent, but not more than the last Episode of Rome (amazing HBO series, by the way). Yes, it's in Mayan, and I think that's fantastic. Both things, though, make total sense in Mel-Gibson-the-filmmaker's view of life. As he did for Braveheart, everything that existed is on screen, as real as possible. Mayans did speak Mayan (duh!), they did sacrifice humans for their gods (although not all of them, fine), so that's what you get. Blood, in this ancient time, was poured as often as water: and it's not the blood of what we now call "gratuitous violence". It's the blood of tradition, of life, of birth. It has its place here.
But why a great movie? Why number 2? For an exceptional experience, the raw mix of Nature and Man, land and civilization. The foot-race between the characters, in the second part of the movie (all played by Mexican of Guatemalan amateurs) is an allegory for so many battles we have fought the last 3000 years I could not mention them all here.
No 1: The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky).
I won't try to describe "The Fountain" here. Oh, sure there's a story, and it's not that hard to understand. There's a style, and you may like it or not. But "The Fountain" is, most of all, an experience. You enter its world and you experience its universe.
Aronofsky has the unique gift of marrying picture and sound to create a film that both takes you in, and gets inside you. It's amazing to see how the pace of his editing, and of Clint Mansell's unbelievable score, regulates the pace of the viewer's own heart. And the presence of Hugh Jackman (or, should I say, three Hugh Jackmans) multiplies that power tenfold. I got out of the theater thinking I had been drugged. To those who think a movie can't be physical for the viewer: see "Requiem for a Dream", see "The Fountain".
"The Fountain" is a lot of things. A romance (perfect companion piece to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), and sci-fi story, a period piece. It's a drug, it's a moving painting, it's an exercise of style for its actors.
It's above all, a personal movie. The director's vision. This is a kind of movie you don't succeed or fail at. It's not made for us, it's made by the director, for himself.
So to all the critics who didn't like "The Fountain", who dare advise their reader not to see it, I say: "who do you think you are?"
Who ever said a movie needed a clear story? A linear construction? Who ever said a movie should bring something to the viewer?
Movies don't have to be for hire. They don't have to be the results of a studio order. They can be the will of a director, kind enough to share his vision with an audience.
Maybe you won't connect with "The Fountain". Maybe you won't get into it. But if you do, as I did, it might just change you.
I'll be eternally grateful to Darren Aronofsky for sharing.