2007 Verve Awards

2006 Verve Awards

Best Arts and Culture Blog 2005 Queer Day Awards

Best Gay Blog Nominee 2004 Weblog Awards

Best Arts and Culture Blog Nominee

Monday, January 01, 2007


ModFabulous 2006: Best Films of the Year

Here on the first day of 2007, I'm perfectly glad to be letting last year's cinema go. Because there's simply no way around it...2006 was a terrible year for movies. From our perspective, there wasn't one in the last 365 days that could justifiably be called a classic; in most years, many of the films below wouldn't have made our Top Twenty, much less Ten.

Watching the critics dole out various honors over the last month has underscored the weakness of the field. Films have been overpraised (Letters from Iwo Jima) and virtues have been overstated (The Queen). Popular successes were transformed into awards contenders (Borat), as were obscure foreign titles long available on DVD (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu).

Does any of this help you figure out what to see in the theatres, or to put in your NetFlix queue? My guess is: no. The list below, then, was compiled to help you do just that...good, bad, and (mostly) somewhere in between.

10. The Departed
One of our favorite films from two years ago was Infernal Affairs, a terrific Hong Kong actioner that was the basis for Martin Scorsese's superb Boston-set morality play. Shaggier and dirtier than the Hong Kong version, William Monahan's excellent script left the details purposely fuzzy and the ethics convoluted, with spectacular results. Excellent performances by Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg (and to a lesser extent, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio) were icing on this bloody, fascinating cake. "Scorsese is revisiting familiar territory, but the details are still fresh, thanks not only to his usual acuity in capturing time and place, but to a dense William Monahan script that nails the local vernacular. When a director of Scorsese's caliber is working at the top of his game, it's a reminder of why we go to the movies in the first place." - Scott Tobias, The Onion A.V. Club

9. The Fountain
What is more important in making a great film: inspiration or execution? The easy answer is both; but one can outweigh the other, as it does in Darren Aronofsky's atmospheric daydream about eternal love. True, it didn't always cohere, but the sheer vastness of its passion, reach and imagination made it stand like a giant among midgets in 2006. The prime candidate for cult classic status twenty years from now. [review] "Not to minimize the importance of overthrowing the Galactic Empire or dumping The Ring in Mount Doom, but shouldn’t there be a place in the canon of epic films for a story about a man trying to keep his dying beloved alive? Kids, who think they’ll live forever, might not hook up to this trope, but adults should. They’ve certainly seen it before: Armand trying to breathe life into the dying Marguerite Gautier, or Romeo trying to shake the poison out of Juliet, or Isolde going operatic over Tristan....Aronofsky, who could have kept making spiky little art films (and that would have been fine), took a chance on himself and the movie audience." - Richard Corliss, Time

8. Breaking and Entering
At last, at long, long last...a film for adults. This visually cool but emotionally riveting love triangle, the first original screenplay from Oscar-winning director/writer Anthony Minghella since Truly Madly Deeply, is a character-driven portrait of private lives caught in the socio-economic struggles of urban change. There's something magnificent in watching this talented cast and crew -- working at the top of their game -- shape this tiny, painful story with such delicacy and nuance. "Minghella does not go for easy answers. Characters are caught in confusion because of conflicted feelings. Often they do the wrong thing. Minghella doesn't want to judge people. And his actors give him fine portraits in disorientation, of immigrants trying to get their bearings in a foreign land or professionals who feel perhaps guilty over invading the terrain of the new arrivals in the name of urban renewal." - Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter

7. The Painted Veil
The vastness of tropical China made for a glorious contrast against the small agonies of a failed marriage, but that was merely some exquisite window dressing: the pain and brutality of a cholera epidemic and the human selflessness needed to combat it drove Maugham's cinematic adaptation. Credit screenwriter Ron Nyswaner for preserving the eloquence, and the fine acting for the intensity. [review] "Proving that they can, in fact, make 'em like they used to, The Painted Veil is a well-crafted period drama that's propelled by a fine script, lovely location work, and terrific performances by two of our most reliable actors, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts....Scene for scene, Watts and Norton deliver note perfect performances, depicting their Fanes' complex relationship without showboating for the camera....ranks as one of 2006's quiet gems." - Ethan Alter, Premiere

6. Marie Antoinette
Critically divisive, this startlingly intimate and socially devastating reimagining of Versailles explored the myth of royalty with a sincerity (and savagery) that could only come from a daughter of Hollywood royalty. Superb production design, deft direction and finely crafted performances exposed the confining nature of classism in fresh new ways. "Coppola's silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It's a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons -- instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can't help envying her privilege." - Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

5. Notes on a Scandal
Two of the world's finest actresses ripping into an overheated dramatic souffle of a script, rife with vengeful lesbian spinsters, gorgeous pedophile teachers, and "scandal" right there in the title. What's not to love? What could have been an exploitative disaster in instead a clawing, scraping meditation on desire, energized by the acting prowess of Blanchett and especially Dench, who caps a career of great performances with a towering, jaw-dropping achievement. "One thing that marks the dark brilliance of "Notes on a Scandal," directed by Richard Eyre, is the level of the acting, but that is just part of a larger issue: its vision. I can't remember a film that sees the here and now more precisely, one that offers total believability in the tone and motive of its characters and then goes further, showing us a whole and completely recognizable world." -- Stephen Hunter, Washington Post

4. The Last King of Scotland
No movie this year had a better synthesis of history, politics, drama, and humanity than the surprisingly textured biography of Idi Amin, one of the most notorious barbarians of the 20th century. The deepest talent bench of 2006, including Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney and David Oyelowo, illuminated the increasingly gripping narrative and built to a finale that is horrifying and necessary. [review] "The balance of star power would appear to be off-kilter — McAvoy so slight and Orlando Bloomish in a fictional role against Whitaker, who is so substantial in an all-stops-out biographical re-creation. But that disparity turns out to be the point on which the picture pivots." - Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

3. Shortbus
What may have initially seemed to be the most outrageous and daring experiment of the year -- a dramatic feature with actors engaging in actual sex -- turned out to be even more daring and outrageous by revealing itself to be a sweet, simple romantic comedy. That's the masterful achievement of director John Cameron Mitchell, who in 2006 transformed sex from a taboo into a potent storytelling device for a circle of emotionally broken New Yorkers. If only other risk-takers could be as accomplished, this would be a remarkable world to live in. "The many characters who wander through this playful, heartfelt dramatic comedy are seeking contact, and they know the micro of physical release is related to the macro of shared human experience -- if only they could connect the dots. They treat sex the way we do in our lives as opposed to in our browsers: with yearning, guilt, humor, delight, horniness, shallowness, profundity." - Ty Burr, Boston Globe

2. Dreamgirls
Unquestionably the most buzzed-about film of the year -- and currently the recipient of an undeserved critical backlash (probably for the same reason) -- there are many superlatives to drop at the feet of this luscious, energetic, and deceptively insightful movie musical. By exposing the cracks in the American Dream and the foibles inherent in the myth of talent -- that if you are good at what you do and work hard, you'll get ahead -- Dreamgirls finds a universality that has eluded other musicals even as it chronicles the very specific experiences of African-American pop musicians. But this isn't a social treatise. It is an Entertainment with a capital E, jaw-dropping in its spectacular execution. Dreamgirls overcomes its structural flaws (and a weak performance by Beyonce Knowles) with a flair and verve wholly unexpected. [review] "The sigh you will hear across the country in the next few weeks is the sound of a gratified audience: a great movie musical has been made at last....in this movie, the songs aren’t merely commentary on the narrative and the personal conflicts; they are the narrative and the drama—a rousing success story that is also (though we don’t realize it right away) a parallel story of failure." - David Denby, The New Yorker

1. United 93
Paul Greengrass' docudrama captures in tormented detail the only unsuccessful terrorist hijacking of September 11th. But look past the headlines to gauge its cinematic power, and one will find a histrionic-free portrait of a crucibled moment in our collective consciousness. Like all great art, it requires focus and demands attention. It has more to say about our collective failure, our rage, our sadness, our faith, our courage, our mistakes, and our regret than any other film this year. And in 2006, it is exactly what we need now, in this time. [review] "The film nobody wants to see is worth seeing. At the very least, United 93—as the most literal representation yet of that unimaginable morning—will hopefully ignite a meaningful debate about the ethics and politics of 9-11 commemoration....Greengrass, who may yet emerge as the Maya Lin of cine-memorialists, knows that restraint is both tasteful and authoritative." - Dennis Lim, Village Voice

Children of Men, Brick, Babel, Inside Man, Duck Season, The Illusionist, Curse of the Golden Flower, Venus, An Inconvenient Truth, Little Miss Sunshine

The Devil Wears Prada, The Proposition, The Good Shepherd, Volver, The Queen

Darren Aronofsky, The Fountain
Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette
Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men
Paul Greengrass, United 93
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Pedro Almodovar, Volver
Frank Cottrell Boyce, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Rian Johnson, Brick
Anthony Minghella, Breaking and Entering
William Monahan, The Departed

Lance Acord, Marie Antoinette
Benoit Delhomme, The Proposition
Stuart Dryburgh, The Painted Veil
Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men
Rodrigo Prieto, Babel

K.K. Barrett, Marie Antoinette
James Chinlund, The Fountain
Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland, Children of Men
Tingxiao Huo, Curse of the Golden Flower
Ann Chakraverty, Pierre Pell and Stéphane Rosenbaum, The Science of Sleep
John Myhre, Dreamgirls

Milena Canonero, Marie Antoinette
Sharen Davis, Dreamgirls
Lindy Hemming, Casino Royale
Julie Weiss, Hollywoodland
Margot Wilson, The Proposition

Alexandre Desplat, The Painted Veil
Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal
Clint Mansell, The Fountain
Gabriel Yared, Breaking and Entering

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Half Nelson, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Children, Pan's Labyrinth

All The King's Men, CSA: The Confederate States of America, FAQs, The Lake House, Poseidon

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