2006

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The Royal Top 10

Here's what board member Hilary Neiukirk had to say about this year's films:
"My list is *lousy* with royalty...

In alphabetical order:

49 Up (d) (right)
Heading South
The History Boys
The King
The Last King of Scotland
Little Miss Sunshine
The Proposition
The Queen
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (d)
Volver

I wasn't thrilled with the narrative films this year, but there were a lot of great docs. In addition to the two that I included above, these are well worth a mention:

Deliver Us From Evil
The Devil & Daniel Johnston
Jesus Camp
New York Doll

The Librarian's Top 10

Okay, so this is a little disingenious since many Chlotrudis members are librarians. Still, Jeff Pike is responsible for organizing and loaning our screener library, and he does a terrific job at it. Here is Jeff's list of the Best Movies of 2006.

Jeff says, "Of the movies I watched this year, I liked these the best. A couple aren't Chlotrudis movies, but I still liked them."

Brick (right)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Look Both Ways
Transamerica
Lonesome Jim
A Prairie Home Companion
Duck Season
Caché
10th District Court
The Intruder
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Inland Empire
Jesus Camp
Winter Passing
The Departed
Inside Man
The Proposition

The President's Top Films of 2007

Okay, it's my turn. Here are my top films of 2007.

So this year I will agree… it was a somewhat lackluster year for independent film. Not only am I not jumping up and down with excitement about many films this year, my top 2 films were seen at film festivals one and two years ago respectively (ditto #5). That’s not to say that there weren’t some really terrific films released last year, but let’s just look at the #1 film, for instance: SORRY, HATERS. Here’s a film that only had a release in Boston because Chlotrudis brought the filmmaker in to do a special screening. Otherwise it wouldn’t even be eligible. What’s up with that? Incidentally, SORRY, HATERS was my #1 festival film last year. It was a good year for France (they financed, or co-financed 6 of my top films) but not a good year for Canada or Asia, two countries that usually show up strongly on my lists (Canada’s only appearance was the co-financing of my #2 film; although arguably, the star and main driving force of my #3 film is Canadian). Documentaries also performed well, with two showing up on my Top Movies of the year.

  1. SORRY, HATERS – A powerfully disturbing film that examines one woman’s emotional reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that is also somehow a black comedy. Robin Wright Penn puts in a riveting performance, and Jeff Stanzler has written a refreshing screenplay that is filled with bitter humor and surprising warmth.
  2. CLEAN – Hmmm… another tour de force performance from a lead actress, this time Maggie Cheung as the widow of a rock star drug overdose victim, trying to stay clean to win back custody of her son. Director Olivier Assayas wrote CLEAN with Cheung, his ex-wife, in mind, hoping to provide her a vehicle for her acting. He is successful, showing us a side of Cheung that is not usually evident in the Asian costume pics we are used to seeing her in.
  3. HARD CANDY – Another strong lead actress performance… do you see a pattern here? Chlotrudis Breakthrough Award winner Ellen Page lives up to our expectations with a brilliantly self-assured performance in this confounding film that viewers tend to love or hate. Controversial, tough to watch, HARD CANDY follows pre-teen Hayley as she meets a much older man (in his 30’s) on the Internet, then a Café, then agrees to return to his apartment, but Hayley has something else on her mind.
  4. LA MOUSTACHE – Ah, here’s one for the leading men. Did he really have a moustache? Or didn’t he? That was the mantra taken up by several viewers after enjoying this perplexing, French psychological thriller about a man whose identity seems to hinge on his facial hair. Vincent Lindon (all masculine sexuality in Claire Denis’ FRIDAY NIGHT) plays loving and oh-so confused husband to chameleonic Emmanuelle Devos in this mindbending drama.
  5. CACHÉ – Is there a more consummate filmmaker than Michael Haneke? This film blew my mind at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, and while a second viewing proved to be more straightforward, it is amazing to watch Haneke unravel his story which is all about the things we don’t see on the screen. Interweaving issues around race, privacy, class and politics, Haneke, along with his adept leading actors Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, create a masterpiece of bourgeois paranoia.
  6. THIS FIL M IS NOT YET RATED – Kirby Dick’s documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America, the organization that rules of the film ratings board, is a joy for any film lover. Rarely has a documentary ilicited such laughter, triumph and outrage while imparting important information about a frightening trend of eroding liberties. It’s interesting to see how many of the films that have had trouble with the ratings board are Chlotrudis favorites.
  7. VOLVER – Pedro Almodóvar returns to his female-domainted wacky comedies with a vengeance. With VOLVER he gives Penelope Cruz a meaty role that allows her to truly shine in a way she hadn’t the opportunity before, and he also reunites with his former partner-in-crime, Carmen Maura. How appropriate that volver means “return.” Also in powerful evidence is Almodóvar’s impeccable eye and skill with a color palette; VOLVER is one of the most visually delicious films released this year.
  8. SHUT UP & SING – Who knew the Dixie Chicks were my favorite band? Not me, until I saw Barbara Kopple’s thoroughly entertaining documentary about a moment in recent history that irrevocably changed the career of the biggest-selling female musical group of all time. An offhand remark dissing the President at a concert in England sets off a firestorm of radio station bannings, bulldozed CDs and even death threats. It’s truly a rare moment to witness the utter transformation of a rock and roll band.
  9. L’INTRUS – Claire Denis’ films aren’t for everyone. But if you’re like me, you see a Claire Denis film and get all excited afterwards about figuring out what it all means. L’INTRUS is a complex story that references lead actor Michel Subor’s earlier films, involves a character known as Queen of the Northern Hemisphere, and explores the nature of a man’s heart in someone who has received a heart transplant. Dense, visually stunning (thanks to multiple Chlotrudis Award winning cinematographer Agnes Godard) and intentionally oblique, L’INTRUS is another of Denis’ films that stimulate the mind of the viewer.
  10. INLAND EMPIRE – Speaking of indecipherable films… David Lynch creates a window into his mind, and it’s an unsettling place to be. This uber-creepy tale of “a woman in trouble” offers a vehicle for an amazing performance from Laura Dern that explores Lynch’s views on filmmaking, the Hollywood machine, and the trouble actresses face as they grow older. All the while telling multiple tales and transporting us to another world that is as creepy as all get out!
  11. THE SYRIAN BRIDE – Highlighting the tragedy of conflict with sheer absurdity, Eran Riklis’ THE SYRIAN BRIDE features a strong script, an assured directorial hand, and a terrific cast, most notably Hiam Abbass as a woman who struggles with the fierce independence she feels in her heart and the obliging acquiescence she lives with toward her husband. It’s a powerful look at the way war shatters families in the most unlikely and unthinkable ways.
  12. TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK & BULL STORY – Talk about a meta-movie! Eclectic director Michael Winterbottom has created a film about the making of a movie adapted from an unfilmable British classic. The terrific cast, including Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves, skewer their personas brilliantly and with energetic relish. It’s all a little bewildering, but oh, so much fun.
  13. IRON ISLAND – This Iranian allegory tells the story of a small community living on a derelict oil tanker off the coast. They are held together by the iron-willed “Captain Nemat,” whose good heart is concealed by his single-minded purpose. When the tanker’s owners decide to sell it, Nemat and his community must find a solution of find themselves homeless. It is a testament to this film that there are no easy answers to the moral dilemma presented.

The Close but no Cigar Crowd (They deserve mention; but I couldn’t quite justify their presence on a Top Films of the Year list): CHANGING TIMES; DELIVER US FROM EVIL; LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE; THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP; SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS; WATER

The Bottom of the Heap (Ugh! Didn’t need to see these!): ADAM & STEVE; INNOCENCE; THE MOSTLY UNFABULOUS SOCIAL LIFE OF ETHAN GREENE; THE QUIET; TRUST THE MAN; UNKNOWN WHITE MALE

Biggest Disappointments (These are films that, for whatever reason, I expected more from. In all three cases, the films have merit, they just didn’t succeed with me the way I’d hoped they would): 3 NEEDLES; STOLEN; THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

Biggest Difference of Opinion (These are films that lots of my colleagues loved that I just couldn’t fully embrace.): BATTLE IN HEAVEN; BRICK; HALF NELSON; SHORTBUS

The Educator's Top 10 (Updated!)

Peg Aloi kicks off with a pretty controversial #1 film, then settles in to some Chlotrudis favorites.

  1. THE LIBERTINE -- a gritty, smoky mise-en-scene enshrouds this sweepingly grand but often intimate biopic about one of history's most notorious scoundrels: a whipsmart orator, political firebrand and decadent voluptuary, played by Johnny Depp in one his most exciting performances, and supported by a lightning-bright British cast.
  2. HARD CANDY -- a surprisingly-assured chamber piece which brilliantly exploits what is normally an impossible filmic conceit: a story centered entirely on two actors. Page and Wilson are dynamite.
  3. BROTHERS OF THE HEAD -- haunting, authentic, and clever, with wish-I-wasn't-here intensity in its fake-archival photographic styling (courtesy of the art's newest Michelangelo, Anthony Dod Mantle) and impressively realistic performances by actors who do indeed seem to be in a documentary.
  4. INLAND EMPIRE -- a mesmerizing three-hour tour de force, a brutal, terrifying, incandescent candyland borne of the troubled mind of cinema's greatest post-modern surrealist, and all the more satisfying because it has been so underviewed at this point.
  5. NOTES ON A SCANDAL -- Judi Dench here proves without doubt she is the grande dame of anti-glamour. Her icy, obsessed and ultimately unhinged portrayal of a desperately-lonely spinster school teacher is a stunning foil to Cate Blanchett's smoldering, spoiled, bohemian wanna-be. This is a character-driven thriller that is not the least bit predictable, and utilizes that often-risky literary device of voiceover narration with perfect pitch, which is in and of itself an achievement.
  6. SHORTBUS -- an imperfect but bold and enlightening look at post 9/11 sexuality from the city that invented urban angst. The pieces are more than the sum of its parts, mainly due to a somewhat uneven distribution of acting talent, but filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell has crafted a film well ahead of its time that draws its power from his innovative theatrical sensibility and fine-tuned attention to small moments (such as when TARNATION's Jonathan Caouette slinks through the frame carrying a small stack of hash brownies which he insists "aren't for me.")
  7. A SCANNER DARKLY -- adapting Philip K. Dick to the silver screen is a Herculean task and this hopped-up dreamscape does so with real skill. Rotoscoping is still a fresh-looking animation technique and lends itself beautifully to stories such as this, where paranoia, self-doubt, dreams, nightmares, and unfathomable human evil are the main characters. But the actors also make this work: Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, even Keanu Reeves manage to imbue this thinking man's stoner-saga with intelligence and subtlety, even when their painted personae are screaming and smashing up entire rooms.
  8. GARCON STUPIDE -- I can't pinpoint any one thing that makes this nomination-worthy, but months after seeing it this French film has stayed with me; the portrayal of a promiscuous, seemingly-sociopathic teenager by newcomer Pierre Chatagny is at its heart, but director Lionel Baier is to be credited for his unusual cinema verite treatment and unabashed depiction of gay sex in contexts that manage to be shocking and banal at once.
  9. THE QUEEN -- Stephen Frears manages to treat this easily-exploitable topic with restraint and artistry (a real feat for a director who often relishes dramatic excess), but Dame Helen Mirren makes the film her own with a spot-on, very human performance of a woman most people view as an automaton with a handbag.
  10. BEOWULF & GRENDEL -- although Chlotrudis favorite Sarah Polley seems miscast in this Scandinavian epic, the jaw-dropping locations and letter-perfect performances by Stellan Skaarsgard and Gerard Butler make this version of one of humankind's oldest stories one worth seeking out.

Gems Worthy of Note: Hand of God, C*R*A*Z*Y (not eligible!)

What I have not seen yet but want to: The Wind That Shakes the Barley