Top 10 Best New Films that I saw released somewhere in the world during 2006(Warning: I know not everyone spends(wastes?) as much time on film and movies as me, so If you wish to skip the diatribe, scroll down to the movie list)
Okay so, this post is maybe mostly for Ryan, but you other folks can read it too. These 10 movies are really fantastic. Unfortunately 8 out of the 10 probably won't becoming to America anytime soon if at all, thanks to everyone's favorite corporate whore/demon/greedy profit hog, Hollywood. And thanks to the way in which most mainstream movie reviews are done in the US of A, you probably didn't even hear about most of them, either. This is too bad for everyone involved, unless you really love limited choices, or watered down mass marketed "movies." It's great how the running for best movies of the year consistently looks like other countries don't even make movies, or maybe they make one or two a year, wishing they could make such movies up to the glorious standards of Hollywood. This arrogance, adds insult to injury as they say, to the fact that Imperial Hollywood already pushes for cultural/financial dominance in a realm it tellingly calls an "industry," Not an art form, not a way of improving our minds, and hearts and souls, not a way of perceiving in a new way, or re-examining what is around us, or being filled with rapture and ineffable emotion. No. It's a way to make money, its manufacturing, like making tires.
This year was actually a great year for film, as is almost every year, despite what it looks like from the US. I don't list these movies to show off, that I am some sweet smart film knowledge guy. Nor do I post to look cool or be obscure. I post it because there are incredible films constantly being made around the world, in all kinds of styles, forms and cinematic languages. But we are consistently blocked from viewing most of them, either for several years after thier release or sometimes forever. Thus, we live blindly in an Hollywood stunted cultural bunker, thinking The Departed was the best movie of the year without seeing or sometimes even knowing about the original Hong Kong film. You would be surprised at the real percentage of films in Hollywood are remakes or stolen makes from "foreign" movies, usually dumbed down and terriblized. Because who would ever want to see something that is not in English? Or not filled with mostly white professionally good looking actors? Or different than what I am used to or comfortable with?
Anyway, these films are fantastic to me. There are many styles here, and While I have only seen each of them once, I am sure they all demand more viewings to really grasp them and love them. I hope you can find a way (Might I suggest illegal downloading or failing that moving to LA or NY?) to see them someday. I have some of them actually, so when i come back, I can give you some copies if you need (Ryan, you are gonna get some sweet free gifts from me that will blow your mind!)
Also I saw a number of these on film on a big screen, at the Pusan Film Festival. These are the type of films that I would normally have to watch on my computer in DVD or AVI. This was very exciting to me, and I now am hooked on film fests (if only i could afford them). Seriously! Big screen film versions of actually awesome movies that I want to see! Unbelievable.
1. Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France) - Michel Gondry is turning into one of my favorite directors! You do have a chance to see this and please do! More "whimsical" than Eternal Sunshine, but just as good for me. Gondry, seems to be endlessly creative and makes me feel guilty constantly for not living my life more awesomely. I need to find a way to become his apprentice. Plus Gael García Bernal is an amazing actor as usual. I saw this in a theatre in Korea, so even with no English subtitles and some badly lacking high school French on my part, it was an awesome film. I can't wait to see it again with subtitles.
2. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) - Another relatively new director, who is also fast becoming my fav. This should maybe be number one but I saw Science of Sleep more recently so it got the vote. I saw this at the Pusan Film Festival (incredible!). It's a split into two parts as many of his films seem to be these days, one vaguely about some doctors in the past, another vaguely about some doctors in the present, plus lots of amazing silence, camera motion and non-motion, repetition, and a beautiful end. Joe as he is called by people that can't say his insanely long name is one of narrative cinemas most purely poetic new directors and also one its brightest lights. This is his best film yet. Amazing! I wish I was watching it right now! Plus it was awesome to finally see a Weerasethakul film in its original format and on a big screen! Yeah!
3. Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mali) - I haven't seen Sissako's earlier work, which I have heard good things about, but Bamako is a solid film. The IMF, World Bank, and rich western nations are on trial literally and figuratively in Mali, Africa. The case is nothing new if you are immersed in it already, but is still interesting, and the side stories are excellent and moving. There is also an "out of nowhere" parody of Hollywood films, staring Danny Glover as a cowboy. An interesting entry in the seldom used essay/narrative film genre. Some people thought it was a little heavy handed, but i thought it was fine.
4. Offsides (Jafar Panahi, Iran) - A short and funny, and not funny story of women soccer fans in Iran and their struggle to enter a soccer game (which is forbidden). Done in Panahi's typical Iranian style. Just really nice. One annoying part was that since I can kind of speak Farsi, Sometimes I noticed the subtitles were a little off or misleading. But still great.
5. Half Moon (Bahman Ghobadi, Iran) - Another Iranian film, although the style couldn't be more different. Ghobadi has a thing for dramatics and theatrics. The film focuses on a family of Kurdish musicians traveling to Kurdistan for a performance. Along the way it discusses mortality, Iranian Societies treatment of minorities, and has some beautiful dreamlike sequences. As usual for Ghobadi, Half Moon is funny, beautiful, and incredible sad. However this time, he succeeds where his last films (slightly) failed.
6. City of Violence (Ryu Seung-wan, South Korea) - Not much to say about this one other than its a lot of fun. If it ever comes to America, there will be a lot of Kill Bill comparisons to be sure, although it should probably be the other way around. A nice genre film and homage to the Asian Kung Fu films of the 60s and 70s. Some funny parts, a lot of ridiculous battles, and Korea's premiere stunt man taking his first lead role (and of course doing his own stunts). Maybe not something that I will care about long term, but it's very exciting, and Ryu Seung-wan continues to churn out great films.
7. Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Michel Gondry, USA) - This is another film that was basically one long feel good party. Nice jams, nice folks, Dave Chappelle, and Michel Gondry. What more do you want? Definitly destined to be a "minor work" for Gondry, but still nice and pleasant.
8. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-Soo, South Korea) - I predict this one is just going to move up the list higher and higher the more I watch it. Not as formally exciting as some of his past films, Hong Sang-soo is still proving why he is my favorite Korean film director. Probably what Woody Allen's films are supposed to be like, Hong continues his deconstruction of Korean society and male/female relationships. If that sounds a little bit lame, then you need to experience the incredible subtlety, nuance, and intelligence his direction, screenwriting, and actors bring to the game. If there is one problem with his films it is that they don't usually feature very many likable characters. This one is similar, although there is some actual humor in this film for the first time. I missed it at Busan, but downloaded it, and it doesn't seem to be a film where watching it on dvd limits you in anyway.
9. Fantasma (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France) - This was my first film by this semi-acclaimed Argentinean director and I will definetly be needing to watch it again. An homage to Tsai Ming-Liang's Goodbye Dragon, Inn, Fantasma contains almost no dialogue and even has a lengthy sequence where the main character simply watches Alonso's last film, Los Muertos, also staring said main character. Unfortunately, It was my fourth film of the day (at the Pusan Film Festival) and I was originally going on about 2 hours of sleep. So I was in and out a sleep during the whole thing. I actually think this might have enhanced the experience, much the way I kept falling asleep the first time I saw Sigur Ros play, and the music mixed with my dreams. When people say this film is a meditation they really mean that. Also I fear that seeing it on dvd (if it makes it there) will lessen the experience quite a bit. But I do need to see it again.
10. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) - Another fun one here. It's basically a monster movie. The American army (who are all played on purpose by awesomely bad actors) dumps toxic chemicals into the Han river (The biggest river) and a mutant monster is created that wreaks havoc all over Seoul. It's up to one dysfunctional family to stop it, and so on. Actually fairly intelligent, its also has some decent jokes, nice monster action, and even some "moving" parts. This is how monster movies should be done. I think it is definetly a thing you need to see on the big screen though and with a bunch of people, to up the fun. While I did like it alot, this one got major attention from lots of westerners and Koreans alike and i think it was a bit overrated. It's not the greatest thing in the world, and I am not dying to re-watch it again and again. But it was well made and good enough to earn this final spot. It's also pretty straightforward so it has a chance of making it in America. I heard that Magnolia Pictures (Steven Soderburgh's independent company) has picked up the distribution rights for the US. In the bad news category, I also heard that there is an American re-make planned, probably destined for huge dumb bomb, or at least, me asking WhyTF are you remaking movies that just came out, if at all? But then the answer would be found in the beginning rant. Anyway, try to watch it! It's totally decent with gnarly potential!
Still to Come: Best Old Movies I Saw for the First time this year, Best new movies I didn't see, and maybe some other stuff.