Best Films of 2006

I’ve been debating for the last few days what I should write about in my year-end film post — wondering, frankly, if a write-up was necessary at all — and I’ve decided that the source of my ambivalence is the presence of so many similar lists and accompanying essays already out there. And that, I’ve just realized, is the real film story of 2006: the coming-of-age of online criticism. (See? Time magazine was right. We are the People of the Year.)

Not too long ago my twenty-link selection of “Daily Reads” constituted a near-complete list of the quality, regularly-updated websites that focused on world cinema. Now, with established print critics moving online and new voices chiming in everyday, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of writing that greets me each time I open Bloglines — so much so that, to be honest, I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading much of it at all. I find that I now approach the film blog-o-sphere in much the same way that I would behave if we all gathered face-to-face for a massive cocktail party. I grab my drink and find a quiet table over in the corner where I chat with the folks I’ve known the longest and the best and whose tastes are most similar to my own.

All of this is good news in every respect, I suppose, but one: As the film blog-o-sphere has evolved, I’ve felt my relation to Long Pauses change as well. Strange as it is to say, I feel a greater pressure these days to make declarations, to take a side, to join in “the critical conversation.” That bloggers now have a legitimate (or legitimated [by marketing departments]) voice in that conversation blows my mind. But, as anyone who has festival’d with me can tell you, making declarations and shaping consensus is the last reason I started writing these “responses” six years ago. Which is why I found it so odd to find myself thinking recently, “I really need to see A Prairie Home Companion, When the Levees Broke, and those Scorsese and Eastwood films.” I needed, in other words, to make my Top 10 “count.” Strange.

The tenor of this post might imply that I have a deep stake in the debates about the current state of film criticism. I don’t. Or, at least, I think I don’t. I’m genuinely grateful for the film blog-o-sphere, for the close friendships that have developed because of it, and for the remarkable resource it has become. It’s exciting. To continue the analogy, the cocktail party’s warming up and the room is getting noisy. But I’m a hopeless introvert, and crowds make me anxious.

But anyway, here are the obligatory lists. The top three films (I count Jia’s two films as halves of a whole) are as great as anything I’ve seen since The Son, and the rest of the top 15 (yes, I needed 15 this year) are all fantastic as well. I can’t wait to watch Syndromes and Century and Colossal Youth again. Both are crammed full of beauty and mystery, and I’m eager to reexperience their magic. I forced myself to order the list this year and was surprised by the rankings. So Yong Kim’s remarkable debut, In Between Days, climbed a notch or two higher with each revision, as did Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction (Will Ferrell’s is probably my favorite performance of the year); Tsai Ming-liang’s surprisingly conventional and touching I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone dropped a bit.

As usual, I’ve ignored “official” release dates and am, instead, listing “new” films that I saw in 2006. It’s just easier that way.

Fifteen Best New Films I Saw in 2006 (by preference)

  1. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
  2. Still Life / Dong (Jia Zhang-ke, 2006)
  3. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, 2006)
  4. Hamaca Paraguaya (Paz Encina, 2006)
  5. Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2006)
  6. Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2006)
  7. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)
  8. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006)
  9. In Between Days (So Yong Kim, 2006)
  10. Schuss! (Nicolas Rey, 2005)
  11. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, 2006)
  12. Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006)
  13. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, 2006)
  14. Flandres (Bruno Dumont, 2006)
  15. The Queen (Stephen Frears, 2006)

Five Best New Short Films I Saw in 2006 (by title)

  • A Bridge Over the Drina (Xavier Lukomski, 2005)
  • Hysteria (Christina Battle, 2006)
  • Nachtstuck (Peter Tscherkassky, 2006)
  • Silk Ties (Jim Jennings, 2006)
  • Song and Solitude (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2006)

Ten Favorite Film Discoveries of 2006 (by title)

  • Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
  • Counsellor at Law (William Wyler, 1933) *
  • Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)
  • The Last Days of Disco (Whit Stillman, 1998)
  • New Rose Hotel (Abel Ferrara, 1998)
  • No Fear, No Die (Claire Denis, 1990)
  • Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994)
  • Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) *
  • The World (Jia Zhang-ke, 2004)
  • And a bunch of great films from 2005 that I didn’t see until this year (by preference) — Good Night, and Good Luck; Mysterious Skin; Kings and Queen; Last Days; Tropical Malady; The Beat That My Heart Skips; Junebug; Clean; Grizzly Man

* For the record, this list could very easily have consisted solely of Wyler and Godard films. The time I spent with them (37 films and counting) will be my main film memory of 2006.