When it comes to the cinema, the diskant contributors are a battle-hardened lot. We may have increased in number, but our judgements grow sharper by the year. There's no room in 2006's list for all those tedious blockbuster sequels (X Men III, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Ice Age 2, Mission: Impossible 3, et al), and, thankfully, no room for the increasing amount of terrible 'shock'/horror films (Hostel, Saw 3) or pointless remakes (The Hills Have Eyes, the Wicker Man). More surprisingly, some gems you may have expected a bunch of obscure internet geeks to fawn over were omitted: Terence Malick's mashup of visual poetry and a worryingly hirsute Colin Farrell in The New World; the much-acclaimed indie hit Little Miss Sunshine; Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning impression of the eponymous Capote; the somewhat over-praised The Devil Wears Prada; the very very worthy United 93; Martin Scorsese's much-vaunted return to form with The Departed; Sascha Baron Cohen running his barrel of jokes dry with Borat; Al Gore's souped-up environmental presentation An Inconvenient Truth; the superb Nick Cave-scripted superb outback western The Proposition, Spike Lee's best studio film for years in Inside Man; and what about those well-received money-mashing reboots Casino Royale and Superman Returns? None of these were deemed deserving of bringing to your attention.
You may also be disappointed that no venom has been set aside for such execrable fare as The Da Vinci Code, Lady In The Water, World Trade Center or Marie Antionette. Let us assure you that we have saved enough to savage each other's opinions on the consensus of 'good' films as much as ever; our diverse opinions about diskant's top ten films of 2006 are presented below for your pleasure.
Your panel of commentators consists of Tom Coogan, Ian Scanlon, Simon Minter, Chris H, Andrew Bryers, Alex McChesney, Dave Stockwell, Marceline Smith, Alasdair Rothin, Stu Fowkes and JGram.
1. Brokeback Mountain
Two cowboys fall in love quite magnificently, and director Ang Lee reminds everyone that he made quite a few touching and subtly nuanced films about secrets and relationships before The Hulk flopped quite so massively.
Dave: Ah, the achingly romantic 'Faggot Cowboys' (as it was called in Turkey). This was the adaptation of E. Annie Proulx that The Shipping News should have been. It had all the plaudits imaginable thrown at it and richly deserves them. Unlike, say, the lamentable Crash.
Simon M: A great, beautiful film. Never before would I care so much about the tribulations and antics of a couple of gay cowboys.
Marceline: I loved this, particularly since the whole gay cowboy thing was pretty much a red herring, hiding the fact that this would have been as beautiful and touching whoever it was about and also that it had about as much gay love action as Bambi. The ending's a heartbreaker as well. The only bad thing about this was when my boss rented it. You really would be surprised how many jokes people can make about gay cowboys. At least a fortnight's worth.
Tom: I can totally identify with falling effortlessly and unexpectedly into an intoxicating situation and the doomed struggle to reproduce that one period of magic. As I'm sure you can. Genuinely moving.
Andrew: Great film, but you can't just stick a fake moustache on Donnie Darko and kid on he's middle-aged.
Alex: A good, if not great, film, but hard to be objective about in the wake of the intensely tedious "controversy" surrounding it.
JGram: They should have added songs, turned it into a musical and called it Village People Mountain. Sorry, I'm not sensitive enough to watch this movie.
2. A Scanner Darkly
Richard Linklater uses the success of School of Rock and the technology of Waking Life to make his dream film: an authentic adaptation of Philip K. Dick's realistic and painful account of drug addiction and burnout. Leading man Keanu Reeves plays a man losing his identity with aplomb.
Dave: I'm finding it really difficult to write my thoughts about this film. As someone who knows far more about Philip K. Dick than is really healthy, and this being the first Hollywood adaptation that hasn't butchered Dick by ripping one idea from whatever story he chose to tell and adding an hour of running around shouting and shooting baddies (okay, so Blade Runner doesn't have so much running and shouting until the end), I should be very pleased. And indeed I am. I think it's more that the mournful tone of the original book - Dick's only non-sci fi and in fact very semi-autobiographical) book that was a success in his lifetime - has been translated so well that I left the cinema feeling bummed out. I'm not sure; I think I'll have to watch it again before making my mind
JGram: Despite looking fantastic and coming from the pen of a sci-fi legend I came away from this movie feeling that I had just watched an hour and a half of nothing happening. As ever the rejuvenated Robert Downey Jr stole every scene he was involved in but what kind of message was Linklater trying to convey whilst concentrating so hard on the style rather than content? Paranoia can be far too subtle sometimes.
Tom: The first couple of minutes of this were really uncomfortable...definitely a remarkable trip, but maybe a little too incoherent sometimes.
Andrew: Should have been called "Ketamine: The Movie". Amazing.
3. Red Road
Debut picture by Andrea Arnold that won the 2006 Cannes Jury prize. A CCTV operator stalks the man who was responsible for her family's death amongst the dirt and detritus of Glasgow on a particularly grimy day. It was shown at a full 38 screens across the UK, and is yet to see any release in the USA (a Region 2 DVD release is scheduled for early 2007).
Alex: What a tense film! Man, Glasgow looks like a horrible place. Glad I don't live there... oh, wait... Yes, the worst advert the city could possibly have. Unrelentingly bleak, taut, and cliche-defying, and made me squirm with discomfort on at least one occasion. Also the first part of a concurrently-shot trilogy by three different directors, each focusing on a different character from a mutually-agreed pool who span all three films.
Chris H: Unsettling atmosphere, murky motivation, masses of tension *and* a high "I've been there" factor to deepen the enjoyment.
Andrew: It was pretty good, but I think I'm fed up with gritty realism. Also, her hitting herself with the rock kinda just made me laugh. Still, best movie to feature an erect penis all year.
Alasdair: If I wanted to see a ginger man's erect penis I'd just linger in the toilets at Parkhead one Saturday afternoon. (I don't so I won't by the way)
Dave: This is some kind of Scottish crypto-fascist conspiracy, isn't it? I'm not sure this even came out where I live.
Smart and sassy high school neo-noir written and directed by debutant Rian Johnson. Come complete with its own incomprehensible vernacular that will instantly ostracise any geek foolish enough to risk using it in the real world.
Alasdair: Loved this - a classy high school film noir that kept me guessing to well past the credits.
Andrew: So achingly postmodern, but so good with it. I wish my high school was a bit more film noir.
Alex: Transplanting a noir thriller to a high-school sounds like a great idea, but surely it needs more than just hiring young actors and crossing out "chief of police" to replace it with "principal". Casting Richard "Shaft" Roundtree in the later role just hammers it home harder. What's more, I spent half the film going "What did he say?" Maybe ATP left me deaf, but I do wish these young folks would speak up a bit.
5. The Squid and the Whale
The Life Aquatic co-writer Noah Baumbach steps out from behind Wes Anderson's shadow to make his directorial debut, a well-received semi-autobiographical comedy-drama meditation on the effects of divorce on children. Comes with a magnificently coiffured and accented William Baldwin.
Tom: Extraordinarily confident, yet understated performances all round. I went to see this on a whim and relished every moment of it. The attention to detail is, for the most part, exquisite, as is the soundtrack. I can't believe Little Miss Sunshine, another great family ensemble piece, didn't make the list, but I guess in fairness this covers similar ground far more effectively and with far greater levels of depth and richness.
JGram: In one of my darkest periods in 2006, one evening after work I avoided going home by catching The Squid And The Whale at the movies and even if it didn't change my life, it certainly put mine into perspective. This was probably the most painfully personal movie that I saw this year, the performances and characters were sincere and scarily reflective of how interesting and quirky a family can be in their dysfunction. A story that would have to be lived before it could be written (as per Noah Baumbach), here was another film driven by another amazing soundtrack and I have to admit to welling up when the strings of Street Hassle by Lou Reed came in, solidifying this film onto another level.
Dave: The only thing less likely to move me than an under-par Wes Anderson film is an under-par sub-Wes Anderson film made by his best mate. I spent the duration of this film trying to work out whether I had less emotional investment in the disagreeable cast of characters in this film or in the macho boors populating Michael Mann's highly vacuous Miami Vice. Still, I got all the way through this film, which is more than can be said for Miami Vice.
6. Hidden (Caché)
The second film on this list to anaylse surveillance culture. Michael Haneke delivers his most intelligently provocative film yet, cracking apart a facade of comfortable bourgeois existence to expose themes of dirty secrets and French colonial guilt.
Stu: This was the best thing I saw all year. Juliette Binoche is terrific, it's beautifully paced, well-scripted, with a fascinating premise and one bit that makes you jump out of your seat. Can't ask for more than that, and I really recommend seeing this if you haven't caught it yet.
Andrew: I couldn't stop thinking about this movie for weeks. Freakily provocative stuff, with bonus chicken abuse.
Dave: The most over-praised film of the year? Hanneke likes to get in your face with his films and in this one the camerawork is either pleasingly claustrophobic or frustratingly vague, depending on how sharp-eyed you are. Unfortunately your whole understanding of the final scene hangs on the camerawork: it's like a game of Where's Wally, except it's more Where's Wally, Who's His Mate, What Are They Doing And What Does That Mean? Despite the film as a whole has undeniable quality (unlike the Piano Teacher), I still left the cinema feeling underwhelmed.
7. Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo Del Toro recovers from the peceived flop of Hellboy by serving up another slice of fantastic horror that somehow successfully pairs a hymn to children's imagination to a parable about the Spanish Civil War.
Dave: Seeing as this was marketed as a fantasy film, I found myself surprised to find half the plot centring on a (fairly simplistic) depiction of the brutalising effect of the Spanish civil war on its unsuspecting populace. If you do regard it as a fantasy film, I have to say I can't think of one that's scarier or more violent, apart from the still-incredibly creepy Return to Oz. Saying this, like all Guillermo Del Toro efforts I've encountered, it's sublimely shot and a very sati
sfying film. Good ending too.
Tom: Moving, dark, beautiful to look at and not afraid to trade in Brothers Grimm-esque archetypes and moral blacks and whites.
Chris H: I liked this even more than The Devil's Backbone. Bound to reward repeat viewings.
Andrew: I went in expecting a kids movie. Harry Potter it is not. Even without the rest, this movie was worth it just for the guy with the eyes. He should get a spin-off movie.
JGram: Halfway through this rather confusing movie I suddenly felt like I was watching The Goonies crossed with Naked Lunch starring Matilda. There were some truly horrible moments in this movie, not least shocking, as I was expecting something of a kid's movie. I learned how to use the butt of my gun in a new way and it was a good night, so I can't bitch too much about it really.
8. Stranger Than Fiction
Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) directs Will Ferrell to stop looking like a wild-eyed over-eager boychild comedian and settle down to look wild-eyed and generally panic as the world's most boring man whose autonomy is threatened by his newfound status as a character in a frustrated author's new book.
JGram: Coming on like a Charlie Kaufman movie with warmer characters and a superior soundtrack, Stranger Than Fiction ended my movie year on a high with oddball feelgood factors only matched by Little Miss Sunshine this year. Being probably the prime demographic for this movie, there was something about Will Ferrell's character that tapped directly into my soul and lent much slush to the reality that the narrative of my life can be the most interesting one if I so desire. Very much a film for music-loving accountants with major writing aspirations.
Dave: Will Ferrell a serious (comedic) actor? For shame! I'm willing to bet this isn't half as good as Punch Drunk Love either.
Andrew: What's this doing here? The worst complete ruining of a great idea since V for flipping Vendetta.
9. Snakes on a Plane
You're using the internet, so you know all about this one. Pre-release hysteria over the so-bad-it's-good story, Samuel L. Jackson insisting on the so-bad-it's-good title, incorporating specially-shot scenes of so-bad-it-can't-be-good gore and sex following internet feedback, etc. We were promised that this film would save Hollywood from overblown Lord of the Rings-type nonsense and 'character-driven' comic book blockbusters. Directed on a motherfucking paltry budget of motherfucking $33million with panache and zeal by a master of the medium, David Ellis (Homeward Bound 2, Final Destination 2).
Marceline: You have GOT to be joking. For months I thought this was some kind of internet meme, like kittens with guns, not an actual film that people I know would go and see. The belief that diskant is run by a bunch of obscurists ends here.
JGram: Despite the hype this one passed me by. Are films really so bad that they're good?
Alex: Snakes! On a motherfucking plane! Has anyone actually seen it then? I'm beginning to suspect that it's all a hoax.
Dave: I can't believe you lot bought into the genius heavyweight anti-marketing campaign this film had behind it. Or that anyone bothered to watch it in the cinema when surely the whole point of the film is that it's a straight-to-video job? I just pray that no other major studio attempts the "so crap it's good!" marketing angle for an obviously expensive film so successfully again, otherwise we'll all be doomed. Dooooooooomed, I tell you.
Andrew: The most fun I've had in the cinema for ages. So good, I now have a Snakes on a Plane calender.
Ian: Best advert for Red Bull and not smoking weed and doing it in plane toilets ever.
"Yes I am a gay man, but I love breasts," - Pedro Almodovar. The esteemed Spanish director finds himself well received all over the world once again with perhaps his most critically-acclaimed female melodrama yet, featuring a scuzzed-up Penelope Cruz playing against type with obvious relish.
Chris H: This is better than the other Almovodar films I've seen, likewise Penelope Cruz. Although spontaneous flamenco jams in a Madrid suburb are the Spanish equivalent of the 5-minute landmark montage you get in UK films. But a film where it's the male characters reduced to one-dimensional ciphers for the women rather than the contrary is a fine and rare thing indeed.
Alex: As sweet and funny as anything Almodovar's ever done, and features my favourite "someone doing the washing-up" scene from any film ever. Top trivia fact: Penelope Cruz wore a prosthetic bum for the duration of this film.
Tom: Somehow I've ended up seeing loads of Almodovar films. Maybe it's due to my gender, but, diverting and enjoyable as they are, his mature period 'hymn to women' films such as this, All About My Mother and Talk To Her always leave me feeling a little shortchanged compared to the riveting psycho-drama of Bad Education or Live Flesh.
Dave: It ain't no Live Flesh, but it's nice to see Almodovar still receiving the plaudits.
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Individual top ten lists by contributors
by David Stockwell