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The New World

Not sated by our collective quick blitz through the top ten films of 2006 in January? Dave Stockwell decided it was time to take one for the team and trawl through the best (and worst) of the rest of 2006’s film highlights that we failed to notice: a few gems that slipped through the cracks, a couple of love ’em or loathe ’em hardhitters, and (let’s be honest here) a whole lot of distinctly average films goin’ on.

My personal favourite film of 2006 that apparently no one else at diskant could give two flying fucks about:

The New World

In my extremely skewed and barely-informed opinion, this is not only the best American film of 2006 (or 2005 if you’re American), but probably the best American film I’ve seen since the turn of the millennium. That is to say, it’s the best American film I’ve seen since Terrence Malick’s last film, 1997’s The Thin Red Line. And you can buy it, complete with wonderfully lurid packaging that bears no relationship to the film itself, for about six quid from your nearest DVD stockist.

Shot entirely on location using exclusively natural lighting methods and hand-constructing sets from materials that would have been around at the time, this wonderful retelling of the legend of Pocahontas has a truly magical feel that is so firmly embued with a sense of ease with nature that you never want the film to end. It’s so rich with static shots of grass lazily shifting in the wind, of birds and animals going about their very private business, of the sheer bliss of the natural world, that you really feel the natives’ pain of the invasion and tarnishing of the promised land by the colonists. I can’t recommend this film enough – it’s pure visual poetry.

One other benefit of buying the DVD is the accompanying documentary about the making of the film, which is not only interesting in analysing the methods they used, but goes to remarkable lengths to not feature Terrence Malick’s face or voice onscreen at any point (as per his contract, which exempts him from any promotional activity). Like the film itself, it’s brilliant.

Some films that either narrowly avoided the diskant top ten, came out too late for anyone to see, or were just plain ignored:

The Devil Wears Prada

Is it me, or has the Oscar award for best male/female actor become an award for impersonating an actual living person? [This year: see Forest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland] It wouldn’t have surprised me at all if Meryl Streep won one for her role in this film, given the (predictably) large amount of plaudits she received for impersonating US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, despite the fact that the film limits her to a heady two whole scenes in which she gets to display anything other than a series of mannerisms and cutting remarks.

This is one of those films that got a lot of praise and hype when it came out but is destined to be forgotten and will be available on DVD for a fiver in about 2 years. What is billed as a vicious satire of the fashion industry manages to almost entirely miss the mark and is instead a plain and all-too-obvious ages old tale of innocence to experience. Anne Hathaway is fine (and possibly all too convincing) as the identity-less ingenue that becomes corrupted by the evil fashion world around her, to the horror of her criminally underwritten friends. Stanley Tucci and Emily Best do their level best as primary supporting characters to steal every scene they’re in, but to be honest the undemanding plot is so straightforward that it has little time to indulge their idiosyncrasies, let alone pay attention to anyone else apart from telling the primary story. It’s all just too efficient and lacking enough guts or heart to actually say anything interesting for my liking. Like (what I considered as a massive cop-out) Secretary with all the S&M translated to stern looks and Streep raising her eyebrow, I just wish it would grow some balls. Or at least get a strap-on.


I’ve not seen John Cameron Mitchell’s previous film, Hedwig & The Angry Itch, but one the evidence of this I’m going to track it down soon.
A fantastically entertaining and outre meditation on the nature of sexuality and human relationships, it is refreshing to see a bold and intelligent approach given to the investigation of love and sex. Yes, there are erect peni and all kinds of people enjoying themselves in slightly messy ways that would leave Mary Whitehouse scarred for life, but it’s hardly titillating. Instead, Mitchell presents a multifaceted story centred around a single location where people come to orgy, basically. But he’s not interested in any ‘steamy’ scenes – the sex is merely a corollary for the relationships between men and women, men and men, women and women, and a whole lot more. Somehow Mitchell manages to do this with a distinct sense of mischievous fun and laughter, aided by a tremendous(ly gay) indie-friendly soundtrack. If you’ve any idea of my aversion to musicals, you’ll know that my huge enjoyment of the final denouement featuring a brassy and bold celebratory so ng and dance by most of the cast is one hell of a recommendation. Don’t be a prude; this is an excellent and refreshingly mature film that also knows how to have a good time.

The Illusionist

Amusingly, I’d just written this review before going to the cinema in the evening, whereupon I was greeted with a trailer for this film, which is about to finally come out in the UK. Anyway:

Like The Usual Suspects, with added magic tricks and ‘enigmatic’ glowering from Edward Norton, ably supported by Paul Giamatti compensating for a criminally underwritten role with an unnaturally bushy beard. It’s no’ bad you know, and surprisingly romantic. I know this is the angle that a lot of reviews have gone for in reviewing it favourably to The Prestige, but I’m not sure I can agree. For me, it really does feel lightweight in comparison to Christopher Norton’s heavyweight contender. Where The Prestige has huge overarching themes that are subtly dealt with, this is a love story. Where Nolan’s film is a good brain-stretcher of a mystery, The Illusionist is like a game of Cluedo. The film itself is well made and the script is alright, but it’s never anything more than that. What is flamboyantly presented as a mystery within a mystery of a crime case, everything very quickly boils down to a tiresomely smug case that is less whodunit and more howdedodatden? Put it up against The Prestige in a metaphorical sparring ring and you’re looking at the equivalent of Frank Bruno getting mashed up by Mike Tyson all over again.

The Prestige

A far superior film to the Illusionist with a much grander sweep, the Prestige mysteriously disappeared in a puff of smoke from the UK box office last year, despite doing fairly decent business. There may be a reason to this: despite all its impressive ingredients, it somehow doesn’t totally add up to be as satisfying as Christopher Nolan’s previous best. Hugh Jackman is pretty game, Christian Bale somehow convinces you his laugh-out-loud corblimey accent isn’t a total put-on about halfway through (about the time David Bowie starts mangling his “Croatian” accent as Nikola Tesla), and Scarlett Johansson manages not to be too annoying or distracting. The real scene-stealer here is Rebecca Hall, who manages to transcend an extremely sketchy minor role as Bale’s long-suffering wife with an arrestingly wrought performance.

Nolan’s stock as a director is justifiably rising with every film he makes in Hollywood, and once again here he has marshalled his considerable skills to make an bold and impressive but fairly intelligent and subtle film. This could have been an overblown bluster of a turkey, but Nolan has managed to craft something that approached being really very special. My only hesitation about announcing it as the best film I’ve seen in some time is the slightly flat note that the final act of the film falls on – the ‘revelations’ a bout the suffering each magician has gone through were all too visible from well before they are presented to you. It’s a shame that The Prestige fluffs its own prestige because the pledge and the turn (the first two thirds of the film) really are right on the money. It’s definitely worth seeing regardless.

The Departed

People (such as the Oscar panel, obviously) are saying this is Scorsese’s best film since Goodfellas (let’s not even pretend to compare it to anything earlier), but what else has he made since 1990? The Aviator? Yawn. Gangs of New York? Lord have mercy. Or what about a tepid TV series about the Blues? Let’s get down to brass tacks folks: Scorsese made four or five fantastic films a long time ago, and since then he’s varied between a few pretty good ones and a fair few stinkers too. Still, I guess it’s a decent record compared to pretty much all of his his contemporaries. And The Departed, a surprisingly faithful remake of a tremendously hyped but still brilliantly efficient Hong Kong crime trilogy called Infernal Affairs, is indeed the best thing Scorsese’s done since Goodfellas. It’s not like there’s been much competition. But it would only be fair to see Mark Wahlberg’s scenery-chewing badboy cop be quoted almost as much as Joe Pesci in years to come.

My only qualms about this film are about the choice of some of the lead actors. Matt Damon plays a oil-slick slimeball of a mafia mole competently, but neither he nor pretty boy Di Caprio come within a light year of the superlative performances of Andy Lau and Tony Leung in the original. Di Caprio hmself does some pretty good sulking, but never convinced me that he’s any older or more menacing than the kids who hang around at the bottom of my road. So it’s up to the heavyweight supporting cast to drag the film into minor classic territory. Jack Nicholson, in what should by all rights should (and definitely won’t) be his last major appearance in a major film, looks and acts more like a giant rat than an actual person, which works surprisingly well when he’s playing an absolute bastard (that bears next to no relation to the same character in Infernal Affairs). Martin Sheen, looking alarmingly more like Mr Stay Puft with each passing year, spends his time onscreen oscillating between coming across all soft-touch Democratic President and bizarrely paternal hard-nosed veteran. I think is supposed to be some display of range, and it’s sometimes quite effective. Wahlberg plays Sheen’s partner and may only be in the film for a sum total of ten minutes, but he somehow manages to blow him and everyone else away with every curse and every disdainful chew of his gum. Alec Baldwin turns up out of the blue for a few scenes that leave you w ondering what if he was just hanging around on set one day and Marty convinced him to join in for a bit, and Ray Winstone mangles an accent even more effectively than Mr Bowie managed by playing his most convicing and appropriate role to date – as an absolute brute. However, it’s the sole female in this otherwise men-only principal cast that really impresses: Vera Farmiga shines as a therapist caught between Damon and Di Caprio, convincingly portraying the conflicting loyalties that plague her character. She manages to be both demure and eye-catching, sympathetic and antagonistic throughout, and does more than hold her own against any actor she shares a scene with. A minor triumph.


I was trying to work out how this one managed to keep out of diskant’s top 10 films of 2006 list, but looking at everyone’s individual votes everyone except me either hated it or just completely forgot it came out in the UK last February. Personally, if there’s anyone who deserves an Oscar for doing an impression of someone else, I’m always going to vote for Philip Seymour Hoffman. I just hope he does something other than Mission:Impossible III to back it up.

This film works brilliantly as an accompaniment to Capote’s finest work (and the subject of much of the film), In Cold Blood. It’s not particularly easy going o r instantly satisfying, but I’ve seen few films emerge from Hollywood that are as nuanced and well put together as this minor gem. At one point I thought it was going to hit as big as Brokeback Mountain, but it doesn’t have the overriding themes of love and tragedy that Ang Lee’s simple (but brilliantly effective) film had. Instead, you get a much more complex, both structurally and morally, study of character and perceptions of humanity. It’s excellent. Now I’m just wondering what Infamous can really add that hasn’t been said here.

Children Of Men

Maybe it’s just that Clive Owen was in another film I couldn’t watch to the end (2005’s Derailed, which featured Jennifer Aniston being cringeworthily ‘sexy’ and the normally excellent Vincent Cassel looking like he’d b een mugged from another filmset and hurriedly dressed up as a bearded rapist). Or maybe because he was one-dimensional in last year’s most overrated piece of shit film (Sin City), or even that he made me fall asleep during the dreadfully boring Closer in the year before that. Whatever the case, despite the promise of Alfonso Cuarón’s directing skills, somehow I didn’t really fancy seeing this film. But friend after friend recommended I check this out, so I finally bit the bullet and did. Anything for you, dear reader.

Unfortunately, my hard won cynicism proved to be pretty unfounded because Children of Men is actually really rather good. Did you see the adaptation of V for Vendetta in the slim hope that they hadn’t completely trashed Alan Moore’s genius vision of a distopian Britain about 20 years from now? Unmitigated shit, wasn’t it? If you suffered this experience, I recommend you get Children of Men out on DVD and check out how good it could have been. It took me a little time to warm to this film (probably my Clive Owen prejudice), but if you can accept Michael Caine playing a long-haired hippy and Pam Ferris with dreadlocks you should have a whale of a time with this baby. Owen is suprisingly good as a jaded alcoholic caught up in events he can’t control, and the protrayal of fascist politik, modern terrorism, and hopeless ragtag vigilante groups and despairingly apathetic society is vividly portayed. Cuarón ensures everything looks appropriately gritty and retrofitted as you could imagine 2027 Britain would get, and it’s good to know that he and Cinematogrpaher Emmanuel Lubezki were paying attention through Gasper Noe’s Irreversible – there are a couple of fantastic scenes seamlessly edited together through camera and computer trickery to create the impression of one roving camera swept up in the most frantic scenes of urban warfare (even if all the bits with guns and tanks seem like they’ve been copied out of the seminal computer game Half Life 2). There’s even a bit where blood spurts onto the screen and stays there for a couple of minutes without seeming at all showy or intrusive. Excellent stuff indeed, Mr Cuarón.

It’s not perfect by any means though – the first half of the film is shot through with some incredibly jarring pop music that doesn’t seem to know where to sit in the film’s narrative: is it part of the scene (a car radio, an alarm clock) or part of the meta-narrative? (Thankfully, as the film progresses and events get more and more harrowing, some great ominous classical pieces pretty much take over the score) There are a couple of other niggles too: a few loose plot threads that don’t quite tie up, and you may well find yourself disappointed by a fairly ambiguous ending after basically 90 minutes of build-up. But then the message of a film like this is never going to be in its uplifting conclusion; it’s the setting and the social commentary which is going to stay with you. And for that, it’s pretty admirable stuff. Overall, it’s not bad; not bad at all.

A couple of films that I expected to make a splash but mysteriously crept out to very little notice:


1999’s Office Space was the very definition of a sleeper hit, shafted by the studios and only really gaining a (huge) cult audience when it came out on DVD. I don’t know if Mike Judge felt burned by this experience, but it took him five years to make his next full-length film (I guess he did have King of the Hill to concentrate on) and guess what? He got shafted again. Shot back in 2004 and looking distinctly cheap for a science fiction film, Idiocracy was apparently sat on for 2 years whilst the suits tried to work out how to market it, before they gave up and dumped it in a few American cinemas last year without bothering to tell anyone about it. I hadn’t even heard of it until a few weeks ago, when it crept out onto DVD without any kind of fanfare.

So what the hell was their problem with this one? Well, Mike Judge being Mike Judge, he decided to make some skewering social satire in the form of a broad comedy about an all-too average guy getting frozen in time and waking up i n the year 2550 to find that humanity has become infantilised and mediocrity so celebrated that he is the most intelligent man in the world. Starbucks is now a blowjob parlour and the American President is a black ex-pornstar wrestler with a penchant for machineguns who bears a passing resemblance to Rick James, bitch. If this sounds hilarious to you, dig this film out: it’s not afraid to take the low road, and some of the gags and ideas Judge sprays about are hysterical. Unfortunately, like Office Space, it’s far from perfect. The setting obviously demanded a much higher budget that Judge was able to muster, and there are points where the film looks cheaper and less realistic than your average episode of The Young Ones. The editing and story also seem a little stilted, as if they couldn’t afford to film a couple of really big scenes that would have helped the overall plot development and made you actually care about the story. In lieu of some kind of special director’s cut blu-ray DVD rectifying all this, Blade Runner style, in about eight years, you might as well sit back and enjoy the fart gags. And yes, it still some musters that same surreal vibe that Office Space pulled off so well.

Art School Confidential

After loving Ghost World so much, I was stoked to hear that Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes were collaborating on something else. Six years later after that rumour first raised its head, Art School Confidential snuck out into American cinemas for about a fortnight and I’m not sure if it’ll ever come out in the UK.

And there’s a good reason for this: an extremely confused enigma of a film, Art School Confidential seems to change its mind about what it wants to be and and what it wants to say every half an hour. There are scenes that are broad out-and-out fratboy college level comedy with geek’s-gonna-get-the-girl sequences. There are others that are subtle satire of the artworld, and others that are pitch-black in humour. And then there’s the whole subplot of the high school murderer, complete with bizarre moralising and handwringing, that ushers the film into what feels like a forced “ambiguous” conclusion that leaves you severely unsatisfied. I’m sure I spent at least half this film trying to work out whether it was studio interference that had ruined it, or if Zwigoff and Clowes had just managed themselves with an incredibly muddled vision. It’s a shame, because there are genuine moments of hilarity and pathos on a par with Ghost World here and there. I’m just disappointed they couldn’t match their own previous work.

And now some bile for your amusement: a couple of films that were distinctly less luminary in 2006:

Miami Vice

This is one of two films that came out last year that I just couldn’t watch to the end. And it’s definitely not because I didn’t want to see someone beat the shit out of Colin Farrell. And there was me , the guy who prided himself on being able to sit through any old shit if he wanted…

I’m a self-confessed fan of Michael Mann’s previous ultra pumped-up tale of manhood and mature criminality, Heat, mostly because the sheer force of its actors and filmmaking panache was overwhleming and convincing. I was less impressed with Collateral a couple of years back, but figured that, like most things, it was Tom Cruise’s fault. But it would appear that poor old Tom might not be to blame after all – this film really is a shit sandwich of the lowest order, far worse than watching a 4 foot midget with a stuck-on goatee in a shiny grey suit try and look menacing. I really don’t know why they called this Miami Vice other than to cash in on some kin d of misplaced nostalgia, and there is absolutely nothing interesting about this film apart from Farrell’s own astonishingly bad facial hair and accent. The plot is incredibly dreary, the characterisation shallow in the extreme and Mann’s camerawork is flashy but somehow deathly dull. Every other film I’ve had to give up watching before the end has had some kind of distinguishing badness to it, but this drooping baguette of tedium is just INCREDIBLY BORING. I couldn’t give a shit about anyone in the film or what was actually happening – mostly because it all looks like it a Hype Williams video shorn of the terrible rapping or day-glo colours – multiple crane shots sweeping past flashy cars and boats, posturing men silently “emoting” in baggy clothing and and one-dimensional babes in bikinis adorning the scenery. The vomit-inducing titillation of an entirely superfluous couple ‘high class’ sex scenes is an especially horrendous delight. There’s so much moody introspection and aggressive grunting in this film that I get the feeling you could probably write all the dialogue on 2 sides of a piece of A4 paper. You could certainly write all the memorable lines on the back of a stamp: I’ve fallen asleep in front of films that I found more interesting than this bag of wank (I Heart Huckabees being a case in point). Like eating a week-old Subway sandwich that your dog has dug out from the back of a sofa, I’d advise avoiding this one.

Match Point

Let’s talk some more about unwatchable films… A couple of years ago, I thought it would be amusing to try and watch Guy Ritchie’s much-maligned remake of ‘Swept Away’, featuring his wife Madonna sporting skin like a crocodile and some of the most flat footed “jokes” I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid. Despite the fact that I approached it in the manner of one about to subject himself to the king of cult shit films (Showgirls), I couldn’t bear more than fifteen minutes of Ritchie’s gaping maw of a film.

Now then, I know Woody Allen has gone through something like a fifteen-year slump in filmmaking, but never would I dare to imagine that one day I would compare one of his films to Ritchie’s onscreen abortion. But what can I say? The acting in this film is worse than in Baise Moi. The script is worse than the most stilted Merchant Ivory production you can imagine. The characters are, to a man, more uninteresting and unengaging than the blandest James Blunt lyric. Even ‘alternative’ men’s magazines favourite Scarlett Johansson (who has been half-decent in a full two films in her over-exposed career to date) is boring when she’s getting her shirt ripped off in some kind of squirm-inducing fit of ‘passion’ by the air-sucking void that is Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. This film is not merely unwatchable, this film is nothing other than DIABOLICAL. I’d rather have my eyeballs gouged out and stuffed into my earholes than watch Woody ‘do’ London and upper-class English societal mores again. Somebody hurry up and assassinate him so we can concentrate on how good he was thirty fucking years ago.

If you put Match Point and Miami Vice in a no-holds-barred ring for a fight until death, the winner would be whichever one managed to fall asleep on the other’s face first. My bet would be on this one, if only because the ‘posh’ accents and ‘semi-pro tennis world’ settings are so teeth-grittingly loathsome that you spend the entire film wishing that the psychiatrist’s daydream in Happiness comes true and someone enters this film with a machinegun to execute every single member of the cast. ABORT. ABORT. ABORT

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