Thursday, December 28, 2006

That was the year that was: CINEMA

In a year that saw James Hewison step down as director of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), moving on to helm the Australian Film Institute, there were plenty of surprises in store for the film-going public in 2006.

Sadly, Hewison’s unveiling of the opening night film at MIFF this year, the identity of which had been kept under wraps in order to generate interest and boost ticket sales, was no longer surprising by the time the screening started. So many pundits had tipped that we’d be seeing the high school drama 2:37, directed by 21 year old South Australian Murali Thalluri, that any sense of mystery had long been lost by the time the film was introduced.

What was surprising was how derivative the film was of Gus Van Sant’s accomplished Elephant.

Another surprise was the controversy which developed in the weeks after the film’s Australian premiere, centered on suggestions that Thalluri had invented the ‘friend’ whose suicide allegedly inspired his directorial debut. Thalluri himself stridently denied the accusation that he had invented the story as part of the film’s marketing strategy. Regardless of who was telling the truth, the scandal quickly disappeared from the public radar, as did 2:37 itself, which grossed only $436,257 of its reputed $1,000,000 production costs at the Australian box office, according to the Internet Movie Database.

My favourite film of 2006 was Ang Lee’s already controversial Brokeback Mountain, which sparked further furore, and claims of Hollywood homophobia, when it failed to win the Oscar for Best Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

Also noteworthy were David Cronenberg’s troubling study of aggression, A History of Violence; British film-maker Paul Greengrass’ stunning United 93, about the events of September 11 2001; the AFI award-winning Ten Canoes, the first Australian feature shot entirely in indigenous languages; Jafar Pahani’s gender-bending Iranian soccer caper, Offside; and most recently, Pedro Almodovar’s triumphant Volver.

On the downside, some real stinkers hit our screens this year, including two spectacular failures from Australian directors.

Ana Kokkinos gave us the painfully over-intellectualised The Book of Revelation, while Geoffrey Wright’s take on Macbeth lacked drama, pathos and tension – not to mention actors who could do justice to Shakespeare’s verse.

The appallingly wooden remake of 1976 film The Omen­, for some reason re-titled The Omen 666­; and the frenetic failure which was Underworld Evolution were among some of the other cinematic train wrecks of 2006.


Paul Martin said...

For what it's worth, I have my best and worst posted. I found 2006 such a strong year of films. Brokeback Mountain didn't make it in my top 20, but I did enjoy this film (and everything by Ang Lee, one of my favourite 'American' directors). I do think homophobia was a factor in it not winning Best Film.

I thought United 93 was brilliant, and the best film in its genre. Then I did a whole lot of research, and I now believe that the incident it is based on didn't happen. So I'm quite ambivalent about it now.

Your link to Volver takes one to Offside. I found the latter sublime (Panahi is my favourite Iranian director), but the former mediocre (for reasons I discuss in my review).

Yes, Kokkinos gave us a strange one this time, but I thought more of Wright's take on Shakespeare than yourself.

richardwatts said...

Paul - I included Brokeback Mountain for several reasons, one of which is that I find it such a masterful example of visual storytelling; so much is said through gesture or the camera rather than through stilted or expository dialogue.

Thanks for pointing out that I've mis-linked Volver, I'll amend that now.

After which I'll go and read your review!

Tim Norton said...

The boy in me has to defend Underworld Evolution, if only for the fact that it features a sex scene with Kate Beckinsale. Hot.