Arbitrary Awards 2006

I had been asked what my pick of 2006 was shortly after I finished the 12 Months of Movies feature for 2006. It’s a feature that I probably won’t do at the end of 2007 because I will hopefully have made a proper portfolio this year, although I can’t write reviews for every little thing I see.

What I likely will do is this feature: The Arbitrary Awards! Highlights of the year, picked for categories you’re unlikely to see at any other sham awards ceremony this side of the MTV Whatever awards! (In the UK, the Arbitrary Awards have been nicknamed the “I Want That Ones”).
Keep in mind that this is not a top ten list. It is a collection of movies that I liked and would rank among the best of the year, although not always for the most honorable reasons. The best thing is that some categories actually have multiple candidates (where multiple means “two”).

The Queen

Nobody knows the people of England better than she.

It did not take me long to realise that Stephen Frear’s The Queen is a delicate story of Upstairs and Downstairs relations. Here, however, the Upstairs is directly accountable to the Downstairs; Downstairs being as they are, what they want does not always seem the classy option. The Stairs themselves are therefore precariously balanced with reconciling those above and below them, all the while trying to balance their own interests.

What was once a simple and elegant metaphor for English society grew laboured in my telling, but Upstairs is the British Monarchy, Downstairs the increasingly cultureless citizens of England, and the Stairs Tony Blair’s government.

Being as this is a movie about class, it’s no surprise that it’s a classy movie. It sympathises with Queen Elizabeth II, who seems more personable than any of the limited times I’ve seen her (although she seemed quite nice when Rolf Harris painted her). The situations presented are almost entirely based on conjecture about the events of a few weeks in 1997. While they may not be strictly true, they feel genuine; these real world people have become fully realised characters for the sake of a film.
While there are some who will be offended by the idea of an author writing a situation that may have happened (and was pretty well researched), anyone else with a vague interest in the Royal Family and the death of Diana will be well served to see The Queen.

Marie Antoinette

“‘Let them eat cake’? As if I’d say that!”

I’m in a million different minds about Marie Antoinette. I love the French Revolution, but this is not a movie about the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette exists in a by turns oppressive and decadent dream state, devoid of a story or scenes. Time progresses, new characters arrive and old characters disappear, and then it’s over. The events that lead to its conclusion are barely touched upon, and in this way Sofia Coppola has created an intimate portrait of a woman in such a manner that the audience can’t tell if the film or the queen is the superficial one.

Trailers: Threat Level Toddler (Alpha)

I can’t believe how inauspicious I made the beginning of 2007. That’s what I get for trusting George Miller. Children’s movies, you see, lead to trailers for children’s films. Some children’s films are good, but you’ll get promos for a lot of dross looking stuff along the way.

Mrs. Potter

I’m not sure what to think of this yet. See my “January and February 2007 preview” for more or less information.

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

Bean is back, with more predictable jokes about falling down and eating things he doesn’t like! Hilarious! At least he doesn’t talk this time.

Happy N’ever After

Nooooooo! Why do we need another movie that subverts fairy tales? The trailer even admits that it’s the most derivative movie ever: “from the producer of Shrek I and II!” It’s another addition to the canon of CG movies that appear utterly soulless, regardless of the quality of the featured cast.
Normally when I do a trailer round up, I put up the pick of the trailers. No such luck here, so I’ll just put up Happily N’ever After in protest of its utterly derivative nature.

I’d say “the sad thing is, I’ll probably go and see it” but fortunately I’ve got too much other stuff to watch. Also the title is too stupid for me to even consider doing so.

Meet the Robinsons

This wasn’t really a trailer, but rather a “Hey people, turn off your phones, you bastards” message. In Australia, at least in my experience, cinema audiences are generally well behaved: you get the impression that if you do anything amiss, you will be taken out and beaten (and rightly so!). Any sort of transgression of the code on your part is generally a great cause of shame; obviously this does not apply to the shameless.
Not all audiences are perfect, but generally we don’t need this sort of warning (last time I saw one of these was at Over the Hedge in July, where they used Open Season to tell you to turn your phones off).

As for Meet the Robinsons themselves? The posters I’ve seen at the cinemas make the film look like it’s all flash, no bang. One of my specialties is supposed to be animation, but I’m finding it harder and harder to muster the enthusiasm.

I doubt I will see any of the three films on offer that fateful night. Except I just remembered that Mrs. Potter was on, and that might glean some attention from me.

Happy Feet

Commie Liberal Propaganda for Kids!

I had misgivings about Happy Feet the first time I saw a trailer for it some eighteen months ago. The teaser trailer really said nothing, but I had to wonder how a film about penguins could be visually interesting. Yesterday I swallowed those misgivings and … they turned out to be correct. Happy Feet was not visually interesting. Nor, at one hour and 48 minutes, was its story tight or involved enough.

Happy Feet has some moments of high enjoyment and quite a few good laughs, but to say that makes it a good movie is like saying that a zombie movie is good because it has a couple of zombies in it: meeting the most basic of expectations a scarce few times is nothing impressive. It’s not a terrible film, but I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it.

That said, I’m looking forward to reports of children nagging their parents to buy them penguins, then proceeding to flush said penguins down the toilet to freedom.

Year of 1000 words

Having just killed myself pumping out the last of the 12 Months of Movies 2006 feature in record time, I think that there’s little left to say about 2006. It had many good films, but I believe films are assessable largely on their own merit and are not always capable of being compared. Does 2006 have a winner? Let’s just say that it has many winners – I liked going to the movies almost every one of the 96 or more times I deemed fit to attend.

I shall bid you adieu with the new stylings of Scissor Sisters, with their music video for “Land of 1000 Words” presented in Scissor Vision. All you wanted was a sweet distraction for an hour or two? How about one for a minute or four?

Good hunting for 2007, my internet brethren.

Volver

Whenever I write some sort of context for a director, an industry or a series of films with which I am not entirely familiar, I feel like something of a fake. Even if what I’m saying is true, I feel bad for saying it if I’ve not experienced it first hand.
Still, what I have to say about Pedro Almodovar before I kick into the
Volver review is necessary. Don’t worry about it!

Pedro Almodovar has fashioned a career largely on making films about mothers. Until her death, Almodovar’s mother made cameo appearances in many of his films. This important relationship is the backbone of his stories, and it appears that he hasn’t deviated much from this path with the exception of his previous effort, Bad Education.
Volver combines Almodovar’s mothering theme with that of the various social problems of Spain to create an effective drama/comedy that showcases Penelope Cruz in a role that she describes as her “first real woman”. Almodovar has cast his original muse, Carmen Maura, against Cruz in something that I would describe as a full circle for his oeuvre if I knew that to be true.

It’s just a pity that they didn’t translate the title to “The Return” or something, because Volver is a really unfortunate name in English speaking society.