Tuesday



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Devon Sawa


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominations earlier today; here are our picks. Like the list of 100 films that we posted a few months ago, the JLT/JLT ballot is the product of compromise and consensus. Which is to say, our individual ballots would surely look a bit different from this one, but we agree that the selections below represent some of the best the past year had to offer at the movies.

Unlike the Oscars, you don't have to wait a month to find out who "won." Our top pick in each category is bolded. Enjoy.

FILM

L’Enfant
Letters from Iwo Jima
Miami Vice (tie)
Three Times (tie)
United 93

DIRECTOR

Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne – L’Enfant
Paul Greengrass – United 93
Hou Hsiao-hsien – Three Times
Richard Linklater – Fast Food Nation / A Scanner Darkly
Michael Mann – Miami Vice

ACTOR

Sacha Baron Cohen - Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
Jack Nicholson – The Departed
Edward Norton – Down in the Valley
Jeremie Renier – L'Enfant

ACTRESS

Shareeka Epps – Half Nelson
Shauna McDonald - The Descent
Helen Mirren – The Queen
Ellen Page – Hard Candy
Shu Qi – Three Times

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Big Boi – ATL
Robert Downey, Jr. – A Scanner Darkly
Greg Kinnear – Fast Food Nation
Mark Wahlberg – The Departed
Ken Watanabe – Letters from Iwo Jima

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Gong Li – Miami Vice
Bai Ling – Dumplings
Catalina Sandino Moreno – Fast Food Nation
Sheetal Sheth – Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Meryl Streep – A Prairie Home Companion / The Devil Wears Prada

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Tina Gordon Chism and Antwone Fisher - ATL
Fernando Eimbcke and Paula Markovitch - Duck Season
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck - Half Nelson
Albert Brooks - Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Peter Morgan - The Queen

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Alfonso Cuaron, etc. - Children of Men
William Monahan - The Departed
Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser - Fast Food Nation
Richard Linklater - A Scanner Darkly
Garrison Keillor and Ken LaZebnik - A Prairie Home Companion

CINEMATOGRAPHY


Christopher Doyle - Dumplings
Tom Stern - Letters from Iwo Jima
Dion Beebe - Miami Vice
Mark Li Ping-bing - Three Times
Barry Ackroyd - United 93

Sunday

Year in Review: Part 2



Josh Timmermann: Hey again--

Glad to see that most of you have chimed in with your opening two cents (even if my topical stabs at conversation-starters fell mostly on deaf ears).

Chris D. and Learned: I can certainly relate to your small town blues--especially since my hometown (pop. 11,000!) makes Tucson and East Lansing look like Phoenix and Detroit, if not New York and L.A. Which is to say, Dave and Tom you're lucky bastards--with no good excuse for not having yet seen any of the films you mentioned as needing to catch up on! Though I realize that small inconveniences like "work" (of the non-watching and writing about movies variety) and "prior obligations" can muck things up a bit, you're a mere train ride away from virtually every movie released in this country! I'm 100-plus miles from the nearest decent-sized urban area (St. Louis, MO) and 300 from Chicago. While Tom's point about ticket prices in New York is valid (there's something here called the "Five Buck Club," which allows five-dollar admission to all movies that've been in general release for two or more weekends and is free to sign up for), I'd rather pay $15 to see Army of Shadows than five to endure Pirates of the Carribean 2.

My comment about blog pop breaking into the mainstream might've been a bit of a stretch, I concede. But I think Gnarls Barkley is a prime example of a group that rode online superlatives to massive airplay and tangible units moved. So far as I can tell, that's significant less because St. Elsewhere is a relative left-field success story than, well--when was the last time the print music media could fairly claim credit for such undeniable numbers? Not to shoot fish-in-a-barrell here, but when was the last time any of you purchased a copy of Rolling Stone? Spin? Aside from a friend, who has a subscription to the former due to being too lazy to cancel one of those "4 free issues" deals they push at Best Buy checklanes, I can't even recall the last time I saw anyone else I know reading one.

Tom, your point, about "Grey's Anatomy-pop" usurping real pop star pop is on the mark, and scary as fuck. It seems, more than anything, reactionary. Is the new Justin too weird for you, the Nelly F. record a tad too prurient? Well, try James Blunt! Dude's like the pop Joe Lieberman. Just what we need.

At the same time, though, I'd like to take a second to observe that there is good Starbucks pop out there. Take Feist (if not Cat Power and Joanna Newsom). If the Hold Steady are, by turns, good drinking and hangover music, Let It Die is the perfect soundtrack to a hot cup of chamomille tea. Or maybe I'm just part of the problem; after all, I (slightly) prefer to Marit Bergman's teary cover of "My Love" to Justin's original.

Daniel: While I've never considered myself a horror enthusiast per se (do we really need more than one occupying the same apartment?), I loved The Descent. I'd rank it in the same rarefied category as two other great, recent English-language horror efforts: Wolf Creek and 28 Days Later. What these three films share--that, I'd argue, most recent Hollywood horror efforts lack--is a sense of terror, mystery, and most importantly, possiblity. If that sounds hopelessly vague, I apologize, but there's real space to explore in these movies and actual ideas being tossed out there (if sometimes heavy-handedly). The fact that there's also some degree of character development doesn't hurt either.

Still, the horror movie of the year was, without a doubt, United 93. The conflicting engines of fatalism and the unknown are what drives nearly all great horror. The miraculous achievement in Greengrass's masterpiece is that it pulls off the latter in a film that theoretically should've been overwhelmed by the former. He pulls it off by focusing on the minutiae--small, ephemeral moments that give you goosebumps throughout and, finally, break your heart. It's a legitimately cathartic piece of work that I'm tempted to compare with Dreyer and Bresson, minus the overt spirituality. Chris D, I'd be interested to hear why the film landed a spot on your "avenue of the overrated."

Teresa: You discussed video games brought to the screen, and I'd like to expand that discussion by, again, mentioning Children of Men. No film that I saw this year felt more formally informed by the gaming format (granted, I didn't catch Silent Hill), and that's something I find a little disturbing, while admiring Cuaron's film. Maybe it's snobby of me, but I'm not sure I like the idea of cinema taking cues from Playstation and Nintendo. This is something of a classic argument for us--and one that I'm sure will persist long after this Year in Review--but none of the virtues I look for in movies (or in art in general) seem to exist in the video game universe so far as I can tell. If pure escapism and pristinely conducted action sequences are your bag, then sure. But humanity, thoughtfulness, as Chris nicely put it, the sublime? I remain deeply skeptical. When Mario and Zelda approach the heights of Malick and Hou, please do let me know.

Finally, I'd like to touch briefly on the best and worst (i.e., "only") 2007 release I've caught so far this young year: Night at the Museum (aka Russian Ark for Dummies, with Robin William's Teddy Roosevelt standing in for Sergei Donstov's Marquis). While, by January '08, I'll presumably have all but forgotten about this minor clunker, filed away in the bin for lame double date compromise picks. But since it's fresh, it's worth citing as an example of an inspired concept, with potential for addressing history and culture while still conforming to multiplex conventions, but instead settles for mid-level CGI hijinks and a handful of comedians getting their PG on. I'd love to see where Joe Dante might have taken this. Or Spielberg, for that matter. As is, the movie is, at best, ligfhtly, playfully surreal--which, mind you, isn't due to its fantasy conceit or Jumanji-style effects but rather the casting of Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs as a trio of geriatric villains. Odd stuff, to be sure.

Anyhoo.


Best,
Josh

-

Dave McDougall: I knew X3 wouldn't be a popular choice, so now I get to defend it.

X3 is muddled. It's dialogue is artless, the shot selection facile. The political allegory is inconsistent. It's only the 3rd best of the X-Men series. The performances vary from capable to embarrassing. BUT... I was invested in the characters and the conflict.

The allegory fails because it switches between multiple contemporary political issues. The obvious one is homosexuality (mutants are unnatural, but hey, there's a cure!; Warren Worthington's disgust with his son and his son's attempts to stay closeted as a mutant), but the cure as an issue of public debate and controversy that calls to mind America's abortion debate (protesters outside clinics?). There are even hints of AIDS in the stigma attached to mutants as diseased, and the mutant insurgency's 'self-defense' doctrine reminds me of the al-Mahdi Militia.

There is one place that the allegory holds together. Mutant powers (like those of the cinematic Spider-Man) show up at puberty, marking you as different and excluding you from the broader society. X-Men is about adolescence. Relating to the 'outsider,' trumps whether or not the plot correlates directly to a political issue. The X-Men, even the adults, are always figuring out who they are and how they fit in. It's this identity politics that makes the X-Men films interesting in terms of character.

This (shallow) 'depth' gives the actors enough ammo to turn in quality performances. The characters have discrete personae (more a function of the characters' long history than the script they're given here. Some of the performances are good, because many of these cast members are terrifically talented - Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Ellen Page, among others, have deserved reputations as top-notch actors. {OK, Ellen doesn't yet have this reputation, but trust me on this, she'll be there soon enough}.

Brett Ratner might not expertly swivel between the film's subplots, but he does give his actors the opportunity to hint at the fine source material. I've never read the comic books, but I did feel that there was depth behind many of the characters, even those played without a light touch. Counterintuitively, the lack of depth also works in the movie's favor, because we can move from one story to another without the expectation of full development. Hollywood's blockbuster character-creation strategies are all about hints and shortcuts, the way art-filmmakers shortcut narrative and leave gaps to be filled in. I don't mean to apologize for blockbuster-logic in general, but barely-concealed subtext and many opportunities to relate to characters (in even a superficial way) go a long way toward establishing a connection between an audience and a film.

A few personal notes:

A certain suspension of disbelief above and beyond the normal cinematic expectation occurs when entering a movie so explicitly divorced from our world's laws of nature, and I am always ready to take as film's logic at face value. The post-credits tease - which does entirely change the 'conclusion' of the series - had me leaving the theater full of excitement and anticipation rather than in a normal end-of-movie mindset. And that's my favorite feeling at the movies - excitement at what's to come. I get giddy watching trailers. Seriously.

Though I completely believe in the merits I've proclaimed above, I'll end with one final qualifier: Sometimes just having the right person next to you can change the way you feel about a movie.

- Dave

-

Teresa Nieman: Dave, your explanation for liking X3 makes sense, and I think sometimes people forget about one of the main reasons to gravitate to a film: personal resonance; even when you yourself can admit the piece is lacking in other regards. As for the homosexuality/AIDS subtexts, I had heard about those being most prominent in X2, which, again, I didn't catch--so its impact may have been lessened for me with the third installment.

As for the declining-horror-of-today debate, Daniel, I guess I have a pretty pessimistic view there. American subjects of the genre almost need a sense of humor to succeed at this point. Witty, tongue-in-cheek (but still heartily scary) efforts like Slither (which you mentioned) come off, rightly so, as bright and refreshing forays. More serious horrors, however, become seemingly heavy handed and over dramatic simply by committing themselves to their world without offering any winks or nods to the viewer. It's hard now to watch the latter breed, and take it seriously. The Descent, while I didn't like it enough to put it in my top ten, was a good example of a humorless--where its plot is concerned, at least--and imaginative flick that works. I would have liked it a slight bit more had it kept the original British ending, but that's beside the point.

You also brought up Japanese horror films, and the barrage of remakes they've unleashed upon us. Well, it's probably no secret about my feelings for ghost stories from the East--but even so, they seem to be increasingly influenced by North America, and not so much in a good way. Filmmakers by and large care about success, which in most cases means cash. Many of the horrors being produced in Japan and South Korea (and, for that matter all over China) are concerned about whether it will be crowd-pleasing, and eligible for US remake status. It's a vicious circle, it is. Especially considering a large part of the Asian horror appeal--for me, and probably most Western viewers--is the sense of exoticness. The stories are never radically different from horror you see here, but each film, intentionally or otherwise, has the added weight of foreign sensibility, tradition, and even religion. Naturally, those aspects are all but lost when converted to be set in Boston and starring Jessica Alba or whoever. Luckily there are reliable horror-helmers who seem uninterested in selling out. Few, maybe, but it's something.

Josh: don't even get me started on video games. Sure, they're made by huge teams of people--which makes your auteur theory kinda inapplicable--and 80% of their output is disposable fun, at most, but can than not be said about film as well? How many movies are pumped out a year, worldwide, and how many are worth a damn? It's a new, different art form that is still looked down upon (by people like you!), and, again, so were films when they first broke out some hundred-odd years ago. They may not be high art of the fancy-shmancy, water-cooler kind--but to write them off completely if just plain narrow minded.

Oh, and also being from Herrin, I belong to this "I don't get to see any good movies" group. I also have a solution for this: downloading. Sure, it's not legal, but if the MPAA really doesn't want us to, they can stop being tools and make non-blockbuster movies more available to us, no? I'm just sayin'.*

*I'm not actually admitting to doing this, just stating that it is a possible option...

Anyway, until next time.

-

Daniel Rivera: A quick question for everyone:

Why do you suppose highly anticipated debuts like Public Warning! and Alright, Still really failed to deliver in any big way? Of course, I am not talking about sales one way or the other. I'm talking about the fact that they just were...categorically underwhelming. Was it the saturation pre release? Does hype affect the artist that much? Does it affect us that much. So much in fact that we set our expectations unreasonably high? I'm aware that this is hardly a new or original question to ask, but I had a significant amount of hope set aside for these particular releases, and I feel I'd like to at least bring them up in such a discussion.

-

Josh Timmermann: Daniel, to address your question re: Public Warning and Alright, Still, I think oversaturation and contrarian backlash are partly to blame, but only partly. In the case of Lady Sov (and the same probably applies, more or less, to Arular), it's kind of hard to get excited about a debut LP when much of the music is a year or more old. It's still good stuff, but how much more is there really to say about "Random"? This point holds, too, for Lily to a lesser extent (since the material didn't drop quite so long ago), but for me anyway, Alright, Still just kind of feels like an afterthought in light of the pair of stellar mixtapes that preceded it (not to mention that lame throwaways like "Take What You Take" and "Friday Night" made the cut at the expense of the infinitely preferable "Sunday Morning" and "Cheryl Tweedy"). The mixes felt inspired, spontaneous, and winningly offhanded--"here's some CCR, some ODB, and, oh, here's one of mine, enjoy!"--while the proper record registered as, well, sort of beside the point.

Teresa, I don't disagree about the percentage of worthwhile movies amidst the trash. Rather, I'm talking about the great ones, and more specifically, why they're great. You're a video game fan, fine. But when was the last time you were moved by a video game? Or that you learned something you didn't already know--about yourself or the world around you--or considered a fresh line of thought? Learned wrote that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu made him "want to be a better person for all those I meet, but never know." I'd be very curious to find a video game capable of provoking such a poignant sentiment.


Best,
Josh

-

Chris Dashiell: I've changed my mind about calling United 93 "overrated." I realized that I put in that category because I didn't know where to put it. In fact, this is one of those rare cases where I don't yet know what to think about a film.

I was completely gripped with tension through the whole thing, and I felt sick to my stomach afterwards, and actually rather depressed for a few hours.

When I was able to look back and analyze, I saw that a lot of my reaction was due to my feelings about the events of 9/11/01, and seeing the horror of that day depicted from the inside of one of the planes. Knowing what would happen also affected my response, because of course we see these people going about their business and we know they're all going to die.

So I made an attempt to look at the film as if I were not an American deeply affected by the events, as if it were some event that happened many more years ago, perhaps in another country. And when I did that, the film didn't impress me as much. It has the immediacy and the good use of nonprofessional actors that Greengrass showed in Bloody Sunday, but without the keen political
awareness of that film. I suppose that was the nature of the material--too much personal backstory or political subtext wouldn't have worked for United 93, but it still seems to me that the charged emotions around the events provide most of the film's effect, and that taken on its own terms it's a good, somewhat minimalist exercise.

The events on the ground are confusing, and I get the nagging feeling that the story from FAA and NORAD that's been reconstructed here is incomplete and inconsistent. The story on the plane is obviously a "this is how it could have happened," and this also made me a little uncomfortable, because the speculative nature of the reenactment is inevitably overshadowed by its vividness, giving it a feel of documentary-type truth which may be deceiving.

In the final analysis, the fact is that I couldn't separate my personal feelings about the event from my evaluation of the film on its own terms, and every time I try, the personal feelings are so much stronger than any aesthetic impression or judgment that I can't trust my own evaluation. I don't think this is as good a film as Bloody Sunday, but of course it's gotten more attention. I suspect that there's a tendency to overrate United 93 because it didn't make the mistakes that a Hollywood treatment would have made, but on the other hand I can't deny that I was spellbound through the film.

The issue of whether this is "too soon" to make such a film seems so cliche that one is tempted to dismiss it, but in this case it actually seems a legitimate issue to me in terms of evaluating the picture. So I don't know. I can't honestly put it in the overrated category. It's a good film. I just can't get clear in my mind whether I'd put in my top ten or even twenty. And I suppose that's a first for me.

Dash

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Dave McDougall: Chris,

Your clarified response to United 93 confirms what Teresa said about
my response to X3: that so much of a movie experience is about how it
resonates with you emotionally. One thing that's often expected from
us as critics is that we detach from this emotion and examine films
(or music, art, etc) as formalist constructions distinct from our
emotional responses. I reject this attitude, because what's most
important about art are our connections with a work and how they
impact our lives.

United 93 has a uniquely overpowering emotional response built in to
the experience of the movie. Many said it was "too soon" for a movie
about 9/11, but the people who said that to me seemed mostly
unoffended by World Trade Center, some even expressing interest for
reasons as divorced from the subject matter as "I like Nic Cage." I
will never watch World Trade Center for some of the same reasons
that I was so enraptured with United 93.

In the days - even the hours - after the attacks on 9/11/2001, what i
wanted most of all was exposure to the images from the attacks as a
way to make sense of it all. That afternoon I had a meeting with my
Senior Film thesis advisor. He's from New York, living there when he
wasn't teaching in CT; behind me he left a TV, turned to a news
channel. At one point he stopped mid-sentence to say "oh my G-d." I
turned in time to see the last few frames of blurry video of people
jumping from the towers.

For years after that, until almost today, I wanted to see that again.
I wanted to feel the full torment of rage and sadness and confusion
that human brutality can cause. I needed images to make sense of the
attacks. I missed them live that day, hearing rumours of something but
going to class instead. I saw taped news feeds at lunch and turned too
late to see the beginning of what my advisor saw. What I wanted most
was to go through those emotions again, to face them as fully as
possible in spite of all that meant. In this I was in the minority.

United 93 filled that void without pandering to me with a story of
survival or of hope. I was proud of that movie and of the people on
that plane. I stifled back tears at dramatic moments, and, sometimes,
at the moments when I was caught by some tiny clue that carried the
full weight of that day. Most of all, the film provided catharsis. I
finally had a way to approach this enormity, a way to relive the
horror in order to accept it as real. And afterward, the dull ache of
the last five years could abate and I could carry on with the business
of living.

-

Josh Timmermann: Last year, I participated in a similar discussion panel, the "Oscar Symposium," hosted at Nathaniel Rogers' terrific the Film Experience. One participant posed the question of whether Brokeback Mountain would've been so highly acclaimed, and such a cause celebre, had the central romance been a heterosexual one. Of course, that's a moot point. While Ang went to some lengths to disguise an issue film as a tragic romance, the fact that its lovers are both male certainly isn't coincidental, a mere, interchangeable narrative detail.

The same goes for United 93, I'd argue, and attempting to watch it outside the context of the events its recreating seems fruitless. I'm not saying that the film's technical merits can't--or shouldn't be--considered in their own right, without the borrowed weight of the subject matter. But this isn't Turbulence or Air Force One or some other such generic action thriller. Maybe it is "too soon" for such a painfully forward screen account of 9/11, but Greengrass's aesthetic here is absolutely inextricable from the fated day--and all the messy emotions surrounding it--his film is attempting to grapple with.

Godard's contention that cinema lost its soul due the medium's inability to deal honestly with the Holocaust comes to mind. I have no idea what he thinks of United 93, or even if he's seen it, but to my mind, Greengrass very much defended the integrity and potential of film by putting such an unflinching, deeply felt statement to celluloid.

Clint Eastwood also deserves a great deal of credit for helming Letters from Iwo Jima (for my money, the strongest war movie since Malick's The Thin Red Line). After seeing the film, I was initially skeptical of the fact that the most sympathetic, humanist-minded Japanese officers in Letters were the two who'd spent time in the U.S. (Ken Watanabe's General Kuribayashi is accused by one lieutenant of being an American sympathizer). Upon reflection, though, this makes perfect sense: It's a lot harder to demonize your enemy when you know them, and know that your similarities far outnumber your differences. It isn't a new concept by any means, but at this point in time, I can't think any notion more important than empathy.

Thanks to all of you who participated in JLT/JLT's First (Hopefully) Annual Year In Review discussion. It was a lot of fun, and something of an honor for me to have such a thoughtful bunch of writers contributing to our blog.

Take care, and see you next year--same time, same place. Hopefully...


Best,
Josh

Tuesday

Year in Review: Part 1



Josh Timmermann: Ready to get this shindig underway? I am. The best, if not necessarily most original, way that I can think of to open JLT/JLT's first (hopefully/possibly) annual year in review discussion (not such an inspired title, admittedly) is some first day of school-style roundtable introductions. How about name, writing outlet(s), location, and since the point of this chat session is to debate the past year's offerings in film and music (and whatever else comes up--tv, books, online goings-on, etc.) some personal best-of's for '06? (List whatever you'd like--since my interests tend toward both movies and music, I'll do films and albums.)

I'll start: Josh Timmermann, founder and co-operator of JLT/JLT, Herrin, Illinois, and lists:

01. Three Times
02. Miami Vice
03. United 93
04. Fast Food Nation
05. Shanghai Dreams
06. The Descent
07. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
08. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
09. L'Enfant
10. Duck Season

01. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
02. Joanna Newsom - Ys
03. Lily Allen - My First Mixtape
04. The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes
05. The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
06. Prince - 3121
07. Nellie McKay - Pretty Little Head
08. CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy
09. Bubba Sparxxx - The Charm
10. Lily Allen - Mixtape II

Okay, now that that's out of the way, some food for thought, just to get the ball rolling here:

Some of the more interesting films from last year imagined a pretty bleak future, from the global warming crisis in An Inconvenient Truth to sci-fi-tinged dystopian flicks like A Scanner Darkly and Children of Men. Apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic scenarios are nothing new in movies, granted, but the immediacy and tone of this year's batch seemed fairly prescient. Al Gore's slide show is an admirably proactive gesture (an attribute I'd also ascribe to the underappreciated Fast Food Nation), while Richard Linklater's and Alfonso Cuaron's films are grimly pessimistic. Is this a chicken-or-the-egg paradigm? Are these films eerily in step with the zeitgeist, or are they simply taking timely advantage of some free-floating national (global?) anxiety and (as some have alleged) pandering to liberal sympathies in the process?

Another big to-do in movies this year--or at least one the mainstream press has taken to enthusiastically--is the Latin invasion, most specifically Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Guillermo del Toro, and Fernando Eimbcke (some have grouped in Almodovar, which strikes me as fairly absurd). Thoughts? Personally, I'm not sure I buy it, though I liked Children of Men (albeit not as much as Cuaron's lovely A Little Princess) and was thoroughly charmed by Eimbcke's Duck Season. (Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth has yet to open in my neck of the woods, and I frankly have little to no interest in bothering with Gonzalez Innaritu's Babel.)

And just because I want to be (by default) the first person to bring it up: the Borat phenomenon seems to be the cine-year's most compulsively discuss-able event. I was skeptical going in, but it really is as funny as it's cracked up to be, and nearly as insightful. In my initial post, I called it the year's most problematic movie, which, upon reflection, is a position I stand by, and while I disagree with Armond White, I think his argument that it's an unapologetically divisive insta-red-state/blue-state argument-starter is perfectly valid. Less frequently brought up is the way this bona-fide critics' movie subverts the traditional auteurist paradigm. How many folks even mention director Larry Charles (who also, for the record, helmed 2003's unfairly maligned Masked and Anonymous)? It's all Sacha Baron Cohen, and probably, mostly justifiably so. Of course, the same can be said of An Inconvenient Truth, which--poor David Guggenheim--is commonly referred to as That Al Gore Movie.

On the aural front, Idolator recently unveiled its inaugural Jackin' Pop critics' poll. And TV on the Radio took album. What?! Yeah, that's right a record called Return to Cookie Mountain has been designated, via the critical consensus, 2006's best record. I myself "get" TVOTR about as much as poll poobah (or does the Voice have some sort of copyright on that term, Tom?) Michaelangelo Matos. (His "Williamsburg Radiohead" point was dead on.) Any defenders? I'm crossing my fingers that Pazz & Jop shakes out better. Hell, I'll even take another Dylan win over Cookie Mountain!

The singles topper was no surprise, and begs an interesting line of thought. Was 2006, with "Crazy" achieving a "Hey Ya"-level of ubiquity (my dad still can't get enough of it), Lady Sov on TRL, and Lily Allen topping the pops (at least on her side of the Atlantic), finally the year that "blog pop" translated into "pop as in popular"? Defeatists seemed to give up last year when Arular more or less flopped, and Annie and the new and improved Robyn failed to gain traction outside of Scandinavia. But Gnarls Barkley? They were everywhere, and while I like them less than M.I.A. or Robyn, there seems to be some vague sense of vindication in hearing something so consciously odd--that lit up the blogosphere before the airwaves--on Top 40 radio.

Not surprisingly, Cee-lo and Dangermouse also took Artist of the Year honors in the Idolator poll, but my vote went, without a second thought, to Timbaland. Between miraculously resurrecting Aaliyah in the form of Nelly "I'm Like a Bird" Furtado and taking on the full-time role of JT's mentor, the man is having his best year since "Get Ur Freak On," if not "Are You That Somebody?," dropped. Stopping to think about it, has there been a more inventive and influential artist in music in the past decade? I mean, really, and if so, who?

Alright, enough from me for now. Let's hear some thoughts from the rest of you. Have fun, and until next time.


Best,
Josh

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Dave McDougall: Hi all, I'm Dave McDougall, I write about movies at my blog Chained to the Cinémathèque and occasionally about whatever else strikes my fancy (music, mostly) at Dave Should Get Out More. I live in Park Slope in Brooklyn, NY.

My list of Best Films of 2006 (new releases) is not a top 10 because
it's incomplete for not having seen either Eastwood film, or Pan's
Labyrinth
, or Children of Men, or Three Times, or Miami Vice (among
many, many others). So I'll leave it at a top 9, at least until I see
Children of Men this afternoon and rent Three Times tonight.

1. Army of Shadows
2. United 93
3. Inland Empire
4. Idiocracy
5. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
6. X-Men: The Last Stand
7. A Scanner Darkly
8. Casino Royale
9. Mutual Appreciation

My album list shouldn't even make a Top 10, since I spent of most '06
discovering old bands and re-releases. So I don't have an opinion on
new albums from The Liars, TV on the Radio, Grizzly Bear, etc, etc,
etc. I also need to spend more time with most of these, but here are
10 new albums I heard and liked in '06:

1. Clipe - Hell Hath No Fury
2. The Knife - Silent Shout
3. Joanna Newsom - Ys
4. Girl Talk - Night Ripper
5. Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
6. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds
7. CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy
8. Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That
9. The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones

I almost put Weird Al Yankovic's Straight Outta Lynwood on the list
just for "White and Nerdy," which seems to me to be the perfect
meta-hiphop song, exploring (exploding?) the difference between
audience and artist, fantasy and reality. It critiques the idea that
you can buy your associations (in this case, with black people) and
takes down capitalism's "Lost in the Supermarket" ethos ("came in here
for a special offer, guaranteed personality" - The Clash). It also is
just as bangin' as the song it parodies, thanks in part to Weird Al's
top-notch flow (seriously).

My number one album is another exploration/critique of the American
Dream's principle of self-betterment through capitalism. Pusha T and
Malice do think that you can buy a sort of happiness, but they
recognize that everything comes at a cost. "Dirty money know how to
treat the girls," and the girls are willing to let their moral
questions slide in exchange for expensive gifts. (Does that make them
whores? Probably, but Clipse will take the payoffs for their hustling
work; the girls "don't have to love me, just be convincing"). The
album's conflicted, everybody-sells-out theme is both a positive and
negative reflection on the American Dream. With all that drug money,
they can "ride around shining," and they will -- because "tomorrow's
not promised, we just live for today." This is some dark shit.

Josh, I think your theory that blog-pop may have finally broken
through to the mainstream misses the point. Pop has always had an ear
for the leftfield, the warped reflection of itself; how else to
describe Missy's career? Timbaland's? Gwen Stefani's? This year,
though, blog-pop was (coincidentally?) in step with what gets
reflected in avant-pop. M.I.A. and Annie spring from traditions that
have been not fully incorporated into American radio-pop - dancehall
and europop respectively. Successful pop stretches boundaries of pop
but is sourced in familiar traditions. The reason it can be "popular"
is that it sounds exactly like all the songs you've heard before, only
a little bit different [See: Kelly Clarkson stealing from "Maps"].
Gwen Stefani's "Wind It Up" doubles this by taking the tradition of
hiphop/pop music and bringing in a standard cultural reference point
(The Sound of Music / yodeling) that also sounds familiar at the same
time that it sounds completely foreign [Think: Puffy sampling The
Police, only weirder]. In "Wind It Up," Pharrell also uses these
unfamiliar/familiar sonic elements in familiar ways - horse-hoof
counterrhythms that sound more Timbaland than Amish. If I had a
singles list, "Wind It Up" would be on top, followed by all the Timbo
joints that would fit plus the DFA remix of "My Love". Timberland is
currently working with Lovefoxxx and M.I.A.... 2007 (or '08) is going
to be a good year.

As for films, if you had asked me in November I would have called '06
a down year, but the last 2 months of the year brought some serious
highlights. Inland Empire strikes me as the most complex film ever
released in theaters; it's certainly one of the hardest to parse.
Lynch's movie is an exploration of dangers of role-playing, a
manifesto for a new digital auteurship, an exercise in translating
Transcendental Meditation to the screen, a pushing of narrative
fracture to its logical limit, a recursive strange loop designed to be
unsolvable, a puzzle to be solved. In New York, the theater it's
playing it is offering a deal: see it 9 times, get the 10th admission
free - and people are at least considering the offer. If Chris Marker
was a maximalist, he might have made a work like Inland Empire.

A Scanner Darkly felt to me less fully realized than I wanted. The
thematic and narrative elements of paranoia and being under constant
surveillance didn't make the leap to shot selection. A remake where
every camera angle is that of a surveillance camera, only we don't
realize that until halfway though - that's the movie I wanted to see.
Mutual Appreciation: Bujalski is overrated by certain critics; his
movies don't tell us much new about ourselves. But I like that he
doesn't shy away from insecurity, silence, and inaction in his
anthropology of resistant youth. He captures his characters like Woody
Allen by way of Satyajit Ray, but I'd love to see that same
observational eye turned away from himself and to the outside world.
Or perhaps his work is that project of cultural anthropology? If he's
the new Michael Apted, I'm curious to see what my generation looks
like in 20 years.

X-Men: The Last Stand proved that the comic book movie is the one
genre that Hollywood consistently gets right.

It's surprising how poorly the old Bond films hold up, even the
Connery films. Casino Royale reinvigorated the Bond franchise by
taking it away from tongue-in-cheek British Empire nostalgia and
adding the gritty physicality that we expect in action movie
"realism." Seeing Bond become a Double-0 was the best action sequence
since Jason Bourne left Paris - helped in large part by the temporal
complexity and the selective ownership of information (Bond, audience,
victim). Eva Green adds intellect to the mostly physical gifts of a
Bond girl, makes previous Bond girls look like paper cutouts - on
brains, acting ability, and, with apologies to Ursula, ownership of
her physical appeal. The best Bond movie ever? Yes... considerably.

The two funniest movies of the decade so far - and maybe of my
lifetime - hit theaters in 2006. Idiocracy was the great dystopian
film about stupidity that Mike Judge always had in him, and though it
was barely released in theaters is now available on DVD (buy it now,
seriously). Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is the Big Lebowski
of meta-cinematic literary adaptations, but much funnier than that
sounds, and full of sly jokes that, like Lebowski, go a bit too fast
for the audience on first go but richly reward fast minds and repeated
viewings.

Two movies about heroism and self-sacrifice topped my list this year.
Army of Shadows was released in France in 1969 but never in the U.S.
This year's restoration and American showings revealed a masterwork
unrivalled in Melville's storied career. It opens with what might be
the finest opening shot in the history of cinema, eliciting a
slow-building visceral response that prepares you perfectly for the
spectacularly intimate epic of national pride and self-sacrifice that
follows. The movie's sense of brotherhood strikes hardest in the
moments when our main characters deal with ordinary Frenchman: in the
barbershop, or in a Nazi military headquarters. Or even between
members of the resistance, sworn to protect each other's identities
even when alone together in a room, or to make good on past debts no
matter the cost. The final coda makes the story so much larger than
even that which we've seen. A true masterwork.

United 93 is the greatest American movie about heroism, period. (I
might even strip the qualifier "American"). Heroism is usually
signalled in movies by some special abilities that call a character to
the profession of hero. In United 93, the heroes are passengers on a
plane, called to heroism through circumstance. I'll leave off an
analysis of why Greengrass's technique is flawless, why his narrative
strategies and casting make these characters all the more real, how
the film makes expert use of what we know coming in. Instead, let's
focus on what happened that day: They used what was at their disposal
to down the plane.

That's a start... show me what you got
- Dave

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Chris Dashiell: Hi, I'm Chris Dashiell. I write for cinescene.com, and do a little radio show on kxci.org. I also have a blog which is mainly on philosophy and politics.

This is fun. I've enjoyed reading the comments so far.

First of all, I have to mention the perennial dilemma I face when doing top-10 movie lists. I live in a relatively small city (Tucson, AZ), and therefore some of the releases that pile up at year's end as Ocar bait don't make it to screens here until February or even later (if at all). In addition, many foreign films don't make it here until a year, or even two or three years, after their initial limited release.

You'll understand when you see the films on my list, because many of
them would be considered 2005 films, or earlier, by most critics in the bigger cities who get to see everything sooner.

Well, I won't let such films just fall through the cracks because of the exigencies of scheduling. If they're great, I will list them. And I certainly don't think I'm alone in this problem. I would bet that many cinephiles who don't live in NY, LA, Chicago, etc., are faced with this every year.

Another drawback to not being in a major urban center is that many of the exciting films I read about never make it to a screen here. We do have an art theater, but economics seem to dictate that they choose what's considered more palatable foreign fare (in the 2nd tier of foreign work, for the most part) rather than the latest Hou or Jia film. Well, I can rent The Death of Mr.Lazarescu, because we have a great video store here, but I'm rather old-fashioned in my insistence on seeing motion pictures on a big screen before including them in a top-10. With fewer foreign films making it here each year (alas), I might have to change my thinking on this eventually.

Judging by the accounts I've read from film fests, we're in a sort of golden age of film right now. But in the ordinary world of multiplex theaters, we continue to sink into a dark age. Very dismaying. I'm tempted to list my #1 as all the films I was prevented from seeing by the absurd distribution system in the U.S., which sends all the same crap to every theater because the studios are dedicated to the big score, the blockbuster hit, rather than to making and distributing good films. But enough--it's the same rant from me every year, except worse.

1. The New World (Terrence Malick)
2. Cache (Michael Haneke)
3. Darwin's Nightmare (Hubert Sauper)
4. L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
5. Since Otar Left... (Julie Bertucelli)
6. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck)
7. The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry)
8. The President's Last Bang (Im Sangsoo)
9. Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki)
10. Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Jonathan Demme)

I don't have time to discuss all these in details right now, but I look forward to saying more.

Suffice it to say that my predilection for Terrence Malick is due to a deep affinity in our world views. His use of voice-over as a method for conveying the subjective, spiritual nature of experience is so close to my own view, and so beautifully executed in The New World, that I can overlook minor infelicities and still make the film my #1, the only film on the list that I went to see twice this year.

Haneke's metafictional horror film about the poison of colonialism in a man's soul was so disturbing, and resonated on so many levels for me, that it could easily switch places with Malick's film in my estimation, with the only reason for its ranking being a slight preference for the sublime over the brutally honest.

Three nonfiction films made my list. With the political situation deteriorating as it has been, I have found myself more drawn to films of immediacy and engagement, and documentaries tend to be more that way. In the same vein, the best TV of the year was Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, a model of what good television documentary can and should be.

My B-sides will probably include Children of Men, Sophie Scholl, Clean, Mutual Appreciation,The Proposition, Deliver Us From Evil, Ballets Russe, and Borat. I also liked, but with more reservations: Duck Season, A Scanner Darkly, 12 and Holding, The Queen, Room, Jesus Camp,Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, The Cave of the Yellow Dog. A curious case is An Inconvient Truth--as cinema, it's not much more than a filmed lecture with some biographical filler. But as an event, it's probably the most important film of the year.

My keenest disappointment this year was Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story. With a brilliant first half hour completely sucking me in and anticipating more delights, the film shifts into its "film within a film" conceit--and never really returns. I think the old French Lieutenant's Woman idea could have worked if it had been balanced with enough Sterne to give the film some heft. But it just meanders, and the problem is simply that Steve Coogan bantering with the cast and crew is not, and could never have been, as interesting as Laurence Sterne. It pains me to think of what might have been.

Avenue of the overrated: Little Miss Sunshine, Dreamgirls, United 93
Interesting failure: The Departed
Pee-yew: The Fountain, The Da Vinci Code, Click

I am set to see Iraq in Fragments and The Painted Veil this week, so perhaps things could change.

Dash

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Teresa Nieman: Firstly, I'm Teresa Nieman, of Prefix, my blog (Cult Iconic), and of course, JLT/JLT. I'm from Canada, but currently live in (and have for the past 7 or so months) Herrin, Illinois.

Secondly, my ever-changing '06 lists.

01. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Show Your Bones
02. Diplo / Mad Decent -- Worldwide Radio Podcasts
03. Tom Waits -- Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
04. Cansei de Ser Sexy -- CSS
05. Justin Timberlake -- FutureSex / Lovesounds
06. Asobi Seksu -- Citrus
07. Clipse -- Hell Hath No Fury
08. Cat Power -- The Greatest
09. Girl Talk -- Night Ripper
10. The Game -- The Doctor's Advocate

01. Miami Vice (Michael Mann)
02. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
03. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck)
04. L'Enfant (Dardenne brothers)
05. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
06. Down in the Valley (David Jacobson)
07. An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim)
08. United 93 (Paul Greengrass)
09. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)
10. Fast Food Nation (Richard Linklater)

Thirdly, Dave: X-Men III? Elaborate, if you would. I found it run-of-the-mill crappy, but, admittedly, didn't give it much thought other than "I'd rather be seeing something else right now," followed by "Thank God that's over with." I also skipped the sequel, but mildly enjoyed the first in the series.

Though, you having a greater appreciation than most for a largely-panned big budget popcorn adaptation reminds me of my after-thoughts on Silent Hill--a movie I saw back in April, rated 4/10, and haven't seen since. But in the time between then and now, I've come to think of it rather fondly, as one of the purest examples of good video game adaptation, and it's now sitting in my #23 spot. While literature (so long as it possesses some kind of workable narrative) is always a safe bet for celluloid revamping, video games have yet to produce a great film version. Resident Evil (I saw only the first one), and Bloodrayne took the action-movie approach. Doom and Silent Hill went the way of making it as close to its original source as possible. The former with it's reverse-Snorri-cam (the kind attached to the actor, a la Requeim for a Dream)-ish stylings, evoking the sense of actually playing, or watching someone else play, the first-person battle game Doom, for better or worse. Christophe Gans' Silent Hill is slightly more cinematic--but only in the way that "cinematic sequences" are in actual video games (like when you beat a level and watch as a new part of the story unfolds via animation). The execution is graceless, the actors' voices seem appropriately disjointed (as if they could just as easily be voice-overed), and the plot unfolds in a miraculously find-the-flashlight-escape-the-monsters way that really is, in hindsight, extremely innovative. Silent Hill is, by all means, an experimental art film.

Perhaps not coincidentally, my number one film of the year is also an adaptation that both embraces its source material, and re-imagines it. Yes, I'm talking about Miami Vice, the most sumptuous, swooning, near-incoherent exercise the in TV-to-movie jump, to date. (Even moreso than Fire Walk With Me, which I only realized could be a contender after typing this. Though, that being made by the creator of its boob tube predecessor kind of cancels it out.) Both the Linklater's on my list are also adaptations (of books), as is The Departed (of the HK action-drama Infernal Affairs). If you really want to stretch things, you could say that An Inconvenient Truth is the celluloid adaptation of Al Gore's global warming slideshow, which would make a grand total of 5 adaptations in my top ten . Weak year for original works, or great year for colliding mediums? Probably both, but I haven't yet seen Inland Empire, among others.

Speaking of things colliding: genres did so in music moreso than they have in years. Josh, you brought it up this being the age of blog-pop. I think that's a more literal phenomenon than you realize. Not only are artists approved, avoided, and handed buzz through blogs--they're also becoming more and more blog-exclusive. Or, at the very least, internet-exclusive. Countless singles, remixes and mixtapes were released as mere downloadable mp3 links--things you couldn't get in stores even if you wanted to--from prolific artists and previously unheard of ones alike. Furthermore, mixtapes thrived--from Diplo's Mad Decent Podcasts, to Girl Talk's mammoth cornucopia of pop on Night Ripper. Lily Allen released a stellar one (My First Mixtape) to build hype for her upcoming album, and an unfortunate one later on (Mixtape II), which only heated the backlash flames. Still, her First was notable not only for fantastic song choice and sheer cool factor, but also because she's the only gal-pop-singer I can think of who has, well, even made a mixtape.

I have more to say, but the Golden Globes are on, Justin and Cameron are there, much awkwardness may ensue, and I'll let someone else have a turn.

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L. Michael Foote: Hello, I’m L. Michael Foote. I write about movies for Stylus Magazine. Like Chris, I live in a small town (East Lansing, Michigan), which, while good for college sports, doesn’t offer much in terms of art theaters. Happily, I’m moving to Manhattan next August, so I’ll be more prepared next year.

I know nothing about music (I think I own, like, four albums from
2006?), so I’ll just say that I enjoyed both FutureSex/LoveSounds and Ys.

Onto film:

01. Two Drifters
02. L’Enfant
03. United 93
04. Children of Men
05. A Scanner Darkly
06. The Queen
07. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
08. The Departed
09. Old Joy
10. Slither

Many of the films on my list (L’Enfant, United 93, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Old Joy and, to a lesser extent, The Queen) share a certain quality. We can’t feel neutral about these situations (a baby sold on the black market, a hijacked plane, a dying and neglected man), but we are incapable of passing judgment on the characters. The filmmakers don’t develop character or narrative traditionally, but instead force us to pay careful attention to human behavior. Of course, if human behavior were transparent, then life would be easy. This style certainly isn’t unique to the films of 2006, but I was impressed by how many movies developed an unfathomable realism.

Although the titular grouch dominates the story in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, the man rapidly sinks into a coma. As Lazarescu becomes comatose, our attention shifts to his surroundings. I feel ill equipped to analyze the institutions around him (although the film is apparently meant partly as a satire of the Romanian hospital system). But Romanians are people too, and the meandering film allows us to observe neighbors, nurses, and doctors. We don’t know these characters, just as we don’t know the man who takes thirty minutes out of his day to pull our wisdom teeth. Of course, being selfish beings, we still judge the doctor based on how he treats us, and, even though Lazarescu is never portrayed as a martyr, we still hope for compassion. One nurse, who initially arrives in the ambulance, is easily the most empathetic character of the movie, but even she has moments where she treats Lazarescu insensitively – drifting off into her own void and ignoring Lazarescu’s attempts at conversation. In marked contrast, one arrogant doctor treats everybody as minions, but when other characters are turned off by his rudeness (sometimes a reaction conveyed only through subtle body language), he responds, even moved to offer a (somewhat flippant) apology. It’s not much, but it’s a move in the right direction. At the risk of sounding starry-eyed, I’ll say that The Death of Lazarescu made me want to be a better person for all those I meet, but never know. Are moral standards good reasons to like a movie?

I found United 93 moving for most of the same reasons. With no exposition, no flashbacks, and no clumsily developed personality traits, we couldn’t even try to understand the faces on board that plane. I found this lack of pretension very powerful…

I agree, Josh, the apocalyptic tone this year is far more pressing than, say, 2004 and The Day After Tomorrow. These films are explicitly connected to our lives – An Inconvenient Truth (which I haven’t seen) is purportedly based on fact, and Children of Men contains plenty of references to modern politics. I disagree, however, with your assessment of Children of Men as a pessimistic film. I loved Manohla Dargis’ interpretation, in which she argued that Children of Men is about fragile hope. There’s a lot to worry about today, and the scenarios in Children of Men are definitely plausible (minus the infertility plot device, which brought a welcome urgency). But when that giant boat came with TOMORROW emblazoned across it (fuck subtlety, subtlety is lame), I felt great about 2007. Check with me in twenty years; hopefully my optimism is justified.

And Chris, I completely agree with you regarding The New World. Malick easily topped my list last year. I love how the man captures perception, filming the world from contrasting vantage points. But Malick still sees an objective truth, even though it’s difficult to apprehend (I always feel closest, ironically, when the voice-overs explicitly contradict the images). And the New World contains my favorite cinematic depiction of prayer when Pocahontas (for lack of a better name) pours out her heart to some spiritual deity, and the lightning flashes in (we hope) response. Really great stuff!

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Daniel Rivera: Hello, all.

I'm Daniel Rivera, formerly of Stylus Magazine, and now a regular over at South Dakota Dark. I live in the largely desolate, but always on the "grow," Ocala, Florida. Here we're known for our horses as well as our rather unapologetically large Republican voting block. Go me! Due to this, among other factors, good film is somewhat hard to come by in my little corner of the universe. Understandably, I spend most of my time drowning my very being in music. 2006, while I've heard was a fine year for film, was no different for me in this respect. However, in the spirit of discussion, I went ahead and racked the old brain to come up with as many films as I could that I figured were worth a damn to me in '06. I don’t have much time to get into anything today, but I did want to jump in here with something. So, here’goes. My lists are as follows:

01. The Departed
02. United 93
03. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
04. The Descent
05. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
06. Slither
07. A Prairie Home Companion
08. Brick
09. Down In The Valley
10. Little Miss Sunshine

Not as bad as I thought it would be, but it's clear that I could seriously use a trip to a video store, or a day pass to a town that actually gives a damn about good film.

01. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
02. Joanna Newsom, Ys
03. TV on the Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain
04. Junior Boys, So, This Is Goodbye
05. Hot Chip, The Warning
06. Peter Bjorn & John, Writer's Block
07. The Thermals, The Body, The Blood, The Machine
08. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones
09. Cat Power, The Greatest
10. The Pipettes, We Are The Pipettes

Okay, back to film for a moment. I've always been a bit of a horror "enthusiast." I find it interesting the recent trend of horror films that have surfaced within the past several years. It's as if there are two sub-genres--which granted isn't necessarily anything new, per se--consisting of...well, good horror films and bad horror films. To explain: While films like Slither and The Descent share a much different tone from one another, they still manage to share the same scope in that their cerebral nature vastly outweighs the admittedly visceral elements prevalent in both. The Descent, while largely dark and surprisingly terrifying, is still able to convey its own quietly vicious thesis statement without getting bogged down by shock value sentiments and cheap horror kicks. Slither, with a much more playful quality, loves the fact that it is over the top and, well, gross. Its ironic tendencies infest its very spirit but never seem to dull the weight of the more iconoclastic instances that bubble to the surface time and time again. Both films are very much indebted to past films within the genre, but what makes them special is the way they strip it all down the most basic skeletal structure and add their own flavor in spades. This trend of films such as Slither and The Descent is in direct conflict with much more popular mainstream horror films such as your Texas Chainsaw remakes and countless repackaging of superior Japanese horror films. The fact that the aforementioned films failed to gain any real popularity (outside of cult followings) coupled with sad truth that all of these Japanese horror films would be much more popular if the American studios would simply find a way to release them in American cinemas as opposed to finding some hack director and some pretty pseudo-teen victims to put through the meat grinder, only points to a sad state of affairs that is really only fixing to get much, much worse. I know I’m not the only horror lover in this group. Teresa? How do we keep good horror films alive?

This, unfortunately, is all I have time to get into at the moment. However, I do plan to take issue with a certain comment made by a certain Timmermann about a certain Cookie loving group of fellows. It’s taking everything in me not to punch you in the stomach right now, sir. I kid.

Cheers,

Daniel.

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Tom Breihan: Hey dudes. I'm Tom Breihan, and I write the Status Ain't Hood blog on the Village Voice website.

2006 was the first entire calendar year I spent living in New York, and it's not easy to go to the movies here. Even matinees are upwards of $10, and evening showings sell out on Tuesdays, so you need to plan ahead, not something I'm particularly good at doing. On top of all that, I was busier writing about music than ever before this year, so I barely ever made it out to the movies. I spent a whole lot more time throwing stuff in my Netflix cue and watching movies on my laptop in bed while my fiancee slept next to me, which is probably not the ideal way to experience these things. So my top ten list, such as it is, has a whole lot of gaping holes, and it prizes quick-and-dirty spectacle over psychological intricacy. In any case, it looks something like this:

1. District B13
2. The Departed
3. Jackass Number Two
4. Idiocracy
5. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
6. Talladega Nights
7. The Descent
8. Brick
9. Borat
10. Cars

One thing I like about most of those movies: they involve groups of talented
and/or charismatic people (I guess you can't really call the Jackass dudes "talented") figuring out ways to get major film companies to give them piles of money to pull insane stunts. With District B13, some French exec figured out that David Belle's eye-popping parkour stunts would work perfectly if they were wedded to a ridiculously cliched action-movie vehicle. Dave Chappelle decided that he wanted to put on a concert and then got a major studio to bankroll it; most of the movie's charm comes from what I'd like to think is his everyday persona. Talladega Nights is the latest product of Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow's gloriously loony manic-comedy cottage industry. And those same boardrooms somehow realized that they could make money by paying Sascha Baron-Cohen to bait rodeo audiences or Chris Pontius to drink horse cum. Even The Departed was just another testament to Scorsese's genius for roping mass audiences into his singular aesthetic. These guys are all running cons, and they're all working.

For me, though, every movie I saw in the past year utterly wilts in the light of the ongoing project of The Wire. The HBO series rings all sorts of personal bells for me, not least because my hometown is the show's main character. But a full-immersion serial drama like that one is also able to tell stories with the srot of satisfying sweep that movies just can't handle. More and more, TV shows are meaning more to me than movies; their lack of time-constraints allows them to create entire worlds. Lost and Big Day and Veronica Mars and Entourage and Heroes and 30 Rock and 24 and Arrested Development (RIP) all assumed huge levels of sophistication on the part of their audiences and then ran with those assumptions.

As for music, various permutations of this top-ten list have run in a few different publications, but here's the newest permutation:

1. T.I.: King
2. Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveSounds
3. Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury
4. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale
5. The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America
6. Z-Ro: I'm Still Livin'
7. Lily Allen: Alright, Still
8. DJ Drama & Lil Wayne: Dedication 2
9. Trae: Restless
10. Celtic Frost: Monotheist

As for the whole blog-pop meme, I think it's a little misleading. Every year has its frisky and ambitious pop stars; if blogs existed in 1982, maybe we'd all be patting ourselves on the backs for Prince and Duran Duran. And most of the success stories mentioned weren't really success stories, at least not in the US. Lady Sovereign had a fun, cartoony video that did OK on TRL for a week or so, but it didn't translate to album sales. Lily Allen might be a pop star in England, she'll crash and burn if her label is dumb enough to push her in mainstream pop markets over here. Only Gnarls Barkley really found a popular niche for themselves, and that success has more to do with one great and uncategorizeable than it does with all the press that might've come their way. Until the Annuals and Beirut start dominating drive-time playlists, I'm afraid blog-pop will be a blogger's fantasy.

Instead, this might've been the year of Grey's Anatomy-pop or VH1 Artist-to-Watch-pop, as most of this year's big sellers came from blandly anonymous hacks like James Blunt or the Fray. Old-school personalities like Justin and Beyonce were able to hang, but plenty of American record buyers, it seems, could really give a fuck about persona. Those guys who get their CDs displayed on Starbucks counters are making a sort of fuzzily utilitarian brand of pop that's outselling rap and rock on a disturbingly regular basis. The year's other big commercial winners were Nashville country and Disney teenpop; nothing else can sell to save its life. Album sales are plummeting across the board. A couple of weeks ago, the Dreamgirls soundtrack hit Billboard's number one position after selling only 66,000 copies, the lowest total since Soundscan opened shop. Unless some huge new paradigm suddenly materializes, a couple more years like 2006 will mean we won't have the record industry to kick around much longer.

Saturday

Alright, big news, JLT/JLT readers (all twelve of you): Running Monday through Friday in this very space will be our First (Hopefully) Annual Year in Review discussion, a Movie Club-style pen pal chat session featuring some of the Interweb's finest minds, hosted by Teresa and yours truly.

Fasten your seatbelts and stay tuned.