Lumière Editor TIM WONG recaps a year’s worth of highlights, frustrations, and small triumphs in the world of film, with Top Ten lists from DAVID LEVINSON, ALEXANDER BISLEY, PHILIP MATTHEWS, JACOB POWELL, and DARREN BEVAN.


IF JUDD APATOW was our comedy saviour in 2007, then where were all the laughs? Considered the year’s lone comedy achievement, Knocked Up presented an utterly sincere chronicle of manchild neurosis’s and indifference to the adult world, yet was far less conducive to laughter than say, Superbad or The Boss of it All.
When on-song, Apatow’s humour is smart but never self-consciously so, couched in everyday arguments and throwaway exchanges, quietly confident in pop-cultural reference, and with the restraint to forgo rudimentary slapstick for carefully orchestrated shock events, e.g. Steve Carell’s chest waxing in The 40 Year Old Virgin. Knocked Up though is too heartfelt to genuinely make fun of its characters and their predicament, condemned as a dramedy to the same life apathies and romantic hesitations of mumblecore movies, only with actors actually acting, and protagonists afforded a conclusive endpoint.
That we get to laugh with them, and not at them, is perhaps the film’s greatest virtue, even if strictly as a comedy, it remains wildly overrated. Most unsettling are its tonal inconsistencies: the realistic crowning of Katherine Hiegl’s baby not at all in keeping with earlier sex scenes embarrassing in their modesty, Ryan Seacrest’s incongruous and humourless broadside on the cult of celebrity, or an extremely odd standoff between Leslie Mann and a nightclub doorman that while uncomfortably funny, will be remembered as one of the saddest moments put to film this year.


Speaking of childbirth, Stephanie Daley realigned the planets with a version of labour nothing less than harrowing in its ordeal. Opting for the shrill of a silent scream over Apatow’s clumsy vaginal close-ups, Hilary Brougher’s remarkably hushed film – about a secretly pregnant teen who may or may not have killed her infant – is also a fine example of brevity, stillness, and Tilda Swinton in form.
The Italian, Deep Water, and Black Book also deserved their return to cinemas after festival debuts, while After the Wedding, Red Road, and with any luck, the commercially compromised but nonetheless riveting Rescue Dawn, will reappear in the New Year. Less certain of a second life: The Edge of Heaven, Private Property and Paranoid Park, each worthy of theatrical distribution, however unlikely that may be.
Familiar sticking points were the numerous hot tickets out of reach, with Flandres, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, a nagging absentee. Bruno Dumont’s forth feature – and the first to bypass the New Zealand International Film Festival – is in actuality the French director’s worst effort, hindered by primitive war sequences and unstable characters who, as usual, fuck mindlessly and turn into monsters under a backdrop of menacing widescreen scenery. And yet, Dumont makes movies so improbably compelling (and this time around, also strangely heartfelt) that they cannot to be ignored.


At the multiplexes, David Cronenberg and Paul Greengrass were in control: Eastern Promises clearly the most loaded mainstream film on wide release, while The Bourne Ultimatum – a refined Supremacy with Matt Damon’s best Dolph Lundgren impression blurred into motion – burst forth as a lean, mean machine of docu-drama kinetics and athletic chase scenes cool in their command, and always on the move. Brief mention must also go to Michael Bay: his obese, obnoxious Transformers an admittedly impressive operation in size and scale.
Blindly trumpeted were The Lives of Others and Atonement, ostensibly strong cinematic packages irksome in their self-conscious style or over-pronounced pathos. In hindsight, much of the praise awarded to those two films should to have been redistributed towards Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs Shark; a successful derivative of Napolean Dynamite deadpan and Michel Gondry aesthetics, it is by turns assured, self-effacing, and embracing of its Kiwiana (unlike the unimaginative and cartoonish Black Sheep).
Overdue for reappraisal? Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance, the combative writer’s 1987 adaptation of his own murder mystery that, upon reflection and in the wake of his November death, is probably the best film David Lynch never made. In the hands of Lynch, its material is a minor masterpiece in waiting, with half the groundwork already laid: not only did Mailer recruit Isabella Rossellini as his female lead, but also Angelo Badalamenti to provide the melodramatic score. As ropey as the film is – a noir located in a small town harbouring lurid secrets and lurking evils – Mailer’s direction isn’t markedly that of a novelist, with interesting touches that almost transcend the hilarious dialogue and Ryan O’Neal’s shit-faced demeanour. Side-splitting and absurd, it’s the comedy substitute for Blue Velvet.


Overseas, benchmark outfit Criterion bestowed more impeccable DVD tributes upon indispensable films (my favourites were their editions of Breathless and Ace in the Hole). On the home front, a Region 4 release of Nicholas Ray’s enormous Bigger Than Life (DV1, $19.95) was my pick of the year. Boasting a lush Technicolor transfer that does not disappoint, it’s a surprisingly difficult item to come by Stateside, yet readily available on our own doorstep.
Also welcomed is the ongoing porting of key releases from abroad that if not identical in makeup, are still incredibly affordable and arriving at an increasing rate: Michael Haneke (The Seventh Continent through to Hidden; Madman, $149.95), Alejandro Jodorowsky (La Cravate, Fando Y Lis etc.; Siren/Vendetta, $79.95), and Wim Wenders (On Film, inc. The State of Things; Road Movies, inc. Alice in the Cities, Kings of the Road; Documentaries, inc. Notebook on Cities and Clothes; Madman, $59.95 each) boxsets previously exclusive to Region 1 and 2 markets have since migrated down under; budget reissues of Eyes Without a Face (Umbrella/Vendetta, $29.95) and Army of Shadows (Universal, $19.95) offered great value and an alternative to the expensive Criterion import; a host of Godard oddities (Made in U.S.A, First Name: Carmen, The Detective etc.) appeared courtesy of Universal at $19.95 apiece; plus under the radar, long overdue distribution of Australian mini-series Blue Murder (Roadshow, $19.95), a police corruption drama of tough, amoral fibre, made long before HBO cornered the market on TV profanity and violence.
Spoilt for choice as the discerning collector is, a word of caution: however many forward strides the aforementioned DVDs have taken us, New Zealand’s archaic censorship laws and the prohibitive fees imposed on distributors and video libraries for classification of unrated titles, not only continue to prevent numerous films reaching our shores, but undermine the growth of a conspicuous film culture. The legislation, stubbornly impractical and in need of change, is to be ignored at our own peril.


Two posters dead on in their translation of moving to print image bottled different kinds of tension. Private Property’s precisely partitioned ménage à trois, with Isabelle Huppert dominant as a disenchanted matriarch presiding over two diametrically opposed sons (Jérèmie and Yannick Renier), chambers the domestic friction, dollhouse claustrophobia, and intrusions of personal space so prevalent in Joachim Lofosse’s ‘family’ film. Fear and trembling, meanwhile, literally bleeds off the surface of Inland Empire’s one-sheet, a title that announces itself like an oncoming train. Key to the poster’s disquiet though is Laura Dern’s shriek from the night; pixelated as if it were basement snuff footage, it’s a reminder that rabbit holes in David Lynch films are rarely ever pleasant.



Other posters to catch my eye: Helvetica’s no-nonsense self-promotion, typeset predictably, but a clever introduction all the same; Zoo’s striking composition, even if the imagery suggests more sci-fi parable of animal-human crossbreeding than a documentary about bestiality; Red Road’s Orwellian nightmare, disregarding, of course, that the film is less about Big Brother than it is about rape-revenge; and the Grindhouse pastiches, namely those for Planet Terror, which managed to evoke exploitation cinema more than the actual movies.

Tim Wong
Founding Editor, The Lumière Reader

1. Still Life* (Jia Zhang-ke, 2006)
2. Syndromes and a Century* (Apichatpong Weersathekul, 2006)
3. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
4. Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, 2006)
5. Zodiac (David Fincher)
6. The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)
7. Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
8. This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006)
9. Requiem* (Hans-Christian Schmid, 2006)
10. Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin, 2006)

David Levinson
Senior Editor, The Lumière Reader

1. Paranoid Park* (Gus Van Sant)
2. Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino)
3. The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)
4. Knocked Up (Judd Apatow)
5. No Country For Old Men** (Joel & Ethan Coen)
6. Zodiac (David Fincher)
7. Syndromes and a Century* (Apichatpong Weersathekul, 2006)
8. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)
9. The Boss of it All* (Lars Von Trier, 2006)
10. Once (John Carney, 2006)

Alexander Bisley
Associate Editor, The Lumière Reader

» The Queen
» Knocked Up (Judd Apatow)
» Jesus Camp
» The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
» Joe Strummer: the Future is Unwritten
» The History Boys
» Deep Water
» Letters From Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
» Zodiac (David Fincher)
» A Few Days in September

Philip Matthews
Philip Matthews reviewed films for the New Zealand Listener from 1994 to
2007. He has given up regular reviewing and now writes for the Christchurch
Press
.

1. Zodiac (David Fincher)
2. Control (Anton Corbijn)
3. Paranoid Park* (Gus Van Sant)
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)
5. Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006)
6. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
7. Syndromes and a Century* (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
8. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
9. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
10. The Edge of Heaven* (Fatih Akin)

Jacob Powell
Regular Auckland Film Contributor, The Lumière Reader

1. Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness* (Laurin Federlein)
2. The Edge of Heaven* (Fatih Akin)
3. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
4. Deep Water (Louise Osmond & Jerry Rothwell, 2006)
5. Manufactured Landscapes* (Jennifer Baichwal, 2006)
6. Once (John Carney, 2006)
7. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
8. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)
9. Paranoid Park* (Gus Van Sant)
10. Control (Anton Corbijn)

Other worthy mentions...
» Climates* (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2006)
» Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (Julien Temple, 2006)
» Red Road* (Andrea Arnold, 2006)
» Amazing Grace (Michael Apted, 2006)

Darren Bevan
Regular Auckland Film Contributor, The Lumière Reader

» Once (John Carney, 2006)
» Eagle vs Shark (Taika Waititi)
» Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)
» Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
» Control (Anton Corbijn)
» The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)
» Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino)
» Waitress (Adrienne Shelly)
» Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
» Juno** (Jason Reitman)

Top Five Television...
» Flight of the Conchords (Season One)
» Jericho (Season One)
» The Sopranos (Season Six, Part 2)
» Battlestar Galactica (Season Three)
» Doctor Who (Series Three)