Top 10 Independent Movies of 2006

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Looking back at the independent films released over the last 360-odd days, one quickly notices how strikingly dark and analytical many of 2006s best films have been. Independent film is often the premier medium of political dissent and cultural rebellion, a trend that continued in 2006 and was possibly even amplified in reaction to the endemic conflicts to which it is opposed.

That being said, 2006 was the year where intelligent (as opposed to those of the maudlin, “Moorian” variety) political documentaries finally garnered the momentum that they deserve and were able to give further exposure to the issues that the news media glosses over.

But it wasn’t just a year for those of us more inclined to use our frontal lobes, the subconscious was also well represented throughout a variety of genres. Although 2006 did not produce monolithic amounts of genius, it was exceptional in the sense that it hosted relatively little escapism, and even its flights of fancy were more introspective then what we’ve come to expect.

iraqdoc.jpg10. The Iraq Documentary Film
A good number of films were released this year that attempted to describe, analyze, document and explore the quagmire that is steadily defining large areas of our world. The situation, seen from afar, often seems hopelessly violent and chaotic. Due to the efforts of the filmmakers who challenged this problematic situation with their efforts, the daily state of affairs in Iraq is becoming increasingly illuminated. Examples include: The Blood Of My Brother, The Ground Truth, Iraq In Fragments, and My Country My Country.

ascannerdark.jpg9. A Scanner Darkly (US)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richarard Linklater

One of the best Phillip K. Dick adaptations to date, A Scanner Darkly is the ultimate proverb for paranoiacs. Many films have approached the issue of serious drug addiction through various visual styles, each attempting to encapsulate the actual experience through cinematic means. Some films have been successful at illustrating certain aspects of addled, up to the eyeballs-style addiction, while others have come off like cheap exploitational nonsense; A Scanner Darkly is of the former. The ultra-convoluted plot is perfectly congruent with the rotoscoping animation technique (blanketing live-action footage with digital animation) used in the film.

halfnelson.jpg8. Half Nelson (US)
Directed by: Ryan Fleck
Written by: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

Ryan Gosling comes hard as the rock-smoking 8th grade social studies teacher you always wish you had. The film’s narrative axis, a complex relationship between a junkie teacher, a naïve young girl and an enigmatic dope-dealer make for an entertaining social analysis that results in touching ambiguity. Subtlety is key and the melodramatics are limited to a level that keeps the film within acceptable emotional boundaries no matter how questionable its final redemption may seem.

brick.jpg7. Brick (US)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson

It’s been done so often with such continuously mediocre results that it’s a wonder this film even made it into theatres; take a classic trope, then jazz it up for the kids by transplanting it into a generic high-school setting. But this isn’t Shakespeare, it’s hard-boiled film noir and it works so damn perfectly that you curse your former teenage self for playing so much damn Playstation when you could have been lifting lines from a Raymond Chandler book and using them to get down with those dames that still to this day haunt your unrequited sexual fantasies.

inconvenientuth.jpg6. An Inconvenient Truth (US)
Directed by: Davis Guggenheim

Far from as boring as it seems, Al Gore’s blockbuster lecture on global warming has become required viewing for anyone who doesn’t want to come off like a total wanker if the topic ever arises in casual conversation. The debate is over, and this is the film that ended it, and when one film can transform public opinion overnight, something very prolific has occurred.

theroadtoguat.jpg5. The Road to Guantanamo (UK)
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross

September, 2001: Three young, burger-eating, chick-chasing, tracksuit-wearing Muslim Brits accidentally stumble into some serious “wrong place at the wrong time” territory and end up spending two years in the world’s most infamous prison. Directed by documentary vet Michael Winterbottom and narrated by the real-life lads from Tipton who survived the ultimate holiday from hell, this docu-drama reconstruction of their experiences is not mere anti-war propaganda, it is a kick to the skull that leaves welts on our understanding of freedom and exposes just how easy it is for innocents to be utterly brutalized in the name of security.

inlandempire.jpg4. Inland Empire (US)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch

David Lynch takes the adjective “Lynchian” and redefines it within a cinematic lexicon where all the nouns and verbs are of his own completely abstract design. This is the definition of an auteur film; you could guess it was a Lynch just by watching the puzzled, horrified emotions flash across the faces of film’s audience. A woman in danger wanders through a bad trip in a dodgy part of Hollywood’s ongoing collective nightmare. A mystery with lots of clues and twists and turns and in the end it’s really just a movie about the what it feels like to get an impression of something you may or may not have experienced; the cinematic equivalent of that sensation you get right after you dose where you say to yourself “I think this was a really bad idea.”

nightwatch.jpg3. Night Watch (Russia)
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Written by: Timur Bekmambetov and Laeta Kalogridis

Criminally underexposed in the English-speaking world, this fantasy-action-horror dynamo is now the top grossing Russian film of all time. The first in a planned trilogy, Night Watch is non-stop manic fantastical insanity coated with slick Russian techno-futurism. The apocalyptic action thriller has been beaten to death by Hollywood with countless releases of inferior quality and overt formula reliance. Night Watch approaches the genre from a uniquely Russian perspective; doing away with plot logistics in favour of visually-rich digressions and meandering character introductions which, although highly entertaining, are often unexplained and contribute little to the unfolding of the plot. In short, half the film doesn’t make any sense, but that doesn’t matter because what you’re seeing is the true soul of Russia lost in a sea of psychedelic vampire blood, and that’s something you don’t see everyday.

proposition.jpg2. The Proposition (Australia)
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Nick Cave

Australian musician Nick Caves proves that what the Western genre really needs is more spooky electronica, less cowboys, and lots of existential bloodletting. Guy Pearce drifts through vast metaphors and a relentless dusk of pragmatic nihilism where the sun sets on various brands of tribalism, some destroyed, others destructive, and ends up being nothing more than a lonely victim of a nation’s birth. Strong performances all around give this fratricidal quagmire a soulful edge to a haunting elegy to Australia’s murky history.

lenfant.jpg1. L’Enfant (Belgium)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
Written by: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

The Dardennes Brothers deliver us a brutally empathetic tour of utter depravity in this film about a petty thief, his girlfriend and their child. Half Christian allegory, half Marxist discourse, the film is a vision Belgium’s most wretched moral squalor shot in such a hypnotically humanist light that the viewer is willingly forced to sympathize with a man that would sell his own infant for a quick stack of cash. This deeply probing tale of salvation maintains a constant feeling of devastation until its cathartic finale, which is the most emotionally “present” moment in cinema this year.

Douglas Haddow

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4 comments

  1. Pretty much, depends on your criteria. Independent basically means that it wasn’t produced (from inception) by a major studio (conglomerate media corporation), so if a film is produced in Hollywood by famous Hollywood personalities, but the money comes from independent sources, then yes.

  2. Okay…but should a movie that may be both Hollywood and Independent be ranked in both Hollywood and Independent movie Top Ten lists?

    Look — forget the semantics — I just thought it wuz weird that a movie can make both lists. It’s no big deal — I’m not trying to dis… Maybe you look at it like an album can be on both the R&B charts and the pop charts, while I see the two as separate genres, like Country and Reggae.

    But I digress…

  3. I can see you are referring to “scanner”, which is most definitely an independent film. I guess the double-up is a case of miscommunication between “departments”.

    but you are mistaken if you think “independent” and “hollywood” are different genres. These words are only used to denote different methods of production financing. The end product naturally differs as corporations are less likely to gamble with their millions, while independents are severely limited in what they can put on the screen.

    As a result, Hollywood productions are calculated, test-screened, focused on researched key demographics, and steeped in formula and celebrity in order to maximize profits.

    Then we have the independents, who operate within a festival-based distribution system and cater to a more flexible audience. As they have smaller budgets and exhibit to broader minds (not to a pretentious prick or anything…) independent films naturally conform to a different set of aesthetic principles and forms of storytelling.

    and that is why you feel that they belong to different genres, no? I guess they do, kind of, but not really.

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