by Michael Atkinson
Looking back, the high points of ’06 were filthy with score-settling—David Lynch’s Inland Empire is nothing if not a heel-dug act of auteurist defiance, more so than even Mulholland Dr. due not only to its formal beastliness but to Lynch’s all-around triumphant decision to self-release. Likewise but from within the machine, Scorsese seduced the Academy, finally, via an utterly insane Hong Kong-borrowed pulp scenario, while Jia Zhang-ke pursued the crisis of modern Chinese life exactly where the authorities didn’t want him to go, to the Three Gorges Dam. As if they ever understood what he was doing. Equally uncomprehended, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century got censored in Thailand, and was then named best film of the entire decade this past November, at the Toronto Film Festival. Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host arrogantly, juicily, gigglingly showed up dozens of Hollywood digi-monster blockbusters fifty times as costly, and a palm-sized Irish movie, coming from nowhere, had a profit-to-cost ratio (50 to 1) that industrial moviemakers can ordinarily only dream of, and managed it by way of a human pulse and almost nothing more.
Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest wasn’t exactly a shock, encapsulating so much that was mordant and grimly hilarious about the Romanian perspective, but Cuaron’s Children of Men, trumping all of the recent neo-dystopias with real-time what-the-fuck-ness, was, and let’s say the same for Greengrass’s United 93, which was the only dam buster of the embargo on 9/11 dramatization that succeeded, because it respected the victims and the audience in equal measure. Not that we could bear to see it twice. On the other hand, the film that seems to be acquiring a Shawshank-like, cable-&-video-powered ardor in the few years since, Marc Foster’s Stranger than Fiction, may also be that year’s most invigorating act of American Buddhism, a charming meta-saga from a temporarily graceful hack that sneakily posits a seemingly inexhaustible everyday heroism. Shrugged at upon release, it’s far from finished acquiring its patina of totemhood, even as the memory of “Will Ferrell hit comedies” already fades into oblivion.