View from the Couch
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Date: 11 January, 2007
Steve Couch kicks off the cinematic awards season by revealing his top DVD releases of 2006.
Let’s take a New Year look back on another year of DVD releases.
Regular readers (who don’t have more interesting things to occupy their memories with) will remember the usual format: only films released for the first time on DVD in 2006 qualify; my decision is final (and at times hugely arbitrary).
Feel free to disagree, but don’t expect me to care! (That last statement is, of course, made with all the compassion and humility you would expect at this time of year!)
Bring on the awards:
Use the links to order the DVDs from amazon.co.uk and Christian Aid will receive a percentage of the sale.
Best Family Adventure
I had a theory that the movie version of The Da Vinci Code would put right some of the faults of the novel (thinly drawn and poorly realised characters for one) and turn out to be a classy – if historically challenged – piece of work. Boy, I got that one wrong.
Instead, the award goes to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. While this isn’t quite as good a film as its piratical predecessor, Johnny Depp and co. still provide plenty of spectacle on another supernaturally tinged adventure which keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek.
The finale may be a blatant set-up for Pirates 3, but who cares? Appropriately enough given the franchises origins, this is a wild and enjoyable ride. Avast behind, but I can always diet in the New Year!
Click here for the Damaris study guide to The Da Vinci Code.
Best superhero movie
I’m going to overlook the obvious candidates (namely Superman Returns and X-Men 3: The Last Stand – both of which are good but I didn’t think either quite lived up to expectations) and give this to V for Vendetta: a dark dystopian vision with much to say about the current global political climate.
You don’t think this qualifies? Let’s consider the main man: special abilities? Check. Unusual costume? Check. Outsider mentality? Check. Fighting off innumerable foes? Check. Attempting impossible mission? Check. Face it, V’s a superhero, and he’s a lot more compelling than the Man of Steel ever was.
Best Animated movie
Potentially a strong field this year, but many of the high profile offerings failed to deliver. Pixar’s Cars disappointed by only being quite good (we expect more than that from Pixar); Monster House did a fine job in filling the child-friendly horror corner of the market and the peerless Hiyoa Miyazaki maintained his fine form with Howl’s Moving Castle (delightful, and more accessible than his Spirited Away – which isn’t the same as saying that it’s as good as the latter classic).
The award goes to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-rabbit. The claymation two’s feature length debut has all the gadgets, slapstick and lunacy (in more ways than one) that you might expect.
Best Action Movie
Mission Impossible 3. High octane thrills and spills as the Tom Cruise fronted franchise returns to form. A better plot that MI2 (not the most extravagant claim I’ve ever made for a film) and more spectacle than the first film. Philip Seymour Hoffman also provides probably the best movie villain of the year, and helps to ensure that the film comfortably sees off all rivals in this category.
Despite a strong claim from David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence, this one goes to Spike Lee’s Inside Man, a fascinating heist movie with a star-studded cast let by Denzel Washington and the excellent (as ever) Clive Owen. Tense and impossible to second
guess, but with an delicious pay off which throws a new light on everything that has gone before.
Walk the Line. Joachin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in a music biopic that is as good as any that I have seen in recent years. Stunning performances all round, both in terms of acting and singing, and a soundtrack that crackles with excitement and showcases the music of one of the all time great country/rock ‘n’ rollers.
An honourable mention should be made in this category to Pierrepoint, the story of one of Britain’s last public executioners, which is one of the most carefully balanced films on the theme of capital punishment you are likely to see.
Best sports movie
This one depends on whether you favour frothy slap-stick sports (in which case, The Longest Yard would be the winner) or a sport flavoured character study.
This year I’m going to lean towards the latter and give it to Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man, with Russell Crowe bestowing honest nobility on depression era boxing legend James Braddock. And you don’t have to like boxing to enjoy the film.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Cinderella Man
Best doomed romance movie
I’m going to resist the temptation to give this to Brokeback Mountain, a film that made headlines for the gender of its protagonists, but was actually more interested in the flaws of obsessive lovers regardless of orientation.
Instead, Kevin Reynolds’ Tristan + Isolde gets the nod, if only because it’s nice to see a tale from Arthurian legend getting a decent treatment, and because Sophia Myles’ performance as Isolde deserves more recognition than it received.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Brokeback Mountain
Best smart comedy
A Cock and Bull Story. Steve Coogan shreds his own public persona in this film version of the supposedly unfilmable eighteenth century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Coogan’s bickering with co-star (or is that ‘supporting actor’?) Rob Bryden is consistently fun.
Best dumb comedy
Jack Black’s Nacho Libre was a disappointment, meaning the award goes to one of my guilty pleasures of the year: Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard. It may not be the most intellectual movie you’ll ever see (at least, I certainly hope it isn’t) but it delivers a particular flavour of humour with expert ease. I laughed a lot – surely the point of a comedy.
Best improvised comedy
Confetti. Admittedly, not a category with a particularly wide field, but I wanted to find room for this film somewhere. A friend of mine described this as being like an hour and a half of The Office.
She didn’t mean that as praise, but your reaction to the statement is probably as good a way as any of deciding whether this one is for you. I laughed more than I can remember laughing at anything else this year.
Click here for the Damaris study guide for Confetti
Most faithful adaptation
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Fans of C.S. Lewis will be delighted by the movie, his detractors will hate the film for all the same things as they hate about the books. Well done director Andrew Adamson.
The film also wins my award for best film featuring animals, magic and furniture, narrowly beating The Badger, The Sorcerer and The Deckchair into second place. The latter fails to win on the grounds that I’ve just made it up.)
Click here for the Damaris study guide for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
King Kong. When I first heard that Jack Black was starring in King Kong, just for a moment I assumed he would have the title role. That would have taken it in a whole other direction (one which, incidentally, I would pay good money to see). Nevertheless, Peter Jackson maintains a sure hand on the material, and lovingly recreates the film that started his own love affair with the cinema. Kong rocks.
Click here for the Damaris study guide for King Kong
Best addition to an established franchise
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Overall I’m not a big fan of the Potter films, which are too concerned with trying to faithfully recreate the books. Of all four so far, this is the one which takes the most liberties with J.K. Rowling’s originals, and – perhaps as a result – it is the most satisfying cinematically.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to the book of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Best Woody Allen movie
Last year I managed to give this award to a film that had nothing to do with Mr Allen. It’s tempting to do the same again (with Everything Is Illuminated and The Squid and the Whale both representing different elements of typical Woody territory).
However, that would be to ignore the diminutive depressive’s own Match Point. Some saw the film as untypical of Allen’s work, but the fresh twist it brings to Dostoyevskian notions of justice and retribution makes it a perfect fit with Woody’s prevailing thematic obsessions.
Even if it is far from a bundle of laughs, it sits comfortably with his body of work, and is an excellent, absorbing and thought provoking film.
Best Political movie
This year offered the strongest array of movies in this category that I can remember. Syriana; United 93; The Wind That Shakes The Barley; Joyeux Noel; Munich, and Jarhead would all have been strong contenders in another year.
The Le Carre adaptation The Constant Gardner is head and shoulders above that distinguished role-call.
A challenge to the ethics of big business interests in Africa, and to our complicity, combined with a genuinely compelling story. A fine piece of work which deserves all the praise it has received elsewhere.
Best historical recreation
United 93 is an extraordinary film, and a real achievement by director Paul Greengrass (whose The Bourne Supremacy is due in cinemas in August, and so might creep into contention for next years View From the Couch DVD awards, a fact which surely hasn’t escaped Mr. Greengrass’s attention).
The events on the ‘other’ plane on September 11th, the one that didn’t reach its target are retold in a compelling yet unexploitative way. This is a classic.
Click here for the Damaris study guide for United 93
Best use of incredibly posh kids
If you know someone posher than William Moseley (Peter in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), then you are probably a member of the Royal family.
Most painfully funny scene
The red-hot-coal-down-trousers routine from A Cock And Bull Story has to be seen (with legs crossed) to be believed. Honourable mention for Nicholas Cage’s group therapy confession in The Weatherman
Click here for the Damaris study guide for The Weatherman
Award for a much maligned (by me) actor coming good
Despite Nicolas Cage being excellent in Lord of War and pretty good in The Weatherman, this goes to Orlando Bloom, who in Elizabethtown showed signs that he’s more than just a pretty face who’s handy in a swordfight.
Best unresolved conclusion
This one goes either to Lord of War for the lack of a redemptive ending, or to Broken Flowers for finishing on a non-commital ‘so what happens next, then?’ And in keeping with the title of this award, I’m not telling you who I’m giving it to.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Broken Flowers
View From the Couch official Christmas turkey of 2006
This is an award that was rested last year, as I didn’t see anything so truly awful as to deserve it. But this year, come on down, Aeon Flux.
It’s not that it was an empty-headed sci-fi – there are actually some interesting themes and ideas here – it’s just that the execution of those ideas is so appallingly done. When one character was revealed to have surgically transplanted hands in place of her feet for no apparent reason whatsoever, I knew that my worst fears were going to be dramatically surpassed. This is utterly ridiculous – and not in a good way.
Click here for the Damaris study guide to Aeon Flux
Which only leaves the small matter of my top five DVD movie releases of 2006:
Steve’s top five DVD movies releases of 2006
1. The Constant Gardner. A stunning film, with fine central performances from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz as well as an exceptional supporting cast. It would be easy to give this plaudits just for the ethical message, but the gradually unfolding plot and masterful storytelling makes this an excellent film in purely dramatic terms as well.
2. Walk the Line. This narrowly misses out on first place, but was the most entertaining movie I watched on DVD this year. Fans of Johnny Cash will love it, and the uninitiated may just be tempted to invest in some of his back catalogue – which would be no bad thing.3. United 93. A brave film, tackling a potentially controversial subject and eschewing all recognisable faces in a cast of unknowns. United 93 treads surefootedly through all the potential pitfalls and delivers a well-judged view of the September 11th hi-jackings which is unsentimental yet deeply human.
4. Match Point. Woody Allen turns his hand to tense intellectual drama with this tale of love, murder and justice. Jonathan Rhys Meyer and Scarlett Johanson lead the cast, but it’s good to see the always excellent Emily Mortimer in a supporting role. Woody may be in his seventies now, but it could be that he’s only just approaching his finest work.
5. V for Vendetta. A bold comic-book adaptation, with Hugo Weaving once again the mouthpiece for sometimes over-earnest Wachowski brothers’ dialogue. There are thrills, spills and explosions, yet it’s the unfolding relationship between Weaving’s V and Natalie Portman’s Evey which is at the heart of the movie along with some uncompromising political commentary.
And one final award: In the absence of anyone dominating my awards in the way that Johnny Depp did last year (when Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory both made my top five), it would be mean not to award Nearly man of the year to Nicolas Cage, who seems to have narrowly missed out on lots of my awards.
The excellent Lord of War also just missed out on a spot in my top five films. However, I am mean, and Mr Cage misses out on this one as well!
Instead the award goes to Jake Gyllenhaal, who starred in Brokeback Mountain as well as Jarhead – the latter another film that was seriously considered for my top five. Well done Jake, and commiserations to Nic – better luck in 2007!