[27 December 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Before the complaints come pouring in, let’s clarify the ground rules for this particular year-end list, shall we? Many of the movies referenced were indeed made BEFORE 2006. At least one dates as far back as the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. A few are DVD-only releases. Others had a limited life in theaters before making their way to the home theater arena. So, in essence, the criteria for appearing on this list is that, in general, the titles discussed must have arrived on the digital domain sometime in this calendar year. Granted, we could be dealing with a double dip, a new release of an out of print presentation, or a major distributor pick up of a previously independent offering. In any case, there is a twofold purpose to making such an annual assessment—to raise the profile of some criminally overlooked efforts and to make a broader determination of what a year like 2006 had to offer.
You’ll notice that the list is weighed heavily toward two distinct categories—comedy and genre efforts. Indeed, at least five of the films listed have humorous underpinnings, while six carry horror/fantasy/sci-fi elements as part of their make-up. The reason for this is self-evident—your big budget Hollywood hit machine is incapable (with rare exceptions) of making this kind of film work and work well. Instead, they go for the easy high concept or the limited lowbrow gross out as part of an overall demographical devout business model. In addition, many of these films have a homemade feel to them, a clear indication that DVD, and the decreased costs of moviemaking technology, are investing the common man with the true means of creating cinema. This does not mean their quality is compromised. In fact, almost every title here easily eclipses much of this year’s Tinsel Town’s tripe.
So grab a pen and make note of SE&L’s Top Ten Films of 2006 That You’ve Never Heard Of…until now:
Amazingly enough, Troma’s release of this mock-documentary classic came out all the way back in January. Still, we here at SE&L have yet to see a comedy as clever, biting, and insightful as this look at the convoluted clash between celebrity and charity. Jenna Fischer, famous for her role on NBC’s Office, hooked up with famous hubby, silver screen scribe James Gunn and delivered 2006’s funniest film.
2. Period Piece
Another Troma title, this time from genius outsider auteur Guiseppe Andrews. In this scatological Short Cuts, Andrews addresses the way in which sex scars and subjugates us. Using his typical acting company of trailer park residents and a vignette like approach that resembles Paul Thomas Anderson on peyote, this astonishing social commentary only gets funnier—and fouler—with repeat viewings. Andrews is indeed a cinematic savant.
3. New York Doll
One of the best experiences a viewer can have is going into a movie cold, not knowing anything substantive about a story, and coming away mesmerized and moved. This is what happened when director Greg Whiteley discovered that Arthur “Killer” Kane, bassist for the New York Dolls, was a fellow Mormon. Following his rise and fall from star to street person, we get an experience both uplifting, and devastating.
4. Marauders/ SNAK—Sensitive New Age Killer/ Defenceless (Savage Cinema from Downunder)
Though a couple of these titles were released years ago, the work of Australian Mark Savage was more or less unknown to US genre fans. Now, thanks to an impressive box set from Subversive Cinema, we get to experience this divergent trio of terrific films in all their independent artistic glory. From senseless spree killers to a ghostly woman’s revenge, Savage cements his position as an inventive and important filmmaker.
5. Rock and Roll Space Patrol: Action is Go!
Our third Troma title is the equivalent of fan fiction. It’s a labor of dork love, a ballad to Roddenberry and a sloppy French kiss for individuals obsessed with their multi-sided dice. Everything here is DIY and duct tape, from the Amiga-esque CGI to refrigerator experiments in “ice box fusion”. A lot like watching the Three Metaphysical Stooges spoofing Star Trek, this glorified Geeks Gone Wild is stellar sci-fi schlock.
6. Small Gauge Trauma
For over 10 years, Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival has been on the cutting edge of up and coming genre greatness. They discovered such macabre masters as Takashi Miike and introduced J-Horror to a ‘desperate for something different’ Western mentality. This year, they released a DVD collection of their most novel and creative contributions. Combining live action and animation, the results are remarkable, easily one of 2006’s most compelling compendiums.
7. Bleak Future
It is hard to get a real handle on this surreal sci-fi stunner, a piece of potent post-apocalyptic chaos that plays like a long lost Douglas Adams novel. Bleak Future is simultaneously smart and stupid, realistic and retarded, inspired and insipid, wholly original and a complete and utter rip off. It’s the kind of craziness that Netwads will go nutzoid over for decades to come.
8. Freak Out
Like a Monty Python derived movie macabre, this slasher spoof is out to imitate favorite fright films while simultaneously sending up the genre every step of the way. Combining a little Benny Hill style slapstick, a healthy dose of Goodies era goofiness and more than a few nods to TV dynasty Dallas, what we end up with is a compendium of styles and a wealth of worthy material.
9. Magdalena’s Brain
Leave it to narrative novices Marty Langford (producer/writer) and Warren Amerman (writer/director) to merge the speculative with the sinister to create a marvelous sci-fi/ horror hybrid. More dread-driven than straight ahead scary, this oddly effective film features strong performances and an equally powerful narrative force. Complete with a twist ending that actually works and a strong central performance by Amy Shelton-White this is an excellent indie entertainment.
10. Let Me Die a Woman
As an update to the old Roadshow movie of the 40s and 50s, the legendary Doris Wishman was behind this deranged docu-drama. Part hygiene exposé (the subject—transsexuals!) part Christine Jorgensen riff, all wanton weirdo wackiness, this corrupt combination of sex change surgery footage and post-/pre-op tranny treats is so downright bizarre, it could only come from the lunatic lens of the raincoat crowd’s favorite femme.