Best Damn Movies of 2006

And why nearly all you'll see in 2007 is sequels, prequels, and threequels

"I think audiences are getting tired of all those zillion-billion cuts," says Cuarón, a giddy cinephile who traces his fascination with elaborate camerawork from Hitchcock's Frenzy through the films of Tarkovsky and Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó. "It's the easiest thing you can do as a director: get a lot of cameras, shoot a lot of setups, and then hand the whole thing to your editor. But I think that slowly, more interesting ways of doing cinema are getting into the mainstream. Or that's my hope, at least."

Ridley's Top Ten

1. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, France)

Iraq in Fragments
Iraq in Fragments
Children of Men
Children of Men

2. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, U.K.-USA)

3. United 93 (Paul Greengrass, U.K.-USA)

4. Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, USA)

5. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, U.K.-USA)

6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, USA)

7. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, U.K.-USA)

8. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico)

9. Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau, France)

10. Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Jonathan Demme, USA)

Family Ties

For Argentine director Daniel Burman, life is a movie

By Ella Taylor

Made when he was a stripling of 24, Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman's first feature, A Chrysanthemum Burst in Cincoesquinas, was a violent story of love and revenge. He must have gotten that out of his system: Though Burman's subsequent movies also traffic in what he calls "the great transitions of life" — identity, marriage, parenthood, and death, not necessarily in that order — they embrace an ambivalent but warm view of domesticity that has made Burman, now 33, a film-festival favorite.

Burman's self-deprecating Jewish humor has also invited inevitable comparisons to Woody Allen. "It's not a measurable comparison," Burman said during a recent trip to L.A. for the AFI Fest screenings of his wonderful film Family Law. "But I'm very happy with it. I admire him more than anyone else in the world."

Burman's modesty becomes him, but the analogy goes only so far. Certainly, his work bears some resemblance to early Woody Allen, before Allen's work took a turn for the rancid, lewd, and bitter. Burman's three most recent films feature neurotic Jewish men (all played with minimalist delicacy by seraphic young Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler) suffering crises both Oedipal and existential. But where Allen's movies are fueled by an unprocessed hostility and, at their lowest ebb, contempt for his Jewishness and his family, Burman's tone is wry, loving, and tender even when, as often happens, things fall apart. I suspect that worn-out term dysfunction would make him shudder.

Waiting for the Messiah (2000), about a young man caught between love of his family and the need to separate, and Lost Embrace (2004), in which a similar young man struggles to sort out his relationship with an absent father, are both set in Burman's beloved Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires, where he grew up and about which he made a documentary, Seven Days in Once. Family Law extends Burman's meditation on the tug between belonging and self-definition that challenges even the most loving father-son relationships. In this case, the son is a university lecturer and new parent accustomed to keeping the world at bay through compulsive routine, while his father is a public defender deeply engaged with his mostly poor clients. Burman's own father was a lawyer, and he himself went to law school. But though there are bits of Burman's life in all his work (Family Law grew out of his experience of becoming a father twice in the past four years), the autobiography in his movies is always internal, which is to say an expression of his responses to the changes in his life.

Listening to Burman — a fast, funny, and hyperarticulate talker even when mediated by an interpreter — deconstruct his movies is almost as much fun as watching them. He uses the word dialectic a lot, not in the Marxist sense but to describe the friction among thought, feeling, word, and deed when his characters are hit by life's big changes. "There's a moment in life when one decides whether one's going to turn into one's father or the opposite," Burman says. "It's difficult to be in the middle." I ask Burman which one he is, and he lobs me another dialectic: "I'm the opposite of my father. Until now."

Late in Family Law, a tragedy catches the son, Perelman Jr., by surprise, but the trauma is handled so matter of factly and is so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of his life that we register Perelman's grief only as he registers it himself: while eating breakfast, caring for his toddler (played by Burman's son, Gaston), and trying vainly to avoid full participation in the inescapable materiality of family life. Burman's movies are so richly steeped in the warp and woof of domesticity that they might have been made by a woman, but their point of view is ineluctably male.

Burman is happily married, and the male-female relationships in his movies are confused but loving, though his women are almost invariably listeners and helpmeets, for which Burman often catches flack. "The other day at a screening in Boston, a woman asked me angrily, 'What's wrong with the women in this movie?' Nobody asks Jane Campion what's wrong with the men in her movies," he says with some exasperation. "There's nothing wrong with them. I just don't care what happens to them; they're fine. The women have some worth, but they don't have a discursive presence. Men have to talk a lot to say a few things."

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