I ended up not seeing many movies in the theater this year. I’ve highlighted my reasons in previous blogs/reviews, so I won’t detail my woes again. Actually—what the heck—I’ll just offer a reminder. My absence is mainly due to talky viewers and/or people sitting behind me who put their feet on my seat and either shake me around for two hours or get my long hair caught beneath their soles. Movie-going is such major fun these days.
What this all means is that I’m hardly qualified to have an opinion about what the “best movie of 2006” was—at least as far as theater releases go. But my watching habits have been transferred to my home theater, where I’ve seen so many films this year that I could fill a diary with my musings about them. Also, here, I don’t have to worry about a frustrating viewing experience. Sure, I miss the big screen and the larger-than-life soundtracks, but I still attend the theater for the movies I absolutely can’t wait to see, and that’s all.
Now—to the point. My pick for best movie that I saw this year in the theater or at home? Well, it’s a film that actually did come out in 2006. I didn’t get around to blogging about it, but it’s a flick that has remained with me, just as if I saw it last week.
It was THE PRESTIGE.
Yes, a movie about two rival magicians going after each other—ruining each other even as they push themselves to master the ultimate trick—is hands down the best, IMHO.
Why do I love this film? There’re a thousand reasons, but I’ll whittle them down to the basics. First, it’s a powerful tale of the price of success, a lesson in losing your soul during the pursuit of revenge. And there’s much more than that, but to go into the other themes would ruin the twists and turns of this story, and I wouldn’t dare do that to you, because that’s the second thing that makes THE PRESTIGE amazing. This is a movie that keeps you guessing, even after you think you have everything figured out. Also, the complexity, the richness of the characters as they navigate the labyrinthine plot satisfied me on many levels: both emotionally and intellectually. This film didn’t merely offer great popcorn entertainment: it makes a viewer think about what he or she just saw (or maybe didn’t see—THE PRESTIGE’s script practices just as much illusion as the characters do). It forces you to consider how far you would go in the quest for a reckoning, and the ending might even leave you feeling as unsettled as I was.
Just about a week ago, I read the book by Christopher Priest, and I want to praise that, too. The story differs, but the thrust of it is the same. However—and I don’t say this lightly or often—I did think the film was superior in the telling. I’m not taking anything away from the brilliant book, but the movie had a greater impact on me. In fact, if you’re a writer, it’s really worth your time to watch and then read both works. (Note: I recommend seeing the movie before reading the book because the pages will explain more of the plot’s technicalities; plus, the book has its own set of surprises, so even if you already know what direction the plot is twisting, you’ll be riveted.) As a writer, I really admire what Christopher and Jonathan Nolan did with their adapted screenplay: they cut certain characters and streamlined others to tighten characterization and points of view. Also, they decided to play up the main characters’ rivalry, even to the point of more intense violence. They also subtracted the modern-day framing device that the book uses to great advantage (but the movie really doesn’t suffer for it at all). If these two craftsmen aren’t recognized come awards time, my disgust for the Oscars is going to multiply.
A couple more things: the art direction and cinematography are evocative—masterful in their own ways. And the performances by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale? Top notch. Even though both characters do some questionable things, you might find yourself rooting for both of them. Weird how good acting can accomplish that.
So enjoy, but hold onto your seat. It’s a wild ride.