Published at: Dec. 28, 2006, 5:04 p.m. CST by headgeek
This list wasn’t nearly as tough to pull together as I thought it would be. There were many standouts this year, but these 30 films kind of just hit me the way no others did in 2006. I deliberately did not include things I saw at Butt Numb-a-Thon 8 (films like Black Snake Moan and 300, both of which will undoubtedly hold special places on next year’s list), but I did include things I saw at the Chicago Film Festival, a couple of which may not open until 2007. With limited commentary and no apologies, here’s my list:
1. Children of Men--The ideas contained in its plot and director Alfonso Cuaron's visual style still haunt me. I can’t wait to see this film again.
2. Babel--Many of the same things said about my top choice can be applied here, with the added thank you to writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for reminding us that Brad Pitt can act.
3. Letters from Iwo Jima--Somber, gut-wrenching tale of men sent into battle to die. It just so happens that 60 years ago, these men were the enemies of the United States. Eastwood gives them a fitting remembrance as heartfelt as any film about American soldiers, and one even finer than the tribute he pays in Flags of Our Fathers.
4. United 93--TOO SOON!! Okay maybe not, but I had to say it. No film in 2006 filled me with more mixed emotions, anxiety, heart-pounding fear, and pure sadness than this one. Bravo to director Paul Greengrass, who chose to simply tell the story without hero worship or dramatic license.
5. Pan’s Labyrinth--Our three friends from Mexico took my breath away in 2006. Guillermo del Toro’s goals were not as lofty or grand in scale as Cuaron’s or Inarritu’s, but his work about the horrors of the real world and the horrors of a child’s fantasy dreamscape ended up being the most emotionally satisfying of the three.
6. Apocalypto--Mel Gibson gives us a thrilling chase movie, buckets of blood, and a valuable history lesson. The most visually awe-inspiring work of the year.
7. The Departed--Every so often, a super-sized ensemble cast pays off, and often they do so in the hands of Martin Scorsese. A lot of attention was paid to Jack Nicholson’s performance, but you can’t discard DiCaprio and Damon either. Both give split-personality performances that are just as impressive as Nicholson’s flashy villainous work.
8. The Queen--This simple, quiet telling of recent historical events features far and away the greatest female performance in a decade by any actress. Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II is riveting as she personifies a shift in power and popularity that has never been regained. With the obvious exception of Babel, this was my favorite script of the year.
9. Little Children--Another testament to how fine writing and flawless acting can make a movie great. Kate Winslet has never been better, and director Todd Fields needs to make more movies.
10. The Proposition--Also known as "that violent Australian cowboy movie." If you missed this one in the theatres, it’s on DVD already. Seek it out, and don’t eat two hours before viewing. The blood is simply spectacular.
11. Little Miss Sunshine--Maybe not the funniest film of the year, but certainly the one that made me laugh the hardest without resorting to cheap gags, dumb jokes, putting things in asses, or Jewish jokes. This is more a family drama filled with humor.
12. Half Nelson--An crack-addicted teacher befriends one of his young students. It sounds wrong, but it’s actually one of the most intriguing and enlightened character studies I’ve ever seen. This is the one Kevin Smith said was the best film he’d seen in five years. Take that for what it’s worth.
13. Casino Royale--Best Bond ever. Best Bond movie ever. There, I said it. Kiss my ass! The most fun I had in a movie all year with my pants on!
14. The Host--Technically a 2007 release, but I saw this South Korean monster movie at the Chicago Film Festival, and it will kick you square in the ass with its sickeningly squishy giant monster and loads of scary tricks up its sleeve. You will love this.
15. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer--I’m pretty sure this film counts as a 2006 release. Tom Tykver (Run Lola Run) delivers a new twist on the serial killer genre (thanks to the best-selling novel that served as its source material). Here, the killer isn’t particularly terrifying or evil, he just likes to smell nice things and distill the essence of the female scent in a liquid form. Did your stomach tremble just then? The last 20 minutes of this film are some of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen.
16. Blood Diamond--Leonardo DiCaprio’s gives a better performance here than in The Departed, and the story deals with the more serious and troubling issue of conflict-diamond harvesting. A rough and violent run through the African jungles courtesy of director Edward Zwick.
17. The Good Shepherd--A cool, almost emotionless look at the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency through the eyes of a man (played by Matt Damon, in his best-ever role) who helped invent tactics that are still used today. Torture, anyone? Another great ensemble piece, this time from director Robert De Niro.
18. Volver--If Pedro Almodovar makes a movie, it’s more than likely going to land in my Top 20. I just dig the guy’s style. But Penelope Cruz propels this work into the stratosphere with a no-holds-barred portrait of a confused, conflicted, and driven woman. And she’s never been sexier.
19. Borat--This is the film that made me laugh the loudest and hardest this year.
20. Day Night Day Night--Another film I saw at this year’s Chicago Film Festival (it played at Cannes, Telluride, and Toronto as well) about a young woman of unknown ethnic origin known only as She (first-timer Luisa Williams) going through the paces of preparing for a suicide bombing mission in Times Square. The movie is quiet and foreboding. Deliberately paced tension slowly builds through its brief running time. Quite disturbing and unpredictable. I have no idea whether it’s scheduled for release in 2007, but it should be. High marks for first-time feature filmmaker Julia Loktev.
21. Notes on a Scandal--Pure, high drama, with an acidic performance by Judi Dench.
22. House of Sand--An erotic Brazilian melodrama set in the dessert concerning a mother, daughter, and granddaughter who live their lives in desolation. Unsettling and poignant.
23. A Scanner Darkly--Philip K. Dick done to perfection. Remember at the beginning of 2006, this was the film everybody was excited for? Don't forget how much you liked it.
24. The Descent--Scary shit about women (grown women, not college girls) trapped in a mineshaft. I saw this once at BNAT 7 at the end of 2005 and again in Chicago several months later (and with a slightly different ending), and it scared me both times.
25. Dreamgirls--The music holds up 20-some years later, and the entire experience is exhilarating from top to bottom.
26. Monster House--Hands down, the best animated film of the year because it manages to appeal to kids without pandering. Oh, adults will probably love it more than the little ones.
27. Superman Returns--I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I truly did love this one. Director Bryan Singer captures everything I admired about the first two Superman movies and gives us a great story to boot. But my gut tells me the sequel will be better and more universally accepted.
28. Edmond--Look for the DVD because it’s more than likely this film never made it to a theater near you. William H. Macy does what he does best: act in a David Mamet piece. And this one is a doozey. Edmond is a bigoted, middle-aged man who cracks and commits violent acts. You’ve never seen Macy be this good or edgy.
29. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu--A painful and timely film from Romania about an ailing elderly man who makes the mistake of getting put into the health care system, where he is prodded and shifted from hospital to hospital like some kind of object rather than a human being. As he is moved from hospital to hospital, his health continues to get worse. This film is agonizing to behold because it feels all too real.
30. Thank You for Smoking--Note-perfect dark and biting comedy about the world of a lobbyist for Big Tobacco (played to perfection by Aaron Eckhart). A fine debut from director Jason Reitman.
BEST DOCUMENTARIES OF 2006
This was another great year for high-profile documentaries. And it was nice to see that, in a year without any major political docs, filmmakers were able to come up with a whole slew of interesting subjects to inform and enlighten the masses. It seems the most popular topic of 2006 was the Iraq War (I can think of a half dozen I saw this year, two of which are on my list). If you’ve never heard of these films, look them up. They're all worth seeking out.
1. Shut Up & Sing
2. Jesus Camp
3. I Trust You To Kill Me
4. 49 Up
5. Who Killed the Electric Car?
6. Dave Chapelle’s Block Party
7. This Film Is Not Yet Rated
9. Deliver Us from Evil
10. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
12. The Devil and Daniel Johnston
13. Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
14. The Bridge
15. The Ground Truth
16. Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey
17. Why We Fight
18. Iraq in Fragments
19. Our Brand Is Crisis
20. Neil Young: Heart of Gold
WORST OF 2006
The absolute most painful movie I sat through this year was Deck the Halls, a misguided, unfunny, poorly conceived, horribly acted piece of holiday shit that nobody went to see, so why am I talking about it? The rest of the worst (in alphabetical order, with no real surprises in the bunch) were: Basic Instinct 2; Bloodrayne; Employee of the Month; Eragon; Fur; Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties; The Grudge 2; Let’s Go To Prison; Little Man; The Pink Panther; Pulse; RV; The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause; Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning; Turistas; Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj; When A Stranger Calls; The Wicker Man; and You, Me & Dupree.
Please note how many of these titles are sequels, prequels, or remakes.
Well, folks. That's it for me this year. When we next meet, I'll be waist deep in the muck that is the January release schedule, but there are a couple of things to look forward to in the coming weeks, including my interview with Perfume director Tom Tykver. I've also already got a couple of tentative interview lined up for early January: one with an actor I've loved for quite some time and who has dazzled us with his ability to act in everything from high drama to adventure to horror to comedy; and another interview with an Oscar-winning director. Have a great New Year's everyone!
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