January 7, 2007

2006 at the Movies Part I: My Top Ten

2006 at the movies had its fair share of good movies, it also had more than its share of mediocre movies, and of course there were the movies you do not wish on your worst enemies, much less your own eyes. What you have just begun to read is part I in my recapping of the best, and worst, experiences I had at the theater in 2006.

This part is my top ten movies of the year. The only films that are eligible are films that I saw on the big screen and had their official release during the 2006 calendar year. Sure, there are a few movies that I have missed, or have not yet seen, so this list is likely to change. For this reason I will post a revised list, if necessary around Oscar time as more of those late December limited Oscar eligibility releases get rolled out to the rest of the country. The same thing goes for the lists that follow this, changes will be made and announced as needed.

As I went through the films I saw last year, I found one thing that I hope to change in 2007. There is a derth of indie and foreign films. There are a few mixed in there, just not as many as I would have liked. Anyway, enough with the preamble, I am sure you all want to see what movies made my list. Read on.

1. Children of Men. The most recent film that I saw for the year is also the greatest. Watching this was a transcendent experience. Alfonso Cuaron has crafted a film of high technical achievement that brings together religious and political concepts together in a drama that is gripping, and involving on a visceral and emotional level. It is a science fiction film that is not confined by the genre, less occupied with explaining the situation as it is with letting the situation speak for itself and deliver characters that are mired within its confines. This is a powerful movie that delivers the goods and hits all the right notes, from the performances, to the cinematography, to the script, to the score, everything is just right.

2. The Departed. Martin Scorsese's latest masterpiece is a remake, and an expansion on, the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. The original film is a thrilling game of cat and mouse, a game which Scorsese has taken, with screenwriter William Monahan, and upped the ante in its conversion to a tale of the Mob in Boston. A film that is alternately hilarious and edge of your seat thrilling. The ensemble cast carries the drama of the setup, with Jack Nicholson chewing scenery as the larger than life crime boss. This is another movie that delivers deadly serious entertainment in a fast paced and involving way. This could possibly lead to Scorsese's first Best Director Oscar.

3. Brick. Here is a film that caught me off guard. I went in expecting a good movie, you know, what every movie goer is hoping for. What I got was a mash up of genres that was engrossing and fascinating, without creating any type of connection between the audience and the characters. Take the high school drama and cross it with film noir, and you get a start towards what this movie is. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a high schooler looking to stir up some trouble towards the end of uncovering the mystery of his estranged girlfriend's murder. This is a great movie that is not easily defined, yet completely engrossing.

4. United 93. Amidst cries of "Too soon!" director Paul Greengrass moved forward with his filmed tribute to those brave souls who lost their lives on 9/11. With the approval of the families, he created a gripping drama that puts you right in the middle of the day. It is a film that makes the audience a fly on the wall, watching, helplessly as the fateful events of the day unfold in front of you. It is free of the trappings of Hollywood cliches, it is a strong, potent, emotional journey.

5. The Prestige. The Prestige is movie magic. This is one of the reasons that people go to the movies. Christopher Nolan has crafted an intricate mystery that has a story that is involving, a cast that is highly talented, and an ending that is satisfying, yet leaves you thinking about what you just saw. On the surface it is a story of rival magiciains, but the mystery runs much deeper than that as the competition is much more personal and all consuming.

6. Apocalypto. Here is the best pure action film of the year. This will have you on the edge of your seat as you watch Jaguar Paw outwit his pursuers. Mel Gibson has taken what seems like a pretty common story thread, translates it to the end times of the Mayan civilization and then turns the pace to eleven. This is a huge spectacle of an action film. Sure, you could pick it apart for deeper meaning, but it is wholly unnecessary, as the action is big enough and exciting enough to sustain interest throughout the runtime. It is vividly shot, plenty violent, and surprisingly funny. This is a film to experience on the big screen. B movie action raised by its unique setting.

7. Babel. Alejandro González Iñárritu follows up his brilliant 21 Grams with another film of lives in collision. This time out he takes a personal tale and puts it on a global scale. It is a movie that is engrossing in how it pulls all of these threads together. It is a film that hops around to different continents following people on their quest to be understood. The horror of being unable to communicate with those around you and how those actions have implications on a much more epic scale than can be fathomed.

8. Casino Royale. This is the best Bond film in decades, but even better than that is that it is a good movie. Daniel Craig slides effortlessly into the role, replacing Pierce Brosnan, and in doing so has helped bring Bond back to his roots. Director Martin Campbell has crafted a gritty, reality based film that is filled with intrigue, brutal action, and a great performance from all involved.

9. Blood Diamond. Edward Zwick makes his return to the best of the year list, previously makling my list with The Last Samurai. This time out he has turned his eye on the violence that has surrounded the diamond industry for years. There was a period of time, which was really not long ago when the diamonds we take for granted were obtained through smuggling, murder, and war. These are the blood diamonds of the title. Leonardo Dicaprio stars as a diamond smuggler who becomes embroiled in the search for a large pink diamond, while also helping a man (Djimon Hounsou) reunite with his family. It is a brutal affair, and this film follows an exciting journey and character transformation.

10. V for Vendetta. I found the film to be fascinating and wonderfully acted. My major questioning lies in whether this is meant to have a straightforward narrative, or if there are liberties taken within that narrative to express the ideas and concepts at the expense of the plot. Whatever the case is, V for Vendetta is a rare thriller of the modern age to have the concepts and ideas overshadow the action. This is a movie to be seen on the big screen. Hugo Weaving is fantastic in his role of V, successfully conveying a range that I thought imposssible when you are unable to see his face.

Honorable Mentions. No list is complete without a few near misses. This year had a number of great experiences that didn't make the cut for the top ten, but are still worthy of some sort of mention and are definitely worthy of having some time spent with them. This is almost a Top Ten list in and of itself. In no particular order:

  • Monster House. My favorite animated film of the year. A fun roller coaster ride of a fright flick for kids and adults alike.
  • Running Scared. The film is so deliriously over the top that the plot becomes secondary to the free-flowing insanity on tap.
  • The Lake House. Best romantic film of the year, this was pure magic. The chemistry, the way everything unfolds, it is beauty.
  • Clerks II. I cannot remember the last time that I laughed so hard. Kevin Smith still has a handle on Dante and Randall.
  • The Descent. Scariest film of the year. This built genuine tension and scares. Not to be confused with 2005's The Cave.
  • Borat. This was absolutely hilarious and went well over the top. Although I have to admit that I am little Borat-ed out and need some time away from the funnyman.
  • Catch a Fire. This puts a face on the struggle to end apartheid. It is carried on the strength of its acting and is unexpectedly moving.
  • Little Miss Sunshine. This was a definite crowd pleaser. A fun story of a seriously dysfunctional family.
  • Flags of Our Fathers. Clint Eastwood's story of the men who held aloft the flag at Iwo Jima. This was a movie that was sentimental, yet pulled no punches. Its companion film will be coming soon, Letters from Iwo Jima.
  • TIE: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Superman Returns. Here is a pair of highly entertaining, yet flawed, summer tentpole films. Each of them delivering fun entertainment without requiring a high amount of brainpower, and there is nothing wrong with that.

So, how does this compare with your favorites of the year?


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