Top 10 for 2006
1) PAN’S LABRYNTH - Guillermo del Toro’s absolutely captivating and spellbinding mix of fantasy and harsh ugly reality clash together in what is truly the best film of the entire year. A young girl is shipped into the woods with her pregnant mother and ferociously violent stepfather to sit out the final days of a savage war. The girl escapes the increasingly ugly reality she is mired in by discovering a world of fantasy in the woods nearby. What first seems like a possible true to life fantasy slowly becomes apparent to the viewer as an allegory and escape for the young protagonist. Breathtaking visuals and a sinister story completely enraptured me like nothing else this year.
2) BRICK – Small independent film that takes the idea of a Philip Marlowe / Sam Spade Film noir and mixes it brilliantly with a High School caste system murder mystery. Without a doubt the greatest dialogue that crackled off of any screen this past year. Every line had me doing double takes and smiling wide…..not just for the sheer invention of the dialogue, but also for the way the young cast pulls it off stone faced and serious. The story, with it’s echoes of David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS, is interesting enough, but it’s the off-the-wall dialogue and dark comic asides that kept BRICK humming along as a truly one of a kind film.
3) THE DESCENT – With dozens of sub-level quality horror movie remakes overflowing into the theatres week after week one tends to get completely bored with the genre, but then from England comes something new and somewhat original. THE DESCENT gathers together a cast of interesting and intelligent characters on a spelunking vacation. Points right off the bat for a collection of characters in a horror movie that don’t feature dumb, oversexed, yawn-inducing teenagers. The movie moves from there into somewhat familiar horror movie territory, but it does so with a flair and originality that keeps the viewer locked in. Amazing cinematography and editing add to the flavor of a movie that keeps hope alive for the fledgling horror genre.
4) V FOR VENDETTA – Another genre taking a beating is the comic book scene. Overblown and over hyped, it’s product this past year went from the bad (FANTASTIC FOUR) to the ultimately bland (SUPERMAN RETURNS). The overlooked V FOR VENDETTA featured some crisp dialogue (dig that opening speech by our masked ‘hero’), handsome photography, and a plot that made a hero out of a terrorist. Hard to believe they pulled it off in the year of UNITED 93 and WORLD TRADE CENTER, but they did. Features the sharp action and big explosions that are necessary for the genre, but also slipped in enough political commentary and social satire to have it rise above the heap.
5) LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – One of two straight up comedies to make my list this year, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE surprised with it’s dead on cast and snappy scenarios that brought it to life. I went in expecting some kind of half baked rip off of the films of Wes Anderson, but was surprised at how real and human the characters onscreen were. Alan Arkin shines as a loving but loopy grandfather, and Steve Carrell continues to impress in everything he does. The film builds to an obvious satire of the all-too-easy to ridicule world of beauty pageants, but once again rises above the expectations with a wicked and hilarious gut punch of a climax.
6) HARD CANDY – I’m a sucker for a movie that had the guts to be something completely different or experimental in tone and style. HARD CANDY is that type of movie. Featuring basically a cast of just two characters, it weaves it’s wicked story of an internet predator and his not-quite-so naïve’ prey into an edge of your seat drama of cat and mouse. I was never quite sure where the story was going, and that was 99% of the fun. So many movies are easy to map out from their opening moments, when one comes along that truly keeps you following along wondering where the road is leading it’s something to behold.
7) A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION – One doesn’t’ need to be a fan of Garrison Keillor’s 30 year long radio program to enjoy Robert Altman’s final film, but it helps. On one hand it’s a look at small town ideals, family, friends, and down-home values, it’s also a very close look at death and The End of things. The characters weave around backstage preparing their LAST radio show after years together while all the while contemplating togetherness, relationships, and ultimately death. If there was ever an absolutely perfect last film for a director and artist that has given us so much, Robert Altman’s PHC is that movie.
8) THE DEPARTED – For his return to the world of Cops and Robbers, Martin Scorcese chose to remake a popular Chinese gangster movie called INFERNAL AFFAIRS. Sticking surprisingly close to the original, Scorcese’s remake gains it’s own respect through his top notch cast. Matt Damon has truly never been better and turns in one of the strongest performances of the year as the undercover gangster as cop. Leonardo DeCaprio matches him scene for scene as his doppelganger, the undercover gangster as cop. The supporting cast of Marin Sheen, Mark Whalberg, and of course Jack Nicholson make the whole thing go down smooth. Even with it’s predictably happier American ending (as opposed to the original’s downbeat epilogue) THE DEPARTED still rings out as a great gangster tale. It also has what is probably the most humorous last shot of any film this past year.
9) BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT THE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN – Without a doubt the greatest title of any movie this past year, it’s also the hands down FUNNIEST movie of the year. Ignore those saying it’s a fantastic social commentary on America and Americans…..it’s actually just an excuse for the great Sacha Baron Coen to run amok Candid Camera style with his wicked Borat persona. From beginning to end Borat features more genuine laugh out loud moments than any dozed Hollywood comedies.
10 CASINO ROYALE – A huge surprise to myself, having not sat through a James Bond movie since Roger Moore battled Christopher Walken in A VIEW TO A KILL, I was shocked at how original and immediate this film has made the Bond legend. Daniel Craig’s completely and utterly original take on the character infuses the series with a new life and originality not seen in literally decades.