I saw more movies than ever this year and I'm likely still behind the amount the great Roger Ebert saw from his sickbed. Overall though, I'm pretty satisfied with the range and number of movie I did see. There were as always, one or two I missed, but this year I think I caught just about everything that had any reasonable chance of ending up in my top ten list. Let's face it, Employee of the Month never had a prayer.
In looking over my list, it seems that the 2006 movies that mattered most to me were those that were about something. Not in the way Farenheit 9/11 was about something. I'm not talking blatant propaganda here. There's nothing worse than walking into a movie and being bludgeoned to death by a message. Instead, many of this year's crop of best movies told stories that simply made you think, without telling you what to think.
If you missed any of the movies below, make it a point to find them. These are the movies I think were 2006's ten best.
1. United 93
Directed By: Paul Greengrass Written By: Paul Greengrass Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Opal Alladin, Louis Alsamari, David Alan Basche, Richard Bekins, Starla Benford
United 93 left me so flabbergasted when I walked out of the theater, that I didn't trust my own reaction. I wondered if I was being influenced by my own preconceived notions about 9/11, if my own anger over the attack had somehow clouded my vision and made United 93 better because of what's been going on in my head. Months later I can assure you that wasn't it. Paul Greengrass's film is every bit as brilliant now as it was then. He accomplished the impossible, making not just a movie about the worst day in recent American history but one that captured the anger and frustration we all felt during those days as well. It's never manipulative, it is without bias, and it's completely and utterly honest. It hurts. Every second of United 93 hurts like no other movie could. But then it should. The amazing thing is that even though you know how the movie ends, even though you know what's going to happen, you'll spend the entire movie with your hands clenched in fists, hoping, praying, and willing things to turn out differently. It's a brutal, crushing film. The first time I saw it, I walked out angry in a way I'd never felt before; angrier even than I was after September 11th. The film brings all those feelings from that day back to the surface, and then channels them into a focused, burning rage; a rage which becomes an iron determination never to let the events depicted in United 93 ever happen again. This is more than a powerful film, it's a punch in the gut rallying call that begs people to wake the hell up do something. Greengrass deserves at the least an Oscar for his work, but maybe that's not enough.
Best Moment: There is no best moment. It's all pain. As it should be.
CB Quote: "Greengrass has handled this open wound with all the delicacy and respect possible." [CB Review]
2. The Prestige
Directed By: Christopher Nolan Written By: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Samantha Mahurin, David Bowie, Andy Serkis
While everyone has been oohing and aahing over Batman Begins, I've been missing the old Christopher Nolan; the director who made a movie about a guy with a 5-second memory and then because he's a bad ass made it better by showing it upside down and backwards. That director had balls. He's back with The Prestige, the best and perhaps most underappreciated movie of his career. If Memento is told in reverse, then The Prestige is unfolded inside-out. And it's better for it. Nolan and Jackman battling it out in a subtle and heart-wrenching, revenge filled magician grudge pic is just about as good as it gets. The only thing that might have made it better is if they were wearing their Wolverine and Batman costumes while they did it. I trust in Nolan's ability to make sense out of even that. It's a masterful, tension-filled film with twists and turns beyond the ken of normal movies. It's dense, rich in subtext and emotional undertones, and maybe as a result it flew over some people's heads. Many got caught up in trying to predict the movie's twist, but the surprise ending isn't the point with The Prestige, it's just icing on the cake. If you've got the patience to stay with it, The Prestige is completely absorbing. It's the kind of movie that makes its audience earn an ending. Watching it means fighting your way through every second of the film just as the characters battle and scrap their way through the story. The Prestige solidifies Nolan as one of the greatest young directors working in Hollywood, and it's one of the best movies of 2006.
Best Moment: Borden's final confrontation with Angier.
CB Quote: “This is Memento era Nolan back from the grave.” [CB Review]
3. Superman Returns
Directed By: Bryan Singer Written By: Dan Harris & Mike Dougherty Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Eva Marie Saint, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Noel Niell, James Marsden, Stephan Bender, Kal Penn, Parker Posey
I've always been more of a Spider-Man guy, but Bryan Singer's take on the Man of Steel suddenly made wearing blue tights just as cool as slinging webs. Singer's Superman is almost poetic, a bittersweet film filled with longing and regret, the story of a god who somewhere deep inside wishes he could be a man. What's great about Returns is that it resists the modern temptation to turn its hero into some sort of edgy anti-hero. Superman remains the one untarnished, shining beacon of truth, justice and all that stuff. He hasn't turned him gritty like Batman or angsty like Spidey in order to pander to our sometimes fucked up need to drag powerful heroes down to our level. Clark Kent isn't sleeping with Monica Lewinski or anything. Superman remains a bright symbol, but now he's a symbol we can relate to. Returns did it by making this Superman story a deeply personal one. Sure, it picks up right where the Donner films left off and sure, a lot of the movie is spent paying homage to the wonderful nostalgia of those great Donner films. But Superman Returns works on a deeper level than any of those Richard Donner movies could have ever dreamed of. Brandon Routh is, dare I say it, every bit Christopher Reeve's equal and Kevin Spacey makes Lex one of the most entertaining comic book villains ever seen on screen. Now that he's returned, Superman deserves to be seen again and again.
Best Moment: Lex Luthor: Wrong!!!!.
CB Quote: "Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor compares his fight with Superman to the ancient story of Prometheus, and when he does so it's not just a parable, he means it. So does Superman Returns." [CB Review]
4. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Directed By: Larry Charles Written By: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Pamela Anderson, Ken Davitian
Believe the hype, Borat really is the funniest movie of the year. But laughing me into a hernia wouldn't have been enough to earn Sacha Baron Cohen's national lampoon the number four spot on my list. There's more to the movie than just laughter. For instance there's Cohen's implacable performance as Borat. Sure Helen Mirren was great as Queen Elizabeth, but could she stay in character while hanging out with frat boys in their Winnebago? He's so good, that along with the insanity there are moments in the film that are almost moving. Forget throwing Pamela Anderson in a sack, tears were really the film's unexpected moment. There's also the movie's dogged insistence on dishing out social commentary, whether you notice it or not. Borat travels the country poking a sharp stick in the flaws of American culture. The delicious irony of it is, if you're offended by it you're probably one of the people he's making fun of. If you don't get it, then yeah he's laughing at you. If you're cheering him on, then whoops, he's mocking you too. Maybe Borat's mocking me as well, and I managed to miss it. I'm not sure I'd even mind. The movie rips to pieces anyone and everything in its path and the result is one of the most hilarious and poignant movies of the past decade.
Best Moment: Nake wrestling? Mr. Jesus to take Pam Anderson with Borat? How do I choose?
CB Quote: "...disgusting, filthy, and incredibly intelligent all at once." [CB Review]
5. Charlotte's Web
Directed By: Gary Winick Written By: Susannah Grant, Karey Kirkpatrick Starring: Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, Dominic Scott Kay, John Cleese, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford
What's a Dakota Fanning doing on my list? Making me weep like a little girl the next time I watch her movie. Turning E.B. White's utterly perfect children's novel “Charlotte's Web” into a proper feature film should have been an impossible task, but Gary Winnick's version does that and more. His film isn't just true to the spirit of White's amazing book, it gets the importance of it as well. “Charlotte's Web” is a special book, the kind of book that opens young minds and spur them onward to bigger and better things. The movie is just as special, capturing every moment of meaning and nuance from the novel and carrying it to the screen with a refreshed sense of purpose and power. White's beautiful and moving novel has become and equally beautiful and moving family film. It had an entire theater full of stodgy old film critics fighting back tears, any rated G pic that can accomplish that deserves a place on my list. This is some movie.
Best Moment: Charlotte sacrifices herself to write one last message.
CB Quote: "Charlotte's Web is lyrical, soulful, and more meaningful than most of the made for mom and dad only movies you're likely to see this year." [CB Review]
6. V for Vendetta
Directed By: James McTeigue Written By: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt
V for Vendetta is a movie about an idea. A subversive, uncompromising, completely naïve idea. Every frame of the film feels dangerous, and when you've finished with it you're left feeling as if you've just watched something illegal. It may have a similar style, but the script by Matrix creators Andy and Larry Wachowsi is actually a complete 180 from their Neo trilogy. Where The Matrix was an action movie with some substance, V for Vendetta is substance with just a little bit of action. What action there is exists only to help secret the film's thought provoking philosophy beneath a rich visual style. That's right, even the look of the film is subversive, a veneer meant to hide the brainy brawn of it's ideology from eyeballs attached to empty heads. V is rebellious and risky, but never cynical. It's a film that believes in the basic strength and goodness of people, even if it's awash in almost obsessive mistrust of organized governments and religion. Most importantly perhaps, it's the kind of movie that sticks with you after you leave the theater. V's personal motto will resonate in your head long after the movie is over: “By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.”
Best Moment: V conducts the bombing of London like an orchestra.
CB Quote: "You won’t want to think about it, the ideas in this film are too dangerous, but you’ll have to. V is that kind of powerful." [CB Review]
Directed By: Mike Judge Written By: Mike Judge, Etan Cohen Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Justin Long, Terry Crews, Stephen Root
It's the movie 20th Century Fox doesn't want you to see, and as a result most of you probably haven't. The first movie from genius satirist Mike Judge since Office Space was released in theaters unadvertised and unannounced in September, and then quietly slipped right back out of them before most had a chance to realize it existed. By doing so Fox execs shot themselves in the foot, not realizing or not caring that they had something special on their hands. What they had was another brilliant Judge satire, a film that criticizes our culture by extrapolating it to its logical future conclusion and then showing it. The whole film is dedicated to shooting arrows at the dumbing down of mankind, and what'll really blow your mind is that it does it by making fart jokes. But the gag isn't the passing of gas, but who it is that's laughing at it. If there's any justice in the world (and if you're Mike Judge you probably believe there isn't), then Idiocracy will follow in Office Space's footsteps to become another Judge cult classic on DVD.
Best Moment: Doctor's diagnosis: "So basically it says here you're fucked up, you sound like a fag, and your shit's all retarded."
CB Quote: "Judge is a brilliant satirist, and anyone who thought "Beavis and Butt-Head" was glorifying the stupidity of America's teenagers probably shouldn't bother seeing this. Or maybe you should, since this movie is aimed squarely at all of you." [CB Review]
8. Little Children
Directed By: Todd Field Written By: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Connelly
Todd Field's movie about the secret lives of suburban stay-at-home moms walks a tightrope between the serious and the surreal by marrying the worn out topic of parents in bad marriages with the persecution of sex offenders and then having it narrated as if we're watching an episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. It's part drama, part satire, and all impact. Little Children is a mesmerizing movie which holds picket fence living up the harsh light of reality by portraying the jam-encrusted parents living behind those white-washed boards as living, breathing, emotional beings with dreams and hopes abandoned in order to make sure their kids have juice with breakfast in the morning. Kate Winslet and former child star Jackie Earle Haley give amazing performances in one of the year's most completely unique, authentic, sharp-witted movies.
Best Moment: Opening narration.
CB Quote: "The point here for Field isn't to demonstrate some urbane superiority over the suburban milk and cookies set, but rather to provide a frank examination of what's under that sticky, jam-encrusted surface." [CB Review]
9. The Fountain
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky Written By: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel Starring: Hugh Jackman, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
It took half a decade to get it made, but Darren Aronofsky's follow up to Requiem for a Dream was worth the wait. It's been booed and it's been cheered, The Fountain is something different to almost everyone who sees it. To me, The Fountain is a beautiful love story with dense science fiction overtones. I'm still not sure exactly what the movie's ending meant, but I am sure that it doesn't matter. What counts is the story of a man's desperate struggle to save the woman he loves, wrapped up in the cinematic equivalent of an incredible impressionist painting. It's visually stunning and emotionally wrenching; a deep and moving experience for those willing to sit quietly and take it all in. The Fountain is not for everyone, but it was for me.
Best Moment: Conquistador turns into a hedge.
CB Quote: "Aronofsky doesn't slow down for the sake of those unable to keep up." [CB Review]
10. Children of Men
Directed By: Alfonso Cuaron Written By: P.D. James Starring: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Claire-Hope Ashitey
Children of Men could have easily turned into a post-apocalypic version of The Fugitive, but director Alfonso Cuaron staunchly resists letting that happen, preferring instead to linger over and explore the hopelessly doomed future into which mankind has fallen. It's a movie about simply experiencing the state of things in a world where women can no longer have children and the human race is fated to go extinct when the last of mankind's current generation drops dead. Last person to die turn out the lights say the movie's teaser posters, and that sense of helpless futility permeates the entire film. Science Fiction is at its best when it shuns obsessing over laser swords in favor of fantasizing a future which makes you consider the cost and course of the present. Children of Men may not be flashy, but it does that and more.
Best Moment: Clive Owen buys coffee and narrowly avoids a bomb.
CB Quote: "With all of Hollywood's loud, laser pistol filled futuristic blockbusters you forget that great science fiction doesn't necessarily need giant freakin robots." [CB Review]
Great Stuff that didn't make the cut:
Happy Feet, Deja Vu, Letters from Iwo Jima, Cars, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, The Departed, The Notorious Bettie Page, Nacho Libre, Mission: Impossible III, Brick, Monster House, Clerks II, The Last Kiss, Jet Li's Fearless, Hollywoodland
Just in case you were wondering:
Basic Instinct 2 was the worst film of 2006. Who's bright idea was it to edit out all the sex and nudity and leave in all the bad acting and crap writing?
For all of Cinema Blend's Best of 2006 coverage click here!