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Believe it or not, 2006 was a hell of a year for film. While Hollywood continued to crawl out of the dark ages that were the early Aughts, the hits just kept on coming. With both awards bait and blockbuster fare becoming increasingly better by the month, the ten best films out of the crop were a hard bunch to select. But if you look really hard, you can begin to peg out ten gems that really shine in the crown that was 2006's achievements. Here now are those ten films, which are naturally open to interpretation, but represent our portrait of the best films of that year.
10. The DepartedThe greatest irony about The Departed is that Martin Scorsese ended up winning his first Best Director AND the Best Picture trophy on the back of this Boston flavored crime drama. The change in venue doesn't dull Scorsese's talents, and despite it being what some consider to be an inferior remake of its source material, the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, it's still a fun film. With Jack Nicholson anchoring the whole universe down as the crime boss that Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are working on opposite sides of, the film boasts some wonderfully comedic moments with a cast to die for. It also has some of the most unexpected deaths in any crime drama, which helps the film keep the audience guessing the whole way through.
9. Casino RoyaleAfter the failure that was 2002's Die Another Day, the James Bond franchise went into lockdown in an attempt to try and salvage its image. With the controversial firing of Pierce Brosnan, the hunt was on the way for a new 007, leading to the equally fan rousing pick of Daniel Craig as the next torch bearer. By the time 2006's Casino Royale rolled its opening credits for the first time, audiences knew that they'd found their man. Bringing Bond back to his Ian Fleming roots, the serious adaptation of the first novel in his canon revitalized the British super-spy as a man living on the edge. With a new found frailty to his origin story, it would redefine the franchise for the years to come, and became known as the shot in the arm the series needed to become a more modern entertainment.
8. United 93The terror attacks on September 11th will forever be etched into the consciousness of the generations of Americans who experienced them first hand. As a sort of catharsis, two films were made based on those attacks – Oliver Stone's World Trade Center and Paul Greengrass' United 93. In all honesty, the Greengrass picture is the better of the two, as the Stone flick is surprisingly devoid of the filmmaker's trademark sharpness and devolves into a patriotic puff piece. United 93 doesn't make those mistakes, instead opting for a low-key re-enactment of the doomed flight with equally under the radar actors. Even better is the fact that some actual air traffic controllers and military personnel involved in the reaction and damage control to the incident actually play themselves in the film. A solemn tribute to the heroism of its passengers, United 93 is a well put together film that helped a grieving nation heal its wounds.
7. V For VendettaIf there was any sign that proudly trumpeted V For Vendetta's relevance after all of this time, it's the fact that it inspired Anonymous to adopt the face of the masked vigilante as their own. Yet behind that mask is a film that's so dependent on causality and the domino effect, that it actually has the plot to back up such devices. With a chain of events slowly growing out of control, the message of people standing up to their government in times of extreme duress still rings true after all of this time. While the film is part satire and part moving political statement, it is all entertainment – right up to its literally explosive finale.
6. The HolidayNancy Meyers' movies, even at their worst, are extremely fluffy affairs. Part of the reason that The Holiday makes the list of 2006's best films is the fact that it is a Meyers film that serves as the exception to the rule. Instead of just being an airy puff piece of comedy, both Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet's characters face down some real emotional baggage, and come out the other end like champions. Most impressively, the film contains a Jack Black character from his earlier heyday that manages not to become an annoying catch-phrase machine. Instead, Black's Miles is endearing, charming, and yes, still funny. If you walk away from The Holiday remembering nothing else, you should at least remember what a charming Jack Black feels like.
5. The FountainAfter five years of delays and re-writes, Darren Aronofsky was finaly allowed to tell his story of love across three souls in three different eras of time. While it was made with half the budget, and minus a couple of bigger set pieces that Aronofsky's original draft included, The Fountain is a film that transcends its limitations and tells a story that is deeply affecting. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz's spectacular performances compliment the visual wizardry that the Black Swan director paints every frame with. Yet at the same time, the film's beauty isn't too distracting from the actual emotional story being told, as life, love, and loss all meet to form an equally beautiful story of what we'll do in the name of a love that is truly eternal. Come for the visuals, stay for the gorgeous Clint Mansell score.
4. Pan's LabyrinthIn what is probably Guillermo del Toro's finest film in his entire history of film-making, Pan's Labyrinth is all at once a fairy tale and a history lesson. Set during the oppressive time of the Spanish Civil War, the film focuses on the journey of Ofelia – a highly imaginative girl who must complete three trials to unlock the secret of immortality, in the hopes of saving her ailing mother. Serving as the most serious, as well as most fantastic, film he's ever made; Pan's Labyrinth cemented its director's name in Hollywood, and rightfully so. A visual feast of a fable, told with a darker sensibility that tempers its flights of fancy, Pan's Labyrinth is bound to be remembered as a classic.
3. Stranger Than FictionWill Ferrell, especially at the time of Stranger Than Fiction's release, was mostly known for shouty, brash comedies that involved lower grade humor than Marc Forster's film would ever boast. Yet this high concept dramedy about a character in a book who can hear his author's intentions to kill him is actually the antidote to those very films. Ferrell's straight-laced accountant makes for a perfect protagonist to struggle with Emma Thompson's plotting, as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal's rambunctious antics. Yet for as funny as Stranger Than Fiction is, it earns every laugh – and even some tears – with high quality writing that's even fit for folks with higher brows.
2. The PrestigeChristopher Nolan loves to twist his stories, and he's shown it since day one of his career. Yet The Prestige's big twist is probably still one of the most talked about endings that we've ever seen. With the entire film's plot between dueling magicians Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman serving as one, big puzzle box – that final revelation really was a shock to audiences back in the day. The fact that we can remember it so clearly ten years on signifies just how much of an impact the film has made on audiences, and how it will continue to endure as a suspense masterpiece. When The Prestige asks you if you're paying attention in its enigmatic opening, it's not just for show, it's a portent of things to come.
1. Children Of MenConsidering this was the same year that produced the equally incendiary V For Vendetta, Children Of Men seems like the superior piece of speculative political fiction. While the former film still serves as a general symbol for activism for the people, Alfonso Cuaron's film stands out as a brilliant exercise in taking the fears of the day and accelerating them into a plausible future state. Clive Owen's transformation from apathetic to sympathetic hero is brilliant, with everyone from Michael Caine to Chiwetel Ejiofor serving as influencing factors on Owen's journey. As beautiful of a story as it is a series of images, Children Of Men is a film that still lives up to its legend after a decade of existence.
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