The best of the best of the best, sir!

For whatever reason, Blogger decided it hated me, not allowing me to upgrade my old blog to the new version. I suspect racism. Anyway, thus the new URL (and some new features). If you're looking for something I put up before this month, you'll still have to go to the old site, which I link to down there on the bottom right.

To kick this new blog off in style, here are my Top Ten Films of 2006, which some of you may have received via e-mail. I'll throw the miscellaneous awards up here in a few days. Enjoy...

Like most years, 2006 was an interesting cinematic one. I didn't think I'd seen nearly as many films as I usually do, although I did watch all five Best Picture nominees. Upon further review though, the number is virtually identical (about 40) to the last couple years. The difference appears to be that I didn't make it to quite as many "films", but saw more "movies". My initial thoughts were that that 2006 was not a great cinematic year, but looking back, I see several decent flicks that didn't make my list, along with seven films in my top ten that were brilliantly creative and well-executed, plus my heart-wrenching top selection. I think these top eight films could hang with any octet from any year. Go see them. Now.

Without further ado, here is my Top Ten of 2006, in reverse order, with links to my full reviews if possible. Remember that the rankings may not directly correspond with the ratings I doled out upon initial review, because a top ten list should be more fluid than simply organizing films by number…

Warning! Mild Spoilers Ahead!

10. Mission: Impossible III. In the spot reserved for the best movie of the year (a popcorn movie with no pretense of Oscar) comes Tom Cruise's adrenaline fest, which is nearly exhausting with its unrelenting action. A classic MacGuffin only accentuates the point that this is not a grand film, but pure summertainment featuring beautiful people in extreme, life-threatening circumstances with the fate of the world on the line. That's what a summer blockbuster should be, and that's what Cruise and director J.J. Abrams deliver.

9. The Departed. The fact that Martin Scorsese's work makes my list despite an unsatisfying final act reveals just how riveting the first two hours are. The all-star cast is as good as expected; six different viewers could easily come away most impressed by half a dozen different performances. Scorsese doesn't put this one on cruise control though, using creative editing to maximize the medium's capabilities. Since no other film captured the hearts of Academy voters, the film was able to snag a few big Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture; I can accept that. It felt too seedy and occasionally cartoonish to sneak too far up my list, but after an initial poor aftertaste, Departed regained my favor enough to land here.

8. Pan's Labyrinth. Set six decades ago during one of the countless Spanish civil wars, this movie is dominated by the contrasts between the brutal realities of the conflict and the tender imagination of a young girl, blurring the line between fantasy and reality in the process. How much of the film is real is quite debatable, but ultimately doesn't matter. Similar to Finding Neverland, the point is that the imagination is a powerful tool that is particularly and wonderfully useful in the darkest times.

7. The Prestige. With its powerhouse combination of actors (Bale and Jackman), director (Christopher Nolan), and production value, it seems that this tale of dueling magicians should be higher on the list. Maybe I did not possess the proper mindset when I saw it. Perhaps everyone achieves excellence so effortlessly that it nearly goes unappreciated. Seeing clips from the film still gets me excited, and I can't find much wrong with this picture except the lack of any personal connection.

6. Lady in the Water. Anyone complaining that M. Night Shyamalan is a one-trick pony with his surprise endings can stop talking now. There is no big twist here, just a tense children's tale that persistently entertains with its creative characters and imaginative storyline. Had someone else made this film, it would have been received with much more open-mindedness, but because too many people have preconceived notions about Shyamalan's work, his films' reviews suffer. It is a shame that more people do not understand what he accomplished with this fine movie.

5. Letters from Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood directs the story of the battle for the titular island from the Japanese perspective. From a technical standpoint, this is every bit the equal to Flags of Our Fathers, but connecting emotionally with a Japanese race that has been eternally portrayed as the enemy is something that takes a good chunk of the film to work through. The fact that the movie is still so potent is a sign of its remarkable quality. A similar film about Americans may have hauled in even more accolades, but this one is an equally noteworthy accomplishment.

4. Little Miss Sunshine. This quirky dark comedy was the funniest movie of the year by several bus lengths. I was literally crying from laughter by the end, when the movie smartly got out promptly and on top. The eclectic family was played superbly by the ensemble cast with an appropriate combination of gravity and humor that is often difficult to capture. As hilarious as Sunshine is, it also addresses many serious subjects in ways better than many dramas. Well worthy of its Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, you won't find a much better blend of comedy and poignancy.

3. Flags of our Fathers. As it explores an American angle on the fight for Iwo Jima, Flags quickly establishes that this isn't just another war movie. Utilizing multiple layers of flashbacks, it concentrates on the psychological impact that being hailed as a hero can have on different people, a fascinating contrast to the Vietnam era, when returning soldiers were often vilified. The nearly monochromatic color scheme is fantastic for the black sands of Iwo Jima, as Eastwood's sure hand guides what isn't his best movie, but might be his most important one.

2. Children of Men. Director Alfonso Cuaron helms the finest-crafted picture of the year, featuring a rock-solid performance by a stoic Clive Owen. With several lengthy shots that literally made my jaw drop, Cuaron creates a movie that entertains wildly through its technical achievement while enhancing rather than distracting from the film itself. Even without being aware of them, the long single takes subconsciously spawn tension, gluing the viewer to the screen, scarcely allowing a chance to blink or breathe. Combine that technical quality with a fascinating premise (all women in the world are now infertile), and the result is a film that is worthy of my top spot, but was nudged out by a once-in-a-lifetime type of work.

1. United 93. As its Oscar snubs may indicate, future generations may (erroneously) not rank this film among the year's best. It isn't the best made film of 2006 (though it's close), but it is the year's best and most moving cinematic experience. By using handheld cameras and eschewing dramatic music, director Paul Greengrass recreates the story passionately but without prejudice. Taking shots at the various inadequacies of the military and the FAA would have been simple, but instead the natural drama of the slowly building confusion is allowed to frustrate, perplex, and disappoint without being condescending. United 93 reaches people in ways that most films cannot, because it draws the viewer's emotions into the picture without being manipulative, and those genuine feelings are far greater than anything even the best films can generate on their own.

Thanks for reading. Ben has the first comment in three...two...


Robotic Doc said...

United 93 was the only one of the bunch I saw last year. Very well done. It certainly could have used Will Farrell though.

Pureblood Prince said...

Yeah, maybe even Will Ferrell. I still haven't see either of Clint's flicks. Maybe this summer in your home theater :).

the Opinionator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the Opinionator said...

My top Movies:

10. Mission Impossible III 7/10
Yeah, easily movie of the year. Dear McGuffin, oh how I love thee. Paul pretends like he does, but when there is one in an amazing movie *cough* The Return *cough* he calls it boring and faults it...you silly.

9. Casino Royale 8/10
The best Bond film. I said it, and I stand by it.

8. Dave Chappelle's Block Party 8/10
Fantastic mix of performances, interviews and set up. And it's Dave...one of the funniest men on earth.

7. Borat 10/10 (comedy scale)
I have never ever laughed harder at a movie. Ever. I had never been as disgusted by a film, until last week. But this still remains one of the best achievements in recent times.

6. Lady in the Water 8/10
Poor critics, they just don't get it, do they?

5. Prestige 8/10
So great on so many levels. I've seen it 3 times, I completely understand it, and all I want to do is watch it again.

4. Pan's Labyrinth 9/10
Such an amazing use of contrast, and still the most brutally amazing cut I've ever seen on anyone's face.

3. Little Miss Sunshine 9/10
The car horn alone would give Borat's laughs a run for its money, but this movie gets here by overall charm and its ability to meet and surpass the expectations that I had for it. It's still hard for me to watch the colorblind scene.

2. The Fountain 9/10
I don't care what anyone says, this movie is an achievement of modern cinema. It's out generations 2001: ASO and will be respected in the future, even if people have their heads up their butts in the present. If the next movie on the list hadn't been released, this would have had the best cinematograpy I've seen in a while.

1. Children of Men 10/10
But...this movie did come out, and outshines everthing ten fold. Easily one of the few movies I'd be willing to give a 10/10 to, it excels on every level.

Prince of Spades said...

Ben, if it makes you feel any better, Fountain was the last film taken off my list, bumped after I saw Labyrinth; and Casino Royale was probably #12, and the second best popcorn movie of the year.

And by The Return, you mean the Sarah Michelle Gellar horror movie, right?

Prince of Spades said...

More for Ben...

Not that I've seen it, but what could possibly have disgusted you more than Borat?

That cut was unbelievable.

I want to see Prestige and Fountain again

Dallas Does Indie said...

I stand by earlier comment of 'M. Night ain't Right!"

B. D. Mooneyham said...

Yea, I still don't like MI:III that much. Not that I'm comparing it to these movies, but I think I would put it behind some of the other mid-range movies that people forgot about, like V for Vendetta and Inside Man.

I still need to see a lot of these movies, like Pan's Labyrinth (see my blog for anger), Clint's flicks, The Departed, The Fountain.

the Opinionator said...

Paul: I'm sworn to secrecy. The person I saw it with and I made an agreement to never ever ever reveal. Sorry.

Paco de Goya said...

On a different note, I just finished watching the soccer highlight videos you linked to. That free kick was great, and that dive was, without any doubt whatsoever, the worst dive ever. The best part is that the player who took the dive gave the referee a "What did I do?" look.