Friday, December 04, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2006 edition

Before I get into all that today, the National Review Board has spoken, and has christened Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" as the best movie of 2009.

I can't really argue with that since I haven't gotten to see it yet, but there are plenty of other things to celebrate in its list. Anna Kendrick, a definite favorite around these parts, was named Best Supporting Actress for Reitman's flick, and Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker" and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious" were very worthy winners in the breakthrough acting categories. Duncan Jones was also rightly hailed as one of three breakthrough directors for "Moon."

It also included a real oddity, but also surely well-deserved: A "Special Filmmaking Achievement" award for Wes Anderson for the witty "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which wasn't enough, however, to earn him a spot on the mysterious board's Top 10 list. Here it is:


I haven't seen "An Education," "Invictus" or "The Messenger," but of those I have seen on this list, I know "The Hurt Locker" and "Inglourious Basterds" will make my list for the year, and suspect "Star Trek" and "Where the Wild Things Are" will too.

But enough of that, this is supposed to be all about 2006, so here goes.

Perhaps its just that as the years get closer to this one I remember more movies (man, I really hope that's not the case), but 2006 really was just a banner year for movies.

It was, of course, the year of that trio of Mexican directors who rose to the top all at once, and two of them will make the list below, with the other in the honorable mention. And it was really agonizing to cut it down to 10, so here are the last five that almost made the cut: "The Queen," "Dreamgirls," "Notes on a Scandal," "Hard Candy" and "Wordplay."

And, before I get to today's main event, here are the other honorable mentions, all damn fine film in my world: "Neil Young: Heart of Gold," "Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion," "V for Vendetta," "The Child," "Slither," "Akeelah and the Bee," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Once in a Lifetime," "Hollywoodland," "The Last King of Scotland", "The Departed," "Little Children," "Babel," "Borat," "Stranger than Fiction," "Flushed Away," "Casino Royale," "Rocky Balboa" and "Letters from Iwo Jima."

Whew. I got a bit of the carpet tunnel just typing all that, but here now are my top 10 movies for 2006, and as usual, please feel free to add any you think I might have snubbed.

"A Cock and Bull Story"
From all I've read (and I read a lot more celebrity gossip than anyone my age rightly should), Steve Coogan can be as much of a prick in real life as he is in movies like this witty little gem from Michael Winterbottom. Movies about making movies has to be my favorite subgenre of flicks (or in this case, I suppose, a movie about not making a movie), and this one about an attempt to film the "unfilmable" novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" is among the best.

I really like movies about South Africa (you'll find another one on this list soon), and this one from director Gavin Hood tells a powerful (perhaps the most misused word in talking about movies, but in this case, I think, accurate) story of a truly rotten person trying to find an ounce of redemption in the consequences of his acts. To clear that up a bit for anyone who hasn't seen this, it's about a Johannesburg hood who, after killing a woman during a car-jacking, discovers there is a baby in the backseat, and how that changes his life. Sounds more than a bit cheesy on paper, but this won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and for once they got it exactly right.

"Dave Chappelle's Block Party"
If it weren't for those pesky Mexicans, Michel Gondry's movie, which is indeed just a big party celebrating Dave Chappelle and great hip-hop and R&B music, would be my favorite for 2006. Even if you don't like hip-hop music (and if you don't, keep it yourself, please), the fun is just thoroughly infectious as Dave hosts a Brooklyn street concert featuring Dead Prez (my favorites at the time), Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and even the Fugees. In fact, the only person who apparently didn't have fun at this party was Kanye West, but he really doesn't seem to enjoy himself much anywhere.

"Thank You for Smoking"
Satire has really lost its bite in many of the movie attempts nowadays, but Jason Reitman hit the target with this flick based on the even more scathingly funny novel by Christopher Buckley. The casting, from Aaron Eckhart as the lead and truly slimy tobacco lobbyist to supporting players including Maria Bello, David Koechner and the always-very-funny J.K. Simmons, is almost uniformly perfect, with the only real hole being a horribly miscast Katie Holmes as a reporter (not believable for a second.) Though she plays a key role, it's not enough to detract from the excellent work of everyone else. And for a satire from this year that's even better, catch Armando Iannucci's "In the Loop" when it hits DVD on Jan. 12.

When perusing the best of 2005 list from Mad Hatter, always a welcome visitor here, I found this debut from Rian Johnson listed by someone in the comments, and was afraid I had somehow misplaced it, but I think it does indeed belong on the 2006 list. No matter what year you put it in, it's a rather remarkable first feature. I love film noir (there will be another one coming up on this list very soon), and Johnson's flick transports the genre to the hell that is high school, with a great Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring as a loner who investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and ends up infiltrating a small-time high school crime ring. See this one right away if you haven't.

"Catch a Fire"
Phillip Noyce's movie set in apartheid-era South Africa has more to say about terrorism and the anger that would drive someone to commit horrific atrocities than almost any of the movies made during our "war on terror" (I'm sure glad Barack Obama has yet to use that tired term), and says it in an engaging tale to boot. Derek Luke delivers, for my money, the best male performance of the year as Patrick Chamusso, an apolitical oil refinery foreman finally driven to join the African National Congress movement and fight the power after his treatment during interrogation about an attack on the refinery where he works. Interestingly, this flick was written by Shawn Slovo, daughter of the anti-apartheid activists Joe Slovo and Ruth First.

Pedro Almodovar's love for women doesn't shine any brighter than in this flick, and it certainly doesn't hurt when those women are Penelope Cruz and the underappreciated Carmen Maura. I'm perhaps ranking this too high, but this ghost story of sorts revels in secrets and lies as the best Almodovar flicks do, and the Spanish settings of Madrid and Alcanfor de las Infantas come to vibrant life on his palette as much as the colorful characters. I really can't do the rather twisted plot justice on paper, but I really love this film.

"El Aura"
I guess you'd have to call Fabian Bielinsky one of my favorite directors, because though he only managed to direct two movies before tragically dying at only age 47 in 2006, the year I'm celebrating now, they're both nearly perfect. The first, "Nine Queens," was a first-rate con job movie, and this film noir of sorts is even better. Ricardo Darin stars as a taxidermist suffering from epilepsy who dreams of committing the "perfect crime," and has even worked out in his head just how it would go down. Things slowly get crazier and crazier after he gets invited on a hunting trip and gets the chance to actually follow through on his plans, and the intensity just builds on a perfect slow boil.

"Children of Men"
Genuinely entertaining science fiction as allegory is a sadly dying art. Danny Boyle tried and failed rather miserably with "Sunshine," but Duncan Jones - with a huge assist from Sam Rockwell - fared much better with "Moon," which I'm fairly certain will find home on my top 10 for this year. Even better, however, is this odd road movie of sorts from Alfonso Cuaron (the second road movie of his to make my decade's best 100 list, with "Y Tu Mama Tambien"), which adapts the P.D. James novel about a future in which no babies have been born for 18 years. A bureaucrat and former peace activist (Clive Owen) joins forces with his revolutionary ex-wife (Julianne Moore) to protect a young woman (Claire Hope-Ashitey) who has become mysteriously pregnant and may hold the key to humanity's future. It sounds like the plot of those paint-by-numbers "sci-fi" flicks that come out in January and February and are just unwatchable, but with big assists from supporting players Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Caine, Cuaron lets this often horrific journey travel to just the perfect glimmer of hope. Mi hermano says this is the best movie of 2006, and I can almost agree with him, except for the only one that was better ...

"Pan's Labyrinth"
Movies that revel in both the power and danger of imagination always appeal to me. It's why I can almost guarantee you'll see Tarsem's "The Fall" on my 2008 list, and also what makes Guillermo del Toro's best movie my favorite from 2006. It's a shame, in a way, that "The Hobbit" has consumed so much of his time, because as much as I want to see what he finally comes up with, I really wish he'd tell another tale set during the Spanish Civil War, because this one and "The Devil's Backbone" are real winners. It tells the story of Ofelia, the bookish daughter of a ruthless Spanish army captain who imagines an elaborate fantasy to help her escape from the harsh realities that surround her. Few movies better capture this ability that children cherish and that we too often lose as adults, and young Ivana Baquero would get my vote for the best female performance in a movie for this year. Just a wild tale that I still watch at least twice a year, and it's just as engaging each time.

And there you have it. Perhaps a bit longer than the others, but that's what happens when I only work a half-day due to furloughs. I hope you enjoyed it, and as usual, please feel free to add any I have egregiously snubbed and check back soon for the 2007 edition. Peace out.


Justin said...

I loved Children of Men.

Bob said...

Whether you call it "Tristram Shandy" or "A Cock and Bull Story" that is just a fantastic movie that only gets better every time I watch it. If you haven't seen it you should check out "OSS 117." It's a French comedy that played at the Seattle International Film Festival that year (and won!). I think that'd be right up your alley.
Personally, "Pan's Labyrinth" wasn't really my thing. Certainly not a bad movie, but I just couldn't get into it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I know more than a few people who feel the say way about "Pan's Labyrinth," Bob ... And thanks for the recommendation .. I'm off now to see if I can get it on Netflix

Anonymous said...

Good selections you've got here. Children of Men is a real masterpiece, and I loved Pan's Labyrinth.

I've also kicked off my "Best of the Decade" list, beginning with 2000. Check it out!

Reel Fanatic said...

I certainly will, V-Knowledge, as something to enjoy on my lunch break today

The Mad Hatter said...

Hey check it out! We agree on the number one movie of the year!!

Good call on including VOLVER - I love that opening scene where all the women are cleaning the headstones on the blustery morning. It's such a simple set-up but it really sticks with you.

Only one I loved that you didn't mention - UNITED 93. It's a stellar bit of directing by Paul Greengrass, and easily the best tribute to what happened that morning. The fact that the whole cast is made up of unknowns only heightens the feeling that we could easily be watching actual footage.

You know what's coming...

Reel Fanatic said...

Feel free to call me a wuss (which wouldn't be inaccurate in this case), but as well made as it was, I just had to turn away from the screen too many times during "United 93" ... It just touched too many nerves for me

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Anonymous said...

You have got to see this. Obama playing on XBox. Funniest video ever.

Catch A Fire Online said...

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