Film Faves: 2006

Welcome to another edition of Film Faves, a feature wherein I count down my 12 favorite films from each year.  Remember, Film Faves is not to be taken as an end-all, unbiased, objective list of the best films of each year.  It is a fun editorial about the movies I enjoyed most from a given year.  Instead of a top 10 list with honorable mentions tacked on, I decided to cut down on all of that and list a dozen films I recommend most.

The year 2006 was an interesting year for movies.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was the highest-grossing film of the year.  Meanwhile, the decade's greatest film, United 93 was also released.  Documentaries continued their popularity by getting environmental with An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed The Electric Car?.  They also examined politics (Why We Fight), entertainment (This Film is Not Yet Rated), and religion (Jesus Camp).  The year brought us Slither, Pan's Labyrinth, Mission: Impossible III, Dreamgirls, Over the Hedge, The Descent, Monster House, Talledega Nights, Cars, and The Queen.  It also brought us Open Season, X-Men: The Last Stand, Barnyard, Lady in the Water, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, Basic Instinct 2, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Doogal, and Hoodwinked.  The following are my favorites:

2006:

12. Shut Up & Sing

This slot had a few contenders, but I ultimately chose to give it to a documentary.  This documentary slipped under the radar for most people; audiences understandably preferred to see Saw III or Borat than a movie seemingly about the Dixie Chicks fiasco.  Yes, Shut Up focuses on the Dixie Chicks and Natalie Maines’s dismissive comment in 2003 regarding George W. Bush.  But it quickly becomes less about defending the Chicks and more about the shushing of dissent during times of war.  We bear witness to red-hot furor over a Red-State musical act commenting against a president starting a war.  The reactions vary from radio censorship and CD-smashing to threats of violence against the front-woman herself.  It’s a film that looks like it requires a love of the band, but actually offers something for every American.  Shut Up & Sing is an interesting document of a period in the decade where blind patriotism ruled… a period in which hindsight tends to favor the voice of dissent.

11. Crank

Insane is the only way to describe this Jason Statham roller-coaster ride.  The first moments feature an 8-bit graphic and a hung-over first person perspective, at which point you know two things: 1) this is not something to take seriously and 2) this is going to be unlike anything else in recent memory.  Statham’s Chev Chelios has been injected with some sort of poison that is slowed by adrenaline.  Basically, if the action stalls our attention won’t be the only thing that will expire.  This is a brilliant concept that is executed with an infectious enthusiasm and energy.  Crank is wild, outrageous, hard-R fun!

10. Stranger Than Fiction

To some this is nothing more than a wannabe Kauffman film. I think the performances in Stranger Than Fiction elevate it above 2nd-rate copycatting.  Sure, comparisons to Charlie Kauffman’s style (see Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) are impossible to ignore.  However, Fiction remains an interesting fable about creativity, monotony, and the idea that we are all just characters in someone else’s story. Will Ferrell gets mopish and sincere here.  While he may not reach the heights of Jim Carrey’s Spotless Mind, it is very refreshing to witness; after all, Ferrell’s man-child oafishness has run its course.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is sidelined to a love interest that seems like an afterthought, a studio note.  But even she can raise the material to something likable.  Regardless, Stranger Than Fiction has a very juicy idea that is played out comically and dramatically in a very satisfying way.

9. Borat

This is probably the most irreverent, inspired, and ingenious comedy of the decade. Sacha Baron Cohen took a sketch comedy character and created an innocently offensive, yet likable observer (if not antagonizing) of our society’s less-than-desirable prejudices – and he did so to hilarious effect.  Borat is a film that demands mention in any discussion about movies from the aughts.  It may even be one of the greatest comedies ever put to film.

8. The Departed

What a solid crime-thriller! I’ve yet to see Infernal Affairs - the Hong Kong film that The Departed Americanized - but the story of a cop infiltrating a mob while the mob simultaneously infiltrates the police force is extremely taut and gripping! This is a stellar piece of work by Martin Scorsese, who brought out all the big guns: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, and Ray Winstone!  I may not agree The Departed is the best film of 2006, but it’s close.

7. Little Children

When I think about the year 2006 in film, two movies immediately come to mind: #3 and Little ChildrenLittle Children is another great work of domestic and suburban struggle by Todd Field (In the Bedroom). His previous film’s focus was on a tragedy - an external violence’s effect on the emotions of those closest to it, which manifests back to outward violence.  Little Children also has an unpleasant presence in an amiable suburban community, but is primarily focused on a more internal conflict, that of an affair between two married people.  Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) play the unfaithful couple who fall in love.  Jackie Earl Haley returns to the screen as a registered sex offender who comes to live with his mother in the community.  His unwelcome presence turns the neighborhood into something just as objectionable as his reputation.  It’s interesting to watch as both stories have an effect on the members of the community and how sympathetic they become – especially Haley during a swimming pool scene that becomes a question of intentions and perspective.  Simply a great film.

6. Thank You for Smoking

Director Jason Reitman popped onto the indie circuit with this satirical gem.  Aaron Eckhart (Erin Brockovich, The Dark Knight) stars as Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman, a man who can turn a cancer patient into a potential customer.  He’s the Great Debater – in fact, I can’t think of a character over the past 20 years as talented at persuasive arguments as Eckhart’s Nick Naylor. “If you argue correctly, you’re never wrong,” he tells his intrigued son.  Smoking is a hilarious film that dares you to care about the “Yuppie Mephistopheles”, yet also is more concerned with the subjectivity of what is morally right than delivering a message about Big Tobacco itself.  Jason Reitman went on to direct Juno and Up in the Air, two Best Picture contenders of their respective years.  As a result, I named him one of the best directors of the decade and look forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve.

5. District B13

Almost as relentless as Crank, but not as outrageous is the French film District B13 (in French the ‘B’ is redundant). The opening foot-chase scene will make your jaw drop in how’d-they-do-that astonishment (it blows the similar chase scene in Casino Royale out of the water) as what you are seeing stuntman-turned-actor (and inventor of Parkour) David Belle do is actually happening; no camera tricks, CGI, or stunt doubles. The story: in a near-future Paris, an undercover cop and ex-thug must team-up to stop a gang from setting off a neutron bomb.  Little-seen by us stateside folks, but highly recommended.

4. V for Vendetta

This was perhaps the best theater experience of 2006 for me.  Having started collecting comics over a year beforehand, I’d become familiar with Alan Moore’s work, including the V for Vendetta graphic novel. I was excited for what sounded like a good adaptation of the source material - and I got one. Sure, the filmmakers went a tad further with the relationship between V and Evie than they should’ve, but this was no LEXG-redux. McTiegue hit every subversive and explosive note from Moore’s work and added some exciting action in the mix. This is a film by one establishment against another establishment and for that it should be appreciated, because Hollywood rarely has the balls to make a film like it. Like Watchmen after it (another work by Alan Moore), V for Vendetta shows that superhero films can be more than web-slinging popcorn flicks.

3. Little Miss Sunshine

What could’ve been quirk for quirk’s sake turned out to be the sweetest, most beautiful comedy of the year.  Instead of giving us caricatures that exist only for their one-note quirkiness like that of Napoleon Dynamite, this film gives us real characters with real dreams and aspirations and real flaws who happen to be left-of-center. The film opens by introducing the characters so beautifully with that wonderful score by the Denver band DeVotchka; I’m reminded of the opening to Magnolia as I watch it. Each character has a dream or aspiration and is faced with one form or another of failure because of their idiosyncrasies or differences from the norm. Nobody in this family is a star to anybody outside the home (or VW Microbus, as the case may be). Little Miss Sunshine is not about the tragedy within failure, it’s about the beauty within those quirks that makes some of us fail by society's standards.

2. Children of Men

Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), is perhaps the greatest science fiction film of the decade – and one of the least seen, only earning half its budget. This is tragic in a way, because it is already considered a classic of the genre. Clive Owen stars as a loner in a near-future where all women are infertile and the last-born human, an 18 year-old, is killed.  Owen finds himself in a situation where he must escort what may be the key to humanity’s survival to a safe-haven. The film is a work of ingenious craftsmanship.  It contains mind-blowingly long single-cut action scenes, virtually no special effects, and a dingy reality not far removed from our own. There is no sleek whiz-bang technology, no aliens, and no gun-toting heroes. This kind of science fiction is typically relegated to hardbacks. Children of Men centers on great acting (Julianne Moore and Michael Caine join Owen) and great writing and is managed by a great filmmaker.

1. Casino Royale

Before 2006, the James Bond series had lost the spark that GoldenEye brought to the franchise ten years before. At that time, Pierce Brosnan seemed fresh and invigorating to the series. After only four films, it had quickly become high-tech buffoonery comparable to the Roger Moore films of the ‘80s. Before 2006, there were laser beams, invisible cars, and Christmas Jones. I admit I was a bit nervous about a possible prequel to the Bond mythology (wasn't M originally a man?). But Casino Royale turned out to be not a prequel but a re-boot – a smarter and more interesting decision, as it turned out. Martin Campbell (who coincidentally directed GoldenEye also) disposed of fantastical villainy and plopped Bond into a real-world environment. The result was perhaps the most exciting Bond film to this day (the follow-up, Quantum of Solace, was a bore by comparison). Bond became rawer than ever – and fell in love for the first time in over 35 years! It would be no less tragic than before, but so much sexier and more fun!

 
Those are my favorite films of 2006.  If I listed a movie you're unfamiliar with or have yet to see I highly recommend giving them a look.  Let me know what you think!  What are your favorite movies of 2006?  Leave a comment below.  Next time on Film Faves, dark knights and dark forces return... 2005!  See you next time.

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