Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
2006 was a banner year for the movie industry. A full 804 films were released, grossing well over nine billion dollars. As the Oscars showed, a surprising number of these films were critically acclaimed, and loved by people all over the world. And…I learned to my chagrin…I had seen virtually none of them.
That’s right…as the Academy Awards progressed, it turned into a cavalcade of movies I did not get to over the course of the year: The Queen , Babel, The Departed , The Last King of Scotland, Dreamgirls…no no no no no no. (I know, I know. I’ll pay penance at The Confessional if need be.) In fact, of the 804 movies that were released this year, I saw exactly 22 of them, which equals a whopping 2.7%. That sample size guarantees that my list will be objectively arbitrary, and all-but pointless. With that said, I pored over my list of 22 films for hours, determining which made the coveted “Van Winkle Top Ten.”
Here are the results, in descending order:
10. Brick – By far the most original movie of the year, Brick combines two genres in one film: the 1930’s-era hard-boiled detective film, and the 1980s John Hughes high school movie. The result is a fascinating film with pretty girls, incredible dialogue, and an utterly incomprehensible plot. The story is only a backdrop for the concept and the words anyway, so this hardly matters. This is a movie to marvel at, not comprehend. You’ll never look at lunch the same way again.
9. The Prestige – I think I have a man crush on Christopher Nolan. His track record is small, but each movie is as unique and compelling as any movie you’ll ever see. Memento is a noir thriller that requires multiple viewings a la The Usual Suspects. Insomnia was a taut, realistic thriller that actually managed to tone down Al Pacino AND Robin Williams. Batman Begins completely re-invented the super hero movie, kicking ass and making us think. And the Prestige might be one of the two best costume drama magician movies ever made. This movie is everything I expected from a Nolan flick: terrific acting, beautiful sets, and a crazy concept rendered plausible by sincere, straightforward storytelling. A dissatisfying ending keeps this from being higher on the list, but it’s still well worth the time.
8. Borat – Full Disclosure: I did not find Borat quite as uproariously funny as some other people did. However, not only did I still find it damn amusing, it was also the bravest and most audacious performance you might ever see on screen. Did you ever in your life imagine that you’d see a man feign Anti-Semitism while speaking Hebrew, and still convince people that he was legit? Even Meryl Streep has time off between takes; Sacha Baron Cohen spent ten hours a day for MONTHS in character, and the results are already legendary.
7. V for Vendetta – Bad reviews kept me away initially, but I caught this on DVD recently, and I’ll be damned. I can’t say that I agree with the message (anarchy is good, blow shit up if you want justice!), but the movie itself is cohesive, exciting, and fascinating. And even if the conclusions are faulty, the justification for them are valid, and does give you pause. To put it another way, any movie that has Natalie Portman shave her head, and yet still seem hot, it a film worth seeing.
6. Little Miss Sunshine – As I’ve stated before, Little Miss Sunshine absolutely succeeds, even though by all rights it should have fallen on its face; you just should NOT be able to tease at a joke for over an hour, and still have it deliver big laughs when you get to it. But it works here, due to an airtight story, and an ensemble cast that embraces their characters and each other. I don’t think I have ever liked Greg Kinnear more, and Steve Carrell delivers a performance so effective that his inevitable backlash has been delayed for years.
5. Why We Fight – How can a documentary about the “military industrial complex” be this good? Through brilliant use of the Jon Krakauer method. In Krakauer’s Into the Wild, the author states in a prologue that he did NOT succeed in keeping his emotions from his subject matter. Therefore, rather than pretend that he is detached, he would instead just keep it out as long as possible, and then let the reader know what he feels. In Why We Fight, the filmmakers keep the movie as neutral as it can, until they eventually let the metaphorical and literal bombs drop once you’re already invested. I have to believe that only the reddest of red-staters could walk out of this movie and not feel an indescribable, seething rage at the current administration. Plus, if you’re paying attention, it will arm you for any political argument you find yourself in for years.
4. Casino Royale – People are slow to realize this, but Casino Royale is the best Bond movie ever , and only the church of Connery keeps from people from seeing that David Craig is the best James Bond. Simultaneously faithful to its source material and bracingly original, Casino Royale has all the excitement of Bond, without the cringe-inducing nonsense that bogged down so many previous installments (like, for example, Bond driving a motorcycle off a cliff, catching up to a jet that had fallen before him, and then getting control of it before it crashes.) This movie made you sorry to see it end, and breathless for the next one. Or, if none of this connects, Eva Green is in it, and she might be the hottest woman alive not married to me. (that was a close one.)
3. Children of Men – If you ever wonder why “Best Adapted Screenplay” is an Oscar-worthy skill, look no further than Children of Men. The novel it’s based on is merely the skeletal structure from which this movie is based. The filmmakers took it and ran. The result is terrifying, and yet somehow beautiful in all its horror. It taps into our culture’s fear of nuclear war, tyrannical government, and cell-phone induced sterility. You’ll never find a movie more bracingly original and fascinating.
2. The History Boys – There are no explosions, and no special effects. What The History Boys possesses, is quite possibly a perfect script. It was based on a play that had won more Tony awards than any other play ever, and the film does its source justice. It’s a small story about a group of boys preparing for their pre-college exams in 1980s England, but somehow it becomes a story of love, and passion, and the power of the written word. It’s one of only two movies all year that made me want to stand up and applaud when the credits rolled. The other one, by the way, was…
1. An Inconvenient Truth – It’s a documentary. About Al Gore. Giving a slide show. While I admit that this premise wouldn’t exactly hit a home run with its elevator speech, the end result was the scariest, saddest, most revelatory and inspiring movie of the year . I was literally on the edge of my seat from the start, and I freely admit that I was crying as the end credits rolled. Everyone has to see this movie no matter what your political ideology; you will be swayed.
Honorable Mention (the other twelve movies I saw this year): Firewall, Inside Man , Thank You For Smoking, The Da Vinci Code , Mission Impossible 3 , High School Musical, X-Men: The Last Stand , Superman Returns , Who Killed the Electric Car?, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest , School for Scoundrels , Stranger than Fiction – These movies are all either Fine, or Regrettable. I leave it to you to guess which ones I deem which word.
VERY SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION FOR THE ONE MOVIE OF 2006 I DID NOT SEE, BUT WISH I DID: Zyzzx Road – I don’t know anything about this movie. However, I saw a stat about it that made me smile more than anything else this year. I mean, after coming up with a way to use the very last word in the OED in the title, thereby ensuring that it would be easy to find forever, and then investing all the time and money necessary to get a film into theaters, you’d think that you could at least get your family to buy a few tickets, right? Instead, Zyzzx Road has the distinction, in my mind at least, of having the funniest box office line I’ve ever seen.