Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Best Films Of 2006

Here is my list of 2006's ten best films. At least, of the ones I've been lucky enough to see. I'll wrap things up with a couple of additional lists: films I didn't see that would have, otherwise, made it onto this list I think; and films that were pretty darn good but didn't make the ten, with special reference to a few derided films that didn't deserve all of the stick.

We'll start at number ten and work up the list, I think. I reserve the right to edit this should my awful memory remind me of a great film that, somehow, I overlooked (I suppose that's
kind of cheating).

I'm not going to go into my reasons that much here - if you're a regular reader, you'll already know; if not, you most likely don't care.

The Break-Up

Peyton Reed is one of American studio cinema's secret weapons, like Peter Chelsom, Joseph Ruben, Audrey Wells or Richard LaGravanese. Every one of his films has been smart, very well crafted and undervalued.

Where the Truth Lies

Atom Egoyan understands Hitchcock better than most other contemporary directors, learning from his more subtle techniques but not aping his more obvious stylings. A rich, complex film.

The Queen

Peter Morgan's
Longford script was better on paper, but The Queen was the better crafted film. And, in fact, Helen Mirren was better in the final Prime Suspect but... hang on. I'm having a moment of doubt here. Maybe TV is better than cinema after all...

7. Pan's Labyrinth

The most overrated film on this list, Pan's Labyrinth has much in common with the films at positions 2 and 1, particularly 1 but simply isn't as sophisticated or as well constructed. Not to say it isn't extremely well constructed. Another astonishing film from Guillermo del Toro - though it is reputed to be much better than his others, it simply is isn't. They're wonderful, every one.

6. Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Michel Gondry showed an entire skillset he hadn't flexed publicly before in what was, essentially, a documentary. Wonderfully judged, perfectly paced and - this year at least - unparallelled in creating a roof-raising atmosphere.


Perhaps the most handsome film ever committed to celluloid,
Cars faced innumerable cinematic challenges head on and overcame them all with great invention and imagination. Case in point: the body of the car being immediately, and without question, accepted as a stand-in for both the 'body' and 'head' of a living being, at times shifting from one to the other in a single frame. This kind of design solution is the genius that sets Pixar apart from all other studios.

Children of Men

Forrest Gump was, until now, the most intelligent and visually perfected example of computer effects in film - but not anymore: what Alfonso Cuaron imagined, his FX and camera teams bought vividly (sometimes, seemingly impossibly) to life. Children of Men is a simply structured film, walking a fine line between parable and a sci-fi slice-of-life, but on the clean, driving story hang a wealth of astute character moments, tense suspense scenes and questions that deserve careful consideration.


A wonderful union of populist crowd-pleasing and onion-skinned satire,
Hostel was for some months the most impressive film I'd seen this year. I'm certain that this movie will be considered a classic - both widely and very seriously - in the years to come. Hostel is not only a film with a lot of brilliantly dramatised ideas, it is a film that targets the audiences that both need to hear these ideas most and also those who will be most responsive to them (two very different audiences, mind) with pin-point accuracy - a bit like Borat, actually.

Little Miss Sunshine

Simply, a masterpiece of mise-en-scene, editing and fuss-free, elegant, eloquent visual storytelling. The cast are wonderful, the script is witty but most of all, the film works best as a full, finished film. Dayton and Faris have blown me away with their sense of composition, camera and montage. Not a popular appraisal, I know, but watch it again, and pay close attention.


Sophisticated, rich, bold and brilliantly built, Tideland is Gilliam's best film since Brazil and one of the very few best films I have ever seen. Being this unpredictable can have costs to a film's integrity
, but not here: no matter where we go with Jeliza Rose, no matter how Gilliam takes his next slice into the film's subtext, it's all part of one incredible argument, one amazing, but coherent world view. A Vertigo for this age.

I've got lots more to say about Tideland in the next couple of weeks, as the DVD release draws near.

The following films could easily have made the list:
Brick, Superman Returns, Borat, Rumour Has It, Breakfast on Pluto, Syriana, The Dark, Volver, Angel-A, Monster House, Thank You For Smoking, Casino Royale; and these films were far from bad - in fact, really rather good - just not anything particularly 'special': The Hills Have Eyes, The Night Listener, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, Match Point, Sophie Scholl, Factotum.

In fact,
Casino Royale was perhaps my favourite film of the year - simply as I expected much, much less. This year's 40 Year Old Virgin.

Here are the films I missed which I suspect could
maybe have made the list (from what I know of them, or of their cast and crew's previous work, maybe from their coverage in the press): The Science of Sleep, Duck Season, Satellite, Don't Come Knocking, Bubble, The Illusionist, The Last King of Scotland, Edmond, The Puffy Chair, Art School Confidential, The Boss of it All, The Host, Lunacy, Stick It, Half Nelson, Find Me Guilty, The Fountain, A Scanner Darkly.

This last section is for films that I found somewhat lacking, though many were rather well received elsewhere:
Tzameti, Ellie Parker, Snakes on a Plane, Running Scared, Hard Candy, Nacho Libre, Lucky Number Slevin, Firewall, Talladega Nights, Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

I am disappointed with the low number of films from beyond the US and UK film industries in my top 10 list for the year, but this is more a result of the distribution patterns and the films offered to me than any personal taste. Looking back at the films of 2006 in, say, 2008, once I have been able to see and appreciate a larger range of films, I am certain that any list I might make would be very different. For sure, a great number of the films on an "all-time list" I might make would not be in the English language, though still, truth be told, not a majority, just a far bigger minority. Again, distribution factors are largely to blame, I'm sure (though, in fact, I
would argue that more great films have been made in Hollywood than any other specific film industry, both recently and back during the 'heyday' of the studio system - but that's a discussion for another time).


Don Murphy said...

Ummm, I don't know what to say since you iclude Pan's (best film of year) yet call it overrated and call incoherent, stupid garbage like HOSTEL "one for the ages" It's like you know quality but are slightly drunk. Must be a UK thing. And nop one released TIDELAND here so you must be tipsy, although my friend Vincenzo Natali did say it was worth seeing. Happy 07 you luch you.

Brendon said...

What I said about Pan's Labyrinth was that it was the most overrated film on the list. I believe it is - this film has been getting the reception of a messianic manifestation in certain quarters.

Hostel incomprehensible? Hmmmm. The cynic would suggest that your history with Tarantino might have coloured your feelings on this one.

ThinkFilm did give Tideland a (distinctly limited) release in the US. Shame you missed it.

Actually, I don't drink at all. Or smoke. Or use drugs. But I might be giddy on all of the sugary food?

Happy 2007 to you too.

Anonymous said...

Hostel and The Break Up in your top 10 of '06? Over The Departed? And it's not even in your could have list? Wow. If it's true you're not on drugs maybe you should start eh?

Brendon said...

The Departed? Honestly.

Scorsese's attention-seeking baroque stylings do not good cinema make. Fuss, easy fan bases and misguided acclaim, sure. But his films, simply, don't work, are badly made and value novelty above all else.

Don Murphy said...

I am fine with Quentin, thank you and think Eli is a great guy. Hostel had no story, no worthwhile acting, and was an exercise in pure sadism. At least all the SAWA tried to have a plot. In no case except alcohol is it one of the tope ten films of the year.

And yes, Guillermo is the messiah. Deal with it.

Departed is not as good as Infernal Affairs. What does that tell us?


Brendon said...

How's this for a story: Some young men leave their homes behind for the first time in their lives, go beyond their horizons and at first, unleashed, they see nothing but a playground, a richness of things that they might take for themselves, and exploit. Of course, they too might be things to be exploited, and this is a hard lesson to learn. Having been raised to see themselves as unimpeachable, as privileged and glorious, they have their beliefs challenged.

That's just one of the storylines in Hostel. And it's just a simplified version of it, but one of the very resonant, relevant and significant stories the film has to tell.

Internal Affairs was indeed something to be happier about than The Departed... didn't exactly make it a masterpiece, however.

Don Murphy said...

That is a great storyline... wish it actually was in the movie. You saw what you wanted to see.