Sunday, January 21, 2007

Elisabeth's Top Eight Films Of 2006

Despite having seen more films this year than any other, my top ten list remains incomplete. Due to living in Colorado (which now resembles the steppes of Russia), I have missed out on seeing all the buzzed about dramas such as Apocalypto, Notes on a Scandal or Babel. I can even foresee The Painted Veil possibly landing one of the final spots, or even film ick’s much-discussed Tideland. I planned on doing a Top Five, but I can’t stand eliminating three favorites. And in all good conscience, I can’t put something like Beowulf and Grendel or Flushed Away on my top ten just to pad out the numbers. (Though I did enjoy Flushed Away very much—and Beowulf and Grendel’s shot of the Viking ship sailing among ice floes remains one of the most stunning visuals I have seen all year.)

This is the kind of deliberation that has delayed my list so long. So without any further dithering, here’s my Top Eight Films of 2006.

1. The Fountain

I have been slightly obsessed with this film since November, perhaps in part because of the incredibly poor reception it received in the U.S. (Underdogs are always my passion.) It was dismissed as New Age fluff by critics who should have been intelligent enough to know better. I can understand not getting it, even not liking it as a whole, but there’s plenty to admire—the stunning visuals, the heartbreaking performances, the originality of the story and the haunting score. I am anxious to see what reception it receives overseas. I found it to be one of the most startling and emotional experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, and I think this film will join Doctor Zhivago as one of my all-time favorite love stories.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

This was, by far, the most fun I had at a movie all year. It had a mixed reception among audiences, but I really believe “POTC: At World’s End” will redeem what everyone saw as story flaws. (Though the appearance of Keith Richards may just drag it down to Davy Jones Locker.) I’m continually impressed with Bruckheimer and Verbinski keeping the Pirates saga on an adult level—there’s talking parrots and Will Turner for the kids, but I never thought I’d hear “Lift it like a lady’s skirts!” or “I want to know what it tastes like” in a Disney film. And you just can’t beat that ending. Count me in to sail to the end of the world.

3. The Queen

This is the rare film that deserves all the hype and acclaim. It really should be my number two pick, but pirates will hijack even the Queen of England—even when she is so formidably played by Helen Mirren. I am often skeptical of docu-dramas because they often are so self-conscious or just plain jarring, but this is a rare exception. Don’t be put off by the rather grim trailers and television spots. It’s a very human story with a lot of heart and wit.

4. The Prestige

You get a lot of movies that are magical, but how many do you get that are actually a magic trick? That’s precisely what The Prestige is and you will walk out realizing it was all there in the title. This film isn’t as exciting as the trailer sold it to be, but it makes up for it with the Victorian gloom of Christopher Nolan’s impeccable direction. Happily, 2006 was the year when all the Hugh Jackman doubters had to eat their words. He’s more than adamantium claws.

5. Children of Men

Of all the films this year, this was the biggest surprise. The American trailer was dull, I dislike Clive Owen and I’m neither here nor there on Cuaron. (I'm one of those rare few who did not care for his take on Harry Potter.) But this movie is powerful in all the right ways, with stellar performances from the entire cast. One would have expected Owen to be James Bond in this role and indeed, alot of male actors would have done just that. Instead Owen plays a bitter loser called upon to be a hero, and who manages to pull it off through sheer luck and heart. And with that, I apologize to Owen and Cuaron for doubting them...not that they were unduly concerned about my opinion, I am sure.

6. Pan’s Labyrinth

There’s not much I can say about this movie that hasn’t been said. There are flaws in it (Del Toro could have done with a bit more ambiguity and a little less grim reality if we are to buy his insistence that it is a happy ending) but it’s a fairy tale straight out of Grimm with all the blood and horror you find in those old stories. There’s love and beauty in it to, but don’t go in expecting whimsy, you will have your heart handed to you on a plate.

7. Happy Feet

Like Pirates, this is my gratuitously feel good addition. The animation is beautiful (this is some of the best CGI this side of Davy Jones) and the musical montages are cute, like Moulin Rouge for children. And it manages to deliver an important environmental message without being preachy or sugary. I was down on this movie after the promo at ComicCon and I take it all back.

8. Black Book

This film has literally haunted me since December. It’s like a bad dream I can’t shake off. I give it a lower spot because of the moments of Verhoven outrageousness (you’ll know them when you see them--let's just say "blonde hair dye" and leave it at that) but it’s one of those stories you'll regret skipping, particularly after everyone ruins the plot for you.

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