Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 20 Films of 2006

by L. McGaughey

It's difficult to rate such a wide range of films as each is from a different genre and thus non-comparable to an extent. All the movies that did qualify for 2006 are based on the UK cinema release date. So, without further ado, I present the Top 20 films of 2006:

20. Capote

Capote is based on the true story of Truman Capote who, while working for the New York Times, covered the story of a wealthy family murdered in Holcomb, Kansas interviewing local people affected by the killings and the murderers themselves. However, during these interviews he became emotionally attached to the murderers so he could extract the story from them, mainly about the night of the murders. In doing this, Capote invests too much energy and lifeblood and loses sight of friends and lovers and paid the ultamite price. After 6 years working on the novel, despite releasing In Cold Blood to critical acclaim, Capote never writes again and becomes an alcholic and drug addict which killed him in 1984.
A slow burner, Capote builds characters and and a clear mental picture of the struggle inside his mind and how his endeavour affects those around him.

19. Munich

Munich is about the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes kidnapped and murdered and the reprecussion where a group of men were chosen to assassinate the Black September instigators.
Eric Bana is the leader chosen to eliminate the Munich terrorist group leaders of Black September and they soon set about tracking them down and attempting to eliminate them by blowing them up using simple but effective devices besides plain gunning them down. However, it is unlcear from the film just how they manage to go from no leads to finding a source who provides a name and location for exorbant fees for all the required killings. Nevertheless, the scenes themselves are technically and proficiently executed.
At nearly three hours long, some of the scenes and plot points are just too long and detract from the story. Nevertheless, Munich is a story worth telling and because it is based on true events, there's always a questionable interpretation of what happened based on who is telling the story. Whether or not Speilberg was the man to tell this story, one cannot be certain but on its own merits, the film is watchable if at some times long and confusing.

18. Silent Hill

Silent Hill stages uber-nightmarish visuals and no cheap shock-tactic camera tricks. The demons are most certainly real in the town of Silent Hill and creepy as hell to boot.
It all begins when a little girl, Sharon, goes sleep walking in the middle of the night and her parents find her on a precipice near the family house looking into a firey cataclysm. that only she can see. In an effort tyo help Sharon, her mother decides to take her to the deserted town of Silent Hill to find some answers.
Things quickly descend into a living darkness when the car crashes and Sharon is lost. Silent Hill's first half fires along at a great pace, with monsters, demons and fantastic dark visual sequences which are among the best I have seen in any horror film. However, what lets the movie down is when it tries to explain itself and the last half an hour when it implodes on itself with mediocre dialogue and a flimsy plot structure in an attempt to tie up loose ends and explain to the audience just what the hell is going on when I feel viewers should be left in the dark just like the characters were for most of the film.

17. The Prestige

In turn-of-the-century London an intense rivalry erupts between two competing magicians that leads them on a battle for supremacy -- full of obsession, deceit and jealousy with dangerous and deadly consequences. From the time that they first met as young magicians on the rise, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden were competitors. However, their friendly competition evolves into a bitter rivalry making them fierce enemies-for-life and consequently jeopardising the lives of everyone around them.
A surprisingly engaging mystery/thriller featuring a host of stellar performances. It will leave you pondering and no doubt debating the many twists and turns for some time after the curtains rise.

16. Children of Men

In 2027, in a chaotic world in which humans can no longer procreate, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea, where her child's birth may help scientists save the future of humankind.
A worthy, entertaining and original action thriller that delivers on plot and character but doesn’t quite achieve the emotional depth or political significance it requires to become a modern classic.

15. Hard Candy

A mature 14-year old girl meets a charming 32-year old photographer on the Internet. Suspecting that he is a paedophile, she goes to his home in an attempt to expose him
An effective and provocative psychological thriller that deserves to be checked out by every film fan.

14. A Scanner Darkly

The L.A. of a not-too-distant future suffers a surge of drug abuse involving a new ultra-addictive and eventually brain-damaging substance simply named "D". Bob Arctor is an undercover narc leading a double life, dutifully reporting to his superiors while effectively having abandoned whatever normal existence he had for a "D" user/dealer career. But this schizophrenic situation and the drug-induced memory and concentration lapses put Bob under mounting stress.

13. An Inconvenient Truth

It is called An Inconvenient Truth because those in charge of changing the way industry operates to combat global warming do not want to jeoperdise their careers and vast money making businesses to prevent a global catastrophe which could occur in our lifetime. They have done this through media manipulation whereby newspaper articles spread disinformation and doubt even though 100% of scientific papers allude to global warming.
I found An Inconvenient Truth to be a fascinating documentary presented by Al Gore, almost President of the United States. He is a man dedicated to the subject and I hope that this documentary is seen by as many people as possible but mainly by those who can make a serious change although for reasons stipulated above I very much doubt anything will be done about it and this is a great shame for everyone.

12. The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Set in Ireland in 1919, workers unite to face the brutal British Black and Tan squads shipped in to block the country’s bid for independence. As the Irish guerrilla tactics bring the British to breaking point both sides agree to a treaty to end the bloodshed. But despite the apparent victory, civil war erupts and families who fought side by side now turn on each other in an equally bloody manner.

A true Ken Loach drama. The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a bold attempt to convey a complex situation that captures the anger and tensions of early-20th century Ireland.

11. Tsotsi

Tsotsi begins with a gang walking through a desolate town on the outskirts of Johannesburg. They are only teenagers but it is clear that they mean business. The gang belongs to Tsotsi and the film follows his trials and tribulations over a 6 day period as he makes the most important mistakes and decisions in his life when he steals a car from a rich neighbourhood and after making his getaway, realises he has also kidnapped a baby that was asleep in the back. Despite his misgivings and general apathy towards others lives, he cannot bring himself to give up the child and brings it home.
The film showcases how looking after another life who relies on him for survival changes Tsotsi's viewpoints and turns a mirror on how he has been living his own life. Every decision he makes is on a knife-edge and this feeds the human emotional drama as the viewer is consistently unsure how he will react, heighening the conflict that is raging withing Tsotsi and the impact of how one decision can change your life forever.

10. Transamerica

One week before her sex-change operation, Bree receives a call from a 17-year-old identifying himself as her son from a college liaison. Bree's psychiatrist won't approve the surgery until Bree deals with this relationship, so Bree flies to New York City, bails the youth out of juvenile detention, and offers him a ride back to Los Angeles without disclosing that she is his father. Both her plans and his go awry, and as secrets will out, what might become a friendship (or more) founders. The lad's step-father, a sex-change support group, a peyote eater, a Navajo wrangler, and Bree's family all play their parts in this exploration of family, gender, and expectations.

9. Little Miss Sunshine

The film begins as a young girl, Olive, is reviewing a Miss America pageant and mimicking her winning emotional behaviour. Meanwhile the father, Richard, is presenting his 9-step plan to a group of school children and the mother, Sheryl, is picking her brother Frank up from hospital after a failed suicide attempt. As they congregate at the family house for dinner, we are introduced to Olives older teenage brother Dwayne who is on a self-imposed silence and hates everyone and their grandfather Edwin who is snorting heroin before dinner.
During the less-than-successful family dinner where arguing and bickering ensues, a phone call is made whereby Olive finds out that due to a drop-out she is now in contention for the Little Miss Sunshine title. Leaving no-one behind, the family jump into their VW wagon and set off across the country to the pageant where comedy drama ensues.

8. Borat: The cultural learning’s of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

I haven't been in a cinema that has laughed so much since I saw The Squid & The Whale earlier this year. The genius lies in the visuals whereby something ordinary is followed by something surreal and also in the capturing of pure bewilderment and horror on peoples faces when they are caught up in Borats actions. As there is a loose structure to the film in which a vein attempt is made for Borat to learn culturally from Americans by way of pre-arranged meetings and interviews it allows the excuse for many skits inbetween and their agenda is soon aborted by Borat attempting to get to California to have sex with Pamela Anderson.
It is useless to describe the comedy without ruining the intention or gags themselves but they are as much hilarious as they are cringe-worthy due to openly racist and sexist Americans spewing forth non-sensical xenophobic diatribe without their knowledge of them being the butt of the joke.
If you are easily offended or without a sense of humour this film is not for you and I deride any criticism of the film inciting hatred of Jews or insulting the population of Kazakhstan as it is purely tongue-in-cheek black humour.

7. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

At its peak, the company was the 7th largest company in America with 20,000 employees all with their pensions made up with company shares. However, behind the scenes, CEO Ken Lay and COO Jeffrey Skilling were busy inflating the balance sheet, including mark-to-market profits by which projected earnings are put down as the company's profits which didn't exist. Then there's CFO Andy Fastow. Fastow invented companies and suceeded in pulling the wool over major banks to contribute money to them which went straight to Enron. Meanwhile Enron traders practically took over the company and ran amok which culminated in them making huge profits from the Californian Electric fiasco which they instigated. They told power plants to shut down citing technical problems which meant that the cost of energy increased and they made increasing profits from California residents misery.
It is both entertaining and fascinating that a company could get away with fraud for so long and dupe the entire country into believing they had huge profits when they had nothing but debt.

6. United 93

On September 11th 2001, four planes were highjacked. Three of them reached their target. The fourth one crashed near Shankstown, Pennsylvania. United 93 is a real time drama based on the recorded communications of the passangers on that flight with loved ones and officials on the ground.
United 93 is a gritty, highly disturbing and terrifying account of the tragic crash of the fourth plane on September 11th. Unexpectedly, it is completely devoid of any tv drama pathos and in no way attempts to convey the passangers as heroes. Instead it tells an utterly human story of ordinary people who in a complete manic state of panic, hopelessley try to save their own lives.

5. Snowcake

Snowcake is a beautifully told story about a man, played by Alan Rickman, who befriends the mother of the daughter whom he was involved in a car accident with and becomes emotionally attached to the small neighbourhood where she lives and the lifetstyle it involves.
It becomes more poignant because the mother, played by Sigourney Weaver, is a highly functioning autistic woman who, due to her condition, is seemingly unphased by this turn of events which plays on Rickmans guilty complex because he is unable to resolve his feeling of responsibility through absolution.
The screenplay itself was written with Rickman in mind and after reading it, he sent the script to Sigourney stating that she would be ideal for the role of the autistic mother. Both actors are perfectly suited and turn in fine performances with Rickman possibly giving the best he has ever delivered, drawing the viewer into his world and the surroundings he finds himself in.
Snowcake is a movie-goers gem that takes a simple premise and expands it into a layered and engrossing story. It has fantastic snippets of black comedy which add charm and depth of the characters.

4. The Squid & The Whale

The Squid & The Whale is almost an auto-biographical film for its writer and director Noah Baumbach. It may be worth noting that Baumbach also wrote The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which also has idiosyncratic and characters and unhinged dialogue although as he is also directing this film it seems to gel a lot better in terms of fluidity and character development. It is also hilariously funny and I can't recall a cinema audience laughing out loud and continually throughout a movie in either so many years I've forgotten or it has actually never happened. The secret that Baumbach has found is not so much in the dialogue but how his characters deliver it and how he captures the momment. There is some excellent use of the handheld camera which adds a realism and also surrealism to certain scence which heightens their impact and draws the audience in.
As the film is based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, this has allowed him to add a secret and meaningful depth to the boys characters and draw from a wealth of childhood memories adding a super-realism into each character whilst portraying the touching story of how these boys deal with their parents divorce. At times very forward and frank and at times intimate but always ludicrously entertaining.

3. Brokeback Mountain

The story begins in 1963 where two saddle riders are looking for work in a dead end town and are put to work guarding sheep on Brokeback Mountain. Over the course of several weeks, they develop a friendship which on a cold and drunken night becomes something more.
The film explores the deep seated bigoted machoism of the American mid-west and the neccessity to hide their love even when they are not around their wives. However, it is more of a film where a secret love must be hidden from everyone even to the point of hiding their true feelings from each other. About how such a love can have disastrous impact on those around them when such a love is revealed and how love survives through even the most difficult times.
If you thought Brokeback Mountain was just a gay cowboy movie then you are in for a revelation. If you thought Brokeback Mountain was just a love story then you're in for a surprise. The film is as groundbreaking as it is a treat to watch. Do yourself a favour and saddle up to an Oscar worthy movie full of twists, turns and outstandinf performances.

2. Everything Is Illuminated

Everything Is Illuminated is Liev Schreibers directorial debut surrounding Jonathan Safran Foer, an abnormal young Jewish American who collects artifacts from his family which leads him to Ukraine in search of the woman who appears in a photograph with his grandfather and helped him escape from the Nazis when they decimated their village.
When Jonathan, played by a freaky looking Elijah Woods, arrives in Ukraine he is met by a quirky family-run tour guide involving Alex and his grandfather Safran who claims he is blind but seems to get around just fine especially with the help of his insane dog Sammy Davis Jr. Alex, who occasionally narrates the plot, has an unhealthy passion for American pop culture and wears off-kilter bling clothing and broken English which often involves hilarious but diplomatic translations between Jonathan and his cranky grandfather.
Everything Is Illuminated is nothing like I expected and there were rich rewards to be found within the facade of a comedy adventure drama. Incidentally Schreibers parents are of German heritage, his mother German-Jewish and himself a practicing Jew was perhaps one of the key factors behind his decision to turn Jonathan Safran Foer's novel into his first movie as a director.

1. Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth takes place in 1944 after Franco's victory and a young girl is travelling with her mother and adoptive father, who is the captain of the guard, to a rural area in northern Spain in order to wipe out the lingering Republican forces.
The young girl is Ofelia and is being brought unwillingly with her pregnant mother by order of her adoptive father, the tyrannical Captain Vidal whom she refuses to recognise as her adoptive guardian. She has brought with her a bundle of books which are all fairy tales and it seems this is a world that she often travels to in order to escape the harsh environment in which she has found herself growing up in.
While Captain Vidal sets about eliminating the bandits that live out in the woodlands surrounding the base, Ofelia is contacted by a fairy who brings her to a nearby labryinth where she is told by a faun named Pan that she is the lost princess who's soul has finally reappeared in Ofelia's body and that she must succeed in 3 tasks to prove her true worth and be reunited with her father, the King, who has been waiting for her return.
The film makes fantastic use of two main plotlines. One of which concerns Ofelia and her three tasks and that of Captain Vidal and the bandits, each of which overlap with other subplots and are beautifully woven together to make a fantastic storyline both contextually and visually. The acting is sound from everyone concerned and the CGI creatures that exist are realistically portrayed and fit in perfectly with the story being told, adding extra depth and edge to the mystical world in which Ofelia finds herself.

If you haven't seen these then go and rent them for pleasurable viewing over the festive holidays.

Come back tomorrow for the top ten albums of 2006!


Blogger Donovan said...

Good list! I'll have to check out number 1 there, it doesn't seem to be out yet!

11:34 am  
Blogger Skry said...

Unlike your music list, I have actually heard of many of these movies and agree that they are the best of 2006! Will definitely have to see An Inconvenient Truth - can't believe it disappeared from the spotlight so quickly...

12:12 am  

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