2006 proved to be an inconsistent year for film. There was lots of crap, some great stuff, but mostly a lot of not-so-great stuff. It’s best to take the ‘glass half-full’ approach: 2006 wasn’t as good as 2005, but at least it was better than 2004.
Kevin Craft // EDGE Film Critic:
10. The History Boys: An example of confident storytelling and superb acting that addresses the ways in which reputation and merit often become confused. No other film boasts such a strong ensemble cast.
9. The Science of Sleep: Michel Gondry’s fantastic imagery paired with a down-to-earth love story creates the year’s most touching romantic comedy.
8. Children of Men: Adapted from P.D. James Novel of the same name, “Children of Men” portrays a future in which the world faces an infertility pandemic and countries are consumed with immigration problems. In the hands of a less-skilled director, “Children of Men” might have devolved into a more typical sci-fi thriller, but Cuaron understands the gravity of the material he’s dealing with and captures this utter desolation through an extraordinary stream of images that communicate incredible emotion in almost every scene.
7. Why We Fight: Eugene Jarecki’s documentary never reverts to partisan mudslinging and is more compelling in its arguments about our reasons for war than anything else in recent years.
6. Thank You For Smoking: Although the film was adapted from a novel written over a decade ago, its pitch perfect satire is every bit as relevant today. It focuses on a lobbyist for big tobacco but skewers our entire culture of spin sparing no one in the process. Senators, large corporations, lobbyists, and journalists are all mocked during the course of this hilarious satire about the business of selling “truth.”
5. Down in the Valley: Edward Norton gives another fantastic performance as he plays an American cowboy trying to adapt to a 21st century lifestyle in David Jacobson’s film about the seductive nature of violence and the dark side of American mythology.
4. The Departed: Scorsese’s latest serves as a reminder that no one else can pull off the gangster genre with such panache. The entire production, from the acting to the editing, is flawless, and while the film may not be as deep as some of his other works (“Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull”), it is one of the year’s most entertaining films.
3. Stranger than Fiction: Despite the imaginative premise, Will Ferrell’s first serious film keeps itself grounded in reality and works as a slice of life story about one man’s quest for a little change.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth: This modern-day fairy tale celebrates the power of imagination in the face of hardship without deluding itself or coddling its audience into thinking a little make believe can change the realities of war. An amazing film whose special effects are the definition of movie magic.
1. Little Miss Sunshine: Optimism is a characteristic not found in many independent films-most tend to wallow in overblown, existential anxiety-but “Little Miss Sunshine” proves that humor and optimism can be more enlightening than morose reflection. The film addresses many idiosyncrasies of the American family with heart and humor. Steve Carrell’s un-nominated yet inspired performance as a suicidal Proust scholar proves the Academy still does not understand how to celebrate comedic genius.
Kevin Craft can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danny Gordon // EDGE Film Critic:
Honorable Mentions: “Inside Man,” “Marie Antoinette,” “Thank You for Smoking” and “The Devil Wears Prada”.
10. World Trade Center: One of the most rewarding films of the year. It’s nice to see a film put an inspirational twist on the awful events of September 11th. With “WTC,” Oliver Stone proves he can put his ego aside and make a non-gimmicky, sincere film.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth: A fairytale for grown-ups-what more could anybody ask for? Not much, considering that this is one of the most imaginative and stylistic films of the year. Dark? Yes. Magical? Absolutely.
8. Little Miss Sunshine: The Sundance hit didn’t have to work too hard to win over American audiences. It’s not difficult to imagine why. The irresistible characters-wonderfully played by the cast, smart writing, and sensible direction made this film a real joy.
7. Letters from Iwo Jima: After “Flags of Our Fathers,” Clint Eastwood redeems himself with the account of Japanese soldiers as they try unsuccessfully to defend their island. “Letters” may take its time, but by the end, you’ll be glad it did. It is an original, stirring portrait of war.
6. “The Fountain”: Beautiful, thought-provoking and challenging. “The Fountain” takes more risks than most of the simple-minded movies released this past year. And it succeeds because of it.
5. United 93: A harrowing, captivating and ultimately devastating fictionalized account of the plane that never made it to its target on the September 11th attacks. Director Paul Greengrass employs a documentary feel to the film, giving it a sense of urgency and a painfully realistic look. At times, you forget you’re watching a film and think of it as a documentary.
4. Stranger Than Fiction: Is it Will Ferrell’s standout performance, Marc Forster’s exquisite direction, Zach Helm’s winning screenplay, or all the above that make this film one of the best and most enjoyable films of 2006? I think all the above.
3. Little Children: Todd Field’s sophomore effort seals the deal. This man is a filmmaker, and a darn good one. His “Little Children,” adapted from Tom Perrota’s novel, is a hilariously disturbing and frighteningly accurate account of the lives of suburban couples. Delicate direction and acting coupled with sharp writing make this one a real gem.
2. Babel: Guillermo Arriaga delivers one of the very best scripts of the year in this multifaceted, heartbreaking film about bad decisions and unfortunate circumstances. Everything about this film is smart and fascinating.
1. The Departed: It’s no contest. “The Departed” is by far the best film 2006 saw, and by far the most entertaining as well. The name Martin Scorsese is almost synonymous with film at this point, and the director just helps reinforce that with his latest offering-a re-imaging of the crime genre. Everything from the script by William Monahan, to the inspired acting and masterful direction, helped make “The Departed” a rare, flawless experience.
Danny Gordon can be contacted at email@example.com.