The Top 10 Films of 2006

10. CARS
In a time when there’s a computer animation blockbuster every summer, only Pixar achieves a level of artistic quality each time out. Other studios create cuddly vaudeville routines, and they’re very successful, but Pixar films are always wonderful just to look at and listen too. They continue to push back the envelope, and instill a level of detail unmatched by other films, CG or live action.

CARS is actually one of their weaker efforts. The humor is more juvenile, and the pacing could have been tightened without losing the relaxed atmosphere John Lassiter was going for. So maybe CARS is only “Pixar good” in the final half-hour. It’s still pretty great.

And while I hate Larry The Cable Guy – a man with a stage name worse than Cedric The Entertainer – his Mater the tow truck steals the film. Whether backwards driving, tractor tipping or testing out the first new road, he’s the ultimate best friend. His goodbye to Lightning during the final race is one of the year’s biggest laughs.

There’s no audience for THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU. This 2 1/2 hour Romanian drama stays with a cranky, sick man as he slowly loses to his own body. I only saw it because it’s one of the most acclaimed films this year, and I wanted to find out why.

The film is more fascinating than entertaining, and the step-by-step details of Lazarescu’s deterioration hold a surprising amount of interest. The big picture comes from a culmination of small moments, as one man finds himself caught in the gears of the impersonal medical machine.

There are no villains, just people. And we always understand why these people act like they do. A female ambulance driver’s steadfast commitment to Lazarescu is inspiring, but she sees it as her duty. The film doesn't sentimentalize her efforts. Subtle disdain passed down to her by hospital physicians, who see Lazarescu as a body to be diagnosed, is especially acute. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU deals with a man whose basic need for help is absurdly ignored by all around him.

They get this kind of film wrong so many times, that when it’s finally done right, it feels like a small miracle. A family in crisis must come together and help each other. These films usually take place over a major holiday or push to quirkiness so that it seeps into the costumes and art direction. LMS avoided these major roadblocks and focused on a talented group of stellar actors, who sold the hell out of every joke and emotional beat.

Of the films nominated for Best Picture, this is my favorite, but if it wins it’ll be SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE all over again.

What would be the fate of M:I-3 if cruise never did Oprah? The year’s biggest celebrity meltdown overshadowed the year’s biggest thrill ride. “Lost” and ‘Alias” creator J.J. Abrahams crafted the most satisfying mission to date, the first one you want to put into your DVD player over and over again.

M:I-3 is essentially the greatest episode of “Alias” ever, with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt utilizing a team to pull off some amazing heists, chases and escapes. There’s a lot of great action, particularly the Taipei car chase and the ambush on the bridge, and the dialogue scenes actually crackle with wit rather than feel like placeholders.

I wish there was more of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He brought a lot of interesting spice, but didn’t have enough to do. His intensity in the opening (the best opening scene this year) is downright scary.

Every year brings a half-dozen inspirational movies involving sports or teachers. AKEELAH AND THE BEE takes from both and delivers something that looks familiar, but tastes very fresh.

Like the family of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Akeelah’s biggest obstacle is herself. She wants to fit in, and not be looked at as a nerd, but she’s an excellent speller, and it takes some special teaching by an English professor to give her the courage to convince the neighborhood to rally behind her cause.

Akeelah faces outside pressure as well, both with her new group of fellow competitors and her mother. Like I said, that doesn’t sound very fresh, but the film finds new avenues to explore, and it all feels very real. There hasn’t been a film like it since SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER.

This one I can keep short because most of you know why many consider BORAT one of the funniest movies of all time, and others discuss the hidden prejudice’s Sasha Baron Cohen unearths (which I wish there was more of.) It’s a real shame he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor. Nobody showed a deeper commitment to character.

The hidden gem among my favorite movies. Well reviewed, but unfairly dismissed as “another GARDEN STATE”, THE LAST KISS is one of the most honest and penetrating looks at the pressures of growing up and acting responsible. With more cheer than cynicism, the film honestly shows that people (mostly men) like to believe there are always options and a relationship is something you CAN walk away from. The film spoke directly not only to me, but to all my friends who saw it as well.

The film’s 2nd half contains two of the years most charged relationship scenes, with the kind of deft writing and acting I haven’t seen since CHASING AMY. I also loved that the story takes time to focus beyond the main plot and show a few other angles of the same theme. This film evokes a feeling of running into an ex and instinctually referring to your girlfriend as “a friend” as if you were still keeping options open.

I had the pleasure of seeing this back in August of 05. I raved about it then and waited for the moment when it would open wide here and become a box-office phenomenon. That train came and quickly went, ultimately making less than SNAKES ON A PLANE.

I said it before and I’ll say it again…THE DESCENT will scare you. It’s the one great horror film fans wait every 5-10 years for. Compared to the balls-to-the-wall fury of the final half-hour, the film builds slowly (but with plenty of shocks and tension). The film’s biggest scare is a classic bit of misdirection, and the most effectively terrifying moment since SCREAM.

However, unlike THE GRUDGE, this isn’t merely a catalogue of scares. There’s tension within the group, a dynamic that grows, much like the marines in Aliens. A moment of human error crumbles the group’s friendship and sets the final stages of redemption into motion. This could have been a claustrophobic cave picture or an “us vs. them” creature feature. It’s much more than a combination of the two.

I’ve written in detail about this twice now. I don’t have much more to say.
Check out my original review here.
Check out my newer review here .

1. UNITED 93
I was talking with a friend who said the best movie he saw this year was PAN’S LABYRINTH. I told him mine was UNITED 93, and he asked a very simple question. He heard it was good, but can’t bring himself to watch it and he asked what about UNITED 93 makes it the Best Picture of 2006?

I thought of all the things I’d already written and tried to come up with the simplest answer. UNITED 93 tackles one of the toughest subjects in today’s world. Events that are still fresh in our mind, events we are still looking for answers to. UNITED 93 isn’t sentimental, and it pretends to only be interested in documenting what happened at air traffic control, while speculating on what might have happened onboard the ill-fated flight.

But there is a message to the film. UNITED 93 demonstrates that under the worst circumstances, the best in people can be brought out. Writer/director Paul Greengrass does not come to point fingers; he’s come to praise the men and women who dealt directly with that terrible day. He does this with all the skill he’s mustered from his previous work, creating a document that held me riveted to the screen. Scenes like the hijacking were excitingly staged, while at the same time putting knots in my stomach.

Why is UNITED 93 the Best Picture of 2006? The subject is fascinating, the approach insightful, the technique excitedly riveting, and the overall effect on me was one of absolute awe.


Blogger Malone said...

MI3 - the only thing I can say good about it is "It's phenomenal Gay Porn!" ...and Keri Russell was good. And it's the best of the three. Considering I went to see MI2 with 3 friends and we all four fell asleep AT DIFFERENT TIMES!! I guess that's three things.

V4V - the politics were too 8th grade and there were A LOT of scenes with Natalie and a guy IN A MASK just talking. That being said, I think Hugo Weaving might be the most talented actor working today and THE MATRIX is on my top ten of the 90s. Like it or not, it's a big step backwards for The Wachowski Brothers/Sisters.

4:27 AM  

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