Here's my long overdue list of the best films of 2006. The top five were easy: Pan's Labyrinth
the masterpiece of '06, United 93
the most gut-wrenching and skillfully directed; Hard Candy
the most innovative, twisted and fun; The Departed
simply awesome in the way Scorsese films always are; and Little Children
the most literary and profound. The bottom five are ordered rather arbitrarily.
1. United 93.
You feel helpless watching it, but it's one of the most skillfully directed films ever, with not a single exploitive frame. Makes you think about 9/11 for the right reasons. Ben Sliney plays himself, and to this day I can't fathom how he got slammed with 9/11 his first day on the job as the FAA's National Operation Manager. I have to pronounce this the film of the year, but the next one is a close rival.
2. Pan's Labyrinth.
An 11-year old girl retreats into her imagination to escape the horrors and brutality of fascist Spain. (But is it really all in her imagination
?) This is the best film fantasy after Lord of the Rings
, and perhaps it's no surprise that Del Toro, like Peter Jackson, began his career in the horror genre. Fairy tales are supposed to be horrific (as they were before Disney polluted them), and this film puts us in touch with the spirit of Grimm more than today's children's books.
3. Hard Candy.
An exceptional revenge-thriller with smart dialogue, dealing with issues of sexual justice -- or injustice, depending on how you look at it -- as a 14-year old girl decides to castrate an ephebophile in his own home. Ellen Page is currently the most talented young actor, and she plays the role of a sarcastic sociopath with as much relish as Robert DeNiro did in Cape Fear
. Patrick Wilson is no slouch either. Reviewed here
4. The Departed.
Scorsese finally scores at the academy. A gangster film about two moles, one working for a crime boss as a state trooper, one working for the police to get as close as possible to the crime boss. Not every actor needed to put on a Boston accent, and the coincidence of the psychotherapist having an affair with both moles was weak, but it's an otherwise great film, with an apocalyptic ending that calls to mind classics like The Godfather
and Taxi Driver
5. Little Children.
Shows adults of upper-middle class suburbia as they are: overprivileged, unappreciative, and pathetic (like little children). A film you can watch many times, speaking profoundly to the human condition. Sarah's reinterpretation of Madame Bovary as a feminist "hungering for an alternative", delivered to a living room of stunned women, is priceless.
6. Running Scared.
This one does not
let you come up for air, starting with a drug deal gone bad, and then going into the wildly seedy territory of pimps, whores, child molesters, and dirty cops who like to ruin faces with hockey pucks. Exhilarating and over the top, it feels like Quentin Tarantino meets Martin Scorsese. I didn't want it to end.
Uses the Tower of Babel story as an allegory of failed communication. In three stories (which are obliquely interconnected), people become isolated on account of misunderstandings and prejudice. The plots become a bit contrived to make the big picture work, but it's inevitable in a film like this. It doesn't feel manipulative here.
8. The Descent.
Six women go spelunking in an unchartered cave, get avalanched inside, and then assaulted by strange nocturnal humanoids. The U.S. theatrical version butchered the ending (by allowing one of the women to make it out alive), but the DVD thankfully has the original U.K. version (the last woman only dreams of getting out, but remains trapped with no hope of finding an exit). Harks back to the raw brutality of '70s horror films.
9. Deja Vu.
That Tony Scott can pull off time travel so well is further testimony to his underrated talents. He has become, by far, my favorite popcorn film director, and he uses Denzel Washington like Scorsese used DeNiro or Tarantino still uses Samuel Jackson. The action holds you in a vise, and the time paradoxes brilliantly handled.
10. Children of Men.
A bit overrated, but there's no denying its vision. Portrays a bleak future in which humanity has lost the ability to reproduce, immigration is criminal, terrorism runs rampant, and law officials treat people like beasts. A pregnant woman suddenly offers hope for humanity, but it's never entirely clear why.
(See also: The Top Films of 2005
, The Top Films of 2007
, The Top Films of 2008
, The Top Films of 2009
, The Top Films of 2010
, The Top Films of 2012