Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Top Ten Movies of 2006

1. Children of Men

Children of Men received a surprisingly mixed number of reviews, for what reason I do not know. The movie I saw engaged me from minute one and had me on the edge of my seat up until the end, even if the previews do show just about every part of the movie. Despite those marketing flaws, the movie still throws in a few twists you wouldn't have guessed from the previews, and still offers plenty of action and drama to make it number one.

Children of Men stars Clive Owen as a man who lives in a future Britain where the government has closed its borders, arrested all immigrants, and terrorism is rampant. Oh, and no child has been born in over 18 years, which means that humanity only has 50 more years to live.

The movie is bleak, depressing and wholly realistic, thanks to director Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón's world wraps itself around the audience and makes you part of the experience, and so you feel everything the characters feel. While set in a hopeless world, the movie is about hope, even if it is just a glimmer. One scene near the end, where soldiers and terrorists (or freedom fighters?) cease fire to let Owen and co-star Claire-Hope Ashitey through, is nearly tear-jerking. I say "nearly" because I don't cry at movies.

Children of Men has it all, and that's why it's my favorite film of 2006. Read our movie review

2. Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth is from director Guillermo del Toro, who really hasn't done much in terms of delivering memorable films. With exception to Hellboy, most of his movies are pretty lame, but if Hellboy showed he could be imaginative, Pan's Labyrinth shows he is a force to be reckoned with.

Set in fascist Spain in 1944, the movie follows a little girl who has a vivid imagination and who is told by a creepy faun that she is the long list princess of the underworld, but to return to the underworld and her true parents, she has to complete three tasks. The movie is marketed as fantasy, but the film is more about a girl trying to separate herself from the horrors that surround her. Her mother is struggling to deliver a baby, her father is an evil, fascist soldier, and there is a rebellion in the woods that surround her home.

The movie is as creative as it is gory, and is certainly one of the most serious films of the year. Del Toro's vision exists in every facet of the movie, and the result is a vivid, shocking and emotional tale.

Pan's Labyrinth is in subtitles, but that shouldn't keep you from watching this amazing film. Read our movie review

3. The Departed

This has to be Scorsese's year. Right. Right? Who the hell knows, as we've said that in the past and repeatedly he gets snubbed. Compared to the other directors in the race, Clint Eastwood is perhaps his closest competition, but Eastwood has won before for better films than Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers.

Scorsese's latest is The Departed, a gangster-cop flick based on an Asian film called Infernal Affairs. Unlike Infernal Affairs, which was a great little film but more action-oriented than anything else, The Departed is a deep, moving character drama that still allows Scorsese to deliver his brutal gangster violence.

The movie also features spellbinding performances from Leonardo DiCaprio (who is better here than he is in Blood Diamond, for which he was nominated for), Matt Damon (as the bad guy) and Jack Nicholson (as the bad guy of bad guys). Read our movie review

4. Little Children

This movie was in theaters for nearly four months before I finally went and saw it, and it was well worth the wait. A dark, sometimes disturbing drama that at the same time has plenty of laughs, Little Children is about the dark secrets of suburbia, the pent-up tension and the restraints society places on us.

What makes Little Children great is that it is so different from any other movie that has come out this year. The film is narrated in a very witty, comical way, yet the subject matter is serious. The mixture of the two result in a very matter-of-fact, emotionally engaging film that slowly builds up to a terrific climax. Read our movie review

5. United 93

When United 93 came out in early 2006, most people dismissed this film as hitting too close to home too early after September 11th. I tended to agree, but went and saw it anyway, and was blown away from minute one. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) presents an unbiased re-telling of that morning, and uses many of the real people involved in the air traffic coordination that day. The result is an emotionally-charged and fast-paced drama that has you on the edge of your seat, despite the fact you know exactly what is going to happen.

Unlike Oliver Stone's God-awful World Trade Center (which somehow made a lot more money), this movie doesn't have any emotional fluff or hammy A-list stars to clutter up the store. It just tells things as is, and lets the day's events do their work on you. Had this movie come out in November or December, it almost undoubtedly would be a front runner for Best Picture, and would probably be higher up on this list. Read our movie review

#6: An Inconvenient Truth

From a filmmaking perspective, An Inconvenient Truth is hardly groundbreaking and does not warrant a top ten listing. It is a PowerPoint presentation and not much more, and never tries to do anything technically challenging.

But that's okay.

An Inconvenient Truth, featuring Al Gore, takes a direct stab at global warming and presents in very clear terms just how serious and obvious this problem is. A water cooler subject for months, Gore's movie has finally (we hope) gotten the issue of global warming out of the environmentalists' hands and into mainstream discussion. As a result, Al Gore has received a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and we had to give him an even more coveted spot in Movie-Source.com's Top Ten movie list. Read our movie review

#7: Letters from Iwo Jima

Clint Eastwood directed two movies in 2006, both about World War II, and both set on the island of Iwo Jima. His first movie, told from the American perspective, was somewhat of a cluttered mess, as it jumped around in time a lot and failed to develop its characters properly. His second, Letters from Iwo Jima, is told from the Japanese perspective and focuses on a few soldiers who fight to the very end with no chance of escape or survival.

Iwo Jima is not Eastwood's best movie, but unlike its predecessor, it is simple and powerful. Top notch acting from every actor involved, some good battle scenes and some horrifying moments make Letters from Iwo Jima one of the best movies of 2006, and one of the front runners for Best Picture. Read our movie review

#8: The Pursuit of Happyness

I saw The Pursuit of Happyness way back in March, nearly nine months before it was released to theaters, so I haven't seen the final cut and my memory is a bit hazy on certain aspects. All I remember is that this one was one of the most frustrating, depressing, emotional, kick-me-while-I'm-down movies I've seen in a long time, and that it ends happily.

The real highlight, though, is Will Smith, who turns in his best performance to date. His Oscar nomination is an understatement, as he transforms himself into a character he's never done before. To top it off, his real-life son co-stars with him, and the chemistry between the two works wonders. Read our movie review

#9: Superman Returns

Some may spite me for including Superman Returns in a Top Ten list, but it deserves to be there. After nearly two decades and the death of Christopher Reeves, Superman was noticeably absent from the big screen. The movie passed from director to director, screenwriter to screenwriter (some absolutely insane screenplays were tossed around), and eventually it wound up in the perfect hands: Bryan Singer, the man behind two of the best comic book movies ever, X-Men and X-Men 2.

Singer doesn't take the same approach to this DC franchise that he did to his mutants; Superman Returns is much more of a drama, and Singer makes obvious allusions to Jesus in his portrayal of Superman. The movie suffered heavily at the box office for its more serious approach, but the result is a high energy, dramatic and still action-packed adventure that features Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.

While the movie unfortunately lacks a good guy vs. bad guy climax at the end, Superman Returns still offers some excellent action scenes. Love him or hate him, Brandon Routh did a better job than expected, and Kate Bosworth is the hottest Lois Lane to grace the silver screen. This is a high quality film and I look forward to the next one (hopefully it will have a lot more action, though). Read our movie review

#10: The Prestige

This spot was going to go to Babel, a rather poetic and symbolic look at the world, but that one just didn't live up to my expectations. By chance, I happened to watch both The Prestige and Babel for the second time this last weekend, on DVD, and whereas Babel remained consistently good but not great, The Prestige was much more impressive the second time around.

This tale of two rival magicians who develop such an obsession with one another that they are willing to do anything, including lose their humanity, to reign over the other is a wonderful, complex and well-acted film from director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins). Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman turn in tremendous performances, and the movie offers a character study in a way that can appeal to mainstream audiences.

While not without its flaws, The Prestige is one of those films that is much better the second time around, and just scrapes into the Top Ten as a result. Read our movie review

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