1) Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Yeah, in a reevaluation in a few years this might be the first movie removed from the 2006 list. And, I know that 3 years of people doing bad Borat impressions has really grated. And, well, I am not too sure how well this holds up, as far as rewatchability goes. But I can say, that at the time it came out, two things were clear: 1) Sacha Baron Cohen is a master satirist and provacateur, even when some smart guy from the New York Times thinks his targets are too obvious. He somehow gets people, well, not only enraged, but also he manages to lull people into a sense of, I don't know calm, where the their most secret, and sometimes terrible, parts of their psyche lie. People's prejudices come out, and it is fascinating to watch. 2) Especially when I first saw this, this was shocking and funny to an insane degree. My stomach hurt from laughter. My mouth hit the floor with what I was seeing. And, in the end, through all its silliness and nudity, unlike something like the Jackass movies, it was so much more than just pranks for pranks-sake, I do feel there was a real point to it. Its something you don't see often, and something you can't replicate, but when I first saw it, it was scathing as well as hilarious.
2) Casino Royale
If there was one series that was in need of a serious rebooting it was the James Bond one after the Pierce Brosnan outings which, by the end, had reached a nadir of ridiculousness (Surfing on melting ice caps? Invisible cars?) So they threw everything away and started over with Daniel Craig in what people saw as a more gritty take on James Bond, perhaps a little bit closer to the original Ian Fleming character. They also made it so this James Bond was just starting out on his first missions. It was an interesting way to go, and I think Daniel Craig has the potential to be the best Bond since Connery, even though his second outing left a lot to be desired. But here it was a breath of fresh air-a Bond for a Bourne world, so to speak: amazing action, a Bond that occasionally makes mistakes and perhaps has to learn the hard way not to fall in love. There is some really great stuff here, particularly the opening parkour chase through the construction site. This was a new Bond worth looking out for, which is great especially after the ridiculous outrage before the movie came out (A Blonde Bond-oh no! A made up character has different colored hair).
3) Children Of Men
Its kind of amazing to me how many people I know that really despise this movie. I think when building a world in the future, your movie either lives or dies by how much people can imagine that world-whether you can believe it so to speak. Alfonso Cuaron creates an extreme situation-no human being has been born for years-and then creates a world where we could easily be headed, it only seems a few years removed from our own, and unfortunately it seems to be leading the world into a downward spiral. Religious extremists battle fascists battle rebels-at first the movie is going to be remembered for its bravura setpieces, but underneath that is not only the faint ray of hope but also the chilling idea that this all might be somehow probable. Its a fully realized nightmare of a future where, especially when it came out, it seems like we could have been going in that direction. An idea which gives it, to me, a lot of its lasting power.
4) Half Nelson
I didn't really know Ryan Gosling before this outside of small parts in Remember The Titans and his turn in The Notebook, but, I think, given the right script, I think he is one of the best actors of his generation, although I am not sure he always gets to show that off. On paper it shouldn't work, but the relationship here between Gosling's crack-addicted teacher and his student, Shareeka Epps in an inner city Brookly school, is amazingly assured character study. Especially when you see that it was the debut feature for the team that directed and produced it. Its really a powerful piece of work. Special props goes to the score/soundtrack from Broken Social Scene too.
5) Inside Man
I love the wonderful results one can get by setting up unlikely directors ("serious" directors?) with what seems like your average genre projects, and seeing some really amazing results. Look at Scorcese with The Departed and perhaps the upcoming Shutter Island or even Jon Favreau with Iron Man. The idea that it just seems so crazy that it just might work. Here its Spike Lee trying on a bank heist-thriller/mystery on for size. Spike Lee (like Scorcese or Woody Allen back in the day) understands the rhythms of his hometown in New York City-how people talk and act, like few other people do. Not only is the robbery and mystery at its center interesting, but the smaller moment between weary cops (like a great Denzel Washington-Lee's sometime muse) and how they act with eachother, or how they act with the suspects. Something about these interactions seem particularly real and also, in a sense, particularly New York, almost like an updated Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 (even more than the remake, I am assuming)
6) Little Miss Sunshine
Probably way too much transparent, indie affectations for its own good. But a game cast. And a good one to boot-Steve Carrell could play sad clowns in his sleep, but I hope he never stops. And this is one of his saddest. Even Greg Kinnear is sort of spot-on as the type of asshole everyone hates-one who thinks boring cliches and platitudes are more than that, and actually thinks he can base a business around them. I find even Alan Arkin's turn funny. Toni Collette is typically good, Paul Dano before he really gets to greatness in about a year. Even Abigail Breslin, because she actually seems like a kid, and not a Dakota Fanning type who has been training to be an actor since she was 2 and can't seem to be more than a little actress. Sure the parts with the grandfather's body might be too broad, and the ending with the dancing a bit too much-but it worked for me and hit me in the sweet spot.
7) Pan's Labyrinth
I think Guillermo del Toro was working at the top of his game here. Its really a fairy tale with real bite. Its the ultimate in escapist fantasies as the young girl at the center of the movie creates a dreamworld to try and escape the reality of living in fascist Spain in the early 1940's. But ultimately, even her fantasies are more chilling than comforting. But in the hands of Guillermo del Toro, they are fantastic to look at. Even in a world where brutal violence can erupt at the drop of a dime, out of nowhere, its from this world where the fantasies ultimately spring form. It is ambitious, and beautiful, but in the end, tragic. And few things are scarier in movies this decade than the Pale Man sitting at a table full of food, just waiting for someone to forget the rules of the game?
8) The Departed
The, sort of, surprising best picture winner for this year. It was probably payback for the years that Scorcese lost to movies that, through the years, have not held up as well as his own. This is an interesting case too because it definitely, much like Spike Lee, sees Scorcese working in a much more pulpy genre picture than we might usually have expected him to work in. Also, he is in Boston not New York this time. Which has its own set of issues, vanishing a re-appearing accents being one, Jack Nicholson's Jack Nicholson-ness being another, and that terrible decision of a last shot might be a third. But, its undeniable, that overall, he has crafted a pretty great examination of allegiance and shifting alliances in Boston, in the mob and in the police department. Its a pretty great thrill ride. And was one of the best movie going experiences in 2006, when a couple moments made a theater full of people gasp and/or scream-in the end its well made genre fare.
9) The Prestige
Nolan is amazing, and there is something so amazingly delicious about this movie about rival magicians, that is also about how technology can be used (and how it can alienate people ultimately). And like a lot of Nolan's movies, it is about the fragmentation of the person itself. It might be too much for some, and it might not exactly work as well as he had hoped, but I think it succeeds pretty greatly for what he was trying to do. I think. I mean it is a real sort-of mindscrew, with a piece of misdirection so slight that I think it would have been appreciated by the characters in the movie.
10) United 93
This might just be Paul Greengrass' best movie of the decade. Hollywood had an interesting/strange way of dealing 9/11, sometimes it was just removing the World Trade Center from Spider-Man. But Greengrass is the best man to take a measured, almost documentary approach to one of the worst day's in recent memory. Everyone knew where the story was headed, but it unfolded slowly, almost like a horror movie, upping the tension to just crazy levels, particulary in its final, horrifying moments. But it still managed to pay tribute to the heroes of United 93. Its a truly unforgettable movie for a myriad of reasons.