Saturday, January 27, 2007

My Top 30 Films of 2006

Thanks to easyCinema's online DVD rental service and Virgin Atlantic's on demand entertainment system I've finally caught up with most of the unmissable films of 2006 which I somehow managed to miss at the cinema.

What I've not managed to do is to keep my list down to the customary 25 titles. Whether this is because 2006 was a bumper year for quality cinema or I'm just getting less discerning in my old age I'm not sure.

It was certainly another good year for documentary film-making with four appearing in the top twenty. Of the four, 'An Inconvenient Truth' was the most essential, proving that you don't need a big budget and special effects if you've got a compelling script and a charismatic leading man (see earlier post). 'Grizzly Man' and 'The Devil and Daniel Johnston' both skillfully pieced together archive footage and contemporary interviews to explore the psychology of two enigmatic outsiders, whilst 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room' delivered more drama than the whole last series of '24'.

The rest of the list is somewhat eclectic with no obvious unifying themes. If I had to pick a trend it would be that 2006 was seemingly a good year for Mexicans with Gael García Bernal (star of 'The King'), Alfonso Cuarón (writer and director of 'Children of Men') and Guillermo Del Toro (writer and director of 'Pan's Labyrinth') all featuring in the Top 10.

'Pan's Labyrinth' is one of a trio of rewarding European language films on the list. 2005's list saw two German films in the top five. This year it was Spanish cinema which made the greatest impression. After teaming up on the criminally underrated 'Live Flesh' (1997) and the justifiably lauded 'All About My Mother' (1999) Pedro and Penélope once again proved an irresistible combination in 'Volver'. From France, Michael Haneke's 'Caché (Hidden)' proved to be a classic Marmite film (you either love it or hate it). I loved it but a colleague recently described it to me as the worst film he has ever seen.

The UK held its end up with four quintessentially English productions ('London to Brighton', 'A Cock and Bull Story', 'Glastonbury' and 'The Queen') and an imperfect but irresistible Bond ('Casino Royale') which will hopefully put an end to all the Daniel-Craig-is-not-Bond nonsense.

Over the pond, Hollywood proved it can still do 'big' with Ang Lee's sumptuous cowboy epic 'Brokeback Mountain' whilst Spielberg and Spike Lee both played very effectively against type to produce two of the year's finest thrillers (the best being Alfonso Cuarón's 'Children of Men' which rendered cinema's most convincing dystopian vision since Nineteen Eighty-Four was adapted for the screen). Hollywood also continues to mine a profitable seam of quirky indie hits (see 'Junebug', 'The Squid and the Whale' and 'Little Miss Sunshine') whilst George Clooney proved himself smart as well as handsome (damn him) with a impressively mature follow up to his directorial debut 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' (2002) in the form of 'Good Night and Good Luck'.

Talking of directorial debuts, 'Brick' was quite a way for Rian Johnson to hit the ground running (I'm overlooking his 1996 black and white short 'Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!!'). A neo-noir detective story set in a high school, 'Brick' cost under $500,000 to shoot and gave its big budget peers a bog wash at the box office. Equally refreshing was John Turturro's kitchen sink musical 'Romance & Cigarettes'. Kate Winslet's portrayal of a sexually voracious potty-mouthed Yorkshire lass is worth the entry/rental fee alone.

As for the top 3; 'United 93' was a wonderfully bold piece of cinema which could have got it wrong it so many ways but never faltered. 'Walk The Line' was for me the most enjoyable film of the year with two Oscar-worthy performances and a cracking soundtrack (see earlier post). However there was only one film which scored top marks in every department and that was 'The Departed'. With a cast which reads like a Who's Who of Hollywood's finest (Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alex Baldwin), dialogue to make Tarantino weep into his Fruit Brute and some jaw-dropping cinematography, 'The Departed' marks a true return to form for Scorsese who I feared might be "doing a Coppola" after the bloated folly that was 'The Aviator' (2004).

So, all in all, a pretty good year. If I had gongs to hand out for performances, Best Actor would be a toss up between Joaquin Phoenix in 'Walk the Line', Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Departed' and Philip Seymour Hofman in 'Capote'. Best Actress is an even tougher call with standout turns from Resse Witherspoon ('Walk the Line'), Penélope Cruz ('Volver'), Helen Mirren ('The Queen'), Lorraine Stanley ('London to Brighton') and Gretchen Mol ('The Notorious Bettie Page'). Best Director would have to be Paul Greengrass for deftly helming a mostly unknown cast on 'United 93'.

Anyway, enough waffle, here's the list:

The Departed
(dir. Martin Scorsese)
Walk the Line
(dir. James Mangold)
United 93
(dir. Paul Greengrass)
An Inconvenient Truth
(dir. Davis Guggenheim)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
(dir. Alex Gibney)
London to Brighton
(dir. Paul Andrew Williams)
(dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
The King
(dir. James Marsh)
Children of Men
(dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
Pan's Labyrinth
(dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Grizzly Man
(dir. Werner Herzog)
Caché (Hidden)
(dir. Michael Haneke)
Little Miss Sunshine
(dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
A Cock and Bull Story
(dir. Michael Winterbottom)
Brokeback Mountain
(dir. Ang Lee)
(dir. Rian Johnson)
The Squid and the Whale
(dir. Noah Baumbach)
Inside Man
(dir. Spike Lee)
(dir. Phil Morrison)
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
(dir. Jeff Feuerzeig)
(dir. Steven Spielberg)
Casino Royale
(dir. Martin Campbell)
The Queen
(dir. Stephen Frears)
The Notorious Bettie Page
(dir. Mary Harron)
(dir. Bennett Miller)
(dir. Julien Temple)
Good Night and Good Luck
(dir. George Clooney)
Romance & Cigarettes
(dir. John Turturro)
Thank You For Smoking
(dir. Jason Reitman)
The Last Kiss
(dir. Tony Goldwyn)