My Top Ten Films, 2006
It's that time of year again, when everyone's publishing their Top 10 lists, so here I am playing follow the leader. These were the best films I saw in 2006, in no particular order. I think some may have been made earlier, certainly the foreign films, but '06 was when they were released here, to my consciousness. Full Disclosure: I didn't get to see Apocalypto, Casino Royale, and many other films that piqued my interest, but for what's it worth, these are the films I saw that I would recommend to others.
2006 Feature Films
I was never good with math, so this Top 10 (apologies to Nigel Tufnel) goes to 11.
1. The Guatemalan Handshake (Todd Rohal, USA)
Of all the films I saw in 2006, this one has stayed in my mind the longest. It also featured a cool electric car in it, positing the immediate question: what ever happened to those electric cars? Soon after its release a documentary entitled Who Killed the Electric Car? came out. Life can be good like that.
2. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
3. Night Watch (Timur Bekmambetov, Russia)
4. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, USA)
5. Brick (Rian Johnson, USA)
6. Thank You For Smoking (Jason Reitman, USA)
7. Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, USA)
8. The Proposition (John Hillcote, Australia) - When I heard the script was by Nick Cave, a high-foreheaded Aussie rock musician whose every utterance is considered sancrosanct by urbane hipsters everywhere, I wanted to hate it sight unseen, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a great script. I caved on Cave and ate crow. A double bill of this with 2002's equally dark and gritty The Tracker would probably be the Australian Tourism Board's worst nightmare.
9. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, USA)
10. Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Jonathan Demme, USA)
11. Jet Li's Fearless (Huo Yuan Jia) (Ronny Yu, China)
Jet Li's martial arts swansong, a biopic about real-life martial arts master Huo Yuan Jia, was also his 8th collaboration with action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (a back catalog that includes Tai Chi Master, Fist of Legend, Once Upon a Time in China 1 and 2 and Unleashed) - best known in Stateside for his work on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, and both Kill Bill 1 and 2 - and it more than delivers the goods, especially after Jet Li lost the plot with the unbearable Unleashed.
The Hidden Blade (Kakushi Ken Oni No Tsume) (Yoji Yamada, Japan) - This 2004 "peaceful" samurai art film wasn't released on DVD here until August of this year, so I'm not sure if its eligible to be considered a 2006 film - that's the only reason I put it here. But if it is considered a 2006 film, I'd put it Top of the Pops because I didn't see a film this year - domestic or foreign - that moved me as much as this one. Yamada also helmed the arthouse favorite The Twilight Samurai but it's still amazing to me that an artist best known for sentimental melodramas - directing over 40 "Tora-san" movies (the world's longest running film series) - could so master the Zen of Samurai films. Who knew?
Army of Shadows (L'Armee des Ombres) (Jean-Pierre Melville, France) - The Charles Theatre showed a new, remastered print of Melville's somber 1969 masterpiece about the French Resistance and how it must resist not only the Germans, but its own fears, solitude, ennui and guilt.
V for Vendetta (James McTeague, USA) - the first Alan Moore adaptation to get it right, a What Is A Terrorist? theme that couldn't be more appropriate for the times we live in, and a standout performance by Hugh Weaving of The Matrix.
The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK) - Great horror film, though I would have liked to have seen the different, European, ending.
Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, USA) - Like Hotel Rwanda and The Constant Gardener before it, a pretty good film that sheds light on the plight of African civil strife and war atrocities.
Duck Season (Temporado de Patos) (Fernando Eimbcke, Mexico) - Like Seinfeld, this little Mexican gem is much ado about nada, but nada can be quite amusing and thought-provoking. Originally released in 2004, but new to theatrical (and DVD) release in El Norte this year.
Mr. Boh's Brewery (Alex Castro, USA) - for local flavor, what can I say?
2006 Film Revivals
1. The Charles Theatre's Saturday Noon Revival Series: Samurai Films (July-August) - Thank you John Standiford, first for the Ozu series in the Spring, and then for the even better Samurai Saturdays series in the Summer. Kurosawa's Sanjuro, Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri and Samurai Rebellion, Kihachi Okamoto's Sword of Doom and Kill!, Hideo Gosha's ultra-rare Three Outlaw Samurai, and all those Zatoichi films. As George Harrison said, It's All Too Much - of a good thing!
Honorable mention also to the Viva Pedro! retrospective of Pedro Almodovar's films.
2. The Baltimore Museum of Art's First Thursdays Film Series - Curator Eric Hatch gets props for screening The Conformist, Le Cercle Rouge and other Eurocentric art films in what is becoming Charm City's equivalent of DC's National Gallery film series.
3. The Senator Theatre's Annual Holiday Classics Series -
The Senator's annual screening of Christmas Story, Dicken's A Christmas Carol (1951 Alistair Sims version) & It's a Wonderful Life is as much a local holiday tradition as the lighting of the Washington monument in Mt. Vernon and Hampden's "Festival of Lights" on 34th Street. Also special thanks for The Senator's decision to screen the remastered version of Jean Renoir's 1939 classic The Rules of the Game this Fall.