In the past, I’ve fallen into the trap of creating a top ten list for the previous year’s films that ranks them in some sort of order. I’ve reached the conclusion that ranking films in such a way is a fool’s errand. Unless you give a work points based on some sort of criteria, how can anyone possibly say intelligently that this film was the third best of the year and that one was the tenth? You can certainly say based on more primal reactions that this film or that is the best film of the year because it had the best direction or acting or writing or cinematography. But mostly, you’re placing the film there because it created the most visceral reaction. The other films you choose to recognize similarly created a reaction and appreciation strong enough to include on a top ten list, but is it possible to say that one film had a “second-best-film-of-the-year” impact while another packed a strong, but not as strong, punch?
I’ve come to believe that it’s not possible. Ranking films one to ten, while a seductive organizational tool, isn’t the best way to recognize work that deserves to be recognized. Therefore, for my contribution to the conversation of the best films of 2006, I have chosen to list titles in alphabetical order so as to do none of them a disservice. Last year was a tough one to be a moviegoer. There was some good work being released, but you had to wade through bland “indie” pictures (Art School Confidential, Babel), see through awful message movies (All the King’s Men) and wait out bloated blockbusters (Superman Returns, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) to get to the good stuff.
The best cinema of 2006 dealt with similar issue: power, corruption, social responsibility and escaping the real world by retreating into fantasy, among others. These are films very much of their time, yet so expertly crafted that they will endure longer than the problems afflicting the world in the middle of the 21st century. But more than that, they are honest, a quality, above any other, seriously lacking in today’s cinema. Studios and filmmakers are increasingly mistaking easily consumable issue films that don’t take a stand on the issue they purport to deal with as being honest explorations of the subject. Crash last year and Babel this year come immediately to mind. Whatever honesty is thought to be in those films is muted by the need to make the work as accessible as possible to as many demographics as possible. Unfortunately, such an approach dilutes the work and the medium.
The films on this list range in their honesty. Some are personally honest (Science of Sleep), others socially honest (Dave Chappelle’s Block Party) and more are narratively honest (The Prestige, The Departed). Each of these films is uncompromising in its storytelling. The filmmakers responsible are honest to themselves and their work, but most importantly to their audiences. Rather than talking down to viewers, these filmmakers engage us as equals, making their films worthy of celebration and continual appreciation.
*L’Armee fes ombres (Army of Shadows) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville Written by Jean-Pierre Melville Based on the book by Joseph Kessel *Released in 1969 in France. Finally released in the US in 2006.
Children of Men Directed by Alfonso Cuaron *Written by Alfonso Cuaron, Tim Sexton and Clive Owen Based on the book by P.D. James *You’ll find this credit is different on the film. However, after reading an interview with Cuaron on Cinematical about who really wrote the film, I felt compelled to list the credits as I have for purposes of this write-up.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party Directed by Michel Gondry Written by Dave Chappelle
The Departed Directed by Martin Scorsese Written by William Monahan Based on the film Wu jian dao (Infernal Affairs), written by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong
Hollywoodland Directed by Allen Coulter Written by Paul Bernbaum
Inland Empire Directed by David Lynch Written by David Lynch
Letters from Iwo Jima Directed by Clint Eastwood Written by Iris Yamashita Based on the book "Picture Letters from Commander in Chief" by Tadamichi Kuribayashi
Marie Antoinette Directed by Sophia Coppola Written by Sophia Coppola Based in part on the book “Marie Antoinette: The Journey” by Antonia Fraser
Miami Vice Directed by Michael Mann Written by Michael Mann Based on the television show created by Anthony Yerkovich
Pan’s Labyrinth Directed by Guillermo del Toro Written by Guillermo del Toro
The Prestige Directed by Christopher Nolan Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan Based on the book by Christopher Priest
The Science of Sleep Directed by Michel Gondry Written by Michel Gondry
Shortbus Directed by John Cameron Mitchell Written by John Cameron Mitchell