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Readers Comments: Best Movies of 2006 List

By Film Comment

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Not unlike the proletariat rising against the ruling classes, readers' responses to what our roundup of critics deemed the best films of 2006 bludgeon precisely and intelligently

The Departed

The Departed (#1)
“Scorsese’s first great film since Goodfellas. This relatively rare plot-driven endeavor preserves flashes of vintage Marty and makes for the most entertaining film of the year. His use of Irish-themed punkers The Dropkick Murphys during the belated opening title sequence attests to his ability to remain current—even in his sixties.”—Paul Iannone, Phoenix

“Swings from thugs to snitches, crime syndicates to elaborate bureaucratic busts, from Rolling Stones bodega beatdowns to a diabolical deluge of do-ins in which demises are doled out on the down beat. The staged executions of this work of pure fiction are tougher to stomach than the troublingly omni-viewed offing of Saddam. Men in the audience can’t take it, maybe because Marty’s flipped the cinema of joyous violence he helped invent for them on its back, laying it out like so many extras and superstars littering the elevator landing with equalizing inertia. Watching Leo and Damon meta-fictionally square off for the top spot brought the greatest Hollywood moment of the year, and the peak political moment of pop culture blew through when Baldwin bellowed ‘Patriot Act! Patriot Act!’ illustrating the termitic results of carte-blanche bugging that doesn’t have a tick turd’s worth to do with terrorism.”—Nathan Gelgud, New York

“My top ten: anything but The Departed! Is there something in the water fountains outside those NYC screening rooms? I’d love to win the Criterion DVD credit, but did I mention how ridiculously overrated The Departed is?”—Brett Sokol, Miami Beach, FL

Children of Men (#2)
“While the cosmic genius with which Alfonso Cuarón made Children of Men may have come out of nowhere, the concerns the director brought to it shouldn’t have. His A Little Princess raises questions about the need for a class structure (and in so doing becomes the first and last socialist kid’s film), just as Great Expectations speaks about the responsibility of those with privilege to those without. And is there any other filmmaker alive who would spend so much time debating the philosophical questions raised by the ‘half-blood’ subplot in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Cuarón is an auteur through and through, and like that other great humanist, Renoir, his overriding subject of choice is the way in which society chooses to demean, break apart, and subdue those without money or means of representation and the way those people in turn fight or don’t fight back. He’s as important an artistic presence as we have.”—Gregory Lawson

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (#3)
“The single best-photographed film of the year—a movie drenched in painterly, eye-caressing shadows. Chalk a blow for the genre of adult fairy tales, as well as for the traditionalists who esteem film over digital.”—Mark Benedict

“Breaks the rules of the mythological inner-journey motif that is the cliché of fantasy films, indie and Hollywood alike, adding a sad sense of terror’s actuality, and fantasy’s limitations in conveying it.”—Jim Standard, Clifton, NJ

The Queen (#6)
“Frears has directed a lot of crud over the years but comes through admirably with his latest picture. Historical fact and weighty subject matter are handled with a wonderfully light, almost comic touch that suggests just a hint of Lubitsch. Real-world politics rarely seem to interfere with what becomes an artfully constructed drama and character study. It is also blissfully convenient that the Never-Neverland quality of royal life lends itself quite well to cinematic treatment.”—Brett A. Scieszka, New York

“Frears’s ivory tower saga is taut, engaging, and suspenseful in much the same fashion as Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, its upstairs/downstairs forerunner.”—Stephen Brower, Santa Monica, CA

Borat (#7)
“A rude and crude comedy with no redeeming social value—yet I have not laughed so hard at a film in years.”—Michael McGonigle, Philadelphia

“I think most of us, even scholars and critics, ultimately select certain films as our favorites not for technical or artistic achievement so much as what a given film means to us personally. And I think this is why I found Borat so surprisingly endearing. It may be a slapstick comedy, but it is one of the few films that actually show the America I’ve seen as the son of an immigrant in small-town America. Indeed, there are racist bigots, radical right-wing preachers, and people who cannot accept the outside world not only in the South, but throughout the country. And conversely, I’ve actually met a Turkish man who came to America because of Baywatch!”—Tilly Gokbudak, Cloverdale, VA

Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima (#9) & Flags of Our Fathers (#23)
“The best film of 2006 was Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima. Here is a film by a director who is not afraid to let his images speak for themselves, nor afraid of the silences. Indeed, the silences in a film are often more eloquent and informative than any torrent of dialogue no matter how well written (Shakespeare not withstanding). In Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg seemed not to trust his own cinematic judgment and felt it necessary to first explain to us exactly what we are about to see, then show it to us, and to once again tell us what we had seen, just in case we didn’t get the point. Eastwood, on the other hand, is confident enough in his art to let the images speak for themselves—a film of restrained beauty and economy in both style and content.”—David Renke

Flags of Our Fathers exposes all other war movies as hypocritically entranced by the excitement of action and horror, opting instead for humane, sad prose instead of hyperbolic poetry."—Jim Standard, Clifton, NJ

Letters is an intriguing companion piece that never completely ignites. Why then has it been the one to grab the critical kudos? Does the film, as my girlfriend suspects, get automatic points for taking Japan’s POV?”—Mark Benedict


L’Enfant (#8)
“Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men is on plenty of top-10 lists, but the real masterwork with stunning action sequences about the tumultuous turn of events triggered by the birth of a single baby is the Dardenne Brothers’ new film. Cuarón manages to rub some realism on the future with his stylistic decisions, but they still register—blood droplets and all—like stylistic decisions. In L’Enfant, the traveling camera and the terror it captures and communicates is an extension of the realism inherent in the soul of the thing.”—Nathan Gelgud, New York

Inland Empire (#13)
“For a remake of a not so good Hong Kong picture, The Departed is entertaining, but it’s not personal filmmaking. David Lynch’s Inland Empire is as radical an act of personal filmmaking as any I’ve ever seen. It’s been a long time since a film of its ilk was unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. No wonder no one knows what to make of it. Scorsese and Lynch: two veteran filmmakers who began their careers not soon after the other did—one remaining stagnant in his art while in the pursuit of Oscar gold and the other becoming more daring with age.”—Aaron Simler, Freeport, IL

“Laura Dern earns the Helen Mirren hype.”—Jim Standard, Clifton, NJ

“Lynch’s unparalleled masterpiece moves forward by obliterating the past: over-the-shoulder shot-counter-shots, establishing shots, space-squelching close-ups, and tracking shots are all put through the intellectual wringer until they come out as something new, perplexing, exhilarating. Inland Empire is quite simply the most important piece of filmmaking, in terms of narrative, philosophy, style, acting, cinematography, and editing, since Welles made Citizen Kane. Or since Dreyer made Gertrud. Or Godard made Breathless. Or Rivette made Out 1. Or Tarkovsky made Mirror. Or Bresson made Lancelot du Lac. Anyway you put it, Lynch has revolutionized the cinema. Nothing can ever be the same.”—Gregory Lawson

United 93

United 93 (#4)
“This film is exciting, gut wrenching, and visceral, and I was an emotional wreck at the end. United 93 shows ordinary citizens acting in an extraordinary way. The filmmakers portray the events of 9/11 in a straightforward manner and don’t hide the confusion, the fear or the mistakes that were made on that terrible day. And yet you couldn’t pay people to see this film.”—Michael McGonigle, Philadelphia

“A tragic story told with soul—not sentimentality. A harrowing movie experience brilliantly executed by director Paul Greengrass that stirs empathy in the viewer in an honest, moving way.”—Hans Morgenstern, Miami

The Descent (#33)
“This should be required viewing for anyone interested in serious horror. Marshall wastes little time in creating a hell-on-earth scenario involving claustrophobia and interpersonal trust issues. Then the monsters show up. The Descent is neat as a pin, tight as a drum, and pitch perfect. No cheesy cave lighting here either—the cinematography is ingeniously natural with little more than helmet lights and lamps to illuminate the underworld. The audience sees just as little as the poor spelunkers.”—Brett A. Scieszka, New York

Inside Man (#23)
“Another example of a relaxed director doing what he does best. Despite the mainstream appeal of the film, Spike has sacrificed none of his edge. He still has plenty to say—he just packages it in such an entertaining way that audiences don’t register it as a message movie.”—Jeff Jewell, Howell, MI

Casino Royale (#19)
“Is this film well made in all technical areas? Check. Does it have an exciting, well-developed story? Check. Does it have rich characters and a good cast of talented actors? Check. So, why can’t a James Bond film be one of the year’s best? It can, and this one is. A thoroughly mainstream film that is wonderful, and I had one of the best times in a movie theater this year watching it. I didn’t think it possible, but Bond is back and he is still the coolest spy in cinema! Top that, Jason Bourne!”—Michael McGonigle, Philadelphia

Old Joy

Old Joy (#29)
“An American indie with a European ethos. I think it would have been better served without the music from Yo La Tengo, allowing the natural sounds to take over during the contemplative transition montages. That aside, the film does a fantastic job of connecting the audience not with the characters, but rather the situation. My experience with this film felt more like a hike to the hot springs than a trip to the cinema.”—Paul Iannone, Phoenix

A Scanner Darkly (#17)
“Linklater is the only young American to deserve inheriting Altman’s maverick status, and this op-art tale is a better sci-fi rendition of the future-as-now than Children of Men.”—Jim Standard, Clifton, NJ

“The narrative of Linklater’s flawed film, despite its flashy rotoscoping style, is overshadowed by the director’s uncanny ability to write dialogue that breathes with so much life that it often transcends the images on the screen and almost leads the viewer to believe he can reach out and touch the words coming out of the characters’ mouths.”—Hans Morgenstern, Miami

Marie Antoinette (#29)
“The ingénue of ennui hits another ball out of the park with her latest daydream. If you squint real hard you can almost see Coppola’s own privileged upbringing on the screen, set to Eighties hits, and romanticized to the hilt. The supporting roles (particularly Steve Coogan, Rip Torn, and Molly Shannon) are wry little winks in and of themselves, and this proves to be Jason Schwartzman’s best role since Rushmore. Who else can turn a tragic French Queen’s life story into a teenage girl’s ultimate fairy-tale fantasy? No wonder Coppola has pink cans of champagne named after her.”—Brett A. Scieszka, New York

Apocalypto

Apocalypto
“I’m disappointed by the lack of attention given to Apocalypto on most year-end lists, but I have a strong feeling it has to do with attitudes toward Mel Gibson’s personal problems. The fact that Leni Riefenstahl and D.W. Griffith were both racists doesn’t seem to keep Triumph of the Will or Birth of a Nation off many critics’ top-10 lists. Gibson may be a miserable human being, but his film was one of the most exhilarating things to come out this year and is at least worthy of discussion. And it was shot on video!”—Jeff Jewell, Howell, MI

The Black Dahlia
“Once again, De Palma approaches a big-budget mainstream thriller intent on shaking the audience out of its passivity. He muddies the narrative in order to clarify the nature of cinematic storytelling. And he shifts the emphasis from mapping the plot to unearthing the repressed. It’s as if the entire plot were a MacGuffin. De Palma directly cites Black Angel on a marquee at one point—a tribute not only to the master of the convoluted yet insular thriller, Cornell Woolrich, but to an overlooked film that really nails the dreamy, post-sensible side of noir. What De Palma concocts is a swirling canvas in which film fetish, sexual fetish, and psychological trauma become inextricably intertwined.”—Lawrence Frascella, Irvington, NY

Three Times (#15)
“Well, the first ‘two times,’ at least, are among Hou’s most seductive combinations of bliss and yearning.”—Jim Standard, Clifton, NJ

Bubble

Bubble (#45)
“Steven Soderbergh’s twin lab tests of last year, Bubble and The Good German, were meant as two very different glimpses of what may lie ahead in mainstream narrative film. The depth-of-field and ethereal light provided by the HD on which Bubble was shot, as well as the long, static takes, offered a route into the future that would mark thoughtful observation and accumulation of atmospheric detail as key filmmaking tools. The Good German, however, opts for a compression of reality into aesthetic terms, where affections in acting and direction seek to create something unique to the movie screen, something identifiable yet foreign in substance.”—Gregory Lawson

Miami Vice (#21)
“A gorgeous monster of the momentary mode of the medium, shot on DV and film, seamlessly interweaving them beneath windswept chaos. A wispy ballet of ballistics and bullets, Mann’s masterpiece is an elastic exercise in treatment of time and place, somehow simultaneously rushing ahead of itself with its self-propelling pace and establishing rapturous intimacy with the places and events that its inhabitants (ciphers or mystics?) speed through with deterministic fatalism. Flopped at the box office and affectionately hair-tussled by critics, probably because nobody knew what the hell they were looking at: a new kind of movie seemingly shot by an alien for the curious eye it casts toward human modes of travel, communication, relationship, and eradication.”—Nathan Gelgud, New York

Slither
“It’s a real tragedy that everybody (myself included) slept through the theatrical release of this brilliant gob of entertainment. A box-office bomb with ‘cult classic’ written all over it, containing some of the wackiest and most creative creature scares to come along in the last decade. The Troma veteran sensibility shines through (in a good way) and the realization of what must have been a bitch of a script to film is commendable. So many good setpieces here, and while it is comic horror the laughs are served straight up as opposed to the infuriating tongue-in-cheek manner so woefully in vogue today.”—Brett A. Scieszka, New York

The Proposition

The Proposition (#25)
“This movie proves the western remains a relevant genre. It presents, on the brink of civilization, early modern man, whose God-loving and fundamental lust for vengeance still drives today’s civilized man.”—Hans Morgenstern, Miami

Come Early Morning
“Adams’s directorial debut is a small triumph, bravely revisiting the fractured Southern psyche so expertly explored in such recent films as Phil Morrison’s Junebug and David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls.”—Stephen Brower, Santa Monica, CA

Taxidermia
“I caught this Hungarian film at the Chicago International Film Fest and its absurd wackiness stuck with me. The Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Friz Freleng/David Lynch vibe was incredible. Plus, any film that includes a man who can shoot fire out of his penis, Soviet bulk speed-eating competitions (with much vomiting goodness), panther-sized carnivorous housecats, fetus taxidermy and mass obesity is A-OK in my book.”—Phil Morehart, Chicago

Down in the Valley

Down in the Valley
“Critics on your list (and beyond) felt that run-of-the-mill frat humor like Talladega Nights and Jackass Part Two warrant mention. It’s a real shame that this haunting update of Lonely Are the Brave seemed to dissolve into the usual din of late-year Oscar- and critic-baiting. In particular, Ed Norton’s performance should be remembered as a Travis Bickle-ish monument to understated anguish.”—Philip Tatler IV, Knoxville, TN

The Bridesmaid
“Best film of the year, and one of the most moving films Chabrol has ever made. It is a work of cruel wit and great suspense, as a darkening cloud gathers around the protagonist (the terrific Benoît Magimel), slowly enveloping him from every direction. I loved this portrait of a somewhat repressed mama’s boy torn between the poles of pure chaotic lust and bourgeois rationality. The nuanced movement of the boy’s innocent sacrificial focus from his mom’s middle-class aspirations to the crazy bridesmaid’s engulfing needs (even if it surely spells his doom) makes the film so powerful.”—Lawrence Frascella, Irvington, NY

Lights in the Dusk
“Bressonian subtlety utilized in a somber noir comedy from director Aki Kaurismäki. Unique in its lyrical restraint, sparse dialogue and refreshingly economic storytelling; the magic resides in the details. This was my first experience with Kaurismäki. He revealed himself as a master of the language of film, my favorite example being the communication of an impending double cross using nothing more than the timely application of makeup. It’s moments like these that make me love film.”—Paul Iannone, Phoenix

World Trade Center

World Trade Center
“The brilliance of this film is how it subverted expectations that it might have been a movie with some kind of ideological agenda. By depicting the collapse of the Twin Towers with an almost Spielbergian indulgence in character, Stone returns the almost criminally politicized events to the heart of the matter: humanity was the victim that suffered the consequences of selfish righteousness on 9/11.”—Hans Morgenstern, Miami

Syndromes and a Century (#43)
“Best film of the year. Another sultry, atmospheric, magical puzzler from the most inventive and surprising director working anywhere today.”—Jim Standard, Clifton, NJ

Additional comments:
“It was a year for wonderful movies that happened to be extraordinarily, in some cases hyperbolically, violent: The Departed, Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, Lady Vengeance, Curse of the Golden Flower, United 93, even the PG-13 Casino Royale. This could be coincidental, or it could be a reflection of the militarism and terrorism that dominate the headlines. It was also another great year for documentaries: When the Levees Broke, Andy Warhol, 49 Up all originated on television but outclassed many theatrical features (as happened in 2005 with The Power of Nightmares and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan).”—Randall A. Byrn, New York

“The distrustful relationship between citizens and their government that so galvanized much of the Seventies American film movement seemed to return in 2006. The year brought us movies that seemed to recall many of the themes, if not some genres, from the Vietnam era. Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers challenged the myth of blind patriotism in wartime, Children of Men and V for Vendetta portrayed broken societies in the wake of governmental oppression; even Mel Gibson brought us a movie about the masquerades of media spectacle being used as a device for institutional colonialism. All of these films reflected the anti-institutionalism and sometimes nihilism that had sprung from the tender political climate during the third year of the increasingly unpopular Iraq War, amongst other things. Even the quintessentially heroic character of James Bond was given an anti-illusionist treatment. The few upbeat films of the year focused on salvation through those close to you, but still depended on that bond being fundamentally opposed to the powers that be. Babel, Little Miss Sunshine, Volver, and Pan’s Labyrinth all gave hope to a hopeless world by revisiting the family.”—Adam Protextor, Iowa City, IA

Borat scared me about what is, Children of Men scared me about what will be, and The Descent is the culmination of the nightmares I have as a result.”—Jeff Jewell, Howell, MI