Between the splattering failures and the soaring successes of 2006, running themes of torture, surveillance, corporate corruption, pro U.S. military propaganda, global warming, pedophilia, troubled childhoods and magicians coincided with pathetic horror movie remakes, two sidesplitting comedies and politically charged dramas connected to Africa.
It seems that the U.S. Government's atrocities at Abu Ghraib have set off a subconscious obsession with the brutal realities of torture. Eli Roth's "Hostel" set the tone for extreme physical abuse that carried over into movies like "Apocalypto," "Casino Royale," "Catch a Fire," "Children of Men," "The Good Shepherd," "Harsh Times," "The Last King of Scotland," "The Proposition," "MI3," "V For Vendetta," and Michael Winterbottom's stunning docudrama "The Road to Guantanamo."
All of the films feature explicit scenes of active torture. The cumulative effect is a denouncement of torture as an inhumane practice used predominantly on innocent people that either die or return to their attackers with a loaded vengeance.
With Americans already numb to the idea that our outdoor activities are recorded on millions of video cameras, our e-mails are read and stored along with our telephone conversations, a mainstream movie like Tony Scott's "Déjà Vu" takes Big Brother even further with satellites that see through walls.
It's in this fascistic climate that "The Lives of Others," from German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, puts a sober light on East Berlin in the early '80s before the fall of the Berlin wall when the German Democratic Republic used a vast network of informers known as the Stasi to keep constant tabs on its citizens.
The cold irony here is how much more pervasive America's current level of observation is compared to theirs. And Americans don't have a wall to tear down that might enable them to destroy the infrastructure of scrutiny.
Richard Linklater explored corporate/government supervision in his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" about a public led by their noses with drug addictions similarly fueled and fed by the "system."
"Blood Diamond" dug deep into the gory reality behind conflict diamonds, and inadvertently caused the De Beers diamond group to protest too much in their own defense about the origin of their precious stones.
The industrialized manufacture of tobacco was lightly roasted in "Thank You For Smoking," but Richard Linklater's film version of Eric Schlosser's best-selling 2001 nonfiction expose "Fast Food Nation" kicked the crap out of America's fast food commercial complex and its apathetic use of illegal immigrant workers.
To watch "Annapolis," "Home of the Brave," "United 93" and "World Trade Center" one would think that the Pentagon has its own staff of screenwriters sweating over their Final Draft programs to deliver sneaky endorsements of its military. Dylan Avery's online documentary "Loose Change 9/11" was a damning antidote to those films that spread like wildfire across the internet.
"An Inconvenient Truth" witnessed Al Gore's singular commitment to the issue of global warming as, by far, the biggest threat facing all citizens of the world. Chris Paine's "Who Killed The Electric Car?" went a long way toward pointing out the essentialness of renewable energy and the concerted corporate/government agenda against it. Global warming has become a litmus test for a person's IQ that separates the smart from the stupid.
The next time someone tells you global warming isn't real, don't say a word, just walk away and avoid that nitwit forever more.
"Deliver Us From Evil" examines the random occurrence of pedophilia among some of the Catholic Church's clergy and its dogged attempts to conceal it in Amy Berg's persuasive and brave documentary about Father Oliver O'Grady, "the most notorious pedophile in the history of the modern Catholic Church." "Notes on a Scandal," "The History Boys," "Little Children," "Tideland" and "Wussup Rockers" contained varying levels of tabloid-style focus on pedophilia.
Ryan Murphy's "Running With Scissors" gave glorious filmic voice to Agusten Burroughs' popular memoir about his bizarre '70s era childhood, and "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" reinforced Burroughs' realization that some mothers should be abandoned and forgotten.
Dito Montiel told his own hard knock story of growing up in Astoria during the '80s in "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints." Tom Twyker's "Perfume," based on German writer Patrick Suskind's novel about a serial killer in 18th century France, put a sociopathic filter on the effects of a cruel mother and a harsh adolescence.
Magicians got plenty of screentime in Woody Allen's "Scoop," Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" and Neil Burger's superior film "The Illusionist" with Ed Norton performing acts of prestidigitation with a personal investment of attaining the hand of his childhood love.
Based on the wretched 2006 horror movie remakes of "The Omen," "The Wicker Man" and "When A Stranger Calls," Hollywood should put a moratorium on doing any such revisions in the future.
Only Alexandre Aja's reconstitution of Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" managed to pack more of a wallop than its original inspiration.
British writer/director Neil Marshall's "The Descent" showed the rest of the world what a modern horror movie should be with a story about a group of women adventurers on a doomed spelunking journey.
The rule for judging comedy is always the same; did it make you laugh? "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" and "Jackass: Number 2" sent more audiences into convulsions of uncontrollable laughter than all of the comedies in the last five years combined. Are they racy, over-the-top and filled with stomach-churning gags? Mel Brooks must be proud.
The nation of Africa was on a lot of people's minds in 2006. "Blood Diamond," "Catch a Fire," "The Last King of Scotland" and "Tsotsi" gave heartfelt viewpoints on political aspects of the country's problems that no longer seem relegated exclusively to the oldest inhabited territory on earth. Each of these four films is an ardent plea for attention to a country that cannot be ignored.
Spanish filmmakers Pedro Almodovar ("Volver"), Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men"), Alejandro González Inarritu ("Babel") and Guillermo Del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") made an enormous impact on world cinema with a group of indelible films that are immediate classics. We have seen the next generation of great filmmakers, and they are Spanish.
Clint Eastwood performed the year's most ambitious cinematic feat in making a pair of companion films about the significance of the battle at Iwo Jima and the ways in which the Japanese and American governments treated that pivotal battle. "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" are opposite sides of the same coin that form an inseparable epic narrative which correlates directly to the deeply personal experiences of soldiers on both sides of the conflict and the nationalist ideologies and traditions at stake.
The films are masterpieces of modern cinema that display Clint Eastwood's talent as a director to work on a large narrative canvas to effect an openly resonate dialogue of social necessity.
Martin Scorsese returned to form with his highly polished adaptation of the Hong Kong police thriller "Infernal Affairs." "The Departed" is a deliriously entertaining masterwork crammed with subtext-rich performances from its well-heeled ensemble cast. Here is a movie that you could watch ten times and still discover something new.
While critics raved about "Little Miss Sunshine" as if it were this year's "Sideways," there were a slew of overlooked movies like "Cocaine Cowboys," "Harsh Times," "Heading South," "The Heart of the Game," "Keeping Mum," "Le Petit Lieutenant" "Phat Girlz," "Sherrybaby" and "12 and Holding" and that deserve regard for their powerful performances and originality.
David Lynch returned to his signature abstract narrative framework with "Inland Empire," and it's exciting to witness him testing the limits of his visually poetic style.
The Worst Films of 2006
10. "Marie Antoinette"
9. "The Da Vinci Code"
7. "Inside Man"
6. "Ask The Dust"
4. "All The King's Men"
3. "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things"
1. "Lady In The Water"
The Best Films of 2006
10. "Deliver Us From Evil"
9. "An Inconvenient Truth"
8. "The Good Shepherd"
7. "The Last King of Scotland"
6. "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
5. "Blood Diamond"
4. "The Queen"
2. "The Departed"
1. "Flags of Our Father" and "Letters From Iwo Jima"
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