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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Best and Worst Films of 2006

My picks for the top and bottom films of 2006

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 14, 2006 -- It is time to look back on the year 2006. Actually, I'm a couple of months late doing this. It was a good year for movies. I skipped most of the bad ones, so my “worst of” list is hardly definitive, but I've seen most of the best films of the year. Usually, there are six to eight A films (four stars out of four) and this year was no exception. I had six A films, and 13 B+ films on my list (I don't use an A- rating since I don't think there is a bit of difference between an A- and a B+. I also don't use an A+ rating.).

As usual, many of the top films are released in December. I saw a number of these films on screeners (thanks to the studios, publicists and the Online Film Critics Society). The rest, I saw in Laramie, Cheyenne, Fort Collins or Denver. I just finished getting caught up on my backlog of year-end movie reviews a few weeks ago. I published a blog review file this year and used that as a basis for my full reviews. Don't feel left out if you haven't seen all these films. Lots of people haven't seen them all yet. Some of them are already available on home video. There are some acclaimed films that I haven't yet seen yet mystelf. Many of these films were poorly distributed around the U.S.

I did see “Babel,” which is probably the film with the most awards that didn't make my top 10 list. For me, the multiple storylines did not mesh together very well. The whole of it seemed less than its parts. Unlike most film critics, or most film fans, I am both a philosopher and an amateur astronomer, which is one of the reasons I liked “The Fountain,” a challenging film that you won't find on most top 10 lists. This is the most ambitious film of 2006, and one of the hardest to understand. It requires an understanding of comparitive religion, an understanding of Buddhism and some knowlege of transcendental meditation. Another top 10 movie on my list is unusual, “Tsotsi,” the same film that won an Academy Award for best foreign film last year. I did not see it in 2005, and in fact, it was only released in the U.S. in 2006, so it made my 2006 list. For many critics, this film was last year's news.

In my honorable mentions list is “Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” the best concert film of the year, “Borat,” the year's funniest, most politically incorrect film of the year, along with “Thank You for Smoking.” Also on my honorable mentions list is the best documentary film of the year, “Shut Up and Sing,” about how fans of The Dixie Chicks abandoned the group after one of the singers criticized President Bush. The movie shows how the Dixie Chicks bounced back with a popular, multi-Grammy Award-winning album. L'Enfant is yet another fine foreign film about another young man, much like the young man in “Tsotsi,” who has some growing up to do. Clint Eastwood's “Flags of Our Fathers” made my list although his other, more critically-acclaimed film from this year, “Letters From Iwo Jima” did not. What a year for Eastwood, and what a year for the Mexican directors who shook up the film world with three films, “Pan's Labyrinth,” “Babel” and “Children of Men.”

Below the list of top films are a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by a list of the worst films I saw this year. One thing that makes my list different than most is I've got more comedies in my list, and more films starring black actors. Most actors, directors and critics agree that it is a lot tougher to make a good comedy than it is to make a good drama, but then they go ahead and omit the comedies from their top 10 lists anyway. I practice what I preach.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Worst movies

Best 10 films of 2006

1. United 93[4 stars]

This documentary-like film focuses on the doomed flight of United 93 on September 11, 2001. Onboard the first battle against terrorism was fought. A number of people in the cast had first-hand knowledge of what happened that day. They were there. Innovative and unusual, the film is a combination of a great script and great improvisation by a cast of professionals. Some were professional actors, some were professional air traffic controllers, military personel, flight attendants, etc., who were on duty that day. Some of these people recreated the incidents involved from their own experiences on that day. The result is the most compelling film of the year and one that seems extremely authentic.

2. Children of Men[4 stars]

A gripping tale of an apocalyptic future where mankind is doomed because women can no longer have babies. From this description, the film sounds depressing, but it is not. The film combines high human drama, suspense, action and a fast pace for a compelling experience. It shows the best and worst of humanity in a profound setting. A memorable and powerful film experience.

3. Tsotsi[4 stars]

This is a deeply moving film about lost souls in Soweto, South Africa. A young man with no future suddenly decides to take a baby from a stolen car. Caring for this child gradually causes this young thug to become more human. It is an amazing process. The story is revealed mostly without the need for dialogue. One of the most powerfully emotional films of the year.

4. Little Children[4 stars]
This film about an adulterous affair and various other goings-on in an affluent suburb generates an enormous amout of suspense for such a seemingly trivial story. This is probably the best film you've never heard of this year. It also contains the best supporting actors performance of the year as Jackie Earle Haley turns in a searing performance as a tormented child molester.

5.Water[4 stars]

This, along with “Tsotsi” are the two best foreign films of the year that I have seen. Set in the 1930s, this film illustrates the severe restrictions that some widows still face in India. It tells the story of a young girl forced into a life of poverty and deprivation because she is technically a widow. It is filled with beauty and tragedy. A very controversial film, it caused riots in India. Kudos to director Deepa Mehta for having the courage and tenacity to get this film made.

6. The Fountain[4 stars]
The most ambitious and challenging film of the year takes on the little matter of the meaning of life, immortality and transcending the limitations of time and space. Oh, and it is a love story, too. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play star-crossed lovers in the present, past and future in a story that spans hundreds of years and light years. Stunning cinematography, music and special effects combine for a one-of-a-kind movie experience.

7. Deliver Us From Evil[4 stars]
This is a very powerful documentary about the effect of sexual abuse by a priest on some of his victims. Interviews with both victims and the guilty priest uncover the dark underbelly of the Roman Catholic Church. It will horrify you and make you angry if you dare to watch it.

8. The Prestige[3.5 stars]
This is one of those gimmick movies like “Memento” (written and directed by the same guy), but it has more going for it than just magic tricks. This is similar to another movie that came out the same year, “The Illusionist.” It is all about deception and misdirection. It is also about the terrible price some people pay for fame and for revenge. The script is very clever with plot twists and surprises reminiscent of those created by M. Night Shyamalan.

9. Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)[3.5 stars]
One of the best foreign films of the year, this Spanish language film set in Spain brilliantly blends fantasy and reality into a story of darkness and light. This film, set in the 1940s after the Spanish Civil War tells the story of an imaginative young girl, her sickly mother and sadistic stepfather. She is caught between warring factions in a remote village and tries to escape into her magical fantasies. It skillfully illustrates the best and worst in humanity.

10. (tie) Happy Feet[3.5 stars]

This is not only the best animated film of the year, it is the best musical of the year too, with terrific song and dance numbers (the dance numbers feature the motion-captured tap dancing of Savion Glover). It follows the story of a penguin who doesn't fit in to the herd, so ends up changing the herd. A great story and the animation is wonderful.

10. (tie) Charlotte's Web[3.5 stars]

This is the best kid's movie of the year, and the best-ever film adaptation of the beloved children's book by E.B. White. The heroes of this story are an extremely unlikely trio, a spider, a pig and a rat. This is a very gentle story in which love, intelligence, courage, self-sacrifice and humility win out over prejudice. Most of all, it is about the power of the written word. This is an instant children's classic.

Honorable Mention
(Listed alphabetically)

Blood Diamond (2006)[3.5 stars]

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan[3.5 stars]
Flags of Our Fathers[3.5 stars]
The Last King of Scotland[3.5 stars]
L'Enfant[3.5 stars]
Neil Young: Heart of Gold[3.5 stars]
Notes on a Scandal[3.5 stars]
The Queen[3.5 stars]
Rocky Balboa[3.5 stars]
Shut Up and Sing[3.5 stars]

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films below are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1 Paul Greengrass -- United 93
2 Todd Field -- Little Children
3 Darren Aronofsky -- The Fountain
4 Deepa Mehta -- Water
5 Gavin Hood -- Tsotsi

Best actor

1 Forest Whitaker -- The Last King of Scotland
2 Sacha Baron Cohen -- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
3 Ryan Gosling -- Half Nelson
4 Hugh Jackman -- The Fountain
5 Edward Norton -- Down in the Valley

Best actress

1 Helen Mirren -- The Queen
2 Judi Dench -- Notes on a Scandal
3 Kate Winslet -- Little Children
4 Meryl Streep -- The Devil Wears Prada
5 Emily Rios -- Quinceañera

Best supporting actor

1 Jackie Earle Haley -- Little Children
2 Bill Nighy -- Notes on a Scandal
3 James Cromwell -- The Queen
4 Paul Dano -- Little Miss Sunshine
5 Ben Affleck -- Hollywoodland

Best supporting actress

1 Cate Blanchett -- Notes on a Scandal
2 Emma Thompson -- Stranger Than Fiction
3 Toni Collette -- Little Miss Sunshine
4 Toni Collette -- The Night Listener
5 Maggie Gyllenhaal -- World Trade Center

Best adapted screenplay

1 Little Children
2 Rocky Balboa
3 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
4 Charlotte's Web
5 The Prestige

Best original screenplay

1 United 93
2 The Fountain
3 The Queen
4 Inside Man
5 Little Miss Sunshine

Best foreign language film

1 Tsotsi
2 Water
3 L'Enfant
4 The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
5 Fateless

Best cinematography

1 Apocalypto (Dean Semler)
2 Little Miss Sunshine
3 The Fountain
4 Water
5 World Trade Center

Best breakthrough performance

1 Sacha Baron Cohen -- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
2 Brandon Routh -- Superman Returns
3 Jennifer Hudson -- Dreamgirls
4 Sacha Baron Cohen -- Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
5 Rudy Youngblood -- Apocalypto

Best breakthrough filmmaker

1 Gavin Hood -- Tsotsi
2 Ryan Fleck -- Half Nelson
3 Gil Kenan -- Monster House
4 James McTeigue -- V For Vendetta
5 Paul Dinello -- Strangers With Candy

Best documentary feature

1 Deliver Us From Evil
2 Shut Up and Sing
3 Neal Young: Heart of Gold
4 An Inconvenient Truth
5 Sir! No Sir!

Best animated feature

1 Happy Feet
2 Cars
3 Monster House
4 Open Season
5 Flushed Away

Best film editing

1 The Fountain
2 United 93
3 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
4 The Last King of Scotland
5 Apocalypto

Best musical score

1 Fateless (Ennio Morricone)
2 Invincible (Mark Isham)
3 The Fountain (Clint Mansell)
4 Notes On a Scandal (Philip Glass)
5 The Illusionist (Philip Glass)

Funniest film of the year

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan[3.5 stars]

The year's most overrated films

The Departed
The Devil Wears Prada
Letters From Iwo Jima
Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

The year's best films you've never heard of

The Fountain
Little Children
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Shut Up and Sing

The Worst Films of 2006

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed most of the worst films, including Just My Luck, Date Movie, Epic Movie, See No Evil, Material Girls, Ultraviolet, BloodRayne, Underworld: Evolution, The Covenant, Employee of the Month, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Black Christmas, American Dreamz, Stay Alive, Beerfest, Doogal, The Benchwarmers, Deck the Halls, Unaccompanied Minors, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, Zoom, Little Man, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Shaggy Dog, She's The Man, RV, Wicker Man, Big Momma's House 2, Garfield: A Tail Of Two Kitties, Grudge 2, Hoot and Jackass: Number 2, among many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. After all, I don't get into the movies for free, and I don't like to waste my money, but I got fooled into spending too much on the following films anyway:

1 The Pink Panther (2006)[1.5 stars]
2 Man of the Year[2 stars]
3 Firewall[2 stars]
4 Failure to Launch[2 stars]
5 Barnyard: The Original Party Animals[2 stars]
6 The Marine[2 stars]
7 Poseidon[2 stars]
8 Click[2 stars]

Links to reviews of all the films are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

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Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]