Vic’s Top Ten Films of 2006
To introduce my Top Ten films of 2006, I need to explain that my Top Ten lists are not lists of what I consider to be the ten best films of any given year. They are lists of my favourite ten films of any given year. Whether acknowledged or not, I think most film critics do this, though perhaps they equate the two. I do not equate the two. I believe The Queen and Pan’s Labyrinth were two of the ten best films made in 2006, but they did not impact me enough for either to make my top ten of the year. The impact a film has on me personally is the most important criterion for my favourite films. This can be an emotional or intellectual impact (both of which are influenced by, for example, the handling of favourite themes like humanisation, peace and social justice), but it normally involves what I call the “wow factor” or “captivation factor”. The first four films listed below were, for me, utterly captivating “wow” films and that’s why they are first on my list (i.e. not because of the acting, direction, score or cinematography, though of course these all contribute to the “wow factor”).
Here are my top ten films of 2006, followed by my honourable mentions. Who would have ever believed that Leonardo DiCaprio could have the starring role in two of my five favourite films of any year? I’m not a fan of his, but I must admit he does well in these films. Not surprising is that two of my top ten films are about Africa. You can never have too many good films putting a face on this most troubled of continents. Escapist entertainment has its place, but films which educate, expose, provoke, challenge and humanise follow a higher call.
1. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Another brilliant film by Tom Tykwer, one of my favourite directors. Not for everyone, but it sure “wowed” me. See my review elsewhere.
2. A Scanner Darkly – Amazing animated film by the director of the brilliant Waking Life (Richard Linklater) based on an intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction story by Philip K. Dick. At times disturbing and very serious, it is also the funniest film of the year.
3. Babel – A sprawling ambitious film telling a number of fascinating stories which are “almost” directly connected. Not all of it worked for me, but it had so many brilliant scenes that it kept me “wowed” throughout and it was, for me, the most humanising film of the year.
4. The Departed – Fast-paced brilliantly-edited film from Martin Scorsese, one of the greats, though it was much too violent for my taste (why do directors think they need so much graphic violence to tell a violent story?). This one gripped me from the opening scene and never let go.
5. Blood Diamond – Surprise of the year for me. It’s another film that feels the need for too much graphic violence, and the plot is rather thin and contrived, but its heart is in the right place and it is fascinating on many levels, including its exploration of good and evil and the way it takes the violence (especially child soldiers), exploitation and suffering in Africa very seriously. I’d rather have the message be a little heavy-handed than missing completely, as it is in most adventure thrillers.
6. Little Miss Sunshine – Good intelligent comedies are not easy to find these days, so this was a real treat. Alan Arkin was amazing, there were some wonderful family dynamics and it had some of the year’s best scenes (the scene on the pier near the end of the film is my favourite scene of the year).
7. Notes on a Scandal – Judi Dench is absolutely magnificent (I know, that’s nothing new) in this dark passionate drama (verging on psychological thriller) about, of all things, school teachers. An excellent study of loneliness and obsession - I loved it.
8. Little Children – Fantastic acting in this subtle little gem about broken people trying to find happiness. Another great film about humanisation.
9. Volver – My favourite foreign-language film of the year, by the great Almodovar. This is a magical beautifully-told tale about mothers and daughters and death. Penelope Cruz has never been better (actually, until now I never really thought she could act very well).
10. The Last King of Scotland – What a performance from Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin! And James McAvoy is perfect as the film’s protagonist: Amin’s personal physician. The film suffers from a ludicrous plot twist in the second half, but it has a great feel for the time and the place and it’s about opening our eyes to what’s really going on around us – something we all need to do.
Before turning to honourable mentions, I should say that I have little doubt that Letters from Iwo Jima would have made my top ten, but the film has not yet been released in London and I have not seen it.
My first honourable mention goes to two of the most purely entertaining films of the year, both about magicians: The Illusionist and The Prestige. I liked The Illusionist slightly better because it was lighter and more subtle while The Prestige tried a little too hard to provide twists, surprises and popular actors (Jackman, Bale, Johanssen). Then there are my two favourite documentaries of the year: The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and An Inconvenient Truth. The first is a thoroughly fascinating film on the thought of philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek. Using clips from many of my favourite films, Zizek, in his very personal, informal and entertaining style, tells us why film-watching is good for us. Sounds right to me. An Inconvenient Truth is a great film about the dangers of global warming, though it was a little too political (i.e. too much Al Gore, whom I otherwise admire) for my taste. Honourable mention also goes to Casino Royale, my favourite Bond film in at least nineteen years – it’s good to know that they can still make intelligent Bond films. And then there is Children of Men, Gareth Higgins’ favourite film of the year. What can I say? It’s my kind of story and I wanted it to be one of my favourites and I loved the first half of the film and Clive Owen was brilliant and the long “takes” were amazing, but the “realistic” battle scenes, which some people may have particularly appreciated, didn’t work for me and I felt let down by the “fight and flight” scenes that dominated the last half of the film (especially as the first half had enough for me). My review of Children of Men can be found elsewhere.