After several outstanding films rolled out of 2005, 2006 has been a bit of a downer. With a few notable exceptions, I didn’t come across any films that really stood out as exceptional. There were certainly some good and entertaining movies, but even they were of the deeply flawed variety. Still, thinking back through the films I saw in `06, I was able to come up with ten worthy ones to put on a list. So, in no particular order and without further ado:
A film of unflinching savagery and mind-boggling brutality, John Hillcoat’s Australian western takes us back to the bad old days of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. Treading through the blackest recesses of the human heart, this is a film where even the good guys would make baby Jesus cry. But despite all the soul crushing amorality, the film is unsettlingly lyrical and undoubtedly powerful.
An old-fashioned monster movie with an Asian twist. This Korean genre entry deftly balances horror and gore with comedy and family values, all the while taking a not-so-subtle stab at government corruption and environmental irresponsibility. Strung together by great sfx and an offbeat sensibility, this kooky mix is rarely less than engaging.
“V for Vendetta”
When is a terrorist a freedom fighter? That is the question posed by the Brothers Wachowski in this dark and disturbing actioner. Set in a Fascist near-future England, the film tackles a timely yet potentially unpopular subject with flash and aplomb. Slick direction and cutting dialogue make this one of the more thought-provoking action films in a while.
Director Edward Zwick is at it again with another politically charged historical action drama. This time he shifts his attention to the diamond trade in West Africa and the horrific toll it has exacted from the land and its people. Extremely violent and somewhat bloated, the film is nevertheless highly entertaining and skillfully crafted. Eschewing his penchant for preaching through celluloid, Zwick addresses a pressing topic of global politics while providing the on-screen pyrotechnics Americans desire.
Back in the familiar surrounds of gangsters and crooked cops, Martin Scorsese’s tense remake of the Hong Kong classic “Infernal Affairs” is as taut and brutal as anything he’s done in the past. Which is to say this is the Scorsese from “Goodfellas,” not “Kundun.” Coaxing rabid performances from an all-star cast and conducting them at a breakneck pace, Scorsese shows us again why he’s one of the best directors in modern cinema history.
“Children Of Men”
Not to be outdone in the breakneck pace department, rising director Alfonso Cuaron comes at us fast and furious with his take on a dystopian England. Directed with head spinning immediacy and featuring the flashiest camera work since John Woo came to Hollywood, “Children Of Men” is an exhausting but riveting thrill ride.
This one’s a real treat. After an ill-advised foray into big budget Hollywood action films, Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro returns to his roots in atmospheric horror with “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Set in pre-WWII Spain, Del Toro blends the horrors of Fascism with the horrors of fairy tales to concoct a terrifying yet beautiful tale of childhood optimism and the power of imagination.
“The Last King of Scotland”
Propelled by an all-conquering performance by Forest Whitaker as megalomaniacal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, documentary film maker Kevin Macdonald’s first foray into feature film is a success. Resolutely `70s in look and feel, the film grabs hold through the sheer force of Whitaker’s performance and never lets go till the gruesome end. If Whitaker doesn’t at least get a Best Actor Oscar nomination, then something’s asleep at the wheel.
“Curse of the Golden Flower”
Perhaps attempting to erase the memory of the abysmal “House of Flying Daggers”, Zhang Yimou is back in fine form with this opulent tale of Tang Dynasty palace intrigue. Doing his best to stretch a soap opera plot to Shakespearean heights, Yimou pulls out all the stops with outrageously lavish sets, overflowing bosoms, huge battles and a retina vaporizing color palette.
Still riding a wave of deprecations from the Anti-Defamation League in the wake of “The Passion Of The Christ” and whipping up even more fury with his public bad behavior, Mel ‘The Jews caused all the wars’ Gibson brings us another historical bloodbath set in a mythic land and spoken in a forgotten tongue. This time Gibson turns his meat grinder on the Mayans of the Yucatan Peninsula and engenders even more ire from the appropriate special interest groups and holier than thou public. But the joke’s on us. Gibson’s collective ‘F*ck You!’ to the societal intelligentsia is an expertly crafted and exhausting chase.