The Top 10 Best Movies of 2006

For a movie critic, it’s amazing how few movies I see in a given year. Still, that won’t stop me from producing a Best Movies of 2006 Top 10 list, as is every wannabe movie critic’s wont. 2006 was not exactly a banner year for movies, as there are very few movies that have stuck in my mind months after viewing. There are some, of course, that were so good I am still thinking about them now, as I sit down to compose this list. Here, then, are the top 10 movies of 2006 as I, your humble movie reviewer, sees it. (Or, to be more exact, from the list of movies I have seen.)

10. “Exiled”
Not the best Johnnie To movie ever made, but still a pretty darn good one. And considering the director’s oeuvre, that’s saying bunches. The second Johnnie To movie on the list, with “Election 2” showing up much lower (or higher, depending on your POV). The venerable Anthony Wong leads the cast as a no-nonsense gunman who has a change of heart and takes on his own boss, played wonderfully by Simon Yam, who continues his strong string of nutty villain roles.

9. “Tristan and Isolde”
Better than Romeo and Juliet and most certainly sexier than any period movie set in the Dark Ages has any right to be, “Tristan and Isolde” gets great chemistry out of its two leads. Sophia Myles burns up the screen with her presence, and the swordplay ain’t all bad, either. This was the first film that proved James Franco has the stuff to play a leading man. Sure, he’s sometimes too wooden for his own good, but Franco has the physicality to make his great swordsman character work. And did I mention it’s a pretty erotic movie for a PG-13 film? Now if only someone will release an Unrated Version…

8. “Blood Diamond”
Let’s all say it together: Edward Zwick knows how to do epic action movies. He did it with “Last Samurai” and “Glory”, and he’s done it once more with Africa-set “Blood Diamond”. Leonardo DiCaprio puts in his second strong turn of 2006 as a white African diamond smuggler who throws his lot in with Djimon Hounsou’s poor farmer in search of a pink diamond. Incredibly and graphically violent, the film’s only real problem is the lengthy 2-hour plus running time. After a while, you become numb to all the brutality the film has to offer and wish it would get to the end. A great movie made nearly untenable by directorial vanity and an inability to, as the saying goes, “kill your darlings”, i.e. edit the damn thing down to a reasonable 2 hours at the very least.

7. “Superman Returns”
By all indicators a box office flop, Bryan Singer’s resurrection of the Man of Steel proves problematic for a number of reasons. Despite all the razzle-dazzle inherent in the story of a man who has the power of a God, Singer can’t quite rein in a cartoonish and disrupting performance from Kevin Spacey. Still, the special effects, as you might expect from a film with an unlimited budget, is first rate, and Brandon Routh becomes Superman with this role. It might not have done gangbuster business, but I enjoyed myself throughout the film, and my regret that it didn’t quite rise to the level of perfection that it should have achieved is me saying that it was so good, but it could have been so much better.

6. “Miami Vice”
Michael Mann does the impossible: made a cheesy ’80s TV show seem cool again. The big screen version of “Miami Vice”, about two undercover cops who go deep, deep, deep undercover to nab an arms dealer, is down and dirty, gritty to its core, and is fronted by two strong leads in Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell. My initial gripe with the film was Farrell’s playing of Crockett as somewhat “off”, but after thinking about it some more, I am of the mind that that was the whole point. Crockett’s out of control “oft-kilter” approach as compared to Foxx’s Tubbs’ cool cat was the point. A great action movie without a whole lot of action, which is very rare indeed.

5. “Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest”
Captain Jack Sparrow returns in this Hollywood sequel to the big moneymaker of 2003. Johnny Depp continues to earn his paycheck as Sparrow, while director Gore Verbinski overdoses on the CGI. A combination of creative stunts, neverending fun, and gorgeous special effects manages to overcome the lengthy running time and lack of depth. Hey, when things are this fun, it’s kind of hard to complain. Pure brain mush? Most definitely.

4. “Election 2”
The follow-up to Johnnie To’s gangland saga about an election held among the Hong Kong Triads for its chairman position. The sequel packs more punch than the original, but remains minimalist and hard to decipher if one isn’t paying attention, or isn’t used to the director’s signature “less is more” approach to cinema. A movie filled with fantastic performances from Hong Kong’s younger cadre of actors, including Louis Koo and Nick Cheung. Almost as good as Scorsese’s “The Departed” when it comes to crime films. Almost.

3. “Sweet Land”
A tender love story set in 1920s Montana, about a German immigrant who comes overseas to marry a Norwegian farmer. Heartbreaking and simple, but always sincere in its approach to its story. Elizabeth Reaser’s starring performance makes the film what it is, with strong supporting turn by Tim Guinee as the farmer. The film is unflinching in its desire to be traditional in every aspect of its construction. At times bittersweet, “Sweet Land” is nevertheless sweet.

2. “Feast”
The horror movie fan’s horror movie. Made for a few million with a cast of mostly unknowns, this Project Greenlight project wasn’t well received by critics and the studio in limited release in 2005. After a brief run in selected theaters (re: no one really saw it), the film hit DVD shelves around the country in 2006. It is a great, pure horror movie, with some comedy that never interferes with the true guts (no pun intended) of a horror movie: blood, guts, and thrills. The plot? Who cares. Rent it the next time you run across it at Blockbusters.

1. “The Departed”
Martin Scorsese did the unthinkable: he took a great Hong Kong movie and made it better. Everything about “The Departed” tops “Infernal Affairs”, from casting to direction to pacing. At well over two hours, I could have stayed another hour and not miss a beat. If Scorsese doesn’t win Best Director, and “The Departed” doesn’t score, at the very least, a Best Film nomination, then the Oscar is a bigger joke than it usually is. Likewise for Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor and Mark Wahlberg for Best Supporting Actor. And okay, throw in another Best Supporting Actor nod for Jack Nicholson, too, as although the venerable vet wasn’t the powerhouse he usually is, mostly thanks to a tour de force performance from DiCaprio, he’s still great fun. See this film or die trying.