The is part of my continuing project to collect and publish all of my older film lists in one place. Check out the End-of-Year Lists menu at the top of the screen. There you can find links to all the lists I have published so far. I’ll continue adding more as I find them. Stay tuned!
Side note: You’ll notice some discrepancies between this Top 10 list below and the one in my separate Films of 2006 post. According to the file details on my computer, the these reviews were written about 2 months later than that list. In retrospect, I’d have to agree more with this later one: nearly a decade later, I remember United 93 far more vividly than I do Little Miss Sunshine.
- Pan’s Labyrinth
During the Spanish civil war, a little girl escapes the horrors of real life with her new step-father, a tyrannical Spanish captain, into a magical faerie world that could be just as dangerous. It leaves you wondering just haw much is supposed to be real. By far the best of the year. Beautiful, wondrous, terrifying, heart-wrenching: there aren’t enough “critics’ words” to explain how good it is. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. Word or warning: it’s not rated R for nothing – the real world can be a very scary place, and in a few scenes, gruesome and gory.
- United 93
Many people said too soon. I wonder what’s so important about the amount of time that has passed that makes an event like this more or less “safe” (for lack of a better word) to tell. If not now, when? (What year was it first OK to make a movie about the Holocaust?) If anything making it sooner, while memories are fresher, might make it more accurate. But I don’t believe the amount of time that has passed can or should mean anything. Regardless of when it was made, or your opinion on whether it was a good idea, I can’t imagine any film doing a better job of telling this story. Very stark and matter-of-fact; almost documentary-like. It avoided the sweeping score and the intentionally tear-jerky dialogue to tell you how you’re supposed to feel. It just told the story simply and all the emotions are your own. (This is one way I believe this movie honored the victims while “World Trade Center” did not.)
- Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
I happen to be partial to movies that are original and have something new to offer the world of cinema. Borat does this while being one of the funniest movies I have seen …ever! But beware: you will cringe and contort your body into all sorts of strange and painful positions in order to escape the screen without leaving the room.
- Little Miss Sunshine
What really makes this quirky, hilarious road movie great is the characters. They are dark and very strange and yet very real. In the hands of lesser filmmakers this would be a handful of caricatures doing slapstick. In reality it’s always right on the edge of that line but never steps too far over it that it loses its humanity. It’s also got a great message about beauty, pageantry, and innocence (and the danger of losing it).
- Little Children
Little Children explores discontentment in suburbia. Young parents struggle with relationships, becoming responsible adults, and the presence of a recently released sex offender, who has his own demons to battle. Made by the same director as “In the Bedroom” and it shows.
- A Prairie Home Companion
Even the worst Robert Altman films are still better than most movies, and this is certainly not his worst. It’s not his best either, but it’s a very entertain movie with great performances all around. The presence of Garrison Keillor on the script as well as on-screen doesn’t hurt either. I think this is the perfect movie for Altman to go out on, and it takes on a somewhat new meaning since his death.
- Marie Antoinette
All the critics said love it or hate it early on last year, and then everyone forgot about it. I almost didn’t even rent it, but I’m very glad I did. The “problem” for many was that it’s a period costume piece with contemporary music and style. Honestly I’ve had similar problems with other movies before: “A Knight’s Tale” and even to some extent “Moulin Rouge.” The difference here is that Marie Antoinette is not a period movie, but rather a very contemporary movie that just happens to be about an 18th century French queen. Maybe the only difference between the two is my own mind-set. But I found the film a very refreshing alternative to the type of stuffy historical dramas that this could’ve been. After this I’ll never again be able to understand why a movie set in the past need to feel like it was made in the past.
There’s another reason why I loved this movie, and it has to do with a big pet-peeve of mine: I can’t stand it when a movie with an English-speaking cast, about characters that would normally be speaking a different language, decides that the characters should speak English with the appropriate accent. Obviously the best choice would be native-speaking actors with subtitles, but otherwise the next best thing is what Marie Antoinette does, but I’ve never seen before in any other movie: all the actors retain their own natural accents. This means a lot of wildly different accents – from Scottish to Texan and everything in between – but it doesn’t really matter because the characters would all actually be speaking French anyway. If we’re going to watch it in English, we might as well let the actors do their best with their normal voices.
- Children of Men
About 30 (I think) years in the future, women have mysteriously stopped being able to conceive. At the beginning of the film the youngest person in the world (at 18 years old) is assassinated. Most of the world has devolved into chaos. Britain is the last nation to sustain a functioning government, and it’s become extremely oppressive. Clive Owen has to smuggle a pregnant teen off the island to a rumored research facility that might be able to help. Unfortunately all borders are closed and various factions want the child for political reasons. Made by Alfonso Cuaron (“Y tu Mama Tambien,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and my favorite “A Little Princess”), one of 3 Mexican film directors (all good friends and collectively known as The Three Amigos) who all had a big success this year – Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu (“Babel,” “Amores Perros”) and Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”)
- Monster House
This was surprisingly good – excellent animation and top-notch acting. It wasn’t just vocal work: the actors wore motion capture suits and actually acted out their parts in front of specialized cameras, blue screens and wire frame props. They were then painted over with computer generated animation. That said, the movie’s real strength wasn’t in the technical stuff but the story, believe it or not. It did an excellent job of exploring that awkward part of adolescence when you feel too old to trick-or-treat, but you still really want to. Suddenly the opposite sex isn’t gross – just the opposite! – but you still want to play with your little kid toys. It’s hard being 13, especially when the house across the street wants the eat you! All the main characters, even the house, feel like very fleshed-out, complex, and real individuals by the end.
Usually I don’t like Almodovar as much as the other critics. Don’t get me wrong; all his movies are good, but most are just a little too weird for me. And that’s saying something! But in Volver I think he has found just the right mix. Wildly original plot, some strange things happen, but it never falls into the surreal (like “Talk to Her”). And as always, Almodovar is still exploring his favorite and ever-present theme: women comforting women.” It’s a perfect little film without being flashy in any of the ways the previous nine on my Top 10 were.