Top 10 Movies of 2006

Number 10.  –  The Prestige

A truly sophisticated and wondrous film that never loses its sparkle. With its multiple and mind challenging twists that are continuously debated over, a film that’s talked about like this is one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Aside from its superb story, The Prestige is packed with powerful performances; from the rising tension and competition between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, to Scarlett Johansson being caught between the rivalry of the magicians, to the words of wisdom from Michael Caine and David Bowie as the infamous Nikola Tesla. This is one of Christopher Nolan’s better yet less recognized works that will never cease to grip its audience and continues to deliver one powerful show of revenge, mystery and the shocking choices that our rival leads are willing to make.

300Number 9.  –  300

300′ is a totally riveting masterpiece of film making. Zack Snyder, inspired by the graphic novel, has brought a 2487 year-old news story to life with people you really care about who are faced with choices between compromise and war that are all too familiar today. The breath-taking CGI images are flawlessly integrated with the live action. All the actors are excellent in their roles, and Butler IS Leonidas. The sound design is excellent. The score was recorded by the London Phil with a full chorus and is beautiful to listen to, but is very reminiscent of ‘Gladiator’ which detracts from the otherwise total originality of the film. This movie integrates the potentials of film-making and story-telling in a wonderful new way that is the best of both entertainment and artistic achievement. Though this film is largely style over substance, it does have some deeper themes and what not going through it, chiefly that of fascism. You root for the Spartans, and you’re rooting for fascism. Kinda like Starship Troopers though not quite as brilliant. The slow-mo gets a tad overused, and yeah, the Persians are undeniably portrayed as perhaps too fey and sibilant, but hell, this is fun, not art. I actually prefer this to the graphic novel it’s based on because this has much more story and depth.

The IllusionistNumber 8.  –  Illusionist

Though Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige was the big film dealing with magic in 2006, its competitor The Illusionist released the same year, is a well crafted film in the same style, but very different. Edward Norton yet again delivers an electrifying performance as illusionist Eisenheim. The Illusionist is a strong film with top notch performances aside from Norton. A surprisingly good performance is that of Jessica Biel as Duchess Sophie Von Teschen. She delivers the best performance of her career. The Illusionist is a strong film with a story full of twists and turns. The plot is surprising and its never what you really expect. Its really hard to compare The Illusionist with The Prestige because they’re two totally different films. But The Illusionist is a totally different story than The Prestige despite the fact that it uses magic as a plot device. The story here is incredible, beautiful, mysterious and suspenseful. People have said this is predictable, but I beg to defer. I thought the story had plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing till the very end. The Illusionist is a very entertaining film with a strong cast and despite the fact its a lesser film than The Prestige, this is still a worthy film to watch and enjoy. The Illusionist is one of Edward Norton’s best films and also the fact that it shows Jessica Biel giving a great performance gives her a lot more credibility as an actress. A must see film that brings on great amounts of thrills and mystery.

Number 7.  –  Silent Hill

For all those who say that all video game movies suck, allow me to introduce to you Silent Hill. If I were to make a list of the best video game movies, this adaptation from the video game series will be on the top of the list and still to this day there hasn’t been another video game movie that dominated it’s level of craftsmanship and faithfulness to it’s source material. As a long-time fan of the “Silent Hill” video games and a fan of video games in general, I have to acknowledge how amazingly rare it is for a film adaptation to be this faithful to the source material. This film delivers almost 100% fan-service in every way, which could also be seen as it’s biggest flaw – though I would argue that it has the capacity to entertain most non-game-affiliated horror fanatics who are good enough at paying close attention to it’s sometimes overlooked plot intricacies – nonetheless, it’s a fantastic piece of evidence to prove how good video game-based films can be when put in the right hands, unfortunately most of them aren’t.

Number 6.  –  Flags of Our Fathers / Letters From Iwo Jima

                

Extras on the four-disc collectors’ edition shed additional light on Clint Eastwood’s unique attempt to see both sides of a story in a double-header of films relating to the second world war conflict. Flags of Our Fathers is based on a book in which the son of one of the flag-raisers in the iconic photograph traces the story dad never told him. The book’s writer, James Bradley, gives an insight into a man whose role was to try to keep the wounded alive, exposing him to the grimmest experiences in a bloody battle. This was a task t
hat cost him five years of crying in his sleep, but Bradley never talked about it, even to his wife and son. With skillfully interspersed flashbacks and desaturated color in both Eastwood’s films, the stories seems both historical and immediate and the battle sequences are convincingly grueling. If the US tale is partly about the clash of showbiz and reality, the Japanese view is a sombre, fatalistic tale of inevitable defeat for doomed troops living in tunnels under a volcanic outcrop, and expected to fight to the death or commit suicide. Eastwood explains that the US went in expecting to take the island in four days, but the grim reality was a month of struggle that cost 6,000 US and 22,000 Japanese lives. As a pair, the films paint a grim but memorable picture of the last days of a war which had a clearer objective than any since. They are available together and separately.

Number 5.  –  A Scanner Darkly 

I never really liked Waking Life due to the fact that it wasn’t a movie, it was a lecture about life… A Scanner Darkly on the other hand IS a movie! This is a very dialogue driven film with some nice performances to back up the bizarre visual style. The final thing I’m going to note here is that Robert Downey Jr. absolutely steals the show. Every scene he is in is an absolute joy to watch and his character is easily one of the film’s biggest highlights. The first half is decent, but the second half manages to pick up the slack and kicks things into high gear. Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but brilliant nevertheless. Such a cool movie with some truly amazing visuals. It doesn’t feel like an animated movie, but a drug inhibited story seen through its protagonist’s eyes. Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr. are both perfect in their roles and give legitimacy to what might have been seen as a cartoon movie with no substance. The manipulation of reality is so effective and it’s what makes Philip K. Dick’s story all the more convincing. It’s one of the most ambitious ways to tell a pretty non-flashy sci-fi story and for the most part, it’s flawless. I wouldn’t get too bogged down in the fact its a sci fi or based in the future because apart from one story hook and plot line. There is very little to give the impression of a futuristic movie. The element which you can argue about is the layers of animation (I don’t know what type of animation this is either) but the whole way through you are watching a very surreal yet very down to earth approach to ordinary peoples lives in a drastic build up to an ending.


Casino RoyaleNumber 4.  –  Casino Royale

Similar to how Batman series have turned into the wrong direction and redeemed itself with a reboot, James Bond did the same thing with Casino Royale. I remember when it was announced that Daniel Craig was taking on the role as James Bond a lot of people were nervous and/or upset. “A Blond James Bond?” “He doesn’t look the part!” “Worst. Choice. Ever.” I saw those three sayings a lot in the lead up to “Casino Royale”. I’m proud to say I thought Craig was a good choice, and was more hopeful than anything. Then, I went to see the movie with my Dad, and knew that this movie was special. This is my favorite Bond movie(although “Skyfall” is very close now”). Daniel Craig is the perfect Bond, and in my opinion the Best Bond(sorry Connery supporters). He makes the role very realistic and has a real badass persona, mixed with charisma that most actors don’t pull off at all. It’s a reboot of the series, and sets it off in a very grounded way. This movie has everything a Bond movie should have. Hot women, crazy action, a weird villain, and one of the best on screen poker games ever. I love this movie and left the theater in absolute joy at where the franchise was heading. I rewatched this the other night(had to skip some Bond movies to watch the Craig movies before “Skyfall”.) and it holds up very well, and I’m sure 20 years from now this will still be at the top(or very close to) of the list of Bond movies. If you haven’t seen this, then jump on board and check it out. It’s an absolute must watch!


Pan's LabyrinthNumber 3.  –  Pan’s Labyrinth

It’s hard to pigeon hole a film like Pan’s Labyrinth as there are so many facets to it’s structure. On the one hand, it’s a political/historical drama and on the other it’s a fantasy/horror. Few (if any) films will spring to mind when these genres are mentioned in the same breath which reflects the very craftsmanship that’s at work here. One thing that you can undoubtedly count on, though, is it’s highly imaginative nature. Sure, we’ve had fantastical stories before where a young girl escapes her constrained life to enter bigger and more possible worlds. We’ve also had commentaries on the brutalities and restrictions of fascist regimes but to combine them into a wondrous journey of life, struggle and imagination is an amalgamation that I have rarely witnessed. Such is the case with this film and such is the skill of del Toro in his writing and handling of the material. He incorporates an abundance of childhood fantasies, from delving into books and mythology – that feature fauns and fairies – to the power of a piece of chalk on the wall. This may be built around the point of view of a child’s eye but its also not afraid to explore the darker recesses of that very imagination and construct some of the most monstrous creatures that can inhabit that realm. Del Toro is in absolute command here and he’s aided, immeasurably, by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in capturing and contrasting his world within a world; one is a visually striking and enchanting fantasia, the other a stark and brutal reality. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve but with deft handling of coexisting genres, del Toro’s vision is able to come to fruition and manages to be both a reminder of the rigidity of fascism and the escapable ability of an imaginary youthful mind.

Number 2.  –  Children of Men

There have been a lot of sci-fi stories that deals with the extinction of humanity, but never was there one that felt so original by not having another alien race eliminating them. Instead, it explores a grim world in which two decades of global human infertility have left humanity with less than a century to survive. Other words, since a genetic fertility defect in women there hasn’t been a single child born in 18 years, thus the world is corrupt with terrorism and anti-government movement holding government responsible for the infertility. Our main character Theo Faron, a former activist encounters his ex-lover, Julian Taylor whose leader of the rebellion to have Theo to join her team and show her Kee, an Arican refugee who reviled that she is pregnant and the first woman in 18 years to finally bare a child. But since she’s the only woman in the world to carry a baby, everybody around Theo and Kee would want to use the baby for various situations; send them over to the “Human Project” to cure the infertility to save humanity. This film goes leaps and bounds with the tension with foreground and background. It goes heavily on the topic of immigration, harsh realities, fear, religion, and government control all of which that is not afraid to show the grim world of what would society be like if humanity is coming to an end, but like Pan’s Labyrinth, as cruel as Children of Men seems its worth it because of the brilliance of hope and the will to overcome the impossible. This is a great display of heroism because using just a single baby to save humanity is perhaps the most magical and yet original idea of doing what’s right. Another thing I immensely appreciate, especially considering that it’s a risky move, is that Children of Men avoided sex. Imagine if Kee wasn’t a talented African actress, but instead was a dumb bimbo that everyone wants to get laid with; this wouldn’t make the subject matter of infertility to be at all taken serious and just made Kee pregnant as an accident rather than a blessing. For the actress who played Kee, she displayed a lot of heart in her role in making a mother to love her child to be believable and as well keeping both of them alive to be intense. There wasn’t a single moment in this movie that I didn’t loose my suspense of disbelief; everything was believable and thanks to the excellent and innovative directing and cinematography, which was the innovative single-shot action sequences. Today we have single-shot action sequences in other movies, like Cloverfield and Battle of Los Angelas, but still to this day Children of Men does its single-shot action sequences better than any movie that imitates it because it doesn’t give you a headache with the shaky cameras, directing was aimed perfectly, and the emotional scenes just makes it ground breaking. If you’re one of those people that complain why movies aren’t innovative anymore, check out Children of Men because it shows that there are still creative ideas for cinema. Its films like Children of Men that guarantees that cinema as art will really survive.


The FountainNumber 1.  –  The Fountain

It was really difficult for me to decide if I like Pan’s Laberynth, Children of Men, or the Fountain more because it’s three of the best movies of 2006… but by the end of the day, I have to give it to the film that was more meaningful. This film is absolutely… amazing! I must’ve be in the minority, but I thought this was a true masterpiece. The epic nature of the love story is incredible and completely unique. It’s the ultimate spiritual movie that uplifts you out of your own reality and gives you so many meaning and symbolism that feels awe inspiring. The usage of space and time is like nothing anyone has ever tried to accomplish before. While it is mostly a sci-fi fairy tale, you never feel as though each segment doesn’t have power in itself. Hugh Jackman gave truly his best performance and Rachel Weisz did a beautiful job as well. While this certainly isolates itself from most traditional hollywood narratives, I think once you break it down it really isn’t difficult at all to understand or analyze. I like narratives like this with twists and turns. It’s really one one of those films where you can decide what it is, but for me, I think it’s about life and death and how if people fear death, then it’s something to be feared. But if you embrace death as a natural part of your life then you can live beyond death and have something different to look forward to. I liked the juxtaposition between the past, the (relative) present, and the future showing how religion and spiritualism has been around for a long time and is an important part of many peoples lives. Spanning 1000 years and filled with linking metaphors between the three separate storylines, this movie is surreal enough that any explanation of the literal story can be refuted. ultimately though it’s asking if it is a tragedy, or a story of timeless redemption. Is heaven on earth? This movie raises a lot of fun questions about who we are, who/what we are from, and of who/what we will become a part. Not just anyone can watch this movie and understand it. If you are open minded and looking for a meditative experience, the powerful journey that is ‘The Fountain’ cannot be overstated. From the semen like sap of the ‘Tree of Life’ to the use of rings to convey deeper meanings and the 3 interwoven love stories, this movie is a masterpiece of symbolism and spirituality. This movie is not about a man’s quest to save the woman he loves, it is about Man’s quest for truth and enlightenment but through the inevitable path of his own selfish desires for everlasting life and fear of death.

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