musings of a saint and sinner

Monday, January 08, 2007

Favorite films of 2006

First, a caveat: I obviously did not see ALL of the films released in 2006. I did see a lot of them. I'm not an official critic of any kind, just a movie lover. So here are my favorite films of 2006--and why.

United 93: Without a doubt, the best film of the year. This movie changed my outlook on the world. I was awed by the fact that there are still people in such a pleasure-driven country as our own who are willing to lay their lives on the line for something bigger than themselves. The terrorists are also portrayed fairly, instead of in caricatures. The intensity of this movie is spell-binding. It left me in tears. A truly fitting tribute to the the heroes of United flight 93.

Caché: This French film (starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) was released in 2005, but came to limited release in the USA in 2006. The movie is rather slow-moving, and may be a difficult viewing experience for the American viewer who is accustomed to fast-moving plots, car chases, and breathy love scenes. But this movie will repay you richly if you track with it. It is a stunning examination of the human problem of sin and guilt. (For more on this, be sure to watch the interview with the director, Michael Haneke. It was this discussion that really opened the film up for me. There are English subtitles for this interview.) The basic premise of this suspense film is that a husband and wife begin receiving videotapes of surveillance that is being done on their home. Later, they receive troubling drawings, and evidence that the sender knows them and is terrorizing them. Slowly, the mystery unfolds. For Georges, the main character, the past begins to open up. He recalls something he did as a child...and despite all the psychological excuses he could make for that behavior, he still feels guilty. It is as profound and real an examination of original sin (which Christians believe we are born with--rather than evil society bequeathing it to us) as I have seen in cinema.

Tsotsi: You don't have to watch movies for long to notice that it's hard to find an authentically redemptive story line. There are either glib happy endings or cynical/empty endings. This movie earned its Oscar for Best Foreign Language film last year by giving us the hard world of Johannesburg, South Africa and showing us what it looks like when grace breaks through in the form of a child. In this film, a hardened gang leader steals a car that just happens to have a baby in the back seat. Through a series of events, he decides to care for the baby, and compassion begins to break through his hardened soul. He begins to feel what it is to love someone. However, his expressions of love are just as crude and uninformed as you would expect a murderer, thief, and robber's to be. He brandishes a weapon and forces a neighbor woman to feed the child. His attempts to care for the child's needs are clumsy at best. But this child slowly begins to change him. He even begins to feel compassion for the child's parents. The ending is stunning.

Akeelah and the Bee: This movie dares you to be all you can be. It was truly inspiring. And a breakout performance by Keke Palmer. A great movie for families (as well as grown-ups).

Thank You for Smoking: And thank you, Hollywood, for beginning to give us innovative comedies, instead of formulaic works. This movie is creative, snarky as all get out, doggone funny, and even a bit convicting. A clever satire and great work by Aaron Eckhart, particularly. Revealing insights about the power of argument.

Mission Impossible 3: Even for people who can't stand Tom Cruise, how can you fail to enjoy a movie this intense and entertaining? The stunts are fabulous (and he does most of them himself), the love story sucks you in, the theme is addictive. The first two movies were good, but I'm of the opinion that the third one's the charm.

X-Men: The Last Stand: Again, not an artsy film, but who's to say going to the movies isn't to have fun? X-Men is all about telling a great story, and doing it with fabulous stunts. On top of that, it always leaves you with a little something to think about.

Friends with Money: I really loved the cast of this movie, as well as the subject matter: what is it to be poor while having friends with money. It delved into other issues that women characters face in a really honest and authentic way, too. Strong performances by all and good dialogue.

The Devil Wears Prada: Finally, a movie that far exceeds the book! It's fun, soapy entertainment with great performances by Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.

Prairie Home Companion: When my husband and I were living in Illinois last year, we greatly missed Minnesota (though we loved the people in Illinois!). Going to the movie theatre to see this movie was a big deal for us. We hungrily ate up every Minnesota reference and the panorama of the Fitzgerald Theatre and Mickey's Diner. Good music, and a movie with a real feel for the radio show.

Borat: Ok, please please please take me seriously on this: if you are at all offended by crude humor, this is not the movie for you. And it is DEFINATELY NOT for children or the immature. But if you are willing to set judgment aside for a couple of hours and see a really good satire that pokes fun straight at everybody who watches it, this is a fantastic comedy. It's probably a better comedy than Thank You for Smoking but I put it further down on the list due to the crude factor. Sacha Baron Cohen pushes every possible limit he can in the interest of satire. His blatant prejudices will make you uncomfortable (as will the unbelievably long nude wrestling scene...that one was too much for me). However, he is not at all the most ignorant person in the movie. He intersperses real interactions with people who think he really is Borat the journalist with staged episodes. He leaves you wondering which are which. In one telling episode involving two college frat boys, Borat comes out looking like the smartest person in the room (a scary thought!). Some of his methods may not be the best, but getting people to look at their uncomfortable prejudices and unfortunately recognize themselves in the movie is reason enough to watch it.

Best Movies I haven't seen yet: Little Miss Sunshine, The Last King of Scotland, The Good German, Children of Men


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