Movie Review
The Ten Best Movies of 2006
by Bill Gallagher

Here’s a formula for coming up with a Ten Best Movies of 2006 list: Don’t think about it for very long.

That’s the way I approached this assignment, just jotting down the first ten or so movies seen in the last year that came to mind. Of course I then went back and checked the list of movies I saw in case I forgot any. And I didn’t.

2006 wasn’t really a very good year for movies. I can’t recall more than two or three that really moved me. What you’ll find here is plenty of bloodshed, cinematic takes on real events that deepen our understanding of what happened, a couple of quirky comedies, and further evidence that some of the best movies these days are on TV.

1. “The Departed”

How could this Martin Scorsese-directed tale of the blurred lines between cops and criminals in Boston be so much fun? Must be the cast. Jack Nicholson is in his element as the ruthless crime boss Frank Costello. Alec Baldwin is hilarious as the honest cop Ellerby. Mark Wahlberg is always in everyone’s face and not afraid to assault a fellow officer, Matt Damon’s treading a tightrope as he serves two masters - Costello and the Massachusets State Police. While Leonardo DiCaprio is convincing as the cop who goes in so deep you’re not sure how he’s ever going to get out alive. Martin Scorsese is masterful directing this ensemble, but you wonder if it was like Pat Riley coaching the Lakers with Magic Johnson. I mean, how tough could that be? But the story isn’t an easy one to tell so credit Scorsese with keeping things moving. Until his last effort (“The Aviator”), his movies never made more than $100 million at the box office. But “The Departed” has already taken in $120 million and looks to be a lock for yet another Best Achievement in Directing Oscar nomination for Scorsese, which will be his sixth. The question is whether he’ll actually win the damn thing this time. By the way, he and DiCaprio will soon team up again for “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.” Guess who plays a young TR?

2. “The Queen”

Until I saw this Stephen Frears film I had no idea Tony Blair was as involved as he was in setting Queen Elizabeth II straight about dealing with the death of Diana. It was fascinating to get the inside story on her stony resistance to acknowledging the place her former daughter-in-law held in the hearts of millions around the world. It’s only when she reads the poll numbers showing that her resistance to empathy threatened the monarchy that she stooped to accomodate those in mourning. Helen Mirren as Elizabeth gives a stunning performance and achieves that which seems impossible — I kind of felt sorry for her by the end of the film. Frears is a director to be reckoned with. Consider that he’s the same man who has helmed “The Grifters,” “High Fidelity” and “My Beautiful Launderette.” He’s also directed five different women to Oscar nominations: Annette Benning, Angelica Huston, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judi Dench. Mirren is sure to be his sixth.

3. “Flags of Our Fathers”

Clint Eastwood’s meditation on war and the bond among men who fight was one of the few films last year that moved me. Taking the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima as his starting point, he examines the conflicting emotions of the men who survived that moment and the way they were used to market the war effort back home. Stylistically, “Flags” is unflinching. It pulls no punches. This, you must think, is what it was really like to fight and die and to fight and survive. Granted, Eastwood had a great book by James Bradley and Ron Powers to work from, but it’s his vision and a couple of great speeches written by Paul Haggis (“Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby”) that make this movie so memorable. I still don’t know why it did so poorly at the box office, taking in less than $35 million. Opening in January is the rest of the story directed by Eastwood, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which tells the story from the Japanese perspective and is considered by some critics to be an even better movie than “Flags.”

4. “United 93”

Speaking of showing us what it was really like.... “United 93” is the taut re-telling of what happend to that flight on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The outcome is well known but it’s told here with unknown actors in a way that honors those passengers and crew members who put up a fight. It’s a tribute film but makes it very clear that the military response to the hijacking was lacking. Paul Greengrass first showed us what he could do with historical events that spin out of control with “Bloody Sunday” set during the civil rights demonstrations in Derry in the north of Ireland. His next film after the latest “Bourne” thriller will deal with the Vietnam War and the protests against it. I can hardly wait to see it.

5. Premium Channel Television Series. “Rescue Me,” “Weeds” and “Entourage”

…provided me with some of the most enjoyable viewing of last year. “Rescue Me” is Denis Leary’s creation — an unsantized look at life in one FDNY firehouse after 9/11. It’s funny, profane, irreverrent, realistic, and addicting. The lives of many of the firefighters have gone off the tracks but they are there to save lives when needed. Heroes? Yes. Saints? No. “Weeds” is the series about a widow in a classy So Cal suburb who makes ends meet by selling pot. May sound like a one-joke premise, but it’s much more than that, and Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins are superb. “Entourage” is losing some of the fresh humor that marked its first two seasons chronicling the lives of a $20 million-a-movie star right out of Queens and his three buddies who came along to Hollywood for the free ride. It’s still worth watching though.

6. “The Proposition”

Here’s one I’m pretty sure you didn’t see last year. It showed at the Portland International Film Festival and then lasted about two weeks in a local theatre. But I can’t get its story and imagery out of my mind some ten months later. It’s set in the wilds of Australia in the late nineteenth century as a British officer tries to civilize the emigrants and locals without much success. Great performances by Ray Winstone, who holds his own in “The Departed,” and Danny Huston, son of legend John Huston. Very, very violent.

7. “Puffy Chair”

Doubt if many of you saw this one either. It’s a low-budget, first effort from Mark Duplass about being a twenty-something who can’t quite figure out his life. Sound trite? It really isn’t. Feels real. In the end, it’s about family and trusting your instincts. But it sure is fun figuring that out.

8. “World Trade Center”

You may not like his politics, but I doubt you will dislike Oliver Stone’s version of how a couple of Port Authority police officers came through the events of 9/11. Nicolas Cage reins in his tendency to overact — of course most of the time he’s trapped under tons of rubble. The fact that this all really happened adds to its dramatic weight. Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal both turn in fine performances as wives who wait for word of whether their husbands will be among those who come home from work.

9. “Little Miss Sunshine”

What an improbable comedy. You’re not sure at first if you’re supposed to laugh. A stressed-out mom (Toni Collette) throws buckets of take-out chicken on the table and calls it dinner. A live-in grandfather (Alan Arkin) is banished from a rest home, wears leather and snorts coke in the bathroom. A father and husband (Greg Kinnear) can’t seem to turn his own advice as a motivational speaker into a decent income. A son (Paul Dano) won’t talk and has obvious anger issues. A daughter (Abigail Breslin) longs to win the pageant in question even though she’s on the chubby side. And the mom’s brother (Steve Carell) is the leading Proust scholar in America but is also suicidal. Somehow it all works. And it’s okay to laugh. And even cry.

10. “Apocalypto”

Okay, it was either this or “Borat” in the final spot. But Mel Gibson has made a very entertaining old-fashioned movie with a simple story, action and suspense. Its violence is beyond anything you’ll ever see in a movie, but I’ll give him the nod for the sheer achievement of “Apocalypto.” Besides, there’s something underhanded about the way Sasha Cohen tricked all those people into being part of the “Borat” gag.

Bill Gallagher is the News Director of AM 860 KPAM - the Talk Station, and he writes the monthly movie column for BNW.

BrainstormNW - January 2007

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