Best Films of 2006

Ten Best of 2006

OK, so you maybe don’t get out to the movies much…in fact, you haven’t seen any of my top 10 films from 2007. No problem…let’s start a year farther back.

Here are some of the films that caught my eye in 2006 that still seem worth a view. Note the extraordinarily good selection of documentaries that year.

The Queen—Helen Mirren pulls off the nearly impossible, portraying Queen Elizabeth II as both an imperious public presence and a private citizen so very private that she needs the upstart Tony Blair to teach her what the British public really want from their monarch as they mourn Lady Di’s passing. A tour-de-force performance by Mirren that justly brought her a heap of acting awards.

Thank you for Smoking—a black-as-midnight comedy that uses the natural smarminess of Aaron Eckhart to great advantage.

An Inconvenient Truth—If the campaign trail Al Gore had been the passionate, persuasive Al Gore on display here, the last presidential election would have been a Democratic landslide. As a consolation prize, Gore won an Oscar for this powerful documentary on the reality of global warming, and landed a Nobel prize too. Too bad about the presidency…

The Constant Gardener—A riveting political thriller with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, story from a John le Carre novel

North Country—Charlize Theron erases all traces of her ultra-glam self to play a hard-luck miner who’s sexually harassed by her fellow (and I do mean fellow) miners. Features towering performances by Theron and Frances McDormand as her feisty “one of the boys” coworker. Based on the true story of America’s first class-action law suit for sexual harassment.

Wordplay—Although I’d never completed even one crossword puzzle, this documentary about the national crossword championships left me speechless with the excitement of word play and how deep communities form over shared passions of the oddest sorts. Like Spellbound, which follows kids’ spelling bees, this doc. thrills despite its seemingly bland theme.

The Illusionist—Far better than the other movie about magic that came out around the same time, The Prestige, The Illusionist captures the awe and wonderment we all feel in the presence of a talented magician. Edward Norton’s natural intensity works wonders for him here as the title illusionist in 1900 Vienna.

Little Miss Sunshine—a dysfunctional family dramedy that overcomes its obvious low-budget flaws with heart, snarky dialogue, a delightfully naughty turn by Alan Arkin, and debut of the most natural child actor to emerge in ages, Abigail Breslin.

Inside Man—Director Spike Lee shows his considerable talents, and reins in his usual excessiveness, in this straightforward crime thriller starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodi Foster.

Man Push Cart—This little gem came to my attention at Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival, and it’s worth searching for (check PBS as well as video stores). This one was shot in documentary style, but was scripted based on the filmmaker’s own tale of being a food vendor on the streets of Manhattan. The title image, where the vendor literally pushes (and pulls, and cajoles) his heavy cart through the pre-dawn streets of the city, haunts me still.