Too Much of a Good Thing? Plenty to Choose From in 2006

The movie year of 2006 is far from over, despite what the calendar says—at least as far as this reviewer is concerned. Anywhere from 522 to 540 new feature films were exhibited locally this year, depending on who is doing the counting and compiling. Apparently, more big movies were released in the month of December than I can ever remember. Was it a good year or a bad year for movies—or, as is usually the case, something in between? At my present rate of optical and auditory consumption, I should have a definitive answer sometime in July, but I have already resigned myself to the prospect of never seeing Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto in my lifetime.

Fortunately, modern technology makes it almost impossible for a good movie to get “lost” because of end-of-the-year mental exhaustion. So, with the proviso that I still have a great deal of catching up to do, here are my considered choices for the various 10-best categories, and one of my patented 10-worst lists under the provocative heading of “Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t.” I am not at all deterred in dishing out my annual supply of negativity by the correspondent who informed me last year that he preferred all the films on my 10-worst list to all the films on my 10-best list. I have long ago become resigned to my fate as a reviled revisionist ever since my first column in The Village Voice in 1960 hailed Alfred Hitchcock as a major artist for Psycho, and inspired more hate mail than any Voice column had received up to that time. That clinched my job at the ever-contrarian Voice, and I have simply gone on from there. Anyway, let’s begin my year-end rituals on a positive note.

English-language films:

1. The Departed

2. Notes on a Scandal

3. A Prairie Home Companion

4. Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima

5. Blood Diamond

6. Little Miss Sunshine

7. The Painted Veil

8. Find Me Guilty

9. Casino Royale

10. (tie) Flannel Pajamas

10. (tie) Come Early Morning

O.K., so I cheated by counting Clint Eastwood’s diptych on Iwo Jima as one picture, and by calling it a tie between Jeff Lipsky’s Flannel Pajamas and Joey Lauren Adams’ Come Early Morning, but after almost 50 years of making these lists, I’m entitled to operate by my own rules.

Best foreign-language films:

1. Army of Shadows

2. Volver

3. Water

4. L’Enfant

5. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

6. Climates

7. My Brother’s Wife

8. Le Petit Lieutenant

9. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

10. La Moustache

This year, only four nonfiction films stayed in my mind long enough to make a list.

Best Nonfiction films:

1. King Leopold’s Ghost

2. 49 Up

3. Wordplay

4. Cowboy Del Amor

There was a wealth of good acting to choose from this year. My own personal choices for the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics awards just happened to be:

Best Actress:

1. Helen Mirren, The Queen

2. Julianne Nicholson, Flannel Pajamas

3. Ashley Judd, Come Early Morning

Best Actor:

1. Aaron Eckhart, Thank You for Smoking

2. Daniel Craig, Casino Royale

3. Peter O’Toole, Venus

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Jennifer Connelly, Blood Diamond

2. Gong Li, Miami Vice

3. Maggie Gyllenhaal, World Trade Center

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

2. Jack Nicholson, The Departed

3. Robert Downey Jr., Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Best Director:

1. Martin Scorsese, The Departed

2. Pedro Almodóvar, Volver

3.Robert Altman, A Prairie Home Companion

Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t:

1. Borat

2. Bobby

3. Babel

4. Old Joy

5. United 93

6. Happy Feet

7. The Devil Wears Prada

8. The Fountain

9. The Prestige

10. Unknown White Male

These are usually not the worst movies of the year (in what bottomless pit can you find those?). These are, instead, as their designation indicates, movies I consider to have been generally overrated, blah, blah, blah. But this year I want to make an exception for Borat, which I found the most hateful movie I have ever seen. Boo! Borat! Further words fail me.

Other praiseworthy English-language films (in no particular order) are: Venus, The Good Shepherd, Look Both Ways, Stranger Than Fiction, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Miami Vice, The Queen, Little Children, The Proposition, Home of the Brave, Manderlay, Inside Man, Running with Scissors, Dreamgirls, World Trade Center, The Secret Life of Words, Half Nelson, Freedomland, A Scanner Darkly, The Illusionist, The Last King of Scotland, Clerks II, X-Men: The Last Stand, Factotum.

Other praiseworthy foreign-language films are: Pan’s Labyrinth, 4, Curse of the Golden Flower, Gilles’ Wife, The Syrian Bride, Gabrielle, 13 (Tzameti), When the Sea Rises, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.

Other striking female performances were provided by: Naomi Watts and Diana Rigg in The Painted Veil; Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal; Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, and Chus Lampreave in Volver; Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello in World Trade Center; Vanessa Redgrave and Jodie Whittaker in Venus; Jodie Foster in Inside Man; Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly and Phyllis Somerville in Little Children; Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine; Jessica Biel in The Illusionist; Sandra Bullock in The Lake House, Shareeka Epps, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Karen Chilton and Tina Holmes in Half Nelson; Kirsten Dunst, Judy Davis, Asia Argento and Marianne Faithfull in Marie Antoinette; Lucy Liu in Lucky Number Slevin; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah and Linda Hunt in Stranger Than Fiction; Jessica Biel, Christina Ricci, and Victoria Rowell in Home of the Brave; Nicole Kidman and Jane Alexander in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Sophia Milet and Angelica Huston in Art School Confidential; Mandy Moore, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jennifer Coolidge in American Dreamz; Sook-Yin Lee in Shortbus; Annette Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Kristin Chenoweth and Gabrielle Union in Running with Scissors; Winona Ryder in A Scanner Darkly; Sylvia Syms and Helen McCrory in The Queen; Naomie Harris and Elizabeth Rodriguez in Miami Vice; Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn, Ellen Page and Dania Ramirez in X-Men: The Last Stand; Eva Green, Judi Dench, Caterina Murino and Ivana Milicevic in Casino Royale; Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdu and Ariadna Gil in Pan’s Labyrinth; Gong Li in Curse of the Golden Flower; Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Nazan Kirilmis in Climates; Laura Prepon and Diane Ladd in Come Early Morning; Vera Farmiga in The Departed; Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada; Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose and Sharon Leal in Dreamgirls; Annabella Sciorra in Find Me Guilty; Julianne Moore, Edie Falco and Aunjanue Ellis in Freedomland; Diane Lane, Lois Smith and Robin Tunney in Hollywoodland; Luminita Gheorghiu in Death of Mr. Lazarescu; Yolande Moreau in When the Sea Rises; Rebecca Schull in Flannel Pajamas; Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Virginia Madsen, Lindsey Lohan and Maya Rudolph in A Prairie Home Companion; Maria Bello in Thank You for Smoking; Nae in Letters from Iwo Jima; Rosario Dawson and Jennifer Schwalbach in Clerks II.

Other striking male performances were provided by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin and Anthony Anderson in The Departed; Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber and Toby Jones in The Painted Veil; Wim Willaert in When the Sea Rises; Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths in Venus; Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Inside Man; Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shido Nakamura in Letters from Iwo Jima; Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine; Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell in The Illusionist; Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Gregg Edelman and Ty Simpkins in Little Children; Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer and Dylan Walsh in The Lake House; Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena and Stephen Dorff in World Trade Center; Tim Blake Nelson, Pat Corley, Jeffrey Donovan, Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson in Come Early Morning; Ryan Gosling and Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson; Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, and Danny Huston in Marie Antoinette; Matt Damon, Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Timothy Hutton, Eddie Redmayne, Mark Ivanir and Joe Pesci in The Good Shepherd; Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones and Ben Foster in X-Men: The Last Stand; Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Simon Abkarian, Sebastien Foucan, Jesper Christensen and Tobias Menzies in Casino Royale; Ebru Ceylan and Mehmet Eryilmaz in Climates; Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck and Bob Hoskins in Hollywoodland; Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson and Hinton Battle in Dreamgirls; Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Trevor Fehrman, Kevin Smith and Jason Lee in Clerks II; Justin Kirk and Jamie Harrold in Flannel Pajamas; Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker and Adrian Grenier in The Devil Wears Prada; Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hulce in Stranger Than Fiction; Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis Jackson, Chad Michael Murray, Sam Jones III and Brian Presley in Home of the Brave; Harris Yulin, Ty Burrell and Boris McGiver in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus; Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Matt Keeslar, Ethan Suplee, Joel David Moore and Nick Swardson in Art School Confidential; Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Alec Baldwin in Running with Scissors; Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Ciarán Hinds, Justin Theroux, Barry Shabaka Henley, Luis Tosar and John Ortiz in Miami Vice; Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings, Roger Allam and Tim McMullan in The Queen; Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Anthony Mackie, Marlon Sherman and Clarke Peters in Freedomland; Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, Ron Silver and Raul Esparza in Find Me Guilty; Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley in Lucky Number Slevin; Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Chris Klein, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Cho, Tony Yalda, Sam Golzari and Willem Dafoe in American Dreamz; Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Rory Cochrane in A Scanner Darkly; Adam Beach, Ryan A. Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, John Benjamin Hickey, Jon Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker and Robert Patrick in Flags of Our Fathers; Chow Yun-Fat in Curse of the Golden Flower; Sergi López, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo and Federico Luppi in Pan’s Labyrinth; Bill Nighy in Notes on a Scandal.

There will be more on 2006 in my next column of 2007. Until then, happy new year to all my readers, including the contentious ones. Too Much of a Good Thing?  Plenty to Choose From in 2006