The emails have started. “What’s with the list? Where’s the rest of it?” Why, right here. Keep in mind that tonight I’m going to see El Laberinto del Fauno (2006)–a.k.a. Pan's Labyrinth, which could very well blow up the whole list. Or, it could change nothing. The first five are directly below, or, here.
6. The Painted Veil
starring: Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, and Toby Jones
written by: Ron Nyswaner, from the novel by W. Somerset Maugham
directed by: John Curran
PG-13, 125 min, 2006, USA/China
My roommate Josh calls this the single greatest film about cholera he’s ever seen, which is some deceptively high praise. I say it contains the best of a trifecta of memorable 2006 performances from Edward Norton. Between this, Down in the Valley (2006), and The Illusionist (2006), he’s shown more range than some highly acclaimed actors do in their entire career. Here he plays second fiddle to a magnificent Naomi Watts in John Curran’s nuanced film about two Brits in a loveless marriage fighting a cholera epidemic. The scenery is stunning, the acting sublime, the direction purposeful. It has some flaws (the ending comes to mind) that prevent it from being something more, but still it’s a damned fine film.
7. 13 Tzameti
starring: George Babluani, Pascal Bongard, Aurélien Recoing, and Fred Ulysse
written and directed by: Géla Babluani
NR, 86 min, 2006, France/Georgia
Read my original mini-review
Now that we’re well into 2007, I think we can all agree that last year was something of an off year for film. There were some highlights, sure, but twenty years from now, no one’s going to mistake 2006 for 2001, or even 2005. And that’s fine, because it gives us a chance to include Géla Babluani’s wickedly inventive debut feature, 13 Tzameti, a film that would have been largely forgotten in a stronger year, but one worth checking out nonetheless. The premise is a simple one: a bunch of rich guys get together to wager large sums on money on an elaborate game of Russian roulette. Only our hero, due to a combination of misguided ambition and bad luck, isn’t exactly a willing participant. Is it great cinema? No. Is it cool? Oui.
starring: Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto, Kenneth Nkosi, and Zola
written by: Gavin Hood, from the novel by Athol Fugard
directed by: Gavin Hood
R, 94 min, 2006, South Africa
You remember Tsotsi. Last year I told you it would win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and it did (20 out of 24, by the way). And for good reason. Thanks to the peculiarities of the category, though, it is a 2006 release in the US, so here it is on the top 10, nearly a year after winning an Oscar. Go figure. Tsotsi is the story of a thug (Presley Chweneyagae) who in the process of stealing a car, accidentally steals the baby in the back seat. Rather than return the child or sell it on the black market, he opts to keep it, despite having no idea how to care for an infant. It’s a powerful tale of redemption as he tries to become the father figure he never had, doing whatever necessary to provide for a child.
9. An Inconvenient Truth
starring: Al Gore and his wacky PowerPoint extravaganza
directed by: Davis Guggenheim
PG, 100 min, 2006, USA
Disclaimer time: I, Lucas McNelly, am a registered member of the Green Party, a wonderful organization that promotes such things as ecological wisdom, social justice, nonviolence, and global responsibility. So, naturally global warming is an issue that I find particularly troubling. But, I am also a film critic who takes very seriously the edict that false praise (or praise motivated by an agenda) is fundamentally dishonest and borderline immoral. So, with that in mind, read this: An Inconvenient Truth is an exceptional film, an engaging and terrifying look at the impact of our lifestyles on our global ecosystems. Al Gore is surprisingly witty (in his own droll way), and clearly motivated to promote some sort of change in the way we approach the environment. And if he’s right about only part of his data (and there’s no legitimate reason to believe he isn’t), then we’re in big trouble. Not in our children’s lifetime, but by the end of our lifetime. And if his information is as accurate as he says it is? Well, then this is the scariest film I’ve ever seen.
10. A Prairie Home Companion
starring: Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Virginia Madsen, and Maya Rudolph
written by: Garrison Keillor, from the story by Keillor and Ken LaZebnik
directed by: Robert Altman
PG-13, 105 min, 2006, USA
Read my original review
After Robert Altman’s passing a couple of months ago, there was pretty much no way this film wasn’t going to end up on my top 10 of the year. I toyed with a few minutes about where to put it, but the final spot seems pretty much perfect for this sadly whimsical look at the last broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s radio show. To quote myself: “It is a film that perhaps only Altman could have made. It is not, by any stretch of imagination, a great film, for much like the radio show it depicts, it has no such ambitions and would be embarrassed to be considered as such. But, it is a whimsical delight, the likes of which is rare, too good-natured to be thought of with anything but fondness.” In all of cinema, there is perhaps not a more fitting and appropriate final effort than this. A great filmmaker goes out in style. He’ll be missed.