Combustible Celluloid

What Happened to Me in the Dark: 2006

The Year in Film, Such as It Was...

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For me, the main event of 2006 was the birth of my son, Alex, in May. Along with all the joy he's given me, I thank him for a good excuse to miss the press screening of Poseidon. But based on the movies I did see, it was a strange year. Artists who tested their limits, such as Terry Zwigoff, Brian De Palma, Sofia Coppola and Amos Gitai, were shut down, while artists that toed the line and weighed in with careful, socially responsible films were rewarded. The year was filled with angry documentaries, and some of them made money, but I longed for something less preachy and more personal like the wonderful Romantico, which opens this January.

It was not a particularly good year for movies, but I did come away with a number of favorites. Instead of five or ten very strong candidates, I had something like 30 halfway decent candidates, and so I'm expanding my list. (Die-hards who wish to stop after number ten are welcome to do so.)

I saw David Lynch's Inland Empire here in the Bay Area at the first available opportunity, which was January 17, too late for list consideration. For the record, it would have been #1, but for now I'll save it for 2007.

1. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
One of the greatest film directors in the world has been working steadily since 1980, making nearly a feature a year, and yet only two have received any kind of American distribution, both starring the lovely Shu Qi (from The Transporter). As a whole, this triptych is not one of Hou's stronger efforts, but the first section -- about two lovers during the Vietnam era -- is a little masterpiece all by itself.

2. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron)
Cuaron, along with his friend and colleague Guillermo Del Toro, is at the head of a kind of Mexican New Wave, jumping back and forth between energizing Hollywood genre pics (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, etc.) and personal pet projects (Y Tu Mama Tambien). Though this frightening, breathtaking film classifies as a Hollywood enterprise, a futuristic sci-fi chase story with big stars, Cuaron rips into it with a near-contempt for lazy, conventional storytelling. Stripped clean of anything resembling exposition or background detail, this film plunges us directly into the present moment, and then hits the gas.

3. Inside Man (Spike Lee)
While most critics fell all over themselves praising the year's two 9/11 movies, nobody noticed that Lee's crafty heist film actually faced the far more difficult aftermath of that day (rather than simply re-creating the day itself). His New York is crawling with complex duplicity; its multi-cultural people have found a new camaraderie, but they've also found a new wariness. Even Terence Blanchard's amazing score combines different cultures (hip-hop and Bollywood).

4. Art School Confidential (Terry Zwigoff)
Co-written with Dan Clowes, Zwigoff's new film was blacker and more difficult to swallow than his previous comedies (Ghost World and Bad Santa). Many viewers never really explored its depths, preferring instead to compare it to an "Animal House" knockoff or a simple academic satire. What it really suggests -- that art is completely unknowable and unclassifiable -- is far scarier.

5. The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma)
If Claire Denis had made this film, audiences would have seen it correctly, ignoring the cockamamie plot and concentrating on the miraculous way De Palma told the story through his cockeyed, obsessive visuals. It didn't much matter whodunit, but rather the fact that we were allowed to wallow in this level of depravity from the safety and comfort of our theater seats, the ultimate exercise of cinema as voyeurism.

6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
This is not Scorsese's best, but at least it's a step away from Miramax and back to something lean and mean (even if it was still too long and its energy eventually flagged). No other film in 2006 moved so well, like a nimble, violent dancer.

7. Brick (Rian Johnson)
It didn't pick up much of a following this year, but I guarantee that Brick will be around years from now, inspiring a passionate cult audience to quote its carefully constructed dialogue. Of course the excellent performances, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the forefront, and Johnson's direction, with its amazing use of space and location, are a big help.

8. The Bridesmaid (Claude Chabrol)
The great Chabrol, member of the old-time French New Wave, turns in another of his trademark thrillers, but this one -- based on a novel by Ruth Rendell -- was his best in years. Chabrol's confident touch and the film's potent sexuality perfectly meshed with its now-you-see-it-now-you-don't plot.

9. Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook)
From Korea, the third in Park's so-called "revenge trilogy" far surpassed the previous two, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, by giving us the year's most complex heroine (played by Lee Yeong-ae in red eye shadow) as well as an astonishing, unexpected ending sequence that questions the very nature of the word "revenge."

10. Find Me Guilty (Sidney Lumet)
Here's yet another one that no one seemed to notice, a return to form by Hollywood mainstay Sidney Lumet, and a tight courtroom drama coming almost fifty years after his extraordinary debut 12 Angry Men. Vin Diesel turned in a surprisingly touching, teddy bear performance as a real-life gangster who chose to defend himself in the trial of the century. Lumet's direction is so sure that he actually makes us root for the bad guys!

11. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro)
12. Free Zone (Amos Gitai)
13. Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola)
14. Casino Royale (Martin Campbell)
15. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt)
16. A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman)
17. Happy Feet (George Miller)
18. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville)
19. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu)
20. Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood)

21. 49 Up (Michael Apted)
22. Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau)
23. Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski)
24. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater)
25. Borat (Larry Charles)
26. The Proposition (John Hillcoat)
27. Fearless (Ronny Yu)
28. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)
29. Iron Island (Mohammad Rasoulof)
30. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan)

31. The Queen (Stephen Frears)

Fell Between the Cracks of 2005-2006:

Great Performances:

  • Jim Broadbent, Art School Confidential
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion
  • Peter O'Toole, Venus
  • Michael Caine, Children of Men
  • Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Natalie Portman, Free Zone
  • Lee Yeong-ae, Lady Vengeance
  • Denzel Washington, Inside Man
  • Jodie Foster, Inside Man
  • Judi Dench, Casino Royale
  • John Hurt, The Proposition
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick

50th Anniversary: The Ten Best Films of 1957

  1. Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick)
  2. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  3. A King in New York (Charles Chaplin)
  4. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick)
  5. Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur)
  6. Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller)
  7. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin)
  8. Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa)
  9. Funny Face (Stanley Donen)
  10. An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey)
Plus: What's Opera Doc? (Chuck Jones)

The Worst: Annapolis, Apocalypto, Barnyard, Breaking and Entering, Cease Fire, The Curse of the Golden Flower, The Da Vinci Code, Deck the Halls, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Flushed Away, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, The Grudge 2, The Hidden Blade, The Holiday, Kinky Boots, The Libertine, Little Man, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Man of the Year, Miami Vice, The Nativity Story, Renaissance, Running Scared, Running with Scissors, The Tiger and the Snow, Time to Leave, Tsotsi, Water, We Are Marshall; You, Me and Dupree

Please also see my earlier lists, in the Las Vegas Weekly and on

Movies Unlimtied