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Top Ten

The Year in Movies

Uli Loskot

Top Ten 2006

The Year in News Republican rule was supposed to be good for Maryland, tightening up the fiscal scene and challenging... | By Van Smith

The Year in Quotes 1 "We dress up funny, run around in the woods, and hit each other with sticks. There's something ...

The Year in Movies Must 2006 be the year of Borat? Not trying to take anything away from director Larry Charles and act...

The Year in Television Three-quarters of a century into its existence, television may finally be becoming our mirror. Yes, ...

The Year in Music A bad year for hip-hop? People kept saying that throughout the last 12 months, but you'd never know ...

The Year in Local Music This was hard. A shit-ton of Baltimore bands, singers, rappers, and bang-on-some-pots-and-pans'ers r...

The Year in Art The year's past first Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays have been ridiculously event-packed. How to ...

The Year in Stage There's no denying the pleasures of maximalist theater. A large-cast, elaborate-set production such ...

The Year in Books David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest first appeared 10 years ago. And, apparently, the 10th annivers...

Posted 12/13/2006

Must 2006 be the year of Borat? Not trying to take anything away from director Larry Charles and actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen--both of whom deserve some kind of ribbon for playing the Borat shtick so straightly and completely during the shooting of that movie--and maybe Borat is the Charlie Chaplin for our media-saturated 21st-century world, revealing our foibles through his bumbling, satirical misadventures. But, surely, the past 12 months of movies had to pinch out something more worthy of a culturally defining moment than a make-believe simpleton from a middle-Eurasian country encouraging Americans to be the good-natured xenophobic bigots that we are.

Of course, it's not like the movies themselves offered up any alternatives trucking enough box-office or critical weight to knock Borat off his throne. And, in fact, maybe we are just what Borat says we are--self-centered, opinionated ideologues so thin-skinned that the only way we can confront our own shortcomings is through the safe if meanspirited lens of an elaborate joke. Ha, ha, ha--we're a bunch of assholes.

And puerile assholes, at that. John Cameron Mitchell's reportedly risky, pro-polymorphous perversity Shortbus bravely tackled sex with a frank, funny casualness, but it was eventually engulfed by its own touchy-feely fantasy world and ended up being more about the sort of self-pitying emotional health you find on midday talk shows and in body-image-obsessed magazines. People wondered in print and on talk shows whether the American people were ready to handle movies such as Paul Greengrass' United 93 and Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. Their short theatrical runs, despite healthy critical consideration for the latter and genuflecting praise of the former, suggests that maybe--sigh--the reactionary white men who want to daddy the country were right.

Perhaps that is why horror is back with a vengeance. Long considered the teenage/young adult genre of choice, this visceral branch of genre cinema is thriving--witness the bloody thrills of Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Descent, Turistas, Saw III, et al. Thanks to the psychologically complex influx of Asian horror movies and the post-Scream era of genre awareness, these latest entries crank up the gore and the pseudo morally righteous reasoning behind it: During this time of constant bloodshed thousands of miles away for reasons we don't even know anymore, apparently we want to distract ourselves with the gruesome, sadistic punishment of American privilege and entitlement by the unknown, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the unfathomable, and the Third World.

Or maybe not. Maybe we're still trying to catch up with what's going on and the movies remain a 90-minute parachute ride away from reality. (After all, City Paper's top movie of 2006 is a 2005 Top 10 movie in just about every other major movie market in the country.) Maybe we're not what we consume. And maybe we go to see Borat just because he's funny--you know, who doesn't like a good Jew joke? That's never led anybody astray.

This list was calculated through weighted lists submitted from Eric Allen Hatch, Lee Gardner, Violet Glaze, Ian Grey, Cole Haddon, Geoffrey Himes, Bret McCabe, Joe MacLeod, and Wendy Ward, with any ties broken by the absolutely biased editorial fiat of me. (Bret McCabe)

1
Caché (Michael Haneke, France) Everybody's got something to hide, and writer/director/professional provocateur Haneke takes a more measured approach than usual to probe the big secret that French intellectual Georges (Daniel Auteuil) keeps even from himself. The first few anonymous videotapes Georges receives are maddeningly benign--the front of his house, a home his family owned when he was a child--but their blank gaze starts to open cracks in his easeful bourgeois life, his family, and his obliviousness. Ditto Caché itself, as Haneke mirrors the surveillance footage with a total deadpan--no score, few camera moves--which somehow makes this anti-thriller take on glossed-over history dug up all the more haunting. (Lee Gardner)

2
The Proposition (John Hillcoat, Australia) Both gorgeously shot and unbearably violent, and with characters as physically filthy as their frontier-baked souls, director John Hillcoat and scenarist Nick Cave upchucked the best western in memory, albeit one set in 19th-century Australia. Ray Winstone's Brit cop tries to bring civilization and justice to both the wild Outback and a psychotic outlaw (Danny Huston) and his "family," which includes Guy Pearce and Richard Wilson--a high body count and ruminations on redemption and human nature in extremis follow. Suggestive of a fusion between El Topo's weird-west surrealism and The Wild Bunch's grit-gore machismo, The Proposition is pretty much sui generis and poetic as fuck. (Ian Grey)

3
L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium) The year's scariest movie moment--its skin-crawlingest, creepiest scene--came not from the collapsing World Trade Center, the sinking Poseidon, snakes on a plane, or from any of the dozens of vehicles that burst into orange balls of flame. It came from an empty baby carriage. The carriage was pushed by Bruno (Jérémie Renier), a small-time thief in an industrial Belgian town, who had to explain to his homeless girlfriend, Sonia (Déborah François), why he sold their baby. Well, there's really no acceptable explanation, is there? But writer-directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne crafted the latest in their series of low-budget masterpieces from Bruno's efforts to explain the act to Sonia and to himself. He did a monstrous thing, but he's not a monster, and that makes the movie more troubling than if he were. (Geoffrey Himes)

4
United 93 (Paul Greengrass, United States) Many of you sat out this one, expecting a brainlessly shrill advertisement for the Patriot Act. You missed one of the year's most effective efforts to make a smart, sensitive thriller out of recent events. Its real-time thrills hit you almost unbearably hard and fast, due not only to the emotional weight of the events--and their still-unfolding, unspeakably bloody aftermath--but also to the skill and intelligence of director Paul Greengrass. True, the movie accepts the official Sept. 11 time line, to the chagrin of conspiracy theorists everywhere, but it doesn't accept the official hero/villain dogma, depicting everyone--passengers, pilots, air-traffic controllers, and, yes, hijackers--as fallible human beings with understandable hopes and fears. Intense beyond belief. (Eric Allen Hatch)

5
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, United States) America loves the Borat, and we wonder if creator/star Sacha Baron Cohen will ever recover from the success of showing America What's Wrong With America by showing What's Wrong With America, and we guess we're sorry if you ain't seen it by now, since many of the choice gags will have been ruined by "the media," in its mission to leech onto the sweet smell of excess by echoing everything resonating off the triumph of Mr. Baron Cohen's will, but there must still be an opportunity, at a Theater Near You, to be pulled inside the shitstorm of comedy the creator of the suddenly irrelevant Da Ali G Show has wiped on the hem of Lady Liberty's garment. Hurry, before the catch phrases grow tiresome. (Joe MacLeod)

6
Brick (Rian Johnson, United States) The best drama set in a high school since Rebel Without a Cause, Brick's film noirness goes subcutaneous with dark elements peppering not just the language and cinematography but also the story line (drugs, money, revenge), characters, and midlevel but graphic violence. Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn't one to shy away from a difficult role (see: Mysterious Skin) and he's fully invested here as high-school loner Brendan, who searches for his missing ex-girlfriend Emily despite not enough sleep and face-punching obstacles. What's not to love about Brendan going back for more and more and more ass-kicking to prove himself--not only to the assholes with information but also to Emily's memory and to us? True, cheeky touches--drug lord Pin reigns supreme from his mother's basement, where druggies flock quietly as sheep--keep Brick grounded even as it rises higher and smarter than most modern adult whodunits. (Wendy Ward)

7
The Queen (Stephen Frears, United Kingdom) Elizabeth II's reign ended stealthily, under the cover of night, while the British people's chosen ruler was coronated by blood in a Paris tunnel crash. The queen (Helen Mirren) declares she will not fly the flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace to acknowledge no-longer-princess Diana's death--that's absurd, a breach of protocol not even worth entertaining. But as the mood in the streets turns ugly and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) begs her highness to make some kind of public gesture, the truth of her vulnerability seeps in like rising floodwaters. Mirren's performance is boned with steel and lined with existential horror, an unflinching portrait of a powerful woman's first glimpse of obsolescence. (Violet Glaze)

8
Inside Man (Spike Lee, United States) Clive Owen is a hostage-taking bank robber with a highly complex plan. Denzel Washington is the wily NYPD negotiator dealing with him. Christopher Plummer is a bank exec hiding a secret in one of the bank's safe-deposit boxes. Jodie Foster is thermonuclear bitch/elite fixer for the privileged and entitled who Plummer taps to take care of his interests. What looks like yet another crime flick eventually proves yet again that Spike Lee is best when he works inside genre--especially when it allows him to realize the blunt, multiethnic New York he knows in such seemingly boilerplate fare. Plus, Lee remains one of the few directors of his generation who knows how to stage shots that tattoo themselves on the brain. (BM)

9
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, United States) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is the other Guillermo Arriaga-penned movie this year, beating Babel to the punch by several months. Directed by Tommy Lee Jones, it also stars the craggy Harvard grad as cattle-ranch foreman Pete Perkins, who, when best friend and illegal immigrant Melquiades Estrada is murdered, forces the Mexican's murderer, Border Patrol officer Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), to help him transport the corpse back to Estrada's hometown across the Rio Grande. Jones and Arriaga's modern western tackles the immigration issue by focusing on the absolute value of human life but has the balls to never offer solutions--only impossible, unanswerable questions. (Cole Haddon)

10
Hostel (Eli Roth, United States) Horror movies have taken a real upswing these days, and not just in Japan and Korea. Alongside Britain's taut, claustrophobic The Descent, the U.S. of A.'s own Hostel delivered the year's most chilling cinema. The movie operates extremely well as a by-the-book gorefest in which American vacationers fall victim to an Eastern European pay-to-torture facility, but much more is going on beneath the surface. As with director Eli Roth's previous movie, 2002's Cabin Fever, Hostel works even better as a dark comedy about cocky American suburbanites getting in way over their heads while attempting to navigate worlds outside their own comfort zones--unsurprising, then, that both Roth's movies have generated extreme amounts of internet hatred from cocky American suburbanites. (EAH)


The Unabridged List

Lee G

  1. United 93
  2. Inside Man
  3. Silent Hill
  4. Caché
  5. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  6. Tsotsi
  7. Hostel
  8. Brick
  9. Babel
  10. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Ian Grey

  1. Caché
  2. Volver
  3. L’Enfant
  4. The Proposition
  5. A Prairie Home Companion
  6. Breakfast on Pluto
  7. Why We Fight
  8. Shut Up and Sing
  9. A Scanner Darkly
  10. Clean

Violet Glaze

  1. The Prestige
  2. Wordplay
  3. The Heart of the Game
  4. Clerks II
  5. The Queen
  6. Night Watch
  7. A Scanner Darkly
  8. Thank You for Smoking
  9. Borat
  10. Brick

Cole Haddon

  1. The Proposition
  2. Stranger Than Fiction
  3. United 93
  4. V for Vendetta
  5. Superman Returns
  6. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
  7. Babel
  8. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
  9. The Queen
  10. Casino Royale

Eric Allen Hatch

  1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
  2. Borat
  3. Jesus Camp
  4. Hostel
  5. Boys of Baraka
  6. United 93
  7. Duck Season
  8. The Devil and Daniel Johnston
  9. Friends With Money
  10. Who Killed the Electric Car?

Geoffrey Himes

  1. The Departed
  2. Caché
  3. L’Enfant
  4. Heading South
  5. The Science of Sleep
  6. An Inconvenient Truth
  7. Babel
  8. The Last King of Scotland
  9. Little Miss Sunshine
  10. Flushed Away

Bret McCabe

  1. The Proposition
  2. L’Enfant
  3. Caché
  4. The Queen
  5. Breakfast on Pluto
  6. Clean
  7. Inside Man
  8. Quinceañera
  9. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
  10. Thank You for Smoking

Joe MacLeod

  1. Brick
  2. Borat
  3. Underworld: Evolution
  4. Miami Vice
  5. The Protector
  6. Flags of Our Fathers
  7. Death of a President
  8. An Inconvenient Truth
  9. Match Point
  10. Shortbus

Wendy Ward

  1. Beerfest
  2. Match Point
  3. Flushed Away
  4. Nacho Libre
  5. The Break-Up
  6. Brick
  7. Friends With Money
  8. Swimmers

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
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The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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