2006 was a very solid year with excellent mainstream films-- including Scorsese's The Departed, basically a brilliant remake; Clint Eastwood's conventionally crafted but brave two-feature examination of WWII and the ideas of "heroism" and "the enemy"; Zwick's lively African action flick seasoned with global politics and economics Blood Diamond; and De Niro's somber personal CIA history The Good Shepherd. Frears' The Queen is a dramatic look at the royals and Tony Blair, and Todd Field's Little Children revives the well-worn topic of suburban unease. Alan Bennett's brilliant, touching play about growing up and values in education The History Boys, filmed by his stage collaborator Nicholas Hytner, should be appreciated by more people. It's a pity A Scanner, Darkly, Linklater's recreation of Philip K. Dick's book about the ravages of drugs, may be more off-putting, because it's splendid work. David Lynch's return to edge in the three-hour Inland Empire will alienate many, but if you respond to it you may find it to be the most exciting thing on this English-language list.
There is a separate roster of foreign films because of the size of this category. A couple of these will be known to most filmgoers: they are Babel and Volver. Not so many people in the USA, unfortunately, will see Gabrielle, Clean, The Child, or Days of Glory on the big screen. It's great that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, an Eastern European ER for realists, has made a strong showing on US best lists--even of it didn't come to many of our theaters it is a classic statement. Sadly, Bielinsky's richly haunting nourish character study The Aura represents the last by this young Argentinian director who died after making it, when he had just begun to show his utter originality and brilliance.
The shortlist includes some acclaimed performances: by Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, and Peter O'Toole in Venus; and though the film itself didn't make these lists, there's no question that Forest Whittaker gives an awesome, terrifying performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. This is where one knows how good a year it was -- when one sees the depth of the shortlist and wants to single out other films for mention that didn't even make the lists. There are many other documentaries that might be included. Let me add that "Most Overrated" doesn't mean those films aren't worth watching. Happily a number of the "unreleased" are soon coming to American theaters, and they're exciting too. But a few of them it seems will never come, or even be issued on DVD, and that's a sad fact of film life one must hope that time will remedy. (Where there are DVD's or they're soon coming it's indiccated here.)
The Lists (alphabetical within category)
AMERICAN AND ENGLISH DIRECTORS
BEST 2006 FILMS YET UNRELEASED IN THE US
BEST LONG-DELAYED U.S. FOREIGN RELEASE
WISH I'D SEEN BEFORE I MADE THESE LISTS
©2007 Chris Knipp