Worst-to-Best Ranking of 2006 Films

I’ve been meaning to post this all week, honestly, but it was Matt’s observation that I’m “almost a month late” (I don’t think he meant that in a feminine way) which finally lit the fire under me. So without further teases, here are my thoughts on 2006:

What a great year for film! While 2005 seemed filled with so much preachiness in the theater that the most insightful reflection on terrorism was Batman Begins and the best film was an adaptation of Austen, 2006 returned in a sense to the joy of filmmaking as more than just a vehicle for portentous statements.

Even though many of the following dozen films were officially 2006 releases in the UK, their overexposure especially during the Oscars leads me to leave out of my ranking movies I saw this year but which were released in the US in 2005: Brokeback Mountain, Cache, Capote, The Constant Gardener, Good Night and Good Luck, Grizzly Man, Derailed, Match Point, Munich, The Squid and the Whale, Walk the Line, and The Weather Man.

In their stead I’m including movies I saw in January 2007 but which were 2006 releases in the US: Apocalypto, Art School Confidential, Babel, Déjà Vu, Employee of the Month, Flags of Our Fathers, The Last King of Scotland, and Night at the Museum.

Since I’m loosely following US release dates, I’m also including a Russian movie I saw in 2005, Night Watch, because it wasn’t released in the US till this year. Conversely, however, though Melville’s 1969 film Army of Shadows was finally released this year in the US, it was originally released in the UK in 1978 so I’m going to group it with the other screenings I saw last year of classic film and not rank them: King Kong, Vertigo (35 and 70mm), The Birds, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Passenger, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (70mm), Dark Habits, and Mercano el Marciano.

I know Rosenbaum considers anything shown on a screen as fair game for his annual list and most critics are including Army of Shadows among new releases but I just think it’s unfair to compare newly made films against their predecessors. Otherwise Vertigo would be a Top Ten movie every year.

The most striking thing about this year is that half of the new releases I saw were above average if not good, a much higher percentage than the past few years. With so many good movies ranking them is difficult, so it’s appropriate this post is time stamped because the following order reflects my feelings only at a given moment, which were different yesterday and will no doubt differ tomorrow. Anyway here is my self-indulgent ranking with a comment on each and link while applicable.
_______________

Worst Movie of the Twenty-First Century (#90):

Date Movie (mere recognition in comedy’s stead: visual references to other movies—Kill Bill was a rom-com?—substitute for jokes about them)

_______________

Outright Disappointments (#89–83):

Scary Movie 4 (I haven’t seen the first three so I’m not exactly sure what par for the course is, but they must have been funnier)

Ultraviolet (only interesting insofar as live actors are digitally airbrushed to resemble video game characters in line with its shoddy-graphics aesthetic)

The DaVinci Code (fell asleep twice: my fault or the movie’s?)

The History Boys (would-be Dead Poets Society in fact a delusional pedo fantasy)

Babel (couldn’t find sympathy for any of the stupid characters in this movie)

Miami Vice (perhaps interesting as ambient film intended to create a mood for decorative plasma screens in a club)

Pan’s Labyrinth (most overrated movie of the year, but the shot of the Pale Man opening his hands with stigmata-set eyeballs is still the Image of the Year)

_______________

Sub-Par but could be worse (#82–65):

DOA: Dead or Alive (what you see is what you get)

Waiting (amusing while it lasted)

Underworld: Evolution (dozed off until helicopter crash woke me up)

V for Vendetta (nice production design)

The Pink Panther (not as bad if you consider that Peter Sellers was Clouseau and Steve Martin is playing Clouseau)

Lady in the Water (tedious allegory)

Mission Impossible 3 (better than MI2, but how could it not be?)

Fun with Dick and Jane (better than trailer suggested but completely unmemorable)

American Dreamz (could’ve been great but most of the comedy fell dead)

Firewall (Air Force One retread decent enough but not unique)

The Ringer (everyone but Johnny Knoxville is really good actually!)

Harsh Times (poor man’s Training Day)

Employee of the Month (amusing enough)

The Wicker Man (undeniably more interesting than The Village not to mention its sheer novelty value)

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (never lives up to first five spectacular minutes)

Imagine Me and You (female leads without chemistry, male rivals too sympathetic)

Borat (tamer than expected due to extent of Americans’ credulous tolerance of foreign buffoon)

The Sentinel (president’s schedule from the secret service POV was fascinating but unfortunately only the first ten minutes)

_______________

Par—movies I enjoyed but which were not revelations (#64–41):

The Black Dahlia (victim of expectations might deserve revaluation in time but this year Déjà Vu was the superior revisitation of Vertigo)

Talladega Nights (Anchorman too much to live up to, but worth it for the “sweet baby God” prayer alone)

The Nativity Story (most insightful as soap opera but drops dead upon departure from Nazareth)

World Trade Center (too glossy; amateur footage from that day is always more interesting)

The Notorious Bettie Page (informative biopic but felt like a TV movie)

Clerks II (Randal is only character who can make Smith’s dialogue work, but show is stolen by Pillowpants)

Nacho Libre (better than Napoleon is faint praise)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (more enjoyable than the first but slow second act hinders its rewatchability factor)

The Proposition (Ray Winstone gives surprisingly sympathetic performance)

16 Blocks (managed to surprise me)

The Hidden Blade (too similar to Twilight Samurai)

Just Friends (funnier than expected)

Atomised [Elementarteilchen] (memory vague except that it was a major downer)

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (better than most superhero movies)

The Break-Up (first act positively resembled a stage play and ending favored realism to Hollywood)

The Departed (could have been titled “Cell Phones”; most notable for its nonstop use of background music)

Hollywoodland (informative conspiracy theory primer but most heartbreaking as Affleck’s autobio-pic; however I spent the last half hour waiting for it to end)

Fearless (choreography compensates for Jet Li’s bad acting and preachiness)

X-Men: The Last Stand (a couple bad scenes undermine its greatness)

Flags of Our Fathers (debunking an image via motion picture necessarily implies that propaganda is not inherently negative)

The Last King of Scotland (fictitiousness makes white proxy character even more problematic and ending proved first movie ever to make me physically ill)

Art School Confidential (artistically inferior to Ghost World but captures artists well enough)

Red Road (probably inevitable that no movie could live up to the hugely promising first act, an impressive updating of Rear Window featuring a CCTV operator)

Apocalypto (smaller story and less gore than expected reveals admirable restraint on Gibson’s part)

_______________

Above Par—surprising in a positive way (#40–26):

The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D (still more energy than Corpse Bride)

Lucky Number Slevin (overdue laid-back Hartnett amazingly carries entire movie, but final explanation is too long and remedial)

Night at the Museum (first time in ages Ben Stiller hasn’t been annoying, allowing concept to be the rightful star)

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (The Godfather with sympathetic characters)

Crank (Statham’s Last Action Hero, an ironical if obvious satire of the action genre, but is self-consciousness sufficient excuse for bad taste?)

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (the Quay Brothers’ Tempest—I’m guessing I would’ve liked it if I hadn’t fallen asleep)

Cars (subversively nostalgic about internal combustion engines)

Superman Returns (technically flawless but Supes just too passive)

Inside Man (only Clive Owen could act so well without use of his face in Lee’s delightfully polygeneric flick)

The Matador (first time I’ve ever liked Brosnan, who has great rapport with Kinnear and Davis)

Over the Hedge (funniest movie of the year?)

Monster House (not only funny but a great horror story in its own right, with the best voice performances since Atlantis)

The Illusionist (best photography of the year but sleight of hand is too obvious)

Little Miss Sunshine (unlike Napoleon Dynamite, likeable characters overshadow artificial indie conventions)

Marie Antoinette (creates unexpected sympathy by never straying from the queen’s cloistered point of view)

_______________

Top 25:

Unknown White Male (whether documentary or hoax, still one of the most fascinating pictures of the year)

The Prestige (never difficult to follow jumbled chronology, but final shot was needlessly remedial)

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (a modern Blake, obsessive and comprehensive)

Renaissance (came for the style, stayed for the story, loved both)

Hard Candy (Ellen Page carries two-person play on her shoulders despite faults)

The Fountain (more significant for its microscopic visuals than cleverness of its story)

Silent Hill (most visceral images of the year: what Pan’s Labyrinth thought it was)

Lady Vengeance (thoughtful if disturbing conclusion to Park’s revenge trilogy implicates the viewer as vicarious participant)

A Cock and Bull Story [Tristram Shandy] (keeps adaptation comedy light and fun)

United 93 (welcome yet daring absence of sentimentality and ended where it should have)

Angel-A (on my reading Besson’s fictional autobiography of his filmmaking experiences)

Down in the Valley (a companion piece to Brick, in this case a resetting of the Western in the modern San Fernando Valley)

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (profound final scene of smoke rising from a shared cigarette recreates the Fiery Furnace)

A Bittersweet Life [Dalkomhan insaeng] (razor sharp Western set in modern Seoul)

The Queen (maintains sympathy for all his characters while integration of documentary footage both reinforces and complicates Di’s sainthood)

10. Thank You for Smoking (companion piece to last year’s Lord of War keeps irony afloat by choosing levity over smugness)

9. Night Watch [Nochnoi Dozor] (the most creative effects this year beginning with a psychic abortion, not to mention an intriguing story and great ending)

8. Tideland (a psychological feat to achieve such a gorgeous nightmare that unfairly received the critical denunciation actually deserved by Pan’s Labyrinth)

7. Déjà Vu (best film about cinema since, well, last year’s Cache includes a split screen chase scene De Palma wishes he had thought of)

6. Little Children (a thousand times better than American Beauty)

5. A Scanner Darkly (style brilliantly essential to substance)

4. Brick (budget-conscious innovation produces the most forceful fistfights this year)

3. Casino Royale (best action movie of the year, best song since Live and Let Die, and best Bond movie since From Russian with Love, if not ever, thanks to Craig impossibly making the character interesting)

2. Stranger than Fiction (best theological movie this year)

1. Children of Men (best Christmas movie ever, the story transcending the facile political metaphors for which it was meant)

_______________

Sins of Omission (with pitiful excuses):

Factotum (left cinema too quickly), Hoodwinked (amateur animation put me off but I later heard it was funny), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (trailer overexposure bored me of it before I heard it was good), A Prarie Home Companion, Romanzo Criminale, Snakes on a Plane, Tristan and Isolde

Omissions Beyond My Control (unreleased here):

Ask the Dusk, Bandidas, Beowulf and Grendel, Bobby, The Curse of the Golden Flower, Find Me Guilty, Flyboys (The Aviator whetted my appetite for biplanes, no matter how digital they are), The Good German, The Good Shepherd, Half Nelson, Inland Empire, Letters from Iwo Jima, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, The Painted Veil, The Science of Sleep

Omissions of Intent (just not interested):

Blood Diamond, Dreamgirls, Notes on a Scandal (trailer suggests the overacting spirit of Sean Penn possessed every actress in this film), The Pursuit of Happyness, Venus

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7 thoughts on “Worst-to-Best Ranking of 2006 Films

  1. Praise to any man who recognised the overwhelming positives of Silent Hill. Surprisingly good!

  2. […] my 85th place ranking attests, I couldn’t agree more. (For more Cozzalio-inspired goodness, refer to Professor […]

  3. Ryan says:

    Of the movies I have seen, I agree with your assessments. Except for MI:3, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Brought back the impossible mission aspect that MI:2 lacked, and had some very good action. Also, PSH was fun to watch as the villain. He wasn’t eccentric or theatrical, just menacing like a real villain might be.

    I finally saw Stranger Than Fiction, and I liked it a lot. It was the first film with actual heart that I’d seen in a while, and your review helped me appreciate it even more. (I waited to read it until after I’d seen it.)

  4. Nobody says:

    Mike: I too am an evangelist for Silent Hill, a complete sleeper that blew me away.

    Ryan: As I review my list I would say Stranger than Fiction is the most tenuous in retaining its #2 spot, which could be challanged by any other in my top 8.

    The problem with MI3 is that while I’m sure I enjoyed it while it lasted, it was basically unmemorable. The only thing I can remember about it was the bridge attack (revisiting territory of True Lies) and that only because of its impact in the trailer. But I admit it could have been put in the “par” category.

    In many ways my list could have been simply divided into a Top 45 and Bottom 45 because so many were good this year. But I haven’t wanted to see a movie for two weeks so I doubt 2007 will be similarly fecund.

  5. Dennis says:

    Hmm… how is Deja Vu “about cinema?” Through implication of the audience? I suppose that is a way to look at it, though I don’t know if it takes that idea anywhere after setting it up with the surveillance scenes in the first half. Clarification on that comment would be appreciated.

    Also, how did you interpret the ending of Silent Hill? I believe it has a thematic resonance besides a cheap “Twilight Zone” quality that most critics dismissed it as, but I wasn’t able to really develop that notion… another viewing is required.

  6. Nobody says:

    I think I have a few notes about Deja Vu floating around somewhere that I didn’t get a chance to put into prose format, but I’ll look for them.

    Silent Hill SPOILERS following:

    My only criticism of Silent Hill was that the editing of the ending did feel too much like a Sixth Sense twist, especially when they get “home” at the end and it’s a bit more explicit that they exist in two parallel dimensions. Before then, when Sean Bean is running around the school, the shots of him are sunny while the shots of the women are all ashy, so the ending contains no major revelation, except perhaps as a confirmation.

    I think the purpose of the scene should have been to show the characters’ separation, so maybe it could have been edited differently to emphasize that rather than feel cheap. It’s been too long since I saw it to be specific though. I’ve been searching for the 2-disc DVD available in Region 2 but can’t seen to find it anywhere (it has a really nice steel cover).

  7. filmfan says:

    i think the worst two film in the world is brokeback mountain and the wind that shakes the barley, someone once asked me whats brokeback mountain about, i told him it was silly just two cowboys riding around on the range, as for the wind that shakes the barley, amatuer hour

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