' erasing clouds film essay: favorites of 2006
erasing clouds

My Favorite Films of 2006

by dan heaton

Before starting this list, I should mention that I have not yet seen The Queen, The Good Shepherd, Letters From Iwo Jima, Pan’s Labyrinth, and other pictures that have dominated many best-of lists. Some highly regarded films have not even reached St. Louis, but they will hopefully arrive soon. Enjoy!

1. Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling gives a remarkable performance as an inter-city teacher trying to make a difference but struggling with heroin addiction. His friendship with a bright African-American student (the surprising Shareeka Epps) feels completely real and avoids the typical clichés. This understated, original film has stayed with me unlike any other this year.

2. United 93

Facing cries of “too early” upon its release, Paul Greengrass’ gritty fictional recreation of the tragic flight does total justice to the victims. The up-close experience remains extremely intense on the plane and on the ground with the confused flight controllers. The lack of recognizable faces and the hand-held shooting style enhance the intensity and poignancy of this remarkable picture.

3. Casino Royale

If it wasn’t for the return of a certain old boxer, the stunning return of James Bond would be the year’s biggest surprise. Daniel Craig brings a cold, brutal reality to the character and finally reunites Bond with Fleming’s original creation. This origin story includes great action, but its true charm lies in a serious, dramatic tone that rockets the fading character into the 21st century.

4. An Inconvenient Truth/Who Killed the Electric Car?

I’ve cheated with this entry and combined two important documentaries that should be viewed as a double feature. The first reveals some hard truths about global warming from Al Gore that need to be understood by everyone in the near future. It also provides an interesting portrait of an intelligent guy who stumbled on the national stage and has re-invented himself to bring about change. The second choice is lighter and less dire, but it also presents the uncaring corporate and government forces working to stall progress at every turn.

5. Street Fight

This low-budget documentary chronicles the incredible 2002 Newark mayoral race that pitted the African-American political establishment of Sharp James against the young upstart Cory Booker. Director Marshall Curry follows the Booker campaign and provides a fascinating look at the ruthless political process.

6. The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s return to the streets leads to an invigorating story of double-dealing, betrayals, and downright nastiness. This remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs falls a bit short of the tighter original, but it includes great performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Jack Nicholson is way over the top as the vicious gangster who connects everyone together.

7. Rocky Balboa

I doubt there are many critics anywhere who believe this improbable sixth installment of the Rocky series deserves recognition as a top 10 film. However, the beloved character’s “return to his roots” hits all the right notes and offers a heart-warming conclusion to the series. While the final outcome is fairly predictable, it never moves into superhero territory and delivers an understated surprise.

8. The Prestige

Christopher Nolan succeeds again with this twist-filled yarn about two ultra competitive magicians battling during the turn of the century. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman shine as the much-different showmen, and David Bowie offers a chilling brief appearance as real-life inventor Nikola Tesla. I guarantee that you’ll be discussing this story for a long time after its surprising conclusion.

9. Brick

This unique entry brings the film noir genre into high school and somehow avoids making it a gimmick. First-time writer/director Rian Johnson purposely keeps the plot confusing, which enhances the experience because we’re as baffled as Joseph Gordon Leavett’s lead character.

10. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party

This enjoyable concert film brings together some of the best hip-hop and R&B artists, including the Roots, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Talib Kweli. Dave Chappelle makes a charming host and conveys a down-to-earth demeanor while interacting with diverse residents in his hometown. Michel Gondry’s understated direction brings added relevance to the entertaining picture.

Honorable Mention:

A Scanner Darkly – unique, paranoid tale from Richard Linklater in the style of Waking Life

Inside Man – an original, entertaining heist film from Spike Lee with a great ending

Stranger Than Fiction – clever, unpredictable fantasy offering excellent work from Will Farrell

Marie Antoinette – beautiful film from Sofia Coppola, with an engaging Kirsten Dunst lead performance

The Proposition – brutal, uncompromising Australian western from writer Nick Cave

Special Awards

Most Underrated Film: Miami Vice
Audiences scorned this Michael Mann thriller because it failed to conform to their expectations for pastel colors and standard action. Instead, the compelling director crafts a murky, visually stunning tale that is one of the year’s most inventive pictures.

Craziest Action Film: District B13
Although its plot is extremely thin, this futuristic French stunner offers several remarkable action sequences. The best is its opening chase scene, which sends David Belle leaping across numerous buildings with his unique Parkour style.

Safest (and Dullest) Book Adaptation - The DaVinci Code
I’m not a Ron Howard hater, but I can imagine few directors taking a more boring route than this 149-minute yawn fest. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou are both very talented, but their performances have zero enthusiasm. Of course, the film made tons of money, so I guess Howard at least succeeded in that regard.

Most Overrated/Worst Film - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Speaking of money, the Pirates sequel was the year’s top-grossing film, but its lack of plot sense was maddening. I would hardly call the first picture a classic, but it was highly entertaining and Johnny Depp was fun. Unfortunately, the follow-up removes all the charm from Jack Sparrow, is way too long, and ends with a frustrating cliffhanger.

Probable Oscar Nominee That is Undeserving - Babel
I did not hate this film, and it does contain some good performances, but Inarritu and Arriaga’s cruel treatment of their characters left a sour taste. I enjoyed Amores Perros and thought 21 Grams was decent, but their third combination falls well short of being Oscar caliber.

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