This is not your usual top ten list. I’m going to include some movies I didn’t like and I’m not going to pretend the list is any kind of complete. These are ten movies I think made the zeitgeist plate of 2006’s cinematic buffet.
1. Borat – Will it change the face of comedy? I think it will have an incremental effect. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that something very subversive wedged itself in the mainstream when this movie hit it big. Long after the litigation is done, the laughter shall echo.
2. The Science of Sleep – Another fantastic piece of whimsy from the mind of Michel Gondry. It doesn’t have the same polish as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it has equal imagination behind it. It is Gondry’s most personal work to date, and any peek into his strange mind is worth it.
3. The Prestige – If you haven’t seen it yet and no one has spoiled the big twist, I implore you to see it immediately. This tale of two rival magicians in a deadly game of one-upmanship is a marvel of efficent storytelling. The plot itself follows the arc of a magic trick, constantly revealing new and wonderful things — the greatest of which being that, in the world of The Prestige, science itself is the greatest magic trick of all.
4. An Inconvenient Truth – Agree or disagree with Al Gore’s assertions of impending cataclysm, this film finally budged a debate that had been whether CO2 levels are increasing to whether that is bad or catastrophic. Politics aside, it is a great piece of issue filmmaking. When all the other documentaries of this year are forgotten, this one will be remembered.
5. Little Miss Sunshine – I got a lot of flack for disliking this work of quirk. I still think it’s not for me, but I can’t ignore how it seems to have struck a chord with the general public. Beyond the quirk and the bad sit-commish elements, the movie has a lot of heart. Even in this cynical year, audiences desired stories about families who love each other.
6. The Departed – Martin Scorsese proves why he is the master of the crime drama with this Shakespearean tale of cops and criminals in South Boston. He is a master of the crypto-homage, disguising old elements as something new and invigorating.
7. The Devil Wears Prada – A really, really good grrl power movie. Merrill Streep’s performance is of course well beyond the limited ambitions of the film. Those pundits who were surprised a trifle like this became a hit shouldn’t be. It’s an entertaining movie from start to finish, even for jaded dudes like me.
8. The Fountain – I didn’t like The Fountain for its lack of plot momentum, but I admired both the ambitious scope (thousands of years, several continents and outer space) and its visual poetry. It is more a meditation than a movie, and it is a declaration that Aronofsky would like to be the next Tarkovsky.
9. Little Children – A movie that has haunted me ever since I saw it. It is as if real people have found themselves trapped inside a novel. A narrator keeps saying what they are supposed to be thinking, but you get the sense that their thoughts and feelings are so much deeper and more complicated.
10. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story – Still my favorite movie of this year, it has it all. It pushed the bounds of film storytelling while making you both laugh and weep, sometimes simultaneously. Commiting an unfilmable novel to film becomes a metaphor for life itself — an act both futile and unavoidable.