else may be said in praise of them, most
of the better movies I saw this year
didn’t produce a lot of laughs.
For those that did, they often were of
the grim, gallows-humor variety. Even
the tap-dancing-penguin flick carried
persistent undercurrents of social and
environmental angst. But then, on the
whole, this year in the real world
wasn’t a load of laughs, either.
Anyway, here are the 10 movies that
seemed most worth my time in 2006.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days:
Impossibly tense, deeply humbling German
film (from 2005; released here in ’06)
about the quiet defiance of the
university student who protested the
Nazis in 1943 in Munich, and
unhesitatingly faced the consequences.
Stunningly simple in style, it has the
feel of a passion play.
The Last King of Scotland: This potent
political nightmare about a young
Scottish physician who becomes an
adviser to Idi Amin features an
instant-classic performance by Forest
Whittaker, shockingly scary—and even
more shockingly seductive—as Amin. James
McAvoy is excellent as the
in-over-his-head doctor, too.
Blood Diamond: Another gripping
chronicle of African horrors, this
melodrama set in Sierra Leone hinges on
the agony caused by “conflict diamonds.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, here as in The
Departed, has lost his callowness at
last, and Djimon Honsou is direct and
moving as a fisherman struggling to find
his son. Conventional storytelling, and
overlong, but very rewarding.
United 93: It could have been awful and
sordid, yet it turned out to be a
focused, heartbreaking and inspiring
dramatization of the 9/11 flight that
ended in rural Pennsylvania. A tour de
force for director Paul Greengrass, who
mixed actors and non-actors to
breathtakingly convincing effect. This
one is better than Oliver Stone’s 9/11
movie World Trade Center, though the
Stone film is also quite touching.
A Prairie Home Companion: Robert
Altman’s swansong was this delightful,
if characteristically uneven, big screen
treatment of Garrison Keillor’s beloved
radio revue. The script’s notions don’t
always work, but scene for scene the
movie is magical, and Meryl Streep and
Lily Tomlin, as a pair of dizzy gospel
singers, turn their backstage nattering
into a blissful duet of comedic acting.
An Inconvenient Truth: Al Gore’s
expertly filmed one-man show did what
his presidential campaign couldn’t: it
made him a star. Remarkably engaging
political theatre, and the scariest
movie of the year.
Little Miss Sunshine: In the title role,
Abigail Breslin energizes this endearing
ensemble comedy about a family of New
Mexico depressives trying to get the
title character to a children’s beauty
pageant in California. The finale is a
The Departed: Martin Scorsese gives a
less flamboyant directorial performance
than usual in this absorbing saga
Boston-Irish gangsters. He keeps it
relatively simple and lets his big-name
actors do the heavy lifting this time,
and they don’t let him down.
Casino Royale: This is the most
headlong, most stylish, least corny Bond
movie in years, and Daniel Craig makes a
cool, even somewhat plausible 007.
Bobby: Though the script, by director
Emilio Estevez, is seriously uneven,
this chronicle of the day that RFK was
assassinated builds up a surprising
emotional release, and there are many
gems among the performances.
Some runners-up: The sometimes jolting
Little Children, The wild, firebrand
satire V for Vendetta, the snarky Thank
You for Smoking, the gross-but-goofy
horror comedy Slither, the
aforementioned animated Bollywood-style
epic Happy Feet, Clint Eastwood’s sad
war movie Flags of Our Fathers, and the
respectable new rendering of Charlotte’s
Helen Mirren was outstanding in the
slyly funny docudrama The Queen; Meryl
Streep was outstanding in The Devil
Wears Prada (though she was even better
in Prairie Home Companion) and Diane
Lane was superb in Hollywoodland, which
also boasted Ben Affleck’s best
performance to date as George Reeves.
Albert Brooks’ Looking For Comedy in the
Muslim World was a willful misfire, and,
like his other willful misfires, often
hilarious. In a more high-profile
cross-cultural lampoon, Borat was
undeniably riotous, but also
excruciating to watch at times.
The sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean
was way overlong, but it was still fun
to watch Johnny Depp as the sodden
Captain Jack Sparrow. We Are Marshall
was a well-crafted sports tearjerker
made more interesting by Matthew
McConaughey’s idiosyncratic performance
as Marshall football coach Jack Lengyel.
The Break-Up was slightly underrated,
and Nacho Libre was very slightly
The Illusionist, on the other hand, was
slightly overrated—and its use of
special-effects seemed like a bit of a
cheat—but it’s still a well-acted,
entertaining piece of romantic nonsense.
The interracial romance Something New
had its charms, as did the romance
between two mastodons, Ice Age 2: The
Meltdown. She’s the Man adapted Twelfth
Night into a reasonably cute teen
comedy, and Final Destination 3 was
The Queen Latifah vehicle Last Holiday
was nothing special, but it looked like
a masterpiece alongside the somniferous
chickflick The Holiday.
The Da Vinci Code was watchable but, in
light of the tizzies it occasioned,
pretty silly. Similarly, the stir
surrounding the utterly trivial Snakes
on a Plane turned out to be a tempest in
a teapot on a plane, but Samuel L.
Jackson gave a good performance, and the
video over the end credits was terrific.
It wasn’t anywhere near the worst movie
of the year. Vying hard for that title
were such ordeals as The Black Dahlia,
Firewall, The Benchwarmers, You, Me and
Dupree, Sofia Coppola’s puzzling Marie
Antoinette and—my vote—the loathsome
Failure to Launch, the best moments of
which, tellingly, came from Terry
Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction would
have made the “worst” list too, if only
local gal Sharon Stone didn’t look even
better unclad now than she did in the
OK, enough. Happy New Year. Let’s hope
things get a little more lighthearted,
in and out of the multiplex.
Mark Moorhead is a former, longtime
movie critic for Phoenix New Times. He
writes regularly for Wrangler News.