It was a time where the War in Iraq saturated the news but it was on filmmaker’s minds in 2006 as well, as George W Bush’s incompetence and lies were unfolding deep that year, many documentarians made films that year with such titles as The War Tape, Iraq in Fragments, and The Ground Truth (among many more) that uncovered the truth of the Iraq War where many cable news stations were afraid to go. Despite the chaos at the time which all feels quaint to these post-Trumpian times we live that involves a pandemic, a climate crises, as we’re back in full circle again with the origin of Dubya’s policies, 2006 had many offerings of films that were formally daring that were innovative, pioneering, and frankly still ahead of their time. From David Lynch’s radical INLAND EMPIRE that tapped into the mind’s subconscious with brilliantly DV nightmarish effect, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette still feels postmodern today as it’s aged extremely well 15 years later, and both Darren Arononsky (The Fountain) and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) were attempting and triumphing in pushing the boundaries of aesthetics and technical film realm. Amid a lot of the Oscar ait and studio film, the cream always rises to the top as it was also a year that the veteran maestros still had it them like Martin Scorsese (The Departed), The Dardenne Brothers (L’Enfant), Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima), Hsiao-hsien (Three Times), and Pedro Almodovar (Volver). 2006 was a brilliant year where many of these films have stood the test of time, and a few are still waiting for a new batch of audiences to rediscover with a Criterion or Arrow Blu-Ray release away. To celebrate these films now turning 15 years old with their US theatrical releases, here is a list of the very best films 2006 has to offer.
1. INLAND EMPIRE (d. David Lynch)
Laura Dern with numerous layers and emotional rawness, immersed in surreal settings of immemorial sound stages and screwdrivers to the stomach, Greek choruses and fantasies–the imagery of David Lynch’s avant-garde masterpiece INLAND EMPIRE remains the most fascinating and sadly most underseen film of his career, and the sound design as well (a pity for anyone who never saw this, especially in the theater). The film stands testimony of being one of the most surreal and nightmarish films not only in Lynch’s career, but in all of cinema. It is also one of the most abstract, bizarre, and imaginative films you will ever experience. A turning point in the career of one of the greatest filmmakers of our era, who experimented in playing around with artfully grainy DV cinematography and into a fully realized work of art where the DV aesthetics develop the otherworldly dreamlike logic that Lynch is best known for.
This film is nothing more and nothing less than a film for Lynch’s fans, that left many critics ignoring it upon release, as well as lazy Oscar voters. It was their loss and every true cinephile’s gain. Lynch has paved the way for INLAND EMPIRE for the longest time in such surreal masterpieces as Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986),Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Lost Highway (1997), and of course Mulholland Drive (2001). You can also see some of the same motifs in INLAND EMPIRE as the dream logic reappear in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). After earning his third Oscar Best Director nomination for Mulholland Drive, Lynch had already become a renowned filmmaker of the art-house and cult-movie crowd, and most of his films are later appreciated as time goes on. Lynch could have went on and directed something more commercial and accessible fresh off another Oscar nomination, and probably directed a prestige picture with his muse Laura Dern. Somehow though, Lynch’s 10th feature appears that he has mastered his filmmaking craft and that INLAND EMPIRE is his magnum opus, at least in terms of the feature film realm. Self-financed and produced by Lynch and Laura Dern herself, INLAND EMPIRE is certainly a passion project, but it’s a profound experience that defies logic and is nearly impossible to describe in words. It’s a film one must experience in full to generate it’s great impact, and it must be experienced on the biggest screen, with a solid sound system, and watched at nighttime with the lights off and even with candles burning.
INLAND EMPIRE in many aspects is a companion piece to Mulholland Drive, except even more bizarre, surreal, and nightmarish. However, INLAND EMPIRE ends on a less cautionary and cynical note than most of Lynch’s previous endeavors. In fact, it’s every bit as compassionate as Lynch’s The Straight Story and The Elephant Man as odd as that sounds. But there is so much more to INLAND EMPIRE, Lynch allows the viewer to leave logic and traditional narrative to the unconscious, while still holding heart at the same time. The film is a major step forward in what the film medium is capable of, as it is an inventive construction that serves as a mirror reflection of the creative process as well as how actors embody their roles. Lynch explores many elements here including a labyrinth into the inner psyche, as well as a reflection of alternate realities, dream logic, and mistaken identities.
The film is about Hollywood actress Nikki (Laura Dern), who takes on a role in a new film with her so-star Devon (Justin Threroux) who has a reputation of being romantically involved with his female co-stars. This makes Nikki’s husband (Peter J. Lucas) very concerned, especially since the film they are in is about an affair. Both actors end up finding that the film is a remake to an unfinished Polish film in which one of the leads was murdered. Where Mulholland Dr. was a cautionary tale about how Hollywood is place of dreams that becomes a place of nightmares, INLAND EMPIRE is the nightmare as it’s about the anguish of actors having to embody the roles, and how the acting reality crosses over to actual reality and so on. It’s a very fascinating and darkly enchanting experience. Through its inventive dreamscape and haunting moments, in which Lynch experiments between reality and dreams with longings, humor, and anxiety, it’s a showcase to just how versatile and brilliant of an actress Laura Dern is, who is never afraid to get ugly for her art. Her character of Nikki who transforms into a Southern belle named Sue, and sometimes both are merged capture an actress getting lost in her work and the curse she finds herself trapped in. With it’s astonishing and eerily dreamlike look, its unique framing, and visually arresting sound and haunting imagery, INLAND EMPIRE is an uncompromising vision where Lynch keeps his material in its hulicinintory and hypnotic course that is endlessly ambiguous and mind-bending. Sweet!
2. Children of Men (d. Alfonso Cuaron)
Children of Men is easily one of the most remarkable achievements of the new century. Astonishing, emotionally grueling, visceral and the equally breathtaking sixth film by the great Alfonso Cuaron (Roma, Y Tu Mama, Gravity) is sadly starting to resemble the world we are inhabiting now with climate and pandemic uncertainty. The hostility towards migrants and immigrants is already here, hopefully we don’t become infertile as a world in the future with these crises. The film stars Clive Owen as Theo, a bureaucratic office worker who lives in the not-so-distant future of 2027 London, England. While the entire world and cities are collapsing globally with uprising and chaos, London is the only city that has a civilization left. The entire city is in complete martial law, and there is a worldwide immigration crisis in which migrants are caged, beaten, and treated inhumanely. Theo is eventually pulled back into his political past by his ex-girlfriend, Julian (Julianne Moore), he ends up participating on a expedition to protect a migrant pregnant woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who must guide her safely through civil war, uprising, and other forms of chaos to a scientific association called The Human Project that could hold the key to protecting Kee’s pregnancy and saving the human race.
Cuaron, adapting P.D. James’s futuristic novel, with a band of 5 other writers, is certainly one of the most impressive Sci-Fi films ever made, both at a sheer technical and storytelling level. Cuaron’s staging and visual boldness holds comparisons to the visual genius of Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, and Orson Welles which isn’t an easy task. Cuaron even plays tribute to Bergman’s “Shame” in the final sequence, and there are many set-pieces where you feel as if Kubrick was resurrected from the dead to direct this cinematic masterpiece. Cuarón’s long-take sequences would later go on to be emulated upon the release of Children of Men but watching it now it still feels mind-blowing with its timeless quality that submerges the viewer vividly into the future in the most fully realized way. Such moments in the film that are still championed today is the sequence in the car scene where five passengers are attempting to travel from London to the London countryside that is disrupted by anti-immigrant anarchists, and also the third act which follows Theo attempting to guide Kee through a migrant camp into safety as opposition rebels led by guerilla fighter Luke (Chiwetel Ejiifor) are attempting to overthrow the totalitarian British Army and a civil war breaks battle breakouts.Outside of all the technical bravura and bleakness, Children of Men is a humane endeavor that’s about the beacon of hope, it allows us to think about the possibilities of hope, and how it’s the only thing that can ground us through despair. It says to us: we may be at demise, many will suffer, others will sadly die but our minds must gravitate more towards hope and peace, and that life can truly unite us together instead of staying divided over the absurdity of politics and other arbitrary forces that pull us apart. At any moment, humanity can always take the next step forward, and that our world is really just a small speck of dust in a massive universe among the stars, and to that manifestation Cuaron’s Children of Men becomes a catharsis of optimism. The powerfully moving final image emphasizes this as well. A film of magnificent visual grandeur, Children of Men should be watched, studied, and appreciated in every modern film class, and it should always be experienced on a big screen with others. Children of Men shows the realms of what cinema is capable of as a medium, it’s a tour-de-force piece of unblemished filmmaking that will forever stand the test of time.
3. Marie Antoinette (d. Sofia Coppola)
A lavish and visually sublime masterpiece that is also melancholic and observational. Sofia Coppola’s third feature, Marie Antoinette, only gets better as time marches on. It’s a film that is more discussed, championed, and talked about 15 years later than it was upon its initial release. A visionary piece about the historic Marie Antoinette’s (Kirsten Dunst) displacement and isolation in a hierarchy she feels disconnected from and captured by. The film is distinctive in vision and personal in tone. Not to mention it’s a very unique and unconventional period piece that is rendered with humility and cinematic freedom, a striking triumph of style and substance that gives a modern understanding and glimpse into the life of Marie Antoinette.
The film succeeds in the internal characterizations Sofia Coppola is great at. There is a lot of character depth going on in that film that some detractors tend to forget. For instance, there is a pivotal moment when Marie Antoinette celebrates the birth of a new child with her brother-in-law and breaks down in tears alone in an isolated room with nobody around. The performance by Dunst, along with this moment, shows Coppola at her most sincere and vulnerable. It’s moments like this where Coppola elevates the material into something more sympathetic and resonant. Marie yearns so much to love August, who doesn’t give her the intimacy she needs. Dunst carries so much torment and conflicting tones in this performance as she yearns for motherhood, happiness, and energy.
Sofia Coppola shows and observes more than she mostly tells, and this film is a wonderful addition to her recurring themes about disconnection and human longing. With these character depths, both Coppola and Dunst are able to transcend folklore and myth by showcasing the iconic historical figure by exploring her repression, desires, and yearnings. What makes the film triumph beneath the sumptuous style, swooning soundtrack, and elegant art direction, costume design, cinematography, and décor is that it indeed has a heart. Like Lost in Translation and other films in her impressive milieu, the film is a knowing evocation of solitude, both vivacious and a rebel, an outcast to King Louis and his family, which makes the couple’s mismatch more profound in the inevitable shattering finale, where you feel impending doom.
4. The Fountain (d. Darren Aronofsky)
An original screenplay from the visionary mind of Darren Aronofsky where he spent years in the making, The Fountain meditates with three interlocking stories that echo the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. A sci-fi masterpiece, the film is epic in scope and deeply ambitious that was performed with many budget constraints and production problems. Instead of just relying on sheer spectacle and special effects, the film is confined to the experience of a character living through fantasy, art, and grief all merged into one. The final result could have easily been disastrous, instead it was bold and sincere.
A scientist, Tom (Hugh Jackman) travels through periods of time to expedite immortality so he can save Izzy, Rachel Weisz)Taking on three roles, the story intersects stories in the16th-Century, where Tomas (Jackman) embarks on a journey to South America in search of the Fountain of Youth. In modern day a scientist attempts to find a cure for the brain tumor that is killing his wife. Lastly, in the 26th-century an astronaut travels in an orbit as he savors the tree of life in deep space. All stories connect philosophical ideas about mortality, love, loss, regret, and finally the redemptive power of the creative process. Aronofsky’s The Fountain is perhaps his most personal film to this date, a brilliant mix of abstractions and emotional vulnerabilities, which is a challenging feat to pull off. Jackman’s and Weisz are also stellar years, perhaps the most resonant of 2006 that were greatly overlooked by critics and Oscar voters that year.
All around, The Fountain is one astonishing experience of what defines love combined with ascetic conceptual beauty and jaw-dropping visuals. On many levels, this is Aronofsky’s variation to Solaris, just as Soderbergh’s 2002 Solaris was a brilliant interpretation of Tarkovsky’s film and adaptation to Stanislaw Lem’s novel. The Fountain also argues against the lived reality in favor of fantasy’s and metaphysical realities that externalizes interior longings and desires of Tom and Izzy. Aronofsky uses sublime imagery and beautifully executed scenes and moments that give the film an everlasting staying power.
Jackman’s Tomas scientist character is much like the Kris Kelvin you can find in Tarkovsky and Soderergh’s film. A lonely, middle-aged scientist who’s doing everything he can to save the love of his life. Tom also has different variations of himself in the film’s dream or time travel logic that is revealed and concludes with many interpretations that allows the viewer to draw what defines the love between Tom and Izzy. Certainly divided and underperformed upon release, The Fountain has gone on to become a cult classic 15 years later. A touchstone film to the sci-fi genre and surely a highlight in Aronofsky’s impressive oeuvre.
5. Little Children (d. Todd Field)
In his sophomore effort, Little Children, Todd Field’s criminally underrated masterpiece to his 2001 debut, “In the Bedroom,” which also went to win major awards as it earned five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and Best Actress for Sissy Spacek. Little Children 15 years later still holds up well to date with its astonishing narrative structure and literary tone that bounces between satire and domestic thriller. Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley both went on to receive Oscar nominations for this film, and Little Children is easily one of the most compelling and provocative American movies to be released in the last 20 years. To this date, rarely do we get as many films as ambitious and visionary as Field’s Little Children and In the Bedroom.
The film is so expertly scripted and crafted too. Adapted from Tom Perrotta’s acclaimed short novel in which he also co-wrote with Field, the film goes through dark humor from the dramatic to the comic as it never feels too jarring or arbitrary. The film is about two suburban lovers named Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) as two spouses who get deeply involved with each other as they feel detached from their marriage. Their lives intersect with a registered sex offender named Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley) and Larry (Noah Emmerich) a disgraced ex-police officer as they all struggle with their internal conflicts and inner psyche. Besides the domestic drama plot, in which a sexy and unhappy housewife embroils a charming, attractive but flawed man into an unexpected love affair that makes them feel young again in a New England suburb, Little Children is characteristically a suspense thriller in its tone and unnerving moments, and in its depiction of Ronnie, who is troubled, endlessly scrutinized, creepy, and but vulnerable nonetheless.
In many ways Little Children draws comparisons to other subsequent films like Sam Mendes’ American Beauty and even Revolutionary Road as each film has a pastiche of themes about liberating oneself from their mundane suburban existence. The scenes between Winslet and Wilson really sizzle, most notably how both begin to find their youth again with their connection as they begin to isolate themselves from their families and outside world. Jennifer Connolly plays Brad’s wife, a documentary filmmaker who begins to suspect that Brad and Sarah are possibly having an affair. Winslet has never been vulnerable here, merging sophistication with layers of insecurity and finally empowerment, it’s a fearless performance and a career highlight. That being said, there is still something more meticulous and mature with Field’s subversive quality that elevates into high-art territory. The movie moves away from expected tropes and melodramatic detours. Todd Field delivers a brilliant combination of satire and tragedy–where co-writer Field turns their performances into an enthralling exploration of modern desire and longing that is a brilliant achievement. Todd Field has finally been greenlit to get financing for this third feature film titled Tar starring Cate Blanchett that is still in pre-production. It’s nearly been two decades since Field has directed film, it’s been very restless eagerly awaiting the next endeavor.
6. The Departed (d. Martin Scorese)
Often thought of as the major American film director of gangster movies, “The Departed” was released more than a decade after his sprawling mid 90s masterpiece, “Casino”. “The Departed”, an operatic, visually slick and exuberant crime story went onto crowning Scorsese his first and only long overdue Best Directing Oscar. As the film deeps and unfolds, Scorsese along with screenwriter William Monahan (Adapted from the Hong Kong police thriller Internal Affairs) dramatizes the demoralizing aspect of enduring family disintegration, as the films lead characters Colin (Matt Damon) and Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio), who both find family in organizations they find themselves in.
Colin works for the Boston PD and also serves as a mole for the cities crime criminal Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), and Billy goes undercover in Frank’s crime ring to dig enough evidence to put Frank behind bars. Not knowing each other or their duality, both men struggle to try to discover each other’s identity so save their own lives. With many expertly directed sequences and greatly written exchanges that involve climactic shoot-outs, double-crosses, surveillance, and underground crime and police locker room machismo. Scorsese’s vision is gritty and a highly convincing chronicle of moral decomposition, alleviated by the battle of wits between Colin and Billy who are enemies that have more common ground with their willingness to prevent getting caught.
It’s as if they are two ruined siblings with similar backgrounds who finally find family in both law enforcement and the criminal underworld. The Departed is ambitious, rhapsodic, and finally exhilarating, and it still represents a highlight in Scorsese’s career, who hopefully has one more masterpiece in him after The Irishman, which felt like a swan song the mob movies. The Departed also is a victim of online hysteria due to the overbearing metaphor of a rat running across the balcony in the final shot, The Departed also provoked many others to allege that this was the undeserving film that finally gave Scorsese his long awaited Oscar for Best Director and even Picture.
At least Scorsese finally won, right? Who else did the detractors want to win that year? David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men weren’t even in the Best Director race that year so the AMPAS ultimately made the correct decision. Granted, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Paul Greengrass, and Clint Eastwood were also all nominated for Best Director that year, but The Departed is the slightly greater film. The Departed is easily one of the best films to be released in 2006, and it is one of Scorsese’s best of the new century. It’s Scorsese at his most thrilling while still holding his visual energy and brisk pacing. Clocking in at 2-and-half hours, it’s an engrossing crime saga. Leonardo DiCaprio delivered one of his greatest performances yet, Matt Damon proved he can play a villain well, Mark Wahlberg was first-rate, and Jack Nicholson was just deranged in his most maniacal performance since The Shining. It may not be quite as high caliber as Goodfellas, Casino, or even The Irishman, yet it’s still a first-rate crime thriller.
7. Babel (d. Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
Still timeless upon revisits, Babel is a genuine masterpiece. This film masterfully examines how cultures, language, values, frames of reference, and even perceptive realities are all just barriers that keep us apart. Ultimately, two-time Academy Award winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu beautifully examines that we are all human after all, and that if we looked past all these trivial structures, we will find that we all yearn for empathy, compassion, and love.
The film has interlocking stories from Morocco, America, Mexico and Japan, all connected by a tragedy that involves around an unintentional senseless act. Iñárritu masterfully plays with structure as he did before with Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and it’s also another rumination on the chaotic forces of life and how people can lose control of the uncertain forbidding events in front of them, and they are all interlocked in non-contrived ways due to the time structure and how it unfolds. Iñárritu playing with a non-linear structure that interlocks events that are days apart, the personal and the political, Iñárritu’s vision pierces with emotional vulnerabilities that smolders with shades of a Robert Altman ensemble film. The films tragedy involves: two young Moroccan kids who steal their father’s rifle, Richard Jones and Susan Jones(Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett) a married American couple visiting Morocco to repair their detached marriage, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) a deaf Japanese teen who is disconnected from her widowed father, and Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the nanny of Richard and Susan’s children who takes the kids across the border for her son’s wedding without their permission. The accident interlocks the lives of these four groups of people in very galvanizing and equally humane ways. Yet in its gripping nature, the gripping style of modern loneliness of Chieko will leave the greatest impact you with its emotive power.. Iñárritu observes her loneliness and displacement in some of the most melancholic ways that I ever saw in modern cinema.
Babel carried on the ensemble film approach a year after Crash, and yet it’s vastly superior in every way; a large ensemble of multiple story lines and arcs going on. Each narrative has its own deep characterizations and pathos. While the film is very multi-layered and non-linear with some of the structure, it never takes away in just how highly involving the film is. Raw and poignant, Iñárritu’s elaborate saga is nothing short of being powerfully moving and personal. What pains me is how this film was released in 2006, the film was a plight for humanity to move forward from pre-conceived prejudices and perceptions, but to start looking passed language and culture barriers and to start looking at people more as human beings. I feel if more Americans and individuals watched this film we would probably have a more functional, empathetic, and compassionate society. With Babel‘s structure, each story sketches how we function in the face of tragedy and anxiety, each locale has some sort of barrier with language and how we interact with one another. The Japanese story with Chieco and her father assumes the most empathetic, shattering perspective on loneliness. Capturing the alienation of being deaf in modern-day Tokyo with a mixture of Sofia Coppola inspired aesthetics and visceral sound design of Chieco’s perspective. The climactic scene concerns the relationship between her father looking out the city of Tokyo, as two close souls disconnected by grief and misunderstanding feels redemptive and earned in the intoxicating final image. Babel is a towering masterpiece that is worthy of it’s Oscar nominations and praise.
8. United 93 (d. Paul Greengrass)
I think everyone should revisit United 93. Sure, it’s a tough watch, however, it’s truly one powerful film. It still leaves me shaken and shattered, it’s truly a powerful tribute to the brave men and women who combated and prevented Flight 93 from attacking and hitting it’s target on that fatal day of September 11th, 2001. As the film unravels in real time on On Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists seize control and hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 and three other planes that day, Greengrass focuses on the final moments of the passengers, crew and loved ones on the ground. The film is a shattering chronicle of courage. Anyone who believes 9/11 was a conspiracy is a slap in the face to the dead survivors of that plane that day. United 93 is a expertly crafted, and perhaps one of the most visceral film experiences I ever had in my life. Certainly a vital piece of filmmaking that many people aren’t comfortable watching or discussing due to it’s subject matter. The final image is earth shattering, the ending heroic that still leaves me in tears with it’s powerful effect. United 93 is a gripping and riveting docudrama that remains Paul Greengrass’s greatest achievement to date.
9. Letters From Iwo Jima (d. Clint Eastwood)
Perhaps Clint Eastwood’s last great film, in the 2000s it appeared Eastwood was at the peak of his career. Released in late 2006, Letters from Iwo Jima remains one of his most ambitious, a foreign-language film told from the Japanese perspective during World War II starring a mostly all Japanese cast and in subtitles. Reflecting back upon revisit, the film is a monumental framework that was released right after such masterpieces as Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and the flawed, but solid Flags of Our Fathers, which was told from the United States soldiers perspective. Eastwood’s vision from an adapted script by Iris Yamashita that is based on Picture Letters from Commander in Chief by Japanese General General Tadamichi Kuribayashi- is a deeply empathetic depiction of the Japanese experience that is channeled through General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and the soldiers in his infantry during the final days of an inevitable battle they knew they were going to lose and die in honor instead of surrender. Too often Japanese soldiers in WW2 movies are seen as one-dimensional and are even depicted with blatant racism, but with rich humanism and subtext about dignity, as well as some of the minute by minute details of war on the Japanese Homefront are quite harrowing and elaborate.
Eastwood unfurls the experience about a group of Japanese soldiers during the battle of Iwo Jima, as they prepare and ultimately meet their inevitable demise during the climactic battle. With some compelling flashbacks and deep characterizations, they soon find themselves forced to make a choice between bravery or surrender–continuing to fight an unmatched battle against the American soldiers or stand with their National identity. Watanabe is of course the center of the story, while his other soldiers still offer some pathos and conflicted decisions. Not only are all the soldiers greatly established with great empathy, but the film is a prudent reflection of war and the suffering spirit that goes into it. Tom Sterns cinematography of washed out, desaturated colors also brings an artful vividness to the film. Easily one of the greatest war films ever made.
10. The Lives of Others (d. Florian Henckel von Donnersmack)
Both personal and deeply humane, the 2006 German masterpiece The Lives of Others–the outstanding debut by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmack whose chronicle about the East German government’s surveillance and abuse of power in spying on their citizen’s is deeply complex and gripping.
Playing homage to George Orwell, with the setting of 1984 as the Statsi appeared to e at the peak their power, a bureaucratic loyalist named Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) decides to scope out the cities German most prolific writers in fears of their dissenting opinions with the power of their pen. Further upon surveillance, he discovers that the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) believes in a socialists society, but prefers democratic socialism instead of an authoritarian state that abuses its power. Wisler ends up finding himself drawn into the domestic lifestyle of George and his relationship with a beautifully talented actress Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck. Things become more revealing once Wisler discovers that his superior–culture minister Hempft (Thomas Thieme)–has sexual urges towards Christia and that he is using the surveillance so he can have alone time with Christa. With moral ambiguities and the uncertainty of the Satsi and the undemocratic direction that are enabling for the Unitary Marxist-Leninist One-Party Socialist Republic of East Germany. Von Donnnermark’s exploration of Cold War East Germany is quite chilling and stirring, but as things get morally complex and dark von Donnersmark is able to bring enough humor and heart to the material to make it a highly involving masterwork.
One comes away from the film with a profound sense of how individuals sustain themselves when dragged down by tyranny and how one strives to maintain a sense of moral purpose and ethics with a society that is demoralized with authoritarianism that is on the brink of periodic change.
Runners-Up (In Alphabetical Order)
Apocalytpo (d. Mel Gibson)
As with Braveheart (1995) and The Passion of the Christ (2004), Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is a visionary and extremely well-directed film that merges period detail with spectacle and ultra-violence. Saga is about a young Mayan man named Jagaur Paw (Ramirez Amilcar) who lives in a jungle tribe with his pregnant wife and their young son. Their daily routines are shaken up once a group of Mayan band of outsiders attack the village, who slaughter many, and who capture the survivors to be slaughtered from the top of a pyramid from a Mayan sun god. Taking a page or two from The Naked Prey, Gibson’s vision is extraordinarily visceral. The filmmaking is grandiose with many first-rate set-pieces, expertly crafted sequences, and superb pacing that make the film a booming experience. What could have been a numbing experience is anything but. Done with conviction and passion, Gibson keeps us immersed with a bold and vivid vision that proves he’s a super filmmaker.n
Bubble (d. Steven Soderbergh)
Sadly, it’s almost like this film is non-existent for modern film buffs when discussing Soderbergh’s oeuvre, which is tragic because his 2006 Bubble remains an unusual framework in his filmography. Using all unprofessional actors, a more stripped down indie filmmaking style that still astonishes visually, Soderbergh was at a comfortable point in his career now that he can return back to his roots and experiment on a technical level. For its time, the marketing of the film was way ahead of its time as it was released theatrically, ON DVD, and On Demand the same day way back in 2006. Of course I saw it at the theater opening weekend, only to find myself buying the DVD on the way out of the theater. With breathtaking imagery with meticulous framing, Soderergh used Cinemascope lenses and cameras that brought out very impressive wide-shots. Centering on two workers at a doll factory: a young man in his 20s Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) and a middle aged woman Martha (Debie Doeereiner). Martha is a very lonely woman who finds satisfaction in having lunches with Kyle while they work. Martha’s routine is altered once Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) gets hired in their work force and begins to start flirting with Kyle which leads everyone down a tragedy as Martha watches Rose’s kids as Kyle and Rose go on a date. Hands down, this is one of Soderbergh’s most creative and visually pleasing films of his career. Soderbergh builds a fascinating world that feels very raw and natural, yet almost like a fever dream as well. Soderbergh uses surreal imagery of the dolls at the factory. Soderergh utilizes these aesthetics and symbolism to show just how hazy and hypnagogic life can really be. Bubble truly is an extraordinary feat that more film buffs need to watch.
Casino Royale (d. Martin Campbell)
The very y-first in the Eon Productions James Bond series, and the third screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel of, director Martin Campbell’s (GoldenEye) franchise reboot to the iconic James Bond franchise completely shook things up by casting a blonde James Bond with Daniel Craig, the film also neglected a lot of the gadgetry of the previous films, and made the heroine more complex and the material more engrossing and darker tone. The result? A very exuberant and stylish Bond movie that ranks up there with Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, Dr. No, and Skyfall among some of the greater Bond flicks. The film is about James Bond (Craig) who is given the license to kill to head to Madagasar, to track down Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a weapons arm dealer who supplies arms and money to terrorist’s. Quicks discovering that La Chiffre is raising most of money in a high-stakes poker game, MI6 (Judi Dench) send Bond to compete against him to stop the transfer of wealth from spreading to more deadly hands. Eva Green is wonderful as Bond’s love interest who brings one of the most complex and mature exchanges out of any of Bond’s love interests in previous Bond films. Martin Campbell who directed the the 1995 GoldenEye successfully displays his gifts for staging action with stellar set-pieces and a captivating narrative that keeps you captivated. This Bond film should never be missed.
Half Nelson (d. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden)
Despite its premise, that sounds like a Saturday Afternoon Special tale about a drug addict, high school teacher who builds a friendship with one of his students–who just happens to end up becoming a drug runner for her supplier that he disapproves–Half Nelson never dissolves into earnestness or sentimental trappings. It exists has a reflection of America’s socioeconomic structure and remains a super underworld of American urban dramas, a highly engaging, hidden realm how filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden reinvent the simple formula of a teacher or coach mentoring a troubled student. This time the student mentors the teacher. An unsentimental vision of privilege, class, and race, in which white people’s addiction feeds off the socio economics of drug dealing in poor areas, whatever to gain their habits as the environments suffer moral decay and eventually gentrification. this superlative film focuses on dialectics. “Half Nelson” that bolstered a career defining performance by Ryan Gosling as Dan, a passionate, caring, and isolated high school history teacher. But outside the classroom, he wrestles with a lot of internal pain and has a severe drug habit. Dan ends up building an unlikely friendship with one of his students Drey (Shareeka Epps). Together they both try to elevate each other from their lives going out of spiral. A humane and deeply empathetic study of addiction and friendship, “Half Nelson” is a gripping masterwork that demands to be celebrated more.
L’Enfant (d. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
A gripping and at times despairing and anxiety inducing experience, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s L’Enfant (The Child), is a powerful story about desperation and redemption. While the title could be an reference to an infant newborn baby that is sold and rebought by his selfish and immature brother, Bruno, the real enfant in the film is really Bruno because of how irresponsible and self-centered he is when it comes to living day by day which consists of petty street crime instead of fostering a career or trying to fine a sustainable job. While owning some debt to some street criminals, Bruno ends up selling his baby on the black market for a large sum of money behind his girlfriend’s and mother of the baby which leads to a clash between their relationship. Feeling crushed, Bruno ends up rebuying the baby back which puts him deeper in debt from the buyback and of course more circumstances arise. The Dardenne’s once again boasts their signature style of socialism realism, along with complex characterizations, and a nonjudgmental approach that is a parable that is rich in allegory. L’Enfant ranks up there with Rosetta, and The Kid with a Bike as being one of the most substantial films, and like those films the film is dramatically wrenching with astonishing filmmaking as a highlight of their career.
Old Joy (d. Kelly Reichardt)
A minimal and subtle study of loneliness, fading memories, and the longing to recapture the past, Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy is a deeply poetic and highly artful experience that deserves more attention. Reichard’t intimate yarn is about two childhood friends, Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Odam) who reunite for a hiking trip on a weekend in isolated Oregon. Ostensibly a snapshot post 9/11 America, in the midst of the corruption of the Bush era with many silent moments of Mark driving alone before the trip listening to Air America and other anti-establishment types reflect on the station of the union corresponds with he characters’ sadness and dissatisfaction as Reichardt’s camera observes these two men’s encounter certainly held more harmony of far happier times that have gone by. The film is a painfully affected depiction of the passage of time that remains universal today.
Honorable Mention (In Alphabetical Order)
An Inconvenient Truth (d. Davis Guggenheim)
Borat (d. Larry Charles)
Clean (d. Olivier Assayas)
Drawing Restraint 9 (d. Matthew Barney)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (d. Cristi Puiu)
The Descent (d. Neil Marshall)
Four (Ilya Khrjanovsky)
The Good Shepherd (d. Robert De Niro)
Hard Candy (d. David Slade)
Manderlay (d. Lars von Trier)
Miami Vice (d. Michel Mann)
Neil Young: Heart of Gold (Jonathan Demme)
Pan’s Labyrinth (d. Guillermo del Toro)
Perfume: The Story of fa Murderer Tom Tykwer
The Proposition (d. John Hillcoat)
The Queen (d. Stephen Frears)
Three Times (d. Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Volver (d. Pedro Alodover)
Defacto Film Awards 2006 Nominations and winners
Children of Men
Darren Aronofsky, The Fountain
Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette
Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men
✓ David Lynch, INLAND EMPIRE
Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Penelope Cruz, Volver
Kirsten Dunst, Marie Antoinette
✓ Laura Dern, INLAND EMPIRE
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Kate Winslet, Little Children
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
✓ Hugh Jackman, The Fountain
Peter O’Toole, Venus
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza, Babel
Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
✓ Rachel Weisz, The Fountain
Best Supporting Actor
Daniel Craig, Infamous
✓ Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson, The Departed
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
Best Original Screenplay
Babel – Guillermo Arriaga
✓ The Fountain – Darren Aronofsky
Letters from Iwo Jima – Iris Yamashita and Paul HaIris Yamashita and Paul Haggis
L’Enfant (The Child)–Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
The Lives of Others–Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Best Adapted Screenplay
Children of Men–Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby based on the book by P. D. James
The Departed – William Monahan based on the film Infernal Affairsdouble-dagger
✓ Little Children – Todd Field and Tom Perrotta based on the novel by Tom Perrotta
Marie Antoinette– Sofia Coppola based on Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
United 93–Paul Greengrass based on the 9/11 Commission Report
✓ An Inconvenient Truth – Davis Guggenheim
Iraq in Fragments – James Longley and John Sinno
Jesus Camp – Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
My Country, My Country – Laura Poitras and Jocelyn Glatzer
Neil Young: Heart of Gold–Neil Young
Apocalypto– Dean Semler
✓ Children of Men – Emmanuel Lubezki
The Fountain – Matthew Libatique
Marie Antoinette– Lance Acord
Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo Navarro
Babel – Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione
Children of Men – Alfonso Cuarón and Álex Rodríguez
The Departed – Thelma Schoonmakerdouble-dagger
✓ The Fountain– Jay Rabinowitz
United 93 – Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse
Best International Film
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Romania)
✓ The Lives of Others (Germany)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Spain)
Three Times (Taiwan)
Best Original Score
Babel – Gustavo Santaolalladouble-dagger
✓ The Fountain –Clint Mansell
Letters from Iwo Jima– Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
Little Children – Thomas Newman
Pan’s Labyrinth – Javier Navarrete