2006 Ten Best Movies

prariehome2Looking back through the haze of memory at the films of 2006, one finds…all right, 2006 just happened, it seems like an eye-blink ago, I have little perspective on it. But I should explain that my #1 choice was at the top of my list from the moment it opened in May of that year, not a sentimental pick because its director died later in the season and the movie suddenly felt like even more of a valedictory message than it already did. A Prairie Home Companion is just as much a communal Robert Altman movie as Nashville or Short Cuts, except that it’s wiser and more generous than those movies. It looks like Altman’s version of utopia, in fact, or as close as this rough imperfect existence gets.

“The death of an old man is not a tragedy,” says a character in A Prairie Home Companion, as though commenting on the amazingly controlled view of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a spellbinding look at the journey of an elderly patient through endless stages of a very long night in health care. And death is the main character in United 93, which – against all the odds – turned out to be a lucid, gut-wrenching look at September 11, 2001, all the more so for its avoidance of conventional A-B-C- storytelling and easy melodrama.

The ten best of 2006:

1. A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman)

2. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu)

3. United 93 (Paul Greengrass)

4. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck)

5. Flags of Our Fathers (Clint Eastwood)

6. Dans Paris (Christophe Honore)

7. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach)

8. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)

9. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)

10. The Puffy Chair (Jay Duplass)

Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima also came out that year, but Flags is the more original and radical film. In the runners-up, I like the chances taken in different ways by David Lynch’s Inland Empire, Rian Johnson’s Brick, and Jia Zhang-ke’s Still Life. The second-funniest movie of the year (kudos to Borat) was Craig Chester’s totally unexpected gay farce, Adam & Steve; the year also brought the best Bond movie in ages, Casino Royale, and the giddy run of Children of Men. Underrated: Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, a very interesting exercise in nearly abstract film style, and the much-derided use of narration in Little Children, which I thought was just exactly right, and sort of the point.