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Top 10 Marcy Dermansky's Favorite Films of 2006

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Now that I have your attention, I feel the need to direct you to some of the quirkier great films of 2006.

1. Pan's Labyrinth

Not many major movies star bookish, little girls. Guillermo del Toro earned my respect and admiration straight away by creating the character of Ofelia. Adolescent actress Ivana Baquero might seem dreamy and fragile at first, but she admirably stands up to her fascist stepfather and an untrustworthy faun in this all-engrossing, adult fairytale. Pan's Labyrinth is a film to be watched over and over again.

2. Volver

Spanish master Pedro Almodovar reminds us again of his potency as a filmmaker with the sprawling, marvelous melodrama Volver, the moving tale--funny and tragic and even surreal--of three generations of women. I hadn't been much of a Penelope Cruz fan prior to this film, but her gutsy performance as Raimunda forever changed that.

3. Lemming

What would you do if Charlotte Rampling came into your home and blew her brains out in the spare bedroom? It's a conundrum worthy of a movie. The seemingly happily married couple entrenched in the suburbs deal with the aftermath. French actress Charlotte Gainsburg literally transforms. Obscure rodents plug the pipes. French filmmaker Dominick Moll's Lemming was the most overlooked film of 2006.

4. Water

Deepa Metha's Water, the third part of the director's feminist trilogy, is gorgeous to look at, tells a moving story, and perhaps most importantly, opens your eyes to a shocking system of injustice: the inhumane treatment of widows in India. Much like Peter Mullins's The Magdalene Sisters, Water is disturbing stuff. Lisa Ray, the world's most famous model, is positively luminous as a young widow who dares to dream of a better life.

5. The Secret Life of Words

With the right role, a morose Sarah Polley performance is a particular joy to watch. This is the case in Isabel Coixet's The Secret Life of Words. The unlikely romance between a deaf nurse (Polley) with a horrific past and a blinded oil worker (Tim Robbins) is an improbable success. Their give and take is just right. The film is set in the utterly foreign world of a shut-down oil rig, a small island in the midst of an angry ocean, replete with a resident wandering duck and a gourmet chef.

6. The Children of Men

How did this $72 million dollar sci-fi thriller make it onto my top ten? Well, Children of Men is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and many of the expert touches that made Y Tu Mama Tambiem so wonderful are all back again. The end of the world is nigh because women can't have children, but the film's anti-hero--in the marvelous form of Clive Owen--cracks rueful jokes, injures his foot, and overcomes incredible obstacles to deliver his charge to safety.
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7. Family Law

Part of a loosely connected "fatherhood trilogy," Daniel Burman's deceptively simple film Family Law takes on universal themes: a young Jewish man (the appealing Daniel Hendler) struggles with the constructs of marriage, fatherhood, and his relationship to his own father. Watching Burman's meditation on life, death, and family makes you want to reach out to your own parents, your spouse, everyone who is sure to die. Family Law is a miracle of understated empathy.

8. Half Nelson

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's Half Nelson turns a genre upside down: the free-thinking inner-city junior high school teacher is also a crack addict. Ryan Gosling's performance cracks and pops, but perhaps even more exciting is the keenly observant Shareeka Epps, as a vulnerable teen in his path. The unabashedly liberal drama addresses troubled times in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way.

9. The Queen

Who knew a biopic about the living Queen of England could be the equivalent of cinematic candy? In the title role, Helen Mirren is good enough to make you weep for royalty, but so is the entire supporting cast. Stephen Frear's insight into the contemporary political world is resounding.
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10. The Dead Girl

It's often done in fiction: interwoven short stories are published together in a single collection for extra resonance. In Karen Moncrief's second The Dead Girl, the technique seems brand new. Five short films, all of them strong pieces of filmmaking on their own right, focus on a different aspect of the death of a young woman: the dead girl's final moments, the mother, the woman who discovers her body, and so on. There are many notable performances from the ensemble cast, including Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Brittany Murphy, Kerry Washington and Rose Byrne.

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