I'll spare you the usual dross about what a bad year it was for movies--every year is a good year if you know where to look. So without further ado, here's what I found worthwhile. Documentaries get their own list this year, and we have the top ten worst movies of 2006, too.
1. Inland Empire
David Lynch's three-hour long trip to the outer reaches of cinema, shot on digital video and self-distributed, is his most sublime plumbing of the collective unconscious yet. As the "woman in trouble," Laura Dern gives the most daring performance of 2006. Impossible to contain in words, Inland Empire has nonetheless spawned some of the best film writing of the year--and we've barely begun to scratch the surface. Endlessly fascinating, wickedly funny, and full of rewards, it's as close to cinematic bliss as you'll get without transcendental meditation.
2. The Queen
Helen Mirren is getting all the press for her superb performance as QEII, but that performance would not have been possible without Stephen Frears' sophisticated direction, the outstanding cast (Michael Sheen, Sylvia Sims, James Cromwell), and Peter Morgan's brilliant script. At once historically specific and archetypal, The Queen tells of the week following Diana's death to illustrate eternal truths about the burdens of power and the balancing of innovation and tradition. With a perfectly calibrated mix of ridicule and empathy, The Queen continues to reveal delightful new layers with every viewing.
3. Pan's Labyrinth
Old and new at once, Guillermo del Toro's darkly ambiguous fable about fauns and fascists flows over with bizarre images that I'll never get out of my head again. A film for the ages, as scary and beautiful as the world. With terrific performances by Maribel Verdu, Ivana Baquero, and Sergei Lopez.
Penelope Cruz ascends as a goddess of cinema in Pedro Almodovar's unbelievably smooth celebration of womanhood. Three generations of women--Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, and Yohana Cobo--feed, protect, and console each other while Almodovar dances between tragedy and comedy so elegantly that you hardly notice you're laughing through your tears. Volver brims with color and emotion.
What Apocalypto and The Bridge attempted to do for Thanatos, Shortbus does for Eros, and then some: John Cameron Mitchell is the first director to successfully integrate hardcore sex into a comedy of manners, set among the melancholy hipsters of post-9/11 New York City. Curiously, it's not the explicit sex that sticks in the mind but the selfless glow of the generous, joyful finale.
6. Children of Men
In Alfonso Cuaron's skilled hands, the most fully imagined dystopia since Blade Runner turns into a harrowing tour de force. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Claire-Hope Ashitey make it all way-too-credible, and like every good bad future, the implications for our present are real. See it once hiding behind your hands, see it again for Cuaron's breathtaking direction.
Matt Dillon portrays Charles Bukowski's alter ego in this deadpan literary adaptation/biopic about the hard-living writer, directed by Bent Hamer. A funny yet fierce movie about the reckless dedication to art. With Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, and Adrienne Shelly in her last role.
The lives of a perfect couple are thrown into chaos when the boss's bitter wife comes over for dinner. Dominik Moll's domestic horror film gets more surprising and surreal as it goes along--and that's all I'm going to say. With Charlotte Gainsbourg and Charlotte Rampling.
Perhaps the freshest take on the genre since Reservoir Dogs, first-time director Rian Johnson sets a hard-boiled thriller in the dappled light of a Southern California high school... and ends up telling the truth about being a teenager.
Talk about backlash. Sacha Baron Cohen may be paying the price for his dangerously subversive comic creation in lawyer's fees, but Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan still stands as the flat-out funniest and most revealing satire of the year.
Agree? Disagree? Post your own top ten films of 2006 in the forum!