Monday, January 08, 2007

Top 10 Movies of 2006

By Graham H. Moes
Graybrook Film Reviewer

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 2006 reel world in rewind: Forget those fancy-pants critics with their foreign-language films you've never heard of. Enjoy the real top ten movies of the year as recommended for the rest of us by our resident film columnist Graham Moes.

Casino Royale — Best Bond movie in years? Try best action movie in years, period. Part of the recent movement to reinvent action-hero icons by visiting their roots, this rebirth of 007 took the rusty franchise off autopilot at long last in favor of an intelligent, character-driven story, a down-and-dirty execution, and action sequences more riveting than the last decade of 007 put together. Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Connery, and assuming this level of writing holds up, expect great things ahead for Her Majesty's secret service.

The Nativity Story — Not quite the transcendent work of devastating beauty The Passion of the Christ represented (nor the box office for that fact), writer Mike Rich's exhaustively researched framing of Mary and Joseph's struggle to fulfill their cosmic calling has a quiet strength that rises above director Catherine Hardwicke's uninspired direction and Keisha Castle-Hughes' lifeless portrayal of Mary for a deeply moving experience. Joseph's wonderfully fleshed-out story and brief scenes with shepherds and others in need of great joy are key elements that helped put the meaning back in those carols I, at least, had been taking for granted for years.

Apocalypto — They say great filmmakers can tell stories without a line of dialogue. If so, Mel Gibson may be the purest director working today. Mesmerizing from first frame to last, the Spartan-scripted Apocalypto — OK, it was a foreign-language film — is like nothing you've ever seen. And before it settles into a merely thrilling third-act homage to The Naked Prey, the ancient Mayan world Gibson hog-ties and drags us into is more horrifying, spectacular and exquisitely crafted than anything we're likely to find until his next crazy idea for a movie. And look for me first in line.

United 93 — It wasn't "too soon" for this film, though writer/director Paul Greengrass took some heat for tackling the story of the flight that fought back on Sept. 11 to saved untold lives. While at times too documentary to generate the kind of cathartic raw hatred we're still waiting to feel at the movies for those behind Sept. 11, Greengrass at least came closest to showing us the true face of the enemy. His chaotic directorial style fit the real-time narrative, and his casting of people actually involved in the events was an act of risky genius. Catch it on DVD now for some great insight from surviving relatives as they weigh in on the film.

World Trade Center — Oliver Stone delivered the year's Ground Zero-level story of Sept. 11, told from the perspective of Port Authority officers trapped in the rubble and those working to save them. Stone put aside his personal politics and penchant for kook-burger conspiracy theories long enough to prove he still knows how to make movies for the rest of us, and Nicholas Cage gave an Oscar-deserving performance made all the more impressive for the fact he does so mostly through voice and facial expression, trapped in the debris as his character is for most of the film. Far from the downer most expected, the triumphant "WTC" deserves a place of honor on every American's DVD shelf.

Cars — It wouldn't be the ol' Top 10 list without a Pixar film, this year a shiny but nostalgic take on American car culture of a bygone era. For anyone who's driven the lonely stretches of old Route 66 in recent years and experienced the bittersweet solitude of cruising the road time left behind, this movie is for you. And if you haven't, it's still for you. It also features a superior soundtrack and the voice of Paul Newman, proving a legend doesn't even need to be seen onscreen to steal scenes.

Stranger Than Fiction — Will Ferrell stretched his serious acting muscles and still managed to keep it funny in the only movie in recent memory to have film-theory wonks and average viewers alike actually debating the meaning of a mainstream movie. Great performances and the most original script of the year made for the perfect blend of art house "intelligent design" and popular accessibility.

Inside Man — I'm a sucker for a great caper film anytime, but Spike Lee's urban jack worked not only on a will they pull it off? level but also mounted a killer wait, what's really going on here?? suspense classic, surprise ending. Serve it all up with Denzel Washington and a side of Jody Foster and you've got a cinematic recipe for the year's other rare brain- and crowd-pleaser.

Nacho Libre — This monk's tale of a heavyweight friar moonlighting as a Mexican wrestler is the kind of movie you either love or hate. Having seen it thrice since it came out and laughed harder each time, apparently I love it. Brought to you by Jack Black and the team behind Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho may be even more of an acquired taste, and while not quite at the level of Napoleon, still featured some of the freshest and funniest comic bits in the movies this year. Nachoooooo!

Invincible — Sure it's a slick, factory-produced, "feel good" story from Disney. Who says the top 10 movies of the year have to be depressing, low-budget indies for the gay rodeo circuit? As the true(ish) story of an aging Average Joe who bootstrapped himself out of hard times and into the NFL, feel good comes with the territory, and God bless it, says I. Even so, the slice-of-life depiction of Philly in the depressed '70s and deeper themes of American resilience helped raise this one to the Rocky of recent football movies. (Now if only I'd made it to see the real Rocky last year. But I guess that's why they invented New Year's resolutions.)

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