2006 was a year of sober film remembrances -- for example, in the movies by Paul Greengrass ("United 93") and Oliver Stone ("World Trade Center") that looked back with sadness and anger at the 9/11 attack/disaster.
It was a year also of technical marvels. How about those great computerized penguins in "Happy Feet"? Or the gorgeous fantasy-scapes of "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Promise"?
There were partings and sad reveries. We lost Robert Altman, our greatest, crankiest film maverick and the master of the ensemble movie, but not before he gave us one last glorious present, "A Prairie Home Companion."
But there were renewals too: of genre rebounds in musicals ("Dreamgirls"), westerns (Australia's "The Proposition), film noir ("The Departed") and comedy ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Borat").
Even Bond -- James Bond -- got a new face and a major revival.
If there was one theme that ran through many of 2006's best movies, it was internationalism, breaking through barriers and finding universal bonds. That was the grand intertwining story subject of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel" and the undercurrent of Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language WW II epic "Letters From Iwo Jima."
Movies, of course, can't change the world -- not even Al Gore's surprise hit documentary on the dangers of global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth." But they can help us see the world. After I caught "Shut Up & Sing" -- a clear-eyed look at "unofficial" censorship -- I resolved to go out and buy a Dixie Chicks CD. And I will, soon.
1-2. (Tie) "Flags of Our Fathers" (U.S.; Clint Eastwood).
"Letters From Iwo Jima" (U.S.; Clint Eastwood)
Eastwood's double-sided look at the battle of Iwo Jima, told from the American side ("Flags") and the Japanese (the terrifying "Letters"). An amazing accomplishment, ambitious and moving.
3. "A Prairie Home Companion" (U.S.; Robert Altman). Altman and Garrison Keillor look at death and laugh at it. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones -- all the cast really -- are fabulous. But what could we expect? Goodbye, Bob.
4. "The Departed" (U.S.; Martin Scorsese). Nobody is better at evoking mean streets and real gangsters than Scorsese, and this is a great noir (or neo-noir). With Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as two spies burrowing into the worlds of crooks and cops from opposite sides.
5. "Pan's Labyrinth" (Spain; Guillermo Del Toro). An instant classic. Horror expert Del Toro shows us the beasts inside -- a little girl's dream underworld -- and the beasts outside, the fascists who blight her country and family. With Sergi Lopez, a great movie villain as the evil stepfather.
6. "Happy Feet" (Australia/U.S.; George Miller). A major technical leap in computer graphics, this is George Miller's intoxicating musical-fantasy take on penguins. They sing! They dance! They smooch! They may even slip in a message about conservation! Hey, who cares?
7. "Babel" (U.S./Mexico; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu). Inarritu's and writer Guillermo Arriaga's most complex work. The theme of world and personal disunity gets its most intense treatment here.
8. "Army of Shadows" (France; Jean-Pierre Melville). Melville's great 1969 film on the WW II French Resistance, adapted from Joseph Kessel's novel, finally got a U.S. release.
9. "The Queen" (U.K; Stephen Frears). Judi Dench gave the year's best actress performance in "Notes on a Scandal" (see below), but Helen Mirren gave the most treasured in this sympathetic portrait of Queen Elizabeth, after Diana's death.
10. "Casino Royale" (U.S./U.K./Germany/Czech Republic; Martin Campbell). Bond resurgent. I've always been a Sean Connery loyalist, but the new guy, Daniel Craig, had me convinced in the first 10 minutes.
11-12. (Tie) "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" (China/Japan; Zhang Yimou).
"Curse of the Golden Flower" (China; Zhang Yimou). The two sides of Zhang Yimou: ultra-realism and ultrafantasy adventure/romance.
13. "49 Up" (U.K.; Michael Apted). A matchless human document continues.
14. "Three Times" (Taiwan; Hou Hsiao Hsien). A romance trilogy from one of the world's best, but neglected, film artists.
15. "Notes on a Scandal" (U.K.; Richard Eyre). Movie/stage acting doesn't get any better than the work of Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy here.
16. "L'Enfant" (Belgium; Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne). Nobody conveys reality with more wounding truth than the Dardennes -- here showing us the baby trade and a shattered young street couple.
17. "The Promise" (China; Chen Kaige). Like his compatriot Zhang, Chen has a ball with technology and grand action.
18. "The Pursuit of Happyness" (U.S.; Gabriele Muccino). An Italian director (Muccino) and an American writer (Steve Conrad) show us a dad (Will Smith) struggling for the top.
19. "Little Miss Sunshine" (U.S.; Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris). A dysfunctional family heads to a child beauty contest. Laugh-out-loud comedy.
20. "World Trade Center" (U.S.; Oliver Stone). "United 93" seemed more real; this, more terrifying and sad.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times