When it comes to movies (and television, too, come to think of it), 2006 was a year of heroes — heroes of varying shapes, sizes and abilities. From the erect (“X-Men 3: The Last Stand”) to the flaccid (“Superman Returns”), from the towering (“United 93”) to the crumbling (“World Trade Center”), from the omnipotent (“The Departed”) to the multilingual (“Babel”) to the merely magnetic (D. Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”), the Hollywood heavyweights and fledgling magicians who dared save the indie film industry this past year met their challenge with neither a Hobbit nor a gay cowboy among ’em.
“The Pirates of the Caribbean” won the weightiest treasure — box office success — while perhaps “Queen” of England Helen Mirren and “King of Scotland” Forrest Whitaker will wear crowns cast from the next best thing, Oscar gold. But that’s not to say the rest of us walk away empty-handed. Invaluable lessons learned this year include how to solve ancient mysteries (“The DaVinci Code”), how to make a comeback (“Rocky Balboa”) and — get this! — how to see the same thing from two different perspectives (Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers”).
The Best: What follows is an absolutely comprehensive list of all worthwhile films of 2006. Too busy for the whole picture? Just check out pirated vignettes from YouTube.
10. Todd Field, “Little Children”:
Infidelity and pedophilia shake up suburbia in this well-acted, well-written drama.
9. Richard Eyre, “Notes on a Scandal”:
Description same as #10, except change “suburbia” to “London.”
8. Martin Campbell, “Casino Royale”:
Daniel Craig’s sun-kissed locks topped a much needed head-to-toe makeover for 007.
7. Douglas McGrath, “Infamous”:
Philip Seymour Who?
6. David Frankel, “The Devil Wears Prada”:
It’s no secret that Meryl Streep can do anything, and “enviably icy” is no exception. The fun lies in watching her do it with perfect wardrobe, hairdo and co-stars.
5. Robert DeNiro, “The Good Shepherd”:
Harvard alum Matt Damon expertly underplays a Yale-educated CIA pioneer in this cryptic, methodical, mind-blowing masterpiece.
4. Gabriele Muccino, “The Pursuit of Happyness”:
If a third of the way through, Will Smith had burst into a haunting, soul-shaking rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” no one would have minded. His heartfelt portrayal of a hard-working dad, complemented by son Jaden’s impressive timing, rivals the emotional punch of Jennifer Hudson’s show-stopping ballad in “Dreamgirls.”
3. Richard LaGravenese, “Freedom Writers”:
Even if it didn’t quite make the Dec. 31 deadline, this inspiring, real-life, svelte-mentor-helps-poor-minority-students story belongs in a place other than the January-release ghetto. Hillary Swank has nothing to prove, but she proves it anyway — that when there’s a strong, determined female lead to be played, she’s the one to do it.
2. Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”:
Scorsese should stick to guns. And by guns, I mean the acting muscle that Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and (surprise! surprise!) Mark Wahlberg bring to this mob drama, not to mention the high-caliber script and agile cinematography that make “The Departed” an explosive bit of cinematic heaven.
1. Guillermo del Toro, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and Alfonso Cuaron, “Children of Men” (tie):
One is a Romantic fairy tale set in the recent past, the other a realist’s vision of the near future. Superbly directed by Spanish-speaking auteurs, both films depict miraculous births, bringing hope in the midst of pain and despair. With neither a wasted moment nor a spare detail, they recount stories of heroes who selflessly pay the ultimate price for the good of mankind.
Honorable Mention: Spike Lee’s “Inside Man,” Amanda Bynes in “She’s The Man” and “V for Vendetta” guided us through the wasteland of early spring, while the late Robert Altman lived to see his last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” receive a warm summer welcome.
Big Disappointments: Christopher Guest’s mediocre awards-show satire “For Your Consideration,” the sloppy murder mystery “The Black Dahlia” and that mothafuckin’ letdown “Snakes on a Plane” all failed to live up to their, um, potential.
Most overrated: For vanilla-flavored trailer trash, “Little Miss Sunshine” has had its self-esteem artificially inflated one too many times. “Borat” raked in some laughs, maybe even exposed a few racists, but why so much fuss about foreign-accented penis jokes? Thankfully, the Golden Globes didn’t make the mistake of awarding statues to these overblown pseudo-indies.