Media Matters Reviewers 2006 Picks

Favorite Films of 2006

As usual, the Media Matters reviewers weigh in with their favorite films of last year, knowing that these are not necessarily Oscar contenders—which is in keeping with the purposes of Third Way Café anyway: to offer a little different voice and view.

Here, without editing, are all five reviewers’ picks, with top film first. The reviewers are listed in order of the week they usually review each month. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite film of 2006 in the Media Poll.

Jerry’s list.

  1.  Little Miss Sunshine:  It is rare to have something so humorous make such strong statements about the ideas of beauty and the push to make young girls into adults.
  2. An Inconvenient Truth:  The idea that a Powerpoint could be turned into a film that keeps my attention is amazing, but what really gets it on my list is the importance of the subject. Other films on the list may be quality entertainment, but not one I will think about so often.
  3. The Queen:  Superb acting and a fascinating story of the clash between duty and media-generated-personas may be the debate we all should be having.
  4. Science of Sleep:  When I started dreaming in Photoshop layers I knew that one day someone would capture on film something about the constructed nature of dreams. The Science of Sleep does all that along while being a whimsical romance.
  5. Children of Men:  Action, heavy philosophical questions about humanity and hope, interesting relationships and fascinating visual interpretation put this one on my list.

Tom’s list.

  1. Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno): A Mexican/Spanish film about a young girl who encounters a fantasy world that contrasts with the horrifying reality of persecution from her fascist stepfather in post-civil war . As she undergoes three tests to prove she is a long-lost princess, we see that, despite the violence and brutality that surround her, “innocence has a power that evil cannot imagine.” A dark, but uplifting fairy tale that is definitely not for children.
  2. The Queen: An intriguing, behind-the-scenes look at the British monarchy’s response to Princess Diana’s death and the relationship between the tradition-bound queen and the new modernist prime minister who seeks to “save these people from themselves.”
  3. Akeelah and the Bee: An inspiring film of hope, a “Rocky for the mind” about a National Spelling Bee contestant from south-central Los Angeles . The film challenges each of us to be our best and to bring out the best in others.
  4. The Illusionist: A powerful story that combines political machinations, romance, turn-of-the-century beauty and the supernatural to illustrate how our lives can be shaped by the way we choose to perceive the world around us. It helps us realize the thin boundary that exists between illusion and reality, love and obsession, public service and self-interest, life and death .
  5. Stranger Than Fiction: The year’s funniest comedy in which an IRS agent hears his life narrated “accurately and with a better vocabulary” by a female novelist. Facing his imminent death, he strides toward his dreams anyway, discovering that sometimes one must lose oneself to find one’s true purpose.

Michelle’s list.

  1. Casino Royale: Old school story with a brand-new face exchanges gadgets for ingenuity and puts the human being back in James Bond.
  2. Blood Diamond: Leonardo DiCaprio toes the line between corruption and compassion in a politically conscious thriller about the victims of a poorly regulated diamond trade.
  3. Children of Men: In a future where there have been no human births for 18 years, a miraculous pregnancy delivers a new-found appreciation for the children’s voices in our world.
  4. Thank You for Smoking: Aaron Eckhart is a charming, persuasive lobbyist for Big Tobacco who pulls off the ultimate hat trick–getting the audience on his side.
  5. Superman Returns: Lackluster supporting cast choices aside, Bryan Singer brings the Man of Steel into 2006 with a richly poignant take on Superman as the ultimate immigrant.

Note: Even though I haven’t seen them yet, I look forward to seeing Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen, and many of the other acclaimed films of 2006. 

Steve’s list.

  1. Why We Fight: (Although released in 2006 it was made in 2004 and is not eligible for nomination in any Academy category). This documentary explores the complex reasons uses military force. Why We Fight takes a balanced approach, questioning both present and past administration’s use of military power. In the end the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions. Nonetheless, the message is clear that in recent years has been driven to war by its business interests. The cry for war is less about freedom and more about free markets, less about extending democracy and more about expanding capitalism, less about liberating people and more about securing the free flow of oil.
  2. Casino Royal: Hands down this is the best Bond movie ever. It exposes the other Bond films as cheap imposters, while taking its rightful place as the genuine article. In Casino Royal Bond reveals a vulnerable, human side. He doesn’t rely on gizmos and gadgets. His superior intellect, physical prowess and audacious daring, make him the best bad guy fighting machine ever.
  3. An Inconvenient Truth: May be the most important film to be released this decade. It is also one of the best reviewed and most talked about films of the year. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert offers this about An Inconvenient Truth, “In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film.” Surprisingly, he is referring to a documentary about global warming starring former Vice President Al Gore. It is fascinating while educating the viewer about the extent and possible causes of climate change. Gore has raised the volume on the political debate about global warming. A must see.
  4. Pan’s Labyrinth:  Is one of the most original movies to come along since Sixth Sense garnered six Academy awards in 1999. Set in in 1944 during a period of civil war, the director skillfully weaves a child’s fantasy and the drama of a dark reality into a facinating tale that keeps the audience on edge. I liked this film very much but caution against children seeing it because of its brutality which earned it an R rating. Some in the audience I saw it with were surprised by the subtitles. It is in Spanish and is likely to be nominated for an Academy Award as the “Best Foreign Language Film.”
  5. The Nativity Story: The film is exceptionally accurate to the Biblical account and archeological record of Palestine 2000 years ago. Like Miracle on 34th Street, this could become a favorite holiday film, especially in the Christian community. It is heart warming without being overly sentimental.

Gordon’s list.

  1. Letters from Iwo Jima : An exploration of the famous World War II battle from the Japanese point of view (and in Japanese), this powerful film shows that war affects human beings who live rich, complex lives. It delivers an antiwar message without any overt preaching. The acting and photography match perfectly the sense of impending doom and people’s longing for life.
  2. United 93: This gut-wrenching film captures the drama of the one hijacked commercial airliner on 9/11 that did not reach its intended target. It tells this story clearly, without the intrusion of ideology or sentiment and engages the universal themes of mortality, courage and religious belief.
  3. Pan’s Labyrinth: Set in in 1944, this beguiling Spanish-language film blends magic and cruel reality as a young girl faces tests from a faun and seeks escape from her fascist stepfather. It helps us see both the surreal horror of violence and the power of imagination. Only the latter brings true hope.
  4. The Queen: This funny yet poignant film about ’s Queen Elizabeth II around the time of Princess Diana’s death in 1997 includes an outstanding performance by Helen Mirren in the title role. The mix of actual events and imagined dialogue among the royal family shows the strain of such a public and symbolic role. The film artfully critiques and humanizes the monarchy.
  5. Children of Men: Set in 2027 in a world with no children under 18, this fast-paced film feels contemporary, with its pervading anxiety, the government’s rounding up of outsiders and sudden bomb blasts on the street. The artful construction of scenes and the narrative’s forward movement reach a dynamic point where fear and violence are confronted by innocence and hope. The film’s Christian themes are less overt than the book’s, adding to its effect.