7
Dec
2009
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2006
Jordan
With the year winding down, my movie quest through the last decade must draw to a conclusion. At this point, my lists are all completed (with the exception of 2009, which I am still compiling over the next few weeks) and what is left is the actual writing of each. So, without further ado, here are my top ten of 2006, with a little summary of each:

10. The Queen- The death of Princess Diana has become one of the largest historical moments in our lifetime (especially if you ask any of the number of author's or documentarians who have profited off her demise). Stephen Frear's film focuses on how Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren, in an Oscar-winning role) dealt with that death, and more importantly, how she dealt with the public perception of her own reaction. Assuming it is best to hide her grief, Queen Elizabeth and her family remain sequestered in Balmoral, yet newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) struggles to convince her that her people need her presence. The ensuing tug of war is played out with all of the subtlety one would expect of British Royalty, and the film's most important and meaningful moments are those in which Elizabeth feels the world changing around her, and silently begins to adjust to a new era. Filled with dry wit and a surprising amount of compassion, The Queen exists both as a study on one woman and on the way that times change and eras end, whether or not we want them to.

9. Casino Royale- Forty years and 21 movies in, the James Bond franchise decided to reboot, and in the process created the freshest, fastest, most exciting installment in years. Newly recruited 007 (Daniel Craig) is dispatched to prevent Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning a high stakes poker game that would get him out of debt with some of the world's most nefarious terrorist organizations. Along for the ride are Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a British accountant with a dark past, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an ally within the CIA, and Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Gianini) one of Bond's contacts. Craig infuses his Bond with a roguish sensibility and a penchant for overt violence, making him a large step apart from previous portrayals, but beneath the surface, the James Bond he will become lies awaiting to emerge. Thoughtful, tense, funny, and action packed, Casino Royale put the franchise's best foot forward to welcome Daniel Craig aboard.

8. The Devil and Daniel Johnston-Director Jeff Feuerzeig uses an extraordinary amount of footage recorded by Johnston himself and new interviews with those who know him to plumb the depths of the tortured soul at this documentary's center. Daniel Johnston is a manic depressive whose songwriting chops are far too often outweighed by periods of madness, violence, and institutionalization. As the film tracks his ascent in the Texas music world, his brief brush with fame, and his inevitable fall from grace, it provides an excellent mixture of the artist's own views on his art, his loves, his life and the world at large with the crushing realities that he must do battle with on a daily basis to simply stay alive, much less to create the music that he does.

7. The Prestige-Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) begin their careers as assistant's working for an expert magician, each trying to one up the other to prove himself the better magic man. As the years progress their rivalry becomes more bitter, obsessive, and dangerous as each man learns exactly how much he will have to sacrifice in order to be the best possible magician. Directed by Christopher Nolan (who co-wrote the script with his brother Johnathan), and co-starring Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, and David Bowie, The Prestige is complex, probing, and incredibly complex, but comes together perfectly in its examination of how far obsession can drive us, and what we are willing to give up to get what we desire.

6. Little Miss Sunshine- When little Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) gets into the finals of a beauty pageant, her family is determined to get her there and give her a chance to make her dreams comes true. Setting off in an old VW bus that barely runs, the family encounters many obstacles, including each other, as they race to get to California. Along for the ride are Olive's father Richard (Greg Kinnear), a failed motivational speaker who is convinced he can make it to the top by following his own advice, her grandfather Edwin (Alan Arkin, who won Best Supporting Actor for the role), a heroin addicted misanthrope, her brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) who has taken a Nietzsche inspired vow of silence, her uncle Frank (Steve Carell), a suicidal gay academic whose pretensions match his cynicism, and her mother Sheryl (Toni Collette) who is just struggling to hold her family together. As broadly funny as it is deeply introspective, Little Miss Sunshine presents us with a dysfunctional family of fully formed characters, and asks us to open ourselves up enough to love each of them for who they are.

5. The Departed- Martin Scorsese finally scored his long deserved Best Director Oscar for helming this twisty crime thriller which also picked up awards for Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is placed undercover by his superiors at the Massachusetts State Police (a hilarious Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen). While he aims to infiltrate the organization of crime magnate Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) has been sent in undercover by Costello to keep an eye on things within the State Police. Violence and bloodshed ensue when both sides discover there are moles in their midst, and a bevy of peerless actors imbue the film with a sense of desperation and gravity that keep it pulse pounding through its final frame.

4. Brick- Writer-Director Rian Johnson sets his hard boiled film noir in a high school, and rather than playing as a gimmick, this concept allows an examination of both the genre conventions of film noir, and the often harsh realities of life in high school. Brendan Fry (an excellent Joseph Gordon Levitt) sets out to assist his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), but when she winds up dead, he begins investigating throughout the rigid caste system of his high school to find answers, and extract vengeance where necessary. His quest puts him in the path of the stock noir characters, played out with excellence by an ensemble including Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, and Lukas Haas. Brick began as a high concept experiment, but manages to succeed both as a high school movie and a true noir film, putting its lead through the ringer as he deals with angst, melancholy, and a healthy dose of cynicism that would probably be considered just right for a teenager or, alternatively, for a detective in any number of noirs that came before.

3. The Lives of Others- Set in East Berlin just a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others follows the Stasi's cruel, extensive, and ultimately futile efforts to use surveillance to root out subversives. Gerd Weisler (Ulrich Muhe) is one of the top agents the Stasi has, and as such is assigned to keep tabs on a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend (Martina Gedeck). As he watches them, he becomes increasingly obsessed with their lives, and even attempts to conceal their anti-government opinions from his superiors. An examination of voyeurism, hypocrisy, the strength it takes to oppose authority and the subtleties of our behavior that can define us to the outside world, The Lives of Others functions both as a political commentary and as a film about the people we let ourselves be when we think no one is watching.

2. Pan's Labyrinth-Director Guillermo Del Toro is known for his inventive use of visuals and his penchant for puppetry over CGI, yet these skills have never seen better use than in this fairy tale of a young girl (Ivana Baquero) whose mother brings her to live with a her malicious new husband Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) after the Spanish Civil War. At once a gory, terrifying R-rated fairy tale and a look at the uses people have for fantasy and for history, Pan's Labyrinth is arresting, inventive, thought-provoking and more than a little scary.

1. Children of Men-In the near future, humanity has become inexplicably infertile. While the entire race awaits extinction, and has thus fallen prey to the worst aspects of human nature, Theo (Clive Owen) is recruited by his activist ex (Julianne Moore ) to transport a girl to the coast. Theo soon discovers his cargo (Clare Hope Ashitey) is miraculously pregnant, which makes her valuable to both terrorist cells, including one lead by Chiwitel Eijiofor, and to the government. Also starring Michael Caine, Children of Men is alternately pulse-pounding and peaceful, nihilistic and hopeful in its depiction of a society that has fallen apart after realizing it has nothing left to live for, and of one man who struggles to believe there may be a chance for something more.
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