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10 films that stood out in 2006
BY Steven D. Greydanus
It was a grim year at the movies —
literally. My 10 favorite films of the year just past include three WWII
movies, a 9/11 movie, two movies about babies endangered by callow young men
and a film about a dying alcoholic.
Not that there weren’t inspirational
bright spots. Consider Akeelah and the Bee, Lassie,
Palfrey at the Claremont. Or consider some of the runners-up: The
Nativity Story; Pirates of the Caribbean:
Man’s Chest; Cars; We
Are Marshall. (Yes, that last starts out with a plane crash that
kills the whole football team, but it gets better. Trust me.)
For more on the movie year 2006, see
AKEELAH AND THE BEE A smart,
inspiring, socially aware family film about a gifted young black girl growing
up in South Central LA, where school smarts are both ridiculed and punished. Akeelah
is wise about the pressures and obstacles faced by promising young
children like Akeelah — and about the rewards and benefits of resisting and
making good on one’s potential. Some mild profanity and a couple
of crass words; some tense family and social content. Appropriate for older
FATELESS Hungarian Holocaust film whose protagonist, a 14-year-old
Jewish boy from Budapest, is sent to the Buchenwald camp. Though full of
atrocity and horror, Fateless suggests that, even in a concentration camp, life
eventually becomes a form of ordinary routine, one that is not without its
small pleasures — which may be even more disturbing than imagining it as hell. Disturbing Holocaust imagery including nudity; some
obscene and crude language. Subtitled. Mature viewing.
LASSIE This lovely, literate new adaptation is a rare
family film that knows that kids live in a grown-up world — that they are not
isolated from such realities as unemployment or war, and can relate to the
problems of adult characters as well as those of children and animals. When
Lassie’s proud but poor Yorkshire owners must sell her, it’s not just young
Joe’s sorrow that matters, but also his parents’ — and not only at losing the
dog, but at not being able to give their son the one thing he wants more than
anything. Some depictions of animal
cruelty; a brief scene of menace and violence; a scene involving a bodily
function. Probably appropriate for kids.
L’ENFANT (THE CHILD) From the
Belgian brothers Dardenne (The Son), whose uncompromising moral vision is never
overtly religious but shot through with Christian undercurrents, The Child
is an unnerving examination of arrested moral and psychological development.
Set against a backdrop of European social decay, the film examines a callow
street kid named Bruno whose girlfriend bears his child. Bruno isn’t so much
unwilling to be a father as utterly without a clue what a father is, and his
journey is horrifying — but not without hope of possible redemption. Some harsh language; criminal milieu; an infant in
disturbing danger. Subtitled. Mature viewing.
MRS. PALFREY AT
THE CLAREMONT An utterly
charming, droll tale of an unlikely friendship between an elderly widow
(delightful Dame Joan Plowright) and a charming young slacker (Rupert Friend).
Dan Ireland’s indie comedy is sensitive to the plight of the elderly and
neglected, yet suggests that the elderly have as much to offer the young as to
gain from them. You’ll be glad you watched it. Mild
profanity and crude language, a couple of brief bedroom scenes (no nudity)
involving nonmarital relations.
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA The second of Clint Eastwood’s two lopsided Iwo
Jima companion films is by far the better, a deeply sympathetic but far from
uncritical exploration of the Japanese side of the Pacific battle. The film
balances earnest patriotism with blind anti-American prejudice, self-sacrificial
valor with misguided, suicidal fatalism. Both sides are capable of both noble
and ignoble actions. Intense,
graphic battlefield violence; recurring honor suicides; some objectionable
language. Subtitled. Mature viewing.
TSOTSI When a young South African thug discovers a
defenseless baby in the back of a stolen car, it’s easy to imagine him doing
something dreadful — and in a way he does. Tsotsi’s trial-and-error discoveries
about responsibility and consequences include nearly unwatchable moments, but
the film builds to a final shot of transcendent rightness. Harsh criminal milieu including brutal violence and
deadly menace; obscene and profane language; disturbing treatment of an infant;
discreet depictions of breastfeeding. Partially subtitled. Caution: mature
viewing; use discretion.
— THE FINAL DAYS A riveting
portrait of a bright, idealistic young German college student (Julia Jentsch)
questioned by a canny Nazi interrogator about her involvement in an anti-Nazi
underground resistance movement. Throughout her ordeal, Sophie’s Christian
faith remains the cornerstone of her critique of Nazi ideology and a taproot of
her moral strength. Much suspense
and intimidation; a sequence of disturbing but implicit violence. Subtitled.
Teens and up.
UNITED 93 Not to be confused with the TV movie “Flight 93”
from the A&E network, United 93 is a work of extraordinary restraint and
integrity — low-key, even-handed, unflinching, deeply persuasive. Shrewdly
focusing on the one front on that day of infamy where the terrorists were dealt
a decisive defeat, the film resists every temptation to succumb to one agenda
or another, to gloss over or punch up any of the possible hot potatoes. Restrained depictions of strong violence; some profane
language and obscenity; realistic depiction of intense terrorist menace. Teens
THE DEATH OF MR.
LAZARESCU “Who is my neighbor?”
This stark, devastating film from Romanian director Cristi Puiu tells the story
of a crusty old drunk who may or may not be dying, and how various people from
his neighbors to various medical professionals respond to his plight. Obscene and crass language; medical situations including
vomiting and incontinence; medical nudity. Subtitled. Mature viewing.
Steven D. Greydanus is editor and
chief critic of DecentFilms.com.