Unfortunately, this year I did not see very many movies. Thus, actually compiling a legitimate list of what I thought were the 10 best movies this year would be stupid, since I only saw about 20 (well, 27 actually). So, in lieu of that, I'm simply going to tell you what 10 movies I saw this year I either liked the best, or had the most impact on me, or that I think are the most worthy, but in no particular order. Also partly because I'm just really lazy and don't feel like trying to rank them right now.
So, without further ado, here goes!
I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but I thought both Hostel and The Descent were top-notch horror standouts in a year glutted with generic, over-the-top gorefests. Yes, I know, both movies were horrifically violent and difficult to get through, but I also think they both really delivered the unsettling and long-lasting goods, which is more than I can say for all the other ones, even though I didn't see any of the other ones. Despite the violence in Hostel being indescribably stomach-turning and disturbing, in its defense it was delivered sparingly for maximum horrific effect. The film went the extra mile to establish legitimate characters that we can care about, and (at least in my interpretation) delivered a scathing social commentary on American apathy and cynicism.
In The Descent, one could argue that what it's really doing is using a cave metaphor for uncovering the id's buried resentments and hostilities, though I might be reading a bit too much into it. The monsters are some of the most terrifying I've ever seen, though I have to admit I think the film would have been better without them, or at least used with a little more discretion. The claustrophobia and being lost miles underground was terrifying enough, though without the monsters it would have been a completely different film. But very effective overall, and definitely makes me think twice about ever going spelunking again. Does for nature hikes what Jaws did for going to the ocean.
George W. Bush's America.
Though I can't honestly say I'd ever want to sit through it again, United 93 is probably the most moving and emotionally eviscerating film I've ever seen. I sat through at least half the movie literally sobbing and when it was over, all I wanted to do was call every person I've ever known in my entire life and tell them how much I loved them. It's not a film about heroism, and I think that turned a lot of people off, but it's more grounded in a reality about people just trying to save their own lives, and acting on their most base impulses in a desperate and unimaginable situation. People have often questioned why this movie was ever made, but if for no other reason, look at it as a reminder of how quickly and suddenly it can all be taken away. And goddamnit, fight for your right to live! (Metaphorically speaking.)
On the other hand, Why We Fight was of course blatantly political, but, I feel, very even-handed examination of America's love of guns and war. Far from being cynical, as some have charged, I think it's a desperate plea for Americans to wake up and take back their country and hold it accountable for the deep (and divisive) disconnect between what America claims to be, and what it is for the rest of the world.
They finally struck the right chord with me.
This year brought two dramas that I loved by directors whose previous films I've really hated: Michel Gondry's Science of Sleep and Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money. I'm not really sure what to say about either film, except that they were both unexpected delights to me. In the Science of Sleep, I was able, for the first time, to become emotionally involved in one of Gondry's films about the fantasies we create for ourselves (and the lies we tell ourselves) regarding love and heartbreak. In Friends with Money, there was just something about Jennifer Aniston's lost character, surrounded by all of her married, wealthy friends and still obsessing about an ex-boyfriend, while engaging in recreational drug use and casual sex that I somehow really related to.... It's a smart film that didn't pander or offer easy explanations or get too sentimental. Despite an incredibly sweet ending, but one that rang a little false, this movie has stuck to my ribs like a thick peanut butter sandwich.
Boys will be boys (and God knows I love the boys!).
There's something about boys just being silly boys, and riding their skateboards and getting in fights and chasing girls that I love. They're so vibrant, and any movie like this that's halfway intelligent (I'm also looking at you, Stand by Me) makes me really nostalgic for a childhood I never lived, but desperately wanted. I was never one of the boys, and never did "boyish" things like play sports or ride skateboards, and any male friendships I ever had were usually pretty short-lived. Mostly I liked to stay in and read and draw, but I wanted to be one of the boys, I just didn't know how. So when movies come along like Wassup Rockers and, I'm afraid, Jackass 2, I'm drawn to them like Paris Hilton to an oil heir. Flat out, Jackass is just the most I've laughed in...well, probably since the first Jackass movie. For creativity alone, I give it four stars. Not to mention the over-the-top homoeroticism (which they totally play up) that never goes anywhere overtly sexual that somehow makes it that much sexier. Wassup Rockers takes a bizarre turn towards the end, and being Larry Clark, of course goes a few places it shouldn't, but taken as a whole, I thought it was a sweet movie that celebrates the insouciance and endless possibilities of youth, even if those possibilities are only emotional, not physical. The boys genuinely seemed to care about one another, and it was refreshing to see boys that age display real sensitivity and just be good kids looking for a good time. I like to think that this is how real boys this age are, and not the tough, impenetrable, machismo-ridden assholes that most movies portray boys this age to be (except for the one sensitive, dorky kid in all those movies that either has to be gay, or, if straight, be totally ignored by girls).
The personal is the political.
I can say without a doubt that my top 2 absolute favorite movies of the year 2006 were Marie Antoinette and Shut up and Sing. Both films created entire worlds completely foreign to me, but that I was elated to get lost in. Though they came from very different places, both emotionally and literally, they were both so much fun, and so moving to me, and both deeply political in their own rights. Both films explored the conflict between trying to live private lives, and trying to live to please other people and how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it can be to live up to the expectations of either one. Both are about very strong and outspoken women fighting against the constraints put up for them, all pretty much against their wishes in both films, though in Marie Antoinette, she was more or less thrust into a situation she never asked for, and in Shut Up & Sing, they somewhat invited it in. But I think both films are full of life and love and inspiration, and the quest for something authentic when you're expected by millions of people to be anyone but who you really are.
Well, that's it. Thanks for reading! (And please feel free to leave comments telling me how awesome/stupid I am, and what incredibly evolved/pathetically awful taste I have.)