Hello, Gentle Readers! You know the drill — here I will announce my picks for the best movies of 2006. For a movie to be eligible for consideration, I had to see it for the first time in a theater during the calendar year 2006. Yes, that means that some late 2005 releases will be included in my list, but deal with it. For the record, I saw 45 movies in the theater last year, of which nine got a B+ or better. (My track record with DVDs was distinctly worse: 19 first-time views, and only one with a B+. Ben Hur, if you’re wondering.)
Best Drama: And best picture of the year, in my humble opinion, was the riveting United 93. Filmed in documentary style, it grabs you from the start and never lets go. How they persuaded some of the people who were on the ground on 9/11 to play themselves in this movie is beyond me. I would have been way too freaked out to relive those events. The runners up are also excellent films. First I’ll mention The Nativity Story, and I’ll urge you to catch it in the theaters if you still can, before the Christmas season is too faint a memory. I thought it was reverent and sensitive without crossing the line into sentimentality. Even if you’re not Christian, go see it and see part of what makes us tick. And second I’ll cite the outstanding 2005 release Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a terrific performance, but there’s not a sour note in this movie about a fascinating 20th century character. And I can’t omit The Queen, starring an outstanding Helen Mirren in a quasi-documentary about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.
Best Comedy: I’m not sure it belongs in this category rather than Best Drama, but let’s put it here anyway since good comedies are in short supply — Little Miss Sunshine is a wonderful mix of the absurd and the genuinely sweet. A marvelous depiction of how even the most dysfunctional family can learn that it is, indeed, a family. Watch out for the language, though; this is not a movie the whole family can enjoy. Honorable mention to The Devil Wears Prada, especially the terrific performance by newcomer Emily Blunt as the office assistant that Ann Hathaway unintentionally elbows out of their boss’s favor.
Best Action/Adventure: King Kong takes this one, hands down. The critics didn’t go ape for Peter Jackson’s last effort, but I thought it was a terrific popcorn flick. I’m hard pressed to come up with any other contenders in this category. Let’s put The Illusionist here too, featuring yet another fine performance by Edward Norton, and outstanding supporting work by Paul Giamatti.
Best Documentary: Sorry, Al, I’m going to pass over An Inconvenient Truth in favor of an IMAX movie called Deep Sea 3D. But the Truth wasn’t nearly as hard to swallow as I thought it would be, so that’s something.
Honorable Mentions: Woody Allen’s thought-provoking Match Point, the inimitable Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents, Scarlett Johansson going Wilde in A Good Woman, architecture documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, a fabulous performance by Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page, suburban angst run amok in Little Children, Daniel Craig’s blond Bondshell in Casino Royale, and Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. All well worth adding to your Netflix queue.