Tuesday’s Oscar nominations will begin the final round of looking back at the year just past. Possibly there is just too much of this obsessive list making and nominating and award-giving. Still it’s not a bad thing to commemorate the lasting achievements – good and bad – among the releases of the last 12 months. Here are a few noteworthy trends and categories I see:
It was a brutal year. Several of the best films of 2006, including my four top favorites, are rated R for their violence. No doubt a number of despicable and awful movies were similarly rated. But these four enormously powerful movies didn’t shy away from portraying the brutality their subjects and stories called for:
United 93 - Many people seem to have avoided seeing this film. I encourage you to get over this reluctance – you won’t regret it.
Pan’s Labyrinth - Unique and wonderful, it’s getting a gratifyingly big advertising push and actually placed number seven in this past weekend’s national box office tally, while playing at only 609 theaters.
The Departed - The biggest box-office success among my favorites, it’s bringing Martin Scorsese some much-deserved praise and awards. I recommend its source material, too, the nifty Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, which The Departed follows scene for scene.
Children of Men - Also currently filling theaters, though it’s too early to say if it will turn a profit, since it cost $75 million to produce. A terrifying premise, excitingly well crafted.
In addition, Casino Royale, the best “popcorn flick” of the year, was quite brutal for a PG-13 film. And Lady Vengeance and Curse of the Golden Flower, though more flawed than the other films I’ve mentioned, were both stunningly well directed and also hyperbolically violent.
Extraordinary documentaries have been giving many dramatic features strong competition among the best films of the last couple of years. Several of these premiered on television, but they are definitely movies, not "just TV shows,” and they should not be missed.