One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 2006 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 2006.
2006 saw a critical darling directed by Martin Scorsese battle it out with a reimagined version of everyone’s favorite superspy. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Little Miss Sunshine — 6 points
Children of Men — 5 points
Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan — 4 points
Cars — 4 points
Clerks II — 4 points
Jesus Camp — 4 points
Superman Returns — 4 points
X-Men: The Last Stand — 4 points
Rocky Balboa — 3 points
16 Blocks — 3 points
Little Children — 3 points
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby — 3 points
Thank you for Smoking — 3 points
Trailer Park Boys: The Movie — 3 points
Stranger than Fiction — 2 points
The Da Vinci Code — 2 points
The Fountain — 2 points
Jackass Number Two — 2 points
Nacho Libre — 2 points
Idiocracy — 1 point
An Inconvenient Truth — 1 point
V for Vendetta — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 2006, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
5. The Pursuit of Happyness
7 points, ranked by 2 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 1
Greg Phillips: Of all the movies on all my lists, this is one of the most personal picks. Few movies have ever affected me emotionally as much a this Will Smith vehicle. I’ve always been a sucker for father-son stories, because my own relationship with my father has been such a key part of my life. I saw a lot of my dad in Will Smith’s Chris Gardner — a man who worked harder than he should but just couldn’t seem to get ahead. Through it all, Chris’ primary motivation remains the love he has for his son. Smith delivers what I consider his finest performance, an intense examination of the many emotions that go with fatherhood and the inability to provide for one’s family.
The biggest star of the film, however, is Will’s son Jaden. Though maligned for multiple reasons these days, Jaden kills it in this movie with my all-time favorite performance by a child actor. Why does it work? Jaden Smith ACTUALLY ACTS LIKE A KID. Few things in film frustrate me more than overly articulate, smarter-than-everyone-in-the-room kids. I think many child actors, maybe not through their own fault, act too much like older actors. In Pursuit of Happyness, Jaden never loses sight of the fact that he’s a kid. The love between the real-life father and son bleeds through the screen.
I could sit here and talk about how well made the film was until I’m blue in the face, but the endgame is that it’s just a sentimental pick. It’s one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen at the theater, and there’s no explaining an experience like that.
4 (tie). Pan’s Labyrinth
14 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Kati Price and Andrew Riche at No. 2
Andrew Riche: The year 2006 in cinema featured a coming-out party for three Mexican movie directors with very unique styles: Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro. Cuaron’s film release that year was the brilliant dystopian tale Children of Men starring Clive Owen, while Innaritu’s was Babel starring Brad Pitt. Both of those films were nominated for several Academy Awards, but the film that went home with three trophies that night was Del Toro’s bizarre and fantastical Pan’s Labyrinth. Those three awards were for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Makeup, but the film’s beauty and grace go even farther beyond its decorative presentation. Originally titled El laberinto del fauno, a.k.a. The Labyrinth of the Faun, Del Toro wanted to write and direct a parable in his native language that was similar in tone to a previous film he had made back in 2001, The Devil’s Backbone.
While The Devil’s Backbone was more of a traditional ghost story involving child actors, Pan’s Labyrinth, while featuring 11-year-old Ivana Baquero in a starring role, does a phenomenal job of balancing fairy tale with reality and Del Toro’s familiar horror elements. Set in in the wake of the Spanish Civil War in the early 1940’s, Baquero plays Ofelia, a young girl who travels with her pregnant mother to the base for her new stepfather Captain Vidal, who serves Francisco Franco’s fascist movement. While there, Ofelia spends her alone time experiencing a wacky but twisted fantasy that leads to a secret labyrinth in the forest that inhabits an ancient Faun. The Faun (played by Doug Jones and voiced by Pablo Adan) leads the young Ofelia on a series of dangerous tasks that include going inside the belly of a giant toad and stealing a dagger from the dinner table of a fairy-eating monster with eyes on his hands. It truly is a story to (pun intended) fawn over.
But what makes the film so impactful and, in many ways, heartbreaking is the unanswered question of whether or not Ofelia’s dark fairy tale is truly the opening of a portal to an ancient underworld or merely the figment of a child’s imagination to escape the grim reality of her and her mother’s current livelihood. In a movie full of makeup-donning monsters and creepy crawlers, the true face of evil in Pan’s Labyrinth is Captain Vidal, who rules his camp with an iron fist, grossly mistreats Ofelia’s sick mother, and unflinchingly kills anyone he believes to be a Spanish rebel. It is up to Ofelia to escape not only her caged life but to find peace for her family, even if it means embracing her nightmares and turning them into an ideal dream in a world that may or may not be real after all. Del Toro has made quite a few films that delve into the fantasy and horror genre, from Kronos to Mimic to Hellboy to even Blade II. But this film is Del Toro’s masterpiece not only because of its beautiful look and design but also because of the depths of humanism and innocence infused into a story so riddled in true despair and otehrworldly adventures. Roger Ebert called it “a fairy tale for grown ups,” and I couldn’t agree more. Just like Ofelia, no matter how cringe-worthy the story becomes, you never truly want Pan’s Labyrinth to end.
14 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler and Nick Duke at No. 1
Glenn Butler: Illusion depends on misdirection. At the beginning of The Prestige, Cutter (Michael Caine) explains the basis on which prestidigitation operates, from the most basic illusions to the most elaborate: it achieves edification and entertainment by frustrating your expected causality; an object is utterly normal, is indeed inspected to assure that it is normal, and is then made to do an abnormal thing. Misdirection is also a crucial part of the plot twist. (Both are inherently different experiences once explained, so spoilers be here.) In an illusion, the prestige is a restoration of normality, a reassurance to the viewer that even high stakes have been thwarted, allowing us a pleasing release of emotion — the bird returns to the magician’s hand, the person in the water tank breaks free of their bonds and escapes certain death. The Prestige invokes the terminology of illusion, but it still operates on the logic of film, where the plot twist irrevocably changes the story being told, and in fact tells us that we were actually watching a very different story than we might previously have thought we were.
After Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) loses his wife in a stage accident for which he blames Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), the two men start a personal and professional feud that consumes them both. While the film takes great pains not to portray either character as the unambiguous protagonist or antagonist, its construction leads us to sympathize with Angier — he’s our point-of-view character for the most part, he’s the (surviving) character who’s most grievously wronged by the accident (the propriety of killing a barely-developed female character for the sake of a story about two men is an interesting and important subject, but perhaps tangential), and most importantly, the film begins with Borden watching Angier drown to death and his subsequent murder conviction. Non-linear storytelling is a very effective tool for misdirection, as seen previously in director and co-writer Christopher Nolan’s Memento, and over the course of the film we see Angier’s sympathetic nature made less absolute, step by step. We see him consumed by his personal grief and professional jealousy, desperate not only to understand Borden’s illusions, most notably “The Transported Man,” but to use this understanding to undermine the life he’s made for himself.
This obsession leads Angier to relocate to Colorado and demand an audience with Nikola Tesla, in a great cameo by David Bowie. The feud between Tesla and Thomas Edison mirrors the feud at the heart of the story, but what is interesting — and indicative of the film’s eventual leanings after all is revealed — is that while Tesla is generally seen as an eccentric, downtrodden figure, beset by Thomas Edison’s corporate might (however simplistic this might be, it’s a distinct part of Tesla’s reputation, and part of the appeal driving his popularity in geek culture), in The Prestige it’s the more aristocratic figure, Angier, as opposed to Borden’s more working-class demeanor and typical venue, whom the film takes the time to show acquiring a highly unique machine from Tesla.
At this point the film performs its first twist: you thought you were watching a turn-of-the-20th-century melodrama about a magicians’ feud; you’re now watching a science fiction film. The character-based drama carries the plot enough that the sci-fi aspects of Tesla’s duplication machine don’t really have to be explained (explaining a trick removes its power to entertain, remember); the machine retains its mystery as well as its power as the crackling, electro-punk (as opposed to steampunk) fulcrum on which the plot pivots. As the machine is used, the film twists again, showing Angier in a less and less positive light, until finally revealing just how ruthless his obsession has made him. Borden uses the machine once, realizes that it made a double of him, and works with that new Borden to lead a double-life (ha, ha) and perform their tricks. Angier, however, can share neither his tricks nor his life, and turns to a gruesome solution. (Whether Angier dying unnecessarily every time he performs “The Real Transported Man” is murder or suicide is somewhat of a philosophical question.) By the end, Cutter shifts from an exposition character to an audience stand-in as he discovers more of the plot, leveraging Michael Caine’s likeability as an actor to cement our new impression of Angier: he’s destroyed Borden’s marriage, taken his daughter, undermined his career, and condemned him to the hangman’s noose, for which he winds up gutshot among a library of his other selves.
The Prestige is, at its end, a revenge film in which the two characters both get to kill each other. It pulls this off with aplomb, and with pizazz — it’s all about showmen, after all.
23 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Aaron George, Russell Sellers and Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Aaron George: So I sat in the theatre really hoping for just a good James Bond movie. A return to form if you will, perhaps an effort that would make me a little less embarrassed to be a fan. The black and white intro hit, we get a wonderfully gritty fight in a bathroom and suddenly Chris Cornell tells us we know his name and I am now jacked up and pumped in my seat. I’d like to consider myself a pretty die hard Bond fan — I don’t even mind A View To a Kill. But, Casino Royale to this day tops my list of 007’s adventures. It was fresh and heart stopping, which was exactly what the franchise needed.
There’s lots to love here. The action is tight and not obscenely over the top. The parkour race to start things off was a great infusion of something modern which didn’t have you rolling your eyes. The fights were great, all the acting wonderful. I think the biggest reason this film succeeds though is that they finally give us a somewhat imperfect James Bond to get behind. Gone are the days of Pierce Brosnan (who I liked) driving a tank and shooting a gun all while fixing his tie; here we get a Bond who is viewed (and acts) like a blunt instrument. He makes mistakes, he fumbles, he doesn’t always look in control and it makes him infinitely more interesting and relatable. I think my single favorite scene in any James Bond film is when after a brutal fight against a man with a machete in a stairwell, Bond has to go back to his hotel room and regroup. When he slams back that drink we can immediately see how fucked up he is over what has just happened. The subsequent moment of cleaning himself up is a touch of reality that we never really got before. It’s a beautiful little moment among many in the film and although we get to see him at his best, (beating Le Chiffre at cards) his worst (getting his balls smashed with a knotted rope) and even his funniest (laughing off said ball smashing) it’s the quiet moments of solitude, or the charming moments of flirting (skewered) that make us love the character all over again.
I remember the outrage when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond. “Bond isn’t Blond!” “Who is this guy?” “Pierce Brosnan is my father!” They were all wrong. Daniel Craig is an amazing James Bond. He’s got the charm and the right amount of swagger to pull off the role. Most important though is he looks like he could beat the living shit out of you. I picture him pummeling an aging Roger Moore from Octopussy, and I can’t help but smile. Surely if there was a battle of the Bonds Craig would stand atop a pile of shaken bones and stirred smiles. (Not that he would bloody give a damn) The supporting cast is great and if there is a heaven I would like for Eva Green to be waiting there for me. For sex.
Casino Royale is the most exciting Bond to come around… well ever. It kind of transcends the fact that it’s a James Bond movie and is just a fantastic action film. If you’re a fan of Bond, action or happiness and you haven’t seen this you deserve to be lying on the ground, quivering, while a man in a vintage suit steps into a role he was born to play.
1. The Departed
26 points, ranked by 7 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada at No. 1
Anthony Estrada: I’ve followed Leonardo Dicaprio’s career for a long time. His combination of talent, presence and ambition, coupled with the clout to make any project he’s interested in a reality, suggests the potential for greatness. For years, ‘potential’ was what I most associated him with. He spent the first half of his career playing boys, boys who were mischievous (Catch Me If You Can), recklessly hormonal (Romeo and Juliet), or averse to treading water (Titanic). What he didn’t (couldn’t?) pull off was playing a man, someone whose weariness was earned and not an affectation. Then The Departed happened, and even suckers had to recognize – Leo had arrived and playtime was over.
The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong classic Internal Affairs, is the story of two men – an undercover cop and a mole in the police force – each trying to uncover the other’s identity. Billy Costigan, (Dicaprio) is the cop, pulled straight from the police academy and offered the assignment of infiltrating a mob affiliate in Boston. To make it convincing, Billy is actually sent to prison to serve time on a made-up charge. When he’s released, he makes sure he’s seen by the right people doing the things that make someone an attractive mob candidate – violent, harmful things which run contrary to the conscience of a good person, which we know Billy to be.
In this film, playing undercover isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. It’s about actually becoming that thing, because otherwise it wouldn’t work. The psychological toll on Billy is significant, and this is where DiCaprio shines. He plays Billy as someone barely hanging on to reality and sanity. He doesn’t know who he is anymore, but he’s too far down the rabbit hole to turn back. At all times he runs the risk of being discovered by his mob cohorts, who are just as smart as the men assigned to protect him. Billy’s desperation and paranoia make this movie, and that’s without mentioning the tremendous ensemble cast (with the exception of Jack Nicholson, whose cartoonish portrayal of the mob boss is an all-time misfire), effective use of pop music and epic, high-stakes storytelling. The latter can be attributed to director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese, like Leo, is an artist whose potential has occasionally exceeded his product. Not this time however. The Departed shows each at the top of his craft, a lofty status few can reach and none can match.
That does it for 2006. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 2007!