Allen’s best of 2006

Another year, another list of resolutions that’ll fade away as quickly as my respect for M. Night Shyamalan (come on, man, you’re better than “Lady in the Water”–you and your inflated head should recognize that).This year, I resolve to pick resolutions that achieve themselves. For instance, I resolve to give “Epic Movie” a really bad review because it looks even less funny than “Date Movie.” So when that movie comes out and I write my really bad review, I can sit back, fold my arms and smile because I actually achieved a resolution this year. Aim low, kids.Or you could aim high–namely, by picking the following movies.

The 10 Best Films of 2006

1. “Children of Men”The best sci-fi films find a way to project a future world that’s both intriguingly different from ours and weirdly prescient. It’s 2027 and no one’s had a baby in 18 years, throwing the world into a chaos that looks oddly familiar if you’ve been watching CNN. Hope lies with a miraculously pregnant girl and the cynical bureaucrat (Clive Owen) who steals her to safety.Alfonso Cuarn tells this story with minimal exposition and maximum technical proficiency. The result is a reinvention of the action movie and the best sci-fi since “Minority Report.” Michael Caine is a hoot as a stoned-off-his-gourd codger who helps Owen.

2. “The Queen”Everyone’s heard how great Helen Mirren is as Queen Elizabeth II in this dramatization of the royal family’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana, but Michael Sheen is every bit as good as Prime Minister Tony Blair, the reasonable voice of modernism.The struggle between old school and new school–and the empathy with which director Stephen Frears sees both sides–made for the year’s best drama. The script by Peter Morgan deserves special praise, considering he’s simply conjecturing about what happened behind closed doors.

3. “The Departed”In the first of two scintillating performances in 2006, Leonardo DiCaprio plays an undercover cop who infiltrates the Boston Mob in Martin Scorsese’s dazzlingly violent and wickedly funny ensemble piece. Near Shakespearean in its tragi-comic scope. I really think this is Scorsese’s year to win the Oscar, even if “Dreamgirls” razzle-dazzles its way to the big award.

4. “Akeelah and the Bee”No movie this year took me by surprise as much as this one, a feel-good flick about an African-American girl named Akeelah (the terrific Keke Palmer) who excels at spelling bees–and at life in general. During the big tournament at the end, she does something so good-hearted, so unexpected, yet so fair and logical, I was blindsided by my tears.This movie, strangely enough, was co-financed by Starbucks, so next time you’re buying your double-double whatever, pick up a copy of the DVD.

5. “United 93″Director Paul Greengrass uses his handheld, cinma vrit style to capture the fear and heroism aboard the one flight that didn’t reach its target on September 11. His approach is commendably non-exploitive, apolitical and leaves us with love, respect and sadness for the passengers who did not go out without a fight.Oliver Stone’s Sept. 11 flick, “World Trade Center,” was also good, but “United 93” does a better job at tapping into the emotions of the moment without overplaying them.

6. “The Descent”The best horror film since forever. Six female cave explorers fight more than claustrophobia and fear of the dark when they get trapped deep in the Appalachian Mountains. First it’s scary for all the reasons it’s scary to go climbing around in the dark. But then when one of the women sees something scurrying around out of the corner of her eye, the horror escalates quickly and effectively.Oh, and the gore! Fangoria freaks will especially love this movie.

7. “The Proposition”The Australian terrain is as unforgiving as the bad guys in this Outback Western written in a feverish, three-week rush by musician Nick Cave. That same sweaty pitch is maintained throughout the story about a lawman (Ray Winstone) who orders one outlaw (Guy Pearce) to hunt down another.Emily Watson plays the lawman’s wife, who foolishly puts up a white picket fence around her house and her little patch of civilization. Yeah, what good that does her.

8. “Borat: Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”I need only utter two words to describe how funny this movie is: Naked. Fight.Sacha Baron Cohen is utterly fearless as the Kazakhstani reporter Borat, the world’s most adorable bigot. His trek across America under the guise of making a documentary reveals some very funny and very disturbing things about our society. An alternative title for this movie could have been “Americans Say the Most Damning Things.”

9. “Casino Royale”Daniel Craig and the producers behind this latest James Bond installment bring the franchise back to planet Earth with action that is still stupendous, but a little more believable than, say, Bond outrunning a giant beam of light in his invisible car. Noteworthy also for being the first Bond film in which Bond actually makes mistakes, freaks out and goes through change.Craig is not only physically awesome in the role, but also emotionally unstable–a hero we can all relate to.

10. “An Inconvenient Truth”Al Gore’s audio-visual call-to-arms against global warming could have been static and stale, but the combination of his dry humor and director David Guggenheim’s decision to break up Gore’s presentation with humanizing side bits about the former vice president transforms this into an impassioned cry to make a difference in the world. I felt environmental for about 30 minutes afterward, which is quite a feat.

Honorable Mentions

Funniest Comedy that Didn’t Star Sacha Baron Cohen: The Broken Lizard troupe’s “Beerfest,” an underrated gem about a bunch of guys who enter the “Fight Club” of drinking contests. I almost put “Talladega Nights” in this slot, but then I remembered Sacha Baron Cohen was in that one, too, as the hilarious French Formula One racer (“I eem comeeng for eeuu, Reeky Booby”).

Best Non-“Departed” Leonardo DiCaprio Performance: His role as a South-African soldier-of-fortune in Edward Zwick’s “Blood Diamond.” DiCaprio’s accent sounded funny in the trailer, but he pulls it off splendidly in the context of the movie. When will this guy win an Oscar? Soon, I hope.

Best Scene Stealers of 2006, Male and Female: Mark Wahlberg in “The Departed” and Emily Blunt in “The Devil Wears Prada.” I loved how Wahlberg always seemed to be breathing his indignation out of his nose and how Blunt, as Meryl Streep’s snobby assistant, delivers lines like, “I don’t eat anything until I feel like I’m about to faint, then I eat a cube of cheese. I’m one stomach flu away from reaching my goal weight.” DiCaprio and Streep are getting all the Oscar attention, but how about these scene-stealers?

Best “American Beauty” Knock-Off That’s Actually a Really Good Film in Its Own Right: Todd Field’s “Little Children.” Kate Winslet is supposed to be dowdy in this, but even dowdy Kate Winslet is a 10 on the “ah-rooo-gah!” scale (similar to the “va-va-voom” scale and the “hubba-hubba” scale). Who says movie critics are a bunch of little boys? Say that to my face!

Movie Moment that Most Made Me Want to Hug the Stranger Sitting Next to Me in the Theater: The final five minutes of “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The last time I was this happy for a movie character was when Mary Jane told Spider-Man to “go get ’em, tiger.”

Lungs I’d Least Like to Run Into in a Dark Alleyway: Jennifer Hudson’s from “Dreamgirls.” She’s a great singer, but when she very loudly sings “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” I know it’s supposed to be a stand up and cheer moment, but my head nearly exploded.

Least Annoying Talking Animals Movie: George Miller’s “Happy Feet,” which was actually very good, with visuals that stirred my soul. Stirred it, I said!

Rambo, Meet Jaguar Paw. Jaguar Paw, Rambo: Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” brought back fond memories of those ultra-violent ’80s flicks in which muscle-bound
good guys hid in trees and then dropped on unsuspecting bad guys.

Best Use of Meat Puppets for Totally Baffling Reasons: Jan Svankmajer’s “Lunacy.” I’ve lain awake at nights thinking about it, but I still don’t get the damned meat puppets.

Best Squid-Faced Bad Guy in a Movie That Sucked Otherwise: Bill Nighy as Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Most Prophetic Storyline: Hugh Jackman duplicating himself in “The Prestige.” So that’s how he managed to star in just about everything this year.