A beautifully colored live-action fairy tale with political relevance, this film won’t leave your mind once you see it. Its fantastical elements are deftly interwoven with the real-world historical setting of fascist Spain circa 1944, making them almost believable. This movie accomplishes the rare feat of combining its imaginary and historical components without doing injustice to either. The film pulses with delicious hints of picture books you can’t quite remember made grown-up with the severity of creative, surprisingly non-superfluous, violence.
The Good Shepherd
Matt Damon did well this year, following his starring role in The Departed with his portrayal of a career-driven American spy during the mid-20th century. The film raises constant questions about truth and interpersonal manipulation beneath its compelling and skillfully constructed story. Its only flaw is the lack of insight into the mind of its protagonist (Damon), and his under-explored relationship with his conflicted wife, played by an unexpectedly well-cast Angelina Jolie, but the film’s overall ambition and strength more than make up for its shortcomings.
An occasionally disconcerting movie that portrays an aging actor (Peter O’Toole) and his desire for the teenage niece and caretaker (Jodie Whittaker) of his best friend (Leslie Phillips), this film examines the blurred boundary between romantic love and a more fatherly brand of affection. To what extent, we are asked, should pedophilic love be punished? Is it wrong to express one’s true desires? And to think that while we ponder these things, we get to listen to screenwriter Hanif Kureishi’s snappy dialogue delivered straight from the lips of the great Peter O’Toole.
Little Miss Sunshine
The funniest movie of 2006 earned this honor even though its driving plot point centers on the not-very-topical subject of child beauty pageants. Funnier than its most humorous competitor, Thank You for Smoking, it tells of one family’s road trip to California, doomed from the start by a Volkswagen bus that its passengers must push into gear and parents who deem that no member of their very offbeat family (think The Royal Tenenbaums on anti-depressants) can be left at home. Complete with a dead body and a smart soundtrack, this film might just push you through the Chicago winter.
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Don’t listen to what other critics say—see this movie. It’s a captivating film about voyeurism and art, and this time the post-war housewife makes the cut as main character. Reminiscent of the courtyard drama of Rear Window, the film follows the early photographic career of Diane Arbus, as played by Nicole Kidman. It has been unjustly criticized for inaccuracies in its depiction of Arbus, but the film’s subtitle clearly states its somewhat unusual premise of adherence to only the rudiments of Arbus’s biography.