Half Nelson marks the greatest directorial debut of 2006 by Ryan Fleck. The film features a harrowing story of an idealist middle school teacher struggling with a crack addiction while trying to mentor a student headed in the wrong direction. It captures a crisis in American liberalism and also breaks your heart with its superbly complex and excellently acted protagonists. The cinematography is spellbinding, and Ryan Gossling gives a breakthrough performance, establishing himself as one of American cinema’s most promising young actors.
Pedro Almodóvar has given femininity and gender politics extensive examination in past films, but with Volver he seems to have lost his inhibitions. In doing so, he has emerged with a completely empowering sotry of women coming together despite the hardships dealt to them by their male counterparts. The result is quite possibly his most flawless, fully realized film. Full of brilliant performances (none more brilliant than that of Penélope Cruz), this is one of those films that makes you laugh, makes you cry, and makes your jaw drop from start to finish.
Little Children is an example of how even the most derivative of plot lines can be executed in a completely unique expression. Combining the highly stylized direction of Todd Field (In the Bedroom) and the sick suburban humor of Tom Perrota (Election), the film seamlessly interweaves issues such as adultery, pedophilia, and death while equally dishing out tragedy and comedy. Kate Winslet should add yet another Oscar nomination to her resumé, and this time, unless Cruz gets in the way, she may very well come back with hardware.
A Scanner Darkly
Perhaps the most overlooked movie of 2006, Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s classic novel is the culmination of the cinematic vision he has been developing ever since Slacker. Linklater has always considered the obscurity and free-flowing nature of reality, and has used drug references and rotoscope animation in the past for added emphasis. But nowhere does he utilize these themes better than A Scanner Darkly, and that’s mainly because Dick provides Linklater with a brilliant narrative for his top-notch editing and cinematography.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
While in terms of quality alone Borat would be nowhere near this list, no other movie better defines 2006. With bottom-up publicity and extremely creative approaches to political satire, Sacha Baron Cohen harkens back to cinéma vérité and Hunter S. Thompson, but gives it an edge that could be the product of no other generation. The lawsuits, bans, and outrage from Kazakh officials have all worked to Baron Cohen’s advantage, and made Borat the surprise hit of 2006.