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January 9, 2007

Top 5 Films of 2006—Matt Johnston

Children of Men

See full review.

The Departed

Its supporters have taken some flak for a condescending view of Scorsese. Jim Emerson describes the attitude on his Scanners blog: “Good boy. You stick to your mobsters now, won’t you?” But The Departed is Scorsese’s best in more than a decade, and if that greatness only comes about when he is chasing mobsters, so be it. Featuring a sparkling screenplay by William Monahan and a viciously arresting performance by Jack Nicholson, The Departed is a neat little package with blood seeping out at the corners.

Ondskan (Evil)

What best-of list would be complete without a foreign film you’ve never heard of? Sadly neglected by U.S. audiences, Ondskan tells the classic tale of boarding-school bullies with unusual flair and feeling. The setting is Sweden, but the themes of isolation and exclusion are universal. As protagonist Erik Ponti, Andreas Wilson endures more than a few beatings, but finds the right note for a surprisingly muted performance as a rebel who takes on the old boys’ club elites.

Apocalypto

Yes, that Mel Gibson. Yes, that Apocalypto. As much as violence in entertainment concerns me, I cannot deny the skill with which Gibson assembles the year’s guiltiest pleasure. I could do without the opening quote from Will Durant, “a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within,” because I found that the movie has remarkably little to do with it. Apocalypto is an action flick trapped inside an epic, and it succeeds on both levels with incredible adrenaline rushes and enormous spectacle, respectively. Should you deign to see such unabashed popcorn fare, make sure to appreciate that toward the end, Apocalypto features the best reverse-shot ever. Well, that’s hyperbole, but so is the whole movie.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

To round things off, here is a quiet and peaceful reflection on life and friendship starring the legend Joan Plowright and the newcomer Rupert Friend as two lonely Londoners who find each other and develop, of all things, an unlikely friendship. The scenario is familiar, but the honesty is fresh. The titular Claremont is a retirement hotel where the painstaking routine marks the end of life for forgotten senior citizens. The movie is sweet and even a little sentimental, but it is also wise, observant, and a pleasure to take in.