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Ten films you should have seen in 2006

Some critics have written off 2006 as a fairly average year at the movies but there has been plenty to enjoy. Things got off to a cracking start with the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Goodnight, And Good Luck, Syriana and Capote all vying for Oscar limelight.

The summer may have disappointed more than it impressed (with The Da Vinci Code and X-Men: The Last Stand among the critical failures) but it still produced another fine Mission: Impossible, heralded the return of Superman and reintroduced Crockett and Tubbs to the world in Miami Vice. And that’s not forgetting the slippery box-office antics of those Snakes On A Plane!

But as the autumn hit and the next crop of potential award-winners began to see the light of day, there was plenty more to enjoy, such as Kate Winslet’s fine performance in Little Children and Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese trading pre-Oscar blows with their latest epics, Flags Of Our Fathers and The Departed.

With so many to choose from, and so many important films among them, we have decided to bring you the 20 films that impressed us the most, subdivided into two categories – the films you should have seen in 2006 (for importance) and those that provided the best all-round entertainment

10) Tsotsi

Tsotsi

Starring: Presley Chweneyagae, Terry Pheto.
What’s the story?: A young thug named Tsotsi living in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, finds unlikely redemption when he accidentally kidnaps a baby. But as the infant forces Tsotsi to reflect on his life and try to better himself, the police are closing in.
What we said: Hard-hitting South African drama Tsotsi deservedly won the Oscar for best foreign language film given its breathtaking portrayal of a young thug finding redemption from violence in a shanty town outside Johannesburg. Gavin Hood’s movie offers an astonishingly authentic depiction of a South Africa still struggling to cope with the ravishes of Apartheid and Aids, while simultaneously benefiting from comparisons to the raw, compelling style of City of God.
Trivia: In the Bonus Features secion of the DVD, there are two more endings, in which Tsotsi/David either gets killed by the police or manages to escape.

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9) World Trade Center

Michael Pena in World Trade Center

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello
What’s the story?: The true story of the heroic survival and rescue of two Port Authority policemen – John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno – who became trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
What we said: With World Trade Center, Oliver Stone treats the subject [of 9/11] with the respect and sensitivity it deserves, employing a top notch cast to deliver a deeply personal true story about ordinary men and women caught up in an extraordinary situation… It succeeds as an admirably restrained celebration of humanity’s resilience in the darkest of hours as well as a parting message that should never be forgotten.
Trivia: Critics of the film say it inaccurately identified the rescuers who worked to free Jimeno and McLouglin, failed to accurately convey the time required to dig the men out, and that it understated the dangers posed to the rescuers. Among other things, the film failed to properly acknowledge the role of paramedic Chuck Sereika. Contrary to as depicted in the film, Sereika began treating and extricating Jimeno a full 20 minutes before officers from the New York City Police Department’s Emergency Services Unit arrived

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8) Secuestro Express

Secuestro Express
Starring: Mia Maestro, Jean Paul Leroux, Ruben Blades.
What’s the story?: A wealthy couple – Martin and Carla – are enjoying a night out in Caracas, Venezuela, when they are brutally kidnapped from their vehicle and held to ransom for cash from their parents. The kidnappers are a motley bunch including a trigger-happy rapist and a more level-headed “middle class romantic”.
What we said: As unflinching as Jonathan Jakubowicz’s movie remains throughout, it never oversteps certain boundaries. It’s violent and tense but never exploitative, even though several of the scenes are difficult to watch. In both its distinct look and authentic feel, Secuestro Express is reminiscent of Fernando Mereilles’ City of God, while some of the editing is borrowed from the likes of Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s Man On Fire. It’s little wonder, therefore, that Jakubowicz has now been snapped up by Hollywood.
Trivia: The majority of the film’s stars are actually “non-stars,” or rappers, who were trained for the role over a period of six weeks.

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7) Munich

Munich poster

Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush
What’s the story?: A crack team of assassins are sent to kill those who may have been responsible for the kidnap and murder of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
What we said: Steven Spielberg may just have delivered one of the coldest films of his career with Munich, a bold, brutal but utterly compelling look at terrorism that’s based on real events. The film marks yet another triumph for the director that’s made all the more remarkable for its continued political relevance.
Trivia: The actual hostage-taking and massacre of the Israeli athletes goes for historical authenticity to the point of using Israeli actor Gur Weinberg, one month old in September 1972, to portray his father Moshe, the wrestling coach and first hostage killed. Unlike the earlier film, 21 Hours At Munich, the positioning of the Israeli hostages in the helicopters and the fact that all of them were shot is also historically accurate. In addition, the film uses actual news clips shot during the hostage situation.

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6) Syriana

Syriana

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright
What’s the story?: A merger between two US oil companies could have major repercussions for the Middle East. Caught up in the intrigue are a veteran CIA agent who comes to question the validity of his latest mission, a grieving father who exploits a family tragedy to broker a key business deal, and an ambitious lawyer who must weigh up the benefits of the proposed deal.
What we said: In the words of its co-star George Clooney, Syriana is a film that reflects society given that it explores some of the most relevant issues concerning us today – from oil and terrorism to power and money. The result is a thoroughly compelling and thought-provoking piece of work that entertains as much as it enlightens, even if there are moments when it feels impenetrable.
Trivia: Harrison Ford turned down the role of Robert Barnes (now played by George Clooney) and has since spoken of his regret, saying, “I didn’t feel strongly enough about the truth of the material and I think I made a mistake”. This is the second Stephen Gaghan-written role the has declined – the first being that of Robert Wakefield in Traffic (played by Michael Douglas).

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5) Paradise Now

Paradise Now

Starring: Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman.
What’s the story?: Two Palestinian friends, Said and Khaled, are called upon to carry out a suicide mission in Israel. Having become frustrated with the instability of life on the West Bank, the two are honoured to die to help free their people. But when their plans hit a snag and they are separated, the inevitable questions begin to surface about the validity of their cause.
What we said: Few films this year will come close to carrying the emotional impact of Paradise Now, a sympathetic look at the lives of two Palestinian suicide bombers that deservedly won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film earlier this year. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad and filmed on location in the West Bank, the film – which was Oscar nominated – provides a genuinely thought-provoking insight into the mind of a kamikaze terrorist while also forcing its viewers to ask questions of their own.
Trivia: While filming in Nablus, Israeli helicopter gunships launched a missile attack on a car near the film’s set one day, prompting six crew members to abandon the production for good. The film’s location manager was also kidnapped by a Palestinian faction during the shoot and was not released until Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s office intervened.

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4) Flags Of Our Fathers

Flags Of Our Fathers

Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell
What’s the story?: Five days into the Second World War battle for the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in February 1945, five Marines and a Navy medic place the Stars And Stripes atop Mount Suribachi. After being photographed doing so, the three who survive the battle – John “Doc” Bradley, Rene Gagnon and Native American Ira Hayes – are plucked from the war effort and sent on a countrywide propaganda tour designed to generate essential funds for the virtually bankrupt US war effort. But the soldiers in question don’t consider themselves heroes and pay a heavy personal cost as they are paraded in front of millions with scant regard for their feelings or the truth behind the image.
What we said: There’s no denying the power of the film, which exists as both a defiant anti-war message at a time of heightened conflict around the world and a tribute to the valour of the men on the front line. It’s a tribute to Eastwood’s skill as a filmmaker that Flags Of Our Fathers never loses sight of either, while ruthlessly stripping away the romanticism surrounding one of the key moments in American history.
Trivia: Jared Leto, who has appeared in Fight Club and Panic Room, turned down a key role in the film in order to commit time to his band, 30 Seconds To Mars.

Read the review l Clint Eastwood interview


3) Shooting Dogs

Shooting Dogs

Starring: John Hurt, Hugh Dancy, Claire-Hope Ashitey
What’s the story?: A priest and a teacher working at the Ecole Technique Officielle in Kigali, Rwanda, provide shelter for hundreds of Tutsis from the majority Hutu population as a mass genocide begins. Seeking the protection of the UN, which is also camped at the school, the duo soon realise they are powerless to prevent the slaughter.
What we said: There won’t be a dry eye in the cinema during the end credits, when Jones turns his camera on the real-life survivors and recalls the suffering they experienced while placing their photographs on-screen. The rest of the film is no less moving with both John Hurt and Hugh Dancy providing masterful performances as men struggling to keep their faith in the face of unspeakable hostilities, while British newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey is genuinely moving as the tragic Marie.
Trivia: Unlike Hotel Rwanda, which was filmed in South Africa using South African actors, Shooting Dogs was shot in the original location of the scenes it portrays. Also, many survivors of the massacre were employed as part of the production crew and minor acting roles.

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2) An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth

Starring: Al Gore.
What’s the story?: If the world’s leading scientists are right, humanity has 10 years to avert a global catastrophe that could send our planet into a tailspin of destruction triggered by extreme weather. Former US presidential hopeful Al Gore examines the evidence.
What we said: Al Gore’s approach is a clever one – it doesn’t rely on heavy-handed preaching or scare-mongering, but rather intelligence, charm and wit. The message remains loud and clear, however – that global warming has become a potentially catastrophic problem and ignoring the issue can only lead to one grim certainty. Go see the film and find out for yourself. It’s one of the year’s most interesting – and essential – documentaries.
Trivia: The Associated Press contacted more than 100 top climate researchers and questioned them about the film’s veracity. Although at the time before the film’s general release, when many of those surveyed had neither seen the movie nor read the book, all 19 climate scientists who had done so said that Al Gore conveyed the science correctly.

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1) United 93

United 93

Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Christian Clemenson, Trish Gates.
What’s the story?: On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked over American skies. Two crashed into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth plane prevented it from reaching its target – the Capitol building – when they fought back against their hijackers. The plane subsequently came down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, but all on board were killed.
What we said: United 93 is undoubtedly one of the most harrowing experiences you are likely to have in a cinema – but one which achieves every one of its objectives in remarkable and commendable fashion. It angers, frustrates and saddens in equal measure but, at the same time, highlights the tremendous courage shown by a small group of passengers in the most terrifying and extraordinary of circumstances. It’s therefore an honest and fitting tribute to their bravery that ought to resonate with every single member of the audience. It shouldn’t be missed.
Trivia: The actors who played the terrorist hijackers and the actors who played the passengers and crew on the flight were kept in separate hotels during filming. They also worked out in separate gyms and did not eat meals together. This was so that the director could capture the separation, fear and hostility between the two groups of antagonists and protagonists.

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