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Top 10 most enjoyable films of 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) Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

Starring: Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson
What’s the story?: Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is a lonely taxman who lives his life according to a series of precise routines. But one morning, while cleaning his teeth, he hears a woman’s voice narrating his every action and becomes convinced that someone is stalking him. Across town, novelist Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is about to emerge from a severe case of writer’s block by completing her latest novel – about a lonely taxman called Harold Crick. All she has to do is figure out how to kill off her main character. When the real-life Harold learns of her intentions, he faces a race against time to find the narrator and convince her to change the way her – and his – story ends.
What we said: Every so often a film comes along that enchants and surprises in unexpected ways. Stranger Than Fiction is exactly that kind of film. From its imaginative premise to its impeccable performances, Marc Forster’s first foray into comedy is a genuine treat – one that touches and amuses in equal measure.
Trivia: While filming, Will Ferrell had an earpiece that fed him Emma Thompson’s narrative line in order to assist the other actors react more naturally to Ferrell’s seemingly non-sequitur lines.

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9) Inside Man

Inside Man

Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer
What’s the story?: Four robbers, led by the smart, calculating Dalton Russell, take over a Manhattan bank disguised as painters and hold about 50 people hostage. Police negotiator Keith Frazier begins the arduous process of securing a safe outcome but quickly comes to realise that things aren’t quite what they seem. Meanwhile, the bank’s elderly chairman of the board, Arthur Case, seems more concerned about the safety of items in a safety deposit box and employs power broker Madeline White to act as a go-between.
What we said: Crime thrillers don’t come much better than Inside Man, a super-slick heist movie that certainly won’t leave audiences feeling robbed. In what is arguably Spike Lee’s most commercial and enjoyable work to date, the director has united a crackerjack cast for a complex but pleasing caper movie that pays respectful homage to the likes of Dog Day Afternoon while tipping its hat to some of the political tensions of the moment.
Trivia: The song that plays at the start of the movie, as well as during the ending credits is an Indian song composed by Indian musician AR Rahman called Chaiyya Chaiyya.

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8) Little Children

Little Children

Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley.
What’s the story?: Sarah, a well-educated mother who feels trapped in the Boston suburb of Bennington amid a gaggle of aspirational moms, finds solace with Brad, a father who is similarly keen to rebel against middle-class stability. They subsequently begin a passionate affair that provides them with the possibility of escape. But tensions within the community are running high because of the presence of a convicted paedophile who has returned from prison to live with his mother…
What we said: So much about Little Children is designed to question people’s perceptions of how they judge each other, as well as themselves. Yet crucially the director steers clear of any such judgments himself, allowing events to unfold for themselves. Viewers can’t fail to be impressed with what will surely be regarded as one of the finest films of the year.
Trivia: Jackie Earle Haley is best known as one of the child stars of the original Bad News Bears movie. He won the role of the paedophile neighbour after sending director Todd Field a specially prepared videotape and was then asked to audition with Kate Winslet. He subsequently cried with joy after hearing he had won the part.

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7) Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain

Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Randy Quaid.
What’s the story?: Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar are two casual farmhands who accept a job tending sheep on a remote mountain in 1963 and subsequently find themselves attracted to each other. Once back in civilisation, however, they must keep their relationship a secret and try to pursue separate lives.
What we said: A beautifully-shot and expertly acted tale of forbidden love, this ‘gay western’ has already triumphed at film festivals such as Venice, while emerging as the top choice of many American critics in their films of 2005 round-ups. The final scenes, in particular, are heartbreakingly poignant and beautifully played, ensuring that Brokeback Mountain remains with you long after the final credits have been played. It will undoubtedly remain one of the very best films of the year.
Trivia: According to reports, Heath Ledger nearly broke co-star Jake Gyllenhaal’s nose while filming their big kissing scene.

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6) Brick

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Brick

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Emilie de Ravin.
What’s the story?: After receiving a distraught phone call from his missing ex-girlfriend Emily, high-school student Brendan Frye sets out to find her. After she turns up dead, Brendan resolves to make all those responsible pay and begins to infiltrate a drug-dealing group led by non-student The Pin.
What we said: First-time director Rian Johnson’s Brick is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable films of the year – as well as one of the most original. Part High School drama, part Raymond Chandler-style thriller, the film functions as a smart neo-noir that keeps viewers guessing to the very final reel. Everything about Brick rings out class – from the sharp sound editing to its own distinct sense of style. It means that director Johnson has laid down some extremely promising building blocks for his own future.
Trivia: Speaking on the Brick forum, director Rian Johnson has cited the cult Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop as being influential in his visualisation of the film.

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5) Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López, Doug Jones.
What’s the story?: Young Ofelia travels with her pregnant mother to stay with her new stepfather Captain Vidal in a remote outpost in northern Spain after the Civil War. But while Vidal spends his days ruthlessly pursuing anti-fascist rebels in the woods, Ofelia discovers the entrance to a strange labyrinth and befriends a mystical faun named Pan, who informs her that she is the rightful heir to his kingdom. In order to regain her position, however, she must complete a number of dangerous tasks.
What we said: Having dazzled mainstream viewers with Blade 2 and Hellboy Mexican director Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots for this deeply impressive adult fairytale that rates as one of the films of the year. Pan’s Labyrinth is a film that confronts the horror of war and Fascism within the cleverly constructed confines of a fantasy adventure. It’s bold, inspired filmmaking that deserves the maximum praise.
Trivia: It took five hours for American actor Doug Jones to get into his The Pale Man costume. Once inside, he had to look through the nose holes to see where he was going.

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4) Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin.
What’s the story?: A dysfunctional family takes a road trip in a beat-up VW camper van so that their seven-year-old daughter can attend a beauty pageant. The journey is far from smooth, but succeeds in uniting the family.
What we said: There’s a very warm glow surrounding everything to do with Little Miss Sunshine, a deliciously quirky, bittersweet tale about a dysfunctional family that’s forced to take a road trip to attend a beauty contest for their seven-year-old daughter. The film emerged as one of the biggest hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has systematically been winning friends ever since. It’s a film that positively radiates quality by turning a tale of losers into one of the year’s biggest winners.
Trivia: Bill Murray was the original choice to play Frank, the character now played by Steve Carell.

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3) Good Night, And Good Luck

David Strathairn in Goodnight, and Good Luck

Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jnr, Frank Langella, Patricia Clarkson.
What’s the story?: It’s the 1950s and, fearing that America is about to be over-run by Communism, Senator Joseph McCarthy sets up the House Un-American Activities Committee to expose any potential “traitors”. But when McCarthy’s bullying tactics begin to ruin the lives of hundreds of innocent Americans, CBS reporter Edward R Murrow decides to make a stand, publicly challenging McCarthy over the airwaves in what becomes a landmark piece of journalism.
What we said: George Clooney deserves the utmost praise for delivering something as significant and enjoyable as this, which really ought to cement his reputation as an entertainer of tremendous worth. For Goodnight, and Good Luck is that rare kind of film – one that could actually do with being a great deal longer and which is as rewarding as it is enlightening. It only remains for me to say that it is essential viewing.
Trivia: According to George Clooney, when the movie was test screened, viewers felt that the McCarthy character was overacting a bit, not realising that it was the actual McCarthy through archive footage.

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2) Miami Vice

Miami Vice

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li, Ciaran Hinds
What’s the story?: Miami Vice detectives James ‘Sonny’ Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) go undercover inside a Colombian drugs cartel in a bid to flush out a mole working within the justice system. An already dangerous mission becomes complicated still further when Crockett falls for Isabella (Gong Li), a beautiful businesswoman who serves as financial officer for the cartel, and Tubbs’ colleague and love interest, Trudy (Naomie Harris), is placed under threat.
What we said: Miami Vice is therefore a blockbuster for adults that refuses to pull its punches. Farrell has seldom been better, while Foxx exudes the class we have come to expect from him – crucially, they convince as the characters they become, whether talking deals or discharging their guns. Mann continues to underline his credentials as one of the greatest directors of his generation. His new-look Miami Vice is sexy, stylish and exciting with the brains to match. It operates as smoothly as its two central characters, thereby ensuring that Crockett and Tubbs will become cool all over again.
Trivia: Edward James Olmos was given a chance to reprise his role as Castillo, but turned it down.

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1) The Departed

The Departed

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone.
What’s the story?: Billy Costigan is a rookie Boston detective sent to infiltrate the Irish Mob outfit run by the ruthless Frank Costello, a mission made credible by Billy’s loose ties to the Mob. At the same time, he must attempt to find the mole working within his own police department – another recent recruit in the form of Colin Sullivan, a childhood protégé of Frank’s who was groomed to become an informant.
What we said: It’s been a while since director Martin Scorsese pounded the mean streets of the contemporary gangster world but he’s back with a bang and a cast to die for in The Departed. Essentially a remake of acclaimed Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, The Departed is a breathtaking experience in every sense of the word – and one that refuses to waste the talents of its sparkling cast. It deserves to stand alongside the director’s very best work as a modern classic steeped in traditional values. What’s more, it sustains its momentum right up until the very last reel.
Trivia: If you thought the cast was phenomenal, then take a look at some of the people who did not appear. Mel Gibson was offered an unspecified role but was unable to accept because he was starting production on Apocalypto; Dennis Leary declined because of his commitment to TV show, Rescue Me; Brad Pitt was originally cast as Colin Sullivan but dropped out; and Robert De Niro was also offered the role of police chief Oliver Queenan but declined in order to direct CIA thriller, The Good Shepherd

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