I can’t believe it either, but these cinema gems came out 10 years ago, give or take a few months. From the outlandish, to the beautiful and subtle, 2006 was a varied, interesting, and downright solid year to spend some time at the movies.
I have selected the best films of 2006, based on critical acclaim, audience response, staying power, and box office success. This is not a comprehensive list, but I tried to make a varied list of 20. Love them or hate them, these are some of the best films of 2006.
20. Thank You For Smoking
Based on the satirical novel of the same name by Christopher Buckley, “Thank You For Smoking” may not have received awards attention like other films on this list, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the best.
“Thank You For Smoking” follows the efforts of Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, who lobbies on behalf of cigarettes using heavy spin tactics while also trying to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son. Jason Reitman, who went on to direct “Juno” and “Up in the Air”, makes his directorial debut here.
Aaron Eckhart stars as Naylor, alongside Katie Holmes, Maria Bello and Robert Duvall, among others. The film was praised for being acutely hilarious, along with being witty and a great dark comedy. It pricks at the anti-smoking message from all sides using wit, intelligence, and delightfully unscrupulous characters.
A source of contention for critics was the film’s lack of continuity and that the satire was not as biting as it was in the novel by Buckley. There was also concern about the sappy ending, unlike the ending seen in the novel.
Even with such criticisms, “Thank You For Smoking” is hilarious, and has enough biting commentary and crazy characters to make it one of the best films of 2006.
Adapted from the musical of the same name, “Dreamgirls” is a semi-biographical film of the history of the Motown record label and one of its acts, The Supremes. The story follows the history and evolution of American R&B music during the 1960s and 1970s through the eyes of a Detroit girl group known as the Dreams and their manipulative record executive.
The film adaptation of “Dreamgirls” stars Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson, and also features Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose and Keith Robinson. Adapted and directed by Bill Condon, “Dreamgirls” was a commercial and critical success.
Earning $154 million at the box office, it received eight Academy Award nominations, tied for the most at that year’s ceremony, although it was not nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, or either of the lead acting categories. Four new songs were added to the film, along with a few minor changes from stage to screen.
The soundtrack to the film peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. “Dreamgirls” received positive reviews and has a 78 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The performances from Hudson and Murphy were singled out as truly exceptional, and Oprah Winfrey even called Hudson and said her performance was “a religious experience” and “a transcendent performance”.
Murphy won Supporting Actor awards from the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild, among others, and Hudson won a huge number of Best Supporting Actress awards, including ones from the Oscars and Golden Globes. The funky music, beautiful design and the acting, especially from Hudson who steals the show, make “Dreamgirls” one of the best films of 2006.
18. Half Nelson
Ryan Gosling earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for playing an inner-city middle school teacher with a secret drug problem. He forms a friendship with one of his students (Shareeka Epps) after she discovers his drug habit.
Premiering at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, “Half Nelson” is based on the short film by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden titled “Gowanus, Brooklyn”. Fleck and Boden returned to this project, co-writing the screenplay with Fleck in the director’s chair. It was scored by Juno-award winning band Broken Social Scene.
The film did well financially, earning almost $5 million against a budget of $700,000. Greeted with high critical acclaim, “Half Nelson” found its way to many Top 10 lists for the year, citing Gosling as a stand out.
The searingly truthful tale about an unlikely friendship and the effects of drug use on youth and adults alike, “Half Nelson” has been cited as one of the best independent films of the decade, ranking in Paste Magazine’s list of best of the 2000s. Through the believable, raw, and real performances of the entire cast, especially Gosling, “Half Nelson” is one of the best films of 2006.
“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (or simply “Borat”) is a British-American mockumentary comedy film.
Written, directed by and starring Sasha Baron Cohen, “Borat” follows a fictitious Kazakh journalist travelling through the United States as he records real-life interactions with Americans.
It features unscripted vignettes of Borat interviewing and interacting with Americans, who believe he is a foreigner with little or no understanding of American customs. Baron Cohen won the 2007 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor: Musical or Comedy, while the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture in the same category. “Borat” was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 79th Academy Awards.
The film was a commercial and critical success, achieving a 91 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it grossed over $250 million worldwide despite being banned in most of the Middle East. Baron Cohen did decide to kill off the character of Borat so there will be sequels, even with the success of this film.
“Borat” was not without controversy; some of the participants were not too happy about their portrayals and some of them took legal action. The film has been censored or completely banned in many parts of the world. Its craziness, fun attitude and controversy make it one of the best films of 2006.
Although this film premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision, “Brick” was not theatrically released until April 2006, therefore it qualifies for this list.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson in his directorial debut, “Brick” stars Joseph Gordon Levitt and Emilie de Ravin. The film’s narrative centers on a hardboiled detective story set in a Californian suburb. Most of the main characters are high school students.
The title refers to a block of heroin, compressed roughly to the size and shape of a brick. “Brick” serves as an homage to classic noir and has been updated perfectly to fit a contemporary high school setting. As in classic noir, the story is not always clear as it unfolds, but it uses dialogue, suspense, and grit to hold the viewer’s attention.
“Brick” received positive reviews from critics and started the career of Rian Johnson, an up and coming filmmaker soon to direct an episode of “Star Wars”.
It has a rating of 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 137 reviews with an average score of 7.1 out of 10, and it was also named one of the 50 Best High School Movies by Entertainment Weekly. “Brick” has shown itself to be a cult classic and one of the best films of 2006.
15. Inside Man
From director Spike Lee and frequent collaborator Denzel Washington, “Inside Man” follows an elaborate bank heist on Wall Street over a 24-hour period.
Washington stars as Detective Keith Frazier, the NYPD’s hostage negotiator; Clive Owen as Dalton Russell, the mastermind who orchestrates the heist; and Jodie Foster as Madeleine White, a Manhattan power broker who becomes involved at the request of the bank’s founder, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), to keep something in his own personal safe deposit box protected from the robbers.
“Inside Man” was critically and commercially successful, receiving positive reviews and being the most successful film financially in Lee’s career, grossing $184 million worldwide. Lee’s film is not just a great heist thriller, but it goes beyond the stereotypes and traps of the genre with wit and skill.
Named one of the best films of the year by the American Film Institute, “Inside Man” is not really a Spike Lee joint, a la “Do the Right Thing”, but Lee still brings the New York attitude and personal touch to make the film distinctly Spike Lee.
Although some critics gave the film mixed reviews, and the planned sequel has since been scrapped, “Inside Man” is still one of the best films of 2006.