An unusually foreign emphasis for me, with only three Hollywood movies in the top 10, two by directors who don't live there. The vagaries of international film distribution dropped several of the top festival films from 2005 into the 2006 release mix (Caché, Gabrielle, Kings And Queen) to go with the top films from this year's festivals.
1 PAN'S LABYRINTH (Guillermo del Toro)
A fantasia on theme of Spanish fascism in the visual style of Arthur Rackham. Del Toro is a Mexican director fascinated by the Spanish Civil War, and here he turns a child loose in the final days of the conflict between her future stepfather, the town's new fascist commandant, and the resistance in a world of sprites and fairies. No other director today is as adept as del Toro at making the real fantastic and the fantastic alarmingly real.
2 CACHE (Michael Haneke)
Haneke's unmatched intellectual rigor is at work in this unblinking portrait of bourgeois guilt coming home to roost for a dreamy bobo couple played by Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. A tiny thing done by a vicious child 40 years before still eats at the grown-up man. Fascinating performances, and Haneke's paranoia-inducing camera style keeps your eyes riveted to the screen.
3 THE DEPARTED (Martin Scorsese)
Who would have predicted that an apparently commercial endeavour made by Scorsese after two historical epics would be his most dramatically satisfying film since The Age Of Innocence, and his most successful since Cape Fear? Transplanting the HK crime thriller Infernal Affairs to Boston and loading it with an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg), Scorsese rediscovers his specialty: men behaving badly with guns.
4 LADY VENGEANCE (Park Chan-wook)
The third and best of Park's "vengeance" trilogy, Lady Vengeance offers a curious narrative that moves through time the way a sidewinder moves across the sand, and a colour scheme that offers its own eye-popping pleasures.
5 GABRIELLE (Patrice Chéreau)
A tragedy of manners set in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris in which Isabelle Huppert dumps her husband and leaves a note. Then she comes back. This is the performance of the year, an astonishingly modulated portrait delivered in long, merciless close-ups. Worth including here if only for Huppert's delivery of the line "If I'd known you loved me, I wouldn't have come back."
6 INSIDE MAN/WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE (Spike Lee)
A bit of a cheat, as Levees, seen at TIFF, had no theatrical release. Regardless, Lee is the director of the year for this intriguing one-two punch of a serpentine thriller/character comedy with a superstar cast, followed by a searing document of tragedy and abandonment. Eight years after his last outing with Denzel Washington , Lee is still Washington's best director.
7 KINGS AND QUEEN (Arnaud Desplechin)
A great and disturbing performance by Matthieu Amalric (Ma Vie Sexuelle, Munich) anchors this intense psychological drama about the men in one woman's life. Amalric plays a tortured musician consigned to an institution who can't stop saying what he's thinking, even if he doesn't believe it. Great cameo from Catherine Deneuve as his shrink.
8 VOLVER (Pedro Almodóvar) An Almodóvar film that combines the outrageous plotting of his early work with the stately style and saturated colours of his later films, a fast story told slowly as a showcase for Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura , daughter and mother, though Mom may be a ghost. Or not....
9 MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (Jennifer Baichwal)
Both ecological indictment of the costs of China's industrial revolution and a swoon-worthy examination of the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky , who documents ecological devastation yet can't help capturing the beauty of disaster. Baichwal lets his eye take her to some very unusual parts of China.
10 CRANK (Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor)
Every top 10 needs a genuinely psycho action movie, and this is mine, a berserk cross between Speed and D.O.A. Jason Statham 's assassin is doped with some designer poison, and if he doesn't stop moving - and killing and fucking and driving with reckless abandon - he'll die. Very smart and wickedly entertaining.
Blood Diamond, Brick, Casino Royale, The Descent, Omagh, The Queen, The Sun, Talladega Nights, Thank You For Smoking, Tristram Shandy, United 93
BEST LEADING PERFORMANCES
Matthieu Amalric, Kings And Queen
Aaron Eckhardt, Thank You For Smoking
Isabelle Huppert, Gabrielle
Julianne Moore, Freedomland
Ellen Page, Hard Candy
Denzel Washington, Inside Man
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Frances McDormand, Friends With Money
Toby Maguire, The Good German
Jack Nicholson, The Departed
John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION You don't have to put every actor who's been in your films in every film.
CARS Pixar remakes Doc Hollywood. With cars. WTF? There's no internal logic to this universe.
FAST FOOD NATION Richard Linklater is just better than this didactic mess.
RIDING ALONE FOR THOUSANDS OF MILES Ditto Zhang Yimou .
THE BLACK DAHLIA Brian De Palma meets James Ellroy and they don't much like each other - their misogynies don't quite mesh.