I started making annual top-10 movie lists in 2007, so I’ve been going backwards from there to create lists for each year retroactively. See all my best-of lists.
I really enjoyed kicking off my back-in-time film rankings series with the 2006 slate.
Most of my indelible memories from this moviegoing year involved the late, lamented Westgate Cinema, a rundown strip mall theater in Madison that showed the arthouse flicks I was really getting into at this time as a high school junior and senior. I saw several of my top 10 films there.
Looking at the box office from that year reveals a now-familiar dominance of franchises, though only one superhero movie. The only two original concepts represented in the top 10 were Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Hitch—one of which made my own top 10 and the other just missed out.
As for the Oscars, the bit that sticks out (besides the surprising-but-not-really Best Picture triumph of Crash over Brokeback Mountain) was host Jon Stewart’s quip after Three 6 Mafia won Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow: “For those of you who are keeping score at home, I just want to make something very clear: Martin Scorsese, zero Oscars; Three 6 Mafia, one.”
On to the list…
1. Brokeback Mountain
True story: when I started teaching myself how to play guitar around this time, the first two songs I learned were “Blackbird” by The Beatles and “The Wings” from the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain score by Gustavo Santaolalla. Partially because they happened to share a similar riff (and, I realize only now, theme: “Take these broken wings and learn to fly…”), but also because they’re both gorgeously evocative in their own ways.
2. Good Night, And Good Luck
There’s a cozy intimacy this film accomplishes that sets it apart from other star-studded period dramas. Maybe it’s the smooth-jazz score, the black-and-white, or the short runtime. Or maybe it’s the contrast of big issues—freedom of speech, the power of the press—being teased out through small conversations in unassuming rooms.
3. Grizzly Man
I’ve seen and enjoyed many Werner Herzog documentaries, but this one still reigns supreme.
4. Batman Begins
Ah, the halcyon days of when a gritty superhero reboot was a novel concept.
5. A History of Violence
The fight in the diner. The stairway sex scene. The final shot.
6. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Let’s save the discussion about the cancelability of mid-2000s comedies for the 2004 list (Anchorman, Dodgeball) and say for now that this felt like a sea change at the time, not only for the humor but also for the ultimately positive portrayal of virginity.
7. The New World
I remember going to see this with some friends who were expecting something closer to Pocahontas than the slow, meandering, meditative epic this actually is. Needless to say they didn’t like it, but I did.
8. Walk the Line
At my high school, seniors were allowed to make a big raucous commotion between classes on their last day of school to celebrate graduating. My contribution to this day was hoisting my boombox above my head and playing this movie’s soundtrack on repeat while I walked the halls.
9. Four Brothers
An underrated winter movie, crime movie, family drama, and ensemble piece, with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s truly chilling turn as the sadistic, fur-spangled crime boss Victor Sweet as a bonus.
10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith
We now know how Brangelina would turn out, but at the time the chemistry of Pitt and Jolie was as incandescent as this movie’s alchemy of action, humor, and romance.
Honorable mentions: Broken Flowers, Fever Pitch, Hitch, In Her Shoes, Just Friends, King Kong, The Squid and the Whale, War of the Worlds