Paul Greengrass' United 93 is, markedly, the earliest narrative commentary on the 9/11 tragedy and, to date, the very last cinematic word on the subject. Will any film director ever in history be able to give us the sense of actually being there, on the earth, above on the flight, in the conference rooms and the towers, at that moment the planes hit the World Trade Center? United 93 sets an impossibly high bar. Greengrass made a daring choice in casting many of the aviation and military officials that were actually working that day (Ben Sliney, the newly-named Federal Aviation Administration's head officer, recreates his nascent hours on the job with such incredible power that I had to nominate him for Best Supporting Actor). This lends a dazzling palpability to what we see. But then we have the superb actors cast as the passengers on the doomed flight, all of them (the ones playing the terrorists included) forming a spectacular ensemble that inseparably mingles with the unimaginably authentic work from the real-life non-actors. The British filmmaker Greengrass gives more aching truth to his work with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd's textbook-correct handheld camerawork, while the obscuring sound design, sharp editing. and nearly invisible special effects are all perfectly utilized to put us right in the seats of some who lost their lives that day. United 93 is a film that succeeds horribly and magnificently even though we know how it has to end. To this day, after watching it over and over, it still gets my blood up. It's that powerful--I can't state it any more starkly. I stand in wonder: how did this filmmaker do it? How was he able?
I really adored many other movies from 2006--Alfonso Cuarón's astoundingly mournful and masterful sci-fi tale Children of Men (the perhaps rightful favorite of many movie lovers); the chilly but moving Cold War yarn The Lives of Others (led by the haunted Ulrich Muhe, who was dying of cancer while the film was being made); Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt's little-seen, low-key yet profoundly revealing story of fading male friendship; Todd Field's almost anthropological dissection of American suburban malaise Little Children (with one-time child star Jackie Earle Haley returning to greatness); Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century, an eerie anecdote cementing this Thai newcomer's work as an alternative to stale Western cinema; the hilariously muscle-spraining Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a perfect translation of Sasha Baron Cohen's humor from the small screen to the big--a rare success in that fashion and one which made him a worldwide star; Shane Meadow's This is England, an exacting '80s-set recount of a British kid's intro into the punk-driven skinhead movement, with young Thomas Turgoose heading a superb cast; Darren Aronofsky's challenging, time-hopping romance The Fountain; and Robert Altman's cinematic wake, a raucously prescient farewell to movies and a worldwide love letter based on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. I, too, adored Martin Scorsese's maze-like crime film The Departed, but as I have already given accolades to this genius for Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, and A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, I'm not in the position of having to sheepishly hand him, as the Academy did, a make-up award for a fine but lesser film. I have no doubts as to the best movie of 2006: it's the one that captures me once I see a single frame of it and lets me go only at its brutally crushing end. There will, I hope, never be another like it. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.
Corneliu Porumboiu); The Hoax (US, Lasse Hallstrom); Notes on a Scandal (UK, Richard Eyre); The Prestige (US, Christopher Nolan); Marie Antoinette (US, Sofia Coppola); Apocalypto (US, Mel Gibson); The Wind That Shakes the Barley (UK/Ireland, Ken Loach); The Break-Up (US, Peyton Reed); Sherrybaby (US, Laurie Collyer); Manufactured Landscapes (US, Jennifer Baichwal); Jindabyne (Australia, Ray Lawrence); Black Book (Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven); Iraq in Fragments (US, James Langley); Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Germany/France/Spain/US, Tom Tykwer); The Queen (UK, Stephen Frears); The Bridge (US, Eric Steel); The Namesake (India/US, Mira Nair); The Little Death (US, Morgan Nichols); Rescue Dawn (US, Werner Herzog); The Good Shepherd (US, Robert De Niro); This Film is Not Yet Rated (US, Kirby Dick); Jesus Camp (US, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady); Little Miss Sunshine (US, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris); An Inconvenient Truth (US, Davis Guggenheim); A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (US, Dino Montiel); The TV Set (US, Jake Kasdan); The Illusionist (US, Neil Burger); Thank You For Smoking (US, Jason Reitman); Volver (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar); Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (US, John Schienfeld); Rocky Balboa (US, Sylvester Stallone); Infamous (US, Douglas McGrath); Dreamgirls (US, Bill Condon); Flags of Our Fathers (US, Clint Eastwood); Black Snake Moan (US, Craig Brewer); Hollywoodland (US, Allen Coulter); Monster House (US, Gil Kenan); Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (US, Stanley Nelson); Southland Tales (US, Richard Kelly); Happy Feet (US/Australia, George Miller); The Last King of Scotland (UK, Kevin MacDonald); The Host (South Korea, Bong Joon-ho); Shortbus (US, John Cameron Mitchell); The Black Dahlia (US, Brian De Palma))
ACTOR: Ulrich Muhe, THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2nd: Sasha Baron Cohen, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, followed by: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson; Thomas Turgoose, This is England; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed; Lee Pace, The Fall; Richard Gere, The Hoax)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jennifer Hudson, DREAMGIRLS (2nd: Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson, followed by: Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal; Frances McDormand, Friends With Money; Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine; Phyllis Sommerville, Little Children; Adriana Barraza, Babel)
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass, UNITED 93 (2nd: Tarsem Singh, The Fall, followed by: Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men; Kelly Reichardt, Old Joy; Florian Henkel von Donnensmark, The Lives of Others; Todd Field, Little Children; Apiachapong Weerasethakul, Syndromes and a Century)
NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Germany, Florian Henkel von Donnensmark) (2nd: Syndromes and a Century (Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul), followed by: Tell No One (France, Guillaume Canet); Paprika (Japan, Satoshi Kon); Letters from Iwo Jima (US, Clint Eastwood); 12:08: East of Bucharest (Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu); Black Book (Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven); Volver (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar); The Host (South Korea, Bong Joon-ho))
ANIMATED SHORT: EVERYTHING WILL BE OK (US, Don Hertzfeld) (2nd: The Danish Poet (Norway/Canada, Torill Kove), followed by: The Little Match Girl (US, Roger Allers))
LIVE ACTION SHORT: LA MORTE ROUGE (Spain, Victor Erice) (2nd: West Bank Story (US, Ari Sandel), followed by: Touch (US, David Hamilton))
FILM EDITING: UNITED 93, Children of Men, The Departed, The Fall, Inside Man
SOUND: UNITED 93, Children of Men, World Trade Center, Apocolypto, Casino Royale
SOUND EFFECTS: WORLD TRADE CENTER, Apocolypto, Letters from Iwo Jima
ORIGINAL SCORE: Clint Mansell, THE FOUNTAIN (2nd: Gustavo Santolalla, Babel, followed by: John Powell, United 93; Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal; Alexandre Desplat, The Painted Veil)
ORIGINAL SONG: “I Need to Wake Up” from AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Music and lyrics by Melissa Etheridge) (2nd: “O Kazakstan” from Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Music by Erran Baron Cohen; lyrics by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Beter Baynham, Todd Phillips, Dan Greaney, Jeff Poloquin and Patton Oswalt), followed by: “A Father’s Way” from The Pursuit of Happyness (Music and lyrics by Seal))
ADAPTED OR SONG SCORE: Richard A. Dworsky, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (2nd: Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls)