Best of 2006

by LeeAnne on January 23, 2007

It’s finally here! My annual homage to all the guilty pleasures that kept me from doing all the things I should have been doing. Like cleaning my apartment. And paying bills. And registering for a new gym membership.

As I state every year, my disclaimer is this: I cannot possibly see every movie or television show, read every book, or listen to every album. I cannot. So, this list is limited in its scope. But it’s the best of what I have experienced. And if you disagree, please tell me! That’s what comments are for.

MOVIES: MY TOP TEN

Ah, the cinema. I love the bright lights, the aroma of buttered popcorn, and the always unpredictable reactions of a room full of captive strangers. The movie house is like my second home. At last count, I saw 51 different 2006 releases, and a good many I saw more than once. That’s approximately one movie per week, upwards of 100 hours, and more than $500 spent at the cineplex. My favorites thus far…
1. Little Miss Sunshine
I knew I was going to love this little dark comedy the first time I saw the trailer. It’s got so many things going for it: well-cast quirky characters (loved the Nietzsche-loving, self-imposed mute played by Paul Dano), an original take on the tired family road-trip genre, gritty-fabulous costuming and art direction, and a funky little score. In many ways, Little Miss Sunshine was the Sideways of 2006—the little indie that could. Unfortunately, like Sideways, it stands little chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture.
2. V For Vendetta
My first of two very unconventional Top 10 choices (along with Running With Scissors, you probably won’t see this movie on any legitimate critic’s best-of list), and a highly unusual choice for me. I’m not usually keen on comic book adaptations, though there have been some highlights, like Ghost World and American Splendor. V for Vendetta is part fantasy and part highly relevant cultural/political commentary. By the end, I found myself rooting for V, the poetic, masked terrorist who’s blowing up London, and I thought, “Whoa. Hello perspective. Now this is what art is all about.”
3. Children of Men
Aside from the fact that the hand-held camera work made me sooooo motion sick, Children of Men was a refreshingly original movie that easily slid into my Top 5. It’s a frightening look at a futuristic world that has turned violent and hopeless because no children have been born in the last 18 years. Appealing to my inner art geek, I particularly enjoyed one scene in which all of these famous works of art—Picasso’s Guernica and Michelangelo’s David, even Pink Floyd’s pig—displayed around a private home, safe from the destruction. But David’s leg is missing, and there is a metal rod in its place. Brilliant.
4. The Departed
Jack Nicholson. Leonardo DiCaprio. Matt Damon. Mark Wahlberg. You don’t even have to see this movie to know it’s great. This good cop/bad cop story was the most graphically violent and crude movie I’ve seen all year, but the astonishingly creative plot kept me at the edge of my seat until the final scene. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days and weeks afterward.
5. Dreamgirls
Gotta love the Broadway-show-cum-movie musical. I’d heard such rave reviews, I went into this movie assuming it would top my list. However, unlike Chicago, if you take away the musical numbers (which are phenomenal, no doubt), you don’t have much of movie. I wish the acting were as amazing as Jennifer Hudson belting out “And I’m Telling You.” But I did enjoy the flick, and in a very diverse field of contenders, Dreamgirls should have been a Best Picture Oscar nominee.
6. Thank You For Smoking
This was one of the first good movies I saw this year. It’s a satirical comedy about Big Tobacco’s chief spokesman who spins on behalf of cigarettes while also trying to be a role model for his son. I loved the restaurant scenes with the M.O.D. Squad (Merchants of Death), a trio of politically incorrect pals who are lobbyists for the tobacco, alcohol, and gun industries. They get in these ridiculous quibbles, like whose industry kills more Americans each year. It’s so wrong, but so funny.
7. Running with Scissors
I’m a sucker for quirky character-driven movies. What’s most amazing about this one is that it’s based on Augusten Burrough’s memoir about being sent to live with his mother’s therapist, Dr. Finch, and his bizarre family. These people actually exist. Hard to imagine. Mad props to Annette Bening for a spectacularly neurotic performance. Along with Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, and Judi Dench, it’s quite a year for older actresses!
8. A Prairie Home Companion
I admit, I’m not really a Robert Altman fan. I gave up on Gosford Park after three failed attempts to get more than 20 minutes in before falling asleep. A Prairie Home Companion is much more accessible, thanks to a wonderful ensemble cast, some fun musical numbers, and a genuinely interesting behind-the-scenes look at an old-fashioned radio show. I could have done without Virginia Madsen’s character, though. What was with her!?
9. Stranger Than Fiction
Will Ferrel. Not my favorite actor. I typically run away from his movies. But, man, he’s quite good when he’s playing it straight. I loved this story about a man who is both real and the fictional protagonist of a novel, and who can hear the narrator’s voice in his head. The comedy was understated (thank God), the acting (especially Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson) was fun, and I was pleasantly intrigued by the overlaid graphic charts and numbers that made appearances from time to time. Hooray for the cinematic version of mixed media.
10. Word Play
I had to put a documentary on the list. This one—about crossword puzzle fanatics—is a feel-good, makes-you-want-to-smile type of movie. It follows a handful of crossword puzzle competitors as they prepare for their annual convention and championship, and splices in interviews with celebrities (like Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton) talking about their crossword quirks. Pencil or pen? Numerical order or easy ones first? Plus, you learn what it takes to create a puzzle that will satisfy New York Times puzzlers. Not an easy task!

Honorable mentions go to: Akeelah and the Bee (a family movie that is both inspiring and well-made), Babel (conceptually intriguing), Casino Royale (putting the h-o-t in b-o-n-d), Idlewild (kick-ass musical performances and creative live action/animation combos), The Lake House (a romance that makes you think), Notes on a Scandal (Judi Dench), The Queen (a thoughtful look at the royal family), and Volver (unpredictable, entirely original, and subtitled). Okay, I admit, I liked Stick It, too.

MUSIC: A MIXED BAG OF RETURNING FAVES

Charlotte Martin – Stromata
It’s only a matter of time before Charlotte Martin surpasses Beth Hart as my favorite singer-songwriter. On her second full-length album (there were two EPs inbetween), Charlotte takes her music in an entirely different direction. She ditched the full orchestra accompaniment for funky drum and electronic beats, but she still maintains her crazy piano prowess. Love. Favorite tracks: “Cut the Cord,” “The Dance,” and “Redeemed”
Evanescence – The Open Door
This was definitely my most anticipated music purchase of the year. I love the hard rock sound paired with a soaring and strong female voice and strikingly spiritual lyrics. And while I was concerned Evanescence would lose some of their edge without Ben Moody, I’ve discovered they’re actually stronger than ever. Favorite tracks: “Sweet Sacrifice,” “Call Me When You’re Sober,” “Weight of the World”… okay, I like them all.
Natalie Walker – Urban Angel
I was sad to hear that Daughter Darling lost its enchanting vocalist before they were able to record a second album. Thankfully, Natalie is still around—as a solo artist. She remains true to Daughter’s trip-hop sound, but takes the tempo way down for a nice chill-out album. Favorite tracks: “Colorblind” and “Faith”
Toby Lightman – Bird on a Wire
Another sophomore effort! Apparently, I really like second albums! This one is almost as good as her debut, with that same smoky, soulful voice and tracks that are far from run-of-the-mill pop. Favorite tracks: “Don’t Wake Me” and “My Sweet Song”
Christina Aguilera – Back to Basics
Yes, I like Christina Aguilera. Don’t hate. Admittedly, I’ve liked her since she was on the Mickey Mouse Club. And what’s great about Christina is she keeps getting even better. I like that she takes so much time between albums to challenge herself artistically. This time: a two-disc album infused with jazz and gospel. Favorite tracks: “Makes Me Wanna Pray,” “Hurt,” and “Mercy On Me”
Damien Rice – 9
I’m somewhat of a sucker for folk music, which many people may not know, and I fell in love with Damien Rice during the opening credits of Closer when he sings over and over: “I can’t take my eyes off of you.” He doesn’t change the musical formula much in this follow-up to his critically praised debut, O. But that’s okay. Why change when you’re flawless? Favorite tracks: “Coconut Skins” and “9 Crimes”
Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
Along with Damien Rice, another British entry. I love that these guys continue to have such a distinct sound in the rock world (which, to me, seems to be increasingly suffering from sameness). Even the tracks on this one album are distinct from each other. But I’m still waiting for them to top their awesome cover of “Feeling Good,” which is one of my favorite songs of all time. Favorite tracks: “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Map of the Problematique”
Sarah McLachlan – Wintersong
There were a few really good Christmas album releases this year, but none can really compare to Sarah. Who can compare to Sarah ever, really? This album is very balanced mix of classic carols, contemporary covers, and original material (aka future classics!). Favorite tracks: “Wintersong,” “River,” and “Song for a Winter’s Night”

Singles of Note: “Better Way” by Ben Harper (great message and a funky beat), “Boston” by Augustana (tickle those ivories, boys), “Faster Kill Pussycat” by Oakenfold featuring Brittany Murphy (no real trance lover liked this song; good thing I’m just a poseur), “Keep Holding On” by Avril Lavigne (the only good thing about Eragon), “Leave the Pieces” by The Wreckers (Michelle Branch does country), “Nowhere Warm” by Kate Havnevik (voice of an angel), “Nu Rock” by Morningwood (worst band name ever, but a great song), “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae (sweet and light), “The Way I Feel” by Matt Wertz (I’d so date him… hehehe), “Tracking Treasure Down” by Gabriel & Dresden (point me to the dance floor), “We Run This” (Stick It version) by Missy Elliot (in lieu of new material, I’ll take a remix), and “What I Wouldn’t Give” by Holly Brook (from Fort Minor to budding piano goddess).

TELEVISION: WHAT’S THAT?

It’s been a weird year in this department. I ended up bailing on my favorite programs, like Gilmore Girls, Amazing Race, and Grey’s Anatomy, mid-season. I faithfully watched season two of So You Think You Can Dance, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the best show of the year. I also have a lot of respect for shows like House and The Office, but I only see them on occasion. And I don’t care if it won a Golden Globe, I cannot handle a half-an-hour of Ugly Betty. Could this be the beginning of the end for me and TV?

BOOKS: I’M SO LAST YEAR

I should really delete this category. Every year (at least those years in which a new Harry Potter novel was NOT released), I apologize for not reading new releases. I’m just not going to buy a hardcover. I’m not. So, unless I actually step foot in a library (which I’m not opposed to; I just forget they exist), I’m generally a year or more behind in this category. Rather than completely let you down, I’ll instead list the 2004 and 2005 releases I finally got around to reading this year and loved: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, Everybody Into the Pool by Beth Lisick, Fat Girl: A True Story by Judith Moore, and I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies) by Laurie Notaro.

NEWSMAKERS

And my favorite newsmaker of the year: Barack Obama. Who is this guy, and where did he come from? The Illinois senator won a lot of fans during his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and with the 2006 release of his second autobiographical book, The Audacity of Hope, his popularity only keeps growing. His appeal is unusually broad, and his candid interviews are refreshing. I can’t wait for what looks to be a Hillary Clinton/Barak Obama showdown for the Democratic nomination in 2008. I’ve never been more excited to not be a Republican. Hehehe.

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