While it might be alarming to look back on 2006 and realize it was now 17 years ago, at least many of the great films released that year have aged very gracefully. It was a year that saw many great films released on an international scale, with a surprising number of non-English-language movies crossing over to English-speaking countries and having appeal outside where they were made.
Some have even argued that the Best International Feature Film category for the Oscars that year housed better films than the ones that were up for Best Picture. As such, what follows is a ranking of all the best movies from 2006, highlighting both English-language titles and non-English-language titles. Given the strength of the year, some films have missed the cut, with the movies below truly being the best of the best of a great year.
10 ‘The Host’
Though Bong Joon-ho’s profile was raised considerably when Parasite (2019) became the first non-English-language movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars, he’d been consistently building up a strong fanbase throughout the 2000s and 2010s. 2006’s The Host was significant in this regard, being one of his first films to gain considerable attention outside just South Korea.
It’s easy to see why, because it’s very entertaining and surprisingly accessible, even for those who might usually be turned off by subtitles. It follows a group of family members putting their lives in danger to rescue their daughter, who was captured by a horrifying monster that mysteriously appeared one day, attacked various people, then left with the young girl. It’s emotional, exciting, action-packed, and surprisingly funny in parts, too, being a rollercoaster of a movie that ranks as one of Bong Joon-ho’s best.
9 ‘Casino Royale’
Casino Royale isn’t just one of the best James Bond movies of all time; it’s arguably among the greatest action movies of all time, too. It re-energized the series, taking things in a decidedly less campy direction, with the film earning considerable praise for its intense action sequences and a storyline that felt more grounded than usual.
It was the first of five James Bond movies Daniel Craig starred in, and served as an effective reboot/origin story for the series’ protagonist. In many ways, it felt like James Bond for a new generation, all the while keeping the core elements of the series intact, ensuring it was a surprise hit that got people the most excited they’d been about 007 in years.
Ranking right up there with the greatest anime movies of all time, Paprika is a wonderfully wild, visually creative, and endlessly inventive assault on the senses. Its plot revolves around a machine that lets therapists enter the minds of their patients to view their dreams, and what happens when this device is stolen by someone who may want it for nefarious means.
When a movie looks and sounds the way Paprika does, mere words can only do so much when attempting to describe how it feels to watch. Those who are okay with a fairly intricate (and fast-paced) story should watch it, regardless of how much they usually enjoy anime. It’s honestly that good, and is far from the kind of anime movie that might be seen as “just” for anime fans.
7 ‘United 93’
United 93 is an intense historical drama/thriller film that aims to present what happened on the titular flight on the morning of September 11, 2001. It takes place in real time and shows how the passengers of the flight managed to take control of the airplane after it was hijacked, ultimately ensuring that the plane didn’t hit its target (likely the U.S. Capitol) and instead crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
It’s remarkable how authentic and harrowing the film feels, as for better or worse, it does succeed in making you feel like you’re on the plane, watching events unfold. Its challenging story and inevitable conclusion make it a difficult viewing experience, but it’s a very powerful film that pays tribute to a group of people who gave their lives to thwart a terrorist plot that could have ended up being far deadlier.
6 ‘The Lives of Others’
Winning the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, The Lives of Others is easily one of 2006’s best movies. Its plot revolves around surveillance and deals with voyeurism (Hitchcock probably would’ve loved it), centering on a member of the secret police in East Berlin before the Berlin Wall fell, and the way he gets wrapped up in the lives of a couple he’s tasked with listening in on.
Even though it might be regarded as the second-best non-English-language film of 2006 nowadays, it’s still fantastic, and proves to be an emotional and gripping watch. It’s a slow-burn thriller done right, keeping things quiet but always engrossing, all the while building up to a superb conclusion.
5 ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’
Time will tell if Sacha Baron Cohen ever writes/stars in a movie better than the amazingly-titled Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It’s unlikely, but when your best is as good as this, maybe that’s easy to come to terms with.
He plays the titular Borat, a journalist from Kazakhstan who travels to the U.S., uncovering both the wonders and the horrors of life there during the early 21st century. It can be shocking, low-brow, and fairly crude, but it’s also remarkably clever, with Sacha Baron Cohen’s commitment to the role (thereby convincing people he was a real journalist from Kazakhstan) allowing him to shed light on genuine problematic attitudes surrounding race and prejudice in the U.S.
4 ‘The Departed’
Martin Scorsese’s responsible for directing some of the greatest crime movies of all time, with The Departed being his most successful, at least as far as the Oscars are concerned. It’s the only Scorsese movie to have won Best Picture, and though most fans wouldn’t call it their personal favorite, it’s likely most can agree that The Departed’s still pretty great.
It’s a remake of 2002’s Infernal Affairs, transporting its story about undercover criminals and undercover cops from Hong Kong to Boston, and adding a good deal of material in the process (it’s about 50 minutes longer than the fast-paced original). With a great cast filled with actors who don’t mind chewing the scenery, The Departed has a high level of energy, plenty of shocking plot twists, and is overall an engaging watch from beginning to blood-drenched end.
3 ‘Little Miss Sunshine’
Little Miss Sunshine represents the road movie at its best, while also being a heartwarming and emotional comedy/family drama. It follows an eccentric family going on a long road trip to California so their youngest can perform in a beauty pageant. Along the way, things rarely seem to go to plan, resulting in various chaotic moments – some funny, yet some tragic.
It’s amazing how well the film balances its emotional material with its humor, and similarly impressive is the cast that Little Miss Sunshine managed to assemble. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, and Alan Arkin all give some of the best performances of their career, enabling Little Miss Sunshine to be the kind of dramedy that really sticks with you long after watching.
2 ‘Children of Men’
When Children of Men was released, it imagined a future that was still 20+ years away, with the film taking place in 2027. While the 2020s have been challenging, they at least don’t seem quite as bad as what this sci-fi thriller predicted, because in this movie, the world’s shown to be falling apart, largely because the whole human race has become infertile.
Things kick into high gear when its protagonist is tasked with protecting a young woman who’s miraculously become pregnant, and needs to be taken to a safe location. It’s one of the greatest sci-fi films released in the past couple of decades, offering a tense story, breathtaking action, and a scarily believable look at a dystopian world.
1 ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’
Guillermo del Toro’s the master of making dark fairytale movies, with Pan’s Labyrinth still standing to this day as the high point of his remarkable filmmaking career. It takes place in Spain during the 1940s, centering on a young girl who retreats into a fantasy realm to escape the hardships of her life with an uncaring and dominant stepfather.
Both its fantasy sequences and its “real world” scenes are equally gripping, ensuring Pan’s Labyrinth works as an emotional drama and an imaginative (yet dark) fantasy film. It’s a perfectly crafted movie, feels impossible to fault, and can justifiably be considered the best film released in 2006.
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