Greatest Films of the 2000s
Greatest Films of the 2000s

Greatest Films of the 2000s
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Academy Awards for 2006 Films
Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Apocalypto (2006), 139 minutes, D: Mel Gibson
Director / co-writer / producer Mel Gibson's subtitled, R-rated epic action-adventure film provided a bloody and brutal portrayal of physical abuse experienced during the fall of the barbarous Mayan civilization mythically portrayed on-screen. The plot was set in the year 1502 in Yucatán, Mexico, told through the point-of-view of young male Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), an early 16th century MesoAmerican tribal forest hunter. He and his fellow peaceful tribal companions in their village were attacked and captured by an invasion of a band of fierce Holcane warriors led by the vengeful and fierce Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo). Their home was ravaged and pillaged and then burned, with many of the villagers either raped and/or murdered, while the children were left behind. Jaguar Paw's father Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead) had his throat slit by the sadistic raider Middle Eye (Gerardo Taracena). A few of the young, able-bodied residents, including Jaguar Paw, were taken on a dangerous trek to a pestilence-stricken Mayan city, to be sold as slaves or sacrificed. The women were brutalized or sold as servants, while the males' fate was to be sacrificed atop a giant step pyramid - with hearts ripped out and heads severed. The urban Mayans believed that more and more live ritualistic human sacrifices would appease the gods. During a solar eclipse, Jaguar Paw's sacrifice was halted, and he was able to escape, although injured, during a brutal game of target practice when he was able to kill Zero Wolf's son Cut Rock (Ricardo Diaz Mendoza). Jaguar Paw fled during an intense chase-pursuit sequence as he was followed by a band of vengeful warriors. After killing Middle Eye in one-on-one combat, he heroically and determinedly returned to rescue his pregnant wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and young son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Báez) that he had earlier hidden in a deep but empty cistern pit in the village. Again wounded by an arrow in his shoulder, he lured one of the remaining warriors, Zero Wolf, into his own animal trap - and impaled him on sharp spikes. While the last two pursuers, Monkey Jaw (Carlos Ramos) and Ten Peccary (Richard Can), were distracted by the arrival at the shoreline of Spanish ships (with Conquistador soldiers and missionaries), he was able to help Seven (who had just given birth) and Turtles Run out of the cistern. They decided to go deeper into the forest and find "a new beginning."

Away From Her (2006, Canada/UK/US), 110 minutes, D: Sarah Polley
Director Sarah Polley's directorial debut film was this independent marriage-related drama, a poignant and affecting sad tale of Alzheimer's. The film's opening scene portrayed the long-term, close relationship of 44 years - exemplified by a devoted couple who were cross-country skiing in secluded, rural northern Ontario, Canada at their remote log cabin by a lake: retired college professor Grant Andersson (Gordon Pinsent) and his beloved, increasingly-disoriented, silver-haired wife Fiona (Best Actress-nominated 65 year-old Julie Christie). She was experiencing dementia due to the ravages of Alzheimer's disease. Grant frequently experienced recollections of a younger 18 year-old Fiona (Stacey LaBerge) and how she proposed to him. He was taken on an introductory tour of the Meadowlake retirement center by its chirpy, smooth-talking director Madeleine Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) where Fiona was to be taken and cared for. After an initial 30 days of absence, he was able to steadfastly visit her, although she had lost virtually all memories of him, and had become increasingly attached and doting to mute, wheelchair-bound patient Aubrey Bark (Michael Murphy). She told her persistent, slightly jealous and bewildered visitor Grant who was beginning to feel abandoned: "He doesn't confuse me at all." He wondered if she was possibly instilling in him guilt and 'punishment' for his extra-marital indiscretions with students during the early years of their marriage. During a series of painful visits, Grant also conversed with sympathetic, friendly and plain-spoken nurse Kristy (Kristen Thomson) who offered her pager number, and with an understanding punk teenager named Monica (Nina Dobrev) who was visiting her grandfather. Grant would often read to Fiona from the book "Letters From Iceland." Over time, Grant began to engage in an affair with Aubrey's abrasive, pragmatic and outspoken wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis), who had removed Aubrey from the home due to financial difficulties. In the film's final scene of unconditional love, Fiona briefly remembered her husband and his self-less care for her: ("I'm a very lucky woman") - as the camera spun around the embracing couple to the tune of K.D. Lang singing Neil Young's "Helpless."

Babel (2006, Fr./US/Mex.), 143 minutes, D: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu's psychological drama was structured with three complex, contrived, sometimes-intersecting, non-linear plot lines or narratives about four families in four different countries. All of them referred to themes of mis-communication, misunderstanding and violence. In the first storyline of the ensemble film, a troubled, married US couple from San Diego: Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett), were on a vacation. They were traveling in N. Africa (Morocco) after a traumatic event had seriously depressed the wife - the SIDS death of their young son Sam. While traveling on a tourist bus, Susan was inadvertently shot in the shoulder. [Note: Goatherder Abdullah's young son named Yussef was carelessly shooting a powerful rifle that was supposed to be used to scare off predators. Firing wildly into the desert, a stray bullet struck Susan. Moroccan police officers, who wrongly suspected terrorists, investigated and apprehended the father and his two sons after a tense shoot-out that left eldest son Ahmed shot twice and lethally injured.] After some effort, Richard was able to seek rustic medical help for Susan in a rural village clinic (with a veterinarian), and then arranged helicopter transport for her to a hospital in Casablanca. Meanwhile, the Jones' had left their two children, Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble), back at home in San Diego with their Mexican housekeeper Amelia Hernández (Adriana Barraza). Due to their extended stay, Amelia was compelled, without Richard's permission, to take the children with her to Tijuana, Mexico so that she could attend her eldest son Luis' wedding. Her reckless and headstrong nephew Santiago (Gael García Bernal) drove them both directions. Upon their return that same night, Santiago was drunk and greeted suspiciously by border guards when Amelia couldn't produce a parental letter of consent to transport the children. He broke through the barrier and sped away. The children were left stranded in the desert with Amelia and then abandoned, but fortunately were later found unharmed. An illegal immigrant herself, Amelia was faced with deportation back to Mexico. In the third story set in Japan, deaf and mostly-mute Tokyo high schooler Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi) was struggling with the recent suicidal death of her mother, continued rejection and bullying by male schoolmates regarding her disability, and the emotional distance of her widowed father Yasujiro Wataya (Kôji Yakusho). Confused, frustrated, and rebellious, she sought sexual attention from young males by removing her panties and exposing herself under a table. When Detective Kenji Mamiya (Satoshi Nikaido) came to question her father (regarding his hunting trip to Morocco, thus linking his registered gun - given to his guide - to the one used in Susan's shooting), Chieko misunderstood the reason for the questioning. She approached Mamiya stark naked to seduce him. Her father ultimately realized how deeply troubled and unhappy his daughter was, and hugged and comforted her.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), 84 minutes, D: Larry Charles
In this deliberately edgy, R-rated, satirical mockumentary comedy, a crude and vulgar character named Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) feigned ignorance as a "fake" or fictional Kazakstani reporter who went on a road-trip to discover America and its culture and customs. (Its similar sequel was titled Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)). While interviewing various unsuspecting individuals on the street and elsewhere (in unscripted vignettes), first in NYC, the bumbling and offensive man-child Borat, on his hotel's TV, came across an episode of the hit show Baywatch, starring Pamela Anderson (as Herself) as C.J. Parker - one of the red, tight one-piece swim-suited lifeguards. He then set out to Los Angeles, CA on a cross-country journey with his hairy, overweight and fat producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), driving in a dilapidated ice-cream truck, to search out the sexy actress and propose to her. As part of his schtick, Borat revealed his anti-Semitism, misogynistic, racist, and homophobic attitudes. One of the more memorable segments was Borat's visit to a South Carolina rodeo, where he made jingoistic remarks about the 'war on terror,' and was booed while singing his own fictional Kazakhi national anthem to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Another memorable encounter was during a dinner party at the Magnolia Mansion (on Secession Dr.) with Southern dining society guests, where he offered to show pictures of his family (a totally full-frontal photo of his son Huey Lewis, along with detailed commentary about the boy's genital growth, and then after visiting the restroom or 's--t-hole', he returned with a white bag supposedly holding his own human feces. Another hilarious sequence was a nude wrestling brawl between Borat and Azamat, first in their Houston, Texas hotel room and spilling over into a crowded convention ballroom. His encounters included groups such as veteran feminists, Gay Pride supporters, and Pentecostal churchgoers in Phoenix, AZ. After finally arriving in Los Angeles, the love-smitten Borat met Pamela Anderson at an Orange County DVD signing event in a Virgin Megastore, where he proposed marriage to her. Naturally she declined, but he wouldn't accept rejection. He responded: "Agreement not necessary" and attempted to capture her, Kazakhstan-style, by placing a 'wedding sack' over her head to kidnap her. She resisted him and ran off, and he was arrested by security guards.

Casino Royale (2006, UK), 144 minutes, D: Martin Campbell
This action-spy thriller was the third screen adaptation of author Ian Fleming's first novel published in 1953 (the first two films included a 1954 episode of the CBS-TV series Climax!, and the spy-parody film Casino Royale (1967) with David Niven), and it was the 21st film in the long-running James Bond franchise-series. It was a successful reboot (and origin story) of the series following four Brosnan Bond films (from 1995-2002). At the beginning of his career as British 007 MI6 secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig in his debut film), Bond was seen in a parkour running foot chase after bombmaker Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan) - beginning on a crane in Madagascar and proceeding through a slum and ending with a shootout at the Nambutu Embassy. He then pursued corrupt Greek official and international terrorist henchman Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) and his exotic girlfriend Solange (Caterina Murino) (whom Bond bedded), and killed him and his replacement Carlos (Claudio Santamaria) after a chase at the Miami, FL airport. Bond thwarted their plans to blow up an aircraft. Sent by his superior "M" (Dame Judi Dench), Bond's next target was the major mastermind behind all of the terrorist activities - the scheming, private financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who was bankrolling terrorist clients. He had a bleeding cut over and through his left eye. He had ordered Solange's torture and murder, suspecting that she had talked and caused Dimitrios' death. Due to Bond's interference, Le Chiffre had acquired significant debts for his allied clients, and was desperate to recoup his losses. The bankrupted Le Chiffre was scheduled to engage in a high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale 'Texas Hold 'Em' tournament in Montenegro, with a $10 million dollar buy-in entry fee. Bond was supported and partnered with intelligent, feisty British Treasury agent/liaison officer Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) - a raven-haired, green-eyed beauty, whom "M" had assigned to monitor him. The two, posing as a couple, were also allied with MI6 agent René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) of the French Deuxième Bureau, and assisted by CIA operative Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). As a result of the game, Bond's objective was to further bankrupt Le Chiffre, capture him, and force him to seek British asylum in exchange for information to be provided to MI6. After an exciting poker game sequence with both sides jockeying for the win (Bond was the eventual winner), Le Chiffre kidnapped Vesper and used her to also entrap Bond. (Soon after, Mathis was arrested as a traitor that had tipped off Le Chiffre). Bond was subjected to naked torture in a chair by whipping his genitals with a knotted rope, to reveal the password for the account where the poker winnings were allegedly secured. Both were saved by the arrival of mysterious Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who assassinated Le Chiffre. Bond resigned from MI6, and although Vesper was personally devoted to Bond, she double-crossed him during a holiday spent in Venice, IT together, by secretly arranging to turn the undeposited money over to other blackmailing thugs. (Her intention as a double-agent was to use the money to free her boyfriend being held by Le Chiffre's organization.) After a thrilling gunfight, Vesper tried to redeem herself with Bond, but was unable to escape from a collapsing (or sinking) building rigged with explosives. She drowned as Mr. White absconded with the money in a suitcase. In the film's epilogue, Bond had followed White's trail to Lake Como in N. Italy.

Children of Men (2006), 109 minutes, D: Alfonso Cuaron
Alfonso Cuarón's sci-fi chase action-thriller, based upon P.D. James' 1992 novel, was both a cautionary tale and a dystopic, end-of-days road movie. The intense futuristic drama told about a chaotic society (set in London in the year 2027) where human fertility and reproduction had become impossible for most of the previous two decades. The demise of civilization was signaled by the stabbing death of the planet's youngest inhabitant, Argentinian "Baby" Diego (Juan Gabriel Yacuzzi), at age 18. The UK was suffering from an influx of asylum seekers and refugees who were fleeing from massive chaos and dysfunction in other countries. The totalitarian British government had become a militarized police state on the verge of anarchy and collapse, cracking down on the wave of illegal immigrants, and paranoid about threats of terrorism. The main character was middle-aged, alcoholic, bureaucratic civil servant Theodore "Theo" Faron (Clive Owen), a disillusioned and cynical ex-peace activist. He had been estranged since 2008 from his strong-willed, revolutionary activist wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), after the death of their infant son Dylan during the 2008 flu pandemic. In the meantime, she had become the intelligent and practical leader of a guerrilla, underground rebel group known as the "Fishes," interested in protecting immigrants and saving the human race. Theo found himself kidnapped by the group, and enlisted (for payment) to obtain transit papers for a West African refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). The frightened Kee was an eight-months-pregnant, last-known mother-to-be refugee. Theo was commissioned to help escort and transport her out of London to safety, along with ex-midwife Miriam (Pam Ferris), Julian, and driver Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Kee was to be taken to the southern coast of England to rendezvous with a secretive organization known as The Human Project operating from an offshore ship known as Tomorrow. Filmed with a hand-held, documentary-styled camera and POV angles, Theo's caravan was attacked along the way, and Julian was killed. The remaining group members fled to a Fishes safe-house, but due to suspicious findings Theo learned about the group's nefarious intentions, he decided to make a bold move to escape that night. Theo, Kee, and Miriam (with a stolen car) relocated to the secluded house of his good and trusted friend and off-the-grid drug dealer Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), an aging hippie who enjoyed smoking strawberry-flavored weed, and lived with his catatonic wife, Janice (Philippa Urquhart). Jasper lost his life providing cover for them as the group fled from the turncoat activists - en route by truck to a refugee camp in Bexhill. In the film's exciting conclusion, after surviving many more obstacles and challenges, including the birth of Kee's baby, a lethally-wounded Theo was able to get Kee to a rowboat to take her to the rendezvous point with the Tomorrow. Before Theo lost consciousness, Kee promised to name her son after his son, Dylan.

The Departed (2006), 151 minutes, D: Martin Scorsese
Best Director-winning Martin Scorsese's viciously-violent, Best Picture thriller-gangster drama was based on Siu Fai Mak's Infernal Affairs (2002, HK), but with major revisions in the remake. The central figure in the tale of murder, betrayal and revenge was an Irish-American godfather, a psychopathic gangland mobster boss in Boston, MA named Francis "Frank" Costello (Jack Nicholson) - based upon notorious real-life gang member Whitey Bulger. The depraved mob boss character, only a minor figure in the original movie, was extremely volatile, sadistic, and unpredictable. The disheveled kingpin casually expressed nasty racial slurs in his opening monologue, and completely ruled his turf with his dominating, giant presence. The film's central story was a cat-and-mouse game between two doppelgangers (both undercover moles working against each other in opposing gangs). Costello's gang was being infiltrated by undercover Boston policeman William "Billy" Costigan Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), who had been recruited by Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). At the same time, corrupt Boston detective Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), a Massachusetts State Trooper, who had been raised by Costello since childhood, was working for him as an undercover mole in the Special Investigations Unit. A third informant was Trooper Barrigan (James Badge Dale) (a second mole in the police force who was on Costello's payroll). Costello's gang was involved in the theft of computer microprocessors, destined to be sold to a Chinese gang representing the Chinese government. One of the film's sub-plots was that police psychiatrist Madolyn Murray (Vera Farmiga) was dating both Costigan and Sullivan, and was pregnant by either one of them. She was living with Sullivan and secretly engaged to him. In the concluding bloody denouement, almost all of the leading big-name cast members were killed (mostly by a single-gunblast to the head), often abruptly. Captain Queenan was thrown over the side of a six-story warehouse building. Costello was shot a few times in the chest by Colin Sullivan during a botched cocaine-deal in Sheffield. Billy Costigan was killed by Trooper Barrigan as he emerged from an elevator. Barrigan was shot dead by Sullivan, and Sullivan was shot, as he entered his Beacon Hill apartment, by Queenan's assistant Sgt. Dignam.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006), 109 minutes, D: David Frankel
Director David Frankel's urban comedy-drama, a cautionary tale of the cut-throat high fashion world, was based on Lauren Weisberger's 2003 novel of the same name. A Northwestern University graduate and aspiring journalist Andrea "Andy" Sachs found employment at NYC's premiere haute couture fashion magazine, Runway. Her position was co-assistant to the editor-in-chief, powerful, perfectionist and haughty Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). The main assistant to the dictatorial and ruthless head dominatrix, an icy super-diva with high standards and endless demands, was Andy's unpleasant and condescending boss Emily Charlton (Emily Blunt). Andy's main hectic responsibilities were as a 'go-to' gopher - her primary jobs consisted of delivering coffee, answering phones, running personal errands, and picking up various outfits from designers about town. At first, Miranda made personally cruel judgments about Andy's body size (size 6) and lack of fashion sense. In order to please her boss and fit in, eager-to-please Andy - with help from gay art director Nigel Kipling (Stanley Tucci), received a stylish makeover and tossed away her frumpy clothes. Meanwhile, she neglected and ignored her close friends and private life with her scruffy live-in boyfriend Nate Cooper (Adrian Grenier), a chef, and best friend Lily (Tracie Thoms), an aspiring photographer. She found herself being seduced by a young, cynical but attractive writer named Christian Thompson (Simon Baker), working for New York magazine. Due to unforseen circumstances, Andy was able to replace Emily as Miranda's main assistant during Spring Fashion Week in Paris. She was set to leave the night after she broke up with Nate. Shifting positions and backstage intrigue helped to open Andy's eyes to Miranda's merciless manipulations and cold backstabbing involving her mentor Nigel. Repulsed and finally understanding how corporate and shallow she had become, Andy impulsively quit to be true to herself and retain her integrity. She realized she had been seduced by all the glamour and compromised, distorted values of the fashion industry. Back in NYC, Andy was able to reconcile her relationship with Nate, with the possibility of a long-term relationship with him since he had taken a job as a sous-chef in a popular Boston restaurant. At the same time, Andy accepted a job to work at a major New York publication company, with a personal reference from Miranda herself.

Dreamgirls (2006), 130 minutes, D: Bill Condon
Director Bill Condon's musical drama was a film adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name. The show-biz musical was based upon the 1960s-1970s singing group The Supremes (headed by Diana Ross) - and the breakthrough, Michigan-based Motown record label. The story was told through the eyes of a Detroit singing group known as the Dreamettes (or Dreams). The film's opening was set at a local 1962 amateur talent show contest where the three-person girl-group known as the Dreamettes -- lead singer Effie White (Jennifer Hudson), Lorrell Robinson (Anika Noni Rose), and Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) -- were appearing. Ruthlessly ambitious, slick and manipulative car salesman-hustler Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) 'discovered' them, and gave them a chance to sing back-up with past-his-prime singer James (Jimmy) "Thunder" Early (Eddie Murphy), a James Brown or Marvin Gaye-like R&B performer. During the group's short association with Jimmy, Lorrell was engaged in an adulterous affair with him as his mistress. As the Dreamettes' stardom rose, the scheming and over-controlling Taylor became the executive of his own record label, Rainbow Records, and promoted the group's potential as a stand-alone, cross-over group to become mainstream (or "white") pop stars. While in a relationship with Effie, wheeler-dealer Curtis decided to replace plus-sized Effie as the ultra-talented lead singer with the slimmer, more conventional and marketable Deena, and renamed the group "The Dreams." [Note: Deena's character was based upon Motown star Diana Ross.] The change in the group's dynamics and relationships, although the group had became wildly popular, was also affected by Curtis' transfer of his affections to Deena (who ultimately became his wife), and his eventual dropping of Effie from the group altogether. In 1966, he replaced her with his secretary Michelle Morris (Sharon Leal), who began dating Effie's brother, Clarence Conrad (C.C.) White (Keith Robinson), the group's head song-writer. In the mid-1970s, Curtis dropped drug-abusing Jimmy from the record label, and Lorrell ended her affair, followed shortly by Jimmy's death from a drug-overdose. Meanwhile, Effie had sunk into poverty as a welfare mother in Detroit while raising her daughter Magic (Mariah I. Wilson), a child fathered by Curtis. With assistance from Jimmy's ex-manager Marty Madison (Danny Glover) and from song-writer C.C. who was disgusted and had quit working for Curtis, Effie began to resurrect her career by performing in clubs and releasing a comeback single. Effie also reconciled with Deena in Los Angeles after evidence of her husband Curtis' payola schemes were discovered, and Curtis was forced to promote Effie's record nationally. By 1975, Deena had left the Dreams, but they came together for their last and final performance (with Effie joining them).

Flags of Our Fathers (2006), 132 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood
Director Clint Eastwood's war-drama was the film adaptation of the 2000 non-fiction book "Flags of Our Fathers," that told some of the life experiences of the six soldiers (five Marines and one Navy Corpsman) at the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII, when the group heroically raised the US flag on Mount Suribachi (seen in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Joe Rosenthal) on February 23, 1945. Eastwood's companion film, Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), in Japanese with subtitles, was told from the Japanese POV, whereas this film, told with flashbacks (of battle scenes) and interviews, was from the American POV. At the end of March in 1945, a month after the flag-raising, the battle over Iwo Jima island in the Pacific ended, with the US the victor but the overall war was still not completed. Three traumatized, surviving flag-raisers -- Marine Private First Class Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) - an alcoholic Native-American, Marine Private First Class Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford), and Navy Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe) -- were given a hero's welcome when brought home. They were commissioned by the US government on a war-bond drive and good-will tour throughout the country. After numerous instances of re-enacting the famous pose on the Mount (with discrepancies about who was depicted in the photo and other battlefront inaccuracies), and being asked repetitive questions by the press and forced to relive their combat, the trio of survivors were guilt-ridden over the undeserved attention. Part of the film's story was portrayed as a flashback to 1945, as "Doc" on his death-bed told his war-time experiences to his grown-son James Bradley (Tom McCarthy).

Happy Feet (2006), 108 minutes, D: George Miller
Director George Miller's rollicking, poignant song-and-dance CGI animated musical (with some elements of adventure) was the Best Animated Feature Film of the year. It was set amongst Emperor Penguins in Antarctica. In the family-children friendly film's opening, a chick named Mambo (voice of Elijah Wood) was born to Elvis Presley-like Memphis (voice of Hugh Jackman) and breathy Marilyn Monroe-like Norma Jean (voice of Nicole Kidman). Mambo was a blue-eyed, golden-beaked baby penguin chick with "happy feet." Later, Mambo would be named Mumble by his peers due to his inability to sing, and also nicknamed 'Happyfeet' by the disgusted elders. Mumble's teacher Miss Viola (voice of Magda Szubanski) discovered that he did not have a heartsong: ("A penguin without a heartsong is hardly a penguin at all") - a romantic song that would attract a soulmate, but he had a unique talent as a tap dancer. Mumble successfully courted Gloria (voice of Brittany Murphy) with his dancing, and argued with the elders led by Noah the Elder (voice of Hugo Weaving), when they wanted him to be ostracized. They feared that his 'happy feet' were responsible for famine, and they exiled him for his forbidden dancing. Mumble went on a brave trek to discover the "aliens" - the true cause for the severe fish shortage. In a heart-wrenching scene, the captured Mumble, now living a nightmarish life in a big-city Marine World aquarium in Australia, performed a soft-shoe routine for a little girl (a biped "alien") on the other side of the display glass, and drew a crowd's attention. The awe-inspiring incident caused him to be set free, and let back into the wild while wearing a tracking device. In the joyous finale-conclusion, the human scientist aliens who followed Mumble back to his habitat witnessed the penguins' mass dancing - Mumble had convinced the other penguins to join in a communal dance to communicate with the arriving 'aliens' (humans), resulting in the creatures being saved from starvation and hunting by a United Nations decree that banned all future Antarctic fishing.

The Illusionist (2006), 109 minutes, D: Neil Burger
Writer/director Neil Burger's romantic and supernatural murder mystery/drama was not to be confused with the PG-rated, animated film The Illusionist (2010, Fr.). The dazzling and glowing period melodrama (and fairy-tale romance) was loosely adapted from the story Eisenheim the Illusionist, by Steven Millhauser - about the turn-of-the-century Viennese magician/wizard. Told with narrated, voice-over flashbacks, dogged and determined Chief Police Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) described why he was arresting talented stage performer Eisenheim (aka Eduard Abramovich) (Edward Norton) for necromancy in 1889. The film looked back to follow the long-lasting love affair between childhood friends who were in different social classes -- the lower-class magician Eisenheim (Aaron Johnson as youth) and Sophie (Eleanor Tomlinson as youth), the future Duchess von Teschen (Jessica Biel as adult). They were forcibly and cruelly separated and didn't see each other until 15 years later, when she was engaged to marry Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) who was planning to usurp the Austrian-Hungarian throne from his elderly father, the Emperor Franz Joseph I. The two forbidden lovers reignited their love for each other during a secret love-making rendezvous - and then the Duchess appeared to be murdered by stabbing. Her lifeless body was later found in a stream, and the Prince was suspected of the crime. Magician Eisenheim's newest illusionist stage-show featured summoning ghosts, including Sophie who was conjured up. She seemed to accuse the Prince of the crime of her bloody murder. The flashback ended when Uhl went to arrest Eisenheim on-stage under the Prince's orders. Eisenheim escaped when his spirit also faded and vanished. Uhl was led to evidence in the horse stables linking the Prince to the murder, and when accused, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. The film's denouement found Uhl suddenly realizing that Sophie's death had been a complete and deceptive frameup, to release her from Prince Leopold's grasp, and to implicate Leopold. Eisenheim and Sophie were reunited to start a new life together in a cabin at a beautiful mountain. The film's last line was the Illusionist's voice heard in the Inspector's memory: "Everything you've seen is an illusion, it's a trick."

An Inconvenient Truth (2006), 96 minutes, D: Davis Guggenheim
This harrowing, thought-provoking, and earnest fact-based Best Documentary Feature Academy Award winner was about the twin threats of global warming and environmental pollution. (It was followed by a sequel: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017).) The social-issues conversation was hosted by former Vice President Al Gore (as Himself), now posing as an environmental activist, whose opening line was: "I used to be the next President of the United States of America." With a masterful use of slides, animations, computer graphs and 'nature' photos, he delivered a multimedia lecture that he had delivered in-person hundreds of times, to illustrate the disastrous results of global warming via various man-made and climate-related disasters. Included in the presentation was the short clip "Global Warming or: None Like It Hot" from the animated TV show Futurama, taken from a 2002 episode in which Gore guest-starred, about the effects of greenhouse gases. His descriptions were illustrated by before-and-after photographs of the effects of global warming on various landmarks, such as the mountain peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and on glaciers at the poles. In one scene, he used a scissors-style fork lift to raise himself up on the right side of a mammoth graphic to examine annual temperature and the drastically high, rising rate of CO2 emissions levels for the past 650,000 years, measured by Antarctic ice core samples. His ultimate conclusion was: "I don't really consider this a political issue, I consider it to be a moral issue." The closing credits included recommendations in answer to the question: "Are you ready to change the way you live?"

The Last King of Scotland (2006, UK/Germ.), 121 minutes, D: Kevin MacDonald
The title of this British historical and political docu-drama referred to brutal Ugandan President Idi Amin (Oscar-winning Forest Whitaker) and his reign as a despotic dictator from 1971 to 1979. A reporter during a press conference once asked Amin if he had referred to himself as "the last king of Scotland." Its story was based upon Giles Foden's 1998 novel of the same name, regarding the memoirs of a fictional Scottish physician named Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a graduate of the University of Edinburgh's medical school, who worked for Amin. For excitement and hedonistic adventure, the idealistic young man was first employed at a rural Ugandan missionary clinic before he happened to meet and treat Amin's injured hand after a car crash. When Amin realized that Garrigan was Scottish (a nationality he admired for the people's resistance to Britain), the doctor was hired as Amin's personal physician and put in charge of the nation's healthcare system. From the perspective of Garrigan, he observed as Amin's regime became more oppressive and violent. He stood by as Amin murdered those who opposed and resisted, including his deportation of Asians, and the elimination of supporters of the previous leader Obete. Garrigan unwisely regarded and was willfully ignorant of Amin's repressive and xenophobic actions, as he became Amin's most trusted advisor. The doctor watched, however, as Amin became increasingly more paranoid, erratic, egomaniacal, and involved in torture, revenge killings, and other massacres. He became acutely and personally aware of the polygamous Amin's deadly potential when he engaged in adulterous sex with one of Amin's ostracized wives named Kay (Kerry Washington) after she gave birth to an epileptic child. Complications arose when Kay was impregnated, and Garrigan was unable to immediately provide her with an abortion. When she sought a primitive witch-doctor abortion instead in a village, she was apprehended by Amin's forces and brutally dismembered for her betrayal. Garrigan finally understood the enormous inhumanity of Amin's regime, and that if he was ever to escape from Ugandan rule, he must assassinate Amin. An attempted murder plot (via poisoned pills) failed, and Garrigan was brutally tortured and punished. He was dangled from the ceiling by ropes and left to die - hanging by two meat hooks pierced through his chest's nipples. With the assistance of his medical colleague Dr. Junju (David Oyelowo), Garrigan successfully fled from the country, although Junju was killed for his complicity. An epilogue provided details of the aftermath: the Israeli rescue of hostages at the Entebbe airport, Amin's overthrow in 1979, and his death in exile in 2003. He had been responsible for 300,000 deaths in Uganda.

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006), 141 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood
Director Clint Eastwood's WWII war-combat drama was the companion film to his own Flags of Our Fathers (2006), but now conveyed from the Japanese POV (and in Japanese with subtitles). Told mostly in flashback, it portrayed the mortal struggle of the forces of the Imperial Japanese Army to hold the island of Iwo Jima for 36 days during the early 1945 battle against US forces for the strategic Mount Suribachi. Inspiring and commanding Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) (with an American Colt .45) was opposed to some of his more traditionalist, rigid and elderly military subordinates, including Admiral Ohsugi (Nobumasa Sakagami). With support from Lieutenant Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), Kuribayashi devised an unconventional, tactical strategy of deep underground tunnels and foxholes. Both Nishi and Kuribayashi had some experience in America and knew that facing the US Marines head-on at the beach was a foolish and self-defeating tactic. The action and events surrounding the war were conveyed through letters written home by some of the Japanese soldiers (and by Kuribayashi to his son Taro) who feared the outcome and were aware that they would probably die. Some of the individual Japanese soldiers included reluctantly-recruited Pvt. First Class Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) - a baker with a pregnant wife, dishonorably-discharged ex-military policeman Superior Private Shimizu (Ryo Kase), and kamikaze-leaning and fiercely-obedient Lieutenant Ito (Shidou Nakamura) who would nobly die for his country's cause by any means. When the grim warfare and a surprise final attack claimed most of the lives of the Japanese troops, the critically-wounded Kuribayashi committed suicide with his own American handgun. After Saigo buried him, he was taken prisoner (as a POW) by a US patrol.

Little Children (2006), 137 minutes, D: Todd Field
Based upon Tom Perrotta's 2004 novel, director Todd Field's character-driven, marriage melodrama was about the residents of an upper middle-class suburban town near Boston, MA. The characters included a group of individuals in the neighborhood whose lives intersected. Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) was a bored, 30 year-old, unfulfilled suburban wife and mother (of 5 year-old daughter Lucy (Sadie Goldstein)), married to Richard Pierce (Gregg Edelman). Her loveless and dysfunctional marriage was crumbling and abandoned due to Richard's addiction to Internet pornography. One day in the park, playground mom Sarah met Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a preppy-looking, aspiring law student and an immature, underachieving, handsome "Prom King" neighbor/house-husband. Like Sarah, the stay-at-home dad had a 4 year-old son Aaron (Ty Simpkins) and was involved in an unsatisfying marriage to career-driven Katherine "Kathy" Adamson (Jennifer Connelly), a beautiful, PBS documentary filmmaker and the home's breadwinner. Both discontented, Sarah and Brad wished to recapture their lost adolescent innocence in a fantasy reality. After Brad leered at Sarah's bright, one-piece red bathing suit while she was sunbathing in the summer heat next to him at the pool, their flirtations ultimately initial platonic feelings led to an illicit adulterous affair. In the meantime, convicted child sex predator Ronald "Ronnie" James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) was released and returned to his mother May's (Phyllis Somerville) home in the neighborhood. Another character named Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich) encouraged Brad to join his amateur football team, the Guardians, to feel youthful again. Estranged from his wife, Larry was an ex-police officer after forced retirement for accidentally shooting a teenaged robbery suspect. With the release of pedophile McGorvey into the mix, Hedges engaged in an obsessive campaign to rid the neighborhood of the sex offender. Meanwhile, May's misaimed desire to cure her son Ronnie of his pedophilia led her to arrange a disastrous blind date for him with depressed Sheila (Jane Adams). A dinner party between the Pierces and Adamsons confirmed Kathy's suspicions about her husband's infidelity. When Brad suggested a romantic getaway to figure it all out together, Sarah was disbelieving but agreed to meet at the park the next night to run away - although unforeseen circumstances prevented both of them from carrying out their plan. In the shocking ending, Ronnie's mother May unexpectedly died from a heart attack, indirectly caused by Larry (who was later arrested for assault and battery). Distraught over his mother's demise, Ronnie castrated himself with a butcher knife and was bleeding to death in the park, where he was found by a remorseful and forgiving Larry. Sarah had already left the park and returned home with Lucy after changing her mind about eloping with Brad. The same night, Brad knocked himself out after impulsively trying to skateboard with teenagers, and was taken to the hospital. Most of the main principals (Larry, Ronnie, Brad and Kathy) were led to come together at the hospital as the film ended.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006), 101 minutes, D: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
This quirky, Best Picture-nominated light domestic comedy and road trip movie was about an odd-ball, dysfunctional, Albuquerque, NM family - the Hoovers. The eccentric members in the ensemble film included pudgy, glasses-wearing 7 year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin), her rakish, foul-mouthed, retirement home-evicted, but loving grandfather Edwin Hoover (Oscar-winning Alan Arkin), Type-A family patriarch Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) - a failed motivational speaker and life coach with a "Refuse to Lose" philosophy, and Richard's overworked and anxious wife Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette). Sheryl's suicide-prone, gay, Proust scholar, and unemployed brother Uncle Frank Ginsberg (Steve Carell) also lived with the family, along with Sheryl's cynical, Nietzsche-reading, voluntarily-mute son Dwayne Hoover (Paul Dano) from her previous marriage. Aspiring beauty queen Olive's main determined ambition was to compete in the 'Little Miss Sunshine' beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, CA. The bickering family set off together for an 800-mile, cross-country road trip to Southern California in the family's yellow VW microbus/van to join her. Many misadventures along the way, including car trouble, demonstrated the family's need to work together. During the trip, Edwin died from a heroin overdose (and they kept the corpse in the van to avoid delay), and Dwayne learned that he was color-blind - a career-changing event that broke his 'vow of silence.' The film satirically portrayed the local pageant as a sexually-provocative event for the pre-pubescent contestants (who wore garish makeup, styled hair, and raunchy clothing along the lines of Jon-Benet Ramsay). The other young competitors performed sexy night-club songs and dances - while the sweet wannabee and amateurish Olive performed an over-sexualized dance to Rick James' Superfreak, a cringe-inducing pretend striptease routine (taught to her by Edwin). Even though Olive kept her clothes on, she crawled like a cat in heat, and threw articles of clothing off the stage. Although cheered on by her family, Olive horrified the audience and repulsed the contest organizers who were forced to admit the actual sexual sub-text of their exploitative event. At the end of her performance, Olive's family members joined her on stage. The exultant family, although forbidden to ever enter another California beauty pageant, returned to Albuquerque.

The Lives of Others (2006, Germ.) (aka Das Leben der Anderen), 137 minutes, D: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's socio-political dramatic spy-thriller was his debut feature film and the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. It provided insight into the ugly, Stasi-ridden and surveilled world of the 1980s East German state. Spanning from the Orwellian year of 1984 (five years before Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall) to 1991 when Germany was reunited, it depicted the final years of the city and exposed the harsh way of life under the former GDR. The film provided a gripping picture of two contrasting worlds and ways of life in the DDR with many authentic locales depicted. It was a deeply-emotional, humanizing character study of secret police surveillance agent Capt. Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a lonely and alienated member of the East German Stasi (secret police) in 1984 working for East Germany's internal spy network in a dreary tower-block. Round-the-clock, Wiesler kept watch over various artists and dissidents, while supervised by Lt. Col. Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur). His main bugging target was the apartment of suspected but successful, internationally-reknowned Socialist playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who was in a romantic relationship with devoted live-in lover and actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Over time, Wiesler learned that Christa-Maria had been blackmailed into a sexual relationship with an infatuated, corrupt German official, Cultural Department head Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), in exchange for prescription drugs and protection. She cleansed herself of the filth (both physically and emotionally) afterwards in the bathtub/shower. The Stasi agent Wiesler had to make difficult choices as he found himself drawn into their lives and sympathetically took sides with them as their "guardian angel." Christa-Maria became despairing and fearful that she had revealed - under pressure - Dreyman's authorship of a damaging article (about the state's concealment of suicide rates), and the hidden location in the apartment of his unregistered miniature typewritten (with a red ribbon) used for the article. Feeliing that she had betrayed Dreyman, she deliberately ran into the street and was struck dead by a vehicle. Afterwards, Wiesler was demoted by Grubitz and given a dead-end job that he held until 1989 when the political situation drastically changed. In the revealing conclusion, Dreyman (after reading declassified Stasi surveillance transcripts years later) realized that Wiesler had actually concealed Dreyman's illegal activities and had actually protected him by removing the typewriter. In the closing scene set in 1993, former guard Wiesler walked on the Karl Marx Allee (the main shopping and parade street of the GDR) in East Berlin where he noticed Dreyman's memoirs on display and for sale in a bookstore window. He was surprised to see that the book was gratefully dedicated to HGW XX/7, Wiesler's own code-name.

Once (2006, Ireland), 85 minutes, D: John Carney
Writer/director John Carney's low-budget, wistful romantic musical-drama with a minimalist plot seamlessly integrated its many songs into an unforced musical story. The moving, independent film told about a boy-meets-girl couple in Dublin, Ireland over the course of a week - between simply-named, Hoover vacuum-repairman Guy (Irish rock-band Frames musician Glen Hansard) and Girl (Czech singer Markéta Irglová). He was an unidentified street musician (with a six-stringed violin) who often performed Van Morrison songs in the daytime and his own compositions at night in Dublin's Grafton Street shopping district. He wrote original songs about his ex-girlfriend (Marcella Plunkett) in London who had cheated on him and then left him. She was a poor, 19 year-old Czech immigrant and single mother with a toddler (Kate Haugh), who lived with her mother (Danuse Ktrestova), and peddled roses and cleaned houses, although she was a classically-trained pianist and vocalist. The two kindred spirits were immediately drawn together by their respective broken relationships, although with limited time to get to know each other. Tucked into this simple Irish import was a charming duet at the piano between them, singing the Oscar-winning Original Song tune "Falling Slowly" while in a nearly-empty music store -- among the film's many songs. The film's main virtue was the off-beat naturalism of the couple's growing platonic, bittersweet relationship and their strong bonds over music that incorporated their own love story. Everything culminated in the soulmates' collaboration to record a demo album at a recording studio over a marathon weekend. Toward the end of the film, the Girl revealed to Guy that her estranged Czech husband (Senan Haugh) was arriving to live with her in Dublin. Guy was unable to meet up with the Girl before leaving for London to live with his ex-girlfriend, and attempt to land a music contract. However, he arranged for the purchase and delivery of a piano for the Girl just before his departure.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Sp./Mex./US) (aka El Laberinto del Fauno), 119 minutes, D: Guillermo del Toro
This fantasy film, not kid-friendly, presented an inventive, multi-level world of war-time horror within an adult legend. Elements of the fantasy films and novels Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, and Spirited Away resonated from the film. Its major themes were - destiny lies in one's decisions or judgments, and in darkness or death there can be light or life. A prologue told a legend important to remember as the film proceeded and concluded with a book-ending epilogue. Princess Moana (Ivana Baquero), daughter of the King of the underworld, escaped up to the human world where she was blinded by sunlight, lost her memory, became ill and died. Her father believed that her long-lost soul would eventually return by the next full moon, perhaps in another body, place, or time. Set during the mid-1940s in northern Spain in a time of civil war, Franco's repressive forces had taken hold. Pre-pubescent 11 year-old orphaned heroine Ofelia (also Baquero) accompanied her sickly pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to meet up with her brutally sadistic new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) in a small remote Spanish district. The embodiment of Spanish fascism, he had established his headquarters in an abandoned mill where he led troops to quell the rebel resistance. Del Toro efficiently captured the tyranny and brutishness of the oppressively evil and vain Captain. He personally murdered two innocent rabbit-hunting farmers (a father and son), then blithely dismissed his wrongdoing by having his chief house-keeping servant Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), who was secretly sympathizing with and aiding the rebels, prepare a stew with the rabbit meat. Ofelia escaped the cruel real-world horrors by fleeing (or returning home) to the fairy-tale story world (with its own serious dangers) that wanted her back. Transitions between the two worlds were often prefaced by vertical camera wipes. Her mother had skeptically warned: "Fairy tales? You're a bit too old to be filling your head with such nonsense." CGI, animatronics puppets, prosthetics and extensive latex makeup were used to create the film's magical creatures, including the opening's vibrating, stick-like, preying mantis that was transformed into a fairy. After being led into the maze-like garden labyrinth, she encountered a mysterious, ominous, tall goat-headed forest Faun (Doug Jones) with curled horns - not Pan. (The movie title was somewhat misleading. In fact, the film's Spanish title translated 'Labyrinth of the Faun.') When the enigmatic Faun identified Ofelia as the reincarnated Princess, she was challenged to a quest - three risky and daunting tasks to prove herself and reunite her with the underground realm and her true father: (1) retrieve a golden key vomited from the belly of a monstrous toad, and (2) retrieve a dagger from behind a locked small rock door in the lair of the monstrous, child-eating, faceless Pale Man (also Jones), with his eyes set into the palms of his stigmatic hands. (Note: The key and knife were also mirrored in the real-world, as was the mandrake root.) And then, her third task (3) became a climactic, self-sacrificial test of Ofelia's obedience and courage in the film's tragic yet redemptive conclusion.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), 151 minutes, D: Gore Verbinski
The sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was this fantasy-adventure swashbuckler. It was the second installment of the very popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise-series, followed by other films, including: At World's End (2007), On Stranger Tides (2011), and Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017). In this sequel, the wedding ceremony of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and fiancee Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) was interrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) (chairman of the East India Trading Company) as they prepared to exchange vows. He arrested them and sentenced them to death. Commodore James Norrington (Jack Davenport), who had lost his own ship HMS Dauntless (and his commission in the Royal Navy) was also to be arrested, but had disappeared after a futile search to capture Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), commander of The Black Pearl. Beckett demanded that Turner set out on a mission that if successful would free him and Elizabeth. At the same time, Captain Jack was required to pay his overdue blood debt to the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), part-fish/part-human ruler of the ocean and tortured captain of his ghostly ship The Flying Dutchman. Voodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) explained the legend of Davy Jones - that whoever possessed Davy Jones' carved-out, disembodied heart, locked inside the Dead Man's Chest, could control Jones. While Sparrow was being hunted by Jones, his main goal was to locate the Dead Man's Chest and free himself from Jones' servitude. Will (and Elizabeth who was freed and escaped from prison) also sought Jack and his magic compass. Sparrow made a deal with Will to give him his compass in exchange for the key that would open the Dead Man's Chest. Tricked by Sparrow, Will boarded Jones' Flying Dutchman and was captured, where Jones agreed to release Jack from their bargain in exchange for one hundred souls if acquired within three days. After reuniting with his deceased father Bootstrap Bill Turner who was in servitude to Jones, Will located the key (in Jones' possession) and escaped, with the promise to return to save his father. Shortly later on the island of Isla Cruces, Jack, Elizabeth, Norrington (who had joined the Black Pearl's crew) and Will all came together. Elizabeth located the chest (with the help of Jack's compass) containing the heart of Davy Jones, and with Will and the key, they opened the chest. Both Sparrow and Will had different intentions for Davy Jones' 'heart' - Jack wanted it to call off the threatened Kraken, repay or end his debt to Jones, and to become immortal, while Will wanted it to rescue and save his father from a life of servitude to Jones. A third individual, Norrington, also wanted the 'heart' to resume his life in the Navy, rule the seas, and continue his quest to destroy all piracy. In the exciting culmination, Norrington secretly stole the 'heart' in a jar, while Jones attacked the Black Pearl with both the Dutchman and the Kraken. Jack survived on a lifeboat and returned to battle the monstrous creature, but was tricked and chained to the heavily-damaged Pearl's mast to save everyone else. He was dragged down with the Pearl to the sea depths and Davy Jones' Locker. Norrington returned to Port Royal with the 'heart', and bestowed it on Beckett. Norrington was reinstated, while Beckett regained control of Davy Jones and the seas. The Pearl's surviving crew sheltered with Tia Dalma, with plans to rescue Jack from the afterlife with the help of resurrected Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

The Prestige (2006), 130 minutes, D: Christopher Nolan
The tale in Christopher Nolan-directed mystery-drama and psychological thriller was made even more complex by moving back and forth across time periods (and having flashbacks within flashbacks) that led up to the film's climax. It had a very appropriate and thematic tagline ("A Friendship That Became a Rivalry") - referencing dueling stage magicians in Victorian London at the end of the 19th century: working-class, Cockney-accented Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and flashy, aristocratic showman Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), whose friendship turned into a deadly one-upmanship competition - a teleportation trick. Originally, both individuals were friends and assistants of elderly "Milton the Magician" (Ricky Jay), but an on-stage accident (the death of Angier's wife Julia McCullough (Piper Perabo) by drowning in a water tank) inspired their hatred for each other. They began to ruthlessly compete as two vengeful stage illusionists, Borden known as "The Professor" with a mysterious, mute assistant, and Angier known as "The Great Danton" who was assisted by blonde Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) and stage engineer John Cutter (Michael Caine). They each competed with a climactic, disappearing act first known as the "Transported Man" trick. In Borden's act, he had hired an exact disguised double, Bernard Fallon (also Bale), a twin - to perform his version of the trick. To create an even more (and supernatural) dramatic trick, Angier traveled to Colorado in the US to hire real-life inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) to create a teleportation device (or cloning machine) to accomplish the feat. The device created an exact replica of Angier during the spark-filled transport within a large trapezoidal box. Every time the trick was performed, however, Angier's cloned double routinely had to die - by drowning, in a locked water tank below the machine. During one of Angier's performances of his 'Real Transported Man' trick, he disappeared and fell through a trap door from above, and seemingly drowned in a water tank located beneath the stage. Borden witnessed the drowning backstage, and was accused of the crime of Angier's murder when found by Cutter. Unable to prove his innocence, Borden was imprisoned and sentenced to hang (although later it was revealed that he was falsely accused). Just before Borden's execution by hanging on death row, a collector named Lord Caldlow - actually Angier in disguise - appeared at the prison. Angier confessed that had remorselessly framed Borden by staging his own drowning murder. After Borden's 'death,' Angier returned to the theatre where he was shot by a second 'Borden.' As Angier slowly died, Borden (Alfred actually) explained how he had an illusionary twin 'double' for himself (Fallon) (the one who was executed), so that the transporter trick could be accomplished. Angier then showed Borden how he had performed the trick by showing him water tanks holding the drowned Angier clones inside of them. Angier died and kicked over a lamp, setting the theatre on fire.

The Queen (2006, UK/It./Fr.), 97 minutes, D: Stephen Frears
Director Stephen Frears biographical, political and family drama (although partially fictionalized) opened with the 1997 election of the Labour Party's Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) as the UK's Prime Minister, and the reporting of former Princess of Wales Diana's (as Herself in archival footage) fatal car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997. The Royal Family and the Prime Minister found themselves at odds about how to react to the great outpouring of grief from the public for a beloved figure who had experienced a difficult breakup with Prince Charles (Alex Jennings). The Royals responded with coolness and a lack of sympathy to Diana's place in British history (since they considered it a private matter due to Diana no longer being a member of the Royal Family), while remaining on holiday at their Scottish estate-retreat, Balmoral Castle. The press, tabloids and media responded to the people's intense mourning by also noticing the indifference, obliviousness, and insulting hesitation of Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren), Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (James Cromwell) and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms). In private and in public, the newly-elected Blair attempted to restore confidence and convince the royal family to express some kind of meaningful tribute to Diana ("The People's Princess"), realizing that otherwise, their PR disaster would intensify and they would be regarded as out-of-touch. Already, it had been known that the royals considered the public's reaction hysterical and thought a reaction would be undignified. Blair confronted the Queen with news that 70% of the country believed she was damaging the monarchy, while 25% of Britons were in favor of ending the monarchy. In a metaphorical sequence about the loss of tradition and the changing world, the Queen drove into the country, became stranded in the wild, and then encountered by chance a vulnerable, magnificent, and wild "14 pointer" stag. She shooed it away to safety when hunters approached. Later, she visited the stag in a bleeding room - it had been killed and beheaded by a paying guest/hunter, an investment banker from London on a neighboring estate - and she stated: "I hope he didn't suffer too much." Blair eventually convinced the demoralized Queen to acknowledge Diana's death by delivering a comforting public address, paying her respects, and flying the Union flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. The Queen acquiesed with a public live-TV address and by convincing the royal family to attend the public funeral for Diana at Westminster Abbey. In the film's closing scene in the Royal Gardens with Tony Blair, the Queen opened up personally about her position: "I prefer to keep my feelings to myself, and, foolishly, I believed that was what the people wanted from their Queen - not to make a fuss, nor wear one's heart on one's sleeve. Duty first, self second. That's how I was brought up. That's all I've ever known....But I can see that the world has changed, and one must modernize."

Rocky Balboa (2006), 101 minutes, D: Sylvester Stallone
Director/star Sylvester Stallone also wrote the screenplay for this sports drama - the 6th installment reboot in the long-running Rocky franchise-series that began 30 years earlier in Rocky (1976). It functioned as the sequel to Rocky V (1990). By this time, the retired boxer (former two-time heavyweight champion) and widowed 58 year-old Rocky Balboa (Stallone) was still living in a working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia. In memory of his late-wife (Talia Shire) who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2002 (four years earlier), he owned and operated an Italian restaurant named "Adrian's." He was experiencing a strained relationship with his grown-up, resentful, business-executive son Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), and also spent time with Adrian's brother Paulie (Burt Young), who often expressed guilt over how he treated his own sister. Rocky became supportive of a Lucky Seven bartender named Marie (Geraldine Hughes) who was a single mother caring for her illegitimate, teenaged child Stephenson ("Steps") (James Francis Kelly III). Rocky befriended "Steps" and hired her as his restaurant's hostess and barmaid. He had briefly met her 30 years earlier as a troubled 12 year-old delinquent teenager (Jodi Letizia) on the street and had given her advice, but she lashed back: "Screw you, creepo!" It was time for Rocky to have a predictable, boxing ring comeback, after ESPN broadcast a computer-simulated match between Rocky and the current undefeated (arrogant and unpopular) heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (real-life boxer Antonio Tarver). Dixon's handlers wanted to rehabilitate his image by fighting Rocky, and Rocky wanted to prove to himself that he could still fight and win as a true challenger, and also provide an outlet for his growing emotional pain and anger. He renewed his boxing license and began to train (with support from Paulie, Robert Jr. and ex-trainer Tony "Duke" Evers (Tony Burton)), to face the mediocre fighter Dixon in a charity-exhibition match at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. After a training montage and fanfare that opened the match, it was a fight that would be determined by which fighter had the most stamina. In the 10th and final round, Rocky was beaten but determined to outlast Dixon - and throw the last punch. The bout was won by Dixon in a split decision, although the crowd roared their approval for Rocky as he exited. In the film's conclusion, Rocky left a flower on Adrian's grave - telling her: "Yo, Adrian, we did it." An inset montage of clips (climbing the 72 'Rocky Steps' of the Philadelphia Art Museum) appeared during the end credits.

Superman Returns (2006), 154 minutes, D: Bryan Singer
Director Bryan Singer's sci-fi superhero film was the 6th (and final) installment in the original Superman film series - a reboot (or pseudo-sequel) that came 19 years after the end of the original Christopher Reeve series of four films from 1978 to 1987. It was an "homage sequel" that served as a continuation of the first two films in the original series -- Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) -- while ignoring installments III and IV. The next film after this one would be the completely-rebooted Man of Steel (2013), part of the DC Extended Universe. The setting in this film was about five years after the events of the first two films during which time Superman had mysteriously disappeared and had been almost entirely forgotten. Evidence of Superman's irrelevance was his ex-love interest and Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane's (Kate Bosworth) Pulitzer-winner article: "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Paroled from prison and avoiding a double-life sentence, Superman's sociopathic arch-enemy Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) had married elderly and terminally-ill Gertrude Vanderworth (Noel Neill) to swindle her fortune. His first dastardly act, with his henchwoman-moll Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), was to steal and steer Gertrude's private yacht to Superman's Fortress of Solitude to find a holographic image of Superman's father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando in archival footage), and to steal crystals of kryptonite. His plan was to grow the crystals in water, to punish Superman. During his long absence, Superman (Brandon Routh) had made an extended (and futile) visit to his destroyed home planet of Krypton, before returning to Metropolis and resuming his duties as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. His first act was to save Lois onboard a distressed, reporter-filled NASA jetliner (with a piggy-backed shuttle during a launch into space) that was about to crash into a baseball stadium filled with fans. Lex was responsible for sending an electro-magnetic pulse that had caused a brief power outage, crippling the plane. Lois now lived with her young son Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu) (Superman's offspring?) and long-time suitor-fiancée, Richard White (James Marsden), the nephew of the Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White (Frank Langella). Luthor was able to distract Superman during his theft of a chunk of kryptonite (Addis Ababa meteorite) from the Metropolis Museum of Natural History for his next scheme. Luthor's new sinister and dastardly but brilliant plot was to build his own new continental land mass from the lethal kryptonite and the crystals (harmful to Superman) in the N. Atlantic. With the oceans rising due to his nation-building, billions would drown from rising oceans, and the survivors would be charged exorbitant prices to live on his newly-grown continent. Superman was called upon to rescue Lois, Richard, and Jason (revealed to have superhuman powers!) before he left to confront Luthor at the 'New Krypton' continent, where he was immediately weakened by the kryptonite. The Man of Steel was beaten and stabbed by Luthor with a shard of kryptonite, but fortunately was saved by Lois, Richard, and Jason who flew back in a small seaplane to rescue him. With his strength restored from the Sun, Superman flew under the huge, kryptonite-laced land mass and hoisted the continent into the air before throwing it into space. However, in a weakened state, he crashed back to Earth (landing in Metropolis' Central Park). Meanwhile, Luthor and Kitty fled in a helicopter, but it ran out of fuel and stranded them on an island. Comatose and hospitalized (and possibly dead), Superman was resurrected by Lois' whispered secret - that he had a son. Later that night, Superman found Lois at her home writing a new revised article - "Why the World Needs Superman," where he spoke Jor-el's last words to Jason: ("The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son") before flying away, but soon to keep watch.

300 (2006), 116 minutes, D: Zach Snyder
Director Zack Snyder's very original, highly-stylized, computer-generated, epic war-drama (with elements of fantasy) was based on Frank Miller's 1998 comic book novel - it was a shot-by-shot adaptation of the comic-book panels. The title referred to the 300 incredibly-buffed, heroic, all-volunteer Spartan warriors who fought to the death during the Persian Wars. The ultra-violent film was voice-over narrated in flashback by Spartan warrior/storyteller Dilios (David Wenham). He told about the overwhelmed and outnumbered Greek forces of legendary and fearless Spartan ruler-warrior King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who fought an heroic last stand against the invading 120,000 Persian forces of the giant "God-King" Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) at the three-day Battle of Thermopylae, c. 480 B.C. As a battle strategy, Leonidas' plan was to block the only way by land to reach Greece, through the passage of Thermopylae. He decided to funnel the Persian enemy into the Hot Gates (the literal translation of "Thermopylae"), a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea, where the Spartans' heavy-infantry forces could vanquish the Persians. However, it was decreed by the Ephors (priests) that war was not allowed during the sacred festival of Carneia, but Leonidas set out with his small contingent of 'bodyguard' troops anyway. Their strategy was successful, and waves and waves of Xerxes' warriors and allies (including Indian war elephants) were defeated in the narrow pass. The betrayal of a spiteful, traitorous, disfigured and outcast Spartan-shepherd named Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan) (by defecting and telling Xerxes of a secret goat pathway to encircle and outflank the enemy) doomed the Spartans. Meanwhile, back in Sparta, the loyal Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), Leonidas' wife, begged the Spartan Council and the devious corrupt politician Theron (Dominic West) (a traitor bought off by Xerxes with gold) to send reinforcements, although she was initially denied support. She was forced to commit adultery with Theron to gain his approval. But then, after the Queen revealed Theron's double-betrayal, she killed him. The Council agreed to approve troops, but it was too late. The film's climax was the momentous and bloody sequence of the last-stand day of the battle between the opposing forces. God-King Xerxes' was revealed to be mortal when a spear sliced his cheek, drawing blood. It included the moving, spiritual operatic ballet of death of King Leonidas of Sparta on the battlefield - he was the last survivor of the 300 Spartans, who had refused to surrender. He called out in his final breath to his wife Queen Gorgo, pledging his love to her: "My Queen! My wife. My love..." He raised his arms to the side, as he was assailed by hundreds of arrows that blackened the screen with the sheer number of projectiles. The next scene opened on the beautiful, sad face of his wife, receiving the news of her husband's death. The film's conclusion, a year later, portrayed Dilios now leading 30,000 free Greek soldiers (led by 10,000 Spartans) to again battle against the Persians, who commemorated their fight to the sacrificial 300.

United 93 (2006), 111 minutes, D: Paul Greengrass
Director Paul Greengrass' visceral, tense and upsetting docu-drama was created five years after the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US (involving the Twin Towers in NYC and four hijacked planes). The events of the day (involving the fourth hijacked plane, United # 93 bound from Newark, NJ to San Francisco, CA) were portrayed or reconstructed in real-time, cutting back and forth between air-traffic controllers, the passengers themselves, the plane's crew, family members on the ground, the FAA and the military Defense Command Center. Earlier, when the first plane, American Airlines # 11 (from Boston, MA to Los Angeles, CA) crashed into the North Tower, one of the buildings at the World Trade Center, it was not thought to be deliberate. But then 16 minutes later, a second plane, United Airlines # 175 (also from Boston, MA to Los Angeles, CA) also hit the second Twin Tower, and a third plane, American Airlines # 77 (from Washington DC to Los Angeles, CA) crashed into the Pentagon. At that point, it was deemed a major emergency and US "airspace" was immediately shut down. The crew of United # 93, already in the air, was notified of the other attacks. On board # 93 were four Middle-Eastern, al-Qaeda terrorists whose original plan was to crash the plane into either the US Capitol building or the White House. The terrorists on the plane began to assemble a fake bomb, threaten and kill passengers and crew, and move all first-class passengers to the rear of the plane. After the flight crew pilots were killed, one of the hijacker-terrorists Ziad Jarrah (Khalid Abdalla) took control of the aircraft in the locked cockpit, as passengers phoned their loved ones and learned of the other attacks. A group of brave passengers, including Jeremy Glick (Peter Hermann), Tom Burnett (Christian Clemenson) and Todd Beamer (David Alan Basche) and others, then planned a coordinated revolt and strike against the hijackers with makeshift weapons, to storm the cockpit and retake control. They finally breached the cockpit door, where during a struggle for control, the plane was placed into a nose-dive and ultimately ended up crashing in a empty field in Shanksville, PA.

Volver (2006, Sp.), 121 minutes, D: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer/director Pedro Almodóvar's tragic comedic drama (subtitled in Spanish) was a mother-daughter tale amongst three generations of women in Spanish families. The ensemble cast drama opened with two main characters in the mid-2000s: Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and her younger sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) were still grieving over the house-fire death of their mother Irene (Carmen Maura) (and her husband) three years earlier in their hometown village. Raimunda, a janitor now living in Madrid, was married to unemployed, often-drunk and slovenly Paco (Antonio de la Torre). Both were caring for 14 year-old daughter named Paula (Yohana Cobo) (but Paco was not her biological father). The separated Sole also lived in Madrid and worked clandestinely as a hair-stylist in her apartment. Their mutual elderly (Tia) Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), Irene's sister, was suffering with dementia and had remained in their Spanish village hometown of Alcanfor de las Infantas, in La Mancha, where she was helped by long-time family friend and neighbor Agustina (Blanca Portillo). Due to Paco's lascivious attempt to molest and rape Paula, she stabbed him to death, and Raimunda covered up the crime by hiding his body in a restaurant's freezer (and later depositing the freezer in a river). In a fanciful, strange and unusual mystical twist, after Sole returned home to attend Aunt Paula's funeral, it was confirmed for her by Agustina that Irene was alive and that her 'ghost' or spirit had reappeared. It also followed Sole back to Madrid. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Agustina also traveled to Madrid for hospital treatment. Both young Paula and Sole met the 'ghost' and became close to the spirit. It was then revealed that Irene had not died in a fire, but had indeed returned (Volver translated "To Return") to comfort the family, reconcile and make amends with Raimunda, and care for Agustina. Startling and traumatic family secrets from the past were then unearthed to heal everyone -- Raimunda's father (Irene's husband) sexually abused her and fathered Paula, who was therefore Raimunda's daughter and sister. And the fire that supposedly killed Irene had been deliberately set by Irene after she found her cheating husband with another woman (Agustina's mother!), and afterwards, Irene went into hiding at her sister Paula's home where she was regarded by neighbors as Irene's returning 'ghost.'

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