Between the hoards of self-conscious message movies and piles of garbage that didn't screen for the press, I saw, about two dozen films in 2006 that showed any kind of cinematic artistry. The movies that made my top ten list are movies that don't hand over any easy answers and have thus largely gone ignored this year. Moreover, these were films that used the form in a visual way, rather than simply unfolding a story on film like a big book-on-tape. The cinema isn't dead; it's just hiding...
I should note that my two favorite movies this year, Terrence Malick's The New World and Claire Denis' The Intruder officially count as 2005 movies, even though they opened in most theaters in 2006. So, with a broken heart, I leave them off the list. I also want to include a caveat that the year's most anticipated movie, David Lynch's Inland Empire, has only opened in New York and Los Angeles. No press screenings or screener DVDs have been available in any other city, so I have not been able to see it.
1. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
One of the world's greatest filmmakers has been working for over twenty years. Yet only two of his films have received U.S. distribution. Each starred the beautiful Shu Qi (known in this country for her role in The Transporter) and each lasted about a week in theaters. Three Times, a triptych about two lovers in the 1960s, the 1920s and the present day, isn't one of Hou's very best films, but the first segment alone -- set in the Vietnam era -- is arguably his most heartbreakingly lovely achievement. It towers over everything else released this year.