NOTABLES of 2006
I always think these "best" and "worst" lists are pretty fatuous. I mean, who can claim to make such absolute judgements
about works of art? But it occurred to me that it might be fun to list the books and movies that I found most notable –
for good or bad reasons – in 2006. The exercise might draw your attention to something worthwhile that you missed earlier.
(I’m not including the other art forms – plays, concerts, etc. – because I don’t attend enough of
them to give a fair sampling of the year’s offerings.)
No question about My Favourite Movie of 2006. Everybody who follows Dilettante’s Diary knows that Little
Miss Sunshine led the pack by a mile. (See review DD Sept 6/06) I came to the movie virtually unprepared, so it was
a delightful surprise for me. Unfortunately, that’s probably not possible for you now. There is always the danger that
people will expect too much of a movie that’s been highly hyped. Still, several readers of Dilettante’s Diary
who saw the movie after my recommendation agreed with my rave review. A few people were less enthusiastic. That’s ok.
You’re allowed to disagree with the opinions expressed here, as long as you don’t mind being wrong.
Another movie that I loved and That You Might Not Have Noticed was a Belgian film L’Enfant. (DD
April 12) Gritty, touching and unexpected.
For Crass Fun there were: Matador (with Pierce Brosnan’s scum bag character, Feb 16) and Borat
(I need say no more, Nov 8).
And there was Very Good Viewing in: A Prairie Home Companion (Robert Altman’s swan song, June
27), The Queen (Helen Mirren, of course, Oct 14), The History Boys (a teacher-student love-in
but with superb acting, Dec 11), The King (a weirdo played by the charismatic Gael Garcia Bernal, June 9), Stranger
Than Fiction (Will Ferrell’s stunning debut as a serious actor, Dec 11), Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
(Tommy Lee Jones trying to solve the murder of a Mexican wetback, March 9). And two very successful showbiz bios: Walk
The Line (Joachim Phoenix as Johnny Cash, Feb 1) and Dreamgirls (about a group like The Supremes, Dec
The Most Notable Movie Failure for me was Brick (May 23). Apparently, you were supposed to know that
this treatise on kids and drugs was made by a bunch of young people on a shoestring. You were supposed to applaud their efforts.
Even the New Yorker critic took this indulgent (condescending?) approach to it. Me, I just take a movie for what it
is. It doesn’t matter what the movie makers were trying to do. All I care about is what they have accomplished.
Which gives me an opportunity to rant about the approach to film criticism/appreciation that has mainly to do with what
the film makers intended. Many people admire a movie on the basis of where the directors or writer is coming from. I guess
they consider this to be the sophisticated approach. They’ll applaud the director’s attitude. Is she politically
correct? Does he provide much-needed roles for middle aged women actors? Great, then we’re all for his or her movie!
Is this a movie by a woman who is delving into issues that have never been explored in film before? Then, good for her, we’ll
promote her film. It doesn’t matter whether she explores them effectively or whether she has created a good film. The
point is that she’s in the right place as a person.
This was my problem with The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (Sept 22). We were apparently supposed to sit in
reverential awe at this lengthy (oh-so lengthy!) and solemn depiction of Inuit culture. It didn’t matter that the story-telling
was a mess, that you could barely tell what was going on. The important thing was that this was a very noble effort.
No. I don’t evaluate movies that way. To me, it either works as an on-screen drama or it doesn’t. No amount
of preparation or background regarding the director’s intentions is going to convince me that an unwatchable film deserves
Turning to books and writers, the Outstanding Discovery was definitely Raymond Carver for two collections of short
stories Where I’m Calling From and Cathedral, both reviewed on the November 8 page. (I’m
only about 20 years late with this find.) I’ve never met a writer who serves up life so raw and fresh, just as it is.
The Most Enjoyable Read award goes to John Katzenbach for The Analyst (July 18). One of the best mystery/thrillers
I’ve read in a long time.
A couple of the Most Engaging Non-Fiction books I read this year were Misquoting Jesus (May 23) and
Skeletons on the Zahara (Aug 12). I had some questions about the veracity of the latter but it makes for a fascinating
look at an aspect of human experience that’s barely imaginable for most of us.
The Glad-I-Didn’t-Give-Up award goes to If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (March 9) –
strangely off-putting at first but very rewarding in the end.
In the Hilarious Non-Fiction department The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid edged out
Too Close to the Falls. The latter started out great but began to sound too contrived towards the end.
Other notably Good Reads in the fiction department were: Everyman (Nov 28), Terrorist (Nov
8) The Sea (Nov 28), Saturday (March 17), Paula Spencer (Dec 27) and At
Mrs. Lippincote's (Dec 27).
My Most Disappointing read of the year would have to be A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Dec
27). Seems I just don’t have a Ukrainian sense of humour.