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For moviegoers, crime does pay off

By Kevin Crust
December 17, 2006

IT'S been a year in which three notable directors from Mexico wrapped their cinematic visions around the globe, Clint Eastwood landed twice on Iwo Jima, Hollywood finally looked at 9/11 and a shocking level of violence permeated many of the biggest films. All of the films on my list depict crimes of varying types, and while these glimpses into the darker corners of humanity prove troubling, each provides a glimmer of hope, even if it's only in the artfulness of the portrayal. As always, the squeeze to see the end-of-the-year releases during one manic week-plus in December makes an already highly subjective exercise even more so. Without further ado, 10 (plus two) that struck a chord, arranged in descending order.

"Little Children": Topping the list is Todd Field's creepy, funny take on Tom Perrotta's novel of arrested development. The sophomore feature of director Field ("In the Bedroom") upsets the ennui of parenthood, infusing it with some of our greatest fears and artfully balancing satire and foreboding.

"Fateless": This existentialist take on the Holocaust re-imagines the tragically familiar journey through the camps, but ultimately uplifts. Hungarian cinematographer Lajos Koltai's directing debut is as eerily beautiful to look at as it is transcendent.

"Volver": Pedro Almodovar loves his women and adds another masterpiece to his body of work. Penelope Cruz and a terrific cast have a wonderful time inhabiting Pedro's immaculately twisted melange of suspense, heartfelt drama and screwball comedy.

"Children of Men": British dystopia is nothing new, but Alfonso Cuaron takes us on a wild ride through a land shrouded in fascism and despair. Faith and chance wage a battle royal as stouthearted Clive Owen's skeptical bureaucrat races to keep a miracle alive under the bleakest of circumstances, abetted by Michael Caine's blissfully madcap gourmet pot farmer.

"The Departed": Director Martin Scorsese and writer William Monahan craftily relocate Hong Kong's "Infernal Affairs" to Boston and allow Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson to run roughshod over enough implausibilities to sink a lesser film. Possibly the most entertaining of the year's violent epics.

"Deliver Us from Evil": Amy Berg's documentary critique of the mishandling of a pedophilic priest's case contains the single most anguished moment on film this year. Not likely to appear on the Catholic Church's Top 10 list.

"The Lives of Others": Besides owning a magnificently Dickensian name -- had Dickens been born in Berlin -- writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck gives us an end-of-the-Cold War drama rife with ideological clashes, political posturing, sex, deceit and betrayal. Who knew the surveillance practices of the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, could be so fascinating?

"Why We Fight"/"Street Fight": These documentaries present the macro and the micro views on U.S. politics. In the former, director Eugene Jarecki coolly gives the lowdown on the military-industrial-legislative complex and its need to feed the war machine, while first-timer Marshall Curry covers a good ol' bare-knuckled local election with the intrigue of a thriller.

"Pan's Labyrinth"/"Babel": Guillermo del Toro's "Labyrinth" turns Franco's Spain, circa 1944, into a horrific, visually striking fairy tale that will give you nightmares. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's skillful filmmaking overcomes the uneven narrative of "Babel's" triptych to pack an emotional wallop -- especially in the Japan sequence featuring the heartbreaking Rinko Kikuchi.

"An Inconvenient Truth": Al Gore proves to be a surprisingly engaging guide to the dangers of global warming -- it makes one wonder if Dick Cheney is prepping a lecture-film for 2009: "All Truths Are Inconvenient."

The worst

Celebrity. Actors, I know you get more money if you're really, really famous, but the more talk shows and magazine covers I see you on, the harder it is for me to accept you on-screen as anything but yourself. Enough already. If they start making fun of you on "Entourage," you're overexposed.

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