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Since a majority of entries in the end-of-the-year Top 10 are released in November and December, presenting a mid-year list allows me to highlight some very good movies that will be overlooked in six months' time.  Here's how I see things for the first half of 2006.
#8: The Proposition
The Proposition is the kind of "modern" Western that expands and modernizes John Ford's contributions to the genre. That's to say it's grim and gritty, and overflowing with nihilism. Despite taking place in Australia, this is a story that could easily unfold in the more cinematically familiar Old West. There's some action in The Proposition, but this film is more about moral conundrums than shoot-outs.

#7: The Notorious Bettie Page
As bio-pics go, this is one of the better non-epic ones. Although it doesn't offer anything new or challenging, it's an engaging look at one of the 20th century's memorable pin-up girls. As played with considerable daring by an uninhibited Gretchen Moll, Bettie comes across as a mixture of frankness and naivete - an odd melange considering her job. Well acted and beautifully photographed, this one is worth a look when it arrives on DVD. (It's currently in the limbo that exists between theatrical showing and home availability.)

#6 An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore gives us not only the years best documentary thus far, but also shows us a reinvigorated and significantly changed Al Gore. Apparently the events of the previous election have tempered the mans personality and mindset. Had THIS been the Gore that ran for the countryís top office, we may have had a different outcome. Be that as it may, the film is an eye opener and rude awakening for all of us. One cannot walk away from this film without wanting to make significant changes to how we live our lives. Global warming is happening and quicker than we realize. Goreís rational of it being a moral imperative as opposed to a political one is on the mark. This film redefines the term action film. In this case the action is not on the screen. It is a call to action.

#5: Superman Returns
Superman Returns has received its share of mixed reviews, but I stand by my opinion of it, and that's after seeing it a second time. Unlike others, I don't think there's a problem with the pacing, because I see it as much a love story as an action/adventure film. If you want non-stop brainless superhero kick-ass action, the third X-Men film is still out there. Superman Returns is something altogether different. It's character-based, not stunt-based, and that makes it a rarity in the genre. It's may not be in the same league as, Spidey 2 but its rewards are many.

#4: V for Vendetta
The first 3 1/2-star movie of 2006, this one had me exhaling deeply the moment the end credits rolled: So studios can still make good films. Entertaining and intense, V for Vendetta takes viewers along for the ride with a Phantom of the Opera-inspired vigilante who has something to prove. The story is delivered with flair and there's some good acting to be found. It was a box office disappointment, but will probably do well on DVD. Maybe it was too intelligent for the target teenage audience, or maybe the release strategy was badly executed.

#3: Hard Candy
With its controversial subject matter, Hard Candy became a love it or hate it kind of film. Put me in the former category. I like its twisted world view, the manner in which it turns morality on its head, and the way it makes the audience squirm. I appreciate movies that push the envelope, and that's what this one does. Is it perfect? No - the last act drags and there are logical flaws with the resolution. But watching Hard Candy isn't an experience I'm likely to forget. It stays with you and, if you're honest, forces you to confront questions you might prefer not to think about.

#2: A Prairie Home Companion
Robert Altmanís film version of Garrison Keillorís long running radio show is a fictious backstage look at what transpires behind the scenes of the popular Saturday evening fixture. It is also an incredibly subtle, gently humorous and very literate film that may very well be the most amiable movie about death Iíve ever seen. This would imply that it is probably as much about the aging Altman as it is about Keillorís radio family. Keillorís screenplay is a quiet gem that harbors a wit and intelligence not found in films being made today. At first glance Prairie may seem as light as a feather. But its easy going nature and internalized emotions snuck up on me, so that by the end I found myself rather moved by the film. A bravura cast including Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen and Kevin Kline. A sweet natured delight.

#1: United 93
United 93 is a near-perfect retelling of some of the events of September 11, 2001. By using the same pseudo-documentary approach he employed for Bloody Sunday, Paul Greengrass brought home the intensity of what may have happened on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. He also offers a window into the chaos that enveloped NORAD and flight control towers on that day. In the end, the picture painted by United 93 has a powerful and lasting impact. Not only does it bring back events with unexpected force, but it tells a story that is simultaneously tragic and heroic. The next 6 months will have to bring something pretty amazing for this film not to finish at the top of my year end list.
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Article © 2006 Alternate Reality, Inc.