Cinema's Labyrinth

The year in film, 2006

Let me start my annual confessional about Top 10 lists by pointing out that I have made three unique lists for three separate organizations this year, and no two lists have been identical (except for my No. 1 and 2 choices, both of which are scheduled to open in Austin on Jan. 12). How does this happen? To a great extent, the differences are explained by the demands of each group's deadlines. By each December deadline, I had seen an increasingly greater number of the year-end films. Everyone knows the studios save their awards-bait material for the end of the year when they hope that critics fried by the daily deluge of screenings will elevate the most recent title to make a fresh impression on them. So for each list I made, the selection pool was greater. Add to this the complications of screening films in cities the studios relegate to second-tier status or lower. Is the vote of two Austin critics worth the vote of one in Los Angeles? And, really, is there anything wrong with the studios safeguarding their product with this kind of calculated thinking?

Several of the Chronicle's critics this year opted out of making lists because they felt as though they hadn't seen enough of the eligible films. Others of us are intrepid enough to not let that deter us. None of us has seen all the same films, so these lists are not necessarily comparative, and the absence of a title may simply indicate that the film was not seen by the writer rather than qualitatively excluded.

As the window between theatrical distribution and DVD release grows increasingly shorter, I find Top 10 lists also serve a growing function as rental guides (in addition to harbingers of films arriving in Austin during the coming weeks). In addition to the lists offered here by myself and Marc Savlov, also note on these pages the votes of the newly formed Austin Film Critics Association in its inaugural year. Michael Ventura's "Letters at 3AM" in this issue provides one further movie list, in which the former film critic succinctly sums up everything he saw in 2006.

One of the noticeable trends of 2006 has been the abundant success of sequels: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and James Bond's latest, Casino Royale, being prime examples. Just as you can count on even more sequels in 2007 and beyond, you may also count on us delivering more Top 10 lists next year. Grouse though we do, we love them so. Let us count the ways.

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