2006: The Best Year for Movies in Recent Memory

Here is a list of some of the more noteworthy films of the past year (left column). Not all of these films were made in 2006. Some were made in 2005 and some were released in 2005– I saw them in 2006.

I would suggest that 2006 was the greatest year in film ever.

This is not the same thing as saying that 2006 was the year in which some of the greatest films of all time were made. Not quite. But I am saying that 2006 may have featured more terrific films than any time since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (if you grouped them together).

In fact, I’ll go further. I think there were more terrific films in 2006 than in any other year ever. That’s not really all that illogical: there are more films being made around the world today than ever before. There should be more good films.

I probably see more films every year than anyone else I personally know. For the first time I can ever remember, I simply cannot get out to see all of the interesting films. Maybe I’ll catch up with some of them on DVD this summer, when, traditionally, the more junky Hollywood spectaculars dominate the Cineplex’s. For right now, there are four or five new films (Volver, King of Scotland, Good German all come to mind) that I haven’t had time to see yet, but are still playing. And what about “Monkey Warfare”? And “Partition”. And …. you see what I mean?

Are audiences getting more sophisticated? Are film-makers getting better? Probably both. Twenty years ago nobody in North America– except for some university students– would even have seen a movie like “The Death of Mr. Lazerescu”, a rather depressing foreign film in which there are no chases, no violence, no gratuitous nudity or sex, and no action. It’s a beautiful film. I gave it a chance, though it started very slowly. Apparently a lot of other people did too. Or how about “Pan’s Labyrinth”, which has become something of hit, even though it is subtitled. Or a documentary like “51 Birch Street” or “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”?

It’s a terrific time to be a film fan.

Best Films of 2006:

Children of Men
Pan’s Labyrinth
51 Birch St.
The Death of Mr. Lazerescu
Friends With Money
History Boys
Pursuit of Happyness
Little Children
Sleeping Dogs Lie
Marie Antoinette
Flags of Our Fathers
Letters From Iwo Jima*
Stranger Than Fiction
Thank You For Smoking
Devil Wears Prada
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
The Queen
United 93
Squid and the Whale
Prairie Home Companion
An Inconvenient Truth

Notes on a Scandal*
Good German*
Last King of Scotland*
The Prestige*

* I’m trusting the reviewers on these ones– I haven’t seen them yet.

Note: April 2008– I have since seen all of these films asterisked above. Oddly, none of them were nearly as good as I had hoped. “Partition”, in fact, was quite awful.

Best Films Of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s:

  • The Godfather
  • The Sting
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • The Graduate
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Clockwork Orange
  • Taxi Driver
  • Patton
  • Last Picture Show
  • French Connection
  • Deliverance
  • Papillon
  • M*A*S*H

Then came Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) which proved that massive productions based on inane plots and special effects could pack them in…

The Most Important Thing You Will Ever Read About the Government and Diet

The excerpt from the article here makes it pretty cut and dried.

The government came to the honest conclusion that the increase in consumption of raw meats and dairy products after World War II resulted in a significant increase in heart disease. So it recommended that people cut down.

The dairy and meat industries vigorously objected. They had enough power and influence to force the government to alter the independent findings of it’s scientific and regulatory bodies and put out a lie to the general population: go ahead. Consume. Enjoy. It won’t hurt you.

From NY Times, January 28, 2007

No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

Naïvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same.

First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement.

Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient.

Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them.

Do you think government guidelines don’t have much influence?  The meat and dairy industry certainly thought they did.

Janet Reno: The Worst Attorney General in the Past 50 Years

“So, the jury listened to all evidence, hears all the experts. You know the verdict is coming.
They announced they had reached a verdict. Then we had to wait several hours for Janet Reno to get there before the judge would let us hear the verdict.
Why did she want to be there?
Again, you’d have to ask her….”

You have no idea of how hard it is for me to continue to insist that the statement in the title of this page is, in the face of the successive abuses of John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez, both of whom have argued that it is or should be legal to arrest and hold people with no charges or evidence, or to torture people, or kidnap them, or imprison them for an indefinite period of time.

Reno didn’t argue that it was legal to abuse people– she just did it. She decided that several innocent people were guilty and should be punished and abused. She was responsible for Waco, which is why she was also responsible in some measure for Oklahoma. So there it is and I stand by it. So the four worst attorney-generals in the history of the United States are: Janet Reno, John Mitchell, John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzalez. These are your highest ranking law-enforcement officers, America!

I have nothing new to say about Janet Reno. Here’s what I already said. I just think it’s important that time does not heal this wound: Janet Reno’s breath-taking, vicious incompetence should be broadcast as widely as possible, at least until Frank Fuster is released from jail.

In a nutshell, Frank Fuster was convicted during the hysterical 80’s rash of Satanic Ritual Abuse Cases which, to most sensible people, has now been as thoroughly discredited as the Salem witch trials.

Prosecutors believed that the the children, who almost always initially denied that abuse had taken place, were lying, and had to be “compelled” to give accurate testimony, through hours and hours and hours of interrogation, if necessary. Ileana Fuster, Frank’s wife, was mercilessly bullied, threatened, and frightened into testifying against her husband.

Prosecutors actually threatened to separate her from her children if she did not confess and implicate her husband in the abuse.

This strategy was approved by Janet Reno.

(It is remarkably possible that the prosecutors honestly thought that Frank was guilty. I don’t think that excuses the absolutely militant stupidity with which they proceeded. I say militant stupidity– there’s no other excuse for it.

Behold the intensity of their ignorance and tremble: anyone could be the next victim of their inquisitorial passion.)

The children, under these conditions, would frequently make numerous accusations, often including preposterous incidents like the perpetrator taking the children up in a helicopter and dropping them into a shark-infested pool. The prosecution would rarely– if ever– supply an actual criminal event: a date and time and location– because, of course, they couldn’t. In fact, in several cases, they couldn’t even demonstrate that there was a time and place where the defendant was alone with this victims.

The prosecution would also ignore the more ridiculous charges and bring only the reasonably creditable ones to court, though, in some of the later cases, they were compelled to present all of the testimony, including the fantastical elements. They would then argue that the fantastical elements were child-speak for abuse they could barely comprehend: something must have happened.

Nothing I have ever read about or encountered has done more to depress my view of humanity than these cases.

Not only did prosecutors and judges make utterly inane and reprehensibly stupid judgments about facts, they admitted into court numerous so-called “expert witnesses” who all asserted that Satanic Ritual Abuse was rampant in the United States, that denial of abuse is a symptom of it, that up is down and down is up, and that Alice really did run down the rabbit-hole. Almost without exception, none of these witnesses ever offered any empirical evidence in support of their contentions, either about the prevalence of child-abuse, or of how young children react to abuse. To a large extent, the convictions became the proof that there had to be more convictions.

The Mad Hatter’s best guest at this tea party was the guest who confessed, under horrendous pressures in a plea-bargain arrangement, because that proved that the guest was mad because who else but a mad guest would confess?

Many of the convicted have been released after appeals or retrials.

Frank Fuster is still in jail.


After reading more about the case, I became interested in the question that goes to the heart of the entire scandalous series of prosecutions that became known as the Satanic Ritual Abuse cases. At all of these cases, so-called experts testified that though almost all of the children initially denied abuse, and though virtually no external evidence could be adduced (not even as to time and place or opportunity), the prosecutions believed that children almost always deny abuse at first, then disclose, then recant, and so on. This explains why the children initially denied abuse, they assert.

They told the court, we are experts. We have truth. We are reliable.

Nobody seemed able to come to grips with this ephemeral truth. How did they know that abused children rarely disclose when questioned? Well, they would trot out numbers– hundreds of abused children, that we have interviewed…. We know.

But experts for the defense examined the actual research and found that only about 5-8% of abuse victims do not disclose. Isn’t that amazing? That’s quite a discrepancy.

In turns out that the prosecution experts were somewhat cavalier with the data. They didn’t distinguish between validated cases of abuse and cases that they had decided for themselves were valid but may never have been prosecuted. That is a much bigger tea bag.

In an other large study, in which the perpetrator is known to have threatened the children if they disclosed, 66% still disclosed!

Anyway, at least one of Janet Reno’s victims is still in prison. I believe we must never forget to remind Janet Reno that she was the worst attorney-general in the history of the United States.

How to get to wrong: “BT” was one of the alleged victims. Here’s how Prosecutors got her to incriminate the Fusters.

In their first interview with BT, the Bragas repeatedly question the child about a secret game she played with the Fusters, a game BT has never mentioned. When the Bragas ask BT to tell them what the secret game is, BT answers, “I think we played grocery store.” (9/13/85, 54) Joseph Braga, evidencing clear bias, responds, “Grocery store. That is not the secret game. . .” (Id. 54-55) The Bragas continue to ask BT what the secret game is, using anatomical dolls and pretending to be Mr. Fuster asking the question. Then, getting no response from BT that fits their preconceived belief of what happened at the Fuster house, Joseph Braga introduces an idea never mentioned previously by BT. “Do you remember, though, do you remember the baby-sitter sometimes would play games without clothes on? Would she take her clothes off and play some of the games we play without clothes?” (Id. 55) Despite BT’s continued insistence that she knows of no secret game, this theme of questioning was continued through the course of the interview, with both the Bragas and BT’s father alternately insisting that secret games were played and that BT is not being cooperative; suggesting that BT knows about a secret game called the “pee pee” game; and that BT is withholding information because, perhaps like the other children, she is afraid to tell because Frank and Iliana had told the children not to tell. See, e.g. 9/13/85, 62, 63, 66, 68, 73, 74-75, 78, 99 (L. Braga by this time, tells BT that she does not have to talk about what happened to her; she can just tell about what happened to the other children. Again, the implicit bias that something happened to the other children. Id, 99) BT never makes any allegation of abuse during this interview. Laurie Braga concludes the interview, telling BT’s parents that BT is in denial, (Id., 110), another clear showing of bias. From Frontline.

Think about that. If BT had disclosed abuse– under enormous pressure by the Bragas to disclose something, anything salacious: she is finally telling the truth. If she doesn’t– it’s because she is denial. In other words, once the Bragas were involved, there was only one possible outcome of the investigation.

How the inquisitor gets the heretics: “Braga” is a self-styled expert on child abuse who interviewed children on behalf of the Dade County District Attorney’s office. “Leslie” is a made-up name for the alleged victim, a six-year-old girl.

Braga: Yeah; and did you know that grownups are not supposed to touch children’s private places?
Leslie: (Nodding head.)

Uh huh. Do you have a young child? Have you ever given your child a bath?

Was anyone ever executed for a murder he did not commit, in the United States?

“Shandra Whitehead, 8, raped and beaten, died in May 1985. Frank Lee Smith given the death penalty in 1986. Smith was posthumously exonerated through DNA testing, which linked the murder to Mosley.”

Update 2022: we now know that dozens or more innocent men and women have been executed.

Mary Badham in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is, in many ways, a very likeable undistinguished film.  The music by Elmer Bernstein saves the film: it coats the events in the beautiful nostalgic gauze of melancholy and revelation.

Gregory Peck– regardless of the adoring ministrations of thousands of fans–and the Oscar for “Best Actor”  was a wooden actor of limited range. Pauline Kael says, “Peck was better than usual, but in that same virtuously dull way.”  He won the Oscar for the role, not the performance.

That his performance almost perfectly suited the tone of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was an accident, or the result of a director’s choice to leave well enough alone. Brock Peters was very good as Tom Robinson, and most of the supporting cast was adequate. Philip Alford as Jem was okay.

But Mary Badham as Scout was actually quite awful. She was stiff and awkward and had no sense of timing at all. Look at the scene in which a dinner guest pours syrup all over his plate of food:  it is hacked to pieces.  It looks like they tried desperately to save it in the editing but I can’t imagine that the director was ever happy with the end result.

There is a story that Philip Alford (Jem)  became irritated with her because he was forced to eat the same food over and over again while she tried to get her lines right in the syrup scene.  He and and John Megna (Dill) took their revenge when they later filmed a scene in which she gets into a car tire and rolls  down the street.   The two boys pushed her so vigorously she was almost injured.

It is quite believable that the director and casting crew thought they had the right girl after an audition and then discovered, gradually, that she was really not very good.  It would have been difficult and expensive to replace her once footage had been shot.  I suspect they tried to make the best of it.

The scene with Boo Radley at the end makes me cringe.  Scout just snuggles right up to this strange frightening recluse without the slightest reserve.  In fact, that whole plot sequence, of Bob Ewell trying to assassinate Scout, is ridiculous and here is once case when they should have abandoned the book.

It is a mistake.

Incidentally: why did Harper Lee never write another novel?  I believe she couldn’t.  She had one book in her, a pleasant combination of memory and social activism, and she knew, better than anyone else, her own limitations, that anything she tried to put out afterwards would be a terrible disappointment.

[Edited 2022-05-06]

By the way, did you know that the character of “Dill” was inspired by the young Truman Capote?  Yes, young Capote and Lee lived in the same town for a time, and they continued their friendship through the 1960’s when she helped him write “In Cold Blood”.

100 Reasons Why Life is Still Worth Living in No Particular Order

1 Tom Waits
2 Carey Mulligan in “An Education”.
3 the possibility of someone smart being elected president in 2008
4 Studio 60
5 Bon Ivor’s “Flume”
6 Nikon Digital SLR cameras
7 fried eggs on Saturday morning
8 movie:  Pan’s Labyrinth
9 ratchet sets
10 rechargeable battery powered drills
11 the stick shift standard transmission
12 the satisfying resolute click of a key being pressed on a 15-year-old Northgate computer keyboard, or an IBM model “M”.
13 the original Minolta 70-210mm f2.8 lens
14 curried chicken
15 the Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich
16 Linux
17 Jennifer Connelly in “Once Upon a Time in America”.
18 Peter Sellers, especially in “Dr. Strangelove”
19 Ingmar Bergman
20 Hockley Valley, Ontario, in the fall
21 blizzards with clingy snow
22 driving through Hastings, Ontario
23 Algonquin Park
24 Bob Dylan
25 Apple pie a la mode
25 Tiger ice cream
26 The film “Rashomon”
27 community theatre
28 Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
29 PBS’s Frontlilne
30 High Definition and Surround Sound
31 peaches
32 strawberries
33 Keira Knightly not getting breast implants.
34 Director Werner Herzog
35 Jon Krakauer
36 Ozu’s films
37 Greta Gerwig
38 Charlie Chaplin
39 Buster Keaton
40 Pierre Trudeau
41 ice bergs
42 the Jetcycle, only available in Newfoundland
43 Stanley Kubrick
44 shelties
45 the drive from Banff to Jasper
46 E.B. White
47 Larry Marshall as Simon Zealotes in “Jesus Christ Superstar”
48 Jules et Jim
49 Jean Seberg, especially in “Breathless”
50 MySQL databases: efficient, stable, and free
51 Arcade Fire
52 Lea Seydoux
53 Wes Anderson
54 balsamic vinegar salad dressing
55 Lightwave 3D
56 the Minolta 50 mm f1.7 lens, on a Sony Nex 7 camera
57 The Sony VX-2000, in it’s day, a terrific video camera
58 the Sony minidisc, in it’s day, a terrific audio recorder and I’ll be damned if I can believe how long it would run on that tiny little battery.
59 blueberries
60 the massive, belching, bleeping, monstrous “Big-Boy” UP 4023, 4-8-8-4 ALCO Steam Locomotive, or this one, a similar model.
61 The 1987 Toyota 4Runner with the standard stick shift, before they ruined it by making it bigger and bigger.
62 PBS News Hour
63 West Wing, especially the first 4 seasons written by Aaron Sorkin
64 Alice Munro’s short stories, especially “Who do you Think you are?”
65 oral sex
66 the bikini
67 San Francisco
68 The Musee Mecanique in San Francisco
69 Robert Duvall
70 Rutger Hauer as the dying android in “Blade Runner”, and his beautiful final speech: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”
71 “Anchorage”, the song by Michelle Shocked
72 “Silence is Golden”, weirdly beautiful, by the Tremeloes
73 Bob Dylan doing “Just Like a Woman” in an Italian accent at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in February 1974, with the Band.
74 The Band, especially “Stage Fright”. and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, and “Cripple Creek”: if there’s one thing in the whole wide world/I sure do like to see/It’s when that love of mine dips her donut in my tea”.
75 The guy who gave Bob Kelly a job after the scandalous reckless prosecution of the Little Rascals Day Care case in North Carolina.
76 Judy Collins doing “Someday Soon”.
77 Keith Richard still being alive
78 Ofra Bikel, documentary film-maker
79 The Roches singing the Hallelujah Chorus on PBS.
80 The Roches singing “The Hammond Song”
81 The Poppy Family– Susan Jacks– singing “A Different Drum”
82 MOMA (New York City)
83 Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
84 The movie “Wings of Desire” by Wim Wenders
85 The Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany
86 Wenceslaus Square, Prague, and that crazy clock
87 The movie “Amadeus”
88 Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.
89 battery powered drills
90 Tombstone Park, Yukon, Canada
91 the drive from Banff to Jasper, Alberta, Canada.
92 wooden toboggans
93 The Shaw Festival production of “Lady Windemere’s Fan”: the most nearly perfect play I have ever seen.
94 “Our Town” by Thorton Wilder
95 “Girl From the North Country”, the musical.
96 Drones
97 Zebs’ General Store, North Conway, New Hampshire
98 Fall in New Hampshire, especially near Lincoln and Mount Washington: the leaves!
99 Bernie Sanders
100 Fresh cut French fries


13 Old White Men

Someone recently observed that the people whose assumptions and dispositions got you into a mess are very unlikely to get you out. I can’t remember who said it. Maybe lots of people. But it’s true.

[According to BrainyQuote, Albert Einstein said it:  “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”]

But they’ll never stop trying, or insisting that they are the only ones who can get you out, because if what they tried at first didn’t work, they need to try the same thing harder, or more often, or faster. Or admit that they didn’t know what they were doing in the first place. When they come up with a “new” idea, it’s usually actually one of those variations: more, faster, bigger. Then you blame the messengers. Then you blame your own staff or soldiers or followers. Then you blame the people who never believed in your ideas. Then you blame the victims.

They will try again because they cannot admit they failed. They cannot admit that they failed because, given their inflexible mind-set, they cannot imagine that the mechanics of reality are different from the stopwatch in their pockets.

And so it is that George Bush proposes more troops for Iraq. More. Bigger. Faster. That will solve this intractable problem of Arabs hating our guts. That will keep every Arab male youth between 18 and 24 around the world from dreaming about killing an American.

Here’s a picture of the Iraq Study Group. Even the token black (Vernon Jordan) and token woman (Sandra O’Conner) are clearly actually old white men. Look at Time Magazine’s summary of their “qualifications”– they might just as well have announced, each is a veritable old fart of certifiable fossilization in corporate groupthink, and completely immune to new modes of thought, startling ideas, or innovative approaches. These are exactly the kind of people who got the U.S. into this mess. They’re “new approach” can only get the U.S. deeper into the mess.

Okay. So we have a group of old white men, mostly lawyers or businessmen, and they are going to look at the Iraq situation because it is a disaster for the U.S. and they are supposed to come up with some new approach that the current administration, including those mind-blowing non-conformists Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsveld, Richard Perle, Stephen Hadley, etc. hasn’t already thought of. And this is going to solve the problem.

I can look into my crystal ball right now and tell you what is going to happen. This Study Group will not be able to even imagine any solution that is not based rigorously on 19th century ideals about “American interests” and “global strategic importance” and democracy and free enterprise and stability and authority and rule of law and so on and so on, and they will recommend more of the same, faster, bigger, better.

If your son is serving in the U.S. army, be prepared to go into denial, for when he dies in the coming year you will be one of the ones who will know that it was for nothing, that it was for Bush’s vanity and Cheney’s megalomania or Powell’s indecisiveness. Your son or daughter will die in vain.

So we will endure until we can blame the Iraqis and get out.

But it is clear now to any sensible person that the U.S. cannot win any more in Iraq and the only reason they don’t leave immediately is because that would make a resounding statement to everyone about just how stupid this whole idea was in the first place.

Who was not in the Iraq Study Group?

1. an Iraqi
2. a non-American
3. a Brit or Canadian or German
4. anyone under 60 years of age.
5. any women. (O’Conner doesn’t count: she hasn’t been a woman in 20 years).
6. non-Christians.
7.  liberals.
8.  scientists
9.  journalists
10.  political scientists
11.  soldiers
12. Iraqis
13. Israelis…