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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

counting down the best films of 2006: No. 7, ‘United 93’

WHY IS THIS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR?: Without trivializing or sensationalizing the most traumatic day in recent American history, writer/director Paul Greengrass puts us in the middle of events we couldn’t have witnessed even if we spent the whole day in front of the TV — as many of us did — and in the process accenting the literally and figuratively violent paradigm shift we all experienced in an instant.

BUT ISN’T IT DISHONEST TO MAKE A MOVIE LIKE THIS IF WE DON’T KNOW WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?: We might as well not make any movies about any events that actually occurred, then, because we never know every detail. United 93 doesn’t purport to be a documentary, or even the last word on 9/11. Maybe someday we will discover, as some claim, that the plane was not brought down by heroic passengers but was shot down by military jets, or that U93 never even crashed at all but was part of some larger, elaborate hoax — none of that will alter the fact that the important thing the film captures is not what happened but how it made us all feel … and how that day changed so dramatically how we think about something so mundane as an airplane flight. The film is a powerful evocation of the emotional slip and fall that happens when a metaphoric rug gets pulled out from under you — from under us all as a culture — not about why the rug was pulled, or who did the pulling. Those are questions for another film, for when we have more historical perspective on the day. We still don’t know what it all means, in the long run. All we know is how discombobulated it made us feel.
SO WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WATCH SO UPSETTING A MOVIE?: That’s something even serious movie lovers will have to decide for themselves. I sobbed my way though my only viewing of the film — and I mean wracking, physically painful sobs — and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to sit through the film again. But I’m not sorry I endured it. It helped me deal with my own still-evolving reaction to 9/11.

[Check out my full review of United 93 here.]

[See the whole best-of list for 2006 here.]

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  • Patrick

    I’m with you all the way on this one. Though, personally, I would’ve put it in the #1 slot (at the very least ahead of the grossly overrated “Borat”). It’s the only movie of last year that really stood out to me, and *not* just because of the traumatic events it portrays. It’s filmmaking at its finest from acting to production to Paul Greengrass’s superb direction. It provoked in me thoughts and feelings about my own mortality and made those events ironically seem more real than when I actually witnessed them on television 6 years earlier.

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