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Unseen Artistry 

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of head scratching was going on among readers checking out my Top 10 films list this year. In fact, that's likely been the case for the past half-dozen or so years, since the Magic Lantern finally closed. (At last count, I believe the funky little moviehouse closed five times throughout its storied history.)

But let's stick with the present. My favorite film of the year was the astounding Pan's Labyrinth, a Spanish-language fairytale that will likely be relegated to the art house circuit nationally. Which means it won't be coming here. Will Children of Men ever see the light of a Spokane day? Doubtful. Has anyone even heard of Brothers of the Head? Tideland? Brick? Tristram Shandy?

All terrific, challenging, offbeat films, all of which would've been on my list if there were such thing as a Top 15. None of them, if memory serves, have ever played here.

This is a problem for lovers of anything non-mainstream. But it's also a problem that goes deeper than just the above-mentioned titles. The year that's currently coming to a close has been one of the strongest for independent and foreign language films in a long while. Here are a few more 2006 releases that deserved -- but missed -- a chance on a Spokane big screen, and are now relegated to chance cable viewings or a dependence on Netflix (and an accompanying home TV screen): Ask the Dust; District B-13; Dreamland; Factotum; 51 Birch Street; 49 Up; The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things; Kinky Boots; Live and Become; Night Watch; The Notorious Bettie Page; Renaissance; The Science of Sleep; Stoned; Sweet Land; Who Killed the Electric Car?; Wordplay; and the list goes on.

The pity is that Spokane is home to a plentiful number of cineastes, folks who kept the Magic Lantern running all those years, and who still make their way to the Garland Theatre for events such as the upcoming SFCC International Film Festival (be sure to catch the terrific, challenging, offbeat, Cache, scheduled for Jan. 31). And the 9th annual Spokane International Film Festival will run from Jan. 26-28 and Feb. 1-4 at the Bing.

OK, so there'll be some interesting winter viewing. But what about the rest of the year? There's not really any kind of "season" for independent and foreign film; that's a Hollywood invention. There's plenty of solid product to fill up every weekend, and I'd bet there's an audience to make it worthwhile to whoever has the gumption to open up a year-round, full time place.

Sure, there are the long-gestating rumors that a Magic Lantern two-screener -- a 120-seat theater and a 47-seat theater -- will emerge like a phoenix from the renovation project at the Saranac building. I hope those plans are the real thing. And if they're not, it's time for some arts angel to take the lead and provide a showcase for alternative cinema in Spokane. It would be a pity to have to drive all the way to Seattle to see some of the best films of the year.

ED'S Top 10 Films of 2006

10) Bobby
Emilio Estevez's ode to RFK works brilliantly at recreating the ethos of the late 1960s. The film peeks into the lives of workers and visitors at the Ambassador Hotel on the day Bobby was assassinated.

9) The Fountain
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play six characters in a mash-up of stories about the search for the Fountain of Youth. Terribly sad, very hopeful -- a gorgeous piece of visual artistry.

8) United 93
Writer-director Paul Greengrass, along with an improvisational cast, presents a fascinating, gripping and at times painful idea of the possibilities of what happened on 9/11.

7) Little Miss Sunshine
A very dysfunctional family goes on the road when the young daughter competes in a beauty contest. It's thoughtful, but played for solid and wacky laughs.

6) The Departed
Martin Scorsese's tale of lying, murder, lust, cops and the mob is tense, and provides a huge palette for a great cast to show their chops.

5) Borat
Possibly the most uproariously funny movie ever made. Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakhstani reporter gets America to reveal its own inherent racism.

4) Brothers of the Head
This straight ahead and feverish documentary about the birth of the British punk scene is set in the mid-1970s, focusing on a band fronted by Siamese twin brothers. Interesting note: It's 100 percent fake.

3) Apocalypto
Mel Gibson may be nuts, but he's also a visionary filmmaker.

2) Children of Men
London is the only city standing, guerillas are shooting up the streets, and women have become infertile. Humankind is coming to an end. Then one woman shows up pregnant.

1) Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro's dark and violent Spanish-language fairytale is seen through the eyes of an imaginative young girl who believes she's a magic princess. Not for young kids.

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