Spring has just begun, and I already have a strong list of 2006 favorite films.

Spike Lee’s Inside Man just joined the list.

It’s a satisfying, intense, and surprisingly laugh-out-loud-funny thriller.

Denzel Washington does his thing, and does it well.

Jodie Foster is frighteningly intense.

Christopher Plummer continues to prove that this chapter of his career is the best chapter of his career.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (the ultra-cool villain in Serenity, the hero in Dirty Pretty Things, the piano-playing ladies’ man in Melinda and Melinda) continues to impress, and provokes the biggest laugh of the movie.

And Clive Owen is perfectly cast.

Handsomely filmed, and fueled by a powerful retro-soundtrack by Spike Lee’s faithful scorer Terrence Blanchard (who must have watched some John McTiernan films before composing this score), Inside Man shows that Spike Lee is still able to surprise us by mastering yet another genre on his first attempt.

It is not, as Emmanuel Levy wrote, Lee’s best film. Do the Right Thing remains a brilliant work of art, a true masterpiece, as fresh and vital today as it was the day it was released. Inside Man is a solid piece of genre entertainment, delivering what Hollywood at its best delivers — engaging personalities, razor-edged banter, slow-building suspense with surprising payoffs, and a refreshing freedom from any burdened sense of needing to SAY something important. (Thank goodness. Let a heist movie be a heist movie, I say.)

Having said that, Lee’s love for New York is tangible all the way through, and he continues to be the best American filmmaker for portraying multiculturalism in a convincing and, this time, optimistic way.

Following a year in which most of the heavy-hitters were so controversial and so intensely political that one wondered if moviegoing could ever be fun again, it’s exciting to see creative, thoughtful, and relevant entertainment that inspires delight at the same time. This one will deserve mention among the year’s best at the end of 2006.

Go see it on the big screen. It’s rare that a film will keep you guessing as much as this one does.

Oh, and BEWARE OF SPOILERS. Apparently there are some reviews out there already ruining key plot twists for readers.

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