Not a horrible year, but certainly not a great one, or even a particularly good one.
In past years
, I've listed the major films I didn't see, but then someone had the nerve to complain I'd missed so many that I didn't have the right to do any sort of wrap-up. Just for that, I'm not gonna say what I missed, you'll have to guess. (If I don't mention it, I probably didn't see it).
What am I reviewing? Feature films released in 2006. No shorts, made-for-TV movies or mini-series. I will, however, include stuff out earlier overseas, or knocking around for a while at festivals, if they were only available theatrically to me in 2006. (But not if they're too old--sorry, Army Of Shadows.)
My top ten is at the bottom, but why not browse first?
SPECIAL AWARDS AND PRIVATE THOUGHTS
Worst Teacher Award
: In The History Boys
, Richard Griffiths fondles his charges. In Notes On A Scandal
, Cate Blanchett sleeps with a student. But the worst teacher is Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson
. Not only is he a crackhead--he doesn't even stick to the lesson plan.
A Story, Not A Lecture
: I'm not naming any names, but I just want to say something to you documentarians out there--if you expect me to pay, I think entertaining me is a better strategy than hectoring me.
The Misadventures Of Superman
: Before they wrote a bad script, before they cast the wrong people, before the chose the wrong director, Superman Returns
never had a chance. Why? Because, for some reason, they decided to start the action after everything interesting had happened. Superman's already discovered his powers and been revealed to the world, he's already had a fling with Lois, heck, the world's even grown tired of him. There were a lot of things wrong with this film, but even if they'd fixed them, it wouldn't have mattered if they kept the basic storyline.
Best Reboot: Casino Royale
. Okay, it has some third act problems, and it's a little weird seeing James Bond play Texas Hold 'em (and Hollywood's idea of a "tell" is still someone essentailly shouting "this is my tell!"), but overall, the best Bond in a long time.
The Slough Of Despond Award
: There's nothing wrong with showing tragic events in a movie, but when a filmmaker tries to put you through too much, sometimes you have to say the hell with it. Two fine directors made films in 2006 that showed talent but were too bitter and depressing to go down well. If they don't watch it, they're going to join Todd Solondz and others who seem to be choking on their misanthopy. First, there's Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential
, where his anti-formula formula has everything going bad for his young, hopeful hero. (Voltaire pulled if off, but Zwigoff, you're no Voltaire.) Worse, I think, is Alejandro Inarritu's highly regarded Babel
, which has enough misery for ten movies, much of it at the expense of children. (Also, Alejandaro, stop telling stories told from multiple points of view that jump back and forth in time--it's getting old.)
Scariest Moment In The Theatre
: The Omen
remake. Not the film, of course, but as I was walking out, this lady starting talking to me. She even followed me out to the parking lot. She said everything in the film was true and I had better put my house in order.
Most Exciting Moment In The Theatre: Game 6
. A fairly forgettable film (written by Don DeLillo) about a playwright/Red Sox fan. However, when the lights came up I had words with another patron and we almost came to blows.
: Two films tried to be modern Noir. Lucky Number Slevin
was a complex story full of colorful characters and bizarrre twists. Brick
was set in a high school, but otherwise pretty much played it straight as a tough-guy murdery mystery. Both these films had their fans, and both had their moments, but I think they both fell short.
Best final shot: Babel
. We start close on two people in a high rise balcony in Japan. We smoothly pull back and back and back, seeing the whole city. After all that pain, it was quite beautiful.
Worst Sequel: Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dean Man’s Chest
. One of the biggest hits of all time. I don't get it.
Don't Even Try
: I guess they wanted to restart the Pink Panther
franchise, but when a great clown owns a role, leave it alone.
Most Worthless Film: Miami Vice
. Poorly plotted, ciphers for characters, ugly to look at. I understand that Michael Mann wanted to move away from the series, but he should have been moving toward something as well.
: A tie. First, there's the snatch of cool jazz on the jukebox as Frenchman Jean Girard enters the country bar in Talladega Nights
. Second, under the end credits of Brick
, we hear the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray." Playing "Sister Ray" will improve anyone's end credits.
: Few great film comedians stay great their whole careers. Christophers Guest's For Your Consideration
is his weakest film by far. A fall from a greater heights to lower depths comes from Albert Brooks in Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World
Worst Adapations Of A Bad Novel (you heard me): The Da Vinci Code
Best Avant-Garde Film Of 2006
: Disguised as a mainstream comedy, You, Me And Dupree
is a surrealist classic. Scenes follow one upon another in seemingly random order. Major plots points are introduced and dropped as if they never happened. Characters become obsessed with irrelevant issues. And all the dialogue has nothing to do with the characters or action.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
: Comedy based on humiliation and disgust can work, but you have to watch out. You can have a sweetness behind it (good) or go all the way but mock yourself (bad). However, when you make fun of relatively decent people, ultimately, it's not pleasant to watch. That's why, even though laughed a lot, I can't say I liked Borat.
Two period pieces about magicians came out around the same time, The Illusionist
and The Prestige
. I liked them both, though not enough for the top ten. The Illusionist
has a smaller but better story. The Prestige
has great design and some interesting twists, but goes too far, getting a bit ridiculous, which is why I think The Illusionist
probably works better.
Best Title: Inland Empire
. It's an area out here in Southern California, but also a wonderfully evocative title, better than Chinatown. Too bad David Lynch's latest is twice as long as Eraserhead
and not half a good.
No Motown Award
: On Broadway, Dreamgirls
was saved by Michael Bennett's brilliant staging. Without it, you've got a cliched plot and forgettable songs. In other words, the movie. (Someday, someone should make a film about the actual Motown--now that's a story.)
Admired, Not Loved
: There's a lot to admire about Children Of Men.
A good sf premise, a well-imagined dsytopia, and wonderfully shot action sequences. But it left me cold. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe because an interesting start devolved into a simple chase where the main couple kept escaping just in time, sometimes by luck. Maybe because the characters didn't have much depth. Maybe because the whole point of the mission was unclear, and it didn't seem that people were taking the birth of a child in a childless world seriously enough.
The Phrynichus Award
: Phrynichus was an ancient Greek playwright who moved the Athenian audience to tears when he wrote about a conquest by the Persians. For reminding people of recent misfortune, he was fined, and it was declared no play would ever again be allowed on such a subject. I'm not in favor of banning movies about 9/11, but I'm not quite sure how to react. United 93
was expertly done, and is, as far as I can tell, a faithful representation of what happened that day. But am I reacting so strongly because of the film, or because I'm reminded of what really happened? I can't separate the two, so I don't know how to judge it.
Charlie Kafuman Lite Award
: I have enough trouble with Charlie Kaufman's stuff, so when someone does what feels like a bad imitation--Zach Helm's Stranger Than Fiction
--what's the point?
Gonna Fly Now Nostalgia Award: Rocky Balboa
. A mess of a film, with a ridiculous ending where a 60-year old man takes on a heavyweight in his prime. Don't forget, the first Rocky film 30 years ago (!) was about a guy who was already over the hill. Yet, away from the fighting, Stallone reminded us for the first time since, well, Rocky,
why we once liked him so much.
Bait And Switch Award: Happy Feet
. It promised to be a fun film about penguins singing and dancing up a storm. Instead, it's a depressing tale about overfishing.
Maybe Comedy Isn't Your Field: The Pacifier
Maybe Comedy Is Your Field: Matador
Maybe Comedy Mixed With Large Dollops Of Drama Isn't Your Field: Click
Good Spoof: Scary Movie 4
Bad Spoof: Date Movie
Passable Cop Movie: 16 Blocks, Inside Man
Passable Action Movie: Mission Impossible III, X-Men: The Last Stand
I Don't Care What They Say, I Liked It: RV
At Least They Gave It A Shot: Lucky Number Slevin, Brick, Art School Confidential, Babel
Disappointments: Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World, Game 6, The Pink Panther, A Prairie Home Companion, The Da Vinci Code, Lady In The Water
(a disaster and this from someone who sorta liked The Village
), Half Nelson, Snakes On A Plane, School For Scoundrels, Employee Of The Month, The Departed
(why people think so highly of this film is beyond me), Flags Of Our Fathers
(Clint does it again), Apocalypto, The Pursuit Of Happyness, For Your Consideration, Dreamgirls, The Descent, Superman Returns, Miami Vice, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Shepherd, Children Of Men, Borat, Happy Feet, Stranger Than Fiction
Huge Disappointments Because I Was Expecting So Much: Inland Empire, Volver
(not bad, but a weird mix of Mildred Pierce
that never really takes off)
About What I Expected: Factotum, Night At The Museum, Precinct B13
(some decent action, but no Jackie Chan), The Break-Up, Over The Hedge, Cars, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
(I entered the theatre like a condemned man), The Illusionist, The Prestige, Harsh Times
(starts out okay, but just like Training Day
goes too far), Flushed Away
(maybe the best animated film of the year, but must they continue to make stars out of vermin?)
Better Than Expected: Idiocracy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, Benchwarmers, Rocky Balboa, Casino Royale, Notes On A Scandal
Don't Know What To Say: United 93
BUBBLING UNDER THE TOP TEN
: They tried to film an unfilmable novel and almost pulled it off.
Thank You For Smoking
: Well done satire.
The History Boys
: Lines that work on stage don't play as well on screen, but there's still a lot here.
The Devil Wears Prada
: The hypocritical Hollywood plot where the protagonist is involved in a nasty world for 90% of the film only to return to the boring straight and narrow at the end. But the nasty was so much fun that this relatively unassuming film because a huge worldwide hit.
Friends With Money
: Maybe it doesn't aim that high, but it hits the mark.
TOP TEN (THE ORDER IN WHICH I SAW THEM)
Heart Of The Game
: A documentary about girls' high school basketball that's better than Hoop Dreams
: Being a bit of a word freak, I thought this documentary took a subject that's fairly static--crossword puzzles--and made it come alive.
: Kevin Smith isn't much of a director, and hit and miss as a writer. I thnk he managed to put it all together this time--the raw humor and the sweetness underneath.
Little Miss Sunshine
: This film is feeling the Sideways
backlash, where people question a diverting festival film that hits it big. But it's moves along, has some nice laughs, and, though it gets silly at points, has a finish that works.
Jackass Number Two
: Why do we go to films? One reason is to take us places we haven't been. Well, as hard as some of it is to handle, Jackass Number Two
succeeds at this goal better than any other film this year.
: The audience clearly wasn't in the mood for another film about the writing of In Cold Blood
, but I liked it better than Capote
. Some said it's less truthful, but who cares. It's more fun and still makes the same points. When I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman play Truman Capote, I saw an actor doing an impersonation. When I watched Toby Jones play the same role, I thought I was watching Truman Capote.
: I wasn't the biggest fan of Todd Field's In The Bedroom,
so I was surprised at how much I liked this. Not much happens, but it captures a mood and holds it for most of the film.
: I put off seeing this film since I have no interest in the present-day monarchy. But this was able to successfully and sympathetically imagine what it feels like to be in an odd position--a living representative of tradition in a changing world.
: I doubt too many have seen it, or even heard of it, but this is Jan Svankmajer's latest. A mixture of Poe and de Sade, the plot moves in directions that are hard to predict (even if the political metaphors are a bit obvious).
: Guillermo del Toro's mix of the brutal and the fantastic. On paper, it shouldn't work, but it's perhaps the most powerful film of the year.