2006 was a great year in movies, one of the best of the decade actually for sheer volume of quality pictures. Michael Winterbottom had three great pictures, including the quasi-documentary, “Road to Guantanamo,” and there was one of the best low budget horror movies in Neil Marshall’s, “The Descent.” “Inside Man,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Miami Vice,” “Lake of Fire,” “The Lives of Others,” “Priceless,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and the nihilistic masterpiece, the defining picture of American Culture, of the decade “Crank.” It was a good year.
10 BEST FILMS OF 2006
1. CASINO ROYALE – DIR: Martin Campbell After having directed arguably the worst of the Pierce Brosnan Bond era (“Goldeneye”), Martin Campbell came back to the series and directed what is arguably the best of all the Bond movies. This film brought Bond the closest to Ian Flemming’s character than any other film; vulnerable, hard, viciously witty, and cold. Daniel Craig tosses his hat in the ring for the best Bond, only to have it taken out again after the awful follow-up, “The Quantum of Solace,” though during this picture there was a good chance he was going to win. Unlike the majority of the silly, though giggle-inducing fun Connery/Lazenby/Moore era Bond films, this movie exchanged sci-fi gadgets for a character arc, and it paid off well. Which would you rather have, emotional catharsis or a rocket shooting Aston Martin?
2. CHILDREN OF MEN – DIR: Alfonso Curón This atmospheric Sci-Fi picture was a great surprise. In a landscape where the majority of the sci-fi that comes out are comic book or graphic novel based, mostly action and rarely thought provoking, “Children of Men” was a real pleasant change of pace. This movie, while there was some exciting action, including two of the most amazing long-takes ever put to film, it was mostly about character and ideas. Alfonso Curón has an great eye for visuals (not including “Great Expectations), and along with the brilliant script the designs and sequences of this movie are brutal and gritty.
3. DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY – DIR: Michel Gondry This documentary was the most fun movie-going experience of 2006, and actually my favorite of all of Gondry’s movies. From the Marching Band performance with Kanye West, to seeing the fun side of Erykah Badu, to finally seeing the Fugees back together, this movie was an expression of pure joy. Dave Chappelle, at the height of his fame, before he retracted from society, plays the perfect Master of Ceremonies for this festival, which while being supremely disappointed I couldn’t experience it first hand, this film was the next best thing.
4. THE DEPARTED – DIR: Martin Scorsese Even though Jack Nicholson gives a bizarrely over the top performance in “The Departed,” I thought the acting and the script were terrific. Almost a beat for beat remake from the original Hong Kong picture, “Infernal Affairs,” but with a lot more humor. Mark Walberg and Alec Baldwin kicked Boston ass as the hard nosed detectives, and I also liked the love triangle between Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Vera Farmiga. There is a lot of discussion, nay complaints, about the final shot of the picture, i.e. the rat, and with Nicholson’s craziness, Walberg’s bad-ass lines, and Baldwin’s cheery good-ol’boy demeanor I think it fits right in. This film is a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions… that is if Shakespeare was Southie trash.
5. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA – DIR: Clint Eastwood Much better than its companion piece, “Flags of Our Fathers,” taken together they are an interesting meditation on war. In fact in was quite ballsy to make two different feature films exploring war from both sides of one battle while the U.S. was embroiled in two over seas conflicts. Politics aside taken alone this is a very moving movie, and Ken Watanabe was perfect as the Japanese general, as were the rest of the mostly Japanese cast. Though they could have been terrible. I don’t speak Japanese so maybe it was just the guy who wrote the subtitles that was so good. They were really good subtitles.
6. LITTLE CHILDREN – DIR: Todd Field Never has there been a better use of the voice over than in this picture. Not that the movie wasn’t good in the first place, but the children’s book narration brought the movie to a magical height. This is suburban ennui done right. Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet are perfect for the bored, ill-fated lovers, but stealing the show is Jackie Earl Haley, back from acting retirement, to play one of the creepiest child molesters in film history. I don’t care if he’s the nicest guy in the world, after watching this movie there is no way in hell I would leave my kids with Jackie Earl Haley. Actually I don’t think I would have left them with him after watching “Losing It,” but now definitely not.
7. A MIGHTY HEART – DIR: Michael Winterbottom Leave it to Michael Winterbottom to mine Angelina Jolie for the performance of her career. Before this movie her best role was in “Hackers;” her Oscar win for “Girl Interrupted” falls into the Marisa Tomei category of Best Supporting Actress awards (ask Mira Sorvino about that one). Her role as Marianne Pearl is abusive in the way it breaks your heart. And Irrfan Khan as the hard-ass Police Captain searching for Daniel Pearl will make you think twice about making cab driver jokes to Pakistanis. Once again Winterbottom can take a very straight-forward movie about loss, and layer upon layer of subtlety. His deft hand might make him the film maker of the decade.
8. THE PRESTIGE – DIR: Christopher Nolan This could have been my favorite movie of the year, let alone the decade. Not only the tone of the movie but the period, this early Twentieth Century griminess, a time when there was real magic, not just illusions but people like Tesla who used Science to perform feats of what seemed like sorcery. The script is as tight as a drum, and plays with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s characters till it is impossible to know who is the hero and who is the villain. The ending, the twist of the film, was telegraphed in a way that the full picture only becomes apparent when the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle is put in place. A truly amazing movie.
9. THE QUEEN – DIR: Stephen Frears This movie is another example of the solid Stephen Frears. There is nothing flashy, nothing big, or in your face about this movie, it is just perfectly paced, toned, edited, and shot. Peter Morgan’s script is right in there as well; there aren’t any stylistic flourishes of narrative, but every scene works, there is no fat. As Tony Blair Michael Sheen gives a solid performance, as does Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. This movie isn’t setting the world on fire, but it is hard to find many others that work as well.
10. SILENT HILL – DIR: Christophe Gans This movie was an utter surprise after Gans’ first feature, the silly “Brotherhood of the Wolf.” His English language debut was a crazy, over the top, visually impressive fun time. Most of it was due to the turns that Roger Avry’s script takes, but never having played the video game I had no idea the directions it was going to take. The bizarre witch cult at the heart of the movie was a totally amusing surprise. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the same had I known the plot, or anything about it, but since I didn’t it was up there with “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” as pure fun at the movies.
11. TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY – DIR: Michael Winterbottom I know I’ve been living by the self imposed rule of ten, but 2006 needed to be turned up to eleven. Winterbottom gives us three very different, and amazing movies in 2006. This film was actually the funniest movie of the year; Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are comic gold together. Another reason why Winterbottom is so good is the gap between this and “A Mighty Heart.” In one he is able to pull tears of laughter, in the other tears of pain, few others can do it except maybe Uwe Boll, though the laughs and pain are usually not intended there.
10 WORST FILMS OF 2006
1. AMERICAN DREAMZ – DIR: Paul Weitz Neither of the Weitz boys have made a solid picture since “About a Boy,” but none were really as bad as this. An supposed examination into America’s obsession with fame, it just turns into an examination of how not to direct a movie. It is just sloppy, ugly looking, and weak. And why the “Z” at the end of the title? That’s not rhetorical. I’m wondering.
2. THE DA VINCI CODE – DIR: Ron Howard The book was a laughable testament to the cultural decline of the Western world. The movie was worse. At least Dan Brown’s craptacular novel is a page turner, if not to find out what happens next than to escape whatever drivel existed on the page you were discarding. Ron Howard’s film is just boring, and Tom Hanks’ hair should have gotten a Razzie of its own.
3. DREAMGIRLS – DIR: Bill Condon Eddie Murphie was good, but Eddie Murphy wasn’t really in this movie that much. But Jennifer Hudson was. So was Beyonce. They can both sing, but neither one can really act. I guess part of it is that I’m not really a “Musical” kinda guy. I like movies with characters and stories and things, if it is just a bunch of songs I’ll listen to my iPod.
4. FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION – DIR: Christopher Guest This movie just took a wrong turn somewhere around Irrelevant-ville. Guest’s proceeding films, “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show,” and “A Mighty Wind,” not to mention “Spinal Tap,” are all amazing, but this tries to skewer Hollywood in ways that have been done much better in films like “State and Main” or “Wag the Dog.” It also just didn’t have the big, creative laughs that the others did. I don’t even consider this one in their league… Yup, that happened.
5. THE ILLUSIONIST – DIR: Neil Burger This movie is just boring. It in now way compares to the same type of film in “The Prestige.” Deadward Norton and Jennifer Biel have no chemistry, no reason for being on screen together, and the twist at the end is just one snore. One long snore.
6. LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN – DIR: Paul McGuigan Boy did this movie want to be directed by Guy Ritchie. Josh Hartnett again tries to pull off slick, but ends up just wooden. The plot is more like one of those post-“Usual Suspects” rip-offs like “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” from the mid to late 90’s. You know the ones where everyone has a cool nickname, and weird talent, and all the stories are interconnected, and it is all just so predictable.
7. NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM – DIR: Shawn Levy I can’t even call this a movie. It is really just a bunch of silly, groan inducing sequences strung together by all-star cameos, none of which are all that surprising. Ben Stiller, a man who is capable of death defying comedic heights, slums it to new lows here, phoning it in from the line at the bank.
8. SAW 3 – DIR: Darren Lynn Bousman I didn’t see “Saw 2,” but I’m sure that would have been on the Worst list as well. Not only are the acting and the craft of these films so remedial, the concept is so brainless I can’t believe people have eaten up six of them. The plot has been rehashed and recycled so many times I think at this point that I could use the same paragraph from the 2004 list for the original “Saw” and every complaint would hold true.
9. SNAKES ON A PLANE – DIR: David R. Ellis Snakes! On a plane! Sam Jackson! On a plane! O-M-G! Thanks internet.
10. THE WICKERMAN – DIR: Neil LaBute To be frank I have mixed feelings on the original “Wickerman.” It is a strange experience to say the least. This film had none of that strangeness, it is just a middle of the road mystery in which they try to infuse some of the Pagan undertones that made the first one eerie, but they are forced and trying to hard to be “Creepy.” I try to separate the two, a remake after all is its own entity, and if I’m just looking at it by itself… still bad.
MOST OVER RATED FILM OF 2006
MARIE ANTOINETTE – DIR: Sofia Coppola It is pretty to look at, but it is kind of boring, and the film plays more as an examination of Sofia Coppola’s story telling techniques and her style than it does of fame and rebellion like it thinks it is. Coppola does make interesting, lush images, and Kirsten Dunst pulls off the bratty queen with ample aplomb, but overall I could care less. The one part that I did like was Jason Schwartzman’s portrayal of Louis XVI. He’s just weird, and ironic, like a Smurfs t-shirt on a thirty-five year old.
MOST UNDER RATED FILM OF 2006
THE HILLS HAVE EYES – DIR: Alexandre Aja The New York Times review of this film said something to the effect of this film is so depraved it couldn’t have been directed by anyone over the age of 30. I kind of agree. This film is actually an improvement on Wes Craven’s boring original, mostly because it is just so damn gruesome and brutal. It is hard to watch, not in the way that “Saw” is, but more like “Irreversible.” The ferocity is handled not in a piercing way, more in a vérité style that puts it in your face documenting the action instead of forcing it.
Only three more to go.
By Paul S. Myers