Yeah, so it's almost April. I can't make a best-of list in March?
2006 was kind of a lousy year on the whole for "important" movies. This is evidenced by my #1 movie of the year having won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars last year. Further, the gap between #1 and #2 is far wider than the gap between #2 and #10. "Oscar" films like Dreamgirls and Flags Of Our Fathers fell short of expectations (apparently), and successful ones like Babel and The Queen didn't make a meaningful dent with the average moviegoer. Even the five Best Picture nominees had its share of weaknesses, after a 2005 in which the nominees (if not the winner) were arguably award-worthy.
The resulting void in high-end story-telling was filled by movies on the low end. Rarely have there been so many successful high-brow action movies in a single year. Not in the sense of originality of premise, a la The Matrix or Die Hard, but in the sense that cliched B-movie genre stories were given A-movie treatment. Bringing an auteur's touch (and gravity) to stories in traditionally superficial genres. Everything in the movies is cyclical, so this is hardly a reflection of the New World Order or anything, but this certainly seems to be the trend. The list that follows is awfully long on quality...
- Look at what Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee and Michael Mann did with their warmed-over action premises. All three turned in superlative efforts. The bar may have been raised TOO high.
- Casino Royale accomplished what the Bond series has been working towards for over a decade: a plausible, believable, mature Bond.
- Children of Men, a filler-heavy, hole-ridden story with a great hook, snuck onto best "films" lists thanks to the exceptional, visionary direction of Alfonso Cuaron.
- I haven't seen Apocalypto, but it is generally believed to be in the same category: a visceral action film with high aspirations. I don't need to see it to know that the premise is higher on concept than bankability.
- Then there's Banlieue 13, whose parkour action is more original and organically thrilling than anything in the previously-mentioned films.
I find it remarkable that so many action movies managed to bust past the "genre film" label. Given how many disappointing "serious" films (Dreamgirls, Flags Of Our Fathers, The Good German, All The King's Men, Marie Antoinette) and traditional tentpole thrill rides (Pirates 2, Superman Returns, X3, Da Vinci Code) saw release this year, it's encouraging to see so many talented filmmakers roll up their sleeves to make simple, entertaining, well-made movies. And though these guys may appear to be "slumming it," many of the world's great directors have worked primarily within genre: Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, the French New Wavers (Godard, Melville et al), Spielberg, Tarantino... a list of masters if I ever saw one. There's no shame in going this way, as opposed to taking the traditional art/auteur road.
What's more is that the auteurs who make shoot-em-up movies put the rest of Hollywood's gun-for-hire genre specialists to shame. As an audience, how could we possibly tolerate another Brett Ratner piece of crap after we've just finished watching The Departed? Who'd even attempt a standard future-apocalypse movie after seeing Children of Men? What double-cross heist movie could possibly top Inside Man? There's Hertz, and there's not exactly; the A-list just proved it. Hacks of Hollywood, you've been outed.
So, now that I've buried the lead, let's get down to doing what bloggers do best... lists.
- The Science Of Sleep
- Inside Man
- Little Miss Sunshine
- Banlieue 13
- The Pursuit of Happyness
Most Surprising (good)
- Monster House
- Night At The Museum
- Miami Vice
- Talladega Nights
Promising Movies That I Wish I'd Seen
- The Fountain
- The Proposition
- The Prestige (it's in my apartment as we speak)
- The Good Shepherd
- Big Momma's House 2
- For Your Consideration
- Happy Feet
- Little Children
- Stranger Than Fiction
- Curse of the Golden Flower
- The Lives of Others
Promising Movies I'm OK With Missing Or Having Missed
- United 93
- World Trade Center
- Blood Diamond
- The Queen
- Flags of Our Fathers
- Letters From Iwo Jima
- The Last King Of Scotland (I said it once, and I'll say it again: you don't need to tell me that Forest Whitaker kicks ass.)
Promising Movie That I Definitely Don't Need To See, Because The Prick Who Made It Is A Miserable, Overrated, One-Trick Pony Who Cons Big-Name Actors Into Hamming It Up In An Ensemble, In The Faint Hope Of Grabbing An Oscar That The Actor Probably Doesn't Deserve In The First Place, While Simultaneously Conning The Audience Into Buying His Phony-Baloney, Contrived, Manipulative, Melodramatic Horseshit... Anyway, This Guy Sucks
Films That Disappointed Me
- Let's Go To Prison
- X-Men: The Last Stand
- Snakes On A Plane
- Clerks II
Further, I felt like Kevin Smith showed too much restraint in certain parts. The funniest part of the movie, a rant on how Dante could theoretically impregnate his own mother via a toilet seat, isn't even in the movie. It was cut, presumably, because the scene had a very important point (Randal's gonna miss Dante) and the rant doesn't affect the scene's outcome. From a Robert McKee standpoint, that's legitimate, but that's not what Kevin Smith got famous doing. I don't care what happens to Dante and Randal, I care what they're talking about while it happens.
And am I alone in wondering why there was so little attention spent on ass-to-mouth? That's where the comedy gold is. It's not in creepy Elias.
Anyway, yeah, disappointing. Not, like, X3 disappointing, but still.
BEST MOVIES OF 2006
10. The Devil Wears Prada
Hey, I'm as surprised as you are. But this movie is really, really good. The thing that separates this from typical girl-movie crapola, apart from the presence of Meryl Streep, is its breakneck pace. The story moves along at 200 miles per hour from start to finish, giving you a feel for the pressure and an entertaining ride at the same time. The wardrobe, the pith, the script, the acting (Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt)... all excellent.
Even though its high point as a film involves a dog biting a guy in the nuts, the social commentary has stuck with me well beyond the initial viewings. Mike Judge again shows an ability to tap into practical, down-to-earth fears... increasing garbage, increasing corporate presence, decreasing command of proper English... and turn them into an apocalypse. It's box-office poison, which Fox certainly recognized. It's cheap, which should be evident from the first scenes. But it's an excellent movie.
8. Casino Royale
(flickr user Gilmore Boy)
After the success of GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan expressed a desire to make Bond more real, more fallible. Those attempts in later films (Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough) were hackneyed and isolated, exposing a lack of commitment to that cause. Casino Royale certainly solved that problem. The most plausible and thoughtful of all the Bond films, and featuring the series' most talented Bond in Daniel Craig, it keeps the action real (Banlieue 13-style parkour chase, Bourne-style fist-fighting, Idiocracy-style testicular torture) and focuses almost exclusively on Bond's character.
7. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
One of the most genuine, lovable movies you will ever see. Great music, great idea, and well-executed on all ends. A very funny monument to the ways in which generosity repays itself. And how many movies do such a great job conveying earnest, unadulterated positivity without turning sappy? Flawless concert film.
6. A Scanner Darkly
Very, very underrated movie from Richard Linklater. There's a unresolvable problem of disembodiment, however: even though the technology is the only way to faithfully reproduce the story, the distance inherent between character and audience is just too much. It's not unemotional, but the most dramatic places in the story subject us to an odd, unsettling feeling rather than emotional resonance. When we discover the depths to which Keanu Reeves' character has fallen, it isn't as devastating as perhaps it ought to be. It's just somewhat troubling. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating movie with plenty of replay value.
5. Children of Men
This dreadfully serious film is just as much a reflection of modern society's post-apocalyptic fears as Idiocracy. It's a tangible apocalypse, where the planet is a technology-free wasteland and England is the Middle East. But it's got so many plot holes, and uses genre cliches so freely, that I can't list it much higher. Still, the ambition and vision on display merit high marks.
Like so many people, I was blown away. (Shortly after Azamat was! Thank you, thank you.)
I nearly spat out a lung. It's not much of a departure from the HBO show, except in that they went so far over the top with the concept that it couldn't possibly be done again. During the credits, sitting aghast in my seat during the would-be Kazakh national anthem, my mouth was gaping. I couldn't believe what I'd seen. That's the sign of success.
The real achievement here is making Sacha Baron Cohen a household name. He's one of our few genuine comic geniuses. The points of comparison for this guy are along the lines of Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Peter Sellers... the giants of screen comedy. It's good to know we'll have more SBC in the coming years.
3. The Departed
Class act from start to finish. As excellent as Infernal Affairs is, The Departed is that much better. It's the ultimate double-cross crime thriller... gritty as Scorcese, clever as Hong Kong. And after having watched a lot of very talented actors botch the incomparable Boston accent in recent years (most notably in Mystic Rivah) it was refreshing to hear Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg do an understated, natural job of it. Everyone was great, the story was fantastic, and it was as exciting as it could have been.
But it's not a chart-buster. It hasn't changed the game in any way. We won't be pointing to future double-crossing cop movies as Departed rip-offs. Because there's nothing much to rip off. The achievement was in the professional execution of the fantastic script. That it won Best Picture doesn't change the fact that it's just a bang-bang shoot-em-up movie done very well. It's not The Godfather, it's not GoodFellas. It's just a great movie. (Then again, so were Gladiatorand Return of the King.)
2. Pan's Labyrinth
The movie that deserved Best Picture. This is the second straight year in which the best movie wasn't even nominated (Walk The Line missed out last year), a failure that I consider criminal. Well, maybe not "And the Oscar goes to... Crash!" criminal, but unarguably the mistake of the year.
Pan's Labyrinth is just unreal. Like everyone else, I was expecting something a lot less Spanish Civil War-obsessed. I wasn't expecting Schindler's List with a Crazy Eyeball Hands Guy. (I love calling him that. I especially like making him talk like Adam Sandler. Hey, I'm Crazy Eyeball Hands Guy! I got eyeballs in my hands like a crazy guy! NOW GIMME SOME CAN-DAY!!!)
Aaaanyway, it's not only the most creative film of the year but the film that best leverages its creator's genius. Guillermo del Toro, like his countryman Cuaron, deserves to be an A-list director. There's no doubt in my mind that a Hellboy sequel will kick all kinds of ass.
Any weirdness I feel about putting this movie on my list is neutralized by being given the ability to tout this movie again. I haven't been so moved by a movie in a long, long time. I was a mess by the end of this thing, and I don't mind saying it. Every aspect is just phenomenal. The gritty shanty-town set sucked me in, and the story did the rest.