2006 Year in Film
It was a bad year for American cinema, and though moviegoers seem to have adopted this theory every year for nearly the past decade, this time around, it really is true. Oddly enough, this has been one of the best years for Hollywood, which saw a dramatic increase in box office sales and a renewed interest in the theater experience. When it comes to putting together a year-end review, however, the 2006 movie season hasn’t been quite as generous. With the major award shows fast approaching, critics are still mostly undecided on not only who will receive the coveted Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, but if they even deserve them. Personally, the last half of the year (which is usually a diamond mine filled with shining gems) has been a complete washout, and it’s evident by the following list just how influential the first five months of the season were for me.
The Best Films of 2006
1. Thank You For Smoking (Fox Searchlight)
Jason Reitman’s debut film delivers everything you could ever want in a comedy – including a talented cast and a whip-smart script – but one thing that it doesn’t have is exposure. This lack of serious promotion has single-handedly forced the film out of any Best Picture discussions, despite the fact that anyone who saw it knows full well that they just experienced one of the top five movies of the year. It’s a shame, really, since Aaron Eckhart’s performance could easily be considered Oscar-worthy, while Reitman’s adaptation of the best-selling Christopher Buckley novel would also clean up in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.
2. Brick (Focus)
“Brick” is the most original film of the year, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually saw the damn thing outside of the small circle of movie critics and film buffs. Rian Johnson’s unique take on the film noir genre is clever, well-scripted and features some of the premier talent in Young Hollywood. Not since David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” has there been a noir this good. This is the genre at its absolute best, and when all is said and done, you won’t remember high school any other way.
3. The Departed (Warner Bros.)
“The Departed” represents Martin Scorsese’s first real chance of going home with a golden statue since “GoodFellas" and it's well-deserved. Based on the incredibly successful Hong Kong action/thriller “Infernal Affairs,” Scorsese’s adaptation improves the original story twofold (including a much superior ending), featuring an all-star ensemble masterfully led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, and some of the best music of the year.
4. Hard Candy (Lionsgate)
As one of many suspense films to make my top ten, “Hard Candy” came completely out of left field and shocked the living shit out of just about anyone who saw it. Solid performances from both Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson help to keep the tension at an all-time high, while even James Bond would submit to the below-the-belt torture that takes place in the middle of the film. Regrettably, the marketing for “Hard Candy” sucked – depicting it as yet another horror film in Lionsgate’s ongoing crusade to become the end-all-be-all of the genre – when it deserves so much more appreciation. Here’s hoping Page gets a much-deserved Oscar nod for her incredible work.
5. The Prestige (Touchstone)
What do you get when you combine one of the best working directors in Hollywood with one of the best casts of the year? One helluva movie, that’s for sure. The science fiction-like premise certainly had the potential to disappoint, but so does any magic trick after discovering its secret. In spite of this, Christopher Nolan hadn’t let me down yet, and his adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel about two dueling magicians in turn-of-the-century England maintained his track record of churning out cinematic gold.
6. Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight)
There’s so much charm trapped beneath the dramatic tension of The Little Indie Film That Could that it’s almost impossible to talk about it in just one paragraph. To start, the performances are simply incredible – from Alan Arkin’s heroin-snorting grandfather, to Steve Carrell’s suicidal French literature professor, to the sheer brilliance of up-and-comer Paul Dano’s speechless authority of every scene he’s in – but it’s relative newcomer Abigail Breslin who steals the show. The youngster is the true spirit of the film, and it’s nice to see a 10-year-old actress other than Dakota Fanning light up the screen with a performance better than most season veterans.
7. Letters from Iwo Jima (DreamWorks)
Thank God Clint Eastwood decided to revisit the Battle of Iwo Jima with a story of what happened on the other side of the war, or he may have always been remembered for producing the dismal "Flags of Our Fathers," which failed critically and commercially upon its November release. The story of "Letters" is monumentally better, from the richer characters and stronger performances, to the more significant tale about a group of men who were more or less sentenced to death by their own country.
8. Pan’s Labyrinth (Picturehouse)
The world of make-believe can serve up some pretty scary shit, and Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy-horror flick is a darn good example of this. Not even Tim Burton could deliver a vision so twisted, so brutal, that a young girl’s imagination is more violent than that of the war-torn real world. Don’t let the subject matter fool you, either – “Pan’s Labyrinth” may resemble a children’s fable from head-to-toe, but this one is strictly adults only. Never again will such a beautiful film be capable of giving you nightmares.
9. Borat (Fox Searchlight)
I recently heard someone compare the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani journalist character, Borat, to the likes of Tom Green, when in fact the two couldn’t be any more different. While Green’s on-air adventures found him only discovering the idiot within himself, Cohen has not only single-handedly exploited American bigotry in well under 90 minutes, but he’s created a brand new genre in the process. As a result, expect legitimate documentary crews to be hassled by willing participants, while Cohen somehow manages to film a follow-up without any complications.
10. Wordplay (IFC)
The most suspenseful movie of the year is a documentary. Oh yeah, and it just so happens to be about crossword puzzles. I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either, but after the first hour of “Wordplay” you’ll be so far on the edge of your seat that you may just fall off. Celebrity appearances by Jon Stewart and former President Bill Clinton help to give the film some credibility and make the subject matter appear more mainstream, but it’s the nail-biting footage of the 2005 championship that proves to be the real star.
The Second Best of the Best (11-15)
11. Slither (Universal)
Wait, people still don’t know who Nathan Fillion is? Sigh.
12. Blood Diamond (Warner Bros.)
Thirty minutes shorter and this makes top five, easy.
13. Inside Man (Universal)
Who knew Spike could make a good commercial film?
14. American Dreamz (Universal)
“American Idol” is one big joke. Here’s the proof.
15. Babel (Paramount)
It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely special.
The Worst Films of 2006
1. Hostel (Lionsgate)
One can argue that the original “Saw” was the godfather of this new sick and twisted genre where people are tortured for no apparent reason, but since I actually appreciate what was done with that film, I’m going to have to say that it didn’t really begin to get out of hand until Eli Roth’s “Hostel.” Forget the fact that nothing happens during the first 40 minutes of the movie, or that the torture scenes that follow aren’t even close to being scary – this film just plain sucks. It’s actually quite disturbing to know that while we still can’t swear on national television, kids all across America can sneak into movie theaters to witness a commercialized snuff film.
2. Silent Hill (Sony)
We all know that video games haven’t done so great in their transfer to the big screen, but this is just downright embarrassing. Even Uwe Boll’s vampire crapfest managed to score higher marks then this mess, which starts out as an eerie, highly-stylized suspense flick and then quickly turns into an Amateur Night performance of “The Crucible.” It’s horrible, boring, and nothing happens.
3. Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (Lionsgate)
It’s not really a question of if Larry the Cable Guy’s debut film will make every critic’s Worst Films of 2006 list, but more of a question on where it will actually place among all of the crap that was released this year. Personally, even a film like “Health Inspector” trumps my first two picks, if only because it actually has a plot that makes sense. Unfortunately, that’s about the only positive thing you’ll hear from this critic because, well, the world most definitely doesn’t need another Ernest.
4. Date Movie (20th Century Fox)
Seeing as the writers didn’t put too much effort into creating this film, it doesn’t really make sense that I should have to waste my day thinking of something creative to say. Alyson Hannigan, I love ya babe, but you need better taste in scripts. Fred Williard and Jennifer Coolidge, well, I kind of expected this from you guys, so you’re off the hook. And to the rest of the cast: be prepared to never, ever work in Hollywood again.
5. Big Momma’s House 2 (20th Century Fox)
Roger Ebert summed it up perfectly when he said: “the studio doesn’t think this movie is good enough to be seen by critics, but they think it’s good enough to be seen by you.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking directly about “Big Momma’s House 2,” but the statement can certainly be applied to this completely unnecessary sequel which proves that Martin Lawrence is just as annoying as the last time you saw him in a shitty movie.
6. Bloodrayne (Fantastic Film/Romar)
The fact that most people have never even heard of the movie studio that produced this schlock should be a good indication as to just how terrible this film really is. But just in case you needed a little reassurance: it was directed by Uwe Boll. Yeah, that guy. The one who’s managed to become a celebrity based solely on turning good video games into bad movies, and in some cases, bad video games into even worse movies. “Bloodrayne” falls into the latter category, and managed to claim the careers of several B-actors like Michael Madsen, Billy Zane and (in some capacities) Michelle Rodriguez in one fell swoop. Oh, and lest us not forget that the film also stars Sir Ben Kingsley as a villainous vampire lord. There should be some sort of rule that if you appear in a shitty movie, you automatically lose your status as a knight. It seems only fair.
7. Saw 3 (Lionsgate)
Not to be outdone by another horror franchise, the “Saw” team took the “Hostel” approach in their third installment of the popular series and pretty much ended all hope of creating a long-lasting film property. The studio seems to be going for broke by cranking these things out every year, and they’re only going to sell themselves short in the end. Because of this, “Saw 3” doesn’t feel anything like the original film, which prided itself on exposing the graphic nature of Jigsaw’s demented mind in little bits and pieces. This time around, it’s all about the shock value and just how close the filmmakers can get to making someone in the audience puke. Sorry, but that’s not my idea of entertainment.
8. The New World (New Line)
Terrence Malick’s mind-numbing period piece may have thought it was clever enough to fly underneath the radars of most critics compiling their best/worst lists by releasing in theaters sometime between the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, but I’m not willing to give away a free pass on account of some silly technicality. When the film screened in 2005, it was unfinished, and hence it doesn’t count. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that the movie sucks, unless, of course, you’re jazzed about seeing the live-action adaptation of the Discovery Channel Store’s Sounds of the Rainforest CD.
9. Ultraviolet (Sony)
If Kurt Wimmer’s “Equilibrium” suffered from being too smart, then the director’s latest feature, “Ultraviolet,” suffers from being too daft. The film is all style and no substance, and though it looks pretty with its bright colors and fast action, it has absolutely nothing to say. To make matters even worse, the film boasts perhaps the most ridiculous villain of the year – a hygiene-obsessed lunatic who breathes through an air sterilizer and vacuum-seals all of his weapons. Is this really the future? Let’s hope not or we’re all doomed.
10. Home of the Brave (MGM)
When a drama makes you laugh more than it makes you cry (or at least feel something other than embarrassment for all those involved), there’s something horribly wrong. In the case of “Home of the Brave,” there are about a million different things wrong, and you won’t see another unintentionally funnier drama this year. Sam Jackson hams it up as an alcoholic surgeon, Jessica Biel plays a woman learning to cope with a prosthetic hand, and 50 Cent plays an angry black man. Go ahead and laugh. Trust me, you’ll feel better.
The Pity Patrol (11-15)
11. Renaissance (Miramax)
Wow, that looks aweso – oh wait, it sucks.
12. Last Holiday (Paramount)
Latifah never should have given up her day job.
13. Grandma’s Boy (20th Century Fox)
Doris Roberts is the Devil in disguise.
14. RV (Sony)
Three simple words: big rolling turd.
15. Confetti (Fox Searchlight)
We appreciate the free nudity, but it’s just not funny.