WHat So, I’ve had a little pressure to post my "best of list", and well, it’s mid-way through February, but what the hell. Here it is. Enjoy.
The Departed – Martin Scorsese’s epic remake crosses the tracks from the mean streets to the green streets with an Irish-American gangster film that will leave you guessing until the very last frame. It is an exercise in precise and intelligent filmmaking with a cast that becomes the characters they portray. Personality and the quick and unexpectedness of violence make this film shine even beyond its already solid script and perfectly streamlined aesthetics. Scorsese, for the first time, delivers a film that is accessible to modern filmgoers while never sacrificing his filmmaking integrity. A powerhouse.
Blood Diamond – Just as he has done in every film (including the aforementioned “Departed”) DiCaprio “becomes” his own character, alive and original in this politically themed actioner. Director Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Glory) continues to prove that he’s not a by-the-numbers filmmaker, providing us with a taught story, infused action sequences, a political message (albeit an unexpected one) and still manages to pull some outstanding performances from his cast, especially DiCaprio and co-star Dijimon Hinsjou. An excellent score by James Newton Howard rounds out this visceral experience, which almost feels like a throwback to a Bogart-esque era film.
Borat – I predicted this would either be huge or fall flat. I’m glad it was the latter. This surpassed even my expectations as THE comedy to see in 2006. Having already been a fan of Sasha Baron Cohen’s “Ali G Show,” I knew we were in for a treat from as a true comedian. Not only does he pull out the laughs, but, much like South Park, brings out the social commentary as well. It's like America being caught with its pants down and there’s nothing funnier than someone calling you out and making an ass out of you. The fact that Cohen was able to stay in character for so long and in so many real-life situations is a tribute to the man as a comedian. However, Borat doesn’t become a U.S.A. bashing film, but rather has fun with our own idiosyncrasies and giving us a character to cheer for even when you’re staring at his naked, hairy ass.
Apocalypto – Say what you will about Mel Gibson (what’s going on with all these actors I grew up with?) but the man is not only a talented actor, but now a three-times proven outstanding filmmaker. Building on the template he’s laid for himself with the classic “Braveheart,” Gibson takes us into another world, another time, and doesn’t preach history, but rather takes us on an action/adventure ride filled with culture, vision, and true cinematic flair. This is an original and exhilarating film and it never fails to give us a glimpse of something we haven’t seen on film before, weather it be hastily made blow darts from a poisoness frog or the ancient sacrificial ceremonies of the Mayan empire, this is something engaging and original. Gibson is a filmmaker to watch and I eagerly look forward to whatever he brings to the table in the future.
Casino Royale – Despite Brosnan being a great Bond, the previous outings (Goldeneye not included) felt a little overly kinetic and drawn out with not enough development beyond its toys and trinkets. Sometimes it takes starting over to get things right again (Batman Begins anyone?). And what a difference it makes. Daniel Craig brings a tough and chiseled presence to the Bond franchise, while also showing a more physically adept 007 as well. Roger Moore was always a little too stiff and Brosnan was able to pull off the stunts but never did any of them look as convincing as Craig. Giving us the first Bond tale ever was an excellent idea and invites an entire new audience to get into the mix without chastising them for not already being in the club. Some great action sequences from director Campbell, who has been here before (Goldeneye), and seems to be forming up into a very formidable action director. Depth, action, character, and freshness bring Bond back in a big way. Jason Bourne is no longer competing with a dinosaur.
Children of Men – Alfonso Cuaron’s epic tale of the near future, which shows what becomes of the world when humans can no longer have children, is probably the most visionary film of the year. Clive Owen is impressive as always, playing a drunk ex-activist forced into helping deliver a miraculously pregnant woman to a safe zone where, along with her child, can begin to repopulate the world. The supporting cast and characters are all outstanding and Cauron stages his world of the future in such a believable and realistic way that you have to wonder how he did it. The film feels almost like a fairy tale in its settings and oddball characters and yet is strikingly violent at times, giving it a darker edge. Watch for the continuous, uncut sequences that put DePalma to shame. This film is kinda brilliant.
Mission: Impossible 3 – On another “say what you will about so-and-so” note, Cruise delivers his best of the MI films in writer/director J.J. Abrams action-spy thriller. Starked in quirky originality and fast paced, cool-guy action sequences, Abrams brings freshness to his vision of the franchise (most likely the last with Cruise) and gives us the best action film of the year. All the elements for success are lined up here and everyone pulls their weight, making nothing less than a rock-solid entry into the action-spy genre. (See my lengthier review below).
United 93 – The most powerful film of 2006 undoubtedly belongs to “United 93”. Director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy) took great pains and measure to portray the final hours of the doomed flight in a realistic, honest, and non-exploitive way. Kudos to all involved in this film, from the actors that portrayed the passengers, the air control, and even the terrorists. It takes guts to make a film of this magnitude and it leaves a lasting impact long after the credits roll. (See my lengthier review below).
Little Miss Sunshine – The most fun and original film of 2006, this offbeat family road trip film is filled with family dysfunction and in depth characters to boot. What may seem like your run-of-the-mill road trip movie is actually a grown up coming of age story involving people of all ages. The hijinks throughout left me rolling with laughter and many performances moved me at the same time. (Wait…what does “move” me even mean). Many times I found myself predicting the worst but not feeling the filmmakers had the balls to pull it off…and then they did. Great stuff. This is a film you could watch anytime, which speaks volumes.
Hilarious and touching.
Déjà vu – Hey, I’m a Tony Scott fan, what can I say. The only time he ever did wrong was “The Fan” and he’s more than redeemed himself for that. The screenwriters cried about Scott changing the script and although I haven’t been able to take the Pepsi challenge on this one, the film felt on par with the best in the sci-fi thriller genre. Denzel Washington is at his usual best here, playing a cop that finds a way to travel in a limited amount of time to catch a killer. Fast-paced, fun, original (but not TOO much), and with the signature Tony Scott-isms that we have come to appreciate and love over the years make this film an absolute blast. Although clogged with some holes, this is still a great, fun, and clever action Sci-Fi film that hits all the right notes and then some. Added bonus: Harry Gregson-Williams score, another knockout from a composing genius.
Miami Vice – Michael Mann’s vision of the 80’s show was harshly judged and left to the slaughter, but thankfully critics and viewers alike are starting to recognize the vision that it is now that it’s on DVD, with a director’s cut to boot. Mann does not disappoint.
The Hills Have Eyes – The best horror film of 2006, French director Alexandre Aja takes this remake and jolts it to life with flinching violence and taught suspense. This is what good horror is made of. Although not perfect, this is still ten times better than the original and it’s great to see a horror filmmaker not play it safe for the sake of a rating.
Thank you for Smoking – Brilliance all around in this wordy caper about an exec, played by Aaron Eckart, that backs the tobacco industry. An excellent script is done justice by a stellar cast that showcases both the American tobacco industry, Hollywood, as well as many other organizations, and gives us a comedic social commentary that, for once, doesn’t preach to us, but rather tells it like it is.
Brick - Another notch in the murder/mystery genre for this top-rate film that unravels the mystery of a girls death with teenagers in a modern day setting but with 50’s era dialogue. Great stuff, and with the actors delving so deep into characters that are so out of the norm, this is a film that will leave you confused, interested, and engaged throughout. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves that he is ready for the big leagues, giving a performance well beyond his "3rd Rock" days.
Over the Hedge – Now that Hollywood is churning out the Pixar-ish animated films at a dime a dozen, it’s come time to separate the good from the trash. Here, thankfully, is the good. Brilliant and vibrant animation brings the “Hedge” comic strip to life with a playful and adventurous story. What really tips the hat in the audiences favor is the voice actors that have a blast voicing their respective characters. Bruce Willis is particularly great as the lead character. This is certainly a “fun for all ages” kind of film, but seriously, I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I did. Hopefully, my future children will drag me to more of these than to the millions of “Ant Bully’s” out there.
Superman Returns A devout (which doesn't mean I loved the character just for the sake of it) Supes fan, I felt this film did great justice to the character (while still taking some liberties) and brought Superman back to the masses, but ultimately failed todeliver on the action front. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men) has promised a more action-oriented sequel and thankfully so. At – least he got us on track, now it’s time to get down to business.
World Trade Center – The second entry into the 9/11 accounts is no less powerful and thought provoking. Your heart rate will beat at an abnormal rate and your mind can’t help but linger back to that day and reinvigorate those emotions as you watch Oliver Stone’s well made, and well-acted chronology of two trapped police officers inside one of the fallen towers. Emotional and powerful.
The Protector (a.k.a. Tom Yong Gong) – Amazing. That’s the only way to describe Tony Jaa’s martial arts choreography in this kinetic and eye-popping action film that follows a man tracking down his baby elephant. No, seriously. The action scenes go on for 15 minutes or longer at a time and some of them with ZERO cuts, which leaves you in awe of Jaa’s abilities and presence. A force to be reckoned with.
Rocky Balboa – Everyone loves an underdog and I think that Stallone moreso than his character of Rocky plays that role here. Many and eye was rolled when mention of another Rocky film was made, but Stallone has proven himself to still be a formidable writer, actor, and director with this final entry into the Italian Stallion’s tale. Filled with great monologues and a fitting wrap up to the franchise, this film could be watched after the original Rocky and stand alone as the only sequel to the film. Great work and a great comeback for Stallone.
Babel – Interwoven stories of the confusion, violence, and fear that is caused when people of different languages and cultures collide, Babel is a strong and scary film, which certainly doesn’t encourage you to travel abroad (but seriously, WHY would you want to go to some of these places?) but also dives deeper into the emotional distress of not being understood and how victims are created out of this confusion as lives are shattered as a result. Nail-biting throughout.
Little Children – Todd Fields gives his second film another bout of originality, this time featuring a voice over that reads from the book throughout the film it is adapting (got all that?). A smart and talented cast round out this film about the secret lives that supposed “ordinary” people lead and the repercussions of them. Much like “Babel” this is a film that you can’t predict and you can only imagine the worst, but you may be surprised by the actual outcome. Kudos to Thomas Newman for another great score.
Inside Man – The smartest heist movie made since David Mamet’s “Heist” is a another nod to Denzel Washington and Clive Owen respectively. A tight script and unpredictable story is given an urban feel, both with suspense and comedy, as Spike Lee takes a break from preaching and takes a stab at filmmaking. Entertaining, solid, and unpredictable. The way a good heist movie should be.
Give me my time and money back
Bloodrayne – Made with a SVHS camera crap.
Ultraviolet – Who thought Matrix-style action could be made boring? Who thought that even Milla Jovovich could be just as bad?
Slither – Waste of talent and potential. Teases us with a genuine entry into the horror genre and turns out to be more of the same.
The Benchwarmers – Holy fuck, please, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, just don’t make me watch “Benchwarmers” again, PLEASE!!”
Scary Movie 4 – Hang it up. It’s done.
American Dreamz – Message to Paul Weitz. You made American Pie. Also, your political views have the resonance of an MSNBC headline story that you read after checking your hotmail. Thanks for the garbage. We’ll clean it up.
The Sentinal – How the fuck did Jack Baeur get boring? Keifer Sutherland took a wrong turn out of “24” and stumbled onto this paycheck with Michael Douglas trying to be an action star again and forgot to do anything new or original. Don’t forget your caffeine pills for the action sequences.
Silent Hill – The director of the awesome “Brotherhood of the Wolf” decides to quit making cool shit and give us some extremely Unhorrifying crap that severely disappoints due to the talent involved. Back to the drawing board, kids.
Running with Scissors – Fuck this gay opus on Augusten Burroughs life. I’m sorry, but this is an exercise in homosexual boredom. Plus, perfect opportunity to show Evan Rachel Woods tits. But, the protagonist is gay. Even Brokeback Mountain gave us some gratuitous female nudity.
Eragon – Piece of crap Harry Potter wannabe without a SHRED of originality.
We Are Marshall – Holy melodrama and disgustingly bad wardrobes, Batman. This is just plain achingly sappy and dull. Waste of celluloid.