Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BEST and WORST of 2006

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.

Honorable Mentions:

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.

14 comments:

BUCK SARGENT said...

Holy Netflix, Batman. Was that a "Best of 2006" list or a complete compendium of every film that was released last year?

The only one's on the list I've seen yet are United 93, Superman Returns, MI:3, and the Sentinel (all while still in Iraq).

I thought United 93 was extremely well done, but Superman I Returns (it was the SAME movie!) and Mission Scientology III were pretty disappointing. X-Men III was at least as good as either of those. I still enjoy the many quality flicks Mr. Cruise has made over his career, but at this point the most interesting project he could possibly do would be to have a film crew follow him around and tape an average day in his life, or just talk about his nutty views. Now THAT I would pay $9.50 to see.

And then there's the Sentinel. Good God, how do you get Jack Bauer in your movie and then relegate him to some cardboard cutout character with virtually nothing interesting to do or say? I recognize that Michael Douglas has the more distinguished film career, but really, who is the more bankable star at this point in time? Would you cast Kiefer Sutherland and Danny Devito in a movie and then give Devito the lead role? Complete madness. The only way I would ever watch that POS again would be if they released a Director's Cut that featured a scene where Jack Bauer shows up as the Kiefer character's twin brother and proceeds to torture every single person in that film with the twisted ends of an electrical lamp cord. Well, except for that Desperate Housewives chick. He can just make her fall in love with him and then totally screw her over like Jack does all women by leaving for two years barely five minutes after telling them how much he needs them.

Oh, and I'm really excited about finally seeing Thank You For Smoking. I read the novel a few years back and loved it. Wasn't sure if Hollywood would mess it up, but on your thumbs-up I'll go and give it a chance.

On a personal note, when are you coming home on mid-tour leave, dude? I'm jonesing for some heated yet completely pointless political discussions. I miss you, man. I feel like I haven't seen you in like two years. (HAVE I seen you in two years?)

Oh, and just for the record, yes, I still think high school students should be able to get CCLs to carry firearms to class. These days I would refuse to attend a public school without one. More guns/less crime, hooah?

Zaki said...

A devout Supes fan

******

My ass. Do you remember how much you used to make fun of me for being a Superman fan? Liar, I say. Liar!

Anyway, good round-up...good to hear your thoughts on the recent flicks. Check out my year-end wrap-up here:

http://zakiscorner.blogspot.com/2007/01/cinema-year-that-was-last-year.html

Mr. Boy said...

Yeah, remember when you used to rag on Zaki and his Superman-lovin' ass?!?!?!

Anyhoo, I still have yet to see the big like Apocalypto, Blood Diamond, Children of Men, and The Fountain (which I understand is quite good).

I'm with you on Deja Vu. I know a lot of people didn't care for it. Perhaps I'm biased with being a Tony Scott fan, but I was totally on board -- y'know, after you just kind of "accept" how they're able to see into the past. I liked it a lot, but didn't quite love it.

To me, at the end of the day, Superman Returns fell way short of expectations -- but given the talent behind the movie and the success of Batman Begins -- I'd say I was right thinking I deserved better.

But BABEL?!?!?!? Holy jeez! Talk about the most overrated movie of the year! I'm finding that people who enjoy Bable, hated Crash -- and vice versa.

Me? I enjoyed Crash. Though each film preaches the same message (thanks Hollywood, like we didn't know the world can be a cruel and dangerous place) as a MOVIE, I thought Crash was far superior to Babel BECAUSE the stories connected and everything came full circle. I was able to invest myself in the characters.

To me, Crash is like reading a good book and Babel is like reading the newspaper. Babel was just a bunch of stuff that happened, and -- I didn't care about anyone except the Mexican nanny. As much as I like Brad Pitt and would love to hop on Cate Blanchett and sail to freedom, they were such a distraction -- maintly because they're "Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett"

All this talk about it being a "groundbreaking" film and the posters that read "no film moved you more" are ridiculous. This film is the Hollywood manipulation machine at its best. "Look guys, the world is a dangerous place. We need to make sure you know that, but the only way to do it is to A) hire a foreign director so we don't look so pretentious B) have a little pervert boy masturbate out in the desert while thinking of his sister because -- y'know, then we qualify as an art film C) have a deaf, sexually frustrated Chinese girl -- 'nuff said and D) throw in people like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett to give us that legitimacy factor."

I mean, shit! Where was the gay talking robot?

And the SCORE? Now I'm hearing praise for the SCORE? What? A guy plucking one string of a Spanish guitar is riveting? Fuck that and fuck Babel.

Whoa. Whoa. Sorry. Anyhoo, I didn't like it. The performances were good, but I didn't like it.

Can't wait to get your mousepad!

Peace out sucka'

Zaki said...

DEJA VU Blu.

BUCK SARGENT said...

So is DiCaprio the new DeNiro, or what?

I can accept that, so long as he doesn't follow in ALL of Bobby's (mis)steps. Analyze This, Analyze That, Analyze My Balls.

He can make a sequel to Heat, though. If he wants.

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

Thanks for the comments guys...to reply to a few...

Zaki...yes, it was a torturous experience watching the Superman movies all together in one night...and you felt the same. Yeah, I was harsh on you for your Superman adolation. In my defense though, I have always liked Superman, I just wasn't comfortable expressing that...so I made you the patsy...my bad.

I recently watched the Donner cut and felt that I still liked the original better, although it was cool to see some of the forgotten material. Thoughts?
Fingers crossed for Supes 2.
Harsh on "Deja Vu". Harsh.

Sean...dude..."Babel" is not on my best of list, but honorable mentions and the thing that makes it better than "Crash". A few valid points, especially on the Brad Pitt front. I think a different actor would've been better.

However, I felt that "Babel" touched on a lot of great points and gave a much more clear picture of how the world works, especially to those that find themselves in a place where they can't assimilate...they don't know the language, the culture, anything...it really shows what our misconceptions and our realities are.

"Crash" had its moments, but ultimately was a big preachfest and it pissed me off and I disowned it.
Although, the score for "Crash" was good, I do tend to agree with the "Babel" score. Hollywood NEVER recognizes the good scores. It's a shame scores are treated so calously.

Brian...Yeah, "The Sentinal"...It seriously should've been called "The Paycheck". It was awful and such a waste of good talent. Even before "24" ol' Keifer was a talented actor (albeit trudging into straight to DVD land).

DiCaprio is definitely taking the mantle from DeNiro...Ol' Bob is OLD. He can't pull off the younger roles anymore, no matter how good CGI gets. There's a lot of talk about "Departed" sequels and prequels. I'm all for it if Scorsese is behind them.

And, if all goes according to plan, I should be home around March 2nd. I will mos def link up with ya and share some war stories and what-not.

Guns in school? Fuck it, arm 'em to the teeth.

BUCK SARGENT said...

"Guns in school? Fuck it, arm 'em to the teeth."

That's m' boy. See? I knew you'd join me on the dark side eventually. Together we can rule the galaxy as father and son... wait, wrong speech. Um, yeah. "Hooah."

agent y said...

Ha ha...you posted multiple times, too! Tricks ya, dont it?!

Superman was terrible, and you know it.

BUCK SARGENT said...

Okay, so I just watched a used copy of Miami Vice (albeit, not the Director's Cut) that I bought for $3.00 at the Ft. Rich shoppette. Um, yeah, pretty sucky if you ask me. I like Michael Mann films and I was a HUGE Miami Vice fan growing up in the 80s, but come on, Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett? Jamie Foxx was passable as Tubbs, but Farrell was positively putrid in this film. All the melodramatic music and beautifully filmed location shots can't save a movie when one of it's stars turns in such a turd-worthy performance.

How is it that Colin Farrell keeps getting cast in lead roles? He's in practically every film of the past ten years yet he stinks in nearly all of them, Minority Report and Tigerland being two memorable exceptions. Frankly, I think this Miami Vice remake would have been better by dusting off Donny Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas and doing Grumpy Old Miami Men Vice.

BUCK SARGENT said...

Okay, just watched Inside Man. 1: Spike Lee is still preaching to his own choir in this film, it's just a lot more subtle (NYPD is racist), and 2: this movie blew. Ridiculously out of place music score, wretched script, numerous pointless sequences left uncut, an ending that leaves you going "okay, so sixty years ago he screwed over the Jews and did business with the Nazis... and WHY am I supposed to care again? Something that would have only been a minor plot point in a better picture, yet here they base the entire film around it. I could go on and on and on...

Bottom line: it was BORING. If a heist film bores you, then what is the point of making it? I would have been more entertained with a bunch of French actors all sitting in a lobby for two hours and doing nothing but talking and smoking.

I have yet to see a Spike Lee joint that been worth my time. This was probably the last chance I'll give him.

BUCK SARGENT said...

So to reiterate: thus far TWO of your "honorable mentions" have been total duds. What else you got?

Oh, and Thank You For Smoking was decent, but not at all up to the level of cleverness that was set by the novel it's based on. Of course, that's usually the case with movies formerly known as books. The last adapted film in recent memory that was actually better than the book it was based on was Fight Club. Not to knock Chuck P, but his characters weren't nearly as fleshed out and developed as the film allowed them to be. I believe he's even admitted as much in interviews over the years.

BUCK SARGENT said...

What's your take on Idiocracy? The wife hated it but I'm still laughing about it hours later. It seems we already live in that sad future. "Ow, My Balls!"

Paul said...

All right, Buck.

"Miami Vice" is like a wine that has fermented. Give it some time, it will age gracefully. Or not. I can take Colin Farrell or leave him. Doesn't matter. Of course, I am one of the few who actually enjoyed ALMOST all of Oliver Stone's bloated "Alexander" epic.

As for "Inside Man," yeah, Spike Lee always throws in the race card, but I enjoyed it more for the story. I didn't have a problem with the SS aspect. I thought that was original, rather than the typical, tyrannical banker villain.

Ultimately, it was the dynamic of Clive Owen and Denzel Washington that I enjoyed, and plus, in one of those rare moments, the "bad guy" getting away with it.

"Idiocracy" I thought was funny. I enjoyed it for all its stupidity. I thought the social commentary was great and I had a lot of fun with it. Surprisingly, I think it's too advanced in it's comedy-social standing that it went over the common man's head...It essentially makes fun of the "Jackass" crowd for liking Jackass, while still trying to fall into that key demographic...not an easy task.

I'll try and get some more reviews out soon. I've got a "300" review brewing like a hot cup of coffee...