Sunday, December 31, 2006

Best Of/Worst Of 2006

While I haven't seen everything released this year (I don't get paid to see films like some critics), I have seen most (if not all) of the big ones, and here are the best and worst of the crop:


1. Children of Men. This is an awe-inspiring film that pins you to the edge of your seat and makes you watch it with all of your senses on full alert. It is a tremendous achievement in direction, cinematography, acting, story, and production design. By the end of the movie, Children of Men has secured its place in the pantheon of great films and director Alfonso Cuaron firmly establishes himself as one of the most visionary and accomplished directors ever to get behind the camera.

2. The Departed. Martin Scorsese assembled a dream cast of male actors, all giving career-defining performances, and managed to knock this film out of the proverbial ballpark. It's his best film since Goodfellas, and the most entertaining, intelligent, and brutal movie of the year.

3. United 93. One of the most powerful and visceral filmgoing experience I've ever had. Director Paul Greengrass honors the victims on that flight without over-sentimentalizing anything. As a viewer, you are put on that plane, and you are going down. I could barely breathe by the end.

4. Mission: Impossible 3. Pure popcorn movie-going bliss and the most smartly-paced film of the year. Once it gets going, there's no stopping it. As an action thriller, this is as good as these movies get. It's an adrenaline rush of a film that truly is a "roller coaster ride." It's a heck of a filmmaking debut for J.J. Abrams (of television's Lost and Alias). I loved it.

5. Little Children. This is one of those movies, like American Beauty, that just nails suburban angst and does it with wit and style to spare. It's also a very intense, nail-biting thriller towards the end. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson give superb performances.

6. Inside Man. Director Spike Lee makes his most accessible film to date, and takes what could have been a routine heist flick, and elevates it into a smart, singular take on a post-9/11 New York City. Inside Man is slick and entertaining, and features great performances from its three leads: Denzel, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster.

7. Apocalypto. An intense, exciting, and truly kick-ass action/chase film chock full of period detail and like nothing else you've seen on screen this year. As a director, Mel Gibson should be congratulated for thinking outside the box and giving audiences something fresh and interesting.

8. Monster House. This is the best family film of the year. An imaginative throwback to those great 80s family flicks like The Goonies, it's fun for kids but even more fun for adults.

9. Dave Chappelle's Block Party. You may not be interested in a concert film, but no movie this year captured the humor, emotion, and enthusiasm of human beings of all different races coming together and getting along. It's uplifting and feel-good, and even if you're not a fan of rap or R&B music, it's hard to ignore the brilliance of these artists as they perform live.

10. Babel. There are individual scenes in Babel that are just so powerful and amazing, and while the whole film may not succeed in making the grand statement it purports to make, it is a satisfying, and visually and emotionally spectacular movie.

Honorable mention: The Queen, Borat, Little Miss Sunshine, Casino Royale


1. The Black Dahlia. A campy mess, and every actor is miscast.
2. Date Movie. Just because you reference a film doesn't mean you're parodying it.
3. The Lake House. Sandra Bullock cannot choose a star vehicle for herself to save her life.
4. Failure to Launch. Or as my wife likes to say Failure to Entertain.
5. American Dreamz. Even the title irritates me.
6. The Da Vinci Code. As dull a summer blockbuster as you're likely to see and a huge disappointment given the talent involved.
7. Snakes on a Plane. A bad movie that's just bad-bad, not good-bad.
8. Lady in the Water. Where M. Night fails himself as a storyteller. Laughably bad.
9. Miami Vice. It's hard to defend an action movie with an hour-long romance subplot in the middle.
10. Deja Vu. Preposterous action film with an even screwier concept of time travel than The Lake House.

Quick Recap of Holiday Films

The Pursuit of Happiness (***). Will Smith is terrific in this likeable, uplifting underdog story. It may be hokey at times, but for the most part, the movie avoids a lot of the feel-good claptraps of the genre and truly earns its ending.

We Are Marshall (**1/2). Another one of those underdog sports stories that are pretty much impossible to mess up. This is going to connect with audiences who like Hoosiers and Miracle and Remember the Titans and . . . See, that's the problem. There's just too many films like this one.

Rocky Balboa (***). A fitting conclusion to one of film's most legendary franchises. If you watch this and the first Oscar-winning Rocky, it makes for the perfect bookend. Sylvestor Stallone reinvigorates both the character and his career, and overcomes what seemed to be the impossible odds against him for this movie to be any good.

Dreamgirls (**1/2). A disappointment given all the pre-release hype. The songs weren't up to snuff, and like most musicals, the second act is awful. This is a shame because director Bill Condon has assembled such a fine cast. It's an entertaining movie alright, and everyone seems to be talking about former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson, who's very good here, but can't live up to all the hype surrounding her. Eddie Murphy's performance was the highlight for me.

Night at the Museum (**). Somewhat inventive at times, but devoid of any real laughs, this is strictly kiddie fare, with no real entertainment value for adults. That's a problem for a supposed family film.

The Good German (*1/2). Snooze-a-thon. Despite a pedigree cast (Clooney, Blanchett), a respected director (Steven Soderbergh), and talented writer (Paul Attanasio), The Good German is a big flop. It's stylish (shot in crisp black and white), there's no doubt about that, but that's really the only good thing you can say about it.

The Good Shepherd (**1/2). Robert DeNiro directs this ambitious, multi-layered story about the birth of the CIA. He's got a great cast and an intelligent script, but it runs a little long (2 hrs. 40 mins.) and it's a pretty cold, emotionless piece. It's definitely entertaining at all times, but I found myself wanting to connect to it more. I guess you could say it entertains you at arms length.

Pan's Labyrinth (***). Walking out of the theater, I didn't like this movie much. It did not match the expectations I had for it, and kind of went in a different direction than what I was hoping. But I can't stop thinking about it, and that's definitely a sign of a good film. Director Guillermo Del Toro is obviously a visionary and has crafted a film similar in style and tone to his The Devil's Backbone. That was a ghost story, this one's a fairy tale. But don't bring the kids: it's violent and features one of the creepiest scenes I've ever seen.

The Queen (***1/2). An excellent depiction of the week following Princess Diana's death, and remarkable performances by Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen (as Tony Blair). The Queen is not some stuffy period pic, it's a juicy, entertaining, and enlightening look at the Royal Family and English government. Great film.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Apocalypto (***1/2)

The Holiday (**)

Blood Diamond (***)

The Fountain (**1/2)