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The year in review 2006

 

Best of 2006

Critic: Ann Morrow

1. The Queen

A surprisingly involving and unexpectedly droll portrait of Her Royal Highness in the weeks following the death of Princess Diana, this intelligent re-creation deserves a triple crown for its direction, writing, and acting. Helen Mirren’s subtle interpretation of the (ostensibly) fusty Elizabeth II is the performance of the year.

2. The Prestige

One of three movies this year to twist and turn on symmetry and multiplicity, Christopher Nolan’s atmospheric presentation of rival magicians locked in an escalating battle for supremacy is psychologically thrilling.

3. The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s latest violent crime drama is about two undercover agents (Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon) who intersect—and mutually disintegrate—on both sides of the law. Twisty, gritty, and popping with compelling performances.

4. The Fountain

Darren Aranofsky’s sci-fi meditation takes a tragedy affecting a married couple (Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz) and elaborates on it through the past (her novel) and future (his dreams). What the time-tripping story lacks in substance it makes up for in romantic and visual audacity.

5. V For Vendetta

A pop extravaganza that cuisinarts George Orwell for the 21st century, distinguished by Hugo Weaving as the most articulate and dashing anti-hero of the year.

United 93

6. United 93

Written, directed, and extensively researched by the superlative British realist Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday), United 93 re-creates the heroic flight of the fourth 9/11 hijacking with astringent sensitivity. Powerful and dreadful.

7. Fast Food Nation

A thorough and hard-hitting critique on the meatpacking industry served up as an Altman-style drama (with the added dollop of a memorable bit by Bruce Willis as a macho manager).

8. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Hilarious, ridiculous, and occasionally disgusting, Sacha Baron Cohen’s infamous comedy also deserves props for the sheer chutzpah of its political incorrectness.

9. Thank You For Smoking

A clever, funny comedy about a tobacco PR man (Aaron Eckhart) that tackles a not-so-funny topic.

10. Babel

It’s this year’s Crash—as in its interlocking stories of racial disharmony are overwrought (and overrated) but the ambitious technical merits of the filmmaking almost overcome the punishing plot.

 

Worst of 2006

1. Running Scared

A petty gangster tries to recover a murder weapon, with his young son in tow, subjecting the boy to all the depravity an urban hell can offer. Even worse, the gangster is played by Paul Walker.

2. Running with Scissors

Dysfunctional-family psychodrama that wallows in every execrable confessional-memoir idiosyncrasy imaginable.

3. The Protector

A junky sequel to the wonderful Thai actioner, Ong-Bak.

4. When a Stranger Calls

Lame, unscary remake of the chilling, 1970s stalker cult classic.

5. The Wicker Man

Lame, unscary remake of the chilling, 1970s Druid cult classic.

 Best of 2006

Critic: Shawn Stone

1. A Scanner Darkly

Director Richard Linklater combined animation and live action to bring Philip K. Dick’s unfilmable, hallucinatory story of fascist police surveillance and mind-bending drug use to the screen.

2. The Queen

Delicious political drama about the British royal family’s hapless response to the death of Princess Diana, and how new Prime Minister Tony Blair saved their well-born hindquarters. Helen Mirren’s performance is the heart of the film.

3. Flags of Our Fathers

Clint Eastwood’s widely ignored World War II epic about the taking of Iwo Jima, and the price paid by the battle’s survivors.

 

Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore in American Dreamz.

4. American Dreamz

Vicious satire of American Idol, Islamic terrorists and George W. Bush. Laughs, tears and a suicide bombing on national TV: What more could one ask for?

5. United 93

Gripping, understated dramatization of what might have happened on one of the 9/11-hijacked planes. In what could have been a maudlin drama, director Paul Greengrass showed an eye for small emotional details.

6. Caché

In this ice-cold French thriller from director Michael Haneke, intimate surveillance tears a family apart.

7. The Departed

Scorsese’s latest opus is overlong, operatic and messy, but the sense of evil is pervasive and the climax is devastating.

8. Brick

This reinvention of film noir in a high-school setting worked because the hard-boiled ’40s dialogue was played straight—and because it’s easy to accept teens as thoroughly corrupted.

9. Casino Royale

Excellent reinvention of the Bond franchise, with darker themes and action, and a meaner Bond to match in Daniel Craig.

10. An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore explains global warming in a way that charms and horrifies. He should maybe run for president or something.

 

Worst of 2006

1. Lady in the Water

M. Night Shyamalan officially “lost it” with this stupid fable. He cast himself as a writer whose work saves mankind—and made the villain a film critic. Who’s a scrunt now, buddy?

2. All the King’s Men

Mean, dull adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s novel, with mean, dull performances by Sean Penn and Jude Law.

3. Click

Adam Sandler’s smell-the-roses cautionary tale was sunk by its reliance on bloated special effects and smell-the-farts jokes.

4. Underworld: Evolution

When a werewolf shtups a vampire, shouldn’t it be snarly and bloody and scratchy? That’s what I thought.

5. Transamerica

The Weinstein brothers continued to peddle the same kind of self-important, faux-prestige crap at their new studio that they did at Miramax.

 Best of 2006

Critic: Laura Leon

Aaron Eckhart in Thank You For Smoking.

1. Thank You For Smoking

This devastatingly funny satire skewered far more than just that easy target, the tobacco industry. Even the incongruous casting of Katie Holmes as an intrepid investigative reporter can’t sink this one from its rightful place as No. 1.

2. Little Miss Sunshine

Brains and heart, a combination that’s too hard to come by in movies, along with sublime humor give Little Miss Sunshine a firm foundation from which to examine the ties that bind.

3. Flags of Our Fathers

Clint Eastwood’s ode to loss and remembrance, as experienced by veterans of the battle of Iwo Jima, is simply haunting and beautiful.

4. The Departed

Forget Jack Nicholson’s intermittent lapses into “Jackness,” or the occasional extraneous scenes wherein cocaine flits through the air like so much pixie dust. Chances are, you won’t even notice them, in the presence of outstanding performances by Matt Damon, as a crooked cop, and Leonardo DiCaprio, as an undercover cop, both trying to outwit the Irish mob in Boston.

5. The Queen

This easily could have been one of those oh-so-precious, proper-pedigreed English movies, but Helen Mirren’s star turn as Elizabeth II keeps it real.

6. Casino Royale

Daniel Craig is Bond. James Bond. End of story. Well, almost. Casino Royale is a refreshing return to form and style over sci-fi gizmos and outrageous plotlines. That said, Daniel Craig is Bond. James Bond.

7. Happy Feet

Decidedly weird, but a sumptuous feast for the eyes and soul. This is animation for people who aren’t afraid to think while they ooh and aah over the cute characters.

8. Babel

OK, the Asian subplot was extraneous, and I’m getting a little bored with director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu’s obsession with parallel storylines all intersecting, but for the most part, Babel is gripping, and finally gives Brad Pitt the chance to play a grown man.

9. Stranger Than Fiction

Delightfully esoteric and throbbingly literal, Stranger Than Fiction is made for people who devour books and love words. Maybe that’s why it died a relatively quick death at the cineplex.

10. Blood Diamond

It’s formulaic, at times it spoonfeeds us its political message, and when Jennifer Connelly shows up and bats her eyes at Leonardo DiCaprio, poor Djimon Hounsou gets lost in the shuffle. However, Blood Diamond is an exceptionally well-made and, for the most part, thrilling adventure that will have you on the edge of your seat.

 

Worst of 2006

1. The Da Vinci Code

I can’t believe I wasted babysitter money on this piece of crap. Director Ron Howard apparently feared divine retribution if he made this turgid potboiler into something alive, moving, or interesting, so he remained faithful to the original and let an embarrassed-looking Tom Hanks and an indecipherable Audrey Tautou run amok, in hopes audiences would follow. I didn’t.

2. Borat

I know, I know. It’s up for all sorts of awards. It’s a “satire!” I get the point, but still feel that, for the most part, Borat is insulting and sophomoric. I mean, is it really an eye-opener to reveal that frat boys or some members of the Christian Right might be—dare I say it?—bigoted? This is brave filmmaking?

3. Aragon

Please don’t let my 11-year-old son see this. The hope of a potential franchise must of caused filmmakers to rush this one out the door, before anybody could realize how truly awful the dialogue and much of the acting was.

4. Man of the Year

Like Borat, in that it preaches to the choir, albeit presumably a much smaller one. Robin Williams is surprisingly tepid as a progressive’s wet dream of a candidate, a Bill Maher-type personality whose left-of-center jibes at the status quo get him elected, in a fluke, to the nation’s highest office. No balls, no glory.

5. Casanova

Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller, arguably two of the hottest movie stars today, breathe absolutely no sexiness into a retelling of the legendary title character that seems oddly more like American Pie than Shakespeare in Love.


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