Ten: The New World (This film was released in 2005, but I didn't see it in time to include on my 2005
list--where it would have been near the top.)A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times calls
The New World, "not so much a film as a mode of transportation." It's not a trip everyone will
want to take, but if you're up for it, it's definitely worth your time. One of my biggest complaints
about Brokeback Mountain is that Nothing Happens for long stretches of the movie. That goes
double for The New World, but here, nothing happens in such a ravishing, lyrical, and sensuous
way that you know you're watching something that's not quite a movie. Another way to think of
the movie is as a very expensive career launching pad for an incredible actress named Q'orianka
Kilcher. She was fourteen when she played the role of Pocahontas. She embodies the spirit of
the movie, and she more than holds her own with Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in every scene.
It's a remarkable performance.
Nine: Madea's Family Reunion Several national critics complained that the movie and its morality are
"unfashionable". They would. Given the nature of what they're finding to be fashionable,
I think that Madea can wear her unfashionableness as a badge of honor. It's a life and values
affirming movie that has some great lines. Tyler Perry is no more believable as a septuagenarian
than was Martin Lawrence, but I don't think he's supposed to be.
Eight: Akeelah and the Bee claims to be based on Spellbound, a 2003 documentary that I liked so
much that I named it my favorite movie of 2003. (See panel at left.) One of the eight
participants in Spellbound is "sunny" Ashley White, an African-American child being raised
by her mother in Washington, DC. She said her life was like "a movie. I go through trials and
tribulations and I finally overcome." Behold Akeelah and the Bee. But, just as truth is stranger
than fiction, Spellbound is much more interesting than Akeelah. In trying to shape a
conventional movie arc around the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the makers of Akeelah
developed a conventional story that seemed to be headed for a very unsatisfactory ending.
About five minutes before the end, Akeelah remembered what it was about and grasped the
error of its ways. Where the first 105 minutes had seemed to be about one thing, the last five
were about something else. But Akeelah and Akeelah triumph, and you almost breathe a sigh
of relief. Thirteen years after What's Love Got to Do With It?, it's good to see Angela Bassett
and Laurence Fishburne looking so well.
Seven: The Illusionist This is the one they don't make them like any more. Edward Norton is,
as always, brilliant, and Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel are surprisingly good in this tale of
mystery and magic set in Vienna at the end of the 19th century. (I had thought about saying
"Vienna at the fin de siecle," but I didn't want it to sound too artsy. It's a quiet movie that is
content to weave its spell. The production values are great, so you revel in the experience of
watching the story unfold. The kick at the end is lagniappe. Not that you asked, but I think it's
one of the best movies of the year.
Six: The Queen I said, when I saw the movie on Saturday, November 4th, "Take it from me,
Helen Mirren WILL win an Academy Award for her portrayal of QE2. It's a terrific movie."
Five: World Trade Center When I finally saw the site of the September 11th attacks, it was just a
big sterile hole at the end of Wall Street that people were calling Ground Zero. It was hard to
believe that it had once been a mountainous pile of twisted steel and concrete where 2749 people
had died and 20 people had been pulled out of the debris during the aftermath. This is Oliver
Stone's vision of the story of Number 18 and 19 to be pulled out--two Port Authority cops who
had gone in to help evacuate the buildings. Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena are outstanding as
the officers who spend much of the movie pinned beneath twenty feet of fallen building, and
Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhall are equally fine as their distressed spouses. Mr. Stone took
some heat in the run-up to this movie from people who didn't think that it was "political" enough.
I can only imagine that such people were expecting Mr. Stone to make something petty and
small like Fahrenheit 9/11, and I would disagree with them. This is one of the few movies
I've seen that captures the diversity that makes our country great and makes me proud to be
an American. I can see how that would irritate some film critics, but how can it not be political?
Four Little Miss Sunshine If Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear and Steve Carrell aren't enough for you
(and if so, what's wrong with you?), go see the movie to see 24's Phoebe as a beauty pageant
coordinator. It will make your day. The movie is lighter than a puff of air. When it's over,
you won't remember anything about it--only that you smiled at the screen for a couple of hours.
Three Thank You for Smoking is as black as a comedy can be. This is what Aaron Eckhart does best.
It's hard to say that he's doing a great job of "acting" in the movie because you suspect that this
is pretty much the way he is.
Two Eight Below It's a cross between March of the Penguins and The Incredible Journey--but in
a good way. I feel this way the way I felt about Lilo and Stitch--that someone at Disney
remembered what made them famous in the first place.
One: United 93 defies criticism. That it is a straightforward presentation of what happened on that
doomed flight is both its strength and its weakness. Yes, it depicts the bravery and nobility of
average" Americans. On the other hand, none of the characters are given any background or context,
so it's really up to you to supply your own memories of and feelings about 9/11. The movie's creators
probably thought that there wouldn't be anyone in the audience who wouldn't do that anyway, so
maybe it's just as well. For the first time ever, I will give you dispensation to buy or rent the movie
and watch it at home, as opposed to seeing it in a theater. It might be too intense for some to sit
through in a theater. Whatever you decide, just see it.
Honorable Mention: Casino Royale This is the James Bond movie that you always hoped they'd
make some day. It's tough, action-packed, and easy on the eyes. The only
complain I can muster is that, at two-and-a-half hours, it's about fifteen minutes
too long. Speaking of long times, Daniel Craig gives a performance that suggests
that we'll have him to kick around for a long time.
Mission: Impossible III was the perfect summer movie. It's as difficult to
dislike as a puppy--OK, maybe a puppy on steroids.
|So What HAVEN'T You Seen?
A lot actually.
Here's a partial list of the most
popular movies that I didn't get
around to seeing..
X-Men: The Last Stand
Ice Age: The Meltdown
Over the Hedge
Scary Movie 4
You, Me and Dupree
Big Momma's House 2
The Fast and the Furious:
The Shaggy Dog
The Lake House
Lucky Number Sleven
An inconvenient Truth
A Scanner Darkly
Keeping Up with the Steins
(The only one I actually boycotted
was Superman Returns. If
Superman doesn't want to stand
for Truth, Justice and the
American Way, to hell with him.)
2006 wasn't such a bad year for movies. In fact, it was a pretty good one. Yes, there were lots of
dogs (and I'm not just talking about Eight Below), but happily, I didn't see too many of those.
Click on the icon at the left to see blurbs about all the movies I saw in 2006.
But before I get to the Top 10, I would like to offer my usual disclaimer that this is just my list of
movies I liked. I wouldn't presume to say what might have been the "best" movies of the year.
Also, I'd like to offer a few kudos for outstanding merit:
Guiltiest Pleasure of the Year: Jackass, Number Two. How is it possible that Johnny Knoxville is
Second Guiltiest Pleasure: Snakes on a Plane. Sure, it sucked, but in a fun way.
Most Overblown: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest; The DaVinci Code:
V for Vendetta--pick one.
Best Non-Human Actors: It's a tie among all the dogs in Eight Below.
Most Welcome Newcomer: Even though Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond was knocked
senseless in Casino Royale in nearly as many ways as Johnny Knoxville in Jackass: Number
Two, he always took a licking and kept on ticking...often in a tuxedo. Also,I was amazed by
Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls and liked Shameeka Epps in Half Nelson--a lot.
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Pena as a New York firefighter who gets buried under rubble in
the World Trade Center was outstanding. I also liked Clive Owen as the bank robber in
The Inside Man.
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. Yes, Beyonce is gorgeous, but how is it
that Jennifer Hudson is the "supporting" actress in this movie?
Best Actress: There was Helen Mirren in The Queen, and then there was everybody else--and that
includes you, Meryl.
Best Actor: Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking confirms all your worst fears about
lobbyists. He was brilliant. I also liked Edward Norton in The Illusionist and Toby Jones as
Truman Capote in Infamous. Mr. Jones, I thought, was the equal of Phillip Seymour Hoffman,
who won an Oscar last year for playing essentially the same role.
And now the Top 10...
|Matt's Top 10 Movies of 2006!