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Feb 4, 2007

WICKS' 2006 FILM WRAP UP

Ahh yes, it is the end of another year, but for once in a quite a while, it’s been a great year for going to the movies.

Yet again, here are my top 10 picks of 2006 – personal opinion of course. I’ve included the director and the US Distributor which is the only market in the world that matters.

As always, I have included my runner ups, honorable mentions, guilty pleasures and of course, films that are better left unwatched.

I’m sure I’ll get some angry e-mails about these, but that’s what criticism and discussion is all about, so bring it on.

TOP 10

1) LITTLE CHILDREN (Todd Fields; New Line Cinema)
One of the most popular topics in recent years has been the alienation of those living the American dream, the suburban life with 2.5 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. The biggest example of this is of course AMERICAN BEAUTY, and LITTLE CHILDREN follows closely by example (even sporting a Thomas Newman score as did AB). Here we have a tale where the adults are more insecure and lost than the children are (in fact, the children have very little to do in or with the film at all). It really brings up the question of when does an adult become an adult, and do we ever really shake the fears and insecurities of childhood, or are adults even more vulnerable than children given the pressures and responsibilities of past and current decisions, and from life itself? Narrated like a children’s book, the film is an emotionally packed experience that has you expecting the worst in the outcome while at the same time not knowing what to expect at all. This is by far a definite improvement from Todd Fields previous acclaimed (but not by me) work, IN THE BEDROOM.

On DVD May 1.

2) UNITED 93 (Paul Greengrass; Universal)
Here is the first real film about 9/11 (Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER followed months later) and it is by far one of the most tension filled, disturbing movies ever made. Director Paul Greengrass has constructed an experience where he doesn’t begin to try and tell the audience how to feel, but instead lets the events of that tragic day just play out like they happened in the air traffic control centers, the airports and on the ill-fated plane itself. I think that knowing the outcome made the film even that much more of a powerful experience and the most effective scenes in the film are those that take place in the traffic control centers where the unknowing operators are confused about what is taking place, and what to do. The utter helplessness of the day, and highlighting truly how innocent and unprepared we were for such an event comes across more than clearly, and indeed shows the exact moment where all our lives changed forever whether we were in those buildings or on those planes or not.

Currently on DVD.

3) VOLVER (Pedro Almodovar; Sony Pictures Classics)
Pedro Almodovar is perhaps the greatest filmmaker for highlighting unforgettable female characters and performances, and this movie is no exception. I had no idea what to expect going into the movie, and was pleasantly surprised with how things turned out. I don’t want to say much, not wishing to take that experience away from anyone else, but something happens in the beginning that you think is going to dominate the story line, yet it quickly fades into the background as other themes rise to the surface. An excellent look at the lives of a group of women just trying to survive while facing their past and dealing with life, death and consequences.

On DVD April 3.

4) LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (Clint Eastwood; Dreamworks (Paramount)/ Warner Bros.)
How amazing it is that Clint Eastwood can make 2 films around the same subject, have them released in the same year, with one of them being in a foreign language, at his age. This is one director whose career is nowhere near slowing down at all (and to think that he once stated he wanted to retire back in 1999/2000). LETTERS is the follow-up to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS released earlier in the fall, but is by far the better film of the two. Not that FLAGS is bad, it’s not, it’s quite good, but perhaps the theme of soldiers dealing with returning home from a war is not as compelling as this story of soldiers engaged in a massive losing battle, where dying for your country is a requirement, not an option!

No DVD date as of yet.

5) A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (Robert Altman; Picturehouse (New Line Cinema))
I’m a little biased with this one. I love Robert Altman films, I love the radio show A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION which I listen to weekly over the internet on the Pasadena NPR station website, but then again I think I would love this film without those two factors. We’re taken backstage of an old-time radio show that just refuses to die, but thanks to a corporate buy-out, is about to go off the air after this airing. It’s a bittersweet film with a wonderful mix of comedy, drama and musical numbers. Garrison Keillor has a knack for highlighting the quirkiness of Midwest Americana, and mixed with Robert Altman’s genius way of just filming events unfolding even letting dialogue and storylines over-lap, and you’ve got a film that can’t be missed.

Currently on DVD.

6) THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (Jason Reitman; Fox Searchlight)
Is this movie even about the dangers of smoking? No, I don’t think so, I think it’s about the dangers of lobbyists, but at the same time a character study about a man forced to sell a product that is known to be a hazard. Eckhart is at his charming best in this film, his character could quite possibly talk anybody in to shooting themselves in the head, and making them feel good about that decision at the same time. We all know smoking is bad, and kudos to director Jason Reitman for not getting preachy in a movie that could easily become a 2 hour sermon.

Currently on DVD.

7) THE QUEEN (Stephen Frears; Miramax)
I am not the biggest fan of the British system, or the monarchy, which is why I was surprised with just how taken I was by this film. THE QUEEN very much captures the tough place of being an integral of a nation’s identity, while at the same time having that same nation question your validity. Helen Mirren pretty much clinches the best actress Oscar she’s about to get from the first frame. It also is a wonderful indictment of the power of the press and celebrity, especially of the extremely over-rated Princess Diana, a public figure I couldn’t stand nor cared for when she was alive, but became even more annoying after she died.

On DVD April 24th.

8) THE DEPARTED (Martin Scorsese; Warner Bros.)
Leave it to Scorsese to come out with a throw-back film, but make it fresh and invigorating. Just when you think that the world has had enough Jack Nicholson, here he comes with a role that he plays to the hilt, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life doing it. It’s the best I’ve seen from DiCaprio and Damon as well. This is the quintessential guy’s movie. Some of this dialogue you could hear in an action film and groan at, here it works – like for instance the scenes between Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg. The movie isn’t without problems – like just when you think it’s over, the movie comes up with another plot thread to resolve – but somehow you’re caught up in the whole experience so much that you don’t care, and this interwoven complex set of endings works in the grand scheme of the film.

Currently on DVD, HD DVD and Blu Ray.

9) HAPPY FEET (George Miller; Warner Bros.)
First off, I want to know how this movie ended up on this list. I bad mouthed this trailer all year long. It wasn’t well marketed, and seemed to be a tag onto the success of MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (penguins are the new black after all). But here is a rather dark and sometimes disturbing movie about singing and dancing penguins, with issues ranging from strong religious persecution, to global warming and environmental issues (2 of my least favorite subjects, but I overlooked that in this case). And just when you think Robin Williams’s shtick has grown old, here he is with a hilarious turn as an Antonio Banderas-like penguin. I do question the filmmaker’s logic in having him voice 2 characters, especially when those 2 characters talk to each other as it comes across a bit awkward. Anyhow, I almost found this movie to be somewhat uncomfortable in spots (and I mean that in a good way -- a scene with a penguin choking from a soda tie stuck on his neck, a nasty chase involving a sea lion, a delirious hallucination involving a zoo, and so on) that like Miller’s film BABE, PIG IN THE CITY, children are not going to be left with a good feeling and many questions.

On DVD, HD DVD and Blu Ray March 27.

10) THE GOOD SHEPHERD (Robert De Niro; Universal)
This is another movie I’m sure I’ll hear about since I’ve included it on this list. Robert DeNiro’s film about the birth of the CIA is a long, plodding intelligent film that takes all the glamour out of spying (not as much as SYRIANA did mind you). Damon’s character is so cold, and so meticulous that’s it’s impossible to get really what drives him, but this is what makes the film so intriguing. This is a very straightforward, meticulous and understated film, which makes it tough to view but at the same time, draws you into its almost antiseptic spy world.

On DVD and HD-DVD April 3.

Titles Knocking on the Top 10’s door

CHILDREN OF MEN (Alfonso Cuaron; Universal) – On DVD March 27.
A SCANNER DARKLY
(Richard Linklater; Warner Independent) - Currently on DVD.
FRIENDS WITH MONEY (Nicole Holfcener; Sony Pictures Classics) - Currently on DVD.
PAN’S LABYRINTH (Guillermo del Toro; Picturehouse (New Line Cinema)) - On DVD April 24th.

Honorable Mentions

BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN (Larry Charles; 20th Century Fox). - On DVD March 6.
APOCALYPTO (Mel Gibson; Touchstone) - No DVD date as of yet.
CASINO ROYALE (Martin Campbell; MGM-Sony) - On DVD and Blu Ray March 13
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
(Clint Eastwood; Dreamworks (Paramount)-Warner Bros.) - Currently on DVD.
LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD (Albert Brooks; Warner Independent) Currently on DVD.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (J.J. Abrams; Paramount) - Currently on DVD, HD DVD and Blu Ray.
WORLD TRADE CENTER
(Oliver Stone; Paramount) - Currently on DVD, HD DVD and Blu Ray in single disc and double disc editions.

Guilty Pleasure

So rare to only have one on this list, but since SUPERMAN RETURNS was a let-down, here it is – and I know I’m going to hear about it.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST (Gore Verbinski; Walt Disney Pictures)

Currently on DVD in a single disc and double disc edition, available on Blu Ray May 22.

Here’s the thing with this. Yes it may seem like a cold corporate movie, but I think Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer have tapped into that old Disney formula, and made a movie Walt could be proud of, but still keep it so modern audiences can enjoy – with the CGI and crazy choreographed action sequences. The true definition of a popcorn movie and Walt is smiling from wherever he is right now! Looking forward to the third one (AT WORLD’S END) to be released theatrically on May 24.

The Worst of the Year

Some of these will be obvious – like SCARY MOVIE 4, you know those are bad before you even walk into the cinema. Then there are those made by people who should know better. That’s why MAN OF THE YEAR is rated as a worse film than SCARY MOVIE.

I don’t put DVD release information either, because then you’d be tempted to watch these, and I’m trying to save you from that.

1) THE LADY IN THE WATER (M. Night Shyamalan; Warner Bros.)
M. Night Shymalan’s raging ego finally crashed with this “fairy tale” that had audiences laughing at just how silly it is – but not meant to be. Meant to amaze us, it’s a huge let-down. Should have been re-titled DEAD IN THE WATER.

2) MARIE ANTOINETTE (Sofia Coppola; Columbia (Sony))
Ahh Sofia Coppola, remember when they blasted you for the GODFATHER III, then hailed you for LOST IN TRANSLATION and THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. Hopefully soon they’ll realize that you don’t have talent, and this film goes a long way in proving it. Shallow, empty and tedious, it’s a painful movie going experience.

3) MAN OF THE YEAR (Barry Levinson; Universal)
Come on Barry Levinson, both you and Robin Williams know better. Gaping plot holes and spots with huge logic gaps and a very unfunny tired Robin Williams shtick kill this movie DEAD, DEAD, DEAD!!!

4) BOBBY (Emilio Estevez; MGM-The Wienstein Company)
I’ll give Emilio points for trying, but this heavy handed re-tread of the lives-and-events-crossing-paths-in-the-wake-of-a-larger-historical-event film falls flat.

5) MIAMI VICE (Michael Mann; Universal)
Another great director lands with a thud. Michael Mann turns this action film into a boring, convoluted, confusing mess. It has its moments, but overall, an avoidable experience.

6) FAST FOOD NATION (Richard Linklater; 20th Century Fox)
Richard Linklater’s second movie of the year (see A SCANNER DARKLY in the knocking on the top 10’s door) is supposed to be an expose on fast food and American culture, but his focus on the stories of the illegal immigrants takes the focus away with what should have been an engaging, damning film. Instead, it’s just plain dull.

7) THE NIGHT LISTENER (Patrick Stettner; Miramax)
Robin Williams in what was marketed as a thriller, but it is actually a psychological drama. Either way, it’s a bland movie that does sport some decent performances.

8) THE DA VINCI CODE (Ron Howard; Columbia (Sony))
This is what all the hype is over? I was surprised I was able to stay awake! Then there were all the plot twists which I had figured out within the first 20 minutes.

9) FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS (Steven Shainberg; Picturehouse (New Line Cinema))
Take 2 fabulous performances (Kidman and Downey, Jr.) and put them in a painfully slow, overly pretentious film that feels like it goes on for hours upon hours when it’s actually less than 2.

10) THE BREAK-UP (Peyton Reed; Universal)
This was marketed as the sexy must-see romantic comedy of the summer. It was neither sexy, romantic nor even remotely funny.

11) SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (Todd Phillips; The Weinstein Co.)
You know, dark comedies just sometimes don’t work. I was involved with two, LUCKY NUMBERS and DEATH TO SMOOCHY, and this one suffers the same fate. Too dark to be funny, too nasty to be liked (although really people, SMOOCHY rocked!). Jon Heder is an over-rated talent.

12) NACHO LIBRE (Jared Hess; Paramount)
Somebody has been watching a little too much Wes Anderson lately. Trying to be as quirky as say RUSHMORE, this film just falls flat at every turn. Even Jack Black can’t save it.

13) X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (Brett Ratner; 20th Century Fox)
Take a great franchise, 3 of the biggest stories in the ever-popular comic book’s history and dumb them down by mixing them together in one big bland mishmash of a movie. Thanks Rat for killing a great franchise.

14) THE GOOD GERMAN (Steven Soderbergh; Warner Bros.)
Another I’ll-give-him-points-for-trying movie as it attempts to recapture the Warner Bros. look of the 1940s. Great score, great look, but all style, no substance. And could Tobey MaGuire be any more wooden? At least Cate Blanchett was there to make things somewhat watch able.

15) FREEDOMLAND (Joe Roth; Revolution (Sony))
Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore slumming it up in this tale of racial strife. A waste of everyone’s talents, and the ending twist is painfully obvious from the TRAILER!

16) THE SENTINEL (Clark Johnson; 20th Century Fox)
Michael Douglas and Keifer Sutherland in a by-the-numbers action thriller which features a menacing shot of Toronto. Umm…dudes, Toronto isn’t menacing, it’s just pathetic!

17) THE PINK PANTHER (Shawn Levy; MGM-Sony)
Steve Martin tries to fill the shoes of Peter Sellers, and just can’t do it. This movie goes against everything that made the Pink Panther series so funny in the first place! And yes, it even stoops to a scene of Martin expelling gas for a good 2 minutes. Sellers rolled over in his grave thanks to that.

18) POSEIDON (Wolfgang Peterson; Warner Bros.)
Ahhh…I knew the disaster film remake phenomenon had started to die when in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW Jake Gyllenhaal and company are chased by – wait for it – cold air. So, Poseidon comes along, and uselessly remakes a 70s film which, really, wasn’t that good in the first place.

And these 2 just fall under the so bad they’re obvious, so they don’t need to make any sort of list, nor need an explanation.

SCARY MOVIE 4 (David Zucker; Dimension)
UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION (Len Wiseman; Screen Gems (Sony))