MY YEAR IN FILM 2006

page 2

john cribbs

   "What's the Big Deal?" (movies people treated like the Second Coming but were more like a monkey coming)

1. The Departed

I don't blame Martin Scorsese. I honestly think that he just loves making movies, and really doesn't need a little naked gold guy to remind him that he's the most respected American filmmaker living (wouldn't it be great if the Academy could just retroactively reclaim the statues given to Robert Redford and Kevin Costner?) But it seems like pure Oscar buzz escalated most people's feelings on this Goodfellas retrend (I'm also pretty sure he's made at least one movie about Leonardo DiCaprio infultrating a gang of some kind), a remake (which the filmmakers have been mysteriously skirting since the movie's release), of a superior film in which the veteran actors underact and the youngblood overact. It does have one surprisingly good performance (DiCaprio) and one great performance (Vera Farmiga, who holds the film together in a part that is Departed's biggest departure from Infernal Affairs), but Jack Nicholson can't be bothered to piece together a character out of his would-be juicy role as a lovably evil crime boss. For Scorsese's part, the first half hour is laden with distracting old tricks (golden oldies soundtrack, lightning quick tracking shots) that border on self-parody. This stuff feels like Scorsese imitation, a film by James Mangold or Joe Carnahan. After that he seems to lose all interest in his signature aesthetic, and the film's silly screenplay is left to bang into a few walls on its way down the convoluted maze. One day Marty will make another winner, but this isn't it.

 

2. Little Miss Sunshine

3. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

An obnoxious old drunk is dragged from one hospital to another, from one jaded physician to the next, and the thing is: WE GET IT. The medical system is disgraceful, uncaring, corrupt. I pretty much had my say regarding this movie here. After three or four scenes of the old fart vomiting in the back of the ambulance, enough is enough, and yet critics seem to be falling all over this improvised, shaky (the camerawork made me vomit), 2+ hour film from a director who couldn't be more impressed with himself.

4. A Prairie Home Companion

I have loads of respect for the late great Robert Altman, and that's why I refuse to glorify his final effort, a sort of Nashville-lite which Garrison Kellior hated (he wanted to make a Lake Wobegon movie) and Altman himself was rumored to have not been entirely happy with. It's gotten a ton of praise and I guess that's not a big surprise: the film tends to pander to what most people think an Altman movie should look and feel like. Quirky subject. Improvised dialogue. Big all-star cast talking over each other. But besides Meryl Streep's adorable turn as half a singing sibling duo, there's nothing I can remember from the film that doesn't make me cringe: the dity joke cowboy performers, Kevin Kline's terrible performance as Guy Noir, Virginia Madsen's gentle angel, Tommy Lee Jones as a Scrooge-like businessman who's going to shut down the radio station, the very presence of old Firecrotch Lohan. But Altman was always trying out new things, so it was a flip of the coin whether his last effort was going to be worthwhile. At least other people thought so.

5. Volver

At some point in his career (right around All About My Mother), Pedro Almodovar found his meal ticket and went from arty producer of Latino soft core to living legend.  Which would be fine, if anything he made since then other than Talk to Her was any good.  Volver isn't a bad movie, but it's sub par to the point of convincing me that so many filmgoers love it just because it's an Almodovar picture.   Penelope Cruz, who seems to get good reviews when she speaks Spanish, is flat as hell (except her articifical derriere, of course) as the daughter of a ghost mom who holds together the woman of her village.  It's another one of Almodovar's woman films, indistinguishable from the rest.

6. Children of Men

This has graced more than a few #1 slots on numerous critic's lists, and while I don't blame any of them for drawing attention to Alfonso Cuaron's excellent direction (there are no less than three astonishingly executed scenes), the movie itself is almost hopelessly goofy. For one thing, it deals with immigration, which seems like more of an overpopulation issue than a concern in a futuristic world where all the women have become infertile.  Its life during wartime final reel is the chaotic cesspool where the plot up to that point (all Robert Ludlum-style chases) spills out, but we haven't had the chance to really live in the world we're supposed to care about Clive Owen saving. Ultimately the script (adapted from PD James' book, it's credited to five different writers) starts running around in circles without making any interesting points worthy of Cuaron's visual eye.

My original thoughts on the movie are here.

7. Cars

It was inevitable: Pixar had to underwhelm at some point, but it seems like no one is willing to concede that Cars was a washout. I guess that's because it was a financial success, of course - it's still hard for me to accept a world in which cars do all the things humans do. It's a vexing matter of chicken-before-the-egg vagueness: do cars grow up from little cars?  Do they have sex to make babies? Do they have some sort of monetary system? I feel like these are problems I would have been asking even if I saw the movie as a kid.  The animation is amazing, but Pixar just seems so much classier than Larry the Cable Guy...

Original thoughts here.

8. The Descent

The first half of Neil Marshall's sophomore film is everything people raved about and more: dark, claustrophobic and suspenseful with a sickening anticipation of something horrific about to happen at any second. Then the monsters turn up, and it becomes an episode of "The X-Files," a standard survival thriller with batpeople that look like "Buffy" demons chasing a group of spelunkers around the tunnels of a cave that suddenly seems less ominous, less relentlessly enclosed. The heroine going through a baptism of fire to become a vengeful fighting machine is so played that Marshall's use of it all but destroys the taut atmosphere he's so meticulously created. The movie improves upon second viewing (although the much-publicized "original ending" is bullshit), but still fails to follow throuhg on its initial macabre.

9. An Inconvenient Truth

Global warning is a honest problem, but that doesn't mean this documentary isn't a glamorized slide show. It would be fine if people were better at seperating something that's used as a political tool from actual films (this list is really meant to knock critics more than the filmmakers themselves.) Al Gore has an effectively numbing voice, and while I respect the man for doing "Futurama" twice, any warning about the environment given in his monotone has long since been evaporated from my memory.

10. Happy Feet

Penguins fill the #10 slot on this list for the second year in a row, this time in computer generated children's fare that's gotten more raves than there are penguins in the world. While the family-friendly premise basically generates its own praise ("Toe-tappingly terrific!" - Joel Siegel), the Baz Luhrmann-ganked devise of using pre-existing songs makes it impossible to actually recommend the movie to anyone. So why did someone recommend it to me???

My original thoughts on the film, which Chris Funderburg stopped me from walking out of, are here.

 

    I'll Pass: movie that might have been good, might have been bad, but overwhelming evidence from various
   sources suggested that they probably weren't very good (officially replacing the "Didn't Need to See It to
   Know it Sucked" category)

1. Marie Antoniette

All it took was the first few chords of New Order's "Age of Consent" on the teaser to know that, despite the exceptional supporting cast Sofia Coppola managed to gather, Marie Antoinette was not going to be much of an improvement on Lost in Translation. It didn't help when my girlfriend returned home from the movie vomiting into her hands. Everything I've heard supports my initial reaction: Coppola going over her head to make an arty, trendy, gleefully anachronisitic and irreverent biopic as if Ken Russell and Derek Jarman hadn't done it more than couple times in the seventies and eighies, and never as an excuse to bitch about how being rich and popular is such a drag, you know? It's not a good thing when the costume designer is getting more attention than the director.

2. Bobby

As someone semi-obsessed with the RFK assassination, I would have been excited for a movie about that fatefal evening at the Ambassador Hotel on June 6, 1968. But Emilio Estavez? The guy from Mighty Ducks? Who is this douchebag, this Men at Work auteur, to give interviews that sound as if this was his life's ambition, smugly comparing himself to the likes of Robert Altman? I might have been willing to at least give the Young Gun a chance, but his approach is ridiculous: fictional characters located around the hotel? What's the point of that? Did Mel Gibson make a movie about all the yokels hanging around the cross? What does any of this have to do with Bobby Kennedy's death? The answer is nothing. As an additional fuck you, he happened to finish shooting days before the Ambassador was demolished, barring any real filmmaker from giving the subject the respectable treatment it deserves. The existence of this movie breaks my heart.

3. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

The spit and ire against this film seems unanimous, and it sounds as if everybody is right to be cruel to Shainberg's second film. If you're going to do a movie about a real-life artist, you should at least understand the person you're probing. That Nicole Kidman (???) would portray a sensitive Arbus who uses her feminine goodness to unveil the beauty behind the freakish is flat out wrong. Truffaut once accused Antonioni of making films about women as if he had some kind of special understand of them: I think that can be said of Shainberg, whose masochistic romance Secretary was a story about how messed up girl just needs a guy to straighten her out, disguised under chains and leathers. And here he apparently shows how little he understands one of the truly great female photographers.

4. A Good Year

From the people who brought you Gladiator...comes a film about how living in a beautiful town can make you happy. What a concept. Did people really pay to see rich bastard Russell Crowe drinking wine and chasing European tail about the sweeping hills of Provence? "Yes studio, we have an idea for a production that would send us to one of the most gorgeous places on earth for a few weeks. Can we have a few million dollars? We, uh, won an Oscar once..."

5. All the King's Men

I love the strategy of this film. "The original won an Oscar. If we adapt the same novel, maybe we can win an Oscar! We'll cast a bunch of Oscar-winning actors (and a few who've only been nominated so they can win for the first time) and hire an Oscar-winning screenwriter to direct. Who cares what the movie's about - Huey Lewis, right?" The worst thing to happen to New Orleans since Katrina.

6. Stranger Than Fiction

If there's anything less tolerable than Charlie Kauffman's clever crap, it's an imitation of said clever crap. Seriously, how many damn Maggie Gyllenhaal movies came out last year?

7. The Da Vinci Code

My least favorite Hollywood angle: adapt a best-selling book starring a blockbuster star. Where's the fun in that? I remember seeing one of the "codes" in he book - it was backwards! That's the amazing puzzle so many people are flipping their shit over? And word is, the movie's NOT as good as the book. I'll take their word for it.

8. Clerks II

I could say something about how the original Clerks came at just the right time in my life, how influential it was in showing me that anyone could make a movie - a GOOD movie - how it still holds up today... But I've made my peace with Kevin Smith, who's been unable to make anything worth seeing in the last ten years. Up to this point, I saw every one of them. As much as I hate to agree with Joel Siegel, Smith's cocky behavior has finally turned me off. Ridiculing yourself (what Smith's best at) foe going back to the barrel doesn't take away from how artistically impotent you are for doing so. The movie doesn't need Rosario Dawson to prove how far from the charm of the original's principles it's come. If he'd done the Green Hornet movie, at least he'd be ruining someone else's material. He's going into acting now, which may be a better place for him.

9. The Lake House

Something I've learned about romantic movies: the ones where the people are not physically in touch with each other (Ghost, Sleepless in Seattle, Serendipity, A Very Long Engagement ...probably You've Got Mail) are the worst of them. They make for great stories (see: the monologue about the soldier who never met his bride during the war in Jules and Jim) but the chances for a steamy sex scene are nil. It's funny that they tried to sell this as the reunion of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. "Hey, if you love action movies about speeding buses..!." Also, come on...are we really expected to believe that Keanu can read?

10. V for Vendetta

Swamp Thing...From Hell...League of Extraordinary Gentlmen... Constantine. I think Alan Moore's assertion that no good movies can be made from his work has been well and truly verified, enough that I don't want to take a chance with a Hollywood crack at one of his best series. John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry - great cast, but all those CG knife effects from the preview? V for Vomit.

 

   Best DVD Releases of 2006

 

 1. Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns

 2. Michael Haneke's Glaciation Trilogy

 3. Final Destination 3

 4. Pretty Poison

 5. The Third Generation

 6. Viridiana (Criterion)

 

 7. Dust Devil

 8. Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection

 9. Petulia

10. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

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