Best Movies of 2006

So last year I missed my top 10 movies list, so I thought this would be a good way to start my finals week procrastination. I have a list of every new movie I saw this year and already have a pretty solid top 10 list. I’m going to wait till 2006 is over though and I have had a chance to see the movies that are yet to come or I have missed. In the meantime, here are some of the good films that didn’t make my initial films and some of the worst.

  1. The Departed
    Picking this year’s best movie was easy. When I started jumping in my seat with anger and emotion over a character’s death, I knew that The Departed stirred me in a way few other films have. I loved how while the story is full of parallels, there is a certain unevenness in the cinematography and editing that energized the film. To see something like this from a director in the twilight of his career is all the more exciting. The Departed has all the elements of a good movies (director, cast, visuals, soundtrack, etc.) yet still works as a whole, which seems to be where most award-hopeful films fall short. I can’t wait to see this movie again and again.
  2. Little Miss Sunshine
    The dysfunctional family comedy seems to be overdone these days, yet somehow Little Miss Sunshine made it seem fresh and original. I think a lot of credit goes to the writer/directors for not sticking to their convictions and letting the humor play out, rather than go for instant laughs. This is also a fantastic ensemble cast. Sunshine is a lot of fun and has a lot of heart, which are hard to come by in movies these days.
  3. Science of Sleep
    Michel Gondry makes art films that literally look like art. This film takes the visual imagination displayed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and his music videos to a new level. The effects also aid a touching story about a young man who confuses his imagination for reality. I connected with this story, especially since the main character is almost named after me (Stefane). Some had trouble with the ending, but I think it was a fair ending to a fun journey.
  4. Borat
    Borat earns points for shocking and surprising me even after I had watched some of its funniest scenes in trailers and commercials. I left the movie feeling a little shaken, but in retrospect this really a great movie. Many have noted that Borat is holding a mirror up to America more than the other way around. Sacha Baron Cohen is deadly funny in this movie and has arrived as a movie superstar.
  5. The Fountain
    This is another visually beautiful movies that I really enjoyed. Of Darren Aronofsky’s movies, I “got” this one better than the any of the others – though I understand not everyone will. The movie has a lot to say about life and mortality and I it tells it through images, rather through lengthy dialogue. Also like Science of Sleep, it uses organic visual effects rather than a glut of CG. The result is breathtaking.
  6. The Descent
    Every weekend another horror film premieres, so its hard to separate the good from the bad. What separates The Descent is a truly horrifying premise that doesn’t rely on serial killers. The scariness of The Descent is that it has you jumping at the everyday things like cave-ins and broken bones before a creature even comes on screen. It also has strong character development, with an all female cast that breaks most horror film norms. This is a preciousfilm.
  7. Inside Man
    I initially saw Inside Man as Spike Lee “selling out” or at least making a more accessible film. And while the latter is true, this movie still has all the powerful elements of his other movies. It has a stellar cast, a fun plot, and the visual style of a Spike Lee film. It also is filled with more subtle explorations of race and American society that stays true to his style.
  8. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
    Dave Chappelle’s not crazy, he’s just got better things to do. Block Party is amazing because a free concert generally doesn’t translate into an interesting movie. The unsung hero of this project is Michel Gondry, doing a turn as a documentary filmmaker, who finds the interesting stories that surround Chappelle and the event. Technically this all happened before the comedian “went nuts”, but watching the film you get the sense that perhaps Chappelle was just too normal to keep up with his onscreen personae. Anyway, this is a lot of fun.
  9. Thank You For Smoking
    Probably the sharpest satire of the year, Smoking does a great job of demonstrating the power of free speech in our society. The movie doesn’t make a case for tobacco, but rather our freedom to defend what we want and do what we want. In a time when civil liberties are taken lightly, this is an appropriate film. It’s also very funny and makes Aaaron Eckhart a star.
  10. Casino Royale
    I don’t generally like Bond films and I went to Casino Royale on a whim. Boy am I glad I did. This is easily the best action film of the year and many would agree its one of the best Bonds to hit the screen. Ian Craig does a great job of reinventing the character, or bringing it back to its roots from the caricature the later films created. It also is the first that seems firmly rooted in the post-Cold War world, which is ironic since it is also a throwback to early Bond. I hope the producers continue on this storyline, sticking to the novels and perhaps remaking other Bonds.

Honerable Mention: Accepted, Apocolypto, Clerks II, Gridiron Gang, V for Vendetta, Slither, Tristam Shandy, Pirates of the Carribean 2, Snakes on a Plane, Superman Returns, Prairie Home Companion, Stranger Than Fiction, Monster House, Rocky Balboa

Still Need to See: Hard Candy, The Illusionist, The Prestige, The Last Kiss, Art School Confidential, The Good Shepherd, Letters from Iwa Jima, Pan’s Labrynth, Children of Men, Little Children, A Scanner Darkly, Half Nelson, An Inconvinient Truth

Lexicology of Stupid

I'm no English major, but this type of stuff interests me. Over the last couple years I have heard a lot of comments about the dumbing down of the English language. Many have blamed political spin masters, especially the Bush administration, for reducing important issues into catchphrases. Stephen Colbert and Neil Young have done a good job mocking this recently. They're not the only ones who sum things into simple language. Jason Kottke recently blogged about derivative news headlines. A quick sampling of Google News showed 11 "vows", 7 "urges", 6 "slams", 8 "smacks", and 7 "blasts". So apparently even the "liberal media" bows to the stupid.

On the other hand there is at least one organization that values language, although its pretty unnecessary. Jim Emerson examined the "poetry" of the MPAA's movie ratings in two posts this week. Mission: Impossible III was rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of frenetic violence & menace, disturbing images & some sensuality." It's tough to pick favorites but I like Schindler's List, rated R for "language, some sexuality and actuality violence." The funny part about this is that extra description probably only confuses the parents who are trying to make decisions about what their children watch.

Trashing Crash

They said it was the most boring Oscars ever, but there’s still plenty of talk about Crash winning the Best Picture award. This week Annie Proulx, author of the original Brokeback Mountain short story, wrote a scathing editorial about the loss in The Guardian.

The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that… it would get Best Picture… We should have known conservative heffalump academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good… Rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash – excuse me – Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline.

I can understand her anger, but her argument seems self-defeating. She seems angry that L.A. is a “segregated city” and yet criticizes Hollywood for awarding a film that does acknowledge this. In the wake of the devastation of the Katrina hurricanes, I have to think that people as concerned with racial disparities as they are with gay rights. I can’t help but wonder if Brokeback got support from writers and critics, yet lost the Best Picture because actors (many of whom were once working class citizens) identified more with Crash. Incidentally, I enjoyed Proulx’s story even more than the movie. I can’t agree with her editorial though. I agree that Brokeback is an important movie, but I (and many in Hollywood) felt Crash was the better film.

All the complaining reminds me of an Oscar snub of the past. In 1989 Spike Lee’s racial drama Do the Right Thing didn’t even get a Best Picture nomination. Roger Ebert recalls with irony the fact that Driving Miss Daisy ultimately won that award.

Do the Right Thing was the finest, the most controversial, most discussed and most important film of 1989. Of course, it was not nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture (that award went to Driving Miss Daisy, which has a view of race in America that is rotated just 180 degrees from Lee’s). To an extent, I think some viewers have trouble seeing the film; it is blurred by their deep-seated ideas and emotions about race in America, which they project onto Lee, assuming he is angry or bitter. On the basis of this film it would be more accurate to call him sad, observant, realistic-or empathetic.

Do the Right Thing is one of my all-time favorites and there are many similarities between it and Crash. Both movies address race as a much more complicated issue than black and white, and neither offer easy answers. So perhaps the Academy is making up for a mistake 17 years ago. For the Brokeback supporters out there, you can take some solace in the fact that the Hollywood is moving in the direction of progress, abiet very slowly.

Slow Times

Man, I’ve gotten myself into another posting slump again. I feel like half of all my posts are me apologizing to my non-existent readers about my posting irregularities. I have a lot of ideas to write about, but I can’t seem to get them out. So I’ll play a little catch up.

I survived last week and got home safely for spring break. Now that I am home I am battling with allergies a bit. I have come to the conclusion there is something in the house, specifically the living room area, that is causing me to sneeze a lot. I was out a lot today though, so it wasn’t too bad. I picked up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on DVD today and was annoyed to have to chose between a plain release and a 2-disc edition. I guess they’re trying to charge more for value added features, but its just really annoying for consumers.

Speaking of movies, I enjoyed the Oscars a lot this year. I didn’t think that Chris Rock was bad last year, but everything else was pretty boring. I thought Jon Stewart did a great job and I was glad to see others having fun as well. I was really happy to see Crash win Best Picture. I don’t have anything against Brokeback Mountain, I just felt like Crash was better movie. Thus I am kind of annoyed by all the whispers about Crash‘s win, saying that Hollywood was too scared of gay cowboys. One thing Hollywood is scared of is DVDs as noted in Academy president Sid Ganis’ speech that encouraged people to see movies in theaters rather than on DVD.

On a much more serious note, I just wanted to mourn the loss of one of my high school classmates Jay Crawford. He died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep last week, the exact cause has not been determined yet. I can’t say I knew him well, but I was in a couple of classes with him my freshman year. I was a shy new student then and he was one of the first people to treat me as a friend. He was a good guy and will be missed.

My Super Weekend

Hope you had a good holiday weekend. That’s right, Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday according to one PSU professor. It certainly does a good enough job getting people to come together. I watched the game in a dorm with some friends, including one annoyingly happy Steelers fan. Though we like to think its a 50-50 split, the truth is the Steelers are the favorite team here in State College. It seemed like they might have been the NFL’s favorite too. Truth is I like the Steelers as a team, I just didn’t want to have to deal with their obnoxious fans. Congratulations to the Steelers, especially Betis and Cowher, and the thousands of Steelers fans who live under the delusion that their support made the difference. If you weren’t interested in the game, I thought the FedEx’s cavemen commercial was the best.

Actually the biggest sports news around here is Penn State’s upset of #6 Illinois on Saturday night. I went to the game Wednesday night against Michigan, which was a closer match-up than it should have been. I imagine I will be going to more games after this weekend’s performance. I spent my weekend at the theaters seeing Something New and Captoe, both very worthwhile. I think Phillip Seymore Hoffman should be getting an Oscar for his performance. Speaking of which, I am planning to put together my belated Best Films of 2005 list and Oscar picks soon when I get a chance. Also, I got tricked into watching Grey’s Anatomy after seeing the commercials – only to be left with a cliffhanger. It confirmed most of my worst suspicions about the show, including the fact that it couldn’t take Scrubs in a fight.

My real reason for writing tonight was just to get back to blogging again. I have been really slow about posting, though the posts I have written have gotten a lot of attention. It’s nice to take time and write a good post once in a while, but lately I have just only been doing long rants which don’t really reflect what I am thinking. So starting tomorrow I will go back to posting at least once a day, something I did when I started this blog. I am also pleased with the way I styled this post, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I do even more first person writing. Anyway, more posts are on the way in the future.

Seeing Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback MountainI consider myself a serious moviegoer and when a movie gets a lot of critical attention I want to see it. So all the hype about Brokeback Mountain had me thinking I should see it, except I couldn’t. I am pretty open-minded about people and their sexuality, but I still get kind of queasy at the notion of watching two guys make out. Gay cowboys scared me more than Hostel and Saw II combined. The movie came out at the local theater here this weekend and the only other new film was Big Mama’s House 2. So the gay cowboys won out. I even convinced a few friends to go with me.

The controversy surrounding the film has given it a sort of stigma. If I didn’t like the film, would that make me a bigot? Sure enough I caught myself groaning at certain points in the movie when the two characters get back together for their trips. There it is, I hate gay people. I realized later that’s not true. What really bothered me was that they were lying to their wives and themselves. I feel the same way when watching any other movie about a destructive relationship.

Still my feelings about the film are mixed. Some of the more intimate moments between the characters had me a bit antsy. That’s probably not fair though, because I don’t have a problem when a film shows gratuitous amounts of female flesh. I think a fairer criticism of the film would be it seemed to meander for too long. This is a good story, but it is slowed down with a lot of empty subplots that seemed unnecessary. The cinematography and music were beautiful though. The actors also did a fine job, especially Heath Ledger’s with his performance as the quiet and lonely Ennis Del Mar.

The movie does a nice job of breaking down a lot of the stereotypes people apply to homosexuals, proving you do not have to be effeminate to be gay. I will admit that there were moments when I could really feel for these guys. That’s because the feelings of regret and unrequited love are pretty universal. After all, the concept of lovers separated by physical space or social norms is not really all that groundbreaking.

Seeing Brokeback Mountain was an interesting experience and I am happy I saw the movie. It broadened my horizons a bit and proved that I am mature enough to handle guys kissing on screen. If you are interested in the movie, I recommend checking it out. If you don’t want to see the movie though, that doesn’t make you any worse a person than someone who doesn’t want to see Pride & Prejudice. You probably shouldn’t be critiquing the movie though.

Update: Just for kicks, here’s Larry David’s column on why he won’t see the movie and the straight dude’s guide.

Update #2: I read the original short story that inspired the movie and I liked that better. It’s more consise and to the point.

Disney + Pixar = Magic?

Apparently the rumors are true: Disney will buy Pixar tomorrow for $7 billion. This is probably a good move for Pixar and definitely a good move for Disney. What surprises me is all the bad buzz this is getting in the blogosphere. Apparently some people believe that the powers that be at Disney will rip Pixar apart and turn its movies into direct-to-video sequels. This is ludicrous.

John Lasseter will take control of all of Disney animation and likely help direct it to new heights. I imagine Pixar will become Disney’s computer animation division and Lasseter will reorganize the existing unit to start producing traditionally animated movies again. There were rumors that Pixar may start a traditional unit themselves, that won’t be necessary now. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) takes over the traditional unit. Lasseter can guide both units to success with his focus on original storytelling, something that was lost at Disney for the last few years. If they can maintain both units and produce enough hits, maybe Disney can scale back the direct-to-video business since they have twice as many feature films to put out.

Steve Jobs will become the largest shareholder in Disney after this deal, giving him a lot of leverage in the post-Pixar Disney. If they screw things up, he will likely give them hell. It will also be interesting to see what Jobs does with his role in Disney. He could use his influence to help direct the company through the transition to digital media. I know people worry that Pixar’s culture will die when they join Disney, but I don’t think that will happen. Many people at Pixar once worked for Disney and many Disney people are Pixar fans. I think Pixar is more likely to change the culture at Disney than the other way I around.

I can’t guarantee all that will happen, but I do think the new arrangement will be successful. Now many seem upset that Pixar didn’t go it alone, but I don’t think they realize what they’re talking about. Pixar gained a lot from its existing relationship with Disney, using the companies marketing muscle to sell their great movies. If Pixar was forced to go somewhere else, they would probably end up with Warner Bros. – which would be disaster. Warner Bros. took Bird’s marvelous Iron Giant and turned it into a box office failure. That would have been a dark road for Pixar. Disney has experience selling animated movies (and all the spin-off merchandising that helped make Pixar rich). This is going to be an interesting partnership and I think it will also be a fruitful one.