By Omar P.L. Moore
The Popcorn Reel
And what a year it was! 2006. A great
There were films directed by Zhang Yimou (two!), Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood (two!), Spike Lee (two, if you count a four hour HBO documentary), Pedro Almodovar, Oliver Stone, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Michael Mann, Mel Gibson, Brian DePalma, Richard Linklater (two!), Ron Howard, Steven Soderbergh (two), Deepa Mehta, the late Robert Altman, Robert De Niro, Stephen Frears, and Edward Zwick. When you've got an all-star line up of directors like these, you know that the year in which they direct has to be a good one.
There were also films directed by up and coming filmmakers from whom we'll hear a lot more over the next few years, like Todd Field, Catherine Hardwicke, J.J. Abrams, Emilio Estevez, Sofia Coppola, Debbie Isitt and Jason Reitman. Between them all, they had "Little Children", told a "Nativity Story" about "Bobby" and "Marie Antoinette" festooned with "Confetti" for the courage to say, "Thank You For Smoking" on a third "Mission: Impossible".
Worth noting: Russell Gewirtz wrote a great first screenplay for Spike Lee's "Inside Man", while William Monaghan had a sharp ear for dialogue in Mr. Scorsese's latest film "The Departed".
Two films had great opening credit sequences which said all a
viewer needed to know about the movie before it started: "The Devil Wears Prada"
and "Casino Royale". Two films that should have fared better than they
ultimately did worldwide: "Superman Returns" and "Miami Vice", two of the most
anticipated films of the summer, with very capable directors Bryan Singer and
Michael Mann respectively.
There were many excellent documentaries including "Deliver Us From Evil", "The U.S. vs. John Lennon", "The Bridge", "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple", "Jesus Camp", "The Empire In Africa" and the indispensable "An Inconvenient Truth".
Some actors hammed it up big time in 2006, chewing scenery by the boatload in several films: Meryl Streep was "The Devil Wears Prada" -- a very good film with her in it, a lackluster one without -- although Stanley Tucci chewed scenery in the same film, as did Emily Blunt. Jack Nicholson did a wickedly funny impression of his vintage self in "The Departed", while Michael Douglas showed that he was lacking speed in the disappointing "The Sentinel", which played like a longer episode of "24". Douglas's "Basic Instinct" co-star Sharon Stone went it alone in "Basic Instinct 2" -- and the worldwide audience made sure she really did as well, as the film grossed just $5 million in the U.S. and barely that much around the rest of the world. Stone however, had plenty of company in "Bobby", where 21 other actors gave support.
Sacha Baron Cohen had a doubly successful 2006: in August he went toe-to-toe with Will Ferrell in "Talladega Nights", while November saw Cohen do his own thing with the immensely successful "Borat". Jude Law regained his three or four films a year regimen with appearances in "Breaking and Entering", "All The King's Men" and "The Holiday", while Greg Kinnear went two films better, including "Little Miss Sunshine", one of the year's great treasures. Daniel Craig had a trifecta with his role as James Bond and appearances in "Infamous" and "Renaissance" (in animated form).
Speaking of animation, 2006 was a huge year for it, with great films like "Cars", "Over The Hedge", "Happy Feet" and Ice Age: The Meltdown", all of which shattered the $100 million mark. Horror also made an impact in 2006, with several hit films like "Saw III", "Silent Hill", "An American Haunting", "Hostel" and "The Grudge 2". There were however, horror-ific bombs like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning", "Turistas" and "The Descent".
There were two stories in two very different films about rival
magicians and the meaning of love: "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige".
Lindsay Lohan matured before our very eyes with two good serious performances in
"Prairie Home Companion" and "Bobby". Judi Dench re-invented Glenn Close
in "Notes On A Scandal", while Brad Pitt was producing on and off screen (the
former being "The Departed", and the terrific "Babel", the latter being
assisting with famine relief for the African
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" got people abuzz with over a billion dollars -- and in less than six months the third installment will be released.
Robin Williams was as busy as any other actor in 2006 -- in no less than six films -- let's count them all: "RV", "The Night Listener", "Everyone's Hero", "Man of the Year", "Happy Feet" and "Night at The Museum".
He and Mel Gibson were also busy off-screen as well, but their films stuck in the minds of many. A close second for heavy celluloid occupation was Maggie Gyllenhaal, who appeared in four films, including "Sherrybaby".
Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren proved to be "King" and "Queen" of Scotland and England in their respective film performances, while Will Smith played Chris Gardner with an emotional realism that resonated deeply in "The Pursuit of Happyness". "Dreamgirls" was perfectly priceless thanks to Eddie Murphy's great acting and the brilliance of former "American Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson. Keith Robinson also made "Dreamgirls" the great film that it was.
Adam Sandler had a disappointing "Click" even though the film was a big hit. Speaking of disappointments, Tom Cruise caught backlash from Paramount Pictures with "M:i:III", the best of the three films, but a struggling specter at the box office worldwide last summer. The complete opposite could be said of "The Da Vinci Code" which made a huge impression all over the globe (even if some engaged in such trivialities as complaining about Tom Hanks' hair.) On the other hand, there were plenty of legitimate complaints, as Wolfgang Peterson's "Poseidon" sunk like a rock.
Frances McDormand lent the perfect support to "Friends With Money", while Jennifer Aniston excelled in the same film, and was on an even keel with "The Break-Up" which was a pleasant surprise of a film, even if some audiences didn't like the serious tone of it.
Lessons learned: "United 93" and "World Trade Center" sent a
message that exploring the recent turbulent past was a good idea despite
lingering pain; perhaps the most surprising thing was Oliver Stone's neutrality
in his filmmaking of "Center". Both films fared reasonably well, but some
audiences stayed away. As for "Fast Food Nation", the subject of what goes
into the fast food burgers millions of Americans eat each week was obviously too
much of a turn off for American audiences. "Rocky Balboa" effectively
closed out the "Rocky" chapters, "Balboa" director Sylvester Stallone created symmetry by
writing the first film and the final film.
One of the lowlights in film in 2006 was some audience reaction at one American movie theater: cheering the fictional assassination of the current U.S. president during the Gabriel Range film "Death of A President", a decent fake-umentary that had a death quicker than the onscreen assassination of the president. The film could have been called "Death of A Documentary".
Finally, Jim Broadbent made "Art House Confidential" the guilty pleasure it was, as did John Malkovich. And one couldn't help loving "The Matador", "My Super-Ex Girlfriend", "Take The Lead", "Akeelah and The Bee" or "A Good Year" -- which the movies enjoyed in 2006.
Photos: Missions, Sunshine, Kings, Queens and lots more -- just some of the films released in 2006.