This post may not be of any interest for several months. In it, I plan to list each movie I see in 2006. I’ll rate each one out of ten, write an extremely brief review and link to anything else I’ve written on it.
For now, I’ll rank them in the order I saw them. Part of me says I ought to find some structured way to do this, so that I could later sort by date or ranking or whatever, but screw it.
As regular readers know, I’m a movie slut. Try not to judge.
UPDATE: I reserve the right to occasionally tweak a rating to reflect subsequent movies I’ve seen.
Munich – 9/10 – I loved its exceptional storytelling, unflinching camera work and moral ambiguity. Wasn’t crazy about how it ended with a whimper. Technically, this is a remake of a TV movie called Sword of Gideon.
Hostel – 4/10 – Not particularly scary, but one of the most intensely and gratuitously gory movies I’ve ever seen. I appreciated its purity of intent and utter lack of pretence. Holds the record for the most different languages in an American film without subtitles.
Good Night and Good Luck – 8/10 – Features some excellent performances and has an effective documentary style. I thought it could have done a better job of making the story relevant to today. If the portrayal of Edward R. Murrow is accurate, he had an incredibly dry wit and smoked like a frickin’ chimney. He died of lung cancer at 57.
Fun With Dick and Jane – 2/10 – Not even a little funny, and Jim Carrey acts like a coked-up monkey. There’s a stupid anti-corporate story stuck on the end, when they spend most of the film robbing small businesses. I believe Tea Leoni has played the neurotic housewife in 47 consecutive films.
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World – 5/10 – For the great promise of the premise, it’s an ordinary film and not particularly funny. Might have worked better as documentary (or perhaps a mockumentary). They got an actress from New Jersey to play Brooks’ Indian assistant–was there nobody good enough among one billion Indians?
The Matador – 7.5/10 – Exceptionally well-paced, directed with a steady, humble hand, and features the best performance of Pierce Brosnan’s career (at least, of all his movies I’ve seen). The script is witty, a little unpredictable and doesn’t insult our intelligence. Watching the film, it occurred to me that Greg Kinnear has had a very successful career, despite playing a gay man in his break-through role in As Good As It Gets. Typecasting (regardless of one’s actual sexual persuasion) can kill a career in Hollywood.
Underworld: Evolution – 5/10 – The plot was surprisingly baroque–I could have used some kind of vampire family tree (no, he’s the most powerful vampire…no he’s the most…ah, bugger). On the upside, there’s Kate Beckinsale in black leather (or is it PVC?) Evolution was shot in Vancouver (I missed her in Chapters), and prominently features Spirit of the West’s John Mann in a supporting role (with kind of a dodgy English accent).
The New World – 8/10 – Not so much a film, as a gorgeous 2-hour impressionist poem. One of the most beautiful (and beautiful sounding) films I’ve ever seen, with understated performances by all the leads. It shows us a time and place in a way we’ve never seen before. I spent much of the film hearing this song in my head.
Match Point – 4.5/10 – I called it a ‘trite, shoddy piece, with none of [Woody Allen’s] previous filmsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ wit or originality. I can’t figure out why most other critics liked the film. Kate Winslet was originally cast in the Scarlett Johansson role, and would have been a vast improvement.
Imagine Me & You – 6.5/10 – A predictable British rom-com, in the tradition of Four Weddings and a Funeral or Love Actually. The Brits do rom-coms way better than the Americans, and this script is enjoyable witty. The direction was pretty awful–it was all too apparent that this was Ol Parker’s directorial debut. Though surrounded by decent performances (it was a joy to see Anthony Head again), Piper Perabo was pretty ordinary in the leading role. If nothing else and regardless of your sexual preference, there’s plenty to look at in this film. The three leads–Perabo, Lena Headey and Matthew Goode (the heir apparent to Hugh Grant)–are hot and have posh accents.
Firewall – 4/10 – Harrison Ford’s family is in peril! Again! We’ve seen variations on this shtick in Frantic, What Lies Beneath, Air Force One, Clear and Present Danger and so forth. This is a very ordinary thriller, made more ordinary by its Vancouver shooting locations. Harrison Ford is 63 now, and too old to make these films anymore.
Freedomland – 6/10 – An odd sort of movie–half abduction drama and half essay on race relations. The plot is structured oddly, with the biggest revelation occurring at the two-third mark of the movie. Hence, the film kind of trickles to a conclusion. Excellent acting from the three leads–Julianne Moore in particular is fabulous.
Running Scared – 3/10 – Paul Weller is an actor who specializes in whipping off his shirt to reveal his perfect abs. While admirable, this doesn’t a thespian make. In this film we’re treated to his ass as well. This is a lousy film that’s got everything but the kitchen sink thrown in–car chases, bloody gunplay, Russian mafia, Italian mafia, sexual abuse of children, explosions, ice hockey and that creepy kid from Birth.. It feels like a first year script written by five guys who’ve seen Good Fellas and Reservoir Dogs way too many times.
Ultraviolet – 3/10 – I usually enjoy watching Milla kick ass and take names, but this film is nearly unwatchable. There’s a reason they didn’t permit critics to watch it before it opened. It’s basically a set of mediocre fight and chase scenes vaguely connected by a few standard sci-fi plot elements: oppresive overlord, endless lackeys to kill, innocent savior to protect and lots of beveled vehicles. That said, the opening credits are mega-cool.
V for Vendetta – 6/10 – The Phantom of the Opera is a poncy terrorist in a near-future facist Britain. I liked the film’s moral ambiguity and well-directed action sequences, but it meandered unnecessarily and ended predictably. I haven’t read the graphic novel by Alan Moore, so I can’t compare with the source material. Natalie Portman was lovely, but her character felt glommed on.
Beowulf & Grendel – 7/10 – I’m having a hard time processing this film. It’s kind of an adventure movie and kind of a monster movie, all in the bleakest corner of Iceland that you can imagine. The film’s look reminded me most of “Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail”. The performances were very strong, though the accents were all over the map and the dialogue was inexplicably full of contemporary curses. And, of course, I’m a sucker for Sarah Polley, even with the dreads.
Inside Man – 7.5/10 – A heck of a cast, and I’ve always liked Spike Lee’s work. It was overly long (we could have done without the usual Lee commentary on racism), and the plot twists sure didn’t fool me (and I’m easy to fool). An ordinary movie, but well-crafted.
For once, I actually noticed a glaring goof (spoiler ahead) listed on IMDB.
Thank You For Smoking – 9/10 – A clever, satirical take on the tobacco industry in the vein of one of my favourite films, Wag the Dog. Aaron Eckhart is the Mattias Norstrom (obscure reference there) of Hollywood–one of the most underrated actors in the league. The supporting cast is great as well, with some creative and unlikely casting choices (Rob Lowe is enormously funny). My one complaint–I never fully understood where Eckhart’s character stood on tobacco–the movie studiously ignored that question. Regardless, a funny and thoughtful film. Something to look for: how many people actually smoke in this film?
Slither – 6/10 – It’s a gooey, gross comedy-horror flick, and it’s pretty amusing. There are all the usual elements–asteroid plummets to earth, girl in distress, brave town sheriff, gooey squid monster in the woods and so on. Nathan Fillian is great as the sheriff, and Elizabeth Banks (see also Catch Me if You Can) makes a decent female lead. Unfortunately, the film never found an audience.
Lucky Number Slevin – 7.5/10 – A cousin to Pulp Fiction, this film’s as much a ‘what’s going on’ film as a who-dunnit. The cast is fantastic. Supporting roles include Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello. I expected to be disappointed by Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu, two actors whose work I’ve never cared for. That said, they didn’t embarrass themselves. The film’s plot is actually pretty predictable, but it’s an enjoyable ride. Plus, the set design is gorgeous.
Brick – 8.5/10 – In film noir, trouble always starts with a blonde. Brick is no exception. Rian Johnson’s directorial debut is a mashup of film noir and high school life. The dialogue is pure thirties noir, but the settings are high school parking lots and suburban basements. It’s a gimmick, but a highly effective one. The film’s aesthetic reminded me of Ghostworld or Better Luck Tomorrow–Anywhere, Suburban America. The performances are pretty sound–I instantly fell in love with Nora Zehetner, who plays the femme fatale. The lead, if you can imagine, is the 24-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt, most recognizable as the sass-mouthed youngest child from Third Rock from the Sun.
The Sentinel – 4/10 – Old-school political thriller, with little tension and a predictable conclusion. Michael Douglas is 62, looks 70, and is about 10 years too old for this role. Are there really 62-year-olds actively protecting the President? Eva Longoria is another charisma-free zone. She doesn’t so much light up the screen as conceal seams in the backdrops.
Stick It – 1.5/10 – I know, I should be ashamed. The wife and I went hoping for some campy fun, a la Bring It On (“it’s already been broughten”). Alas, I’ve seen better acting, writing and direction from an 8th grade improv group. It’s astonishing that they green lighted the script, and more astounding that they didn’t halt production when they saw the dailies. I was convinced that most of the cast were actual gymnasts–thus explaining their incredibly poor acting. As it turns out, most of them weren’t gymnasts, and the actual gymnasts offered the (relatively speaking) best performances. And how big a bet did Jeff Bridges lose? My shame in seeing this film was only increased when I ran into Gillian and Sue in the lobby afterwards, and I had to admit my sin.
Hard Candy – 9/10 – A gripping, closed-room psychological thriller with fantastic acting. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson offer great performances, making fully-realized, truthful characters out of potential stereotypes. The direction is dead-on, using narrow focus and small rooms to achieve an original, claustrophobic look and feel. Aside from the implausible premise and a couple clunkers, the script is tight and pacey. It’s a hard film to watch, and I’d recommend reading a couple other reviews before seeing this one. Interestingly, there are literally five people in the cast.
Mission Impossible 3 – 5.5/10 – Is there a more earnest actor in contemporary cinema than Tom Cruise? He’s so…so…heartfelt. Regardless, this is unquestionably the best of the three films. The scale is smaller, the stakes are more personal and most importantly, the plot is comprehensible. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as always, was a joy to watch. And you know what? Keri Russell can handle the pistols.
Poseidon – 6.5/10 – A huge, unabashed, straight-ahead, we’re-in-a-flipped-cruise-ship thriller. There’s nothing really wrong with it, and what you see is definitely what you get. It’s entertaining to play ‘which of the rag tag group dies next’. With the exception of the opening sequence, there’s a refreshing absence of CG effects.
Akeelah and the Bee – 7/10 – An engaging film with a good if predictable story and fantastic acting from the leads. Mind you, you’re better off spending two hours with the excellent Spellbound. Still, it’s a rare positive African American film that gets seen by a large audience.
Friends with Money – 8/10 – A fantastic script, full of truth. And, of course, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener are such fine actors. Jennifer Anniston, on the other hand, is not. My only major complaint was the screen time that the male characters received in the film. They were more than just token males, but they didn’t get enough time to become fully-fledged characters.
United 93 – 9.5/10 – An incredibly hard movie to watch, but exceptionally done. You’ll never see a less sentimenal disaster movie. I’ve also seen Paul Greengrass’s excellent Omagh, about a bombing in Northern Ireland. Both films combine an intense anticipation with a visceral, unflinching documentary style. I can’t confirm it, but the film felt impeccably researched.
X-Men: The Last Stand – 6.5/10 – A worthwhile if unoriginal third film from this franchise. After Stewart and McKellen, the acting quality is mixed. The movie started well enough, but seemed to get muddled in the second half and staggered to a tepid finish. There are much better, edgier stories to tell in the X-men’s world–hopefully future films will feature them.
The Proposition – 7/10 – A violent, Australian western that’s half Unforgiven and half Heart of Darkness. The surreal feel of the movie’s outback scenes also reminded me, oddly, of sections of the Last Temptation of Christ. Guy Pierce is excellent as the scraggly anti-hero, and John Hurt steals both of his scenes. The script and music–both by Nick Cave–were clunky in places, but all in all the most enjoyable western I’ve seen in years.
The Break-Up – 4/10 – The more I think about this movie, the less I like it. The trailer is quite misleading, as the movie isn’t a simple romantic comedy. There isn’t enough humour, and the emotion of the dramatic scenes is too intense. As for the film itself, the two leads were playing such typical Vaughn and Anniston characters that they might as well have been playing themselves. Unfortunately, they had precious little onscreen chemistry. Ultimately, the movie didn’t know what it wanted to be, and the performers and script failed to deliver.
Cars – 8.5/10 – Why does there seem to be more truth and entertainment in animated films than live action ones these days? Gorgeous animation, great characters, and a clever plot. I really appreciated how they wove in the theme of the death of small town America without it being heavy-handed. Fun, as they say, for the whole family.
Superman Returns – 5.5/10 – So earnest. Way too earnest for 2006, if you ask me. Bryan Singer is a great storytelling director, but there wasn’t much new here to excite me. Singer, as far as I could tell, didn’t have anything original to say about the character. Kate Bosworth was miserably miscast, but Parker Posey, as always, was a joy to watch. I have some further thoughts on why the film isn’t great.
An Inconvenient Truth – 7/10 – The film is essentially a table play–a lecture at the cinema. It’s a compelling lecture, and a stunning sales pitch for Apple’s Keynote, but that’s what it is. Gore is a charismatic, self-effacing speaker, and (having delivered the talk over a thousand times) knows his material very well. He does a very good job of dumbing down the science, which I appreciated.Nacho Libre – 4.5/10 – I wanted to enjoy this movie more than I did. Despite its exotic setting at an orphanage in rural Mexico, its formula is very similar to the director’s previous effort, Napoleon Dynamite: goofy misfit with ridiculous sidekick struggles against ridicule to achieve some peculiar public goal. Like Napoleon, it was amusing without being fall-out-of-your-seat funny. There’s nothing really not to like about the film, but I instantly forgot it when I left the theatre.
A Scanner Darkly – 6/10 – I did not, on the other hand, forget A Scanner Darkly. The film’s visual style is fascinating and quite hypnotic, and I feel like I need to watch the film again to separate its presentation from its content a little more clearly. Everyone likes to diss Keanu Reeves, but I think he’s an adequate ‘straight man’ most of the time. Unfortunately, Winona Ryder was less adequate. Robert Downey Jr., on the other hand, was at his manic best. Technically speaking this is a science fiction film, but it’s really a film about addiction.
The Devil Wears Prada – 5/10 – Every establishing shot in this film starts with the feet and pans up. I assume that this is because much of the audience is here mostly to see the shoes. It’s an innocuous film, and got me thinking of Robert Altman’s much weirder film about the fashion industry, Pret a Porter. The three leads–Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci–are all good actors, so it’s a watchable-enough film. I’m pretty skeptical about the fashion industry, and was bemused by the accolades the film laid on it.
Who Killed the Electric Car – 5/10 – It’s a pity that this film followed An Inconvenient Truth so closely in release. It doesn’t stand up well to comparison. It’s a very ordinary documentary, and I’m not sure it tells the right story. Far too much time is dedicated to a protest by electric car owners who have to give back their cars. Frankly, I sat in the theatre laughing because these people were so ridiculously passionate about their motor vehicles. Also, I didn’t think they gave enough context for the emergence of the hybrid.
Clerks 2 – 7/10 – It’s been a long time since I saw Clerks. Unlike many of my (mostly male) peers, I didn’t think it’s a staggering work of genius. It was an offbeat, ribald, entertaining film that made me laugh a lot. That pretty much goes for all of Kevin Smith’s movies, and Clerks 2 is no exception. I have recently been more impressed with Rosario Dawson’s work–I think she’s really grown as an actress recently.
My Super-Ex Girlfriend – 3/10 – So lame. Nobody (the cast, director, writer, and so forth) seems to be trying very hard. It’s the most ordinary movie about super-powered people that I’ve ever seen. Takes all the fun out of superheroes and all the fun out of dating. It’s worse sin is that it was remotely funny.
Miami Vice – 6.5/10 – Michael Mann is a talented filmmaker, and there’s lots to like and look at in Miami Vice, but it left me feeling a little empty. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Colin Farrell, and he’s at his broodiest as Sonny Crockett. The action sequences are great, but I didn’t really see the point of the grainy video format. The film resembled the TV show in name only.
Little Miss Sunshine – 7.5/10 – It’s a wacky family roadtrip flick, kind of Vacation meets The Family Stone. There’s a lot of truth in the script and performances (Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell are particularly good), and the film has both hilarious and heart-breaking moments. I found that there was a real shift in tone in the third act of Little Miss Sunshine, and that was a bit unsettling. Still, a great, small summer movie.
Half-Nelson – 7.5/10 – A terrific performance from Ryan Gosling. It’s unpredictable, which I appreciated, and not your average teacher-and-student movie, but it didn’t really stick in my memory.
The Illusionist – 5/10 – A careless period piece starring great actors. I could watch Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti say prime numbers to one another, and that’s what redeems this film. I say ‘careless’ because the plot was predictable, the accents were only vaguely Germanic, and the dialogue was full of anachronisms. It also irked me that a number of the magic tricks were rendered with CG as opposed to mechanical solutions. This felt like cheating, and most of the tricks were doable the old-fasioned way (especially with the aid of editing). Jessica Biel has a peculiar beauty, and her work wasn’t nearly as intolerable as I’ve found it in other films.
Accepted – 3/10 – It’s an innocuous, only slightly funny teen movie. It couldn’t decide if it wanted to be American Pie or The Breakfast Club, and didn’t take a single risk in the plot. I liked the premise (slacker high school grads invent their own college) but it was executed in a profoundly ordinary way. Justin Long will be eternally known as “that guy in the Apple ads”.
Trust the Man – 6/10 – What a waste of a great cast. David Duchovny, Billy Crudup, Maggie Gillenhaal and Julianne Moore are really fine actors, but they had a particularly average script. They play New Yorkers struggling with neuroticism (the women) and Peter Pan complexes (the men). There’s some interesting themes here (has feminism emasculated men?), but director Bart Freundlich opted for site gags and a fairytale ending.
The Last Kiss – 7/10 – It’s rare that I’m surprised by a film’s tone, but that was the case with The Last Kiss. Zach Braff (of Scrubs and Garden State fame) stars in a film that’s much more serious than I originally thought. In many ways, the movie feels like Garden State five years later, when Largeman and Sam are considering having kids and settling down. The OC’s Rachel Bilson is undeniably hot, but she struggled in her performance as the young vixen (where’s Anna Paquin when you need her?). Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson are fantastic as baby boomer parents with some unresolved issues.
The Black Dahlia – 3/10 – Why is Hollywood so in love with itself? LA Confidential, Hollywoodland, Mullholand Drive–the movies about the movies are coming fast and furious. This one was a dreadful, messy, inscrutable characteriture of the excellent LA Confidential. Scarlett Johannson is mediocre at the best of times, but she was pretty awful (yet awful pretty) in this movie. Aaron Eckhart seemed to be starring in a movie all by himself, and Hilary Swank looked a bit uncomfortable playing a character at the top-end of the social scale for a change.
The Departed – 9/10 – Martin Scorsese reminds us that he’s one of the best directors on the planet, and probably the best at telling violent stories. The cast is huge, and provide great performances from top to bottom. Scorsese shoots Jack Nicholson mostly in shadow for the first five minutes of the film, as if encouraging the audience to forget what they know about the iconic actor. Nicholson offers an Oscar quality performance, and Dicaprio’s work isn’t far behind. Scorsese keeps the plot moving and manages the ensemble effortlessly–we’re never unclear about characters’ loyalties or plot developments. More people are shot in the head in this movie than any film in recent memory. Definitely one of the top five films I’ve seen this year.
Fearless – 6.5/10 – Jet Li’s last Wushu martial arts epic! That’s a lot of qualifiers, but never mind. I’ve always enjoyed Li’s boyish quality and apparent humility onscreen. He’s never going to win any Oscars, and he knows it. This film plays to his strengths, with extraordinary fight sequences and a minimum of emoting. The setting–turn of the century China–is gorgeous. Sure, it follows the conventions of martial arts movies popular in the West, but there are worse ways to spent two hours and ten bucks.
Man of the Year – 3/10 – A miserable, lifeless, unfunny film and a waste of Laura Linney’s talents. I had high hopes, having really enjoyed director Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog. Instead, we get a shoddy, two-hour lousy combination of The West Wing and Sneakers, complete with left wing elitism and smugness.
The Prestige – 7.5/10 – Rival magicians wage a lifelong war against each other in this smartly-directed period film. In his follow-up to the enjoyable Batman Begins and Insomnia, director Christopher Nolan continues to demonstrate a strong visual style. The cast is generally very good, though once again Scarlett Johansson is wooden (if nice to look at). It’s a tad predictable in the end, but I definitely enjoyed it more than the other magic movie of the summer, The Illusionist.
Babel – 9/10 – I’m a sucker for loose narrative, slightly abstracted, path-of-the-butterfly-connections films like Magnolia or Crash. So, I really enjoyed Babel, which is less heavy-handed than either of those other films. The performances are excellent (Cate Blanchett is such a fine actress), the cinematography feels fresh and the plots are blissfully unpredictable. It’s one major flaw is that it’s relentless and relentlessly serious. Truly great movies give you a chance to laugh and catch your breath along the way. That said, I really, really enjoyed Babel.
Shortbus – 7/10 – Explicit sex! There’s Sook Yin Lee’s hoohah! Sorry, just had to get that out of the way. This is the third mainstream film I’ve seen with the graphic sex, and it’s way better than the other two (Lie With Me and 9 Songs). That said, it’s no masterpiece. It’s kind of like Rent–a bunch of New Yorkers seek meaning and connection in the big city–if you replace the songs with sex. I must credit the BC Film Classification board, who made a very rational decision in giving this film an R rating.
Fast Food Nation – 5.5/10 – It’s kind of a polemic, more about the messages than telling a story. I’d read the book, so there wasn’t a lot for me to discover in the movie. There are some truly repulsive scenes of factory farming, and you won’t be going to McDonald’s afterwards, but it’s a pretty mediocre movie.
The Last King of Scotland – 9/10 – Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin penetrates every scene of this film–even those he doesn’t appear in. We watch this movie through the lens of Uganda’s history (and more recent events in neighhbouring Rwanda). The film’s plot isn’t particularly remarkable, but I do like the moral ambiguity that’s so present in the movie. Whitaker’s performance is probably the best I’ve seen this year, and he ought to be a lock for an Oscar.
Casino Royale – 7.5/10 – It’s too long by about 20 minutes, but it looks great. Daniel Craig is a little too brooding and not wry enough for my taste, but he’s a convincing assasin. Eva Green is, well, very, very watchable. As for the film’s length, there was way, way too much card playing. I forget where I heard this, but somebody pointed out that the poker scenes are all about the cards when they should be about the players. Also, I think this badboy set a new record for most product placements.
Van Wilder 2: Rise of the Taj – 3/10 – What can I say, the first one was pretty funny. Kal Penn is a great actor, but it’s an unfunny movie and trades on all the usual stereotypes.
Blood Diamond – 9.5/10 – A really great film, with world class performances from everybody. It’s thrillingly high-paced yet still has plenty to say about Africa at the end of the millenium. Leonardo DiCaprio has always been a great actor, but I felt like he finally was a man, instead of a boy playing a man.The film also has a few moments of levity, which was Babel’s only real failing. If you see one film this month, see this one.
Apocalypto – 7.5/10 – You’ve seen all the scenes in Apocalypto before–the pastoral village before the raid, the rowsing, bloodthirsty speech to the plebs, the run through the jungle–but you’ve never seen them look like this. The film is set in the final days of the Mayan empire, and it’s worth the price of admission just for the incredible (and not unnecessarily showy, as in the Peter Jackson school) scenes in the Mayan city. It’s a typical Mel Gibson epic, all about redemption and vengeance. The movie also has a very strong environmental theme. The performances are more athletic than artistic, as there’s little dialogue and a great deal of running.
The Good Shepherd – 8.5/10 – It’s a long, complex movie about the emergence of the CIA, but it’s neither boring nor difficult to follow. Matt Damon’s character is an emotional void who struggles with mixed loyalties to his country and his family. There are a half-dozen great performances, including director Robert De Niro and Tammy Blanchard.