Well, as 2006 closes out it's time to look back at the Top 20 Movies that made me realize why I am lucky to work in the industry I do. Sure, I get that feeling when I cover certain theatrical releases, DVDs, or conduct interviews with talent, but for a pure, unbridled, uncorrupted experience, there's nothing like going to a movie theater, sitting down and seeing another film that makes me fall in love with cinema all over again.Movie Picture#1 Rocky Balboa
Immediately this film disarmed people by openly admitting that Rocky shouldn't be fighting. Then, Rocky even admits that he shouldn't be fighting the current champ. So what does that leave? Well, a deeply human story about age, getting older, and dealing with the situations that life throws at us. From the opening strains of the old school "Take It Back" by Frank Stallone, to the emotional moments of Rocky deciding to get back in the ring, to the final Pay Per View-styled fight that is this film's climax, everything about Rocky Balboa makes it a worthy admission into this fistic franchise. In this, the final chapter, Rocky proves that the old dog still has some tricks it his sleeve.
Nobody makes films like Martin Scorsese. Period. To see this movie as simply a return to the director's previous gangster forays, is to easily dismiss just what a layered and updated tale this is. Focusing on Irish gangsters, this star packed film is infused with the kind of gritty action, and thick dialogue that has been co-opted by other street tales of late. Not for one moment does it feel like we are seeing a director out of his element. In 2004, Clint Eastwood upended Scorsese at the Oscars with a special interest film posing as a boxing movie. This year it seems like Scorsese will finally get a best director statue for making the kind of film it seems he has shied away from for over a a decade.
Few movies depict Orange County as anything other than a candy coated pastiche of beaches, babes, and boardwalks. Set in the often ignored city of Anaheim and focusing on a drug called Substance D, we get to see the War on Drugs fought in a post 9/11 world. Nobody trusts anybody, the drug makes the characters loopy, confused, and paranoid (among other things), and to top this all off, some of the police work in shapeshifting suits so that nobody knows who anybody is. However, this movie never spirals out of control, it doesn't beat you over the head with imagery, it just simply touches on the complexity of the drug issue. Few films can be visceral, entertaining, and thought provoking yet A Scanner Darkly manages to do it all.
Sadly, the most important film of the year barely got released. This movie follows the band System Of a Down as they continue to spread the word about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Woven into this is how it was ignored and the ultimate effects this had on places like Germany in the 1940s, and in areas like Rwanda and throughout the world. We even see how ignoring groups of people simply for self interests such as money can lead to things like 9/11. The impact of all this is further illustrated by the band's musical performances which, despite what I may think of their music, drives home their points with a great deal of passion. Screamers is the kind of film you should see whenever you can.
Yet another movie that isn't filled with huge stars or special effects, just a simple story about being in your 30s and growing up, so of course it gets put out in 3 three theaters and then must claw for a place at the DVD table. Edward Burns has made one of the few films that I really feel speaks to my generation. Sure, these guys are a little older than me, but their dreams, hopes, desires, and musical influences are right in line with everything I could want from a movie like this. Something happens to people as they get older, it's hard to put into words but they change. This film is an examination of that.
The cynics and lizards in the audience will see a film like World Trade Center and scoff at it's accuracy. They will question whether or not the events really happened this way, and they will look for any and all ways to say that this movie is a piece of American propaganda. However, with Oliver Stone at the helm, what was created was a film that captured how this country, despite all our differences, managed to come together and heal as one nation after the awful tragedy of September 11th.
What could have been a ponderous film about magic and trickery is actually about two men who love their craft more than anything (or anyone) else in the world. Told in a hackneyed style that moves back and forth between time periods, by the time the movie ends you realize you've been in on one of the most innovative cinematic tricks that came out in the past year.
Mel Gibson has had one helluva year. After "the incident" in Malibu, it seemed like he was going to be a Hollywood pariah forever. Well, Tinseltown has a short memory, and the fact that Apocalypto is one of the more visually stunning and ambitious films of the year certainly doesn't hurt. Told with very little dialogue, I sadly think we are going to remember this film more in 20 years for the filmic achievement it was, rather than the controversy that surrounded it.
Playing like 2 hours of TiVo from the History Channel, this movie is a bitingly, satirical look at the issue of race in this country. Sadly, despite the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it doesn't seem like a lot has changed for Black People in this country. This film slyly shows how no matter what gains seem to have been achieved, there always seems to be a price that is more detrimental than it is supplemental. A movie like
You will not be able to watch the old Superman shows the same way again. The big buzz was the fact that Ben Affleck let himself go to play the role of George Reeves. What should have been discussed was the visual style and flair that director Allen Coulter brought to this project. Playing like a noir film of the likes we don't see much of nowadays, I personally was more intrigued by everyone else's story than I was with the one that Ben Affleck embodied. Adrien Brody gives yet another stand out performance as an opportunistic private investigator that starts caring about Reeves' mysterious death despite himself.
It is pretty much agreed that the best movie about the life of Charles Bukowski is Barfly. Or, if you want to really get to the meat and potatoes just watch John Dullaghan's extraordinary documentary Bukowski: Born Into This. However, if you want a funny take on the Bukowski alter ego Henry Chinaski, you could do a lot worse than Matt Dillon's inspired performance in Factotum. The marketers of this film took the comedic route and tried to focus on Chinaski's inability to hold a job. What they should have done was focus on this characters inability to hold on to a life that didn't allow him time the to write.
Few horror films today make the kind of statements that the ones from the 1970s did. Filled with lots of gore and naked women, at first glance Eli Roth's movie seems like an experiment in exploitation. However, at it's core is a tale of American's traveling abroad and doing whatever they like because they are in a foreign land. Where Hostel turns things up a notch is in it's ability to show how that behavior does have consequences, and people need to be responsible for all their actions.
Movie Picture#13 Twelve and Holding
-Michael Cuesta's tale of youth shines like a beacon of hope for the flailing independent film scene. The fact that this tale of three 12 year olds dealing with death (forget about distribution, of which there was very little) could even get made, really gives hope that maybe independent voices can be heard and even championed despite all signs pointing to the contrary. So heart wrenching are so many aspects of this film, it almost begs to be watched again so that every layer can be analyzed. This is one of the great films of the 21st Century.
M. Night Shyamalan is a victim of the press who praised his genius. I honestly feel if this movie was his second film, and The Sixth Sense took this one's place in the director's oeuvre, everyone would be talking about what a colossal misstep that was for both the director and Bruce Willis. As it stands, this current tale about coming together, combining your strengths with others to make something bigger than yourself, is seen as a director being a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Years from now, people will look back at this film and wonder how come it was so underappreciated when Shyamalan first gave it to us.
I honestly believe you can watch one James Bond movie every 10 years and not miss a beat. Afterall, the story doesn't change too much. He's a secret agent, he gets beautiful women, he operates with a lot of capital, and he gets to drive cool cars that are all a form of product placement. That said, the action, writing, and overall style of this film is almost kinetic in regards to how this "reboot" translates to the big screen. There are few movies that contain as much mesmerizing action as Casino Royale does in it's first 10 minutes.
Initially I shied away from what looked like a low budget movie with a bunch of big budget actors who were slumming. Everyone kept telling me how good this movie was and all that did was make me want to see it less. Well, when I finally sat down to watch this film, I don't recall that I had laughed that much in a long time. We see movies that are supposed to be funny and oftentimes they are not. Little Miss Sunshine is one of those treats that delivers both the comedy and the tragedy in a startlingly honest way.
Until Rocky Balboa, Monster House was the only movie I had seen two times in the movie theater this year. This tale of DJ, Chowder and Jenny doing battle with a nefarious house as Halloween looms in the background, is made all the more touching by the characters openly questioning if they are too old for the holiday itself.
Playing at times like a poorly shot documentary with bad sound, Michael Mann continues to be the only director who can have such respectable flops that his career is unaffected. This movie moves at it's own pace, with it's own style, at times in it's own language, and if the audience can keep up that makes things even better. If not, you will probably fall off from this film about 20 minutes in. Still, Mann has given us a new kind of buddy/action movie. It may not be as warm and fuzzy as we would like, but it is certainly one that gets us thinking.
While the summation that nothing really good came from punk music after 1986 is bit daft, I loved this film because it finally shows punk rock for what it is. While politics were looming, the majority of people who got involved with this scene did so because this music spoke to them. This film examines a time when punk music was dirty, dangerous, and you couldn't go to the mall to get your punk look because they wouldn't let you in the mall dressed the way most punk rockers dressed. And, as is the case with most musical movements, this one also shows the vagaries of positioning yourself too heavily on one or both sides of the political spectrum.
About 40 minutes into this movie I declared out loud, "This is a great film." This tale of true friendship unfolding in Queens resonated a little deeper with me because, had my parents not moved me to California when I was four, I could have had a life similar to Dito Montiel's. The fact that I also got into punk rock and had friends like Montiel had was another fact not lost on me. At it's soul, this movie is about a guy who, in order to live, had to break free from the people who both loved and suffocated him. Sadly, this was another movie that didn't get the type of release it deserved.