Ever since I started writing for MovieWeb back in the summer of 2003, I've always wanted to do one of those snazzy Top 10 deals at the end of the year. You know, put my offical rubber stamp on the year. Hell, maybe even get one of those fancy critic quotes on a DVD like our own Stephen Chupnick did on the DVD for Accepted. Good job Stephen... lucky bastard. But, the reason I never actually DID a Top 10 of any year is because, well, I don't live in the most diverse of cinematic environments. The one theater in my southeastern Minnesota town doesn't seem to care that I don't want to see animated flicks or family fare for virtually the entire year. It's much better in my hometown in the suburban Twin Cities, two hours away, with 20-screen theaters aplenty and even an arthouse here and there. But, even as big of a movie freak as I am, even I wouldn't take a two-hour trip just to see a movie... not yet anyway. Still, I did see my fair share of flicks in 2006, so here are my Top 10 flicks, in order, of this past year.
So, what does that tell you, eh? What it should tell you, aside from me being one of the few that really liked The Black Dahlia, is that I live a life of fairly mainstream cinema. It's pretty sad, really. I put that little "(sort of)" thing at the end of the headline because these are my Top 10 flicks as of right this moment. I live in a little corner of Minnesota and I never got to see The Queen or Little Children or Babel and I probably won't get to see them until they hit the DVD shelves. The main Top 10 award so far are the flicks up for Best Picture at the Golden Globes (Drama and Musical or Comedy). Out of those 10 flicks, only one, The Departed was shown in more than 3,000 theaters in any time during its run, although Dreamgirls should hit wide fairly soon, with the scratch it's bringing in. In fact, only one more flick in MY top 10 was released in more than 3,000 theaters, Casino Royale. It seems that the gap between what's popular with audiences and critics or academies seems to be widening, even though business at least appears to be picking up.
According to an article here on MovieWeb, 2006 was an improving year at the box office as it finished 3.4% ahead of last year's take. Before that sounds too impressive, 2005 was one of the worst years in recent box office memory. The take from 2005 was a 6.2% decline from 2004, marking the first year since 1991 that there was a decline at the box office from the previous year. And that nifty little 3.4% increase I just mentioned, well, volume certainly has something to do with that as well. There were exactly 600 movies released in 2006, the most in history and some 56 more movies than 2005. In 2004, there were 49 fewer movies released than in 2006, and still those 551 movies outgrossed 2006's tally by over $200 million. Sure, technically it was an up year. But the fact remains that they're still about 3% behind the last, dare I say normal year cinematic year in 2004, and to achieve this they had to release about 50 more flicks a year than previously necessary. So sure, call it an "up" year if it makes the studios feel better, but the reality of the numbers seem to be singing an entirely different tune.
Of those 50 more flicks they put out this year, it seemed that they were either of animated or family fare and, expect for the blockbuster summer season, it was pretty damn hard, in my neck of the nation, to go to the theater on any given Friday and find a movie that appeals to me. I saw fewer movies at the theater this year than probably any year in the last, oh five or six years. While the quality of flicks certainly does seem to be a major issue here, the main reason I didn't go to the movies as much this year is because a pretty big majority of the movies of 2006 were not aimed at my demographic. It seemed that the success of the Shrek franchise had breathed life into animation houses everywhere, with hardly a week or two going by without some sort of animated flick showing up at my local theater. All the super-saturated releases of 3,500 theaters or more almost all went to those flicks who pandered to families with youngsters and such, except for the action blockbusters of the summer, of course. It seemed that anything different, or catering to people who can get into R-rated movies, got the shaft with the theater count. One of the flicks I really wanted to see this holiday season was Blood Diamond, with all its buzz and award-favorite stars Leonardo DiCaprio and the marvelously underrated Djimon Hounsou. Of course, I couldn't see it because it received a terrible rollout, I thought, of just 1,900 theaters, even slated in a prime mid-December release date! Of course, it didn't make jack for dough and, of course, the next weekend there was little Charlotte's Web with it's big fat 3,500-theater rollout. The animated and family flicks all seem to automatically Pass Go and collect 3,000 theaters and tons of marketing, while anything that might need adult comprehension is handled apprehensively, given barely any marketing, and left to deal with that little cop and his whistle on the other side of the spectrum. I'm just not liking where this is heading, folks.
Now we're in full award-season mode with nominations and critics circle awards being thrown at us so fast we can barely keep them straight. And by we, I mean the people like me who snatch up all the movie info we can handle. I have no idea what it must be like for John and Jane Q. America to open the entertainment section of the newspaper these days. Headlines flashing Babel or The Queen or Little Children garnering such-and-such nominations each. Most people likely have never heard of the flicks before, let alone seen them, or would know why they're up for such awards. I write for a movie website, and I really don't know either, for all three of them. Remember a few years ago when Chris Rock hosted the Oscars? He did that little bit at some mall where barely any of these regular folks saw any of the nominated flicks... but they all saw White Chicks. That whole segment would seem to ring quite true today, even moreso perhaps. I would have to predict that this year's Oscar telecast will be among the lowest rated in history, simply because the American public generally won't have a clue about almost all of the nominated flicks. If it keeps going at this rate, with publicly-popular movies and critically-popular movies at such far lengths apart, that the Oscar's on TV will be relegated to only the pre and post shows, where we can all see the pretty dresses and suits, but won't have to watch 3 hours of awards for movies we know nothing about. That'll be the day...
2006 will be talked about as a year that was great for the business side, but terrible for the artistic side, and, I've gotta tell you folks, it really wasn't that great in either aspect. Superman Returns, probably one of the most over-hyped and over-marketed flicks in recent history, was the 5th highest grossing movie of the year at just over $200 million... and it LOST $70 million. Clerks II, marvelously done and marketed, was the 101st highest grossing movie of the year at $24 million... and it MADE $19 million. The entertainment dollar that all Americans brandish and all studios want is becoming more elusive and picky, popping its green back up in surprising places, and not showing up in more surprising places. Perhaps its that cunning and elusiveness of the American entertainment dollar that might actually do some good in Hollywood.
Maybe they'll realize that throwing 50 more flicks out a year won't really do much good and maybe they'll realize that just because Shrek 2 made almost $450 million two years ago, that doesn't mean that any animated idea will generate the same sort of revenue. Just because Happy Feet and March of the Penguins were both successful flicks about penguins, that doesn't mean that America has caught Penguin Fever. The focus on trends in Hollywood really must be curbed so that instead of looking for an idea to put in this little shell of a trend, they can just focus on looking at, you know, good god-damn ideas. I know it sounds crazy, but this sort of thinking might actually lead to a $200 million-grossing movie that wins Best Picture and a slew of other little gold men. It happened once, remember? The highest domestic total of all-time and tied for the most Oscar wins of all-time. Remember? God forbid it should ever happen again (without James Cameron hopefully). Yeah, maybe I want my cake and maybe I want to eat it too. But maybe I've just been hungry for too damn long...