eKC feature
January 12, 2007

 


Best and Worst Films of 2006
by Russ Simmons and Deborah Young

In 2005, a drop in box office revenue stunned the Hollywood establishment. Many people speculated on the various reasons, including the rising popularity of DVDs, the Internet, video games, etc. But a sharp upturn in 2006 showed the truth. If you make movies that people want to see, they’ll come.

And come they did. The Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest was the top draw of the year, taking in an astonishing $423 million dollars in the U.S. and over a billion dollars worldwide. It is the third biggest hit of all time. Other popular titles included Cars, X-Men: The Last Stand and The Da Vinci Code. The only R-rated flick to make it into the top 15 was the wacky practical joke of a movie, Borat.

Locally, we saw a couple of old venues refurbished. One is The Leawood Theatres at 95th and Mission Road in the previous location of the Ranchmart Theatres. Restored by Brian and Ben Mossman who also run The Rio and The Glenwood Arts, it plays mainstream, family oriented fare. In downtown Kansas City, Kansas, Butch Rigby has painstakingly restored The Granada, one of the area’s old time movie palaces. Although it opened by showing English language films subtitled in Spanish, it now shows regular Hollywood releases.

Robert Altman, the KC born and raised filmmaker who filmed part of his 1996 film, Kansas City at The Granada, died at the age of 81. Earlier in the year, he was honored with an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The IMAX screen at the Kansas City Zoo reopened after initially announcing that it had lost its contract to show giant-screen movies. Although it has struggled for years to find an audience, Zoo officials hope to turn things around before the contract comes up for renewal later in the year.

While there were no ‘great’ movies to open in 2006, there were a lot of good ones to go along with the bad. So, here are our picks for the best of the film lot as well as the cinematic dreck.


Russ Simmons
BEST:

UNITED 93
Is it too soon? That was the common question as this harrowing reenactment of the events of September 11, 2001 came to the big screen. It offers an ultra-realistic recreation one of the darkest days in American history, providing viewers a surrogate memory of the anguishing details.

What is most remarkable about United 93 is its exactness. This movie is achingly real. Director Paul Greengrass achieves authenticity by using hand-held cameras and using actual transcripts of phone conversations, cockpit transmissions, ground control documents and military records whenever possible. He also has a number of people play themselves, including the actual air traffic controllers, FAA officials and military personnel who were involved in the events that day.

Greengrass knows that when you have something this big, it is best to let the events speak for themselves. In this regard, United 93 is astonishingly eloquent.

DREAMGIRLS
Okay, it ain’t great drama, but this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical has panache and pizzazz to spare. Set in the early 1960s, it is a fictionalized account of a Supremes-style singing group and their soap opera relationship with their Svengali mentor. While Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Beyoncé Knowles lead the cast, it is American Idol reject Jennifer Hudson that steals the show with her knockout supporting performance.

THE QUEEN
Helen Mirren gives the performance of the year as Queen Elizabeth during the trying aftermath of the tragic death of Princess Diana. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Queen is that it is quite moving. Mirren carries the film with her realistic performance, but Michael Sheen is also impressive as Tony Blair, the man who tried to bridge the gap between the queen and her people

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
Former Vice President Al Gore, with a traveling PowerPoint presentation to aid him, travels from city to city to make his case that global warming is a real threat to humanity. Stark, honest and undeniably frightening, An Inconvenient Truth is a wake-up call that people of all political persuasions should heed.

WORLD TRADE CENTER
Filmmaker Oliver Stone puts aside the politics and conspiracy theories for this
Beautifully produced and often touching ,it’s is a respectful, sober and honorable film that tells a sweeping story by focusing on a simple one. The only thing that World Trade Center seems to have in common with other Stone films is that it is riveting cinema. It is a tough movie to watch, but it’s also a genuinely moving celebration of the human spirit.

Honorable mention:
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS/LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, THE DEPARTED, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, BOBBY.


WORST:

FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS
This colossally pretentious bore stars Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr. in a fantasy about the famed fashion photographer and her romance with a hirsute neighbor. Filmmaker Steven Shainberg (The Secretary) is a talented artist and shows a lot of guts in tackling this material in such an odd way. Sadly it is a cinematic experiment gone woefully bad.

As the old cliché says, you’re only as good as you dare to be bad, and, boy, they really dared.

THE BLACK DAHLIA.
Director Brian DePalma (Dressed to Kill) has a dominant sleaze gene and it comes out once again in this silly, unintentionally funny adaptation of James Ellroy’s sordid novel. Although the cast tries hard, DePalma’s sledgehammer style overpowers the material and turns it into an inadvertent farce. You can chalk it up as a near miss, a goofy sleazefest or a turgid melodrama. Whatever The Black Dahlia is, it’s vintage DePalma.

BASIC INSTINCT 2
Sharon Stone goes back to the well for this remake of her lurid 1992 thriller…and finds it empty. She returns as femme fatale , heiress and crime novelist Catherine Davis, this time plying her trade in London. One can sum it up in three words: Basically it stinks.

ULTRAVIOLET
The most impressive accomplishment of this sci-fi opus is that the filmmakers managed to make Milla Jovovich in skimpy attire seem boring. Ultraviolet is a vampire thriller set in the near future…and the movie will undoubtedly be forgotten in the near future.

ANNAPOLIS
This one plays like they tried to cross Rocky with Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman. The movie that emerges is a ‘by-the-numbers’, formula flick that shamelessly and clumsily steals from other, better movies. It is strictly for action fans who don’t demand that their movies have originality or credibility

Dishonorable mention:
THE OMEN
, PHAT GIRLZ, DATE MOVIE, SILENT HILL, TURISTAS.

Russ Simmons can be contacted at rs8155@aol.com.


Deborah Young
BEST:

UNITED 93
The title of this film is a bit deceiving. United 93 doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the backgrounds of the passengers or the events on the plane. It reveals little of the passengers’ personalities. Instead, this moving recreation of events surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks focuses on the air traffic control industry’s technical nightmares and the confusion created by the events of that day.

What makes this film great is writer/director Paul Greengrass’s attention to detail. United 93 takes a realistic look inside the airline industry, including scenes that dramatize the connections between civilian and military air traffic control.

The film also recreates the ambiance of September 11. At the time, Americans didn’t have a clue about what was going on. Plane hijackings were seen as a thing of the past, and a suicide mission with planes was unimaginable. The movie captures that general confusion, throwing in telling details such as erroneous news reports that a small plane had hit the first World Trade Center tower.

Not only moving and tasteful, United 93 documents the historical event with enough accuracy to make it relevant for years to come.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
What this film lacks in special effects and dramatic techniques it makes up for with startling facts, figures and telling pictures. It doesn’t seem possible that a nearly two-hour lecture about global warming could be very interesting, but it is. The lecture segments are interspersed with clips of presenter Al Gore discussing bits of his life and explaining how he became interested in the subject of global warming. An Inconvenient Truth could be called a Michael Moore film on tranquilizers, but it’s effective nonetheless. By showing concrete evidence of the devastation caused by global warming the film makes us think, and maybe it will make some of us act. That’s the very best a film can do.

INFAMOUS
British actor Toby Jones brings Truman Capote to life in this portrayal of the conflicted writer while he was researching his famous book “In Cold Blood.” Jones creates a Capote that is in turns empathetic and conniving. And the film does a good job of capturing the character and biases of a small Midwestern town during the late 1950s and early 1960s and the nuisances of Capote’s literary circle at the time. This film was all but ignored at the box office, although it was released on 179 U.S. screens. But popularity (or the lack thereof) is certainly no indication of quality.

DREAMGIRLS
There three reasons to like this film:

  1. Eddie Murphy delivers his most nuanced and diverse performance as singer James Early (and his singing’s not bad either).
  2. The visuals and music combine to make the movie captivating.
  3. Moviegoers can check their brains at the door and just enjoy the sensual pleasures Dreamgirls provides the ears and eyes.

Sometimes a lack of depth is a positive thing.

THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP
Writer/director Michel Gondry has created a visual feast and a mental teaser with this quirky dramatization of the workings of a sleeping mind and the interplay between our sleeping and waking hours. Gondry uses props of cardboard, cellophane and cloth to create an interesting dreamscape. And actor Gael Garcia Bernal creates a credible man-child named Stephane. In a pool of cinematic clones, The Science of Sleep is a pearl (although an odd one).

Honorable Mention:
CATCH A FIRE, WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?,
ROCKY BALBOA
, AKEELAH & THE BEE, BOBBY.

WORST:

RUNNING SCARED
This violence fest features Paul Walker as a small-time mobster. His colleagues give him the task of disposing of a gun used in a shootout. Unfortunately, a neighbor boy finds the gun and shoots his stepfather with it. Everyone then goes after the boy. It’s like a video game where players get points for attacking a child in every way imaginable, including subjecting him to the tortures of pedophiles. Not my idea of a good time.

THE FAST & THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT
This could have been a good film as racing movies go. This kind of movie doesn’t require too much in the way of plot, just a rebel protagonist who wants to “go fast,” as Ricky Bobby would say. Tokyo Drift has the rebel. But there are too many close-ups of the cars in what appear to be choreographed automotive dances rather than long shots of tense racing moments.

FREEDOMLAND
Samuel L. Jackson plays a cop here, and Julianne Moore plays a woman who says she was carjacked and her young son was kidnapped in a black community. The film delves into an examination of racial tensions, but it’s a very shallow examination with way too much melodrama. It’s amazing how lackluster a film can be, even though it features actors who have proven themselves skillful.

SCARY MOVIE 4
I got the humor and the references, but just didn’t find them funny. A good spoof movie should catch viewers off guard and surprise them (at least occasionally) with unexpected and original jokes. This movie didn’t do that. The jokes seemed like the typical fare of preteen boys.

THE FOUNTAIN
I have to give writer/director Darren Aronofsky props for originality and interesting visuals. Unfortunately, The Fountain was a good idea gone terribly wrong. It’s about the quest for life and the quest for meaning in life. But some of the visuals (such as the repeated sight of a bald man floating in space in the lotus position) are unintentionally funny. At the screening I attended a teen girl hollered out as the credits began to roll, “That was so dumb!” People laughed. But her outburst made me think.

For some viewers this movie will be fun to analyze, but most people will probably share the opinion of that vociferous teen girl.

Dishonorable Mention:
NACHO LIBRE, THE PINK PANTHER, SILENT HILL, PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, AMERICAN DREAMZ.

 

Deborah Young can be contacted at dkayyoung@hotmail.com.


THE KANSAS CITY FILM CRITICS CIRCLE

The 41st annual meeting of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle met on Tuesday, January 2, 2007. Twenty-nine voting members from various area media outlets met to choose the cream of the year’s cinematic crop. Here are the winners:

BEST FILM: UNITED 93

BEST DIRECTOR: (In honor of the memory of the late Kansas City native, director Robert Altman, the KCFCC voted to permanently designate the “Best Director” award, “The Robert Altman Award for Directing.”) Paul Greengrass, UNITED 93

BEST ACTOR: Forest Whittaker, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND

BEST ACTRESS: Helen Mirren, THE QUEEN

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael Sheen, THE QUEEN

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Catherine O’Hara, FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: THE DEPARTED

BEST ANIMATED FILM: OVER THE HEDGE

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA

BEST DOCUMENTARY: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

THE VINCE KOEHLER AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY OR HORROR FILM: PAN’S LABYRINTH


              
              
                 

2007 Discovery Publications, Inc. 1501 Burlington, Ste. 207, North Kansas City, MO 64116
(816) 474-1516; toll free (800) 899-9730; fax (816) 474-1427

The contents of eKC are the property of Discovery Publications, Inc., and protected under Copyright.
No portion may be reproduced in whole or part by any means without the permission of the publisher. Read our Privacy Policy.