and Worst Films of 2006
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS/LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA,
THE DEPARTED, THANK YOU FOR
SMOKING, THE LIVES OF OTHERS,
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
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.
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.
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
THE OMEN, PHAT GIRLZ,
DATE MOVIE, SILENT HILL,
Russ Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.
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.
three reasons to like this film:
- Eddie Murphy delivers his most nuanced and diverse performance
as singer James Early (and his singing’s not bad either).
- The visuals and music combine to make the movie captivating.
- 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).
CATCH A FIRE, WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?,
ROCKY BALBOA, AKEELAH & THE BEE, BOBBY.
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.
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.
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
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.
THE PINK PANTHER, SILENT
HILL, PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN:
DEAD MAN’S CHEST, AMERICAN
Deborah Young can be contacted at email@example.com.
THE KANSAS CITY FILM
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 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
Forest Whittaker, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
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:
BEST ANIMATED FILM:
OVER THE HEDGE
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
THE VINCE KOEHLER AWARD FOR
OUTSTANDING SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY OR HORROR FILM: