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March 6, 2021
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Scott's Best and Worst of 2006
(wgvu) - 2006 was an ok year for movies. It wasn't particularly bad, but it also wasn't particularly outstanding. In fact, there was an atmosphere of mediocrity throughout. Despite this, there were several films that I thoroughly enjoyed, plus some that I hated. And here they are.

I should mention up front that although I review movies on a weekly basis, I'm not a full-time film critic. I cannot see everything that is released, and I don't live in NYC or LA, where every foreign and independent releases are available along with the Hollywood big pictures. And so my list is of the movies that were available to me.

In descending order, here are my favorites of 2006:

10) Nacho Libre. Directed by Jared Hess, who gave us the charming cult hit Napoleon Dynamite, it starred Jack Black as a Mexican Friar, who dreams of being a Luchador, or professional wrestler. He lives in a rural community, and is entranced by a gorgeous nun, Sister Encarnacion, new to his monastery. Secretly, he dons the cape and mask by night, wrestling with his sidekick, Esqueleto, to earn money to buy better food for the orphans he feeds, and to gain the respect he lacks from his fellow Friars. The movie is a weirdly na ve, and innocent take on both wrestling and religion, and even on love. I saw it twice, and the second time was the best.

9) The Illusionist, directed by Neil Burger, and based on a short story Eisenheim the Illusionist by Steve Millhauser. This is a perfectly balanced, old-fashioned tale that takes place in Vienna around 1900. Edward Norton is a magician who falls in love with the fianc of the Crown Prince Leopold. He also becomes a national sensation and celebrity, and the Crown Prince becomes threatened by this. Paul Giamatti plays the Chief Inspector, who is also a spy for the Prince, and he works against Eisenheim while simultaneously admiring the magician. This is a truly excellent movie, now available on DVD.

8) Thank You For Smoking, an ultraviolet black comedy, about a Tobacco Industry Lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart, who has the enormously difficult task of promoting smoking even as smokers are becoming pariahs, and the harmful effects are universally known. His best friends are an alcohol industry lobbyist, and a representative of the firearms industry. They meet for lunch every week, calling themselves The Merchants of Death. (clip)

Old Joy, a truly independent film directed by Kelly Reichart, and starring Will Oldham and Daniel London as two old friends, now in their thirties, who take a weekend camping trip into the Oregon mountains to catch up. London is married and about to father his first child, and Oldham lives a rambling, boho lifestyle. There is an underlying tension to their relationship, and a common generational malaise, which they work out in the gorgeous trails, peaks, and hot springs of the mountains. Oldham, who is an indie rocker and folk artist, is marvelous. And the pastoral quality of the movie is genuine.

This was one of many gems that played at the UICA Film Theater, a wonderful resource for West Michigan movie fans.

6) Akeelah and the Bee, directed by Doug Atchinson. This follows a young girl from south LA, played by KeeKee Palmer, as she works hard to make it to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, in D.C. Her coach is played by Laurence Fishbourne, and his character is a previous champion.(clip) Both child and adult have their own personal demons, or difficulties, and each help the other. This is a formulaic movie, but the characters and the subject matter are endearing. It's a fine fictional companion to the great documentary Spellbound.

5) Catch a Fire, a political thriller by Philip Noyce, based on real events in South Africa in the late 70s,early 80s, when apartheid still gripped that nation. Derek Luke is Patrick Chamusso, a totally apolitical man whose family is detained and tortured by Police Chief Nic Vos, played by Tim Robbins. This turns him into a freedom fighter and terrorist. The movie is taut, realistic, and gripping. And both Luke and Robbins give excellent performances.

4) Stranger Than Fiction, directed by Mark Forester, in a kind of Charlie Kaufmann-Lite mode. Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, a mild-mannered IRS auditor, who suddenly starts hearing a voice narrating his life. When he realizes that the voice is controlling his life, and that it appears that he is heading towards death, he flips out. (clip) He seeks help from a college literary prof, played wonderfully by Dustin Hoffmann, and falls in love with a baker and coffee shop owner played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

3) Flags Of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood, the historical film that focuses on the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the men who are in the historical flag raising photograph. Eastwood flashes back and forth between the battle itself, which raged for over 30 days, and caused thousands of casualties, and the aftermath for the soldiers, as they tour the country raising war bonds, to fund the effort. Adam Beach is the standout performance as Native American Marine Ira Hayes.

2) The Queen, which easily could be number one. In fact the next three films are nearly interchangeable in their quality. The film follows the events in the week after Princess Diana's death in a car accident in Paris. Helen Mirren is Queen Elizabeth, who gives one of the finest performances in a career that is chock full of stellar roles. The Queen is completely detached from the reality of celebrity and love that her public feels for the late Princess. Michael Sheen plays P.M. Tony Blair, who pushes The Queen to action (clip).
This is a movie filled with amazing character actors, and subtley nuanced performances.

1) A tie between Martin Scorcese's The Departed, and Little Miss Sunshine, directed by Jonathon Davis and Valerie Ferris. Scorcese finally partners with Jack Nicholson, who plays an Irish mobster in Boston. (clip) Matt Damon is Nicholson's informant in the police dept., and Leonardo DiCaprio is a Boston tough who works undercover for the cops. (clip) The movie is a streamlined return to GoodFellas form for Scorcese, who deserves his long-overdue Best Director Oscar for this one. Little Miss Sunshine is a quirky comedy about a dysfunctional family taking a road-trip through the southwest for the Little Miss Sunshine Contest. Abagail Breslin is Olive, the pudgy, unlikely contestant, and her parents are played by Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette. Kinnear is a failed motivational speaker, and along for the ride is Alan Arkin, as the heroin snorting grandpa, Steve Carell as the suicidal uncle, and older brother Paul Dano, who has taken a vow of silence. Hilarity ensues, as tensions rise. (clip)

There were others that I loved, too, that many did not. CRANK, a Jason Stathom action movie was cool. Shortbus, an arty porn film, played at UICA, and I thought it was fun. Spike Lee did good with Inside Man, a smart heist movie. Sophia Coppola made Marie Antoinette, that while pretentious, was still good. Darren Aronofsky finally released The Fountain, his long-awaited third feature, after the sensational Pi and Requiem for a Dream. The Fountain was a failure, but like the most difficult of William Faulkner, it's a glorious failure.

And then there's Snakes on a Plane (clip) I had the most fun in a movie theater with Snakes on a Plane, with a whooping, hollering, enthusiastic audience. Too bad it didn't catch on

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