December 29, 2006

Top 10

Top 10 for 2006

1) PAN’S LABRYNTH - Guillermo del Toro’s absolutely captivating and spellbinding mix of fantasy and harsh ugly reality clash together in what is truly the best film of the entire year. A young girl is shipped into the woods with her pregnant mother and ferociously violent stepfather to sit out the final days of a savage war. The girl escapes the increasingly ugly reality she is mired in by discovering a world of fantasy in the woods nearby. What first seems like a possible true to life fantasy slowly becomes apparent to the viewer as an allegory and escape for the young protagonist. Breathtaking visuals and a sinister story completely enraptured me like nothing else this year.

2) BRICK – Small independent film that takes the idea of a Philip Marlowe / Sam Spade Film noir and mixes it brilliantly with a High School caste system murder mystery. Without a doubt the greatest dialogue that crackled off of any screen this past year. Every line had me doing double takes and smiling wide…..not just for the sheer invention of the dialogue, but also for the way the young cast pulls it off stone faced and serious. The story, with it’s echoes of David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS, is interesting enough, but it’s the off-the-wall dialogue and dark comic asides that kept BRICK humming along as a truly one of a kind film.

3) THE DESCENT – With dozens of sub-level quality horror movie remakes overflowing into the theatres week after week one tends to get completely bored with the genre, but then from England comes something new and somewhat original. THE DESCENT gathers together a cast of interesting and intelligent characters on a spelunking vacation. Points right off the bat for a collection of characters in a horror movie that don’t feature dumb, oversexed, yawn-inducing teenagers. The movie moves from there into somewhat familiar horror movie territory, but it does so with a flair and originality that keeps the viewer locked in. Amazing cinematography and editing add to the flavor of a movie that keeps hope alive for the fledgling horror genre.

4) V FOR VENDETTA – Another genre taking a beating is the comic book scene. Overblown and over hyped, it’s product this past year went from the bad (FANTASTIC FOUR) to the ultimately bland (SUPERMAN RETURNS). The overlooked V FOR VENDETTA featured some crisp dialogue (dig that opening speech by our masked ‘hero’), handsome photography, and a plot that made a hero out of a terrorist. Hard to believe they pulled it off in the year of UNITED 93 and WORLD TRADE CENTER, but they did. Features the sharp action and big explosions that are necessary for the genre, but also slipped in enough political commentary and social satire to have it rise above the heap.

5) LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – One of two straight up comedies to make my list this year, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE surprised with it’s dead on cast and snappy scenarios that brought it to life. I went in expecting some kind of half baked rip off of the films of Wes Anderson, but was surprised at how real and human the characters onscreen were. Alan Arkin shines as a loving but loopy grandfather, and Steve Carrell continues to impress in everything he does. The film builds to an obvious satire of the all-too-easy to ridicule world of beauty pageants, but once again rises above the expectations with a wicked and hilarious gut punch of a climax.

6) HARD CANDY – I’m a sucker for a movie that had the guts to be something completely different or experimental in tone and style. HARD CANDY is that type of movie. Featuring basically a cast of just two characters, it weaves it’s wicked story of an internet predator and his not-quite-so na├»ve’ prey into an edge of your seat drama of cat and mouse. I was never quite sure where the story was going, and that was 99% of the fun. So many movies are easy to map out from their opening moments, when one comes along that truly keeps you following along wondering where the road is leading it’s something to behold.

7) A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION – One doesn’t’ need to be a fan of Garrison Keillor’s 30 year long radio program to enjoy Robert Altman’s final film, but it helps. On one hand it’s a look at small town ideals, family, friends, and down-home values, it’s also a very close look at death and The End of things. The characters weave around backstage preparing their LAST radio show after years together while all the while contemplating togetherness, relationships, and ultimately death. If there was ever an absolutely perfect last film for a director and artist that has given us so much, Robert Altman’s PHC is that movie.

8) THE DEPARTED – For his return to the world of Cops and Robbers, Martin Scorcese chose to remake a popular Chinese gangster movie called INFERNAL AFFAIRS. Sticking surprisingly close to the original, Scorcese’s remake gains it’s own respect through his top notch cast. Matt Damon has truly never been better and turns in one of the strongest performances of the year as the undercover gangster as cop. Leonardo DeCaprio matches him scene for scene as his doppelganger, the undercover gangster as cop. The supporting cast of Marin Sheen, Mark Whalberg, and of course Jack Nicholson make the whole thing go down smooth. Even with it’s predictably happier American ending (as opposed to the original’s downbeat epilogue) THE DEPARTED still rings out as a great gangster tale. It also has what is probably the most humorous last shot of any film this past year.

9) BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT THE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN – Without a doubt the greatest title of any movie this past year, it’s also the hands down FUNNIEST movie of the year. Ignore those saying it’s a fantastic social commentary on America and Americans…’s actually just an excuse for the great Sacha Baron Coen to run amok Candid Camera style with his wicked Borat persona. From beginning to end Borat features more genuine laugh out loud moments than any dozed Hollywood comedies.

10 CASINO ROYALE – A huge surprise to myself, having not sat through a James Bond movie since Roger Moore battled Christopher Walken in A VIEW TO A KILL, I was shocked at how original and immediate this film has made the Bond legend. Daniel Craig’s completely and utterly original take on the character infuses the series with a new life and originality not seen in literally decades.

December 13, 2006

Mann oh mann

MIAMI VICE - Michael Mann is KNOWN for making hard edged ‘cop films’ like HEAT, THIEF, COLLATERAL and MANHUNTER. His latest, MIAMI VICE, is no exception. Dark and edgy with a great ‘undercover cop’ story that takes it’s time to focus on the characters as well as the bursts of action. Makes a perfect double feature with any of the other above mentioned Mann classics. Grade : B+

MONSTER HOUSE - A surprisingly fun animated film focusing on the “scary neighborhood house”, which turns out to actually BE a monster. Very imaginative story with nods to many an 80's classic kid flick. The animation starts out a little on the sketchy side, but by the end becomes a thing of almost 3-D splendor. Grade B

CARS - The latest (and last as far as the original ‘team’ is concerned) from the endlessly talented folks at Pixar. I wasn’t expecting much as I hate Cars, racing, and the like, but was pleasantly surprised to find a very well work story given a fresh coat by the talented voice cast and unbelievably fantastic animation. Grade B

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON - A look at a case of pure creativity. Watching this documentary on the mentally disturbed singer/songwriter Johnston (kind of a poor man’s Brian Wilson if you will) it would seem that he was just born to create. From Super 8 home movies, to paintings, drawings, songs, albums, pictures, recordings......Johnston seems to have just always been a human art output machine. With so MUCH being created, it’s not all up the lofty quality that some critics lather him with, but he does have talent. It’s just all mangled up in that busy beautiful mind of his. Grade B+

December 01, 2006

One day off means Movie Fun!

Paul Schraeder's CAT PEOPLE - Can't believe this is the same director who wrote TAXI DRIVER and made AFFLICTION. What a mess. Egads. Grade : F

Alan Arkin's LITTLE MURDERS - 1970's New York look at society and what it is slowly becoming with people afraid to communicate with one another and violence growing on the streets. Based on a play, so the movie comes across a little claustrophobic and absurd at times.....but featured some great performances and interesting ideas. Grade : B

Rian Johnson's BRICK - An utterly fantastic little independent film from this year. A murder mystery set in a California high school done completely in the tone and dialogue of a 1940's Humphrey Bogart / Raymond Chandler style book / film. The dialogue just exploded off the screen and the story was engrossing and kept you guessing at all the right times. Grade : A

Brian DePalma's DRESSED TO KILL - DePalma's fun takeoff of Hitchcock's PSYCHO. It follows PSHYCO'S formula....right down to the shower scene, killed off main character, whacky psychiacric explanations, and hey....even cross dressing. So is it worth it, when we already have Hitchcock? Sure. Depalma is in full "showoff" mode here with great silky sliding camerawork, and lots of gratutious sex and violence. And Michael Caine. In a dress.
Grade : B

Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE - More fun with the now late great Altman. Elliot Gould plays Philip Marlowe in the 1970's.....chain smoking and sarcastically reacting to even the strangest of situations swirling around him. Altman fills the frame with rotten cops, Sterling Hayden, dogs, naked lesbians, thugs, drunks, and Marlowe's quest for catfood. As offbeat as they come, but never boring and always amusing. Grade : B+