Monday, February 19, 2007

NJ Film Critics Awards: Top Ten Films of 2006

This past weekend I saw Half Nelson, and I decided, with that, I was closing out my movie year 2006. I never saw the Clint Eastwood fanfare Letters from Iwo Jeemz, or Flags of my Fathers. Nor did I see Hot Superman Return, anything animated (Cars, Happy Feet, etc.), or even the new James Bond. Still, I feel perfectly comfortable presenting to everyone the complete list of the Best Movies of 2006, limited collector's edition series. Yet before we begin with the finalized list, I need to set aside one picture, which I didn't feel right categorizing.

Honorable Mention
United 93

I am giving United 93 an Honorable Mention nod, because I just don't know what to do with it. I loved and hated it. From the opening scene with its backdrop of slow, resonant drumbeats, I was wondering why I was watching this, as it was going to be frightening. It was. At the same time, it was intense and thrilling. A very succinct retelling of the early hours of Sept. 11, primarily aboard 93, but the scenes in the air traffic control rooms and war rooms were equally fascinating. The blond army girl on her headset was a heartbreaker. The older passenger who decided to attack the terrorists should have an Oscar nom. I am still wondering how the director knew all of this or if some it was made up. It is bad to say that up until the final minute, I really thought the passengers had a chance? I guess you would have to see it.


The other Capote movie. The Capote movie with lesser production values. Part of Infamous feels like the extended SNL parody of Capote. Part of feels like it was made by Christopher Guest. I say that because this movie is funny! At least the first half, which seriously is a hoot. Then Daniel Craig (Bond) comes in and really ruins it with his utter inability to act. But Plucky Toby Jones keeps you invested. I wish he could have won an award for Best Truman Capote in a comedic performance and Philip Seymour would have been Best Truman Capote in a dramatic performance. Jones's Capote is over the top and it is wonderful. Still, the second half drags. The 10th spot on my list my just have easily gone to Thank You for Smoking or Stranger Than Fiction, but I saw this one most recently.


Maggie Gyllenhaal is the real deal. In the past 6 weeks, I have seen Sherrybaby, Stranger than Fiction, and Happy Endings, and in all of these she was captivating. Not to mention, her strong buzz in World Trade Center. Anyhow, Sherrybaby is the close examination of her plight to stay sober and win back her baby. She really lifts what would be an otherwise drab movie with very little plot, but her character study is compelling enough. She is fierce, funny, weak, unlikable, likable and painfully tragic all at once. She, too, should have an Oscar Nom, but then there's Meryl, Oy.

Akeelah and the Bee

This brings me to one of a handful entirely fun and memorable experiences in a movie theater this year. The Pot and I saw this in the semi-ghetto. It had been ages since I was in a theater where people clapped. It is a good feeling. Everything about this movie was heartwarming; everyone should see it. Akeelah, her little semi-love interest Javier, were endearing. Angela Basset, entirely underappreciated in this, was pretty fierce. Thumbs up for this spelling bee drama that sucks you in til the very end. And could the end be any cuter? No. This movie was produced by Starbucks and I still loved it!

Snakes on a Plane

Say what you will. This movie is fun. Very fun. Very very fun. You may have heard the few fans of this movie say "It is so bad, it's good." Unfortunately, they are wrong. This is just a flat-out good movie. Entirely ridiculous, but so what? Snakes delivers on everything promised and expected and hoped for. Like any good horror movie, it is hilarious, pretty scary, and you will jump out of your seat. I wish I could see it again for the first time. I was delighted. If you need any more evidence, I adhere to IMKA senior MF (we have the same birthday) who said to some naysayers: "Snakes on a Plane was such a good movie and I will tell you why. There wasn't a single minute whent I wasn't happy." Probably the most on target thing he ever said. And have you seen the video?

Children of Men

There were so many reasons why I shouldn't have loved this movie. It was political. And there were more gunshots than I think have ever been in a movie. Despite all this, a very beautiful movie came out of it. Good vs. evil. The individual vs. the man. A bit of hope in a world of doom. Clive Owen is dashing, the story is sensational, and expertly avoids every potential trap towards extreme cheesiness. And there is a lot! Sci-fi enough (or not, depending on your perspective) to appeal to your inner Matrix, and at the same time, Clive Owen trenches the depths much more than Keanu. Kee, robbed of an Oscar nom.

The Queen

This is pretty much labeled the Helen Mirren show, which is part correct, but part overlooking the real story: A pretty slick retelling of the Princess Diana death from a perspective I don't think anyone knew about. This could have been a documentary and it would have been riveting. In an uncanny depiction of the Queen Mum, Mirren is wonderful, subtle, and gives us everything we need to know about this woman with a single look or tilt of her head. Wasn't expecting to find this as great as it is. Glad to be proven wrong. Shout out to Tony Blair. Holla! And the English landscape!

The Departed

Another movie I really shouldn't have liked as much as I did. Uber violent and quintessentially chock full of the Martin Scorsese F-Bomb. But this movie was thrilling and just plain awesome. I have said it once before and I will say it again, whoever wrote this used up a lot of notecards to create such a dizzying story that totally fit at every scene. I credit the writer first, Scorsese second, and Leo third. Sure Matt Damon was good, but his character really didn't have the pull that Leo's did. A very butch movie for me. And I will further say that the one female part in this movie wasn't even close to being my favorite. Well done all around.

Little Miss Sunshine

Ok, I am going to reveal too much of myself here, but I think I cried during 75% of this movie when I saw it. The opening scene of tubby, nerdy Olive watching and imitating Miss America killed me and it was all over. Every time they started that van and the music played, I got teary. I have no idea why. It was just too touching. I am thinking about this movie a lot now and wondering if it was gimmicky or over the top or frivolous, but I am going to trust my initial judgment. This is such a great story and stellar performances all around. Arkin and Breslin and Dano, yes color-blind, mute by choice Paul Dano. The music by Devotchka is the third director here. And I have since learned that if you don't see a good movie in the theater, the extent of its goodness barely translates to DVD.

Pan's Labyrinth

Finally, the just adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Well, maybe not exactly, but close enough. What a terribly sad yet captivating movie. I have read so many analyses of this and I am yet to really agree with any of them; all theorizing what or who is the real monster here and why this girl retreated into her magical world in order to cope with fear. I don't even care. At face value, this is a perfect children's fairy tale, where the scariest imaginative things don't seem scary to kids, per se, that's just how things are. Spanish maid Mercedes fully deserved an Oscar nom. I think I need a blog about how Jennifer Hudson stole nominations that could have belonged to many others, but she got it because she sang one song and was bossy. Still, let's keep it to Pan's. Child star Ivana Banquero ascends beyond Abigail Breslin, sorry Olive, and lingers somewhere with Half Nelson's Shareeka Epps in formidable performances by kids.

Notes on a Scandal

This movie is being placed at number one for many reasons. Primarily it just has everything in it. It is frequently hilarious and contains some of the most wonderful sentences I have heard all year. A flat out insane performance by Judi Dench is going down in history and this movie will become a sleeper cult classic on par with Mommie Dearest and Dolores Claiborne. Everything is quotable. It is fun; it is frightening; and there is more intensity in this 90 or so minutes than imaginable. Best of all, Notes somehow manages to blend full on campy fun with high-brow literary artsiness. Pretty unheard of, right? A jaw dropping climax, literally and the soundtrack of the year, which as you know (or maybe you don't) only makes a movie more stupendous for me. The Pan's soundtrack was equally glorious, actually it was better.

OK, thanks for reading. I will try to be briefer in the future. Oscar picks soonish.


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