Best and Worst 2006
TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK & BULL STORY
Michael Winterbottom’s bawdy behind-the-scenes comedy neatly straddled antiquated fantasy and contemporary reality by focusing on a rag-tag bunch of 21st century filmmakers tackling Laurence Stern’s classically complicated 18th century comic novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”. A hilariously arrogant Steve Coogan recounted the ribald tales of both the old-fashioned T.S. and the actor portraying him onscreen.
DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY
Contentious comedian Dave Chappelle knows how to throw a party, in this case a Brooklyn-based block bash cum outdoor concert that let loose with wit and style and a uniquely mellow vibe. Coal-black humor laced with razor-sharp edges counterbalanced Chappelle’s combustible enthusiasm and hilarious one-liners in this contagious and enigmatic doc.
THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU
Leave it to the Romanians to craft one of the year’s most scintillating indies. A simple narrative chronicled one man’s perilous and disquieting journey as he navigated through sticky wickets of biological inadequacies, human frailties and a startlingly indifferent healthcare system.
Alejandro González Inárritu did what he does best; weaving a tapestry of the unfamiliar and disconnected into a rich sociological study of cultural discord and emotional commotion. From Mexico to Japan and the barren landscapes of Morocco “Babel’ was graced with flawless performances and near incandescent intensity.
This bold and visionary telling of the tragic downfall of the Mayan civilization was an epic pursuit fraught with unbearable tension. Mel Gibson’s complex politics and not-so-subtle allusions to contemporary policy and rage underscored less-than-subtle nuances of despair. Vivid, provocative and utterly breathtaking.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
The two scariest movies of the year weren’t schlocky horror films but rather penetrating documentaries chronicling evil within the Christian ranks. Amy Berg’s devastating debut feature of the crimes and confessions of pedophile priest Oliver O’Grady spoke volumes about the Catholic Church and the shattering betrayal of an ostensibly steadfast trust. Riveting.
Ryan Gosling’s astonishing talent enhanced this unexpectedly captivating and disturbing drama sketched in sharp relief. The story of a Brooklyn middle-school teacher and his losing battle with the siren song of crack cocaine was strong and spare and reeking of latent self-destruction. No fairy-tale endings and no quick cinematic fixes – great stuff.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, especially for the contemporary Queen Elizabeth for whom a stiff upper lip is the order of the day. Stephen Frears’ darkly observed and deeply affecting story followed the delusional royals as they sought to uphold the cobwebbed cloisters of duty first, self second and prevent the British Monarchy from permanent ruin. All crafted with historical and voyeuristic panache.
Paul Greengrass touched a dramatic nerve in his quest to re-examine the nightmarish fate of United Airlines’ Flight 93, utilizing a powerful documentary-like style to piece together a trenchant study of lost innocence and defiant courage. A well-measured portrait of tension and dread not to mention a fresh and powerful reminder of the day the music died.
Todd Field’s adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s exacting novel of dubious adult behavior read like a contemporary fantasy, a stark adulterous reality with darkly curling comic edges. Fields relentlessly picked at scabs of domestic bliss that concealed sorrow, betrayal and futile fulfillment; all twisted needs and melancholy moods. Original, challenging and resonant.
Worst of 2006
Akeelah and the Bee
"Inspiration" packaged with cloying convention. "Bee" utilized every cliché in the book to hammer home its point with maximum sugar content.
All the King’s Men
An uneasy aura of faux grandeur permeated every frame. Sloppy where it should have been slick; the ultimate letdown.
Ask the Dust
Robert Towne’s moldy ode to depression-era Los Angeles was a lifeless and implausible exercise in the decaying romance of literary noir.
This plodding clunker masqueraded as a thriller by leading with a cat-and-mouse game that went dreadfully south.
“Vice” leeched every bit of spirit from its kitschy 80s namesake. No style, no substance, no dice.