In publication since 1991, Wrangler News is distributed free every other Saturday to more than 18,000 homes in the Kyrene Corridor area of South Tempe and West Chandler, and is supported by local and regional advertisers.

  Search past and present issues of the Wrangler
    Site search Web search                       
   powered by
Contact Us Links Media Kit Make a Payment Previous Issues

Back Home Forward

2006 on film What was worth our time last year - and what wasn't

By: M.V. Moorhead

Jan. 6, 2007

Whatever else may be said in praise of them, most of the better movies I saw this year didn’t produce a lot of laughs.

For those that did, they often were of the grim, gallows-humor variety. Even the tap-dancing-penguin flick carried persistent undercurrents of social and environmental angst. But then, on the whole, this year in the real world wasn’t a load of laughs, either.

Anyway, here are the 10 movies that seemed most worth my time in 2006.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days: Impossibly tense, deeply humbling German film (from 2005; released here in ’06) about the quiet defiance of the university student who protested the Nazis in 1943 in Munich, and unhesitatingly faced the consequences. Stunningly simple in style, it has the feel of a passion play.

The Last King of Scotland: This potent political nightmare about a young Scottish physician who becomes an adviser to Idi Amin features an instant-classic performance by Forest Whittaker, shockingly scary—and even more shockingly seductive—as Amin. James McAvoy is excellent as the in-over-his-head doctor, too.

Blood Diamond: Another gripping chronicle of African horrors, this melodrama set in Sierra Leone hinges on the agony caused by “conflict diamonds.” Leonardo DiCaprio, here as in The Departed, has lost his callowness at last, and Djimon Honsou is direct and moving as a fisherman struggling to find his son. Conventional storytelling, and overlong, but very rewarding.

United 93: It could have been awful and sordid, yet it turned out to be a focused, heartbreaking and inspiring dramatization of the 9/11 flight that ended in rural Pennsylvania. A tour de force for director Paul Greengrass, who mixed actors and non-actors to breathtakingly convincing effect. This one is better than Oliver Stone’s 9/11 movie World Trade Center, though the Stone film is also quite touching.

A Prairie Home Companion: Robert Altman’s swansong was this delightful, if characteristically uneven, big screen treatment of Garrison Keillor’s beloved radio revue. The script’s notions don’t always work, but scene for scene the movie is magical, and Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, as a pair of dizzy gospel singers, turn their backstage nattering into a blissful duet of comedic acting.
An Inconvenient Truth: Al Gore’s expertly filmed one-man show did what his presidential campaign couldn’t: it made him a star. Remarkably engaging political theatre, and the scariest movie of the year.

Little Miss Sunshine: In the title role, Abigail Breslin energizes this endearing ensemble comedy about a family of New Mexico depressives trying to get the title character to a children’s beauty pageant in California. The finale is a knock-out.

The Departed: Martin Scorsese gives a less flamboyant directorial performance than usual in this absorbing saga Boston-Irish gangsters. He keeps it relatively simple and lets his big-name actors do the heavy lifting this time, and they don’t let him down.

Casino Royale: This is the most headlong, most stylish, least corny Bond movie in years, and Daniel Craig makes a cool, even somewhat plausible 007.

Bobby: Though the script, by director Emilio Estevez, is seriously uneven, this chronicle of the day that RFK was assassinated builds up a surprising emotional release, and there are many gems among the performances.

Some runners-up: The sometimes jolting Little Children, The wild, firebrand satire V for Vendetta, the snarky Thank You for Smoking, the gross-but-goofy horror comedy Slither, the aforementioned animated Bollywood-style epic Happy Feet, Clint Eastwood’s sad war movie Flags of Our Fathers, and the respectable new rendering of Charlotte’s Web.

Helen Mirren was outstanding in the slyly funny docudrama The Queen; Meryl Streep was outstanding in The Devil Wears Prada (though she was even better in Prairie Home Companion) and Diane Lane was superb in Hollywoodland, which also boasted Ben Affleck’s best performance to date as George Reeves.

Albert Brooks’ Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World was a willful misfire, and, like his other willful misfires, often hilarious. In a more high-profile cross-cultural lampoon, Borat was undeniably riotous, but also excruciating to watch at times.

The sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean was way overlong, but it was still fun to watch Johnny Depp as the sodden Captain Jack Sparrow. We Are Marshall was a well-crafted sports tearjerker made more interesting by Matthew McConaughey’s idiosyncratic performance as Marshall football coach Jack Lengyel. The Break-Up was slightly underrated, and Nacho Libre was very slightly underrated.

The Illusionist, on the other hand, was slightly overrated—and its use of special-effects seemed like a bit of a cheat—but it’s still a well-acted, entertaining piece of romantic nonsense.

The interracial romance Something New had its charms, as did the romance between two mastodons, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. She’s the Man adapted Twelfth Night into a reasonably cute teen comedy, and Final Destination 3 was deranged fun.

The Queen Latifah vehicle Last Holiday was nothing special, but it looked like a masterpiece alongside the somniferous chickflick The Holiday.

The Da Vinci Code was watchable but, in light of the tizzies it occasioned, pretty silly. Similarly, the stir surrounding the utterly trivial Snakes on a Plane turned out to be a tempest in a teapot on a plane, but Samuel L. Jackson gave a good performance, and the video over the end credits was terrific.

It wasn’t anywhere near the worst movie of the year. Vying hard for that title were such ordeals as The Black Dahlia, Firewall, The Benchwarmers, You, Me and Dupree, Sofia Coppola’s puzzling Marie Antoinette and—my vote—the loathsome Failure to Launch, the best moments of which, tellingly, came from Terry Bradshaw.

Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction would have made the “worst” list too, if only local gal Sharon Stone didn’t look even better unclad now than she did in the 1992 original.

OK, enough. Happy New Year. Let’s hope things get a little more lighthearted, in and out of the multiplex.

Mark Moorhead is a former, longtime movie critic for Phoenix New Times. He writes regularly for Wrangler News.


web site hit counter