2006 Best/Worst

2006 Beaten into Submission: Nate’s End of the Year Wrap-Up

Whether it was in misleading titles (John Tucker Must Die? Expect a lawsuit on my behalf) or egos gone mad (M. Knight Shyamalan as the writer to save the world? No wonder it was a bedtime story), 2006 was a film year that waded in disappointment. There were fewer outstanding works; personally, I never would have thought that 3 of my top 4 movies for the year would have been released within the first few months of the year. Still, it felt like an artistically stillborn year when it came to movies. There were plenty of good ones, a handful of great ones, but this year left me wanting, and it wasn’t for more Shyamalan screen time. What follows is my annual compilation of the highs, lows, and everything in between the 365 days that were, at one time, the year 2006.

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BEST FILMS OF 2006

10) V for Vendetta

Much as the Academy, I practically forgot this movie even came out because it was so long ago. This is a dynamically intelligent, complex movie but it never lets the smarts get in the way of a rousing good time. This is a very political movie that’s very relevant today. I was even moved by the film’s hopeful conclusion, which is more than I can say about any other comic book movie (yes, even Elektra). Nothing is self-consciously showy for the sake of wowing an audience, and every beat of action feels organic to the storyline. I hope people don’t get too snooty and dismissive with this film. V for Vendetta is exactly what the Matrix sequels should have been: a pulpy mix of brains and action, not a snore-fest that beats you down before putting on a show.

9) Casino Royale

Now this is James Bond done right. The Bond films have great history to them, but let’s not get overly romantic here; a majority of the James Bond movies are outright crap, especially the ones with Roger Moore. This is Bond dialed back, stripped of fancy gimmicks and gadgets and left to battle with his wits and his brutality. This is a meat-and-potatoes action movie without irony or frills. It’s serious about its business and business, let me tell you, is good. Casino Royale is monstrously entertaining. Daniel Craig has a boxer’s face, those wonderful eyes, and a sculpted body that will take many a breath away. But even better, Craig is likely the best actor that has even been tapped for 007. When he’s chasing bad guys you see the determination of his running, the anguish on his face. When he’s flirting with women you can practically feel the heat. Casino Royale is the Bond movie Ian Fleming would have paid to see.

8) Stranger than Fiction

This as the sweetest surprise of the year and continued to work on me well after I had finished watching. It’s essentially a romantic comedy for bookworms. This is a very literate movie that works better for those with an appreciation or outright love of literature and storytelling. The story has an innocence to it and this existential comedy feels out there but still grounded; it’s surprisingly poignant and full of dramatic revelations. Stranger than Fiction is strange, all right, but gloriously so. Scribe Zach Helm has concocted an existential fairy tale aimed for bookworms and outsiders. The premise is clever but the film doesn’t stop there, and Helm explores the implications of his premise with whimsy, charm, and a sweetness that is hard to rebuke. The wacky story seems reminiscent of Kaufman’s works, but it has a more heartwarming and embraceable appeal. Great performances from a game cast help to push the material even further into excellence. It’s the movie I most wanted to hug all year. Take that for what you will.

7) Pan’s Labyrinth

Fantasy has a naturally cheerful tone. Someone did not tell that to Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro. The Hellboy director is obsessed with all things creepy, crawly, and gooey, and his films all seem to revel in the things that go squish in the night. This is a fabulously dark Alice in Wonderland for a more mature set. del Toro straddles differing genre lines like few artists out there. He has a great love for monster movies and horror, but he also has great feel for human drama and a child’s wide-eyed point of view. The film straddles the lines of genre, touching upon horror, human drama, fairy tale, historical action, and still finds time to be invigorating and moving. The film is touching and exciting and pretty scary when it wants to be.  Pan’s Labyrinth is a genre-bending gem that’s exceptionally well executed. The production design and make-up effects do wonders to bring del Toro’s mordant imagination to chilling life. del Toro reigns supreme in the realm of sticky and icky things.

6) Little Children

Director Todd Field (In the Bedroom) and author Tom Perotta (Election) have created the most incisive, mordant, and entertaining peek into suburban life since 1999’s American Beauty. You really feel the carnal yearning that Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson have as they inch their way to an affair. I’ve never felt the raw appeal of an affair perhaps like this before. Even more amazing, the film explores an entire neighborhood of characters and breathes life into them. Little Children feels like a great novel, with a scalpel-sharp narrator offering glimpses into the inner workings of these people. You get a great sense of worth in the film and it’s easy to fall under its spell. Little Children is a wonderful movie that looks at the complexities of people without judgment but with plenty of sly humor. It’s a fine work of satire and sensuality, and Winslet is becoming so good at delivering powerful performances that she’s being taken for granted as perhaps the best actress of her generation.

5) Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron is a master filmmaker and a gifted storyteller. The film is a beguiling think piece but it also succeeds magnificently as a straightforward thriller. The majority of the second half is built around chase scenes and navigating to perilous outposts of safety that eventual crumble. Cuaron has a dizzying sense of believability as he puts together his world, and his roving camera feels like an imbedded reporter on the front lines of chaos. The gorgeous cinematography and realistic set design contribute to the visceral sensation Cuaron sets alive with his visuals. There are long stretches where the camera continues rolling for nine minutes uninterrupted. I was left spellbound and felt trapped in this world just like the people onscreen. But nothing feels cheap or too sentimental in this world. This is a harsh and dark world where anything can happen, so the audience is left in constant peril worrying about the fates of every person. This is science fiction at its best. Children of Men is stark and realistic and truly immersive; you really feel like a member of this tumultuous future. It works simultaneously as a thought-provoking what-if scenario and as an exciting thriller. Simply put, this is a highly engrossing movie that separates itself from the pack. Cuaron has created a disquieting and entertaining sci-fi think piece that succeeds on its numerous merits.

4) Thank You for Smoking

Good comedies always seem to get overlooked when it comes to serious award contention, which is a shame, because Thank You for Smoking is a wickedly funny satire on Big Tobacco that skewers all sides in the political debate, and the film doesn’t take a stand, which is refreshing. It has a firm grip on its humor and gleefully gives its finger to political correctness. The tar-black humor in Thank You for Smoking rolls off so casually. This is a comedy that respects the intelligence of its audience and doesn’t dumb down its barbs or its satire. Aaron Eckhart was born to play the role of Nick Naylor, tobacco’s master spin artist and public charlatan. Naylor is conniving, slippery, and yet immensely likable not in spite of these traits but because of them. Eckhart is downright charming and you can see how he could dupe a nation, even if he’s only doing it for the challenge. Thank You for Smoking has one of the finest assembled casts in a long time, and every member fires on all cylinders. This is a film brimming with confidence and it’s evident with every frame. You almost might feel guilty for wanting to capture a contact buzz from how polished, assured and witty the flick is. Director/adaptor Jason Reitman, the son, keeps the movie brisk, packed with characters, subplots, jokes, and a visual whimsy. This is a terrific adaptation of a terrific book, and Reitman really hones in on the mechanics of debate and lobbyist practices with aplomb.

3) The Departed

What a blistering return to form for the greatest living American director. This is a movie that crams multiple characters, storylines, and histories into one tight, focused setting, but then the flick glides smoothly on electric storytelling and intense performances. The movie’s twists and turns are, at times, of a knockout variety, and there’s a stretch of late surprises that each feels like a shot to the gut. Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven) have extrapolated the story from a 2002 Hong Kong action movie and turned it into a bruising, authentic, deeply American tale of the cost of indentity and morality. This is a complex, gritty, amazing crime thriller stuffed to the gills with entertainment. Making the bloody body count resonate are the incredibly intense performances, particularly Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. This is a gripping gangster thriller pumping with the blood of a sterling character piece. The unexpected twists and turns will shake you, and the movie goes well beyond a snappy premise. The Departed is a moviegoing experience that will thrill you, stir you, sadden you, exhilarate you, and firmly plant itself in your memory banks. Welcome back Marty.

2) Brick

Brick is a film that refuses to simply be an afternoon afterthought. This is a movie that demands you sit on edge, poised to decode its complicated detective jargon and twisty storyline. It takes a while to first get into the movie because of its stylized dialogue and how straight everyone plays it. Johnson has recycled the same hard-boiled talk you’d expect coming from the mouths of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. he movie succeeds because of how committed everyone is. The gimmick seems doomed to fail but the movie has creativity in spades. Of course it’s all highly unrealistic but it all works splendidly within the world it creates. Because the filmmakers play it all straight, you never look at the movie from an outside perspective. You’ll never laugh at it unless you’re giggling about how much fun it is. Brick is an exciting, disarming, demanding, vibrantly different movie that is stone cold cool. This is not the easiest movie to get into, but once you open up to its freshly retro wavelength then Brick is one greatly rewarding movie. Johnson has built a movie around a gimmick but it all holds together so well thanks to his total commitment. The dialogue is heavy in noir slang and the story is crammed with twists and surprises. I loved this movie from the first frame to the last. Johnson has found a refreshingly original movie by going back in time.

1)    United 93

No movie shook me, moved me, horrified me, and drained me like Paul Greengrass’ brilliant recreation of one of America’s darkest days. United 93 is one of the most nerve-racking movie going experiences I have ever seen. Because of our prior knowledge of the events, every little thing carries so much dread, from a man who just makes the plane to simple phone calls, unknowingly their last, that end so regularly in “I love you.” Hitchcock said tension was watching a happy couple unaware of a ticking bomb below their picnic table, and he was right. United 93 is grueling to sit through, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t rewarding. Witnessing the unfolding events of United 93, a spellbinding example of you-are-there cinema verite, you really feel like you’re watching a living documentary. There’s nothing sensational or overly political that happens within United 93. Greengrass even has the temerity to present the hijackers as human beings, granted human beings capable of ferocious acts of horror. Greengrass is in fine form, recreating the same sense of building desperation and terror that he so elegantly assembled in 2002’s Bloody Sunday. The antic handheld camerawork may give people some headaches, but no filmmaker does a better job of putting you in the moment than Greengrass. Greengrass excels in this arena of storytelling and he’s worked his docu-drama magic once more, painstakingly allowing the viewer feel like they are a participant, to the point where we even get a rush of hope that maybe the passengers could take back their plane and save themselves. The question of whether it’s too soon for a major 9/11 movie has to be decided on an individual level. I don’t recall anyone griping about the thousands of documentaries and the A&E Flight 93 TV movie, all of which, yes, made money off 9/11 too. This is a powerful story told without a hint of melodrama. Lost amongst the cries of “too soon” is the fact that this movie can work as an emotional catharsis for people and actually help heal this war-weary nation. What more could you ask from a movie?

Honorable mention: The Queen, Half Nelson, Apocalypto, Jesus Camp, Mission: Impossible III

WORST FILMS OF 2006

10) Death of a President

This fictional doc made headlines when people learned that it used computer cut-and-paste technology to show the assassination of current president George W. Bush. Some cried outrage, some leaped at the chance to pay ten bucks and vicariously watch an unpopular president die before their eyes, but most will just scratch their heads. Questionable ethics aside, the movie is a whodunit built around a fortuitous gimmick, but once the title death takes place the movie utterly collapses. The ensuing hour turns into an investigation into who had their finger on the trigger. Death of a President has a baffling lack of political insight. The investigation is deep in procedural gobbledy gook and the film feels impersonal. I mean, a sitting president has been assassinated in the age of cable TV, global economy, and the war on terror, and all the film can muster is trying to piece together the minutia of how to prosecute a case? I’m sorry, presidential assassination ranks a bit above your standard Law & Order output. You may be surprised how much sympathy you actually feel for Bush. Death of a President isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s way too simplistic, ham-fisted, myopic, and freakin’ dull. The controversy attached to this tiny movie may mislead you into thinking it’s something worth seeing. It’s not.

9) Lady in the Water

What in the hell was M. Night Shyamalan thinking? His inane bedtime story could have used some of his well-known twists, but the only twist was that he was entirely serious about this ridiculous fable. Just like a bedtime story, this feels entirely made up on the spot. Lady in Water feels like Shyamalan is haphazardly throwing spontaneous obstacles and rules into his story, hoping something sticks when it just muddies up the story. The writing is stuffy and pompous, championing Shyamalan as a misunderstood genius that will save the planet. Shyamalan seems to fray with every new movie, and Lady in Water is by far the man’s most ridiculous and self-involved flick. He’s too great of a talent to write off, even during his misfires, but we can’t be expected to iron out his narrative kinks every time.  Shyamalan is too gifted a filmmaker to make outright bad movies. However, he is prone to making very misguided choices, and the very conception of this movie was one large example.

8) Firewall

Firewall is an inconsistent, stupid, cookie-cutter Hollywood thriller where Harrison Ford is roped into helping bad guys because his family is threatened.  The whole hostage situation is laughable. The thugs turn a hostage situation into a bed and breakfast; implausibly letting the family roam around the house, watch TV, do whatever really. The bad guy (Paul Bettany) even makes pancakes for Ford’s kids, that bastard. This is the worst hostage siege ever. Firewall should have played more like a cat and mouse game, with Ford and the bad guys battling for supremacy. Instead, Firewall feels emblematic of every other stupidly plotted thriller Hollywood feels it can feed to a mass audience because it slaps a star in it. This is shamefully mediocre, stupid, and, above all else, rather boring. Firewall is your typical disposable Hollywood thriller-of-the-week, just with more tech jargon that Ford looks pained to even speak. If you replaced Ford and Bettany with, say Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Corbin Bernsen, you’d have a movie fit to air late night on TV when the only people awake would be insomniacs. Finally, then, Firewall would have found its rightful audience.

7) The Da Vinci Code

I’d expect these kinds of half-hearted character turns from a rote made-for-TV thriller, but The Da Vinci Code has too much intended intellectual prestige to wallow in this manner. This isn’t structured like a thriller, let alone a movie. There’s no sense of momentum and the story is really an ongoing series of mini-climaxes, sputtering out to no payoff. Puzzle-solving and word games can work on the page, with the reader feeling like they’re right along, but onscreen it cannot work in a story of images. But that’s the fundamental error of The Da Vinci Code: it wants to have it both ways. The film, and I’d judge that the novel as well, wants you to shut your brain off and swallow these trite lapses in judgment and reality, forgiving the movie for zero character development and polluting the narrative with stupid genre stock roles, but then it also wants you to pay close attention and activate your brain to untangle the origins of symbols, conspiracies, and church doctrine. This flick was destined to fail at birth, people. You can’t be a brainy thriller and fill the story with hokey moments and lapses in thought, and likewise you can’t be an enjoyably straightforward thriller if you bookend all your action sequences with talky sit-downs to explain the minutia of your story. The Da Vinci Code is thusly pulled in two directions and grinds its gears to the very end. So let me get this straight. After seeing The Da Vinci Code, the biggest threat the Christian church is facing is … bad movies? I think they’ll be all right.

6) Silent Hill

Sure this movie has plenty of nice visuals and some creepy atmosphere, but that does not make up for its big black hole of suck. Silent Hill is simply dreadful and designed too faithfully as a video game adaptation, which means the same gaps in logic and pacing are present. I certainly expected better from Roger Avary. It’s plodding and over two hours, but then it just collapses toward the end, crashes, burns, and smolders. The dialogue is howl-inducing. I told my friend Dan that I was embarrassed we’d forever know we saw Silent Hill on its opening night, so much so that I bought him food after the show to make up for dragging him along. This is the first movie I’ve ever attended where I heard booing afterwards from my audience. I would have joined them, but I was too busy getting the hell out of the theater as soon as the end credits rolled. There will never be a good movie based on a video game. Deal with it.

5) Freedomland

Movie mogul Joe Roth, the head of Revolutions Studios, doesn’t direct movies fairly often and when he does they’re fairly awful (America’s Sweethearts, Christmas with the Kranks). This is a movie so mishandled by Roth that every moment feels false, and when it doesn’t feel false it feels trite and awkward. Freedomland seems so message-hungry and preoccupied with making some Big Statement that it forgets to be entertaining. Roth is clueless how to juggle all his plot elements, letting the racial tensions turn both sides into offensive stereotypes. Freedomland is so earnest to be earnest that it misses the mark when it comes to all the details. Julianne Moore is just flat-out embarrassing as she bounces off the walls as a loony mom. When the movie is entertaining, it’s mainly because of the wild overacting and the nonsensical human behavior. At its worst, Freedomland is offensive to cops and blacks and moviegoers in general with working grey matter, at its best Freedomland is a muddled, incompetently directed movie that drifts unchallenged toward its expected and welcomed end. Roth should leave directing to people that have a better feel for taking control of actors, material, and editing. For those that said the racially-charged Crash lacked tact, I invite them to take a trip to Freedomland.

4) Bloodrayne

I would actually hope reviled director Uwe Boll would take some solace knowing his abysmal vampire movie only ranked as the fourth worst film of the year. His previous stinker, Alone in the Dark, was my choice for worst film of 2005. Bloodrayne is the best of Boll’s troika of video-game adaptations, but even that statement is without praise. This lame sword-and-sorcery tale is merely bad, instead of absurdly bad like most of Boll’s oeuvre. The difference is one tiny adverb, folks. The film is limited in scope but still careless and absent-minded with its details. The action sequences are heavy on blood and short on orientation, edited within an inch of their life. Bloodrayne is full of Boll’s typical lapses in plot and characters, and there’s plenty of stupid to go around for everybody. The plot is made up of nonsensical guest shots by slumming actors, and the villain himself seems as menacing as someone’s toilet-bound grandpa. In the world of film it’s tricky to judge films on a scale of badness, because that scale is surprisingly varied. Bloodrayne is clearly bad, but it’s also more entertaining than his previous films. Maybe Boll is learning after all, though at this rate of progression he’ll reach “mildly tolerable” by the time the sun explodes.

3) Date Movie

This film was just another nail in the coffin of spoof comedy. Date Movie was supposed to be a spoof on romantic comedies, but what it ended up becoming was a spoof on anything. The film confused referencing with parodying, and they are world’s apart. Just because, for a split-second, someone dressed like Ben Stiller throws a dodge ball does not mean it is a parody. This painfully unfunny comedy went from setup to setup, blindly trying to grasp for a joke and falling back on scatological humor.  Most of the film references mean nothing and don’t even parlay into jokes, the joke itself is simply the reference, like the appearance of Napoleon Dynamite and King Kong. There was not a single point in this entire movie where I laughed out loud, a death sentence for a comedy. This movie makes Scary Movie and its geysers of semen look like Shakespeare.

2) An American Haunting
If you ever see the name Courtney Solomon attached to a movie, treat it like the plague; wear gloves if you must handle it and scrub your hands thoroughly afterwards. Solomon wrote and directed 2000’s Dungeons and Dragons, which is one of the most startlingly inept movies of all time, something you wish Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air for. Now, six years later, is Solomon’s sophomore effort which bills itself as a ghost story based on a true murder credited to an otherwordly force (I guess we’re ignoring all those great doctors saying disease is caused by God’s wrath). Except the movie isn’t anything it’s billed to be. The movie doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to scare people with its high school theatrics. It’s not a ghost story, unless you swallow whole the film’s flimsy recanting of what a ghost is, it doesn’t feature a murder by haunting, and it isn’t even true, unless you can additionally swallow ye olde folksy, biased medical accounts. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this. This movie isn’t so bad that it’s funny; it’s just terrible and boring. People as a whole should steer clear from this lamebrain, dull, amateurish fright flick. The only screams you’ll hear during An American Haunting are unintentional laughter.

1) Grandma’s Boy

I was really holding out this spot for Little Man, which looks like a cinematic abortion, but since I reluctantly never got a chance to see it, this spot is reserved for the abomination that is the arrested behavior comedy, Grandma’s Boy. It’s a film vehicle for an Adam Sandler crony, Allen Covert, who is forced to move in with his grandmother. What dooms this movie is that it is incredibly lazy, like it took far too many bong hits. It’s pathetic when a gross-out sex comedy can’t even get gratuitous nudity right. That just left my jaw on the floor that the movie even messed up gratuitous nudity. Dear Lord, do you know how easy that is to achieve? It takes an exceptional talent to screw that up. This movie is awash in unfunny characters, tired lewd jokes, and a laughable romantic subplot best described as giving false hope to a generation of people whose only interaction with women consists of Xbox games. This is a film that thinks it’s still funny to make Matrix jokes, you know, because that movie only came out 7 years ago. So timely. Grandma’s Boy doesn’t even introduce conflict for well over an hour; the whole thing just feels like a drunken party that you can’t wait to leave. There’s strong potential for a grand gross-out comedy involving horny old women, but this isn’t it. You mostly just feel sorry for the actors. This is a movie that doesn’t work on any level, except to keep Sandler’s buddies busy so they won’t crash on his couch.

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VARIOUS AWARDS AND HONORS FOR THE YEAR 2006

Best titles: The OH in Ohio, Snakes on a Plane, Idiocracy, Little Miss Sunshine, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Worst titles: Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Tristan and Isolde, Phat Girlz, Goal! The Dream Begins

Movie titles that could be confused with porn: Inside Man, Failure to Launch, Eight Below, Little Man, Stick It, Crank, and You, Me, and Dupree.

Most Unlikely Movie Star: Al Gore. Losing the 2000 presidency seems to have really agreed with him. The former VP emerged as an environmental rock star with his hit documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The movie was like a concert film of Gore’s slick slideshow on the horrors that potentially await us thanks to global warming. It was free of politics and highly persuasive but was also great entertainment. Gone was the stiff, robotic Gore and replaced with a charming, relaxed doppelganger. You know a movie has succeeded when they start rumors its star would be a worthy 2008 presidential candidate. Is it too much to ask for Mark Zupan (Murderball) being added to the ticket?

Third Time Not Always the Charm: X-Men 3, Saw III, Final Destination 3, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Best 10 Minutes of 2006: the unblinking tracking camera in Children of Men.

Runners-up: the bridge assault, Mission: Impossible III; the foot race through the construction site, Casino Royale; retaking the plane, United 93.

Lord of the Rings Award for Most in Need of an Editor: Hollywood summer movies. You used to rely on the summer months as a time for breezy, high-octane entertainment. What happened, Hollywood? The movies from this summer were bloated. The Da Vinci Code (140 minutes), Superman Returns (160 minutes), and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (150 minutes) weren’t thrill rides as much as they were endurance tests. Usually you’d expect the running time to go overboard with award-groomed fair (DeNiro’s The Good Shepard was 3 hours of people sitting silently like a family reunion), not summer movies. It seems like nowadays, even during the summer, you won’t be able to just slip in a movie but you’ll have to plan your day around one.

Best Onscreen Death: Hostel’s vengeance. The final act to this survival thriller will make you pump your fist for some grand vengeance. No other movie made me say this year, “Run them the fuck over.” Well, I think I thought it while watching An American Haunting, but that was only wishful thinking and it was never verbalized.

Runner’s-up: Morgan Freeman + Ben Kinglsey + a plastic bag, Lucky Number Slevin; a skin rippin’ good time for Pyramid Head, Silent Hill; the whack-a-mole finale to The Departed.

Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar Award: Snakes on a Plane

Thora Birch Award for Hottest Actress of 2006: Eva Green, Casino Royale. Honestly, it was a hard year to come up with many candidates for this award this year, but Green was lithe and strong and plenty sexy in a way Bond girls rarely are.

Best Villain: Collin Sullivan in The Departed. Jack Nicholson was wacky and demented, sure, but he wasn’t nearly as terrifying as Matt Damon’s portrayal as a cop/mole for the mob. Sullivan gladly sold his soul for a taste of the good life, and he will do whatever it takes to keep it that way. This calculating weasel is even scarier when you realize he doesn’t view himself as a villain but simply any other guy doing what he needs to get by, no matter how many throats get slit.

Runner’s-up: Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III; Sacha Baron Cohen in Talladega Nights; and cultural misunderstanding in Babel.

Weirdest Moment of 2006: the cow in Barnyard: The Original Party Animals. I’ve seen many disturbing things in my life, but nothing as potentially damaging as what I saw in this Nickelodeon animated movie. In case you didn’t realize, there was like 6,854 animated films released last year. The main character of Barnyard was a wisecracking male cow, otherwise known as a bull. However, this was a boy cow with udders, which, in case you didn’t know, are for girls. Either the main character is a hermaphroditic cow or Nickelodeon is twisting all laws or nature. I hate to think that this movie may be responsible for little children everywhere walking up to boy cows, tugging their “udder,” and wondering when the milk arrives.

Runner’s-up: freaking every second of Silent Hill; “Snakes on crack!” Snakes on a Plane; “special guest star” Billy Zane in Bloodrayne.

Most Gratuitous Moment of 2006: Bloodrayne’s sex scene. Rayne is plagued by nightmares of her vampiric urges. One night she has a vivid nightmare where she relives slaughtering her circus. She’s startled awake. What’s her first instinct? She grabs Sebastian (Matthew Davis), pins him against her cell bars, and proceeds to ride him like she has the upper body of a weight lifter. Maybe this is the lone benefit of being a vampire: a wider selection of sexual positions. The sex is sloppy and unerotic in its ludicrousness. Director Uwe Boll also manages to make sure his camera gets every loving detail of Loken’s nipples being lapped at. Boll figures that this gratuitous sex scene (it really couldn’t get any more gratuitous if they were skydiving) is meant to bond the characters into a romantic relationship. This forced romance is, like many elements in Bloodrayne, also inept. It stretches believability when this moment is all we have to go on why Rayne and Sebastian feel for one another. When they part Sebastian is crestfallen, though I think it’s more because he just lost the only girl he’ll ever meet that can perform gymnastic sex. Talk about a perfect score on the parallel bars.

Stretching Their Wings: Larry the Cable Guy, for playing both a cable guy and a health inspector in Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Look out, DeNiro.

Fire the Casting Director Award: (tie) Sean Penn in All the King’s Men and Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns. There was no reason for a remake of the 1949 Best Picture-winning All the King’s Men to exist in the first place, but having Penn play the blustery corrupt Southern politician didn’t help. Penn didn’t just chew the scenery, he freaking inhaled it with hurricane velocity. You could feel the actors around him cringing and trying to get as far away as possible from Penn’s apoplectic Foghorn Leghorn. It’s hard to believe at one point that this leaden remake was considered a front runner for Best Picture. As for Bosworth, she was way too young and way too bland for a role that needs personality. She didn’t seem like Lois Lane, she felt like Lois Lane’s younger sister on semester break from college. If she was the mother to Superman’s kid then it sure seems like the Man of Steel may have violated some state laws on statutory rape.

Sure She’s a Lock for an Oscar But…: Helen Mirren in Shadowboxer. Mirren is the biggest lock for an acting award in forever. Bookies won’t even take bets on the race. In an effort to keep the gifted Miss Mirren humble, I must now paraphrase the plot synopsis for the 2006 film Shadowboxer: “When Rose (Mirren), a female assassin, is diagnosed with terminal cancer; she decides to carry out one final killing, assisted by lover and also stepson, Mickey (Cuba Gooding Jr.).” Remember that when she walks up to accept her 392nd acting award for the season.

Greatest Acting by an Ass: Jordana Brewster in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. You can’t hope for much when it comes to slasher cinema, let alone a prequel to a terrible remake. The only moment of interest in this ode to Leatherface’s upbringing was how in the hell Jordana Brewster’s pants stay on. For the entire movie she wears a pair of low rise jeans (which of course were all the rage in the 1960s, right?) that magically defy every law of physics and gravity to stay attached, despite the fact that Brewster’s butt crack would put plumber’s to shame. It’s pretty bad when an actress is upstaged by her ass, but it’s another thing when the ass gets more screen time than most of the other actors. I can’t wait to see Brewster’s ass try other roles.

Best Movie I Saw in 2006 (That Wasn’t Released in 2006): Match Point

Best Time I Had in a Theater in 2006: It’s odd, but the best theatrical experience I had was within the first few days of the 2006 calendar. I had a total blast watching Eli Roth’s twisted Hostel with a packed audience that squealed and grimaced at all the right parts. Even better was when applause and cheers broke out toward the end as bloody justice was served. My friend Sara has family from that area, Bratislava, and she is in no hurry to visit after a trip to Hostel.

Special consideration: Had I seen Borat in a movie theater it would likely have been victorious in this category. That’s generally the rule, comedies and horror films are more fun when made into a communal experience.

Proof Indiana Jones May Want to Hang Up the Whip: Firewall. It’s a sad realization that the man who was Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, the president, and one hell of an Amish cop has become, well, old. Firewall was an awful, cookie-cutter action movie with Ford in visible pain whenever he had to spit out techno jargon. What was even more visibly painful was that the film had to work extra hard to even involve Ford in action scenes. The man is 64-years old, and even after he did get physical in Firewall it seemed to be followed by a moment with Ford falling down. It was a sad trend for one of the most suave and masculine figures in modern movies to be turned into the “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up” lady (God rest her soul). The only way an Indiana Jones 4 would work is if Indy body swaps with The Rock.

Non-nominated Movies I Enjoyed More than Best Picture Nominees Babel and Little Miss Sunshine: United 93, V for Vendetta, Brick, Apocalypto, Little Children, The Illusionist, Pan’s Labyrinth, Superman Returns, Stranger than Fiction, The Notorious Bettie Page, Night at the Museum, Casino Royale, Clerks 2, Children of Men, Rocky Balboa, An Inconvenient Truth, Talladega Nights, Jesus Camp, Flags of our Fathers, Thank You for Smoking, Cars, Who Killed the Electric Car?, The Lake House, The Break-Up, Lucky # Slevin, The Devil Wears Prada, Inside Man, Akeelah and the Bee, Mission: Impossible III, Half Nelson, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Borat, Running Scared, Hostel, and The Guardian. In theory, I would be happier with any of these winning over Babel and Little Miss Sunshine. Take that, Academy.

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