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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ben's Eagerly Awaited 2006 Movie Recommendations

[In honor of Gerald Ford, the President Bush has given federal employees a day off. So this post goes out to you, Jerry!]

A strange thing happened to me on the way to the movie theater (my perpetual state of being) in the year 2006. I got married.

Now marrying Christy is the best decision I ever made aside from deciding to follow Jesus. Christy has filled my life with joys great and small. She encourages me and enables me to face challenges at work and otherwise which scare me. She truly makes me happy. Marriage also, however, limits my movie-watching capacity.

First off, there's the issue of time. I spend a lot less time alone and a lot more time with Christy. Simply cooking dinner and cleaning house - acts I previously accomplished with a microwave and procrastination, but now perform alongside Christy - take a hell of a lot of time. This means less time spent watching movies. Second, Christy and I have similar, but not exactly the same, tastes. Thus, when we do go the movies - and I've only seen one movie without her since I got married - I try to pick movies we would both enjoy. This sometimes rules out ultra-violent films which I'm curious to see (i.e. Apocalypto, The Descent). Finally, it turns out there are other things to do than see movies. (Who knew?) This is something Christy likes to point out to me when I suggest for the 1,007,528th time that we watch this cool movie. She has a point.

Bottom line: My movie-watching experience was greatly limited in comparison to previous years. There are a number of good movies which I have missed. And it will likely remain that way in future years. The price I willingly pay for deep and abiding happiness. I love Christy that much.

Now, enough of this mushiness. On to the list, presented in no particular order. These are the movies I recommend from 2006:

  1. Brick: Any lover of film noir owes it to himself/herself to see this movie. The idea of taking the film noir conventions and placing them in a high school may sound like a dumb gimmick. But it works out brilliantly. You might even be skeptical because it stars that kid from Third Rock From the Sun. Don't be. Brick is the modern-day heir to The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Out of the Past, The Third Man, and other classics.
  2. The Departed: This one rightfully takes its place at the top of many critics Top 10 lists. It would compete with Brick and Children of Men for me, but I can't deny how awesome this movie is. I mean, The Departed has it all. A brilliant conceit: double-agents in the police and the mob struggling to discover each other before they are themselves uncovered and dealt with. A cornucopia of top notch-talent directed by one of the all-time greats. Plot twists and backstabbing aplenty. Tension continually ratcheted up.
  3. United 93: When I saw the trailer for this movie, I wanted to scream at the screen, "How dare you?" I expected a cloying movie which exploited the memories of 9/11's heroes for ticket sales and turned them into cliched patriotic stereotypes. As is often the case (see "Casino Royale" below), I was wrong. United 93 approaches 9/11 with a documentary-like style, immersing us on the chaos and confusion on the ground and in the planes. No cheesy music. No false character development. Just the rush of events, confusion, desperate decisions, true heroism, and tragedy. I left the theater crying and deeply appreciative that director Paul Greengrass got it right.
  4. Casino Royale: Speaking of me getting things wrong, I owe a whopping apology to Daniel Craig, the new and perfectly fitting James Bond. I thought I would never get over my favorite Bond, Pierce Brosnan. But that thought died in the first 2 minutes of this film. And it only got better, piercing the soul of 007 and discovering how he became the cold-hearted, fearless, womanizing spy we all know and love. All while keeping up the spectacular action. Pierce who?
  5. Little Miss Sunshine: How do you take a picture with a suicide attempt, drug use, dysfunctional families, and a chilling look into the exploitative world of child beauty pageants.... and make the heartwarming, feel-good comedy hit of the year? That takes a special kind of genius.
  6. Stranger Than Fiction: Will Farrel pulls a Jim-Carry-in-The-Truman-Show and succeeds. Another brilliant screenplay conceit. One step below a Charlie Kaufman script, and that ain't a bad place to be.
  7. Inside Man: Spike Lee abandons the bizarre preachiness and delivers a slam-bang heist flick. Another cast clicking on all cylinders. And I love the opening scene with Clive Owen. "My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself."
  8. Cars: Chalk this up as another "Ben was wrong." "Surely," I thought "Pixar can't keep up their string of witty, kid-friendly, adult-friendly hits forever without eventually making a bad film, or at least a mediocre one." And Cars looked like a good candidate based on the trailer. I mean they had Larry the Cable Guy in it. I hate that guy! Instead - surprise, surprise - Pixar somehow crafted yet another film which I and my 3-year-old nephew love with equal enthusiasm. How do they DO that?
  9. Over the Hedge: It's no Cars, but I had to include it just for these lines. "Rosebud." "We, like, worked our tails off, you know? Like, a lot! And the food we gathered was totally...you know! And you're...you're all whatever." "Look at this. The grass actually seems to be greener over here!" Also, this is a witty, ever-so-slightly subversive take on suburbia. Also - "curse you, plastic moldsmen!"
  10. The Proposition: I'm a fan of latter-day, unsentimental Westerns. They don't get less sentimental than this sometimes-gruesome, sometimes-beautiful, morally ambiguous, compelling, set-in-Australia Western. (Does that setting make it an Eastern?) Not for the faint of stomach, but fascinating in the way it makes you sympathize with and hate all manner of characters at the same time.
  11. Miami Vice: I never saw the '80s TV show and I don't feel any the worse for it. This is basically a run-of-the-mill action, cops-and-robbers movie which makes this list for 2 reasons: 1) 2 of the most awesome kill shots in recent action cinema history, 2) random throwaway shots of awesome beauty. You can tell this was made by the guy who made Collateral.
  12. Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Not as good as the first, but I'm a sucker for a sword fight. And, in that category, POTC 2 does not disappoint. Swashbuckling aplenty. There is also plenty of wittiness to go around. And, of course, Johnny freakin' Depp. Have I mentioned he can do anything?
  13. 16 Blocks: Chalk this up as a well-constructed thriller. Again, not deep. It's not even a Miami Vice. But I was actually touched by the buddy story. The less you know about this picture going in, the better.
  14. Thank You For Smoking: The most brilliant comedy I've seen in years. Turns many movie conventions on its head to get you cheering for a despicable front man for the tobacco industry. All while taking numerous well-placed jabs at a million and one deserving targets. Aaron Eckhart for Best Actor!
  15. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story: How do you adapt a novel which starts at the narrator's birth, gets sidetracked, and ends at the narrators birth? By being equally funny, meandering, and surprising. The film simply defies description. What do I call this - a half-mockumentary, half-adaptation? See it. You'll be glad you did.
  16. Children of Men: It's the camera work that got me. Love at first deep-focus shot. Then there's the details of an infertile, decaying world, such as a commercial for suicide pills that looks like it's advertising anti-depressants. The chase sequences are virtuoso. The sense of bleakness, despair, and tiny glimmers of hope. Clive Owen for Best Actor! Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director! Seriously, Cuaron is a master at directing action in long shots. Children of Men blasts that other dystopian British future (V for Vendetta) out of the water
Okay, that's all I got. See you next year. And whenever I blog again. Let me know what you think of these films if you see them.

And post some of your own recommendations.

11 Comments:

  • My own list is coming soon, but I hesitate to post it since I haven't seen a lot of the movies I feel I need to ("The Good Shepherd", "Stranger Than Fiction", "Children of Men", etc.) I probably will anyway, though.

    Also, make up your mind on Best Actor.

    By Blogger Mike, at 1/02/2007 5:14 PM  

  • No! I refuse to make up my mind!

    Also Martin Scorcese and Alfonso Cuaron for best director.

    See Stranger Than Fiction and Children of Men, by all means. The Good Shepherd I could take or leave.

    By Blogger Ben, at 1/02/2007 9:02 PM  

  • Damn! You've preempted me with a number of really special movies that people might not have seen. Especially The Proposition. Like Mike, there are others that I need to see before making my list, but I have a tentative list already, and we agree on some things.

    I thought Stranger Than Fiction was mediocre at best. Will Ferrell sucked in it. He was totally over the top and unbelievable as a normal person, but not enough so to be believable as a caricature. The Truman Show was a million times better than this. It is entirely inexplicable why Maggie Gyllenhaal would go for him. That whole love story didn't work AT ALL for me. Will Ferrell's character should've been played by a better, younger, and more attractive actor.

    Thank You For Not Smoking had a lot of great humor, particularly in its first half. But it completely wussed out at the end by turning into a typical father-son buddy movie and abandoning its entire bad guy you love premise. It took the easy way out and totally cheapened everything that had come before it. For me, it ruined the whole movie, not that everything that came before it was spectacular anyway. There were large blocks of time that went really slowly.

    Other than that, we mostly agree. You have a few on there that I haven't seen (16 Blocks, Miami Vice). But I have a bunch more movies that I feel like I have to see before making my list:

    edmond, apocalypto, the death of mr lazarescu, 16 blocks, notes on a scandal, house of sand, day night day night, apocalypto, flags of our fathers, letters from iwo jima, miami vice, the queen, volver, children of men, a scanner darkly, all the king's men, the black dahlia, lady in the water, shortbus, the good shepherd, the descent, the illusionist, world trade center...

    I have the vast majority of those already on my computer waiting to be watched, but like you I am limited by the lady; for a number of those, Jeanette has demanded that I not watch without her. But I will probably watch all but maybe two or three of those before making my list.

    By Blogger David, at 1/04/2007 9:07 PM  

  • David, I'm sure you will become far more versed than myself in what little-known movies are out there. Movies like The Proposition are the kind of stuff I went to by myself before I got married.

    I disagree with you on the 2nd half of Thank You For Smoking. Yes, it used many of the cliches of the father-son buddy movie...but to what end? The son ends up encouraging his father to be the best darned morally deficient creep he can be. The stand-up-and-cheer moment is when the father pledges to buy his son cigarettes on his 18th birthday. To me this wasn't getting lazy and relying on cliches...it was turning the typical cliches on their head....a continuation of the film's cheerful cynicism. Reminds me a lot of how Adaptation wrapped its screenplay up with cliches as a commentary on cliched screenplays.

    By Blogger Ben, at 1/05/2007 1:59 PM  

  • POTC 2?

    Blech. Throw it back.

    Come on, Ben. I didn't expect that one to come anywhere near your list. Depp went from hilariously funny in POTC 1 to just stupid looking in the second. And Keira Knightley can't act worth spitting at. And she's got horrible teeth.

    BTW, e-mail me your new address, eh? Chris and I found a Christmas present for you that was way too good to pass up. :-)

    By Blogger Monica, at 1/05/2007 2:40 PM  

  • Keira Knightly deserved an Oscar nomination for Pride and Prejudice. I'm aware that people on your blog didn't like her version, Monica. After mature reflection, I've decided this means I'm right and they are wrong.

    By Blogger Ben, at 1/05/2007 3:49 PM  

  • I've said it before, and I'll say it again: A Prairie Home Companion was brilliant.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 1/11/2007 11:04 AM  

  • I was a big fan of "The Illusionist." The plot is kind of fun (if more predictable than it aims to be). It's pretty much a vehicle for Edward Norton, who rocks. And Paul Giamatti, who I usually hate, did well also. It was just a lot of fun.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1/11/2007 8:24 PM  

  • Wow, you see a lot of movies...
    The last one I saw was Star Wars: Episode III, with Hebrew subtitles.
    It was more fun trying to follow the subtitles than it was to watch the movie...

    By Blogger Michael, at 1/29/2007 9:57 AM  

  • Really Ben? You liked the new james bond movie? I thought it was slow. I also thought it was out of character for James Bond. Has he ever fallen in love before? I would have never thought of Bond being taken by a woman. It seemed a bit sappy to me. Almost like a chic flic.

    By Anonymous smlwoman, at 2/02/2007 2:15 AM  

  • By the way, I really liked Blood Diamond.

    By Anonymous smlwoman, at 2/02/2007 2:19 AM  

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