Writing

2006: The Year in Film Reviewed

Dawn Xiana Moon, originally published on RelevantMagazine.com

The New Year is upon us and every columnist is scrambling to summarize the last 12 months with some pithy remarks - it’s something of a trendy, annual sickness, and I too have succumbed. But this year, I thought I’d spare you the Top 10 list and instead give out my own awards featuring some of the notable - for better or worse - films that came out this year.

Most Disappointing Sequel: X-Men: The Last Stand
The first two X-Men movies set a high standard: sure, they have their share of action sequences and things blowing up, but they’re surprisingly character-driven. Under a new director, The Last Stand just couldn’t measure up: the characters are underutilized and the writing just isn’t as solid as previous incarnations. And most disappointing, Jean Grey/The Phoenix is touted as the bringer of the Apocalypse but is allowed to do little besides stand around until the last few minutes of the film.

Best Martial Arts Film: Fearless
Martial arts films have become more interesting in the last few years with the advent of directors like Zhang Yimou, and Fearless is an excellent example of the new direction that the genre is taking. There’s little not to like in this underdog story, and it’s Jet Li’s best performance to date. Unfortunately, it’s also reputed to be his last.

Conspicuously Hip Award: Little Miss Sunshine
It’s not a bad movie. But it tries so hard to be “cool” and “indie” that its characters become caricatures, too obviously quirky to elicit real empathy.

Most Offensive Film: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Sacha Baron Cohen has managed to offend just about everyone. It’s deliberate, but whether his shock tactics succeed as humor is hard to gauge: I have yet to meet anyone that thoroughly enjoyed the film. At best, I’ve heard lackluster praise with the caveat that images of naked, fat men wrestling will be forever seared into your memory.

Misspelled Title Award: The Pursuit of Happyness
Yes, I know this was deliberate too. But it still irks my inner English major.

Best Satire: Thank You for Smoking
Thank You for Smoking is not only entertaining, it’s thought-provoking: here we have a subtle primer in logic and how to reframe an argument. My only complaint is with Katie Holmes, who was miscast in her role as the hard-nosed journalist.

Bad Novel Begets Bad Movie Award: The Da Vinci Code
Take one piece of wildly popular, badly written pulp fiction with controversial historical and religious inaccuracies, add a couple of stars, bring it to the big screen, and what do you get? A plodding movie that even diehard fans of the book can’t appreciate.

Surprise Award: An Inconvenient Truth
Who knew Al Gore would be a successful filmmaker?

Best Costuming and Set Design: Curse of the Golden Flower
While the film overall is disappointing - it lacks the inner brilliance or sparkle of good storytelling - the visuals are stunning. Set in the late Tang Dynasty, Curse of the Golden Flower is filled with opulent costumes and colorful, expansive sets. It’s worth watching purely for the striking design.

Most Violent Film: Apocalypto
Braveheart is one of my favorite films. Generally speaking, I’m not particularly bothered by onscreen violence. Even so, Apocalyto was hard to watch. The film opens with a tapir hunt and from there the plot becomes a thin excuse for ever more vivid depictions of brutality. One gets the sense that this isn’t all pointless - though the Point is less than obvious - but it is gratuitous. While painting Gibson as a racist out to defame the Maya is rather extreme, I am disappointed that he didn’t depict the glory of the Mayan civilization: we spend most of our time running through the jungle and are only given a few shots of the grandeur that was Mayan architecture.

Puzzle Award: The Illusionist
The Illusionist is delightfully elegant in its simplicity, though it follows in the footsteps of films like The Sixth Sense: it feels straightforward but, like a good magician, saves a bit of mystery for the finish. And Jessica Biel gives a surprisingly solid performance (I’ll admit it, I wasn’t expecting much from her).

Movie I Most Wanted to Watch but Haven’t Yet: Half Nelson
By all counts, it’s an intelligent, nuanced film that rises above the idealistic-teacher-impacts-the-lives-of-his-poor-students type. Exceptional performances, strong writing, deft direction, all the essential elements of a good character study - this one is definitely high on the DVD rental list.

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