Last year I griped that all the critics were saying what a bad year for movies it was, when there were actually a lot of great movies to see. This year, I’m forced to throw my lot in with the rest of them; this was a bad year for movies. Sure, there were some good ones, but overall, bad movies and movies that didn’t live up to their potential ruled the day. With wave after wave of disappointment, even the holiday season had difficulty granting us some real classics.
As I compiled my best and worst lists, I noticed there were interesting similarities in the members of each category. So, this year, rather than give a basic 1-2-3 rundown of the picks and pans, I decided to group them in order to provide a more holistic picture. Actually it just makes it easier for me to talk about more movies while simultaneously allowing me to wuss out on declaring which was my favorite. So, without further ado ...
Documentaries or “Keepin’ it Reel”
As vapid and disappointing as many of the feature films were this year, it was certainly a good time for quality documentaries. Best of the lot: “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” a scathingly funny look at the MPAA and the ratings board. It exposes the hypocrisy at the center of America’s morality police in a way that is both shocking and completely enjoyable. Also great are the environment one-two punch of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s riveting and terrifyingly important explanation of the realities of global warming, and “Who Killed the Electric Car?” a film that shows us in painful detail how the corporate bottom line can often get in the way of real progress.
Last but not least is the ostensibly nonpartisan “Why We Fight,” a brilliant examination of both the underlying actual reasons for our involvement in conflict around the world and an eye-opening look at the justification regular people give for going to war. It is both poignant and sad.
Leonardo is “King of the World!”
This was a good year for Leonardo DiCaprio as both of his high-profile projects have gone on to critical and box office success. First, “The Departed,” Martin Scorsese’s triumphant return to form. The story of two moles, one in the mob and one in the FBI, circling each other in a deadly game of cat and mouse, plays brilliantly until the very end, when the tightly wound thread begins to unravel. Not before, however, DiCaprio gives a brilliant performance as Billy Costigan, an undercover agent constantly in fear of discovery by Jack Nicholson’s insane crime boss.
Also good is “Blood Diamond.” DiCaprio plays a Rhodesian diamond smuggler determined to help tortured Djimon Hounsou get his family back, all the while scheming to get his hands on the most valuable stone anyone’s ever seen. The movie is exciting and powerful, showcasing great acting from Hounsou and DiCaprio. Currently, Leonardo has been nominated for the Best Actor Golden Globe for both of these movies, an almost unheard of event.
At least two great independent films graced the screen, though maybe not at a theater near you. First up is the film getting all the award season buzz any movie could hope for. “Little Miss Sunshine” is sweet, dark, funny and downright disturbing, all wrapped up in a cute yellow package. Steve Carrell and little Abigail Breslin distinguish themselves among a brilliant cast. Also great, but receiving no buzz is the little seen “Friends with Money.” A typical indie film where little happens, an incredibly strong female cast, including Jennifer Aniston, Francis MacDormand, Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack, explore the often hilarious, often painful travails of reaching middle age and discovering who you are.
Last but not least
Rounding out the pack were a few big-star films that made the grade. Sylvester Stallone’s touching and triumphant “Rocky Balboa” allows you to comfortably forget “Rocky 5” and remember what it was we all loved about the Italian Stallion. Clint Eastwood gives us a powerful look at the men who fought and died at Iwo Jima and the cost they ultimately paid when they made it back to the states in “Flags of Our Fathers.”
Will Ferrell proves he’s more than just a funny face with the whimsical and charming headtrip, “Stranger than Fiction,” a movie with brilliant writing and brilliant performances across the board. This was possibly my favorite film of the year.
And finally, a fitting farewell to genius filmmaker Robert Altman with his sweet homage to the genial character of Garrison Keillor in “A Prairie Home Companion.” Packed from top to bottom with stars, this film is worth seeing if only for Kevin Kline’s gloriously portrayal of Guy Noir, private eye.
The title of this category refers not only to the fact that these two films take place in or around the water, but to the fact that the studios took a major bath at the box office. Wolfgang Peterson’s big budget remake “Poseidon” seemed like a can’t-miss, until it did. Terrible performances and an odd mean streak made this one ship wreck everyone was happy to see finally slip below the surface. Similarly, M. Night Shyamalan’s lame fairy tale for grown-ups, “Lady in the Water” made so little sense that it felt as though the actors were making it up as they went along. You know you’re in trouble when the director casts himself has a writer whose work will save the world.
Just not funny
This year was plagued by films that should have been funny, wanted to be funny, but just weren’t. “The Break-Up,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn is a singularly uncomedic relationship comedy about two characters who actually seem to dislike each other. The onscreen fights were so real that the movie was just uncomfortable.
Jack Black struck out as well with he Mexican wrestling comedy, “Nacho Libre.” Following up “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess shows off not only his bigger budget, but his creepy dislike for his characters, as well.
Adam Sandler completely let me down with the idiotic “I can remote control my world” one-note joke movie, “Click.” A poor attempt to recreate “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Click’s” only redeeming feature is David Hasselhof as Sandler’s vapid and vacant boss.
Big budget downers
This year saw at least two successful series go down the tubes, artistically, if not financially. “X-Men 3” was one of the most disappointing, depressing movies I’ve ever been to. While simply being mediocre, action-wise, the film thumbs its nose at everything that was joyous and great about the previous films, tossing aside favorite characters like used Kleenex and disregarding the fans’ love of the series.
“Pirates of the Caribbean 2” held no deep-seated emotional connection for me, but, as I enjoyed the original, I was not pleased to be subjected to the relentless assault of pointless action pieces in the sequel. Saddest of all is that it’s made more than a billion dollars worldwide.
Just plain bad
And then, of course, are those films that are bad, no matter what category you put them in. Sharon Stone’s triumphant return in “Basic Instinct 2” begs the revival of Mystery Science Theater for an adult audience. Nicholas Cage shouting at a group of schoolgirls was about the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, but I don’t think “The Wicker Man” was intended to be a comedy. And when you put Rob Schneider as the straightman in your goofy sports comedy, you have to know you’re headed for trouble. “The Benchwarmers” is definitely no exception to the rule.
But, for worst of the worst, you have to give it to the WWE for giving us “The Marine,” a mind-numbingly stupid movie about, get this, a Marine, who has to rescue his wife from a pack of brain-dead jewel thieves. The only thing fun about the movie is trying to decide if star John Cena was actually Matt Damon in a muscle suit.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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