As I sit at my desk and ponder my nominations for this year’s Central Ohio Film Critics Association awards (you can find the results at COFCA.org), I can’t help but think that it’s been a pretty rough year to be a film critic. Throughout December, as my fellow film critics and I hibernated inside frigid movie theaters, armed with blankets, gloves, coffee, and boxes full of Tim Horton’s donuts, we all became a little concerned. When we began our non-stop, month-long movie marathon, we all had high hopes for the so-called Award Hopefuls. But each day, as our hopes were once again dashed by another over-hyped mediocre film, I watched as the life slowly drained from my fellow critics’ eyes. By the time it was over, I’d heard several of my fellow critics announce that they never wanted to see another movie, ever again. I may have even made that statement myself.
Somehow, though, we all made it through—without a single casualty. And now that December is behind us—and a new year is upon us—it’s time to take a look back at the ups and downs of 2006.
Movies That Made Me Love My Job
Despite a less-than-stellar year in general (and a brutal December in specific), there were, fortunately, a few movies that came out this year that actually made me love my job.
The Prestige: In a year of mostly mediocre movies, The Prestige was one of the few that I saw this year that I immediately wanted to see again. Brilliantly written, directed, and acted, with dizzying twists. Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, I’ve recommended The Prestige the most.
Thank You for Smoking: This movie may have gotten most of its press because of the whole hoo-hah over Mrs. Tom Cruise’s Mysterious Disappearing Nude Scene—but (Mrs. Tom Cruise aside), it’s actually a really good movie. In one scene, the three representatives of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms argue over which of them is the most worthy of an assassination attempt by comparing the number of people their product kills each day. So, okay…it may not always be PC, but this smart satire sure is fun.
Dreamgirls: Great music, good performances, and Eddie Murphy channeling the late James Brown. Can it get much better than this? Dreamgirls may not be life-changing or Earth-shattering or eye-opening, but it’s entertaining—and sometimes that’s all that matters.
Stranger Than Fiction: Like most of my other favorite movies this year, Stranger Than Fiction was pretty much overlooked by moviegoers in general. Apparently, people were too busy going to see Saw III. But there’s just so much to love about this movie. The story is smart. Emma Thompson is phenomenal. And Will Ferrell is unusually un-Will Ferrell.
Infamous: Seen it? I didn’t think so. So many people missed out on a great movie this year—just because it ended up coming a year behind in the Great Truman Capote Race. But Toby Jones is fabulous flamboyant as Capote—and Sandra Bullock gives arguably one of her best performances ever as Harper Lee.
The Departed: This was one of the first great movies (and one of the few great movies) of the so-called Awards Season—and it gave me a false sense of hope that more great films were on the way. I was wrong there—but at least I had The Departed. It gave me a whole new respect for Matt Damon—and it gave me a reason to like Leo DiCaprio.
Flushed Away: Okay, so maybe it’s not the most brilliant of movies. The plot is a little sketchy, but I loved it anyway. I’m not even going to tell you how many times I’ve seen it already. I just love those darn slugs. I can’t help it, darnit.
Little Miss Sunshine: Ah, the family road trip…. It’s often long and monotonous, but it’s always full of surprises. While Little Miss Sunshine isn’t as fast-paced and slapstick as, say, National Lampoon’s Vacation, it’s just as fun. If you haven’t seen this one yet, see it now—before the commercial for the DVD ruins everything for you.
American Dreamz: I missed this one when it came out—but a fellow film critic handed me the DVD later, and I immediately fell in love. It made little more than a blip on the radar this year, and then it was gone—but this darkly hilarious American Idol satire is well worth checking out.
Best NASCAR Movie:
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Film critic or not, I’m still a sucker for a little low-brow humor—and this is low-brow humor at its finest. Shake and bake!
Best Served with Pizza and Beer:
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny: I know I’m not supposed to love this movie, but I do. With a cameo from Meatloaf and songs like “Dude, I Totally Miss You,” you just can’t go wrong with this over-the-top rock opera. And I will freely admit that the film’s soundtrack is the only thing that kept me from killing myself during the month of December.
Hands-Down Best Theater Experience of the Year:
Snakes on a Plane: Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a great movie, but it was just plain fun. I can’t remember an opening-night crowd being so insane since Star Wars: Episode I.
Most Memorable Movie Theater Moment: When the entire theater joined Samuel L. Jackson in shouting, “That’s it! I’ve had it with these muthaf*#kin’ snakes on this muthaf*#kin’ plane!”
Movies That Made Me Consider a New Career Path:
When I was in seventh grade, I took some sort of career guidance test that was supposed to help us all decide what we wanted to be when we grew up. One of the things on my list of possible careers was Garbage Collector. This year, I often considered switching over to a career in garbage collection—because it couldn’t possibly stink more than these movies did.
Lady in the Water: Of all the movies that I hated this year, this one floats right up to the top. This latest M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie is such a monstrosity that I made one of my fellow critics promise that he wouldn’t let me watch one of this megalomaniacal filmmaker’s movies again. The next time one screens, we’re going to play laser tag instead.
Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj: You know it’s bad when Van Wilder wasn’t even stupid enough to make an appearance. And when the university’s big year-long school-sponsored tournament includes a beer-chugging contest and a dog show. Why, oh why, didn’t I call in sick the night this one screened?
Home of the Brave (Review to come, if and when the movie is released): I’ve never laughed so hard while watching a drama. Sure, the intentions were good, but the movie was horrible. The only good thing about it is that the filmmakers were kind enough to kill off Chad Michael Murray in the very beginning. Unfortunately, Curtis “Fitty Cent” Jackson and Jessica Biel survive.
Deck the Halls: It’s movies like this one that make one really hate Christmas. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if several people converted to Judaism just because of this movie. There are, after all, way more painful Christmas movies than there are painful Hanukkah movies.
Employee of the Month: Okay, so it probably could have been a little bit worse. But it also could have been better. Then again…with Jessica Simpson as the star, it most likely couldn’t have been better.
Trust the Man: They say women are confusing and indecisive—but we couldn’t possibly be as bad as Bart Freundlich, the guy who made this movie.
Fast Food Nation: This film had all the subtlety and all the artistic quality of an after-school special. And, just for the record, I still eat at McDonald’s. So there.
Marie Antoinette: I’m still trying to figure out how a movie about such a fascinating historical figure could be so very boring. Marie Antoinette is one of those people—like, say Genghis Kahn, who should be interesting. Why, Sofia Coppola? Why couldn’t you make something happen in this movie?
Eragon: The only good thing I can say about this Star Wars / Lord of the Rings knock-off is that at least it was funny-bad. If it weren’t so ridiculously (albeit unintentionally) funny, I would have had to kill myself right there in the theater.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: I was really looking forward to seeing this one. I loved the first one, and I could only imagine that the second one would be awesome. Instead, it was awesomely bad. A travesty, even. Sure, it made kazillions at the box office, but let’s face it. It was bad. Months later, just thinking about how Johnny Depp was transformed into a ridiculous rodeo clown still makes me angry.
Most Nasty, Horrifying, Bloody Deaths:
The entire month of December. Thanks to all the major film studios (and some of the minor ones) for making me watch gruesome death after gruesome death for days on end, until even my dreams were angry and violent. It made for a lovely holiday season. Thanks also to Unaccompanied Minors for giving me a little comic relief amid all the gore. I don’t think I would have survived until January without it.