Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
by John Topping
This is a list of the 60 films that passed before my eyes which were released in New York City between January 1 and December 31 of the year 2006.
I usually draw the distinction between calling a movie “the best film” vs. “my favorite film.”  All opinions being subjective, it is more than a little arrogant to deem a piece of art better above all others.  But then I also discovered that most people never read this introduction to the list (you are an exception), and besides, it’s not as easy to argue with any passion that a film is someone’s favorite.  It does not call into question any kind of standard.  To each his own; there is no accounting for taste; one carnivore’s side dish is another vegetarian’s entree; and so on.  So it is as a favor to you that I go the arrogant route, in order to make your agreement or disagreement more firm, more real, more alive.
Please note that the films within each category are listed alphabetically.
L’enfant (The Child)
A punch-in-the-gut of a movie.  Not one false moment.  A harrowing tale!  What other quotable bites can I come up with?  Leaves you shaken. Pure cinema. (Some criticize that the baby in the film is the quietest, most well-behaved infant in the world; I'm, like, whatEVer.)
The Queen
Even a badly-behaved 42nd Street audience at a midnight show could not stop me from thoroughly enjoying this superb piece of work.  I can’t remember a better Stephen Frears film.  It’s become popular to single out all praise to Helen Mirren’s performance; sublime though she is, don't forget that the film itself is also pure gold.
Though serious and weighty, it was extremely refreshing to be drawn into a totally believable and frightening world.  And I SO appreciate filmmaking that does not over-decorate and over-emphasize itself with music.  In many ways, it’s the film that last year’s fourth-rate “Crash” wished it could have been.
Another Pixar movie too good to simply call "Best Animated Film." Not as good as “Little Nemo,” but way better than “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.”; maybe tied with “A Bug’s Life” (although that film was a little more human).
Go against your “Adam Sandler? You Can’t Be Serious” instincts and give this wonderful gem a chance.
The Departed
For those who insist on being in the hands of a master when they watch a film, it's hard to top Martin Scorsese.  This one may be ultimately "unimportant," but it's pure pleasure to behold.
The Good Shepherd
Matt Damon scores a double (with The Departed) in this extremely well-made story of CIA paranoia.
Heading South
It’s hard not to like a film about older white women flying down to pre-AIDS Haiti for sex with the local black men.  Oh yes, and it also has substance.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakstan
Is good, yes?
Jackass Number Two
It was wrong to like it.  I feel deep shame for bestowing any kind of praise whatsoever upon it. But I can’t remember ever having more of a roller coaster of an experience watching a movie; squirming, involuntarily screaming out loud, violent physical reactions.  Allowing yourself to enjoy it was “like a crack high,” as one friend said.
Akeelah and the Bee
It’s a by-the-numbers formula, but it has genuine heart.  I loved the resolution.  As I watched the scenes with the mother, I thought, “Where did they find this superb actress?  What a great career break for her!”  Duh – it was Angela Bassett (still, I didn’t realize she was THAT good).
When you buy your ticket, they give you this totally awesome “I willingly gave my money to Mel Gibson” button, perfect for synagogue.  But as reprehensible as Mel the public persona might be, it’s rather nice that the country could collectively put aside their personal feelings about the Holocaust denier’s homophobic son and judge his art on its own merits.  Also, please note that, unlike “The Passion of the Christ,” it is totally unnecessary to smoke a joint before viewing.
The Aura
A thoroughly engaging South American heist film, and so much more.
The Devil Wears Prada
The proper way to tell someone whether or not you liked this film:  (a) If “Yes, I liked it,” immediately change facial expression to serious awe, drop voice and say, “And she was wonderful”;  (b) If “No, I didn’t like it,” register your best However I’m Not Crazy facial expression, raise voice and say, “But she was wonderful”;  (c) if indifferent or undecided or if you do not wish to reveal your opinion of the film itself, use either of responses (a) or (b), dropping the word “And” or “But,” respectively. 
Find Me Guilty
A virtually unrecognizable Vin Diesel in his best film since “Boiler Room.”
Flags of Our Fathers
An excellent examination of the making of an iconic image and the selling of a war.
An Inconvenient Truth
A must-see for every American.  Global warming is for real; we’ll discuss evolution later.
Jesus Camp
Having been forced to attend in my youth what one of the proselytizing children in this film would call a “dead church,” I would have much preferred the spirited energy and speaking-in-tongues of the Pentecostal church documented in this film.  Whatever else you think, there is no denying that the kids are having some kind of profound experience;  if you believe in God, do you truly have the right to claim that they’re not experiencing God energy flowing through them?  But, of course, it is the fact that all of this goes hand-in-hand with far-right-wing politics, intolerance and the willful teaching of ignorance that makes it scary and objectionable.  Highly recommended.
Half Nelson
Gritty, pungent, raw and truly independent.  And I will always cherish the joke about the interrupting cow.
Happy Feet
The artsiest mainstream film of the year.  Oh, and:  Ha ha!  Right wing neocons were tricked into dropping their kids off to an environmentally conscious, gay-friendly film (never mind that the gay penguin is made to be straight).
Mission: Impossible III (a.k.a. Mi3)
Much better than the lame Mi2 (never saw Mi1);  and for high adrenaline, macho fantasy action pictures, infinitely better than the lame “Casino Royale.”
Monster House
Totally awesome in 3D!
A Prairie Home Companion
A Robert Altman film I could enjoy, with only minimal amounts of his signature overlapping dialogue (my hearing condition makes most Altman films unwatchable and severe-headache-inducing).
Sophie Scholl:  The Final Days (Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage)
It's easy to be quickly over-saturated with Nazi films, but this is about the trial of a college student protester, with a screenplay comprised almost entirely from court transcripts.  Es ist sehr gut und ist un remindren auf der importanz fur der freege speechen.
Who Killed the Electric Car?
The perfect (and perfectly timed) companion piece to “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Bragging point:  I know people seriously committed to the resurrection of the electric car who appear in this film (ever so prominently in the background), and have had the pleasure of riding in electric cars several times.  Bonus!:  Mel Gibson looking pretty fucking weird and scary just being himself.
I had always wondered what kind of people make up crossword puzzles, and how they make them up.  Thanks so much for the enlightenment, Film Called “Wordplay.” 
Little Miss Sunshine
Before you get bent out of shape, I’m NOT saying I didn’t like this film.  Is that clear?  It’s a searing and entertaining portrait of American obsessions and I enjoyed it.  Now go ahead and get bent out of shape when I say these things:  (a) it’s not THAT funny;  (b) it’s not THAT insightful;  (c) it’s not THAT great; (d) it certainly should not have been nominated for best picture; and by the way, (e) it doesn’t mean that you care about independent films.
Army of Shadows (L’armee des ombres)
Originally released in 1969 in France, but the first time it has been shown in America.
Letters From Iwo Jima
Part of the problem is that I became ravenously hungry during the screening, and my attention was split between the film and trying to eat a bag of peanuts without making too much noise from the crinkly bag.
Children of Men
There was a curmudgeon sitting next to me during this screening who was openly and actively sneering at the film, which affected my viewing experience.  So it was hard to tell if it was a good film that I was being pushed to think less of because of the adjacent churl, or if it was a bad film which I was giving too much benefit of the doubt and taking too seriously in an effort to retain my own opinion.  Whatever the case may or may not be, it was definitely an honest attempt to make a serious film, which is more than can be said for most mainstream releases.
Miami Vice
SO completely awesome and engrossing on the big screen;  SO completely trivial and unimportant on video.
Something New
A pretty good interracial love story.  Not great; not bad; not important; not unimportant.  Maybe it should have been called “Something Neutral.”
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
As “Wordplay” quenched my years-long curiosity about crossword puzzle writers, this one quenched my life-long curiosity concerning the process of how films are rated; and what an insane, unfair, imbalanced system it is.  Kudos to the filmmaker – as a result of this film, changes are actually being made to the rules and regulations of the MPAA.  (Note: the previous sentence represents the first time I voluntarily used the word “kudos.”)  Still, not a totally satisfying viewing experience.
(I’m fairly sure the sun still would have risen had I not seen them)
Good acting, yeah, okay, fine, whatever.  I seriously do not need to see another movie or read another book about someone’s story of drug or alcohol recovery.  Real or fictional.  And please let me make this clear: I mean, like, ever.
The Groomsmen
I attended the LA premiere and had an altercation with Brittany Murphy’s bodyguard at the party afterwards (I didn’t realize I was sitting in her private area and eating her own personal hamburgers).  It’s actually the first Edward Burns-directed film I’ve ever seen (lack of interest and mediocre word of mouth has kept me away in the past).  I was impressed by his pre-premiere speech about independent filmmaking:  “I always thought when I got this far into my career funding would get easier;  it does not.”  Whether you think he’s mediocre or not, he’s working hard to put out his vision of Long Island regular guys.  Also, it's the first time I've seen actor Donal Logue, and he's excellent.
A long-awaited step in the right direction for the Wood Man, bit I’m still not crazy about it like everyone else seems to be.  Practically a comedy version of his previous film, “Match Point.”
United 93
Not a movie you like or don’t like, as in “Oh yes, I REALLY enjoyed that film.  Wasn’t that awesome when the terrorist slashed the flight attendant?”  Instead, I guess, you’re either impressed or unimpressed.  So, was I impressed?  I guess.
(or: films I pretty much didn’t like, but acknowledge that it could be a personal taste thing rather than a “you shouldn’t like it either” thing)
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
A great idea:  a pseudo-documentary about what America would be like now if the Confederacy had won the civil war.  I can’t remember a single frame of this film, just that I left with a vague feeling of “That wasn’t even close to as good as I thought it was going to be.”
Flushed Away
Aardmann Animation takes a giant leap toward cookie-cutter filmmaking, hands held tightly by DreamWorks.  A lot of the humor that missed the target might have worked, had it been given a chance to land gracefully instead of not trusting us as an audience and rushing to the next bit.  Add it to the curriculum of Short Attention Span Training.
Friends With Money
The film that forced me to admit there really is such a thing as a “chick flick.” 
The Illusionist
I enjoyed this movie a lot up until the ending, at which point I felt supremely ripped off;  most enthusiasts of this film feel the opposite  Different strokes [palms facing upwards, as if checking for rain].
The Last King of Scotland
Like when I saw “Letters From Iwo Jima,” I was starving and a little obsessed with the $6 bag of popcorn I was eating (an extremely rare event for me). So my perception was that it wasn’t a particularly good film, and Forest Whitaker’s performance seemed a tad overrated.  As for the popcorn, it was extremely salty and towards the dregs, so all the pieces were small-ish, but in turn that made the volume more dense so I could eat more, which was good because it was really about curbing hunger, not about mindless snacking (but not about paying attention to the film, either).
Nacho Libre
It’s possible that I did not allow this film to exist on its own terms, as I went in with certain expectations knowing it was the sophomore project of “Napoleon Dynamite” director/co-writer Jared Hess; but I guess they don’t call it the Sophomore Slump for nothing.
Old Joy
Winner of Best Film from the Society of People Who Love To Watch Paint Dry.  I would have put this on the worst list, but everyone I know who saw it thought it was brilliant, so I obviously missed something.
Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)
I enjoyed the ride thoroughly for the most part, but found the ending so totally unsatisfying that it cast a dark shadow on all that I’d liked about it.  Also, there were a couple of incidents along the way that I thought were simply bad storytelling, no matter how you slice it.  By the way, the translation of the Spanish title is “The Labyrinth of the Faun,” which begs the question: are all fauns named Pan?  'Cause it wasn’t Pan in the movie, it was just some run-of-the-mill faun.  I mean, the little flying fairy wasn’t named Tinkerbell, was it?  Well?
A Scanner Darkly
An animated Woody Harrelson in a surprisingly extreme over-acting mode;  animated Keanu Reeves as wooden as the real thing;  great to have Winona Ryder back, animated or not; animated Robert Downey, Jr. always welcome.  Unfortunately, the only thing that wasn’t animated was the level of interest.  I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt because I was tired and having trouble keeping my eyes open.
I appreciate it when a film is made about an important subject matter that deserves attention:  in this case, a young pre-teen girl whose marriage was arranged by birth discovers that her husband has died, and her culture dictates that she must live the rest of her life isolated in a widow’s society.  But I don’t ipso facto automatically like the film because of it.  I found the story as mediocre as any standard Hollywood drivel.  Just me?
World Trade Center
Sorry if it’s unpatriotic to say, but I’m not the biggest fan of movies where the two main characters are stuck in the exact same spot for almost the entire film;  maybe it would have been a better play.
Casino Royale
With any other film I might have enjoyed watching someone get his testicles smashed over and over and subsequently have to spend a good chunk of the film recovering in a wheelchair on stately hospital grounds with a blanket over his legs.  Reinvented or not, it seemed to lose the spirit of James Bond movies when it happened to him.  I get that there was an attempt to give him character  development for once, but what a wrong turn.
And I am telling you that this movie sucks.  I love the idea of 75% of a story being told in montage, but the execution left me wanting.  It was also jarring when most of the musical numbers were done in the context of performing them for an audience or in a studio, but then two or three times, out of nowhere, they sang instead of having ordinary conversations.  But on the plus side, I’d never been with an audience (or any group) comprised of so many straight African Americans and gay men in one room.
The Good German
An exercise in futility.  If you don’t see only one film this year, make sure it’s this one.
In 2006, from his appearances on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” I came to respect Ben Affleck as an extremely smart and articulate thinker and speaker, and now I always look forward to his appearances on that show; but it’s still painful watching him act. And the film was a huge bore.
Kinky Boots
A study in the kind of by-the-numbers filmmaking that the British particularly love (a.k.a. crap that gets released in American art houses).  This film has been made over and over, from "The Full Monty" to "Calender Girls" to countless others.  Just find a motley crew of people trying to accomplish a goal that involves some kind of ever-so-mildly risque subject matter; stack the odds against them but make sure there is never any doubt whatsoever that they will overcome the obstacles;  this final step is very important: there must not be any fresh ideas or surprising moments;  and voila, you've got a hit on your hands.
Notes On A Scandal
Q: What do you get when you cast two good actresses in a homophobic, ageist, unconvincing screenplay?  A: a homophobic, ageist, unconvincing movie with good acting.  My first doubt arose when I noticed that nothing particularly compelling was happening onscreen, but Philip Glass’s score was working overtime to make it seem like genuine tension was building.  Then the moment Judi Dench “turns” (dead doggie consolation vs. seeing child in first play, for them of you what’s seen it) is when it lost me for good.  I can’t count the moments that didn’t work for me.  And even if you were buying it all along, that ridiculous ending was the final insult.
What a surprising moment it was when Kevin Dillon’s drunk, obnoxious character, in the midst of taking a stupid risk, boasts “They don’t call me Lucky Louie for nothing!” followed immediately by a huge chunk of ship smashing down on him.  I totally was not expecting that!  A case study in how what should have been an idiot-proof exciting movie can become an incoherent snooze fest.
Rocky Balboa
Newsweek owes me and everyone else who saw this half-baked, undigested excuse for a movie a huge apology for going against our instincts and tricking us into believing it was going to be a surprisingly well-made, high quality film.  Instead it was even worse than what I’d imagined it would be back when I had absolutely no intention of seeing it.   Most interesting aspect:  how Stallone fairly successfully camouflages his awful plastic surgery (most of the time).
Superman Returns
I didn’t realize I could have seen this in 3D.  Damn it.  Then it could have been interminably uninteresting AND in 3D.
Two Drifters
For those of you who keep up with Portuguese cinema, you might know this better as "Odete." A woman (Odete), for no apparent reason, decides to take on the identity of a gay man who has died (after having metaphysical sex with him on top of his grave (while it rains)), forges a relationship with his surviving lover, who thinks the whole set-up is kind of weird (really?), but goes along with it, culminating in Odete using a strap-on dildo to have anal sex with the surviving lover.  I say:  “No.”
Talladega Nights:  The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
There are some genuinely funny moments, usually when Ricky Bobby’s hilarious children are present;  otherwise it tries to have it both ways, simultaneously satirizing and championing the worst characteristics of dumbed-down America.  A celebration of stupidity, including a complete lack of concern for logic or momentum in storytelling.
Night at the Museum
It’s almost pointless to criticize a conventionally mainstream film made for kids that never wanted anything more than to dominate its opening weekend and rake in the easily-marketed cash.  But this film represents Hollywood at its worst:  high concept so high that no one involved seems to even try to do any quality work.  It is arguably the worst performance of each actor involved ( if you’ve never quite understood what “phoning in a performance” means, this film will shed some light for you).  I haven’t seen such a lackadaisical group of people onscreen so obviously wishing they were anywhere else since the original Rat Pack version of “Ocean’s 11.” An astoundingly inept mess.
Little Children
Very sorry I missed it.  I love movies for kids.
Just one of those movies I kept missing and missing and missing. Nearly everyone has encouraged it as a must-see, but I can't say firsthand.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
I read the book and have always been curious to see what kind of movie it might be made into.
Blood Diamond
Just curious.
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