Monday, January 01, 2007

Gene Triplett's Best Movies of 2006 / The Oklahoman

Four-star quality movies seemed few and far between in 2006, but there were enough gifted filmmakers getting the green light to make a foray to the multiplex worth the effort on a fairly frequent basis. Some of their works have yet to arrive in Oklahoma City, but patience will be rewarded. Ten of the best reasons for spending precious hours in the dark this year eating expensive stale popcorn soaked in fake butter were as follows:

1. "The Departed” — Martin Scorsese directs a high-caliber cast in this gripping, gritty crime drama of a good cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) working undercover within Boston's Irish-American mafia and a bad cop (Matt Damon) serving as the mob's mole in the upper ranks of the Massachusetts State Police, each seeking to discover the other's identity. Jack Nicholson's over-the-edge performance as the criminal mastermind who runs both their lives will make him a wanted man in the Oscar race, while Scorsese may be up for a long overdue payoff as well.

2. "Little Miss Sunshine” — A hopelessly dysfunctional family of oddballs discover the true definitions of winning and losing when their little girl is tapped as a pageant contestant, and they all rally behind her in a hilariously disastrous cross-country rush to get her to the contest on time. Uniformly excellent and engaging performances from an incredible ensemble cast (Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin) make this heart-grabbing comedy-drama from first-time feature directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris the most pleasant sleeper surprise of the year.

3. "Little Children” — Director Todd Field goes "In the Bedroom” again, this time for an intimate examination of desperate housewives and husbands and one pathetically doomed sex offender who lives uneasily among them in this complex and absorbing psychological study of illicit sex, dirty secrets and silent suffering in suburbia. Deftly adapted by Field and Tom Perrotta from Perrotta's novel, it is seamlessly acted by a choice ensemble cast including Kate Winslett, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly and Jackie Earle Haley.

4. "The Queen” — Helen Mirren is majestic as Queen Elizabeth II, bravely weathering the storm of negative opinion that erupts when the proudly private royal family refuses to put on a public display of mourning over the death of Diana. Michael Sheen is also stalwart as Prime Minister Tony Blair, conjuring all his diplomatic skills to persuade Her Majesty that compromise is essential to the future of Buckingham Palace's residents. Stephen Frears' solid direction from Peter Morgan's smart script puts this film and its regal leading lady in line for some Oscar crowns.

5. "The Last King of Scotland” — As Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker is a raging, sweaty force of nature amid a harrowing historical thriller that's as blistering as the African heat. Under the direction of Kevin MacDonald, working from yet another royal writing exercise from "The Queen's” Peter Morgan (and Jeremy Brock), Whitaker plumbs the frightening depths of this playfully eccentric, murderous monster with fiery brilliance and courage. Another best-acting crown is due here, and the "King,” no doubt, will rule.

6. "World Trade Center” — Instead of the politically loaded, epic conspiracy tale many expected from Oliver Stone, the director's dramatization of 9/11 is an intimate, inspirational and deeply moving true story of courage, survival and heroism, told from the perspectives of two Port Authority Police officers (Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena) who were trapped beneath the rubble, the rescuers who risked everything to save them, and the families who waited in agony at home. Eschewing his usual operatic camera work and over-the-top storytelling, Stone points his lens where there was light on one of America's darkest days.

7. "The Prestige” — Writer-director Christopher Nolan ("Memento,” "Batman Begins”) pulls some awe-inspiring narrative and visual sleight-of-hand in this tale of two magicians (Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale) locked in a bitter war for supremacy on the stages of Victorian-era London. Steeped in the shadowy atmospherics of the gaslight period, Nolan and co-writing brother Jonathan's story of obsession, deceit and jealousy thoroughly mesmerizes and doesn't miss a suspenseful trick. And watch out for David Bowie, who makes one of the most electrifying entrances of the year as real-life mad scientist Nikola Tesla.

8. "Miss Potter” — Renee Zellweger sparkles in this biopic of Beatrix Potter, the early 20th century author and painter who created "The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and some of the best-selling children's books of all time in an era when young women of the British upper class were expected to "marry well” and make a home. As told by director Chris Noonan and screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr., Potter's story is as enchanting as her animal tales, from her family-defying romance with a young publisher (Ewan McGregor) to her preservation efforts in England's Lake District, which fill the screen in breathtaking, painterly fashion. Potter's drawings frequently come to animated life, enhancing this irresistible charmer even more.

9. "Pan's Labyrinth” — Writer-director Guillermo del Toro fashions a grim yet wondrous fairy tale of young Ofelia (a hypnotic Ivana Baquero), who endures the brutal realities of post-war Spain's fascist regime and the unspeakable cruelties of her stepfather (Sergi Lopez) by escaping into a dark dreamworld of her own. The violence is often shocking, but the grotesque creatures and surreal effects conjured in Ofelia's private fable are visually arresting, and the devastating denouement in this war between innocence and evil leaves a lastingly haunting impression.

10. "Superman Returns” — Director Bryan Singer's towering take on the Man of Steel purposely plays just like a sequel to Richard Donner's 1978 original, from the swooping opening credits and high-gloss production to Brandon Routh's uncanny resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve, nailing the voice, mild mannerisms and heroic demeanor with super-human accuracy. And all of that is fine, since the Donner-Reeve collaboration was the only entry in the series to get it right. Once again, you'll believe a man can fly.

2 Comments:

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Blogger redtown said...

"The Queen" is brilliant in every way, save one.  In reality, the Queen's reactions to Diana's death surely covered a range of ambivalent feelings, and was not just a cold insistence on protocol, as suggested by the film.

Prince Charles tells his mother, "The Diana we knew was very different than the Diana idolized by the public", but this truth is never developed in the film.  I'll mention it here.

While the "people's princess" remains the icon of superficial popular culture, the Royals knew a very different, darker character behind the facades of glamour and pseudo-compassion.

Both Diana and her brother, Charles Spencer, suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder caused by their mother's abandoning them as young children.  A google search reveals that Diana is considered a case study in BPD by mental health professionals.

For Charles Spencer, BPD meant insatiable sexual promiscuity (his wife was divorcing him at the time of Diana's death). For Diana, BPD meant intense insecurity and insatiable need for attention and affection which even the best husband could never fulfill. 

Clinically, it's clear that the Royal family did not cause her "problems". Rather, Diana brought her multiple issues into the marriage, and the Royal family was hapless to deal with them.

Her illness, untreated, sowed the seeds of her fast and unstable lifestyle, and sadly, her tragic fate.

7:30 AM  

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