Monday, January 01, 2007

Matthew Price's Best Movies of 2006 / The Oklahoman

New faces on familiar heroes headlined 2006's top movies. Others of the year's top films found themselves in Mexico, in Uganda and even in the head of a mystery writer.

1. "Superman Returns” — Bryan Singer's respectful tribute to the Man of Steel was 2006's best endeavor. With a perfectly cast Brandon Routh, "Superman” soared with an exciting, engaging storyline that worked on a number of levels. Superman takes on new poignance in today's unsafe world, as he returns from space after seeking his home planet. Mixing spiritual allegory, cultural context and thrilling action, "Superman Returns” is a modern blockbuster that isn't afraid to respect the past.

2. "Casino Royale” — Despite complaints about the "blond Bond,” Daniel Craig proved a bulldog of a special agent in "Casino Royale,” an adaptation of the first 007 novel by Ian Fleming. "Casino Royale” takes a look at James Bond's first mission as a 00 agent and gives insight into how he becomes the cool, calculating superspy. Eschewing high-tech gadgetry for the most part, Craig's Bond brings the series closer in line with Fleming's original character, yet updates it for a post-Cold War society.

3. "The Last King of Scotland” — "The Last King of Scotland” follows the rule of Uganda's Idi Amin, through the eyes of a (fictional) Scottish doctor who becomes a close confidant of the dictator. Both brutal and charming, Amin manages to excite and terrorize his subjects. "King of Scotland” is recommended viewing for those interested in a portrayal of political power gone awry. Forest Whitaker, as Amin, delivers an Oscar-worthy performance.

4. "Volver” — Pedro Almodovar's "Volver” features a strong performance from Penelope Cruz as Raimunda. With echoes of "Vertigo,” Raimunda returns to her home village to find her aged aunt Paula speaking of Raimunda's deceased mother, Irene, as if she is still alive. When Paula dies shortly after, Irene begins appearing to other members of the family. The earthy, vibrant film showcases mothers and daughters and their relationships throughout their lives. The film does have some telenovela-style melodrama, but excellent performances throughout keep the movie entirely engaging. The title "Volver,” meaning "to return,” works on a number of levels.

5. "Pan's Labyrinth” — Directed by Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy”), "Pan's Labrynth” is a visually sumptuous fantasy with the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) has gone with her pregnant mother to live on a rural military outpost commanded by her cruel stepfather (Sergi Lopez). She escapes her surroundings by delving into a fantasy world, where she must face monsters to claim her true heritage.

6. "Babel” — The latest from director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu demands a lot from its audience but pays off in great performances, particularly from newcomer Rinko Kikuchi. Unfolding like a puzzle, the intertwined tales feature a young woman shot in Morocco, her children in Mexico, and a young Chinese girl dealing with her mother's death.

7. "Stranger Than Fiction” — Will Ferrell is IRS agent Harold Crick, who begins hearing the voice of a narrator describing his daily events. Harold discovers he's a character in someone else's story — and he must move quickly to avoid his own death.

8. "Hollywoodland” — Adrien Brody plays a private investigator looking into the death of TV's Superman, George Reeves (Ben Affleck), in this period piece. Affleck provides a nuanced performance as an actor who finds himself unable to escape his circumstances. Diane Lane is excellent as Toni Mannix, Reeves' older girlfriend who is married to a high-ranking movie executive.

9. "Little Miss Sunshine” — A quirky look into a dysfunctional family, whose youngest is set to compete in California's "Little Miss Sunshine” pageant. Greg Kinnear is true to form as a slightly slimy self-help guru, who could use some self-help himself. Steve Carrell turns in an understated performance as a near-suicidal professor who is "the nation's foremost authority on Proust.” It builds slowly but inescapably toward an embarrassing but hilarious climax.

10. "Little Children” — An outstanding performance by Kate Winslet highlights this adaptation of the Tom Perotta novel. As a sleepy neighborhood sparks with anger at a sex offender moving in, the quiet desperation of a suburban mother, played by Winslet, pushes her into an affair with an attractive stay-at-home dad (Patrick Wilson). Director Todd Field reveals uncomfortable truths about each character in this social drama; many viewers may also find uncomfortable reflections of themselves.


Post a Comment

<< Home