Annual #2 - Gathering The Words
Hello again, cinephiles. Welcome to Jahnke’s Electric Theatre Volume II (or Version 2.0 for you techie types). For those of you just now stumbling across this, a little background might be in order.
My name is Adam Jahnke. I’ve been a featured columnist/DVD critic/bottle washer for The Digital Bits (the known universe’s most beloved DVD website) since way back in Y2K. Early in 2005, I started a bi-weekly newsletter called Jahnke’s Electric Theatre, reviewing movies, both theatrical and DVD releases, that I couldn’t cover on the Bits. Bits editor Bill Hunt suggested featuring the new column on the site. Volume I ran until September of 2006, at which point I went on a short hiatus. Now I’m back, due to what I’ve been assured is something close to popular demand.
The Bottom Shelf will be continuing over at The Digital Bits. So what’s the difference between that column and this one? Well, the reviews at the Bits will cover DVDs exclusively and in-depth, delving into all the bells, whistles and what have you. This site talks about the movies and that’s it, even if I’m covering something on disc. Basically The Bottom Shelf will help you decide if you want to buy a DVD. The Electric Theatre is here to discuss film and maybe steer you toward or away from seeing a particular movie.
What better way to kick off the new Electric Theatre than with a long overdue look back at 2006? First of all, I apologize for how late this is turning up but better late than never, I suppose. At first, I was expecting to have a difficult time putting together a best-of list. But once I started looking at the eligible titles, I was surprised to see that 2006 was an above-average year for film. There were some absolutely terrific movies this year and happily, most of them hold up under repeated scrutiny. This was a particularly good year for comedies, although that’s often a dangerous claim to make. One man’s laugh riot is another’s two-hour torture session. Nevertheless, I laughed more at some of 2006’s best films than I have in many a year.
I’ve decided to do a Spinal Tap list this year. In other words, this one goes to 11. But even with that little extra push, there just aren’t enough spots to give everything the attention it deserves. So with that, may I humbly present…
2006 – The Honorable Mentions
I was dubious going in but Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto proved to be surprisingly gripping.
Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential is showing up on more worst-of lists than best but it clicked for me.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s thoughtful and sprawling Babel became my favorite of his tales of interlocked lives, much to my surprise.
Daniel Craig has the potential to be the best Bond ever, judging by Martin Campbell’s spectacular Casino Royale.
Neil Marshall’s The Descent was the year’s scariest movie, although I’m the first to admit its competition was pretty limp.
Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration may have lacked the bite of his previous efforts but is worth seeing if only for Catherine O’Hara’s genuinely award-worthy performance.
Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, the best movie you weren’t given a chance to see.
Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima told a war story we haven’t seen until now.
Manderlay, the second part of Lars von Trier’s American trilogy, proved to be every bit as challenging and fascinating as its predecessor.
Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy provided a master class in acting in Richard Eyre’s Notes On A Scandal.
Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a witty and eye-opening reveal of the top secret MPAA.
Terry Gilliam made a welcome return to form with the little-seen and often unsettling Tideland.
Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight was the best documentary I saw in 2006, although technically I think it’s a 2005 release.
And now, our feature presentations…
I traditionally reserve this spot for the movie that provided the most sheer fun. This year, it was Slither, a gooey, goofy throwback to the horror-comedies of the 1980s that marked the directorial debut of screenwriter (and yes, full disclosure time, fellow Troma alum) James Gunn. Slither hits every mark with expert precision. Creepy enough to provide the scares and funny enough to provoke often hysterical laughter, Slither breezes by at a brisk 95 minutes, never wearing out its welcome. They really don’t make movies like this anymore. Thanks, James, for bringing them back, even if only momentarily.
10. The Proposition
Musicians don’t have the greatest track record when they move behind the scenes in film production but Nick Cave is no ordinary musician. He’s always been one of the most literary songwriters around and The Proposition, his first solo foray into screenwriting, captures the tone of his most bleak and melancholy albums. Director John Hillcoat and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme capture the Australian frontier in grimly beautiful widescreen panoramas. The cast, including Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone and Emily Watson, is uniformly excellent but it’s Danny Huston, one of the most uneven performers around, who really astonishes here as the savage criminal Arthur Burns. He casts a giant shadow over the film that’s palpable even when he’s off-screen.
9. The Queen
Helen Mirren’s grabbing all the attention for her amazing performance as HM Queen Elizabeth II but let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge the film in its entirety. Stephen Frears is a vastly underrated filmmaker and with The Queen, he and screenwriter Peter Morgan took a subject I had absolutely no interest in and crafted a compelling, witty, endlessly fascinating film. The supporting cast, particularly Michael Sheen as a young and eager Tony Blair, is top-drawer. Finally, of course, there’s Mirren, towering over the proceedings and leaving little doubt whose movie this really is. If you don’t think she’s taking home the Oscar this year, you probably also harbor serious doubts over the sun’s chances of rising tomorrow morning.
8. Little Children
Todd Field needs to leave acting behind (OK, he can continue to voice Ol’ Drippy on Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and concentrate on filmmaking fulltime. After the quietly powerful In The Bedroom, he’s followed up with Little Children, a packed meditation on lonely suburban types leading lives of quiet desperation. Reminiscent of American Beauty and in many ways superior to that film, Little Children gives every character room to breathe and develop. Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich and Phyllis Somerville deliver rich, incisive performances and former child star Jackie Earle Haley is nothing short of astonishing as a deeply disturbed child molester newly released from prison. Little Children flew under the radar of most moviegoers but it’s as well-crafted and affecting as any movie this year.
7. The Departed
Martin Scorsese has been making some very fine movies over the past fifteen years or so but they pale in comparison to his achievement with The Departed. At first glance, the movie appears to be another work-for-hire genre flick. It’s a remake, for one thing, and not a personal project he’s been working for decades to bring to the screen like Gangs Of New York. But Scorsese makes the material his own, focusing in on familiar themes of loyalty and deception. The brilliant cast redefines the idea of all-star, with memorable turns from Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and the rest but don’t overlook the great work by Mark Wahlberg and Vera Farmiga. This is visual storytelling of the highest caliber, further proof that Scorsese is one of the very best directors to sit behind the camera, as if any were needed at this point.
6. Pan’s Labyrinth
I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro since Cronos back in 1993 but even so, I wasn’t prepared for the gigantic step forward he takes with Pan’s Labyrinth. Things could have derailed easily, as del Toro treads a fine line between the grim realities of war and the elaborate fantasy world populated by fairies and an enormous faun discovered by a young girl in the depths of an ancient labyrinth. The balance is perfectly struck, with each half complimenting the other and leading us into dark, unexpected places. Pan’s Labyrinth is a hauntingly beautiful experience, visually sumptuous and unlike any other dark fantasy you’ve seen.
5. Children Of Men
The best science fiction, whether it’s a movie, book or something else, is rarely about laser guns and rocket ships. It sneaks up on you quietly, tweaking the world around us into something simultaneously alien and familiar. Nineteen Eighty-Four does it. Philip K. Dick’s novels do it. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil does it. And now, Alfonso Cuarón’s Children Of Men does it. This movie lingers in the memory long after the credits have rolled, tantalizing you with images and ideas. Cuarón compliments the story’s themes and questions with sequences of such remarkable fluidity that you scarcely realize you’re in the middle of a major action setpiece until it’s well under way. An entertaining thriller that actually stimulates thought and discussion? In this day and age? Cuarón must not have read the memo about the dumbing down of the movie industry.
4. A Prairie Home Companion
Director Robert Altman, who passed away in November, will be missed but to quote from A Prairie Home Companion, his final film, “The death of an old man is not a tragedy.” I can’t imagine a more fitting coda to his illustrious career than this joyous, exhilarating celebration of life in the face of death. Funny, moving and filled to overflowing with thrilling music and great actors working at the top of their game, A Prairie Home Companion exemplifies everything that made Altman’s work great. Thanks for leaving us this final gift, Mr. Altman.
3. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Incisive satire or overrated prank pushed too far? I lean toward the former interpretation, obviously, but even if you think this is the cinematic equivalent to making crank calls, you’ve gotta admit this might just be the greatest prank ever pulled. Sacha Baron Cohen’s commitment to this character is nothing short of awe-inspiring. He puts himself into situations that few would dare, eliciting responses from people that are shocking, brutally frank and deeply hilarious. And yes, lurking not so far beneath the surface is a scathing look at America, our culture, our barely concealed contempt for one another, and our unfortunate ignorance of cultures other than our own. It remains to be seen how well Borat will withstand repeat viewings but for now, it’s a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of performance art.
2. Little Miss Sunshine
I’ve seen this movie five times now, more than any other film this year, and I’ve yet to grow weary of it. The feature directorial debut of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Little Miss Sunshine is as perfectly crafted a comedy as I’ve ever seen. From Michael Arndt’s deft screenplay to the carefully composed cinematography of Tim Suhrstedt to the perfectly chosen music (both the original score by Mychael Danna and the existing songs) to the brilliant ensemble cast, everything works in perfect harmony. The humor ranges from extremely broad to pinpoint subtle to pitch black, yet the movie never feels at odds with itself. Little Miss Sunshine is a movie to be treasured and passed along, shared among friends like a great meal or a fine wine.
1. United 93
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen United 93 only once and while I have the DVD, I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll be able to watch it again. Paul Greengrass has made a stunner of a film that brings us back to September 11, 2001 with more force and immediacy than you may be prepared for. To watch United 93 is to enter an emotional wringer. It rips your guts out, pins you to your seat in terror and devastates you with overwhelming loss. It’s horrifying and inspiring, suspenseful in a way few other movies will ever be and almost unbearably sad. It may upset you. It may make you angry. It may make your heart swell with thanks for the sacrifice this disparate group of people willingly made. The only thing you will not feel after watching United 93 is ambivalent.
So there you have it, my 11 favorite movies from 2006. For those of you brave enough to face the dark flipside of the coin, read on…
2006 at the Hell Plaza Octoplex
As always, these are listed in alphabetical order, not ranked by their relative shittiness. And I’m not saying there weren’t worse movies than these released last year, I’m sure there were. I just hope I avoided most of them.
In fairness to the brain trust behind this alleged comedy, I didn’t stick around to see the whole thing. But it takes a lot for me to walk out on a movie, even more to bail on one my wife worked on. These guys found a way.
The Black Dahlia
Can we please start a petition encouraging Brian De Palma to retire? I’d really like to hang on to my tattered memories of his best, early films but cheap looking, over-directed crap like this makes it hard. Bonus demerits for trashing one of my favorite James Ellroy novels.
I understand a lot of folks loved this movie and if you’re one of them, I envy you but I don’t know where you’re coming from even in the slightest. I may have been more bored if I’d just stared at a wall for two hours but…well, on second thought, it depends on the wall.
This is what you get when you make a movie based on a calendar date. Thank Satan there won’t be another 6-6-06 for another hundred years.
All I really wanted from this big-budget remake was the same cheesy fun of the original The Poseidon Adventure, which isn’t really a very good movie. Amazingly, this is almost 20 minutes shorter than the original but it feels like its twice as long. Perhaps it should be studied as a temporal anomaly.
Scary Movie 4
Apologies to my younger brother, who found this hilarious, but if this is what’s passing for parody these days, I’ll stick to my Airplane! DVD and old issues of MAD Magazine, thanks.
Kiefer Sutherland deserves some rest after five seasons of 24, so I’ll let him off the hook for this but Michael Douglas should have known better. After we walked out on The Benchwarmers, we went to see this. Not one of my better days.
Did I dream this movie? It would make about as much sense and I can’t come up with any other explanation for why I bothered to go see it in the first place.
With that, we finally close the lid on 2006. And when I say “we”, I mean “I”, since most of you probably moved on weeks ago. I’ll be updating the spiffy new site here on a weekly basis, so be sure to check back once a week for more fun ‘n’ games! While you’re at it, drop me a line and let me know what you think of the new digs. What I don’t know about building a website can and does fill this 900 page book I’m constantly referring to, so your feedback is appreciated now more than ever. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I hope to see you all here every week.
1929 - 2007