Monday, December 03, 2007

12 storylines of Movies in 2006

If you look at these posts, you'll see that on top of each of my top 10 lists is a summary of the major trends of the year, and I noticed that I didn't have one for 2006. I also thought this was a unique way of characterizing what happened in films rather than just listing my favorites or whatever. Here are 2003 and 2004, and I might put up 2005 at some point

12 Storylines of 2006:
1. The Year of the African picture
Possibly due to the influence of Bono’s awareness campaign and the G8 conference, the movie industry this year also focused their efforts on telling stories from the African continent. Catch a Fire was set during the apartheid era in South Africa, Blood Diamond told the story of the diamond-funded civil wars in Sierra Leone, and Last King of Scotland focused on Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda. Part of the Oscar-nominated Babel took place in Morocco and even some of the Bond film Casino Royale took place in Madagascar.
2. Scorsesee finally makes an Oscar-winning picture
After two hard-fought attempts this decade, the long-suffering Martin Scorsesee finally got his due with the Boston crime thriller “The Departed.” “The Departed” branched away from Scorsese’s grandiose efforts to court Oscar voters and showed us Scorsesee getting back to what he does best. The film also featured an all-star cast at its best. It made Mark Wahlberg the year’s breakout star, and raised the profiles of Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio who each had another notable performance in Good Shepherd and Blood Diamond respectively.
3. Clint Eastwood does it again
At a time when we thought there was nothing left to say about World War II, Eastwood gained rave reviews for “Flags of Our Fathers” and then in a truly innovative stroke told the story of the same battle from the other side’s point of view in “Letters of Iwo Jima” to capture the National Board of Review’s picture of the year earning him his 3rd Oscar Nomination in 4 years.
4. Playing franchise musical chairs
Two commercial directors, Bryan Singer and Brett Rattner took over each other’s projects in a surprising switcheroo. Rattner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) was considered for the Warner Brothers’ new Superman project but Singer was ultimately offered the project. He jumped ship from the already-in production X-Men 3 to take the opportunity to direct Superman. Meanwhile, Rattner knew that the opportunity to direct franchise pictures of this caliber are few and far between, so he lobbied hard for the now-vacated X3 slot and got it.
5. Borat

No film might have become a bigger cultural phenomenon this past year than Borat, the improvisational work of Sacha Baron Cohen who interacted with of unknowing American passers by under the guise as a buffoonish foreign reporter to expose their prejudices. At times, it was lewd and nasty, at times hilarious, but it was always shockingly revealing. Cohen took improvisation and reality TV to a whole new level. Cohen also stretched his comedy chops with the masters of improvisational comedy: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilley and Adam McKay in Talladega Nights, a follow-up to Anchorman.

6. Book Adaptations sputter and soar
The most hyped film of the year was The Da Vinci Code, based on the controversial historical fiction thriller that had been sitting at the top of the New York Best seller column for 2 years. Set up to open the summer season with lofty box office expectations, the Ron Howard’s film had a hard time pleasing audiences and living up to an audience’s expectations that already read the book. The film still hit the benchmark for domestic success by surpassing $200 million but just barely. The adaptation of the chick lit novel Devil Wears Prada, however, was hailed by critics and audiences alike and earned an Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep. Lastly, one of the great cultural tomes of our time, the expose “Fast Food Nation,” was adapted into a fictional narrative (somewhat of a stretch) that earned a few admirers but mostly passed into and out of theaters quietly eclipsed by Oscar season contenders.
7. Documentaries
No documentary really stormed the box office like Fahrenheit 911 or March of the Penguins, but a few had a lasting impact in the pop culture landscape, including Spellbound and Shut up and Sing. One even might have saved the planet and by that I’m referring to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth which won him an Oscar.
8. Pirates II
Despite being inferior and more confusing than its predecessor, Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest shattered box office records left and right to become the commercial success of the year. It shattered the opening weekend record and became one of only seven films to cross the $400 million mark domestically.
9. Mexican Amigos
Three up-and-coming Mexican directors each had their biggest and most widely released successes to date with Babel (Alejandro Inirratu Gonzalu, previously known for 21 Grams and Amores Perros), Pan’s Labrynth (Guillermo del Toro, previously known for Hellboy), and Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, previously known for Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). The three are close friends and collaborators and their three films were all in contention for Oscars this year in every which category.

10. Altman says goodbye
The legendary director Robert Altman came out with his long-awaited Prairie Home Companion. The lightweight meditative film with allusions to death was considered one of Altman’s better efforts in the last few years and brought back some of his trademarks. Little did audiences know that the allusions to death in the picture was Altman’s way of telling us this was his final swan song. He died of a heart attack later in the year after hiding from the public for over a year and a half his chronic heart condition.

11. Frat pack breaks up
The Frat Pack (consisting of Jack Black, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn) remained conspicuously detached from each other this year as they all engaged in solo projects. Black conspired with Jared Hess for Nacho Libre, Ben Stiller had another Christmas blockbuster in Night at the Museum, Luke starred opposite Uma Thurman in My Super Ex Girlfriend, Owen teamed up with Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree, Will Ferrell went back to Adam McKay for an Anchorman follow-up in Talladega Nights, Carrell went dramatic in Little Miss Sunshine, and Vaughn went back to Swinger’s costar Jon Favreau for The Breakup.
12. Long enough to go back to 9/11
For years, America felt that it was too soon to approach the subject of 9/11 in movies and film, but this year, America was ready to explore the events of the day in two films: Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” centering around two workers trapped at Ground Zero, and Paul Greengrass’s United 93, which centered on the actions aboard the rogue flight that never reached its destination.


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