1. Lady in the Water
M. Night Shyamalan, long considered one of Hollywood’s most gimmicky directors, finally went over the edge into full-blown insanity with this so-called children’s “fable” that just happens to make Shyamalan himself the one man who can save the world with his brilliance. It’s the role he was born to play. But instead of the mere vanity project that this could have been, it runs completely off the rails into maniacal incoherence; a laughable mess of bad dialogue, even worse character sketches, and a finale so absurd I’m not sure Uwe Boll would have touched it. So earnest as to be unendurable, it immediately became one of the worst films I have ever seen, and certainly the single most dreadful experience at the cinema during the past quarter-century. At bottom, every frame — lovingly crafted from Shyamalan’s own bedtime stories to his now traumatized children — reeks of arrogance, disdain for the audience, and yes, even the rules of cinema, which state that above all, entertain. Between the rage-filled lunges at the screen and eye-rolling guffaws, such an end becomes impossible. If there’s justice, this will reduce Shyamalan to a laughable footnote, never to be spoken of again.
Surely the most over-hyped movie of the year, Bill Condon’s big screen adaptation of the popular stage musical not only feels like a musty, disease-filled train ride from Calcutta to Mumbai, it also rivals the sheer din of such a journey; in-your-face, blood-curdling tunes so frantic that they pound away at your will until you collapse into a lump of mindless compliance. Supposedly based on the rise and near-fall of Diana Ross and the Supremes, it instead plays as an oversimplified, greatest hits explosion from a brief period of music history; that is, if Motown is to be reduced to a few bus rides, a love triangle, and Eddie Murphy’s overripe acting. A crushing bore from start to finish, it becomes truly laughable when it attempts to speak to the racial tensions of the day, using a few awkward scenes of upheaval seemingly inserted from another film. Despite these turns to hoped for respectability, though, this film just wants to remain on stage; far, far away from relevance or insight, and deeply immersed in melodrama so thick as to challenge the very limits of soap opera. In all, more minstrel show than toe-tapping extravaganza.
3. The Black Dahlia
Brian De Palma, never one for subtlety or original thinking, tries his hand at 40s noir and so botches the hit that such homage is never likely to be tried again. The style is reasonably replicated, but none of the spirit remains, as if he trained his dutiful actors to hit their marks and bark their lines without giving them any clue of what movie they were in. There’s so much to ridicule, of course, but how could anything top the one-two punch of Hilary Swank as a lusty siren and Scarlett Johansson as a sentient being? Their performances are so overheated as to emit a foul odor that literally clings to the screen, like a desperate skank hoping you’ll stick around for breakfast. But stay for the finish, as Fiona Shaw shows up and sweeps them both aside as mere pretenders to the throne. Her hysterical fit — running the gamut from shit-faced to full-tilt wacko — is just enough to reduce the surroundings to a cinder; a regurgitation of rage and spasm that may never be topped so long as cameras roll. Whether De Palma intended to provide such hilarity is unclear, but he does manage to top previous efforts of ineptitude, having now released the worst film of his unnecessary career.
4. Rescue Dawn
In a year where cinema often reached unforeseen depths, it stands to reason that even Werner Herzog would substitute a botched abortion for art; a film so misguided and inept that the only way I can live with myself is if I refuse to believe that the great kraut madman was ever really on set. Even Christian Bale, whom I thought had talent to spare, vomits forth a performance so bad that one can’t imagine the takes that weren’t accepted. Instead of the meditation on war and survival one would expect from Herzog, we get a jingoistic jerk-off session; a rah-rah escape adventure that ends with a scene not even John Wayne could have attempted. At bottom, it’s far too ordinary to have such a brilliant hand, and its prison camp scenes play as if the entire history of Hollywood had been wiped clean from our collective memory. This isn’t a famed director trying to expand his horizons — which can always be forgiven — but a tired, hapless hack-work that reeks of the desperate hope to attain box office respectability. Instead, Herzog single-handedly resurrects the glory days of Golan-Globus, when the cinema became the last refuge of the oiled and the damned, and revisionist fantasies exalted the sacrifice of battle and the nobility of American exceptionalism. Herzog will be back, of course, but for this moment in time, he should be ashamed of himself as never before.
5. Running With Scissors
Every year has to feature at least one self-indulgent stab at forced whimsy, and Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Augusten Burrough’s cover-to-cover pack of lies and obscene invention is 2006’s representative. Every character is phony to the core, and not a single scene rings true or even tolerable. As expected, the real story lies in Augusten’s near-fanatical attempt to portray his homoerotic leanings as a Sisyphean struggle for the ages, as if fisting constituted martyrdom and ass-pounding a punishing gauntlet of self-exploration. From romanticizing mental illness to propagating the belief that authenticity is best attained by obscene self-absorption, everything hateful about independent-minded cinema is covered, as if by obligation. The performances are deliberately over the top, which is merely an explanation, not an excuse. And why should they behave, after all, since the project left the real world the second it decided to rely on a memoir for inspiration? Though not quite as self-satisfied as the even more deplorable Garden State, the whole movie does appear to coast on an assumed goodwill that not even the most tolerant of filmgoers would grant. The kind of movie that leaves you with that creepy, sinister feeling of having been taken for a ride.
The second movie of 2006 to insult the memory of authentic noir, this film school exercise takes all the trappings of the genre — mood, language, character types — and sets them not in post-war urban squalor, but rather contemporary suburbia, with surly teenagers taking over for hardened dames and private eyes. I won’t even grant the director the conceit of originality, as he does so much damage to a sacred art form that he’d be lucky to get off with a public apology and swift toss of the negative into the ash can. Far from reverential, it reeks of contempt, as if any film with Lukas Haas as a tough guy could be anything else. It’s undeniably laughable, after all — like your local high school’s yearly stab at Shakespeare — and whatever the kids are saying is lost in a haze of bad judgment. Noir is all about context, and our current times call not for clever language or double entendre, but youthful incoherence and unlimited idiocy. American teenagers haven’t earned the right to be world-weary or jaded, having been pampered, indulged, and flattered so beyond belief that any representations of their environment are more suitable as cartoons than shadowy drama. Bold experiments had better have the evidence to back them up; crap of this kind is dimwitted fantasy.
Pedro Almodovar proves to be human after all, as his latest effort drips with one too many trips to the well of colorful feminine wile. Gorgeous from the first frame to the last (both the overall palette and the bosom of one Penelope Cruz), it is also empty at its core, coasting on reputation and expectation rather than earning our love all over again. As usual, death, sex, and sisterhood dominate, but it’s a cruel parody; we are left with the crumbs of actual effort and wonder what Pedro could accomplish if he ventured from his cocoon with much-needed force. Above all, I just didn’t care, and spent most of the screening bored and distracted rather than inspired by Pedro’s usual compassion and insight. We get it, Pedro: you’re gay, you have unresolved mother issues, and Spain is teeming with sexy working class chicks and philosophical prostitutes. Give us a sign you have other tricks up your sleeve.
8. All the King’s Men
The movie nobody asked for, this long-delayed misfire stops all the presses and asks us to believe that politics is a dirty game and demagogues lie in wait, ready to exploit our fears and desires. Indeed. Pointlessly updated to 1950s Louisiana, the movie puts Sean Penn through the wringer as a gesticulating man-child who doesn’t appear to possess a single lick of charisma, let alone the power to bend a state to his will. Pointless turns in the screenplay are made worse by equally pointless characters, and a narration by Jude Law that accomplishes little but putting the audience to sleep. By all appearances expensive and serious-minded, it fails to establish any real identity, and wanders from the bayou to the backrooms with absolutely nothing new to say about the American system. And when Penn’s Willie Stark is finally gunned down, there’s no sense of loss; it’s as if a mere ghost had slipped away during the night. Despite the familiarity, the movie could have been salvaged had it demonstrated growth — Stark’s transformation from well-intentioned novice to authoritarian goon, for example — but as he’s a scoundrel from the first frame, there’s no arc to witness, and no real reason to care.
9. Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
You spent $1.08 on a film that has as it’s very first image Larry the Cable Guy’s hairy ass crack?
Technically it was an alarm clock, but the ass was soon to follow. During the opening credits, I also saw Larry piss in the shower, put a used Q-Tip back for re-use, and say hello to a retarded neighbor who hit himself in the nuts with a soccer ball.
Okay, so who’s ridiculed and likely to take offense?
Jews, homosexuals, Asians, Mexicans, the French, atheists, the handicapped, women, the wealthy, the poor, environmentalists, and blacks. Worst of all, Larry has the audacity to portray Jerry Mathers as a degenerate gambler.
How long until Larry cracks the first fart?
Surprisingly, six minutes, fifty seconds. From then on, not more than five minutes pass before another one. In a shocker, the blasts come more often from women than men. On Larry’s first date, in fact, his girlfriend takes a massive shit in the bathroom, thereby ruining the tile.
Larry’s best euphemism for taking a shit?
“I gotta take the Browns to the Super Bowl.”
Nope, just that Larry really, really hates gay people.
10. World Trade Center
The other 9/11 film of 2006 is a sad, pale imitation; a gung-ho, all-American erection of heroism and man-love that gives us a loony Marine (the year’s most obnoxious character, bar none) and Jesus Christ as a surreal water boy, along with less drama than your average 70s disaster pic. The chaos and confusion of that day are reduced to the rescue of two dimwitted officers, which no doubt held great drama for the actual families, but does little for movie audiences expecting more than a recycling of clichés and “tender moments” between brothers-in-arms. And while the masterful United 93 replayed events without judgment or bias, Oliver Stone’s bloated warhorse is, remarkably, the director’s burnt offering to the warmongers on the right side of the aisle; sick, murderous men who eventually used the events of that day to justify an illegal war. Above all, the movie lacks a “you are here” point of view, preferring artificial heroics and swelling music to force compliance. Without imagination, there is no insight, and Stone went the easy route this time, when so often he had pushed the envelope to its very limits.
The Worst of the Rest:
The History Boys
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Devil and Daniel Johnston