Not Coming to a Theater Near You | 2006 in review

by Beth Gilligan

Up until Captain Jack Sparrow swooped in to save the day, 2006 was marked by a string of box office disappointments, accompanied by increasingly hysterical articles in publications ranging from The New York Times to Variety in which Hollywood executives puzzled over declining returns, wondering if audiences were abandoning movie theaters in favor of viewing films in the privacy of their own home. Over the course of the year, I developed my own (decidedly unscientific) theory about this: it wasn’t new technology that kept audiences at home; it was the quality of the movies (or at least the bulk of the commercial releases of 2006).

I realize this may seem like an unusual note on which to kick off an essay for a site called “Not Coming to a Theater Near You,” but it is an issue that hit close to home this year, as my job forced me to relocate from New York City to Long Island for four months. Three hours away from Film Forum, BAM, Walter Reade, IFC Center, and the other arthouse theaters I frequent, I was stuck choosing between the likes of Trust the Man, Beerfest, Superman, and The Ant Bully. I suppose the logical solution would have been to fall back on Netflix (which certainly happened on occasion), but I’m someone who genuinely enjoys watching movies as they’re meant to be experienced, so I dutifully forked over ten dollars for the privilege of watching Julianne Moore and David Duchovny participate in a second-rate re-tread of a Woody Allen comedy.

As such, I cannot stress how much my appreciation of the aforementioned theaters grew over this past year, as well as my frustration at the lack of interesting movie choices for the general public (especially those not living in urban areas). By far and away the richest movie experiences I had this past year were in repertory houses, watching masterpieces by Michelangelo Antonioni, Béla Tarr, Billy Wilder, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Jean-Luc Godard flicker before me. While Netflix may be a lifesaver in terms of bringing the works of the masters to the masses, seeing them in a jam-packed theater is an entirely different (and incredibly rewarding) experience.

That said, 2006 was not entirely without its highlights, a handful of which are listed below:

A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel hits all the right notes. Infusing humor with paranoia and rendering a searing vision of a not-too-distant future, identity and reality shift as fluidly as the brilliant rotoscoping animation on the “scramble suit” worn by Keanu Reeves. Screening Log.

Marie Antoinette

As in The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola shows a gift for creating a universe entirely unto itself, only in her portrait of Versailles she rises above the insularity the plagued the previous films and creates an enduring portrait of a woman stifled by her own circumstances. Dismissed by many as a beautiful but shallow portrait of its eponymous subject, I found it a fascinating feminist retelling of a familiar story. Screening Log.

A Cock and Bull Story and L’enfant

I didn’t view either of these in 2006, but I’m including them (and lumping them together, though they have little in common) because they were both selections from the 2005 New York Film Festival that were released earlier this year. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s haunting Through the Forest or Philippe Garrel’s elegiac Regular Lovers. While Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s stunning Three Times seemed to enjoy a healthy run at the IFC Center in New York, the same cannot be said for it nationally, just as challenging, deserving films such as Bubble and Manderlay came and went quickly from theaters. As the number of U.S. screens devoted to foreign films seems to decrease on an annual basis, film festivals such as New York have become increasingly vital showcases for important works by international directors. The host of regional film festivals that have popped up over the past decade bodes well for cinephiles who don’t live in proximity to Park City or Cannes, as it allows them to savor movies that might not even make it to DVD in the States. Continued: A Cock and Bull Story | L’enfant.

The Departed

An unsurprising choice, perhaps, but it was refreshing to Scorsese back in top form. Screening Log.

Down in the Valley

By no means a perfect film (the ending is particularly weak, as the sub-text all but overwhelms the plot) but Edward Norton and Evan Rachel Wood both turn in magnetic performances, and the movie posits some intriguing ideas about the role the cowboy myth and the Western have played in the popular imagination (not to mention the current presidential administration). Screening Log.

Casino Royale

The biggest surprise of the year. Having long grown sour on Bond, I was shocked to find myself riveted by an engaging storyline and palpable romantic tension between 007 and Vesper Lynd. Screening Log.

Kicking and Screaming

Released on DVD by Criterion earlier this year, this scarily accurate portrayal of post-college life remains a personal favorite. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film stars (among others) the criminally under-employed Chris Eigemann. Full Review.