The year saw only a slight reversal in the box-office slump which marked 2005, most obviously broken by the phenomenon that was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest’ which broke the all-time record for an opening weekend and is the third film in history to break the billion-dollar mark. The film though it was a great adventure, let its story ramble and was not as well received as its predecessor. Otherwise, blockbuster movies barely registered as peaks on Hollywood’s heart monitor. ‘Mission Impossible III’ barely made half the profit of the inferior ‘Mission Impossible II’, the 19 year wait blunted rather than heightened anticipation of ‘Superman Returns’, ‘Snakes on a Plane’ by no means built on its pre-release publicity online while ‘Happy Feet’ pipped ‘Casino Royale’ to the post on its release. 2006 also marked the year the animated movie bubble burst, with ‘Cars’ from Pixar under-performing as well as disappointing critics and there were marked failures, particularly ‘The Ant Bully’ and ‘The Wild’.
The year has been branded that of the great performance in mediocre film. This is overly harsh and without solid basis. Impressive films emerged from left of field. Main stream cinema braved traditionally taboo topics, thankfully avoiding issue of the week type movies to bring rich stories, characters and truly cinematic experiences (‘Capote’, ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Breakfast on Pluto’). Richard E. Grant and Tommy Lee Jones made directorial debuts - ‘Wah-Wah’, an autobiographical look into Grants youth was very unfocused but littered with good performances while Tommy Lee Jones, starred in and directed ‘The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada’ a truly poignant and atmospheric movie. Michael Gondry brought us the contrasting ‘Dave Chapelles Block Party’ and ‘Science of Sleep’. Oliver Stone and Spike Lee both broke from form, Stones ‘World Trade Centre’ devoid of politics and conspiracy while Lee filled ‘Inside Man’ with white middle class New Yorkers. The Wackowski brothers felt brave enough to show their faces after the Matrix sequels offering ‘V for Vendetta’ as a consolation, Nick Cave put pen to paper for ‘The Proposition’ while George Clooney acted in, directed and co-wrote the masterful ‘Good Luck and Good Night’.
A number of ‘grown-up’ movies demanded our attention this year. Five years on ‘World Trade Centre’ and ‘United 93’ braved the topic of 9/11, remaining markedly apolitical but nevertheless effective. As well as these, movies such as ‘Munich’, ‘V for Vendetta’, ‘Children of Men’, ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ and ‘Syriana’ each created resonating parallels with real world fears and political tensions with varying degrees of subtlety and style. Documentaries continue to impress, appealing to wider audiences by covering a broad fusion of topics. They informed us as much with what they told us as with what they didn’t, tackling everything from climate change (‘An Inconvenient Truth’) to conflicted characters (‘Grizzly Man’) and good old fashioned nature (‘Deep Sea-3D’). A highlight of the year, ‘A Cock and Bull Story’ used mockumentary style to great effect in putting the difficult source novel to film and ‘Borat’ of course in the midst of disgust, repulsion and humour laid claim to being a documentary.
Aside from the Palm D’Or win for ‘Wind that Shakes the Barley’ at Cannes, the Irish impact on cinema this year was low-key but solid. Stephen Rea and Sinead Cusack played key supporting roles in ‘V for Vendetta’ and Ciaran Hinds was excellent as one of the assassination team in ‘Munich’. Cillian Murphy cemented his impressive turn in ‘Batman Begins’ (2005) by seeing in the year with ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ - a film that name checked the best of Irish actors and some less obvious choices such as Gavin Friday. Colin Farrell found his way back from being tabloid fodder with subtle turns in the divisive ‘The New World’ and disappointing ‘Miami Vice’, though we still await his great performance. How many more great directors can he produce lacklustre work with?