Winners & Losers Of The Year (2006) – Part Seven

Back to more reflection on the year 2006.  Another installment of winners & losers.
Winner:  Animated Movies
It’s amazing.  20 years ago, this genre of filmmaking was not taken very seriously.  The Walt Disney Company’s animation department had seen better years.  Make that, better decades, due to all the cost cutting.  And few of its competitors thought it was in their best interests to try to chip away at their voluminous market share.  But starting with The Great Mouse Detective, a reworking of Sherlock Holmes with humans replaced by rodents, and An American Tail, produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, the renaissance of animated movies had begun in earnest.
As the 1980s drew to a close, Disney reinvented itself with The Little Mermaid (released on DVD for the first time this year) and Universal returned with The Land Before Time (which has inspired a highly successful series of straight-to-video sequels, an idea that has become standard in the industry, with some notable exceptions). 
In the new decade, Disney released the first non-live action film to be bestowed with a Best Picture Oscar nomination (Beauty And The Beast) and almost overnight, many changed their minds about these movies.  By 1995, the highly influential Toy Story singled the beginning of the end of traditional animation.  (It was awarded an honourary Oscar.) Produced by Pixar, who had never made a feature before, it proved that computer animation was the wave of the future.
But there would be another important animated breakthrough.  In 2001, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life tried a different approach that, much like fully dimensional computer animation, has also caught on.  He filmed his actors in a live action setting and then had artists literally animate over his footage.  This technique has been used in other films and even TV advertising. 
And that brings us to 2006 where animated movies are so popular and respected now, they have their own Oscar category.  Not only that, many titles are highly anticipated year in and year out.  (Shrek The Third, anyone?)
This was another strong year for feature-length animation.  At the beginning of the year, there was the well-reviewed Universal film, Curious George (70% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes) which earned a respectable 70 million during its international theatrical run.  There was the highly commercial sequel, Ice Age: The Meltdown, which grossed nearly 200 million in North America (plus a whopping 450 million overseas), proving once and for all that Disney doesn’t have a stranglehold on the marketplace any more.  The Fox film is easily the biggest animated hit of the year.
In the summer, there was Pixar’s latest blockbuster, Cars.  It scored a 76% fresh rating, earned 250 million domestically and 220 more million across the pond.  Even though it made less money than the critically panned Ice Age sequel, Cars is most likely the favourite for next year’s Oscar race.  Also successful was Monster House from Dreamworks which garned positive reviews (73% fresh rating) and almost 140 million internationally.  It probably would’ve performed better here if it didn’t have so much competition, the one complaint about animated movies.  (There are so few of them you would think studios would spread them out a bit.)
Other animated success stories this year were Over The Hedge (74% fresh rating, 331 million worldwide) and The Wild (100 million worldwide despite collective pans from critics). 
And then, there’s the recent Happy Feet.  Like Cars and Flushed Away, it has an all-star cast and snagged a 76% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.  And also like the former (but unlike the latter which was a commercial flop), audiences have been eating it up.  It has been edging out Casino Royale for first place at the box office ever since it opened in November.  Thus far, it has earned 140 million worldwide and I would imagine it will be competing with Cars for the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2007.  (What will be the third nominee?  How ’bout Monster House?)
I believe that animated features are the only films that can be legitimately labelled art.  In a year with so many live action flops, both commercial and critical, shouldn’t they be given wider opportunities for Academy Awards instead of being relegated to a handful of categories?
Loser:  Mel Gibson
This man is old enough to know better.  The fact that what happened this past summer was not his first offence speaks volumes.  The fact that he also has a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth over and over again should not be forgotten, either.
In late July, after a busy night of drinking and partying with some young women (even though he’s a married man of 7), Gibson was pulled over by Miami police and began ranting and raving about things he no doubt picked up from his father.  He proclaimed ownership of Malibu and made old man Sutton proud by badmouthing the Jews.  Even more disturbing than that were his outrageous threats to the police.  (Click here for the whole story.) 
Unlike Michael Richards, who is probably cursing the invention of the cell phone camera (complete with pitch-perfect sound), no one, other than the police who arrested him that night, has heard or seen Mel Gibson during his absolute, worst moment.  Still, as expected, there was collective outrage and like Richards, Gibson went on his own Apology Tour.  Unlike Richards, however, Gibson had a lot more to lose.
During a recent stop on The Tonight Show, Gibson got a free ride from the terminally timid Jay Leno (who was equally soft on Ann Coulter during an appearance she made earlier this year) and was warmly received by the studio audience.  (I did not hear one single boo or negative reaction.)  As a result, it’s unlikely Gibson’s career is in any kind of serious trouble. 
Still, when your father is on record for denying the Holocaust, when you already had a drunk driving arrest on your record before 2006, when you’ve publicly condemned homosexuality, when you’ve criticized the reformation of The Catholic Church and when you’ve secretly attended a function organized by a group that is strongly anti-Semitic, no apology in the world is gonna make any of that go away.  And you deserve all the criticism you receive.  It’s time Mr. Gibson owns up to all of his dopey and insidious beliefs.  Why?  Because you know, secretly, he stands by everything he said.
Winner:  Mel Gibson
It’s important to always separate the real person from the artist, no matter how awful they are outside the film business.  Mel Gibson is no exception.  For all his stupidity and ignorance this year, he still commands respect as a filmmaker. 
His fourth directorial effort, Apocalypto, was the number one movie in the country last week, earning a respectable 15 million in its first weekend.  Reviews have been mostly positive, despite public criticism from the Mayan community and critics who feel the movie is too violent or just not as good as his past efforts.  Time will tell how well the film will continue to perform.  There has even been talk of Oscars, incredibly.
Gibson, it should be noted, won 2 Academy Awards for his terrific Braveheart 10 years ago.  (His other credits are The Man Without A Face and the hugely successful epic, The Passion Of The Christ.)  It also should be pointed out that he doesn’t appear in Apocalypto.  When he does return to acting, it seems likely that he will still be able to make hit movies that people will enjoy.  Audiences are remarkably forgiving if they believe you are talented.  And Gibson, for all his faults, is both a talented filmmaker and a genuine movie star. 
As long as Gibson is commercially viable, he will still be embraced by Hollywood and, most especially, the moviegoing public, and as long as he keeps getting good notices from film reviewers, he will maintain his stature as an important filmmaker. 
Now if he’d only stop hating the Jews.  And gay people. 
Loser:  Bill O’Reilly
Despite a successful book (Culture Warrior), radio show (The Radio Factor) and TV program (The O’Reilly Factor), America’s most annoying broadcaster had a terrible year.
He got bitchslapped by David Letterman.  Twice.  His book was torn apart by Media Matters For America who revealed inaccuracies and examples of outright malice.  He’s received other bad reviews, as well.  His rival, Keith Olbermann, has been eating into his ratings and delighting in ridiculing him on-air for his stupidity and gross sense of indecency.  O’Reilly advocated a terrorist act against San Francisco.  He whined about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  He claimed he was a target of terrorism.  He whined about Oprah not inviting him to do her show until she actually invited him to do her show.  During his radio show, he threatened a caller who mentioned Keith Olbermann’s name.  (That caller later received a call from “Fox security”.)  He treated Geraldo like a legitimate reporter. 
O’Reilly advocated running Iraq like a dictator even though he has long supported the war effort to oust Saddam Hussein.  He publicly called for an attack on Iran.  He claimed the Vatican, which refuses to allow its priests to marry and have sex, which is against contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, and still won’t allow women to join the priesthood, is “secular progressive”.  He smeared Nancy Pelosi, Michael J. Fox and Ted Turner, among many others.  An on-screen graphic that aired during his TV program inaccurately labelled Republican Mark Foley a Democrat.  He doesn’t believe Iraq is in a civil war.  He defended Mel Gibson (O’Reilly’s book is supposed to be turned into a production of some kind by Gibson’s company).  The average age of his core group of viewers and listeners is 71.  And on and on and on.
What will it take for this irresponsible broadcaster to leave the media for good?  How many more mistakes does he have to make before someone at Fox makes him fall on his sword?  Will we ever be free from this menace? 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
1:24 a.m.
Published in: on December 12, 2006 at 1:35 am  Leave a Comment  

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