ves recognized the fiscal potential of releasing their biggest-budget movies during the summer — as the July sun blazes ever hotter, young target audiences have more free time to idle away in air-conditioned theaters. Since this discovery of seasonal marketing, the mid-year months have been marked by the release of some of the highest-grossing films of all time. And summer 2006, no exception to the rule, saw the inauguration of countless films into the blockbuster canon.
The May premiere of Ron Howard’s highly anticipated “The Da Vinci Code” marked the beginning of the summer blockbuster season, and, as so many blockbusters do, it was a critical flop. “Da Vinci” was followed by the epic (and epically long) “Superman Returns” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” along with a new M. Night Shyamalan creation and a silly Anne Hathaway-Meryl Streep flick about the drama of high fashion. Thankfully, summer 2006 was also the season of thoughtful, well-written and at times hilarious independent films. Here’s a diverse cross-section of one of the more prolific summers in recent memory:
“An Inconvenient Truth”
An Al Gore documentary about the reality and dangers of global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth” is eye-opening and sincere without being partisan. Though Gore drones on and gets too sentimental and personal at times, his passion and activism are refreshing in an increasingly neutral Hollywood.
“Brothers of the Head”
Only released in New York and Los Angeles, “Brothers of the Head” is a rock mockumentary a la “This is Spinal Tap,” but with an interesting twist: The lead singers of the band are conjoined twins. Based on a novel by Brian Aldiss, “Brothers” is an experiment in morbid curiosity. Like sideshow performers from the Victorian circus, we can’t help but stare. Definitely not groundbreaking or even great cinema, it was certainly more daring and interesting than many of the films that hit the screen this summer.
More disappointing than even “The Da Vinci Code,” the latest Pixar installment fell far short of their usual standards. Incomparable to “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.” or “The Incredibles,” “Cars” lacked the sophistication of its CGI predecessors and was unbearably long. Although the characters were voiced well, it was too difficult to relate or empathize with an inanimate object. And there were too many vexing and distracting questions that went unanswered — for example, where do the baby cars come from? Unfortunately, “Cars” has tarnished Pixar’s otherwise flawless record.
Released late in the summer, Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson” stars Ryan Gosling as an inner-city school teacher with a cocaine addiction and chronicles his relationship with the quiet and intelligent Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of his middle school history students. “Half Nelson” is both an interesting portrait of a smart but hopeless and disillusioned youth struggling with modernity and a reassuring tale about the redemptive power of education. Beautifully acted and still in theaters, “Half Nelson” is worth the drive to Stamford.
An under-the-radar Gael Garcia Bernal film, “The King” is a delectably dark tale about an upstanding marine turned incestuous and homicidal maniac — some critics have described it as a Mexican “American Psycho.” In addition to Bernal’s meaty lead role, William Hurt plays a painfully self-righteous Protestant minister, and Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) the Christian rock musician and minister’s son. Disliked by some for its humorous and mocking treatment of religion, by others for its morbidity, “The King” is sinfully enjoyable.
“Lady in the Water”
Disliked by most, M. Night Shyamalan seems doomed never to surpass his freshman effort, “The Sixth Sense.” Arguably, every film since has gotten progressively worse. “Lady in the Water” is a story about a nymph named Story, who has come to redeem humanity. Though Shyamalan’s vision doesn’t always translate well to celluloid (in the case of his evil grass and twig, canine-inspired creatures called “scrunts,” for example) his faith and originality are admirable.
“Little Miss Sunshine”
Praised by critics nationwide, this Sundance favorite has become one of the biggest movie events of the year. “Sunshine” has reminded American moviegoers of the simple power of good writing coupled with good acting. A situational comedy that puts a new twist on the classic road-trip scenario, this Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Ferris-directed film is, by most standards, one of the summer’s best.
“The OH In Ohio”
Queen of the Indies, Parker Posey teamed up with Paul Rudd, Mischa Barton and an oddly long-haired Danny DeVito in newcomer Billy Kent’s “The OH in Ohio,” a film all about achieving the Big O. Uptight and prude, Posey’s Priscilla Chase suffers from a lack of orgasmic ability, a sexual condition that has driven her prematurely middle-aged husband (Rudd) into the arms of one of his high school students (Barton of postmortem “OC” fame). Despite the disturbing image of a scantily-clad Danny DeVito in bed, some clever cinematography and fantastically funny scenes involving an accidental vibrator make this one to remember.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
Unnecessarily long, the second “Pirates” feels as if it’s going nowhere. And when the frustrating cliffhanger of an ending finally rolls around (an unfair ploy to ensure attendance at next summer’s sequel), such suspicions are confirmed. Johnny Depp’s Keith Richards shtick has lost much of its appeal — which was largely based on its originality — via redundancy, and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley continue to annoy. But as one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, attendance seemed obligatory.
“X-Men: The Last Stand”
While the novelty may have worn off a bit, the latest in the “X-Men” series lived up to its prequels, offering an action-packed dose of sci-fi. Many returning characters underwent surprising metamorphoses, and some thrilling new characters were introduced, notably