Best Damn Movies of 2006

And why nearly all you'll see in 2007 is sequels, prequels, and threequels

Also on the horizon and with some buzz is a spate of biopics, most of them set peculiarly in the 1970s. Nick Cassavetes wrote and directed Alpha Dog, which debuts in January and is based on the misadventures of Jesse James Hollywood, one of the youngest criminals ever to land on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Then there's David Fincher's Zodiac, a thriller about the notorious San Francisco serial killer starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and Lasse Hallstrom's The Hoax, starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving, who was sort of the Jayson Blair of the 1970s, only sleazier, as if that's possible. Brad Pitt is the original Missouri good ol' boy outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James, and J-Lo and hubby Marc Anthony bring salsa star Hector Lavoe's life to the screen in El Cantante.

If little else, it's clear that the problems plaguing Hollywood will only grow worse in 2007: piracy, which the movie industry says is stealing $1.3 billion from its U.S. revenues alone; new media, though no one at the studios has yet figured out how to make money online; young Hollywood, better-known for their Page Six performances than memorable roles.

My prediction? Hollywood moguls will find ways to pay themselves bigger bonuses while cutting the pay and perks for everyone else. And that's certainly not an original idea either.


Hall of Famer

Legend, yes. But Clint Eastwood's not done yet.

By Scott FoundasOn an early December afternoon at the offices of Malpaso Productions, Clint Eastwood's four Academy Awards have been placed into thick velvet carrying bags, while that famous poncho — the one Eastwood donned for the entirety of Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy — is being carefully loaded into a large shipping box. But that doesn't mean that Eastwood himself is packing it in. The memorabilia in question is merely being loaned out to the California Museum in Sacramento, where Eastwood has just been inducted into the California Hall of Fame (part of an inaugural class that includes Cesar Chavez, John Muir, and Ronald Reagan). "Will I ride off into the sunset? Maybe. Will I be dragged off kicking and screaming? Probably," he told me back in 2004 when I interviewed him just before the release of Million Dollar Baby. And in the full spirit of those words, he's spent much of the intervening two years devoted to the biggest, most ambitious project of his six-decade career.

That project was to have been a single film, Flags of Our Fathers, about the American soldiers who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima — one of the bloodiest in all of World War II — and how they later became unwitting cogs in the war effort's well-oiled propaganda machine. Then, during preproduction, Eastwood had a thought: What about the Japanese troops who fought so bravely to defend those eight square miles of volcanic terrain, 20,000 of whom died in the process? And the more Eastwood thought about that, the more he couldn't stop thinking about it, until he found himself at the helm of a second Iwo Jima movie, this time told from the other side of the front lines, filmed with an all-Japanese cast and all-Japanese dialogue. Now, with Letters From Iwo Jima opening wide, Eastwood once again sits on a dark-horse Oscar contender that it's hard to imagine any other American filmmaker (save perhaps Steven Spielberg, who served as Eastwood's producer on the movie) managing to get made.

"I just thought it would be good to tell the whole story," Eastwood says with his trademark nonchalance, adding that he was particularly drawn to the figure of Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played in Lettersby Ken Watanabe), the Japanese commander on Iwo Jima who, before the war, traveled extensively throughout the Americas, logging time as a military attaché in Washington and as a student at Harvard. Kuribayashi's lyrical dispatches back to his wife, daughter, and son, published in the book Picture Letters From Commander in Chief, provided the connective tissue for the Lettersscreenplay (by first-time Japanese-American screenwriter Iris Yamashita). "The book doesn't say very much — it's just his letters home and these little sketches he made of himself and the people he saw," Eastwood says. "But you can see that he was a very concerned father, worried about his kids, their academics, their spelling, telling them he's going to fix certain things when he gets home, that he can't wait to see them, that he wishes he was there. All the things that a normal husband and father would do, anywhere in the world."

That humanizing view of "the enemy" is central to Letters, which, like Flags, unfolds from the perspective of the low-ranking conscripts whom Eastwood calls "young men asked to live a very short lifetime." As the war in Iraq nears the start of its fifth year amid talk of a renewed military draft, Eastwood, who tends to be terse with regard to his films' thematic implications, says the contemporary parallels aren't lost on him. But with their reciprocal depictions of wartime rhetoric and thoughtless atrocities committed against POWs, Flagsand Lettersseem less an anti-war diptych than a troubled inquiry into the moral relativism of the battlefield. As handily as Unforgiven muddied the mythology of the classical Western, Eastwood's latest films shatter the clear-cut notions of heroism and villainy ingrained in almost every Hollywood WWII movie, up through and including Saving Private Ryan.

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