It wasn’t that long ago that pundits throughout the entertainment industry were clamoring about a potentially seismic shift in the habits of moviegoers — a shift that threatened the very foundation of the movie business itself. Thanks to rising ticket prices, the Internet and the appeal of hi-tech home entertainment systems, the general consensus was that moviegoers would rather stay at home than fight the crowds, expensive concessions and ringing cell phones that made going to the cineplexes such an unpleasant experience. It didn’t help that the movies they were fighting to see weren’t even that good to begin with.
But after a lackluster 2005, when receipts and admissions were at their lowest point in years, the box office struck back with a vengeance in 2006 (up 4.9 percent to $9.4 billion), and all that doom and gloom suddenly disappeared (at least, for now). The movie business was alive and well, thank you very much — despite the fact that the movies still weren’t all that good. For proof of that, look no further than “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” Though panned by critics, the high-profile sequel grossed a huge $423 million, making it the biggest movie of the year. The same can be said about another critically derided summer blockbuster, “The Da Vinci Code,” which came in fourth place with $218 million.
And that brings me to my point: with so many successful movies defying the universal thumbs-down, one has to wonder, do critics even matter anymore?
That may be a loaded question, but one thing’s for sure — the role of the critic has definitely changed. Gone are the days when film scholars like The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael had enough of an influence on her readers to affect the overall success or failure of a film. These days, it doesn’t really matter what the critics — and there are many of them — think. People need something to do, and taking their loved ones to state-of-the-art theaters is, while expensive, still more affordable than most other forms of entertainment.
And thanks to the Internet — and especially databases like Rottentomatoes.com — they can later go online to see if other critics shared their views. Because no matter what, people love to talk about movies, and they like to read about them too. So while reviews may no longer carry the influential weight they once had, people can still read them to justify — and maybe even help formulate — their own opinions.
With that in mind, it turns out that there were a lot of good movies to be found in 2006. So here are some of my favorites — coming from a critic who, hopefully, still matters to some of you.
1) “Little Miss Sunshine”: Talk about a “little” movie that everyone could relate to! A crowd-pleaser when it was acquired at Sundance for a record-breaking $10.5 million, the dysfunctional family dramedy played well for months and grossed almost $60 million, thanks to the best marketing tool a studio exec could ask for — strong word-of-mouth. Touching, poignant and very funny, “Little Miss Sunshine” is an instant classic that makes you smile.