Dark Heroes, Celebrity Nosedives: The Best Movie Trends Of 2006

Here's hoping '07 is also stocked with Pixar flicks, big-time documentaries and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Imitation isn't just the sincerest form of flattery in Hollywood, it's also the easiest way to keep your job in a town where the fashion of the month swiftly becomes the sequel, the cartoon and the lunch box. So this holiday week, let's take a look at the seven trends we're thankful for -- the ones we won't mind seeing more of in 2007.

Darker Takes On Comic Book Films

2006: It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a morally conflicted rogue mercenary of dubious judgment and character! Call it the "Batman Begins" effect, but the good guys are the ones wearing black now. Whether they're playboys from Gotham, reporters from Krypton or mutants from upstate New York, the greatest enemy these superheroes face is themselves. And that makes them more like us than they ever were before.

Future Watch: Hollywood is about 15 years behind the comics industry, which wrestled with these themes in Frank Miller's "Sin City," "300" and "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," as well as Alan Moore's "Watchmen." All four will have made their way to the big screen by the end of the next two years.

Greater Exposure For Documentaries

2006: The biggest movie stars of the year were Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks and Al Gore, and if you saw that last one coming, there's this bridge in Brooklyn I want to talk to you about. It's no accident that 16 of the 20 highest-grossing documentaries ever made were released in the last three years: Flicks like Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" are getting wider releases and more publicity than ever, changing minds one Jujube at a time.

Future Watch: Michael Moore's "Sicko," a documentary about American health care, will get a huge 2007 release. If his past movies are any indication, it will be entirely agreeable and not the least bit controversial.

Celebrity Schadenfreude

2006: Schadenfreude is a German word defined as "malicious pleasure at the misfortune of others," and if 2006 wasn't a high point, we don't know our obscure Germanic phrases. This year, it felt like we were back on the playground again, and some celebrities surely felt the same way. Lindsay Lohan got a letter from the principal CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, detailing how her behavior was not acceptable. Tom Cruise was released by Paramount for not playing well with others.

Future Watch: The war between increasingly fiscally conservative studios and increasing star salaries means more celebrities and projects will be shown the door in '07.

Simultaneously Shot Sequels

2006: Some movie concepts age like fine wine ... others just turn to vinegar. Simultaneously shot sequels aren't only more cohesive, consistent and (here's one for the studios) cost-effective -- they're also more daring. The second "Matrix," "Pirates" and "Lord of the Rings" films all ended in cliffhangers. It would take another "c" word -- cojones -- to do that with a three- or four-year lag-time between movies.

Future Watch: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," shot at the same time as "Dead Man's Chest," opens next May.


2006: OK, granted, "Cars" wasn't their best effort. But comparing their films to other animated fare is like comparing Superman to Bizarro -- sure, they both have the same amazing powers, but one of them talks like Rain Man. John Lasseter and company will eventually make a bad, unimaginative movie. I'm sure my grandkids will tell me all about it.

Future Watch: Disney handed Pixar the keys to the magic kingdom, putting Lasseter in charge of their animation department. Their next CG feature, "Ratatouille," opens June 2007.

Attack Comedy

2006: It was Mel Brooks who famously said something along the lines of, "When I see an old lady fall down, I laugh, because that's comedy. When I get a paper cut, I cry, because that's tragedy." What it really is, of course, is mean -- but hostility has always fueled our best jokes, whether it was Jonathan Swift suggesting the public dine on Irish children in "A Modest Proposal" or a bunch of Stooges beating the daylights out of each other. Humor attacks our comfort zones, hits us where we're weak. In a world where "Jackass" and "Borat" can expose us all for the fools we are, our own foibles become the biggest punch lines. Now that's funny.

Future Watch: Sacha Baron Cohen follows up "Borat" as a gay, Austrian fashion reporter in "Brúno."

The '70s Are Back

2006: The fact that two of the most visionary, influential and creative directors of the last 30 years are still working should be good enough, but tell Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman that and they'll likely brush right past you and continue making great films. "The Departed" and "A Prairie Home Companion" prove that these two are still at the top of their games -- now give 'em a damn Oscar already!

Future Watch: Francis Ford Coppola makes it a holy triumvirate, directing his first film in 10 years with 2007's "Youth Without Youth."

Check out everything we've got on "300" and "Borat."

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