As the year winds down, members of the media for some reason feel an urge to offer retrospectives of 2006. So why should we be any different?There were some clear winners and losers in the past 12 months. It was a tough year for Judith Regan, Kevin Federline and Republicans (and, yes, in the 21st century, politics is considered part of showbiz). But there were good times for Sony (a $3 billion year at the B.O.), Disney’s pirates ($1 billion) and Paris Hilton (her name was the most searched item on Google News — that’s News, mind you — beating runners-up that include Orlando Bloom, cancer and Hurricane Katrina). But other triumphs and defeats in 2006 were subtler:
- It was a terrible year for teachers. Films from “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” to “Akeelah and the Bee” have offered a long line of inspiring educators. But in this past year, teachers groped their students (“The History Boys”), screwed their students (“Notes on a Scandal”) and ignored their students (“The Pursuit of Happyness”). Teachers were crackheads (“Half Nelson”), obsessive weirdoes (“Notes on a Scandal” again) or superfluous (“Accepted”).
- It was a good year to be an oil company executive. “Who Killed the Electric Car?” was seen by too few people. But movies like “Talladega Nights,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Cars” celebrated the fun of relentless driving — during a summer when gas prices hit a record high.
- It was not a good year to be a Catholic. The central ideas of “The Da Vinci Code” are that the Church is solely responsible for the suppression of women and that Opus Dei (the Catholic version of the Kiwanis Club) has murdered millions of innocent people. Summing up the premise, Ian McKellen’s character shouts, “For 2,000 years, the Church has rained oppression on mankind!” If the character had said the same thing about Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, would anyone in Hollywood have approved the script? But the real bummer for Catholics: The movie, like Dan Brown’s novel, was a huge hit, meaning most audience members (including Catholics) apparently didn’t mind.
- It was a great year for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. “The Lives of Others” earned a tidy $15.8 million and put him on the world-cinema map. Plus, he has the second best name in the entire world (outdone only by Esa-Pekka Salonen).
- It was a good year for the over-60 set. Brits Peter O’Toole, Vanessa Redgrave, Leslie Philips (all of “Venus”), Judi Dench (“Notes on a Scandal”), Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), Diana Rigg (“The Painted Veil”) and Michael Caine (“The Prestige” and “Children of Men”) gave luminous performances. Audiences realized with a shock that not all elders in movies are crotchety codgers or sassy old ladies. And U.S. director Sidney Lumet (“Find Me Guilty”) is still working at 81, while Clint Eastwood (76) proved with “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Flags of Our Fathers” that a veteran is still capable of taking his talent in new directions.
- It was a good year for actors tired of being criticized for their $20 million-plus salaries and elaborate perks. Of course, every year is a good year for those who are highly paid, but the media’s constant carping about hefty Hollywood paydays now seems like a moot point thanks to Goldman Sachs’ recent revelation that it would pay CEO Lloyd Blankfein a bonus of $53.4 million. He’s been in the job for six months.
- It was a mixed year for many, such as Madonna ($195 million on her concert tour, but criticized as a child-snatcher); Tom Cruise (publicly embarrassed by Sumner Redstone, but now head of his own studio); Tom Freston (another noisy firing, but a $60 million exit package) — hey, wait, what are we talking about, this was a great year for these people! They’re earning more than Lloyd Blankfein!
- It was a wonderful year for old-fashioned grossouts. Whether the disembowelments of “Apocalypto,” the gore of “Saw III,” “Night of Living Dead in 3-D” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” or the gleeful rudeness of “Borat” and “Jackass Number Two,” the movies this year proved there is bad taste for every possible taste.
- Finally, it was not a good year for “A Good Year.”