My nomination for Director of the Year 2006 goes to Richard Linklater. I give him this nomination because he made two very good and completely different films that were released last year. Between them, they garnered zero Academy Award nominations, though Fast Food Nation was up for the Golden Palm at Cannes and A Scanner Darkly was nominated for several science fiction awards.
Fast Food Nation shares its name with a non-fiction book about fast food published in 2001. Linklater and the book's author Eric Schlosser decided to make a fiction film with the same title. The movie is about a lot of stuff, but mostly about the American food supply and illegal immigration. The New York Times quote is on the poster. I would compare it to Silver City, the neglected John Sayles film from a few years back.
The movie is told in several parts, all relating to people whose jobs directly or indirectly bring food to the table. Greg Kinnear is the star of one of these parts. Fast Food Nation is about 10 to 100 times better than Little Miss Sunshine, a movie also starring Kinnear that was the indy movie darling of 2006 for reasons I cannot explain. If you want to see Little Miss Sunshine, suppress that desire and see Fast Food Nation instead. You'll thank me later. (Both movies also feature the young actor Paul Dano, coincidentally.)
A Scanner Darkly is so different from Fast Food Nation, it's hard to believe the same guy made them. The movie is done in an animation style called rotoscoping, where footage is shot then artists draw pictures over the film. Charles Schwab uses this in their commercials for no particular good reason. The reason to use this method in A Scanner Darkly is a very good reason, because there is a special effect central to the story that would have been both very expensive and very distracting to do in live action.
The film is adapted from a novel by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote the stories that became Total Recall and Blade Runner. The only common thread I can see between these stories is futuristic cops. When Dick was writing his sci-fi back in the 1960's, he was also involved in the drug counterculture, and this story is more clearly drug-related than any of his others. The characters here are cops trying to catch the drug dealers and the people, some dealers and some users, who are involved with a new designer drug. The cast includes actors who have had real life hassles with the law, including Winona Ryder, Robert Downey, Jr. and Woody Harrelson, and stars Keanu Reeves, who has a completely spotless record with the law, though he seems more like a stoner anyone in Hollywood. The movie is nearly impossible to explain, but it's definitely worth a view.
I end this post with a photo of Winona Ryder, who was the Natalie Portman of her day, the young, incredibly adorable and talented actress who looked like she was going to be a gigantic star, who chose interesting and diverse projects.
Look at that picture and fail to fall in love. I dare you!
Note to Ms. Portman: keep your nose clean. Stuff happens, and not all of that stuff happens to train wrecks like Lindsay Lohan.