Leo, with my city in the background.

The 79th annual Academy Awards for the film year 2006.  The nominations were announced on January 23, 2007 and the awards were held on February 25, 2007.

Best Picture:  The Departed

  • The Queen
  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine

Most Surprising Omission:  Dreamgirls

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Children of Men

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #23

The Race:

Early Contenders:

  • Dreamgirls
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • The Departed
  • Marie Antoinette
  • United 93

While a lot of films were in contention at the time (you can see a list of 43 in a Tom O’Neill article here), these are the ones I would say were the biggest at the time.  Dreamgirls was the big musical in the prime spot from the beginning and widely expected to win, complete with Broadway pedigree like Chicago, which had gone untouched with front-runner status all the way to the end.  Flags of Our Fathers and The Departed looked like they could be another Eastwood – Scorsese matchup for Best Director.  Marie Antoinette was the follow-up film for Sofia Coppola after striking Oscar gold with Lost in Translation (the first American female ever nominated for Best Director).  And then there was United 93, which had the big story to tell in a tasteful way.

The Gurus of Gold in August Top Five:

  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Dreamgirls
  • The Good German
  • World Trade Center
  • Babel

By this time, United 93 had opened to strong reviews but mixed audience reaction (including many who weren’t ready for any 9/11 story) and it was thought that perhaps Oliver Stone, who had won multiple Oscars, might have a better chance with his 9/11 film.  Babel had won Best Director at Cannes and Soderbergh’s new film had a strong cast and no one knew if it would be any good, so people were betting on it.  The next group was The Departed, All the King’s Men (which no one had seen but it had a great cast and high expectations), United 93, The History Boys and The Queen.

Pre-Awards Contenders:

  • Dreamgirls
  • The Departed
  • The Queen
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Little Miss Sunshine  /  Babel

Going into early December, things had been shaken up a bit.  Little Miss Sunshine had opened in August and earned solid box office and very good word of mouth.  The Departed, which some pundits had concerns about because it was a genre remake, had opened to the best business of any Scorsese film.  The Queen had also opened to incredible reviews (with even better reviews for its star Helen Mirren).  In the meantime, World Trade Center and Flags of Our Fathers had gotten more mixed reviews and All the King’s Men had gotten very weak reviews and died at the box office.  Then, suddenly in mid-November the race got shaken up a bit.  Letters from Iwo Jima, the companion film to Flags, which wasn’t set to open until February, was suddenly pushed to December, potentially to step into Flags‘ place in the race, as Flags had under-performed with both critics and audiences.

Post-Awards / Pre-Golden Globes Contenders:

  • The Departed
  • The Queen
  • Dreamgirls
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • United 93

Even though Dreamgirls had only been seen by critics, it was still considered a major front-runner.  But the Best Picture in Boston for The Departed and Best Director in New York, Boston and from the NBR had perhaps made it the film to beat, especially with the sentiment over the fact that Scorsese had never won an Oscar.  The Queen had also won numerous awards, though none for Picture.  That left the final two spots between the other critical winners – United 93 (NYFC) and Letters from Iwo Jima (the surprise NBR winner to kick off the awards season as well as the LAFC winner).  Little Miss Sunshine and Babel had both been hurt by the lack of critics awards and Flags was now dead in the water.

Post Golden Globes / Pre-Guild Contenders:

  • The Departed
  • Dreamgirls
  • Babel
  • The Queen
  • Letters from Iwo Jima  /  Pan’s Labyrinth  /  Little Miss Sunshine

Babel and Dreamgirls were boosted by winning the two Best Picture awards.  The Departed had won another Best Director award.  The Queen had won Best Screenplay.  While Eastwood had been nominated twice for Best Director, Flags wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and Little Miss Sunshine, now out on DVD, was getting more attention.  There was also awards talk growing for Pan’s Labyrinth, which had won the NSFC in the meantime.

Post Guild  /  Pre-Oscar Final Contenders:

  • The Departed
  • Dreamgirls
  • Babel
  • The Queen
  • Little Miss Sunshine

All five films had been nominated for the Directors Guild and Producers Guild and only Dreamgirls was missing from the Writers Guild.  Dreamgirls had finally opened and was doing strong business.  As can be seen from my article at the end, I was telling everyone that these five films were locks, with either Eastwood or Greengrass or both getting into the Director race.

The Results:  Dreamgirls had the most nominations but it was out of the Best Picture – a history-making stunner that I wrote my first piece for Oscarwatch on (whether we should have guessed it, when clearly no one did).  The speculation over what film would be out – Babel, Little Miss Sunshine or Letters from Iwo Jima was made irrelevant when they all were in, along with The Departed and The Queen.  All of them but Sunshine had Director nominations, but it quickly became the talk of whether Marty would just win Director (which was now widely expected) and whether he would deserve it (widely debated – another article I wrote) to whether The Departed could win Best Picture.

With Marty taking the DGA for the first time shortly afterwards, and his film winning the WGA, it didn’t seem like Little Miss Sunshine‘s wins at the PGA and the WGA would be enough (especially as it didn’t have a Director nomination).  Babel, the leading contender (7 noms), still wasn’t expected to be enough, and it wasn’t.  Winning 4 of its 5 nominations (the fewest for a Best Picture winner since 1977), The Departed had defied all logic (it was remake, a genre film, Marty never wins, only 5 noms) to take home the Oscar.

note:  Since both my articles got kind of lost to the ether when Oscarwatch changed over to Awards Daily, I have printed them in full at the end of the post.

Marty finally wins the Oscar. Nuff said.

The Departed

  • Director:  Martin Scorsese
  • Writer:  William Monahan  (from the screenplay Mou gaan dou by Alan Mak and Felix Chong)
  • Producer:  Graham King
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Alec Baldwin
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Wahlberg), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  350
  • Length:  151 min
  • Genre:  Crime (Cop)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  6 October 2006
  • Box Office Gross:  $132.38  (#15  –  2006)
  • Metacritic Score:  86
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #57  (nominees)  /  #22  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Wahlberg), Supporting Actor (Nicholson), Supporting Actor (Sheen), Editing, Cinematography, Sound
  • Nighthawk Points:  490

The Film:  I first began writing for CC2K in early 2007, answering an ad my sister saw on Craig’s List.  My initial proposal, copied straight out of my sent mail said this: “My wife has suggested that for an opening article I write “The 25 Best Moments of Rock and Roll on Film” so that I will stop talking about the first five minutes of The Departed.  That article, which went up on 4 February 2007 began a good relationship with that sight, but it’s also a reminder.  Those first few minutes are so perfect that you keep expecting a letdown.  And then the film never lets up, with perfect acting, directing, editing, use of music, everything.

With those first few minutes, Marty does an amazing trick that has a double effect.  As we hear Jack over the soundtrack, explaining the way things are, we never actually see him.  He stays in the shadow, in the garage, in the store, talking to young Colin.  It’s a director’s trick that keeps him from having to try to make Jack look 20 years younger.  But it’s also a brilliant motife for the film itself – Frank Costello, our Whitey Bulger stand-in, lives in the shadows, only killing people himself when he has to (he has men for that), keeping things organized while taking a step back.  He’s that darkness just out of eyesight, the evil in our neighborhood we try not to think about.  And he brings that shadow into young Colin’s life, until we get that great line, “When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”  And that’s when he comes into the light, as he places this notion into Colin’s head and becomes the father figure, not just the elusive figure in the shadows.  And looking at Colin, with the excitement in his eyes as he knows he’s moving up in the world, we remember those immortal lines from GoodFellas: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” And with those great Stones lines in the background: “Love, murder, it’s just a shot away”, we finish one of the great opening scenes of all-time.

Then comes the long pre-credits sequence (18 minutes to be exact), as we start to learn all the important characters (and see exactly how good not only the ensemble is – Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, a terrifying Mark Wahlberg, Ray Winstone) and see how their lives are careening off each other in different directions.  And then we get that plea, “Do it for me,” as one man asks another to go through hell because it’s the only chance they have, and then, just as we finally get that title, we also get the Boston music, the music of this city, the music that inspires thoughts of the Irish, of drinking, of violence, of everything Boston that this film entails.

There is so much right about this movie that I can’t stop thinking about it.  Look at the humor in it: “Go fuck yourself.”  “I’m tired from fucking your wife.” or “How’s your mother?”  “On her way out.”  “We all are.  Act accordingly.”  or, of course, “I’m the guy who does his job.  You must be the other guy.”  Look at how amazingly good the cast is.  It contains two great lead performances and you can take your pick as to your favorite of the supporting performances – the evil of Nicholson, the dark profane humor of Wahlberg, the leadership of Sheen or the authority of Baldwin.

Or we could look at what Scorsese does as a director.  Ever since The Godfather, there’s always been the risk of running criss-crossing scenes, of making it seem too familiar.  But when you have a double life, when two of you have double lives, then your whole life becomes those criss-crossing scenes.  Those aren’t a filmmaker’s touch.  They’re the natural extension of what is going on in that character’s head.

Then there is the world of the film.  Infernal Affairs was a good thriller about two men whose lives crossed in an interesting way.  But what makes The Departed a brilliant film, indeed the best film of 2006, is the way in which it takes that genre story and does so much more with it.  A year before, and this would have been a great film, like so many other Scorsese films.  But when this came out, it was so much more.  I was living in Quincy.  That bridge that DiCaprio is standing under, talking to Wahlberg and Sheen?  That’s the bridge over the Neponset River.  Not far from where they’re standing, just across the river in Quincy, bodies were buried, bodies that had been murdered by Whitey Bulger.  How do I know that?  Because Kevin Weeks told me – that man who helped kill those men, the man who helped bury the bodies, the man whose best-selling book I did an event for at Borders in Braintree before the film opened.  This wasn’t just a genre story.  This was the Whitey Bulger story, in all its gory detail, perfectly transplanted, through the genre lens, into film.  After years kicking back in the city where young people go to retire, this was suddenly my neighborhood.  And this is where it all began, as well.  Halfway through the film, we’re as stunned as Leo when we suddenly learn that Costello is an FBI informant.  It was within sight of that bridge in Quincy where Bulger first met up with John Connelly and made the deal that brutalized South Boston for 20 years, made the FBI the least trusted law enforcement unit in Boston and lead to Bulger’s 15 years on the run, safe because he had been tipped off before the hammer came down.

And the film doesn’t let up.  It reminds us that blood often pays its own way, paying for more blood.  It includes the great devastating conclusion from the original film, a brutal stunner that leaves you gasping for air.

It doesn’t get any more dignified than this.

The Queen

  • Director:  Stephen Frears
  • Writer:  Peter Morgan
  • Producer:  Andy Harries  /  Christine Langan  /  Tracey Seaward
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Stars:  Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory, Alex Jennings, Sylvia Sims
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Mirren), Original Score, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  245
  • Length:  103 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (True Story)
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:  6 October 2006
  • Box Office Gross:  $56.44 mil  (#57  –  2006)
  • Metacritic Score:  91
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5  (year)  /  #130  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay, Actress (Mirren), Supporting Actor (Sheen), Art Direction
  • Nighthawk Points:  240

The Film:  I was filled with the same kind of sadness when I walked out of The Queen that I had when I walked out of Thirteen Days.  When I tried to explain this to my mom she misunderstood and started talking about how Diana was in a different direction in her life when she died than Bobby was when he died.  And then I stopped her.  “I’m not talking about Diana.  And I’m not really talking about Bobby,” I explained.  This wasn’t about who had lived and who had died and what they could have accomplished.  I thought of Thirteen Days and the right moves that Robert McNamara made that supported JFK and kept us out of a nuclear war.  And I wondered what he could have done had Vietnam not come along.  And I also thought about LBJ and the magnificent Great Society and how much he accomplished in the fight for civil rights and how three years later he was almost a prisoner in the White House as the youth of America was outside chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ  /  How many kids did you kill today?”  And then I look at this movie again and I wonder what Tony Blair and New Labor could have done if only the Middle East hadn’t gotten in the way.  What could have been his legacy?  Because here it is, his shining legacy of making every right move and showing exactly why the people had chosen him.

Halfway through the film, when the accolades are coming in for how the young Prime Minister is handling the political and social situation in the wake of the death of Diana, his main speech writer, Alistair Campbell (who would inspire Malcolm Tucker, the most foul-mouthed man you could ever imagine in a position of power) looks at him and says “The people’s princess.  You owe me, mate.”  And yes, it was Campbell, trying to find a way to stick it to the royals that he clearly despises so much who came up with the phrase.  But it is Blair, and the magnificent performance by Michael Sheen, that bring the phrase to life.

From the minute this film was screened, it was clear that Helen Mirren was finally going to be walking away with an Oscar.  She had the cool, collective manner as if she had been to the manor born.  She was exactly what she explained to the Prime Minister in the film – from a time when people did not show their emotions, but do their mourning in private, quietly, with dignity.  And so it was really no surprise when every awards group on the planet started handing her their awards for Best Actress.  But what was lost in all of that was a couple of things.

The first is the absolutely amazing performance of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair.  There is no question that by now, Sheen has become a great go-to guy for performances of real British men (add David Frost and Brian Clough).  But here, he has to balance the weight of a performance that is so well-remembered around the world, the exact manner in which Tony Blair won over his people by publicly mourning “the people’s princess,” and then managed to somehow thread his way through the growing disenchantment with the very idea of a monarchy to save those people from themselves.

But in the end, it’s not even just about those two amazing performances, or how well-written the film is (with a perfect understanding of Cherie Blair and Alistair Campbell thrown in for good measure), or the exquisite art direction, the polished editing that never lets the film feel slow or like a history lesson.  This is actually a good ensemble piece that is built around those two performances.  There’s Mark Bazeley (as Campbell), Helen McCroary (as Cherie), James Cromwell, being unlikeable like he does so well (much to my mother’s dismay), Sylvia Sims reminding us how good of an actress she has always been.  And then there is Alex Jennings.  As someone who always had a crush on Princess Diana, I never had much liking for Charles.  But the performance by Jennings, in the depth of his grief, in the subtle ways in which he communicates with Blair about how his mother will react, in the way he interacts with his sons, I suddenly found myself in a different position – with sympathy for this private man who has had to live his whole life in public.  And so we mourn for Diana, and we can mourn for the potential of Blair, built up so high in those late summer days of 97, only to be blown away in the desert winds a few years later.

The much better film with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

Babel

  • Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Writer:  Guillermo Ariaga  (from an idea by Gullermo Ariaga and Alejandro González Iñárritu)
  • Producer:  Alejandro González Iñárritu  /  Jon Kilik  /  Steve Golin
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kikuchi, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Kikuchi), Supporting Actress (Barraza), Editing, Original Score
  • Oscar Points:  270
  • Length:  143 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Social)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  10 November 2006
  • Box Office Gross:  $34.30 mil  (#92  –  2006)
  • Metacritic Score:  69
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #21  (year)  /  #245  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Supporting Actress (Kikuchi), Supporting Actress (Blanchett), Supporting Actress (Barraza)
  • Nighthawk Points:  90

The Film:  In a world with more and more people but in which technology keeps making smaller, this film is a reminder of how small actions can have repercussions across a wide stream.  In one sense, it is an example of the butterfly effect, except the nature involved is human.  It takes what seems like three separates stories, linked only by human pain, are, in fact, connected into one larger string of circumstances and can be a reminder that pain is often carelessly or accidentally inflicted.

Here are the three stories in a nutshell.  In the first, an American tourist is shot on a bus while in Morocco through a sheer, bizarre accident.  But because she and her husband are in the outback of a strange land where local customs and language form their own barriers, they are first abandoned by their tour group, then struggle to find the necessary medical care.  In the second, a Mexican-American nanny is planning to go to Mexico to attend her son’s wedding, but parental problems mean that she has no to watch the children so that she can go.  Because this is her son, she and her nephew decide to take the children with them and their attempts to return to the States end up in disaster.  In the third story, a Japanese man struggles to bridge the emotional canyon between him and his teenage daughter at the same time that a police investigation intrudes upon their lives.

So what is it that brings these stories together beyond the linkage of human pain and attempts to cover up or pass over that pain?  A string of circumstances.  The Japanese man was on a trip in Morocco and left behind his new hunting rifle as a gift.  It ended up in the hands of a child who shoots carelessly and wounds the tourist.  The tourists are the parents of the children back in the States.  It is one long story, broken into pieces.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, the very talented director of Amores Perros and 21 Grams had handled multiple stories like this before.  But the fact that it doesn’t bounce around in time (the stories are told in straight linear fashion, though they don’t overlap in straight linear time) makes this film a bit more coherent than 21 Grams.  And once again, he shows that he can work wonders with an ensemble cast in which no one gets to be the star (like in Amores Perros, which also had Gael Garcia Bernal).  All of the actors involved are very good, but the best are the three main female performances – Cate Blanchett as the woman who is shot, Adrianna Barraza as the nanny and Rinko Kikuchi as the emotionally wounded teen.  While it was Brad Pitt and Blanchett as the couple who helped bring in the financing (Pitt is also very good, one of his best performances), it was, rightfully, the performances of the more unknown Barraza and Kikuchi that earned most of the awards acclaim.

So what is it that keeps this film from quite making its way into the **** realm that Amores Perros was in?  It’s mostly the length – the film goes on long enough that it starts to wear you down.  Which is the other thing – the film is so bleak in the depths of its emotionally wounded characters (which may or may not be a strength – in the bruised marriage of Pitt and Blanchett, in the border that separates Barraza from her son, in the mother who died at her own hands that separate father from daughter, none of these characters was in good shape when the film began) that you begin to despair by the end of it.  But it is a very strong film and once again a reminder of how good this young director is.

Clint comes out behind Marty this time.

Letters from Iwo Jima

  • Director:  Clint Eastwood
  • Writer:  Iris Yamashita  /  Paul Haggis
  • Producer:  Clint Eastwood  /  Steven Spielberg  /  Robert Lorenz
  • Studio:  Dreamworks  /  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  175
  • Length:  141 min
  • Genre:  War  (World War II)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  20 December 2006
  • Box Office Gross:  $13.75 mil  (#138  –  2006)
  • Metacritic Score:  89
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #31  (year)  /  #279  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Sound Editing, Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  40

The Film:  When the nominations were announced in late January of 2007 and both Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese were again nominated, reactions were interesting.  Scorsese had lost to Eastwood two years previously in what had been his best shot at an Oscar.  He had also lost in 1980 and 1990 to two actors turned directors (Robert Redford and Kevin Costner).  Eastwood’s Flags of My Fathers was originally expected to be the big Oscar contender, but when it fell short with both critics and the box office, the decision was made to rush Letters, which wasn’t originally scheduled to come out until February, into theaters in L.A. to qualify for Oscar consideration.  Before it even opened, it won the National Board of Review, making it a strong contender for Best Picture.  Once it actually got nominated and Eastwood was again competing with Scorsese, the best response I saw went something like this: “Scorsese is now saying that if Eastwood wins, his next film project will be three films about the Holocaust – one from the American point of view, one from the Jewish and one from the Nazis.”

Letters from Iwo Jima is not a great film.  It is a good film and by telling the story of the famous battle from the Japanese point of view, it opens up a view of the latter days of the war.  Its nomination, however, in the end, might have worked against Eastwood.  Nominated, in part probably, because of the double whammy, of his respect in the industry, and because just not enough people saw either Pan’s Labyrinth or Children of Men to get them into the Picture and Director races, it is also Eastwood’s most recent nomination.  In spite of massive pre-Oscar awards attention to Changeling, Gran Torino and Invictus, all of them have missed out on major nominations and none of them earned nominations for Eastwood (Invictus was bumped out of the Best Picture race by The Blind Side, of all things).  With three nominations (and one win) in four years, perhaps people felt that Eastwood was getting too much attention.

So what about this film?  It is a very good film, as I said, but it seems to lack that extra dimension.  It is well directed, well thought out, but it seems to meander too much and definitely seems too long.  Ken Watanabe is solid in the lead, but it is difficult to keep track of anyone else in the film.  If nothing else, it does give interesting insights to the culture that would demand a last stand on this desolate rock when the high command absolutely knew they were losing the war and that the end was imminent.  Yet, their determination to keep fighting, to extract whatever cost could be had out of blocking an invasion of the mainland takes a terrible toll, not only on American lives, but more so on their own people.

In the end, though, it truly feels like this film got in mostly through the effort Eastwood put forth to film both sides of the story and because of his place in the industry.  It’s too bad that it seems to have cost him in the end.

A poster that kind of sums up the problems and strengths of the film.

Little Miss Sunshine

  • Director:  Jonathan Dayton  /  Valerie Faris
  • Writer:  Michael Arndt
  • Producer:  David T. Friendly  /  Peter Sarif  /  Marc Turtletaub
  • Studio:  Fox Searchlight
  • Stars:  Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Arkin), Supporting Actress (Breslin)
  • Oscar Points:  220
  • Length:  101 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:  18 August 2006
  • Box Office Gross:  $59.89 mil  (#51  –  2006)
  • Metacritic Score:  80
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #43  (year)  /  #315  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none

The Film:  Little Miss Sunshine is such a triumph of two things – casting and acting – that you can watch the film and not notice the big problems in the middle of the film.  That the most problematic aspect of the film – the script – managed to win the Oscar shows how much the weaknesses can be missed.  On the other hand, since this was the same Academy that the year before had given an Oscar to the screenplay for Crash, which was the weakest part of that film, maybe their idea of good writing is just very different.

The first time that I saw Little Miss Sunshine, just after it came out on DVD (after the Globe nominations, but before the ball really started rolling with the guilds), I was swept up in the spirit of the film.  First, it had a fantastic cast without feeling the need for a big star.  Instead, it had people who could really act, including Steve Carrell (who had been so great on The Daily Show), Alan Arkin (always a favorite), and best of all, Toni Collette (my crush on whom will absolutely never be understood by my wife).  It also had two youngsters, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin, who were very impressive.  And of course, it had that everyman, Greg Kinnear as the dad.  And they each had individual personalities and weren’t just carbon copies of every other movie character.  The plot premise seemed to stretch things a bit, especially once they established the notion that their van would have to be pushed up to 15 mph every time they started it, but since that lead to such great scenes (like that one on the poster), it seemed to work.

But then came the scene that brought me crashing back to reality.  It made me see how much of the film was really a screenwriter’s conceit and not anything resembling life.  Here we have a man who refers to himself as the #1 Proust scholar.  He’s just attempted suicide over the failed love affair with a graduate student (which is something I would expect of the #1 Proust scholar).  That the #1 Proust scholar would be living in Albequerque was odd to begin with.  But to suddenly run in to his former lover in a convenience store in the middle of nowhere was so utter ridiculous and so obviously a plot point decided upon by the screenwriters to add drama and pathos to the trip that it pulled me out of the reverie I was in while watching the film.  Suddenly it was so obvious how much this film was written rather than just flowing with the characters.

So, by the time we get through the death of the grandfather and we get to the actual competition and poor little Oliver, so hopelessly outmatched in the contest is dancing to “Superfreak”, I was longer moving with the film.  I had enjoyed the firs half of the film immensely and I still rated it at ***.5, but it wasn’t getting **** and I had a feeling that if I watched it again it wouldn’t do so well, so I passed on seeing it again.  Until now, when I finally watched it again for this project.  And sure enough, it dropped down to ***.  Because the fact is, too much of what happens in the film just doesn’t flow properly.  You can feel the script trying to work on you.  Would he really make it to 15 and not have any idea that he was color blind?  If he wanted to fly that badly, wouldn’t he have known you couldn’t fly?  Would, even with the clutch going out, they only have been able to make it to Flagstaff in the first day, when they desperately need to make it to Redondo Beach.  You can make the whole drive in one day, even with stops, even without going too fast.  And the Arkin character?  Too ridiculously over the top to be believable – the only reason you can watch it at all is because Arkin is such a good actor.

So, the film doesn’t hold together.  It falls apart at the seams, and yet, still hangs on because it is so well cast, every actor is so believable in their roles (no matter how many unbelievable things going on around them you are asked to believe), and they are all so good together – a true ensemble piece.

Article #1:

The History of Major Snubs
or
Why We Might Have Guessed About Dreamgirls

originally appeared on Oscarwatch on 23 January 2007

Every year at the Oscars (except last year) we have the Best Picture nominee who has no corresponding Director nomination, and we usually point out that the Directors made a better choice (The Player or A Few Good Men, Short Cuts or The Fugitive, The Sweet Hereafter or As Good as It Gets, Billy Elliot or Chocolat, City of God or Seabiscuit).

But we also have the type of film that looks like a lock coming down the stretch and somehow stumbles.  Not an acclaimed film that in retrospect everyone thinks should have been nominated but no one seriously expected at the time (Do the Right Thing, Gods and Monsters, Eternal Sunshine, Children of Men), but the film that starts racking up the awards and nominations but doesn’t come through.  They almost always get several nominations, but rarely Director and they don’t get Picture.  This is the opposite of last week’s list where we were guessing what could sneak in.  This is what fell out:

1989 – Glory / When Harry Met Sally / Crimes and Misdemeanors

A fascinating year.  The first year I followed the Awards, all the Awards, starting my notebook where I kept track (that’s where I get all these facts from).

All three were nominated at the Globes and the WGA.  Glory was a more serious film, an “important” film.  Yet somehow, it stumbled and didn’t get the DGA nomination that Crimes and Harry did.  Harry and Crimes were both nominated by the BAFTA’s. Yet, in the end, they all slipped away.  I still remember hearing the nominations and thinking,”there’s no way Glory didn’t get nominated.”  It was the first year I was seriously into films (I was 15) and Glory had been my #1 film of the year (it still is).  Yet, at the start of the Indie film push, here came My Left Foot, sneaking in and getting Picture and Director.

relevant to today: Glory was a film, mostly filled with African-Americans, yet directed by a white guy

1991: Thelma and Louise

The stunner that probably eventually lead to the establishment of the Best Animated Film category, when Beauty and the Beast got nominated.  Thelma had been nominated by BAFTA the Globes, the DGA, had won Screenplay at the Globes and WGA, had several critics awards for its acting, yet in the end, a Director and Screenplay nom with no Picture.

relevant to today: Beauty and the Beast falls into the category of films that people love, absolutely love, and that audience push, combined with critical acclaim leads to a, sometimes very surprising, Best Picture nomination.  Other examples: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Babe, Full Monty, Moulin Rouge, Seabiscuit, Little Miss Sunshine.

1993: The Age of Innocence

4 Globe nominations, including Picture and Director, a DGA nom, the NBR award for Director, this seemed like the lock along with Schindler, Piano and Remains, with Father fighting for the 5th slot.  Father had come from nowhere to get a Globe nomination, and had the combined power of Day-Lewis and Sheridan again, so it seemed like it would probably get in, yet somehow, The Fugitive, in spite of often being unfavorably compared with In the Line of Fire, scores with DGA and WGA and a Globe nomination for Director and manages to score that fifth Best Picture slot

relevant to today: one of Marty’s snubs, this time not even gettting the noms, that people are hoping will be finally corrected.

1995: Leaving Las Vegas

This can only be explained by the film’s subject matter: that is the ultimate downer.  One of the most depressing films ever made.  Yet, look at the acclaim: it swept every critics group for Best Actor, took Picture from LA and NY, Director from LA, nominated for 4 Globes (Pic, Dir, Ac, Acs), nominated by the WGA and the DGA, even winning the Independent Spirits.  No Picture nomination.

relevant to today: Cage is one of the few to sweep the Critics in a category.  It lead to an Oscar.  I expect the same for Mirren and Whitaker.

1997: Amistad

In 93, Spielberg had made a lot of money from his dinosaur movie than won the Oscar with his serious Christmas release.  Everyone expected a similar result. It had 9 nominations from the new Golden Satellites, had a Picture nom from the BFCA, was nominated for 4 Globes (Pic, Dir, A, SA).  It was nominated by the DGA and the WGA.  Yet, when the Oscars came around, there were 4 noms for Amistad and Picture and Director were not among them.  The Full Monty had slipped in, riding a wave of audience love.

relevant to today: again, no Picture or Director nominations for the “black” themed film directed by the white guy; also, no WGA nomination, much like Dreamgirls

1998: The Truman Show

It had done well at the box office, had critical acclaim, had gotten 6 Globe nominations, winning 3 (all in Drama).  It had a DGA nom and a WGA nom.  It had 7 BAFTA noms and ended up winning Director.

So what happened?  For the first time since 1981, when all five Picture and Director nominees were the same, the DGA matched with Director and not Picture.  The DGA is, historically, the best predictor for what will get nominated for Best Picture.  But with enough people deciding that they preferred Elizabeth (which had also been nominated for Picture and Director at the Globes), something had to get bumped.  Dreamworks was pushing Ryan and Miramax was pushing Shakespeare, so many people wanted to welcome back Terrence Malick and give him the nomination he had never gotten before and it was just Roberto Benigni’s year.  And perhaps the Academy just couldn’t take Jim Carrey seriously.  After all, he still doesn’t have a nomination, and maybe that hurt the film in the Academy’s view.

relevant to today: right down to the end, you couldn’t tell if Ryan or Shakespeare was gonna win.  I’m not sure we’ll know the winner of Best Picture this year until they announce it.

2000: Almost Famous

The most painful one on this list for me.  One of my most beloved films.  Cameron Crowe already had a Best Picture nomination from Jerry Maguire.  The Guilds loved it.  Loved it!  It won the ACE, was nominated for the ADG and CDG, was nominated for ensemble from SAG, nominated for the PGA and the DGA and won the WGA.  Won Best Picture Comedy at the Globes.  Nominated for 6 BAFTA’s including Picture.  3 BFCA noms including Picture and won for Screenplay.  Won
Best Picture from BSFC and CFC in a year where there was no clear Critics front runner (the other four split with Quills, Traffic, Crouching Tiger and Yi Yi).

What the hell happened?  I’m still asking that.  Clearly, it looks like people saw Chocolat and didn’t see Almost Famous.  I choose to wipe that year from my mind.  They nominated Soderbergh twice, in spite of the fact that I read that they changed the rules after 1938, not allowing directors to get nominated against themselves, thus explaining one Coppolla nom in 74 and one Ross nom in 77.  They gave Russell Crowe Best Actor, screaming of a makeup award for the previous
year.  They almost sweep for Traffic then give picture to Gladiator.

relevant to today:  Almost Famous, like Dreamgirls, wins Best Picture Comedy / Musical at the Globes, yet a film it beat (Chocolat / Little Miss Sunshine) is nominated over it.  Only the 6th and 7th times it has happened:
69 – Hello Dolly instead of Secret of Santo Vittorio
83 – Big Chill instead of Yentl
90 – Ghost instead of Green Card
94 – 4 Weddings instead of Lion King
96 – Fargo and Jerry Maguire instead of Evita
00 – Chocolat over Almost Famous
06 – Little Miss Sunshine over Dreamgirls.

2003: Cold Mountain

Not so surprising when it actually came down to it.  Hyped heavily in the year before, pushed really hard by Miramax and probably suffered a backlash.  Well liked by the Guilds (ACE, ASC, PGA, WGA) and the other groups (13 BAFTA noms, 8 Globe noms), but losing at almost everything.  It didn’t get the all important DGA nom during a stretch of 4 years when the DGA matched the AA Picture list perfectly

relevant to today: hyped heavily from the very start, yet stumbled at the end.

2006: Dreamgirls

This stunned me.  Going into the awards, just before the NBR kicked it off, I thought, my five front runners are Dreamgirls, Departed, Queen, Babel and Little Miss Sunshine.  After the first group of critics, I thought, Dreamgirls, Departed, Queen, Letters from Iwo Jima, United 93.  But after the Globes, the PGA, the WGA and, most importantly, the DGA, I went back to my original five, telling everyone I knew that they were locks.  I figured that Sunshine wouldn’t get Director and that either Eastwood or Greengrass would sneak in.  I thought that maybe Frears or Gonzalez Innaritu might fall off and that both Eastwood and Greengrass would get in.  But I never would have thought that Dreamgirls wouldn’t get nominated.  I didn’t think it was one of the top five of the year, but my opinion on the worthiness doesn’t matter what I think will make it.

The more stunning fact is that it got 8 nominations, a major number for a non best picture nominee (trailing only They Shoot Horses Don’t They and tying Poseidon Adventure, Close Encounters and Ragtime).  It leads the pack.  I say again: IT LEADS THE PACK.  Horses was beaten by Anne of the Thousand Days, Poseidon by Cabaret and The Godfather, Close Encounters by JuliaTurning Point and Star Wars, and Ragtime by Reds and On Golden Pond.

No film had ever had the most nominations in a year and failed to get a Best Picture nomination.

Obviously this is a historic year, as I have pointed out on the boards.  It is the fewest combined nominations by the 5 Best Picture nominations since they went to 5 nominees back in 1944.  It is the first time since the Oscars inception year of 27-28 that no Best Picture nominee has a Best Actor nominee (the other sure bet I had been telling people is that Leo would be nominated for the Departed for that very reason).  How bizarre is this?  Unless Babel wins, we’re looking at a Best Picture winner with fewer than 7 nominations.  Since 1934, that has happened 4 times:

1952 – Greatest Show on Earth – 5 noms
1977 – Annie Hall – 5 noms
1980 – Ordinary People – 6 noms
2005 – Crash – 6 noms

William Goldman is right.  Nobody knows anything.  We all thought we had it so easy and we were all wrong.  Last year, I successfully predicted every Academy Award  EXCEPT BEST PICTURE.  The year before, I was so certain that Marty would win that I predicted every Academy Award EXCEPT BEST PICTURE and BEST DIRECTOR.

No matter what any of us thought of the film, we all thought it would be nominated and we were all wrong.

Article #2

How Will History Judge a 2006 Martin Scorsese Oscar?

originally appeared on Oscarwatch on 21 February 2007
We’ve had the categories for years: the Makeup Oscar, the Career Oscar.  They have yet to be applied to a Best Director Oscar, which has historically gone to either a major film or the Best Picture winner.  Yet, if Martin Scorsese wins his long deserved Oscar, how will people look back on it?  Will they view it as the best directing of the year?  Will they view it as making up for a perceived snub?  Or will they simply view it as more of a “career” award?  There’s some history all around and an argument for each side.
1935: Bette Davis wins Best Actress for Dangerous
The year before, Davis wasn’t even nominated for Of Human Bondage.  The lack of a nomination sent up such an uproar that the Academy actually relented and allowed for write-in votes.  Even with that, she still didn’t win.  The next year there wasn’t a chance they were letting her leave without an Oscar.  Thus, the concept of the Makeup Oscar was born.  And who lost out?  The best guess is Katharine Hepburn for Alice Adams.
1940:  Jimmy Stewart wins Best Actor for The Philadelphia Story
In 1939, in spite of three of the most memorable leading performances in film history, performances that still stand strong almost seventy years later, Robert Donat won the Oscar for Goodbye Mr Chips.  Not Laurence Olivier for playing Heathcliff.  Not Clark Gable for playing Rhett Butler.  And not Jimmy Stewart for playing Mr Smith.  And the next year, when Jimmy Stewart’s name was called out, most likely over his old roommate, Henry Fonda for Grapes of Wrath, the
concept of the Makeup Oscar was alive and well.
1947:  Ronald Colman wins Best Actor for A Double Life
As one trade paper said during the race that year “Why is it so expert an actor as Ronald Colman has never won an Academy Award?” (Inside Oscar, p 175)  It was true.  He was a classic Hollywood leading man who had given numerous great performances, but never rewarded with an Oscar.  In 1947, he got his award, probably to the detriment of Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement.  And since there was no recent slight to correct, the idea of a Career Oscar was born.
1953: William Holden wins Best Actor for Stalag 17
Holden was brilliant in Stalag 17, but it wasn’t a major contender, wasn’t up for Best Picture and was benefiting from the split in votes for Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster for From Here to Eternity.  However, this was also making up for William Holden somehow losing to Jose Ferrer in 1950 in spite of his performance in Sunset Boulevard.  Probably the most defendable Oscar on this list and possibly even the best performance of the year.  Yet, still a little fishy.
1958:  David Niven wins Best Actor for Separate Tables
Partly a Career Oscar for someone who had paid his dues and partly enjoying a split between Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier for The Defiant Ones.  That David Niven has an Oscar and Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole don’t is ridiculous.
1960:  Elizabeth Taylor wins Best Actress for Butterfield 8
The most glaring example of the Makeup Oscar.  Are you kidding me?  Liz is shrill and irritating and cost either Deborah Kerr her last shot at an Oscar for The Sundowners or made Shirley MacLaine wait 23 extra years after her brilliant take in The Apartment.  Is there a person who loves film who thinks this Oscar was really for Butterfield 8 and not for her obscene slight for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
1967:  Rod Steiger wins Best Actor for In the Heat of the Night
The question is not that Steiger was really winning this for The Pawnbroker.  The bizarre connection is that the Makeup Oscars are not only for weaker performances but also that so many of the movies they should have won for lost to much weaker performances.  Rod Steiger’s performance in The Pawnbroker is one of the best in all of film history, yet he lost to Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou.  At the Oscars, Lee Marvin even said to Steiger: “You know why they put me ahead of you?  Because when they call your name I am going to stick my big foot out and you are going to fall on your ass!” (Inside Oscar, p 386)  But the real question here is who would have won if the Academy wasn’t making up for their slight.  Would they have nominated and given the Oscar to Sidney Poitier, the real stand out performance in the film?  Or to Dustin Hoffman for The Graduate?  Or to Paul Newman for Cool Hand Luke?  Or to Warren Beatty for Bonnie and Clyde?  Or a posthumous Oscar to Spencer Tracy?  The possibilities are infinite.  Actually, they’re 4 (5 if you include Poitier), but infinite sounds more intriguing.
1969:  John Wayne wins Best Actor for True Grit
If they felt the need to give Wayne an Oscar so bad couldn’t they have done it for a film in which he actually acted, like Red River or The Searchers?  Instead, helped by a probably split in Midnight Cowboy votes between Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, Wayne finally got what was essentially a Career Oscar.
1981:  Henry Fonda wins Best Actor for On Golden Pond
He was dying, for god’s sake.  And he was acting with Jane.  How could they not give it to him?  He had only been nominated once in a truly great career.  This Career Oscar probably came at the expense of Burt Lancaster for Atlantic City.
1985:  Geraldine Page wins Best Actress for The Trip to Bountiful
The first thing that helped her was that Norma Aleandro hadn’t been nominated for The Official Story, Kathleen Turner wasn’t nominated for Prizzi’s Honor and Cher wasn’t nominated for Mask.  That left Meryl Streep, who had already won two Oscars in the previous six years as her only real competition.  A perfect opportunity to end Page’s losing streak with a Career Oscar.
1986:  Paul Newman wins Best Actor for The Color of Money
Bob Hoskins had won four major critics awards and the Golden Globe.  Yet, Paul Newman had never won an Oscar and was 61.  The Academy felt they were running out of time (not knowing they would nominate him at least twice more).  So, they finally gave that little statue to Paul.  They had passed him over for David Niven, Maximillian Schell (deservedly so, an unstoppable performance), Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Henry Fonda (the third on this list) and Ben Kingsley.  They had to give him something.
1992:  Al Pacino wins Best Actor for Scent of a Woman
You could see this one coming at the Golden Globes with the scandal when it won Best Picture and Actor.  They had already done Pacino the favor of not nominating Jack Lemmon for Glengarry Glenn Ross.  What Pacino probably did by winning this career Oscar was cost Denzel a second Oscar for Malcolm X.  Of course, Denzel would get that Oscar.  We’ll talk about that later.
2000:  Russell Crowe wins Best Actor for Gladiator
An inexplicable year.  There was no front runner.  Tom Hanks had won two critics groups and the Globe.  But no one had ever won three Best Actor Oscars (one of Jack’s Oscars is supporting).  And Russell Crowe, though losing out to a fantastic Kevin Spacey performance, had still given one of the most magnificent performances on 1999 in The Insider.  And they didn’t bother to nominate Michael Douglas for Wonder Boys.  So Russell got his Makeup Oscar.  And screwed up the next year’s race.
2001:  Denzel Washington wins Best Actor for Training Day
They say the Oscars don’t respect Comedies.  They do, just not in the Best Actor category.  In the last 15 years, the Best Comedy Actress winner at the GoldenGlobes has been nominated 10 times as well as 8 other nominated Comedy Actress performances earning a nomination (including the winner three straight years from 96-98).  Yet, in the Best Actor Comedy only 5 of the winners and 2 other nominees have made it in.  To get nominated by the Academy for Best Actor, they want drama.  Maybe they’re all TNT marketing people.  Anyway, with the Globe winner again not nominated (Gene Hackman for Royal Tenenbaums who had also won Best Actor from NSFC and CFC) and with NBR winner Billy Bob Thornton not nominated for either of his performances, that narrowed the field.  Russell Crowe had just been given a Makeup Oscar the year before and was turning into a nut.  Will Smith wasn’t a serious contender.  If they hadn’t given Sean Penn an Oscar for Dead Man Walking, they sure as hell weren’t gonna do it for I Am Sam, not when they knew he would be back in serious contention again.  That left Tom Wilkinson, who gave the year’s best, most solid, most intense performance in In the Bedroom, and Denzel, who had been snubbed for The Hurricane, who could make history by winning a second Oscar and who is very well admired as the options, in spite of the fact that Denzel had given probably the worst performance of his career.  I would rank this with Loretta Young’s Oscar as possibly the worst Acting Oscar in history.
Will Marty’s be a Career Oscar?
Everyone makes that argument.  A quick look at his non-nominated pedigree (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Age of Innocence) and his nominations (Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, Gangs of New York, Aviator) make the argument.  People don’t want to see him on the list with Hitchcock and Kubrick.
Will Marty’s be a Makeup Oscar?
He doesn’t really deserve one for The Departed, but he deserved one for The Aviator, the argument goes.  William Goldman tried to argue with The Aviator that Marty shouldn’t win because he had made better films.  Yet, Goldman was arguing for Eastwood.  Eastwood would win for Million Dollar Baby.  Eastwood not only had an Oscar, but the argument can be made that this was a makeup Oscar because he couldn’t win for Mystic River against the juggernaut of Return of the King.  If we continually try to fix things for previous slights, we only make new slights.
Will Marty be winning for doing the best direction of the year?
I say yes.  I already made this argument with The Deer Hunter.  I agree with the Deer Hunter’s Oscars for Best Picture and Director.  Yet, if the Deer Hunter had been released a year earlier, I would rank it no higher than fourth (behind Star Wars, Annie Hall and Close Encounters of the Third Kind).  If it had come out a year later, again I would rank it no higher than fourth (behind Apocalypse Now, Manhattan and Alien).  But, I rank it as the Best Picture and Best Director of 1978.  I hold that The Departed is the Best Picture and Best Director of 2006.  Would it have been the best of 2005?  I would place it fourth, behind Munich, Brokeback Mountain and King Kong.  In fact, to find the next most recent year that The Departed would win my Best Picture, you have to go back to 1998.  Does that make 2006 a weak year?  Not necessarily.  I have The Queen as a very close second and United 93 as a not too distant third [This was written before I saw The Children of Man, Pan’s Labyrinth or The Fountain].  It just means that there was not that single great film that I feel the last number of years have had.  Is it Marty’s best?  Not by my standards.  I rank them in this order: GoodFellas, Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Age of Innocence, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Gangs of New York, The Departed.  Yes, I would give it Best Picture and Best Director in spite of the fact that I feel its his eighth best film.  But, then, I would have given GoodFellas, Raging Bull and The Aviator Best Picture and Director, second place finishes on Picture and Director to Age of Innocence, Mean Streets and Gangs (behind, respectively, Schindler’s List, Cries and Whispers and The Two Towers) and a Best Director win and second place Best Picture finish to Taxi Driver (behind All the President’s Men).  Remember, we’re talking about Martin Scorsese here. He enters the conversation for Greatest Director of Alltime.  I would probably rank him third, behind Kubrick and Kurosawa.  Even his eighth best film, albiet in a year with no singularly brilliant film, is good enough to deservedly win Best Picture and Best Director.
So, if he wins, he’s won.  And let’s not add him to his list.
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