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Sunday, December 10, 2006


Oscar-ology: Critics Make No Damn Sense

If you're depending upon the critics' groups to help you win your office Oscar pool this year, you're out of luck -- they've all gone in different directions. This proves one of two things: either A) there was no film in 2006 good enough to stand out from the others, or B) critics are idiots. Speaking as a critic myself, I vote for B.

The New York Film Critics Online ejaculated all over The Queen, giving it 5 of its 7 awards: Film, Lead Actress, both Supporting categories and Screenplay. This was just the beginning for the film; it was to have a very, very, very good day. (Personally, we just don't see what all the fuss is about; it's good, sure, but the film plays on such a small emotional canvas that its accomplishments seem minor in comparison to other award contenders.) Now anointed as the snob hit of 2006, The Queen is perfectly positioned to make a serious run at both the film and actress races this year. (corrected from earlier, thanks PF)

Equally self-reflexive, the Boston Society of Film Critics gave 4 of its major awards to the film set in its hometown, The Departed. Film, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor...but the actor trophy did not go to Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio or Jack Nicholson. No, the only truly supporting performer, Mark Wahlberg, was deemed worthier than the others, which is interesting in many ways, all of them tedious. The BSFC wasn't afraid to make a statement or two (Pan's Labyrinth over Volver for Foreign Film, and lots of runners-up mentions for United 93 and Half Nelson), but in the end, you know all you need to know if you know this: Dench and Streep were only good enough to be runners-up.

Let's look to the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, who spread the wealth like they should in such a middling year. They joined the National Board of Review in honoring Letters From Iwo Jima as Best Film and echoed love for The Queen (actress, supporting actor for Michael Sheen, and screenplay), but then they went off the reservation: Paul Greengrass picked up the Director trophy for United 93; The Lives of Others beat Volver for foreign film; and someone named Luminita Gheorghiu came out of nowhere to beat Jennifer Hudson for Supporting Actress. (The LAFCA loves doing this, by the way: last year, they tried to crank up support, unsuccessfully, for the then-unknown Vera Farmiga in Close to the Bone.)

The Washington DC Film Critics Association has shown a preference for politics in the past (maybe it's the city itself), so perhaps it was no surprise to see them choose United 93 as Best Film. Jennifer Hudson finally picked up her first trophy as Best Supporting Actress, and Djimon Hounsou continued to build momentum as a Supporting Actor candidate for Blood Diamond...this makes two honors for him, after the NBR. Pan's Labyrinth again won Best Foreign Film, which means that Almodovar's Volver is the perpetual bridesmaid...five 2nd places in a row.

The final awards excitement of the day came from the American Film Institute, who picked their annual Ten Best Films of 2006. Making the cut: Babel, Borat, Dreamgirls (finally!), Inside Man, Little Miss Sunshine, Happy Feet, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Devil Wears Prada, Half Nelson, and United 93. You may notice that a few of the heavy hitters are surprisingly not on this list, notably The Departed and The Queen (which may be ineligible, being British and snooty, but I don't know). Which means critics know fuck all about what's good and what's not, right?

Wrong. Or at least partially wrong. Because despite differing widely on most categories, the NYFCO, BSFC, WFCA, NBR and LAFCA have all unanimously agreed on two things: that the Best Actor of the year is Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland, and the Best Actress of the year is Helen Mirren. Whether that stays true depends on many things: timing, campaigning, and Judi Dench. But if nothing else, we can now say this: we officially have two frontrunners.



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