Here we go again. The winners are in bold, but my picks are below that.
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
Should have won: Little Miss Sunshine
Not even nominated: Children of Men
In 2007, it was hard to fathom that Martin Scorsese had never won Best Picture or Best Director, despite an already illustrious career. The Academy finally rectified that by rewarding the biggest box office hit of his career, a stylish update of the Hong Kong crime epic Infernal Affairs. It was a formative movie experience for me, seeing it in the theater with my dad. 2006 was really the first year I truly started paying attention to quality films, paying attention to directors and writers and reading reviews from critics I respected. And surely, The Departed is one of Scorsese’s most accessible and rewatchable movies. But finally seeing Infernal Affairs ruined it a bit for me. Where that film is lean and intense throughout, The Departed is kind of bloated, adding in an affair subplot that honestly doesn’t add much of anything to the story. Otherwise, it’s nearly a scene-for-scene re-do. In fact, it’s only improvement is a deep sense of place. It just feels like a Boston movie through-and-through, weaving in the city’s complicated history and deep-rooted Catholicism into the narrative. It’s a fine film, but not the best of the year. (And besides, in my revisionist history, Scorsese just won two years prior for The Aviator. Also, the craziest thing about Infernal Affairs that The Departed didn’t copy but would have been hilarious to see: an original tune sung over the end credits by the two leads. Can you imagine Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio singing about living a double life?)
Little Miss Sunshine, on the other hand, knocked my socks off the first time I saw it, and continues to stick with me in the decade after. Music video directing duo Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris capture every uncomfortable moment of a family on the verge of falling apart. And writer Michael Arndt’s incredible script gets the tone right in each scene. And the incredible ensemble cast play their parts perfectly, including career-best work from Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano and Steve Carell. This is a moving family dramedy, the likes of which the Academy never seems to properly honor. In the last five years, three of the Best Picture winners have been about acting, performing and making art. That might be relatable to the members of the Academy, but few movies are as relatable to the rest of us (or maybe just me) than Little Miss Sunshine.
Yet of all the movies of 2006, the one that feels the most startlingly relevant is Children of Men. With its unrelenting tension, sudden horror and its desperate search for humanity, it almost predicts our current climate. More on this when we get to the Adapted Screenplay section.
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Paul Greengrass, United 93
Should have won: Paul Greengrass
Not even nominated: Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth
As I mentioned above, this project rectified Scorsese’s loss two years prior. Thus I feel like spreading the wealth. (Besides, The Aviator was more of a directorial achievement than The Departed.) Instead, I’d have rather seen Paul Greengrass honored for his harrowing depiction of the souls that took down that flight over Pennsylvania, sparing a shocked nation further horror. The British director never sensationalizes the events of that day, merely showing the quick thinking of the passengers who saw a moment to act and did so. It’s a far better story about human connection than Iñárritu’s insufferable Babel. Besides, of the three Mexican writer-directors to finally get some recognition that year, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro made far superior films that I guarantee you more people have watched, thought about and written on than that international disaster.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Peter O’Toole, Venus
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat
It will go down as one of the Academy’s great shames that Peter O’Toole never won a competitive Oscar. Winning one for a trifle like Venus wouldn’t have made that a whole lot better. So I have no complaints with Forest Whitaker winning for his blistering performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. But I do have one quibble: This is a supporting performance. James McAvoy is the lead of this film, despite Whitaker playing the title character. This type of incorrect category placement typically happens the other way around, with lead performances shifted to supporting categories for a better shot at winning. But really, this is just a long way of saying that boldest, most impressive performance wasn’t even nominated. There’s really no way to properly explain how seismic Borat felt in 2006. Seeing it opening weekend in theaters, with a packed crowd that mostly had no idea what to expect. It was jaw-dropping. Though he won the Golden Globe and gave one of the greatest acceptance speeches of all time, he was slighted by the Academy, partly because of their anti-comedy bias and partly because what were a bunch of old white fuddy-duddies supposed to do with a movie where a guy wears a lime-green thong and tries to make a pass at Ron Paul?
Penélope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children
Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Laura Dern, Inland Empire
What a brutal category. In any other year, any of these ladies could have won. Cruz gave the best performance of her career as a stressed mother getting help from her deceased mom (Carmen Maura). Dench, on her sixth nomination, had a meaty part as a jealous teacher. Winslet was the best part of a significantly flawed adaptation. And Streep, of course, is icy perfection as Miranda Priestly, the thinly veiled stand-in for Vogue editor Anna Winter. But they never stood a chance against Helen Mirren, who brought us into the private side of a very public figure, torn between her animosity toward Diana and the polite face she has to put on in the wake of her death. To me, it’s an all-time great performance, even if I don’t all-out love the film itself. The same would go for Laura Dern, who’s just astonishing in David Lynch’s Inland Empire, which even for a David Lynch film doesn’t make a lick of sense.