AND THE MOUTON D’OR GOES TO …
That’s right. I called it a MOUTON D’OR. You got a problem with that? Wait. Why am I being so defensive? I guess because I anticipate a loud, collective groan being let out after I post this. Of course, that theory presumes that enough people would be logging on to the site to let out a groan that would be reasonably audible. Not to mention, they would all have to be online at the same time for it be collective. Anyway, no matter. It’s time to give away some MOUTON D’OR love to some very deserving films and performances. And seeing as how you are in fact here and reading my neurotic rambling, that is what matters most.
I think I’ve complained enough about how rotten 2006 was for film. Uninspired! Tired! Inconsistent! You name the film critic cliché and I’ve said it. Only, as I went through my nominations for the Best of 2006, something I was not expecting happened. It was actually difficult to choose a winner in some of these categories. Not all but definitely some. The films that did rise above the heaps of crap were somewhat spectacular. Yes, some were flawed but their flaws have become endearing with time. The movies that I cherished most this year have all grown in my esteem and touched or enlightened me in ways I did not think they would have been able to.
In January, I narrowed down my favorites from 2006 and the time has now come to further narrow these already short lists to even shorter lists made up of just one. That one is the winner of the highly coveted MOUTON D'OR … well, theoretically coveted, as a physical statuette does not actually exist at this moment. All in due time. And now the winners …
BEST POPCORN MOVIE
The nominees in this category are here because they succeeded in being big, enjoyable, and entertaining without being standard Hollywood fair, with all the trappings of a formula film.
CASINO ROYALE had a raw energy to its quick action and successfully reinvigorated the Bond franchise but I can’t let it win just because Daniel Craig was unbelievably delicious. THE DEPARTED blew me away. It was tense and full of life, not something I was expecting from Scorcese but it’s got holes that ultimately undermine the whole thing. The music from DREAMGIRLS is in constant rotation on my ipod but a great soundtrack does not make for an equally great film. V FOR VENDETTA was explosive, surprisingly witty and brave but only slightly less brave than the winner of this year’s MOUTON D’OR.
2006’s Best Popcorn Movie was bold and hilarious. There was rarely a moment I was not in stitches and I was constantly impressed with just how far and just how accusatory the film was willing to be. For literally being the ballsiest film of the year, the MOUTON D'OR for Best Popcorn Movie goes to
BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKING BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
BEST LITTLE THINK PIECE
The nominees in this category made the most of their small budgets and limited exposure to leave a deep mark on this here filmgoer that stayed long after the lights came up.
DEATH OF A PRESIDENT was classy, stylish and civilized. It made insinuations about the future of a Bush-run America without calling on easy attack points. HALF NELSON was a dizzying and honest look at a man in desperate need of change whose job it is to teach about historical change. HARD CANDY was the visual equivalent of eating an incredibly colorful candy that was entirely too difficult to swallow. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE was beautiful, quirky and much more enjoyable the second time around for me. All of these movies give you more the more you watch them but none match the dark, twisted, hilarious depth of this year’s winner by director, Todd Field, a man I believe will one day be described as one of the greats. For exposing suburbia as the supposedly grown up elementary school playground it is, the 2006 MOUTON D’OR for Best Little Think Piece goes to …
THE WORST FILM I SAW ALL YEAR
Make no mistake, this category does not dishonour the worst movie of the year because I have not seen every movie released this year. However, of those I’ve seen, these were the most appalling by far.
Despite its record breaking success, I found BON COP, BAD COP to be entirely unfunny and I am still puzzled as to why it is considered a step forward for Canadian cinema when it is nothing more than LETHAL WEAPON 20 years later. FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION flies by but is awkwardly acted and edited into a confusing mess when it could have been a contender given its promising premise. The first few minutes of IDLEWILD are energizing and get you bouncing in your seat but it quickly turns into a sequence of pointless music videos that are only more frustrating to watch because you can see the obvious story that should have been followed waiting in the wings. SORRY, HATERS is a movie you have likely never heard of because it got no play. It has somehow managed to get recognized at the Independent Spirit Awards, which has made me wholly disinterested in their opinion. It is so horrible a look at post-September 11th angst that it only serves to further demonstrate how much I hated this year’s loser. For thinking it actually had style when it was nothing more than a poorly executed Ikea ad; for it’s laughably flat performances from leads Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles; for sickeningly using footage of real life atrocities to further its own plot that the devil is coming; and for remaking a movie just because the year happened to have a convenient 6-6-6 release date, 2006’s MOUTON D’OR for The Worst Movie I Saw All Year goes to …
THE TREVOR ADAMS ANIMATED FEATURE AWARD
2006 brought upon a new roommate to my life and though Trevor has been a friend for years, living with him has brought much more animation into my life, as animation is his passion. This award is meant to honour the animated feature that impresses from a technical standpoint while satisfying on a deeper level as well.
I must admit that I did not love CARS. It is nominated here because the folks at Pixar always push themselves creatively as far as they can. It is the perfect example of a film that should be happy just to be nominated. HAPPY FEET is infinitely more enjoyable and surprising. It’s a cross between MOULIN ROUGE and THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. Satisfying and technically well executed. Check out that combo, CARS. Meanwhile, another less recognized film manages to surpass them both in both execution and satisfaction. This year’s winner is both tender and tense, creating a realistic look at that time in everyone’s life when you realize you may be getting too old for trick or treating. Given that the award is named after him and I know he loved this film, I am happy to announce that the MOUTON D’OR for the first-ever Trevor Adams Animated Feature Award goes to …
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
In LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Alan Arkin played the wise elder of the dysfunctional family. This was all a bit misguided as his advice ranged from telling his granddaughter that he loves her most for her looks and telling his grandson that he should fuck as many women as possible in his life ahead. Yet still you never doubted he cared. BLOOD DIAMOND gave Djimon Hounsou another chance to scream and shout but no one does it more passionately than he does and his perseverance was moving. Eddie Murphy showed everyone a much deeper side to his performance capabilities in DREAMGIRLS. His singing and dancing were impressive but it was the look in his eyes as a man broken by the machine he helped build that was most memorable. Throughout THE QUEEN, Michael Sheen, as newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is constantly bewildered by the actions of the Royal Family. He is a man torn between wanting to help and tear them down all at the same time.
Another torn man takes the prize though. Everyone hates this man except for his mother. Her love makes him want to be a better person but he knows better,. For wearing both that knowledge and a burning desire to change on his face and shoulders, the MOUTON D’OR for Best Supporting Actor goes to …
JACKIE EARLE HALEY in LITTLE CHILDREN
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
When is Cate Blanchett not incredible? In NOTES ON A SCANDAL, she cheats on her husband, abuses the friendship of a colleague and has an affair with a 15-year-old student yet you still manage to feel for her. As a young girl trying to choose between two paths that are equally wrong for her, newcomer, Shareeka Epps, is poised and curiously fascinating. Her performance in HALF NELSON shows incredible promise. Jennifer Hudson had big shows to fill with her role as Effie White in DREAMGIRLS and she did just that. She was a little shaky in them at first but by the time she belts out the character’s signature number, she planted those shoes firmly into the stage and brought me to tears and shivers. Meryl Streep is another actress who so rarely takes a wrong step. She is the best thing, if not the only good thing, in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. She plays an ice queen who lets her inner warmth show for a spilt second and shatters your entire perception of that character in that one tiny moment.
The winner of this category speaks volumes without saying anything at all. She is tragic and misunderstood, fragile and aggressive. Your heart goes out to her and breaks every time she tries to reach out. The MOUTON D’OR for Best Supporting Actress goes to …
RINKO KIKUCHI in BABEL
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
As far as the term “adapted” goes, I think it applies very loosely to BORAT. Sasha Baron Cohen & Co.’s script is at times low brow comic genius and sharp social commentary at others. However, the line between what is scripted and what it purely improvised is too blurry to distinguish. William Monahan took Hong Kong crime tale, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, and translated it into American terms. Smoking out the moles becomes a great game where everyone’s motivations come into question but a couple of sizable holes ultimately undermine the film. NOTES ON A SCANDAL, by British playwright, Patrick Marber, pits two women against each other with only one realizing just how serious the game is. It is both thrilling and intellectual but it stops there. Ron Nyswaner’s script for THE PAINTED VEIL is delicate and romantic. Two people do what they think they should for all the wrong reasons which leads them to hate each other before a situation forces them to learn to love.
Despite all these solid examples of pointed writing, there is only one script that bites off more than it can chew and manages to swallow it all without choking. This tale of suburban sleepwalkers is deliciously dark and tensely erotic. Yet somehow, despite its disturbing nature, it also manages to be hilarious and telling. The 2006 MOUTON D’OR for Best Adapted Screenplay goes to …
TODD FIELD & TOM PERROTTA for LITTLE CHILDREN
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Guillermo Arriaga’s vast script for BABEL stretches far and wide to make its point. Individually, the stories are beautiful and harrowing but the distance is sometimes too far to make a connection. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s HALF NELSON tells of how one experience, which becomes a secret, can connect the unlikeliest of people. Though one is a teacher and one is his student, it is the teacher that has more to learn from her. Zach Helm’s STRANGER THAN FICTION is structured and organized and balances these fine attributes in a world that has become increasingly more chaotic. Although eye-opening from the perspective of the subject, it is even more telling from the perspective of the author. Paul Greengrass deserves credit simply for his sensitivity. For UNITED 93, he spoke with the families of the victims from that famous flight to ensure that he got every detail right. He ended up writing words about nothing that said so much about where everyone’s head was at on that historical day.
As a writer myself though, I have to commend this year’s winner for taking a real life person who hides behind a castle gate. He recognized all the factors that lent to a tragic death becoming a turning point in British history and he did so with only a few years hindsight. Despite having no contact with his subject, the character he imagined seems so plausible as the real deal. The MOUTON D’OR for Best Original Screenplay goes to …
PETER MORGAN for THE QUEEN
I would like to preface this category by saying that Peter O’Toole should have been nominated in this category but I had not had the privilege of seeing him in VENUS before these nominations were announced. He had childlike awe on his weathered face throughout a film that focused on showing what it was like in his last days.
As BORAT, Sasha Baron Cohen puts himself in countless dangerous and embarrassing situations all for the benefit of our own entertainment. His performance managed to pull legions into the theatres, many of whom he was laughing directly at. Aaron Eckhart is much more subtle but just as solid as a man whose job it is to lobby on behalf of big tobacco companies in THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. He is constantly attacked for the poor example he is setting for his child but what he is really teaching him is confidence. Will Smith hollowed me out in THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS. Treading through despair is not common in Hollywood fare and Will Smith is as Hollywood as you can get. Yet his performance here strikes the right balance of film star admiration and genuine skill to make anyone who sees it feel their life is not as bad as they thought. Forrest Whitaker, well a lot is being said about Forrest Whitaker. In THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, as Ugandan dictator, Ida Amin, he is frighteningly unbalanced and unhinged. There is some level of nobility buried deep beneath all of his paranoia and selfishness that makes this monster still human.
Despite Whitaker winning mostly every major award, my vote goes to a man who has himself in a sleeper hold. He teaches of how history is made. He claims that change is inevitable, that turning points happen and that there is no looking back. When one such turning point happens in his own life, he isn’t able to accept it. The performance struggles to be simple but is held prisoner by years of self-abuse. The MOUTON D’OR for Best Actor goes to …
RYAN GOSLING in HALF NELSON
Anyone who knows me knows I love my girls so this category is always a difficult one. As a bitter, lonely woman in NOTES ON A SCANDAL, Judi Dench is at her usual finest. She is manipulative but so unhappy that one can’t help but forgive her when she lashes out. It’s hard to love someone so hateful but Dench makes it so you have to. I always say that Maggie Gyllenhaal may possibly be prettier than her brother, Jake. As the title character in SHERRYBABY, she plays a recovering drug addict just out of prison who tries to reconnect with her five-year-old daughter. She has the will to make a new life for her daughter and herself but her body quivers with urges she has been spending years trying to shake. Naomi Watts is one of my favorite modern actresses. In THE PAINTED VEIL, she transforms from a selfish person into one that is entirely giving. Her character simply matures before our eyes. If there is anyone I enjoy more than Watts, it is Kate Winslet. She can do almost any role it seems and in LITTLE CHILDREN, she treats her daughter with contempt, her neighbours with superiority and herself with no consideration at all. That is until she wakes from her sleep and her body comes back to life … again and again and again.
There can be only one woman to wear the crown and 2006 saw near unanimous praise for one performance. This actress breathed life into an already living historical figure that the public barely knows. Who knows if that’s how she truly is but this performance is so believable, it’s hard to imagine her any other way after seeing it. The MOUTON D’OR for Best Actress goes to …
HELEN MIRREN in THE QUEEN
When narrowing down the nominations this year, this was by far the most difficult category. I had to leave a few names behind that I would never have imagined I would. I guess if you’re here, you damn well earned it. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS was sappy and unfocused but Clint Eastwood’s second film in the same year to tackle the same battle, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, was a sensitive war story that hopefully enlightened many in North America to how the other side suffers the same. You can feel the director’s caring for his characters and he did it entirely in Japanese too! Stephen Frears’s THE QUEEN is incredibly tight. Bouncing back and forth between new and archival footage, between either side of the gates at Buckingham Palace, Frears creates a balance that does not take either side explicitly but shows sensitivity towards both. Paul Greengrass made more than a movie when he made UNITED 93; he made a tribute to the people who lost their lives on September 11th. As a director, he was calculated and precise without ever being melodramatic. For its sheer ambition, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu finds himself in this list for his work on BABEL. Albeit I have issue with the film’s overall cohesiveness, he creates deeply personal situations that are revealing about both his characters and our understanding of them.
I will be playing it safe with the winner though. This is not to say he is undeserving. His last efforts felt forced as did the accolades they acquired. Here though, his skilled, steady hand guides throughout this film. You can always feel the presence of the director as God carrying the viewer through his tense, dizzying cat and mouse game … and you can just feel that he was having a blast doing it. This year’s MOUTON D’OR for Best Director goes to …
MARTIN SCORCESE for THE DEPARTED
Are we finally here? Thank you for reading through … unless you just scrolled straight to the end. Well, I guess that’s alright too. Let’s get to it then. Everything has already been said about all five of these films throughout this article. So without any further ado, here again are the nominees for the MOUTON D’OR for Best Picture of 2006:
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
And the MOUTON D’OR goes to …
No film left a deeper impact on me this year. It is not a film everyone can watch and those who do will be hollowed out by the end but so much more healed for having been brave enough to experience this gritty, honest testament to heroism and the human will to survive. Congratulations to Mr. Greengrass and all the winners.