The end of the year is all about lists. People love ’em. They can be arbitrary, considered or ridiculous. You turn a list into a popularity contest, and you get awards. People love awards as much as they love lists. I’d like to subvert all that. Or, perhaps I’ll surreptitiously join what I can’t beat. Whatever way you’d care to take it, here’s a list that’s also a series of awards, for films that might not have gotten the cultural attention they deserve, or a slap-down that they got way too much. Of course, this is just adds to that tally of attention. Damn it.
The Crash Award for Least-Worthy Oscar-Nominated Film: Mrs. Henderson Presents. You think you can plunk Dame Judi Dench in any old story and have it be some kind of modern classic? Nothing like tasteful nudity to get people excited. And director Stephen Frears, who at least followed it up with the excellent The Queen, gave us his most toothless effort yet.
The Least Sexy Film with a Whole Bunch of Sex: This was a category with plenty of competition: Nine Songs, The Notorious Bettie Page and Shortbus. The winner and new champion is Shortbus, as its occasionally amusing and yet clearly explicit sex gave it a reach-around over the others. Funny, though, the sex, though barely titillating, gave the drama an authenticity it wouldn’t have earned without it.
Sexiest Film: Though it would be easy to choose one that featured Hollywood sex-bomb-du-jour Scarlett Johansson (Match Point, The Black Dahlia), John Hazlett’s teen summer movie These Girls was the frankest, funniest and yes, sexiest film of the year. And it’s Canadian!
Biggest Disappointment (Indie): Art School Confidential. Terry Zwigoff’s follow-up to Ghost World and Bad Santa should have been a sharp little satire of hollow-eyed art school mores, which it was for about 30 minutes before it gave over to bitterness and a really lame serial killer subplot.
Biggest Disappointment (Blockbuster): An easy target would be Poseidon or The Da Vinci Code, but who really had high hopes for either of those? No, the real disappointment of the summer blockbuster season was Superman Returns, an incredibly dull and earnest superhero movie from a talented filmmaker (Bryan Singer) who made the Ang Lee Hulk mistake: He forgot to make it fun. Even Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey can’t save a movie about, to paraphrase Kevin Smith, a guy in a cape who doesn’t hit anybody.
Best Mind-Fuck: Hidden (Caché), a movie that doesn’t suggest, it absolutely demands discussion after the final credits roll. I had to go twice to see the unexpected rendezvous in the last shot.
Best Return to What He Does Best: Martin Scorcese, whose The Departed reminded us why he is so revered. It’s certainly not for the Oscar-baited period dramas, as classy and accomplished as they are. This is where his real talent lies, in gritty, masculine genre pieces with men, guns and heaps of swears.
Best Halifamous Performance: Ellen Page in Hard Candy. Astonishingly subtle and terrifying work put her on the radar of A-list casting agents and led to X-Men: The Last Stand. The Internet Movie Database lists six Page-related projects in various stages of completion, all due to be released in 2007.
Worst Hollywood Trend: It’s hard to choose, but it must be the remaking of old horror films. Do we really need another When A Stranger Calls or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Or, for that matter, a TCM prequel? (I thought George Lucas started a positive trend a few years back when he re-released his Star Wars movies in theatres. We also got to see projected the re-cut edition of The Exorcist. Why not just re-market and re-release the original horror classics in restored form in theatres?)
Worst Remake: The Omen. Why bother if the script will be almost exactly the same as the original? Even the presence of Mia Farrow as the insane nanny couldn’t save it.
The Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins Award for Worst Accent: This is a toss-up between Natalie Portman’s English girl in fascist London in V For Vendetta and Leonardo DiCaprio’s attempt at South African in Blood Diamond. It’s a strong reminder all around that casting is half the movie, and neither talent nor super-stardom are prerequisites for being right for a part.
Most Overlooked Quality Summer Blockbuster: (tie) The Lady in the Water and Miami Vice. The former seemed to be reviewed based on tales of the filmmaker’s ego rather than the curious whimsy of the charming modern fairytale. With the latter, people just didn’t get that it was a slick, stylish entertainment, a fast-moving thriller with television origins that never pretended to be anything it wasn’t. Honourable Mention: Mission Impossible III.
Best Music Documentary: Dave Chapelle’s Block Party. Hip-hop and comedy get together on a Brooklyn street corner for one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences of the year, whatever the genre. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold is a close second.
Best Career Year: Again, Scarlett Johansson is the easy choice, with work on two Woodys, a Brain De Palma and a Chris Nolan, but it was Robert Downey Jr. who really made it happen in 2006: His work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and A Scanner Darkly was the best thing in both those movies, and soon he’ll become Iron Man, the first time an ex-con actor gets to play a superhero. Close runners-up: Meryl Streep—though you could give it to her anytime—for A Prairie Home Companion and The Devil Wears Prada and Cate Blanchett, the new Meryl, for Little Fish, Babel, The Good German and Notes from a Scandal.
Best Lock for Awards Performance: Helen Mirren in The Queen. When you forget you’re watching a performance and start to believe you’re seeing the actual living person being performed, awards will come.
Most Overrated Film: Borat! I know the cult is strong and I’m liable to be tarred and feathered for this, but despite a begrudging acknowledgement that the satire, when it hits, is stinging, this is a movie about embarrassing and humiliating people, some of whom had it coming and many of whom didn’t. It’s vulgar and cringe-worthy, and it made my skin crawl.
The Time To Call it A Day Award: Christopher Guest and his subculture comedies. When they were mockumentaries, they really rocked, and his cast shines, especially Catherine O’Hara, but For Your Consideration just feels like one too many trips to the well.
Best New Genre Award: Magician Thriller Romances, as The Prestige and The Illusionist proved. Bring the mystery of pulling rabbits out of hats, a sprinkle of tragic lost love and an undercurrent of professional jealousy and witness the compelling drama unfold.
Best Old Franchise Revived Award: James Bond in Casino Royale. Daniel Craig made for a more thuggish, rough around the edges 007, but he’s what the movie called for. What it really delivered, for the first time in many Bond installments, was genuine surprise, jeopardy and, believe it or not, character development.
Pushing the Envelope Award: Reactions were decidedly mixed, but you have to admire the audacity in both Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. A recent story in Wired bemoaned the box office failure of smart science fiction, but thankfully these filmmakers have balls the size of melons to even attempt to bring stories as weird as these to the big screen.
Credit Where Credit is Due Award: To Empire Theatres, for opening in downtown theatres oddball pictures such as Brick, Shortbus, Sophie Scholl, Hidden (Caché) and Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. (But then, why consign Shut Up and Sing or Fast Food Nation to the BLIP?)
Missing in Action Award: The Manitoba-shot Tideland, the first low-budget film from Terry Gilliam in, well, almost ever. A DVD release is mooted for February, finally.
Funniest Moment Award: In comedy, opinions are indeed like assholes. Lots of folks raved about Little Miss Sunshine, whereas I thought, with the exception of the JonBenet beauty pageant freakiness, it was a sitcom at feature length. My vote for funniest moment must go to Trevor Fehrman as Elias in Clerks II, explaining that the troll who lives in his girlfriend’s vagina is named “Pillow Pants” and detailing what the troll will do to him if Elias puts his penis anywhere near it.
Moment of Cinematic Grace: Robert Altman bowing out with A Prairie Home Companion. With a last cinematic offering sad, sweet and thoughtful, he leaves behind titles as diverse as MASH, Nashville, The Player and Gosford Park. A Prairie Home Companion may not rank among his classics, but it’s head and shoulders above most of what came out this year.
Best 2006 Atlantic Film Festival Entries to look out for in 2007: Away From Her, Rock the Bells, After the Wedding, Manufactured Landscapes and, finally, Everything’s Gone Green.