2007 Calvin Awards: Best Picture

February 16, 2007

Yes, Mr. Nicholson? I have a message for you. Suck it!

The Best Picture category is a wealth of riches. The final numbers for our top three were extremely close, and in any other year, any one of them might have emerged as an easy winner. 2006 was an outstanding year for quality, and our top ten reflects a divergent list representing a variety of genres.

Our Best Picture winner is The Queen, which beat out fellow Academy Award nominee The Departed by a mere five votes. The reason for The Queen's grand victory is simple – it's a movie that comes as a pleasant surprise to almost everyone who sees it. Most people go into The Queen expecting a star turn for Helen Mirren in a huge, showy role and little more. Instead, the film is a brilliant portrayal of how the British royal family has become isolated from society in such a way that it is becoming injurious to them. The death of Princess Diana causes this disconnect to become apparent and has some calling for an end to the queen's rule. Meanwhile, a newly elected Tony Blair is attempting to work both sides without offending anyone.

Mirren isn't the only performer in the film to provide a great performance. Supporting turns from Michael Sheen, Sylvia Sims, Helen McCrory and James Cromwell are critical to the film's success. Add in incisive dialogue, deliberate direction from Stephen Frears and a superb score from Alexandre Desplat and you have all of the elements that are critical for an ideal film.

Truth be told, The Departed is every bit as solid in the acting, directing and screenplay categories as The Queen is. Martin Scorsese's brilliant look at Boston cops and the criminal underworld of the area is a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. It has a dark and violent story to tell, but like Scorsese's previous Goodfellas, it's artfully presented. As viewers we are drawn into the intricate cat-and-mouse game that takes place between good cops, bad cops, fake mob members and bosses with agendas. Standout performances from a number of big names, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Vera Farmiga, add to the overall power of the movie. It's a film with grand scope that feels like it ought to be an Academy Award winner.

Third place goes to Alfonso Cuarón's sublime science fiction film, Children of Men. A tense and exciting ride from start to finish, Children of Men is more than just a simple action film. The story is smart and powerful, positing a terrifying 'what if' that wonders what would happen to the world if the end of the human race was in close sight. Humans have lost the ability to bear children, and Britain is the only country that has come through with any semblance of order. Illegal aliens are held in internment camps and military law is in effect. It's a brutal parallel to the world of today and bears watching again and again.

Little Miss Sunshine is our fourth place finisher. The family road trip comedy turned out to be the 'little indie film that could' of 2006. We simply fell in love with the sweet, determined Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin), a young girl with dreams of being a beauty queen. The rest of the family was just as distinctive, though. There's the father determined to create his own success, a mother who serves as peacemaker, a grandfather with a filthy mouth, a brother who has taken a vow of silence, and a suicidal uncle who is the country's pre-eminent Proust scholar. If it sounds wacky, that's because it is, but only in the best possible way. And the film features one of the most laugh-out-loud funny scenes of the year.

The taut and gripping United 93 finishes in fifth place. The first of two films directly dealing with the events of 9/11, United 93 is by far the more successful because it sticks to realism rather than swaying into cloying sentimentalism. A mostly unknown cast of actors takes us through the events, from the air traffic controllers and the confusion that ensued as planes began to be hijacked to the actually passengers on the doomed United 93 itself. It is an extremely objective presentation of the story and is difficult to watch, but crucial viewing for any American.

The divide between our top five and the next set of films is fairly significant. At number six we have Guillermo del Toro's imaginative Pan's Labyrinth, a movie that sets the horrors of Fascist rule in Spain against the fantasy world created by a young girl. Both worlds turn out to be equally terrifying in their own way, though Ofelia's fantasy world at least gives her something to strive toward. Her real life as stepdaughter to a fascist general is fraught with significantly more peril. The visuals are spectacular and the performances are memorable. del Toro is indeed a master in dealing with the incredible.

Next up is Thank You for Smoking, the dark comedy about lying liars and the lies they tell. Aaron Eckhart is just terrific as a spokesman for the tobacco industry who would have consumers believe that cigarettes are just fine - no health concerns, really! Perhaps the funniest portion of the film is the concept of the MOD Squad - comprised of Eckhart's tobacco proponent as well as lobbyists for the alcohol and firearms industries. (MOD stands for Merchants of Death.) It's a shame that this one didn't receive more attention from the Academy, frankly.

Our eighth place finisher, The Last King of Scotland, is a fictionalized telling of the events surrounding Idi Amin's rise to power. Much has been made of Forest Whitaker's tour de force performance as the brutal dictator, but much like The Queen, this movie provides far more than just a singular performance. While it is tough to watch the story unfold, the movie plays as a thriller, with the viewer consistently wondering what the fate of several characters will be. Standing strong alongside Whitaker is co-lead James McAvoy, who really deserves a lot more attention for his portrayal of Amin's personal physician than has been received. Both men tumble into a dark abyss, and we're never quite certain that they'll be able to emerge unscarred if at all.

Ninth spot goes to V for Vendetta, the adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. With a screenplay from the Wachowski Brothers and direction by their Matrix disciple James McTeigue, V for Vendetta puts us into a London that is much like the one we also saw in Children of Men - dark, hopeless and controlled by government. Natalie Portman continues to show that she is one of the best rising actresses in Hollywood today, and Hugo Weaving is stunningly emotive as V, the man behind the Guy Fawkes mask. Alan Moore might not have been pleased with the results, but if you can accept that the movie is a good piece of art in its own right rather than a straightforward adaptation, it's an impressive piece of work.

Our final two entries are Pixar's Cars and Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy Borat. Cars, the latest CGI animated movie from the geniuses at Pixar, is a joyous celebration of the American heartland was funny, touching and just a gorgeous creation. Vocal work from players such as Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt and Paul Newman was outstanding as well. As always, we can't wait to see what Pixar produces next. As for Borat, we just couldn't stop laughing. It's a tough commentary on racism and bigotry in North America, but perceptive and clever nonetheless.

Movies that just missed making our top ten this year were The Science of Sleep, The Illusionist, Casino Royale, A Scanner Darkly, A Prairie Home Companion and The Descent. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Top 25
Position Film Total Points
1 The Queen 67
2 The Departed 62
3 Children of Men 58
4 Little Miss Sunshine 45
5 United 93 42
6 Pan's Labyrinth 21
7 Thank You For Smoking 20
8(tie) The Last King of Scotland 18
8(tie) V For Vendetta 18
10(tie) Cars 17
10(tie) Borat 17
12 The Science of Sleep 12
13(tie) The Illusionist 11
13(tie) Casino Royale 11
15(tie) A Scanner Darkly 10
15(tie) Prairie Home Companion, A 10
15(tie) The Descent 10
18 Over the Hedge 9
19(tie) Shortbus 8
19(tie) Mission: Impossible III 8
19(tie) The Hills Have Eyes 8
22 The Road to Guantanamo 7
23 Superman Returns 6
24(tie) Look Both Ways 4
24(tie) Clerks II 4

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