2007 Calvin Awards: BOP Person of the Year

February 16, 2007

The many faces of our person of the year. Figures we'd pick a schizophrenic.

Our sole new category for the 2007 Calvins celebrates the cumulative achievements of the year, what we call BOP's Person of the Year. It goes to the person in entertainment who has most affected the news this year. Or to put it another way, when you think back on 2006, who will you remember?

BOP's Person of the Year is not you. Frankly, we weren't happy with your effort this year and feel that you didn't grow much as people. Try harder in 2007! Also, we find it a bit pathetic that any major publication would offer such a transparent choice in a blatant attempt at headline grabbing. BOP is neither that conventional nor that slutty...unless we've had a few drinks, anyway. What we sought to do with the introduction of this new award is deduce which performer accomplished the most impressive feat in 2006. Given those parameters (and the picture above), it is easy to deduce our selection.

Sacha Baron Cohen is BOP's Person of the Year. Prior to 2006, the 35-year-old actor was a virtual unknown in the United States. In fact, this was so true that he could walk up to strangers on the street, act like a strange man in a strange land, and trick them into revealing themselves as idiots and racists. Cohen created a trio of characters for the BBC in 2000 for his low profile comedy show, Da Ali G Show. They included the titular Ali G, a Caucasian buffoon with a predilection toward gansta rap, a flamboyantly gay fashion maven named Bruno and, well, you know... Never more than a cult hit in England, the show appeared likely to end after one season before HBO began airing re-runs. They were successful enough (and the show cheap enough) that a second season was announced. The attempt at finding a larger audience in the United States failed, a movie spin-off, Ali G in Da House, was a failure and the franchise was presumed left for dead.

Undeterred, Cohen determined that the character of Borat Sagdiyev afforded him an opportunity to create something of a reality show Trojan horse, potentially unveiling the prejudice of others. He talked Twentieth Century Fox into a small budget movie that would be shot on location across the United States. The idea would be to use his utter lack of celebrity to his advantage, creating a hybrid movie that was part The Real Cancun, part Jackass and part Mississippi Burning. Along with Seinfeld veteran Larry Charles, Cohen assembled a pirate crew of filmmakers and the Borat Loves America Tour was underway.

What Cohen discovered was how easily he could trick people into revealing their extreme prejudices. Perhaps the most storied example of this is the time when he walked into a Guns and Ammo store and innocently asked, "What's the best gun to use for killing a Jew?" Cohen, a practicing member of the religion himself, was shocked when the sales clerk didn't even flinch at the question. He rifled off an answer and handed the potential killing weapon to the in-character comedian. After (quickly) exiting the business establishment, Cohen and his crew all took a moment to appreciate the significance of the incident. At this point, they realized that Borat as a movie could be the ultimate showcase of 21st century mankind's underlying bigotry.

The only question was whether it could sell. Early skepticism abounded. One popular blog made it their mission in life to mock the imminent failure of the production. None of the trades took it seriously. Borat was a low budget movie with the type of production values generally reserved for cheap porn. Why would it be a hit? This was the popular thought as well as a foregone conclusion to most.

Then, the trailers started airing...

Every great success story has a moment when everyone realizes what is happening. In the case of Borat, that date was November 3, 2006. Despite being exhibited in only 837 venues, the movie was the top grosser of the day, earning almost as much as The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and Saw III combined. Those two titles were in a total of 6,625 venues, a factor of eight more than the movie that matched them both. The production with an $18 million budget earned $128.3 million domestically. That's the type of profit even the finest bean counters in Hollywood are incapable of hiding in studio accounting. But it was more than just a cultural phenomenon.

Cohen claimed that his character Borat represented the great country of Kazakhstan. Considering what a bumbling buffoon he is, this shouldn't be such a big deal. The French never pitched a huge fit over the nationality of Inspector Clouseau, after all. For some reason, however – perhaps insecurity – the nation in question took Borat seriously. The country's foreign ministry denounced the movie as well as the character and the actor. They (along with pretty much everyone else mocked in the film) threatened legal action against Borat. Their discourse was inflammatory, too. "We do not rule out that Mr. Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way. We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind." He declined to elaborate. Not only was the movie a financial success, it started an international incident. Kazakh President Nazarbayev came to the United States in September, and one of the keynote items in his discussion with President Bush was the country's portrayal in the movie as well as their current perception in the United States.

Folks, you can't make stuff like this up. Sacha Baron Cohen did not just become a major movie star in 2006. He was declared an enemy of the state of Kazakhstan. How could he be anything but the clear choice as our first annual BOP Person of the Year? (David Mumpower/BOP)

Top 10
Position Person
1 Sacha Baron Cohen
2 Clint Eastwood
3 Al Gore
4 Stephen Colbert
5 Helen Mirren
6 Martin Scorsese
7 Alfonso Cuarón
8 Mel Gibson
9 Steve Carell
10(tie) Angelina Jolie
10(tie) Daniel Craig

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