‘Little Miss Sunshine’ deserves the Oscar
Twice over the last 12 months or so, I had the rare, sweet experience of walking out of a movie theater with a sense of gratitude. Not just admiration for the display of talent, or a giddiness at being transported to another dimension, but thankfulness that someone had the heart to create what I had just seen on the screen.The first of those came after seeing “Little Miss Sunshine.” The film was merciless in dissecting the dysfunction of the modern American family – and yet ended on a note of pure optimism and faith. Negotiating that twist in a way that was convincing, and didn’t leave a bitter aftertaste, makes “Little Miss Sunshine” a deserving nominee for a Best Picture Oscar. I’m further grateful that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences bestowed a nomination on this low-budget comedy. It would validate the spirit of this film – which is really about accepting second-rate status in our “spoils to the victors” society – if it were to win the Oscar.”Little Miss Sunshine” won’t compete in the Oscars (to be televised Sunday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.) with the other film that left me with equal satisfaction. “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro’s horror fantasy of protecting childhood innocence and defying all kinds of evil, crackled with visual energy and layers of meaning. But bravo to Academy voters for recognizing excellence: “Pan’s Labyrinth” is nominated for six awards, including original screenplay, foreign language film, and cinematography, and probably stands as front-runner in the latter two categories.
The main competition for “Pan’s Labyrinth” in the cinematography category comes from “Children of Men.” The film – directed by Alfonso Cuarón, a Mexican native like del Toro – was a thrilling, smart and fast-moving dystopian story, about a society threatened by global infertility. But the film provided few answers about the future (it essentially ended at the beginning of the world’s hopes), and even fewer about the past: Why were women no longer becoming pregnant? It was a question that gnawed at me.Of the other nominees for Best Picture, all of which merited our attention, “Babel” elicited its intense emotional response too easily, through kids in dire situations, and a badly injured wife. Its structure also came too easily; it is the third film in which director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga use a multiple narrative format. And the disparate pieces, all effective on their own, only add up to the sum of their parts.”The Departed,” and I say this with affection, was a glorious mess which unraveled in the end. And the story of deceit among Boston cops and gangsters echoes too many previous films. Still, I believe it will finally earn director Martin Scorsese his Oscar glory.”Letters From Iwo Jima” was not only the better by far of Clint Eastwood’s pair of World War II films. It was a thought-provoking, relevant examination of duty to country versus respect for the individual. Eastwood deserves something for making a gray-toned film, set in and around a few caves, in Japanese – and making it compelling.
“The Queen,” director Stephen Frears’ imagined look at the conflict between the British royals and Tony Blair’s government, raised contemporary issues of media saturation, and the art of give-and-take between rivaling points of view. Insightful, witty – and an also-ran in the best picture race.As a consolation, Helen Mirren will be crowned Best Actress for her work in “The Queen”; personally, I slightly preferred Judy Dench in the precisely made psychological thriller “Notes on a Scandal.”Forest Whitaker will likely take Best Actor honors for “The Last King of Scotland”; it’s a shame that Ken Watanabe, from “Letters From Iwo Jima.” got passed over.My top 10 for the year: “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Queen,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Notes on a Scandal,” “Volver,” “Children of Men,” “Babel,” “United 93” and “The Illusionist.”
Most disappointing: “Blood Diamond.”Last word: A remarkable number of the best films of 2006 were actually set within spitting distance of 2006, a departure from recent years.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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