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Dreamgirls and Robert Altman, the “Alternative Oscars” from 2006 by Ben Zuk

In anticipation of the 2006 flashback podcast, Ben Zuk has written in ruminating on that year. Zuk says that he often makes “alternative Oscars” lists and decided to share his from 2006:

I’ve nominated ten films from 2006 in order to reflect the academy’s recent transition to this number of nominees, but I have also ranked my choices in this category for anyone who might be curious what would’ve been top 5 versus top 10.

Babel is a film I feel the need to defend despite it’s popularity amongst people my age. It’s a film that boldly embraces the emotions of it’s characters situations as opposed to trying to intellectually rationalizing every one of it’s points. It’s a collage of global conflict that has only grown in appreciation for me. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu attaches himself to his subjects in a way that many find corny, but I just see it as emotionally engaging and truthful.

The Lives of Others is a film where nothing is wasted. When I saw it for the second time I noticed how the man working in the mailroom at the end is the same character as the one who was chastised and fired in the lunchroom scene earlier in the film. It takes a certain amount of brilliance to pull this off and director (Florian Henckel von Donnersmark) pulled it off despite what the lukewarm reception of The Tourist would have you believe. Deceased actor Ulrich Muhe deserves much credit too for his emotionally restrained and eternally lonely performance as the weaselly East German agent Wiesler.

This was also the year that both Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass forced us to confront the emotions of the 9/11 tragedy. While I have tremendous affection for Stone’s film, it should come as no surprise that United 93 is the film that has stood the test of time. During the last twenty minutes I remember feeling as though I was on that plane, and as naive and stupid as it sounds, feeling like I was in their shoes made the events of 9/11 feel more real for me.

This was also the year of the vastly over-campaigned, vastly underrated Dreamgirls. I have an interesting story to share about seeing this film. It was around October and I was just exiting from a movie theater having seen something that must have been horribly forgettable. I saw some stanchions formed with a sign reading “Dreamgirls- 7:30 screening” on them. I couldn’t believe it. This was the must see film of the holiday season and it was only October. I was so close yet so far away. I wondered around the theater for an hour or so and finally had built up enough courage. I walked up to the credentials table, not 30 minutes before the screening was due to start. I asked the woman manning the table, “Do you think I could get in to see this movie?” To my great astonishment she actually said yes and minutes later I was sitting there about to see this highly anticipated film months before it was to be released. I don’t know who was at this screening (I imagine they were members of the press). I remember that when Jennifer Hudson’s big moment (do I really need to point out what it is?) came that I and 2 or 3 others applauded out loud. We were quickly told to hush from the other members at the screening, but how can you not vocally recognize such a fearless moment? No, Jennifer Hudson was not Helen Hayes, first lady of the American theater, but for 5 1/2 minutes she made a unequivocal connection with audiences. I remember the opposition argument at the time being that Jhud would or could never have the long lasting career that her other nominees in the best supporting actress category would likely have. Well 8 years have passed and even Abigail Breslin has struggled to top the success of Little Miss Sunshine.

This was also the year we said a heartfelt goodbye to the great Robert Altman. No one could’ve known that A Prairie Home Companion would’ve been his last. Yet with it’s storyline of a dying radio show, a mysterious angel of death, it would appear that Altman intentionally ended his long, great career with a level of poignancy unmatched by any of the great 70’s hollywood filmmakers. The academy in it’s great wisdom chose to recognize this with a total of zero nominations for the film. I remember being so sad about Altman’s passing that I confided to a fellow film student about it. He said “Well his death makes room for the rest of us.” Does anything describe the twisted mentality of today’s artists better than this exchange?

Children of Men is a film that I admittedly have never gotten a chance to revisit in all these years. If I had I would undoubtedly have even more esteem for it. From what I remember it was filmed and presented unlike any film I had ever seen and the cinematography was criminally passed over by the academy. No one who had seen both Pan’s Labyrinth and this film could possibly argue that the photography in the latter was not more accomplished and thus the better choice for that year’s oscar.

The BP winner The Departed should’ve been a slam dunk from its October premier on. Despite its somewhat unexpected success, the film lost many of the major precursor awards leading up to the oscars and winded up with only 5 nominations (the lowest for a BP winner since Annie Hall). It missed out on nominations for Lead Actor Dicaprio and Supporting Actor Jack Nicholson. How could anyone think Dicaprio gave a better performance in Blood Diamond than here? Not to mention the nominations it could’ve receive for sound mixing or cinematography. It’s easy to forget just how close the 2006 oscar race seemed.

There are so many other films to remember from 2006. The strangely un-cinematic, yet thoroughly engaging and well acted The Queen or the thoroughly entertaining and fast paced Notes on a Scandal, featuring Judi Dench’s bravest, most out there performance possibly of her whole career. The strange, ironic third person narration of Little Children helmed by the very un-prolific Todd Field (God I wish he would make more films) or the hysterical improvisation techniques of the uber talented Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat. Or Alexander Desplat’s hypnotic score from The Painted Veil, a film which doesn’t tell the story of love at first sight, but rather a love that grows from people who thought they hated one another (This is another film that was completely overlooked by the academy, unfortunately.) Not too mention Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada, An Inconvenient Truth and Letters From Iwo Jima.

Most of all I just felt this was a year where every time you turned around there was a great film that challenged and provoked the notions of what could be commercially successful entertainment. Even the most surface level commercial filmmaking had an edge to it that would be non-existent today.

20 Comments on this Post

  1. Al Robinson

    Where do we find the rankings?

  2. murtaza

    So true about Babel, the film never left me for months when i watched it. It’s not for weak stomachs and hearts, but it’s magnificent film making.
    And so is The Lives of Others, what a masterpiece.

  3. I noticed the same audience reaction when JH sang that song. Audience members really went wild when it concluded.
    As for the film – it seemed like bit of whitewash was sprinkled across it to appease the presence of Beyonce not being a DRoss like scheming superstar. (Everyone knew she’d drop Destiny’s Child, but she maintains this ‘by golly’ distance with that group. Noticeably absent from the film was the song ‘Press Conference’ which switched the spotlight to Deena and moved the other two in the background. Ya’think that it could’ve been filmed, cut for running time and place in an ‘Extra’ feature on the DVD…but that song would spoil the ‘Beyonce’ image.

  4. Bryce Forestieri

    “it should come as no surprise that United 93 is the film that has stood the test of time”

    No, it really hasn’t; The Best films about “our times” during the decade of the ’00’s are, heads and shoulders above the rest, THE HURT LOCKER and THE 25TH HOUR. There are other fine titles as well, but I reckon that isn’t’ what the thread is about. I expect though many reevaluations of Oliver Stone’s W. in the future.

  5. brandz

    Babel is what I would call a great film. There’s not too many of those.

  6. For anyone interested- here is the alternate oscar list for 2006- http://www.datafilehost.com/d/47fc3ed

    The winners are in bold.

  7. LITTLE CHILDREN!

  8. Sonja

    I’ve seen “Dreamgirls” a few months ago and while the plot is not new or whatever, it was very good and I don’t think Jennifer Hudson’s win is one of the worst supporting actress wins ever. I’d place a lot of wins that are actually adored by many people under hers.
    She was so powerful as Effie and yes, she mostly won because of her singing than her acting, but that’s what her character does the most in that film. Singing I mean.

    It’s sad that A Prairie’s Home Companion didn’t get any noms . It was such a lovely ensemble films.
    We were blessed at least to have the hilarious presentation of Meryl and Lily to Altman for his Honor Oscar at the 2006 ceremony.

    It was one of these years in which 3 of the acting wins were already sealed, by sweeping winners, the only surprise was Supporting Actor and I’m in the minority also that likes Arkin’s win.

  9. Jesus Alonso

    For me, 2006’s Best Film (and by a landslide), after 8 years of much thinking…

    “Borat”. It should have won Best Picture, Best Lead Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song (“Oh, Kazakhstan!”). The more times I’ve rewatched it, the more I knew about how they made it, the more I analyze the multiple layers Cohen and his team buried in a palette of daring and outrageous contrast, the way they forced us all to laugh at our very own caricature in the mirror, and the level of success… it’s not only one of the best and funniest comedies in film history… it’s also one of the most poignant, along with “To be or not to be” or “The Great Dictator”… a film that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the decline into stupidity and bigotry of western civilization…

  10. Equipoise

    Some might remember this this was the year that Sound winner Michael Minkler talked smack about his fellow nominee Kevin O’Connell. If anyone’s interested in a current update, last week Minkler threatened legal action in an effort to remove a message board post I wrote about this incident. Yes, he wants a 7-year old message board post deleted from the internet. The post was in an area of The Straight Dope Message Board called “The BBQ Pit” where people can rant and rave and let off steam so flaming doesn’t affect the rest of the message board. Yeah, I used profanity, but it’s expected in the Pit. I wouldn’t have posted like that anywhere else. I won’t post the link (I don’t even know if I’m allowed but I don’t want to cause problems for the moderators) but if you so a Google search for Michael Minkler (you don’t have to use quotes) it comes up pretty high, which is why Minkler has a problem with it. All you really need to read is Post 1 (my post from 2007), Post 80 (where I update the situation) and Post 108 (the thread is closed because of Minkler’s threats). It’s so bizarre I had to share it.

  11. Apocalypto so should have won Sound over Dreamgirls!!!!
    JHud earned her Oscar.
    Two great performances, but I’ll take Leo in Blood Diamond. Leo was not supporting in The Departed. Downside of making two great movies in one year.

    My favorites:
    Apocalypto
    Blood Diamond
    Brick
    The Departed
    Casino Royale
    Hard Candy
    Notes on a Scandal
    The Prestige
    The Pursuit of Happyness

  12. Leo was great in The Departed, but I prefer him in Blood Diamond; which is also my favorite film of 2006.

  13. Sean Troutman

    The Departed is certainly one of the worst picks for Best Picture. It sucks that the Academy felt they owed Scorsese when all of the other nominees and non-nominees were better. I remember United 93 winning most of the critics awards that year and Babel winning the Golden Globe. Sometimes they know better than AMPAS, but it’s rare.

    Babel was definitely the best movie of the year, with Children of Men coming in second. That’s a movie that grows each time I see it. The Queen, Little Children, Letters from Iwo Jima, Pan’s Labyrinth, and even Borat are up there too. And Venus is a great move as well. Peter O’Toole was robbed. I agree that Dreamgirls is fantastic and I must see The Lives of Others. It’s one that has escaped me thus far. Little Miss Sunshine was overrated and the fact that it won Original Screenplay over the other nominees was a travesty, especially considering it’s so much like National Lampoon’s Vacation.

  14. Iván

    BEST DRAMA
    Babel
    Half Nelson *
    Little Children
    Notes on a Scandal
    The Painted Veil

    BEST COMEDY
    The Devil Wears Prada
    Dreamgirls
    Friends with Money*
    Stranger Than Fiction
    Thank You For Smoking

    BEST INDIE
    Little Miss Sunshine
    The Namesake
    The Proposition
    Quinceañera
    Shortbus*

    BEST ACTION
    Apocalypto
    Blood Diamond
    Casino Royale
    The Departed*
    Miami Vice

    BEST BIOPIC
    Hollywoodland
    The Last King of Scotland
    Letters from Iwo Jima
    Marie Antoinette*
    The Queen

    BEST SCI/FI
    Children of Men*
    The Fall
    The Fountain
    The Prestige
    V for Vendetta

    BEST FOREIGN
    The Lives of Others*
    Pan’s Labyrinth
    Reprise
    The Science of Sleep
    Volver

  15. RobMiles

    Pan’s Labyrinth was the best film of the year, and it’s an absolute masterpiece. That’s probably why it won Best Cinematography.

    Children Of Men is a great film, but it’s a bit too Liberal, and I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece.

  16. keifer

    I really thought “Children of Men” was the best film of that year. And that Cate Blanchett was best supporting actress for “Notes on a Scandal”. That is a very difficult role to pull off, but Blanchett makes her cheating teacher sympathetic. Judi Dench for best actress. Another difficult role . . . probably her best performance in any film . . . she was absolutely creepy, desparate, twisted, controlling and manipulative.

    And one of my favorite movies of that year, “The Painted Veil” was overlooked. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts were wonderful in the leads, it had a beautiful score by Desplat, and the most eye-popping cinematography of any film that year.

    Clive Owen should have been nominated for best actor in “Children of Men” and also Michael Caine for best supporting actor in same. This is one of Caine’s best performances in the last decade or so.

  17. keifer

    Am I the only one who thinks “Dreamgirls” is highly overrated?

    I find it incredibly difficult to watch . . . and it’s quite badly directed in places.

    Jennifer Hudson for Oscar? Nah. Just a flash-in-the-pan performance, I think.

    And Eddie Murphy has to be the biggest sorest loser in Oscar history. You could tell he was pissed. Didn’t he leave the ceremony after his category was announced that year?

  18. blizzards14

    This was also the year Maggie Gylenhaal was snubbed in the BA Category for Sherrybaby.

    One of the bravest performances ever!

  19. I’m an old guy who was around in the 50’s and 60’s when they were cranking out those stock rock ‘n roll biz movies. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times before. Dreamgirls has the clichéd characters and the predictable paper thin plot that were characteristic of the genre. Even in the context of that genre Dreamgirls doesn’t make the grade because it has an instantly forgettable soundtrack.

    I think Dreamgirls was supposed to be a parody of those old movies, but none of the critics got it because they are all too young to have seen them. They are not classics. Dreamgirls takes itself very seriously with not one moment of humor. Therein lies the parody — nobody took those old rock n roll movies seriously.

    As those old rock ‘n roll movies demonstrated, transferring great stage numbers straight to film with twinkie filling between the numbers does not make a great movie.

    My nomination for the most over-hyped movie of 2006 goes to …

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