The 2007 Best Actress Nominees

Today’s Oscar preview is of Best Actress Nominees. 2006 was an unusually strong year for female performances with the best without a doubt coming from Helen Mirren in The Queen.

Penelope Cruz as Raimunda in Volver

This is Cruz’s first Oscar nomination.

What the critics have said:

“Cruz has never been more radiant and funny: Comparisons to Sophia Loren in her Vittorio DeSica heyday are flying about, and richly warranted.” — Jan Stuart, Newsday

“Penelope Cruz has never looked more beautiful and she gives a sensational, career best performance as Raimunda.” — Matthew Turner, ViewLondon

“Whatever the director asks of Cruz she delivers with poise and sincerity. It’s easily her finest work, and one of the year’s best performances.”– Shawn Levy, Oregonian

Penelope Cruz [imdb] Volver [imdb] [rottentomatoes]

Judi Dench as Barbara Covett in Notes on A Scandal.

This is Dench’s sixth Oscar nomination; she won in 1999 for her work in Shakespeare in Love.

What the critics have said:

“The build-up in this movie is actually too good for its ending, but that’s also no reason to skip out on a wonderful turn from Dench.” — Jeffrey Chen, Window to the Movies

“In England, it seems, actresses have nothing to fear from age. They can simply wait for writers to create fresh work for them.” — David Denby, New Yorker

“Dench is nothing less than great in this role. It’s hard to recall a recent performance of such unrelenting ferocity, such a thoroughgoing devotion to the domination of another life.” —TIME Magazine

Judi Dench [imdb] Notes on a Scandal [imdb] [rottentomatoes]

Helen Mirren, as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen.

This is Mirren’s third Oscar nomination; she is the favorite to win.

What the critics have said:

“That’s Mirren’s magic: She makes us care, no matter how shallow our curtsies.” — Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Mirren’s ability to disappear into the stoic modern monarch in the week following Princess Diana’s death may warrant her an Oscar for The Queen — and it would not be undeserved.” –Gina Carbone, Seacoast Newspapers (NH/Maine)

“Brilliant as Morgan’s script is, it is Helen Mirren’s diamond-hard performance that is the jewel of The Queen’s crown.” — Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

Helen Mirren [imdb] The Queen [imdb] [rottentomatoes] [my review]

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada.

This is Streep’s fourteenth Oscar nomination; she has won two previous times, for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice.

What the critics have said:

“Streep makes it work. Streep makes it fun. Best known for her dramatic brilliance, Streep has done strong comedic turns in the past, and this performance is a reminder of that, and then some.” — Jennifer Frey, Washington Post

“Streep’s practically the whole show — and steals it accordingly.” — Carol Cling, Las Vegas Review-Journal

“Meryl Streep inspires both terror and a measure of awe as the imperious editor of a glossy fashion magazine in the screen version of Lauren Weisberger’s best-selling novel.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times

Meryl Streep [imdb] The Devil Wears Prada [imdb] [rottentomatoes] [my review]

Kate Winslet as Sarah Pierce in Little Children.

This is Winslet’s fifth Oscar nomination; she has never won.

What the critics have said:

“The main reason to watch is Winslet, who brings flesh-and blood dimension to Perrotta’s central character.” — Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News

“An honest look at infidelity and its ramifications. Clearly one of the best of the year with multiple Oscar-caliber performances, especially by the brilliant Kate Winslet.” — Tony Medley,

“Kate Winslet is damn hot. That, and just about the best actress in film today.” — Kevin N. Laforest, Montreal Film Journal

Kate Winslet [imdb] Little Children [imdb] [rottentomatoes]

National Board of Review Awards 2006

Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood’s companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, received top honors from the National Board of Review.

Letter From Iwo Jima is a Japanese-language film. Originally slated for a spring 2007 release, the film’s new release date is December 20.
The National Board of Review usually awards movies that you wouldn’t expect. In this case, The Devil Wears Prada over Dreamgirls. Or maybe that means that the hype surrounding Dreamgirls is a bit over the top.
So really, who knows what all this says about the AcademyAwards and upcoming Golden Globe nominations (December 14).
Best Film
Letters From Iwo Jima
Top Ten Films
Blood Diamond
The Departed,
The Devil Wears Prada
Flags Of Our Fathers
The History Boys
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
Notes On A Scandal
The Painted Veil

Best Foreign Film
Top Five Foreign Films
Curse Of The Golden Flower
Days Of Glory
Pan’s Labyrinth
Best Documentary
An Inconvenient Truth
Top Five Documentaries
51 Birch Street
An Inconvenient Truth
Iraq In Fragments
Shut Up & Sing

Top Independent Films

(in alphabetical order)
Akeelah And The Bee
Catch A Fire
Copying Beethoven
A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Half Nelson
The Illusionist
Lonesome Jim
10 Items Or Less
Thank You For Smoking

Best Actor
Forest Whitaker The Last King Of Scotland
Best Actress
Helen Mirren The Queen
Best Supporting Actor
Djimon Hounsou Blood Diamond
Best Supporting Actress
Catherine O’Hara For Your Consideration

Best Acting By An Ensemble
The Departed
Breakthrough Performance – Male
Ryan Gosling Half Nelson
Breakthrough Performance – Female
Jennifer Hudson Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi Babel
Best Director
Martin Scorsese The Departed
Best Directorial Debut
Jason Reitman Thank You For Smoking
Best Adapted Screenplay
Ron Nyswaner The Painted Veil
Best Original Screenplay
Zach Helm Stranger Than Fiction
Best Animated Feature

Almodovar vs. Hollywood

Other than being an brilliant and renowned filmmaker (All About My Mother; Talk to Her; Bad Education; Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Pedro Almodovar just made these comments, which makes me love him even more.

Almodovar Rules Out Move to Hollywood

Director Pedro Almodovar has crushed speculation he plans to quit his native Spain for Hollywood.

The maverick moviemaker, responsible for films such as Volver and Bad Education, feels he is too old now to change his ways and that the Hollywood method of working would not suit him.

He says, “I’m an artist. I’m part of every decision in a movie. This is not how they work in Hollywood. There the director is part of the crew, not the main creator. I’m too old to change now. I wouldn’t know how to do it.”

The director also laments the worsening standard of Hollywood screenwriting, adding, “They forget the most important thing is the script, and the scripts get weaker and weaker. Technical effects advance, but the literary quality is worse.”

I love him! His films typically center around women and their relationships. (Plus if there is one reason why I take Penelope Cruz seriously, it’s because of his movies). Also, if there is anyone who understands and appreciates good screenwriting, it’s Pedro Almodovar. In 2003, he won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for Talk to Her, not to mention the Best Screenplay Award he picked up at this year’s Cannes Festival for  his next feature, Volver.

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, releases in the US on Novemeber 3. It’s already generating major buzz, with Almodovar, Cruz, and the film possibly receiving nominations. I can’t wait.

Palme D’Or Goes to Volver

The Cannes Film Festival closed today with the presentation of the Palme D’Or, arguably the most sought after prize for filmmakers.

Pedro Almodovar’s film Volver was considered to be the front runner for the prize. It instead went to Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Ken Loach’s ‘Wind That Shakes the Barley’ Wins Top Prize at Cannes
Published: May 29, 2006 NY Times

CANNES, France, May 28 — The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a film about the Irish rebellion against British rule and the country’s subsequent civil war, won the top prize at the 59th Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. This was the 13th time Ken Loach, at 69 the oldest director in competition this year, had brought a film to Cannes. He has won several prizes, but never before the Palme d’Or. This year he got lucky.

Speaking in French and English, Mr. Loach, with his customary quiet directness, said he hoped his movie — one of several war films shown during the festival — might represent “a little step in the British confronting their imperial history.”

Maybe if we tell the truth about the past, we can tell the truth about the present,” he added.

An unspecified modern war, albeit one with obvious allusions to Afghanistan and Iraq, is at the center of Bruno Dumont’s Flandres, the runner-up, taking the Grand Prize. This is the second time Mr. Dumont, one of the most controversial of contemporary French directors, has won that honor. When his Humanité won in 1999, it caused a minor scandal, an event not repeated this year, although many festivalgoers were nonetheless surprised — some unpleasantly, given Mr. Dumont’s brutal, dehumanizing world view — by the award.

In a striking departure from tradition, the competition jury, headed by the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, spread the wealth this year by dividing the prizes for best actor and actress among a total of 10 actors and actresses: the “family” of women in Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver and the “brotherhood” in Rachid Bouchareb’s Indigènes (Days of Glory). Perhaps the presence of so many actors on the jury — five of the nine members, among them the Italian bombshell Monica Bellucci, the lovely Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang and Samuel L. Jackson, perennially one of the coolest men in Hollywood — inspired this generosity.

Mr. Almodóvar sat alone, clapping, as five of his actresses, including Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura, accepted their collective prize for what many considered the finest film in competition. It was a bittersweet moment as the cast members, obviously overcome with emotion, thanked their director while blowing him kisses from the stage. “I think this award really belongs to Pedro,” Ms. Cruz said. “You are the greatest, the greatest. Thank you so much for what you do for women.” Mr. Almodóvar later took the stage to accept the award for best screenplay, a consolation prize that seemed a disappointment, not only to him.

Mr. Bouchareb, in contrast, was as elated as his cast, who summoned him to join them onstage. After several effusive (and lengthy) speeches, they all burst into a rousing rendition of a battle hymn that is sung in the film. Indigènes follows a small of North African soldiers fighting to liberate France from the Nazis during Word War II. Recalling classic Hollywood World War II combat films, it features strong performances, stirring speeches and gripping combat sequences. Like Flandres and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Mr. Bouchareb’s movie has clear contemporary resonance.

War informed even those films that were not directly about military conflict. Among the most metaphorically loaded films in this respect was Babel, from the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams), who won the director’s prize. This polyglot, multi-everything film (goats, sign language, a Japanese disco and Brad Pitt) traces the various miseries of American tourists in Morocco, a Mexican nanny living in Southern California, two very young Moroccan goat-herders and a deaf-mute schoolgirl in Japan. They’re all linked in a Crash-like story about the invisible connections among strangers. The win for Babel confirmed that this was a strong year for Spanish and Latin American cinema. Several films from Mexico were shown at the festival: two in competition as well as features from Argentina and Paraguay.

The jury was as cosmopolitan as the slate of winners, with the British actress Helena Bonham Carter, the Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, the French director Patrice Leconte and the Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel joining Mr. Wong and the others. Both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Martel wore sunglasses during the ceremony, perhaps in tribute to the president of the jury, who is rarely seen without them. “Normally I don’t work with a script,” said Mr. Wong, who is notorious for his long shooting schedules and constant revisions, in his introductory remarks. “I think it’s much easier to make a film than to be on a jury.”

It is not known whether Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — last year’s Palme d’Or winners and the presidents of this year’s Camera d’Or jury — would agree. But they reported that their panel, which acknowledges the best first feature in any of the festival’s sections, had been unanimous in their choice of A Fost Sau N-a Fost? (12:08, East of Bucharest), the debut feature by the Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu. A mordant look back at Romania’s 1989 Revolution, Mr. Porumboiu’s movie is the second entry from that country to win a major prize here in as many years (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was a sensation last year in 2005), and the latest sign of a nascent and exciting national cinema.

In the main competition, the emotional thriller Red Road, directed by the British newcomer (and Oscar winner, for a short) Andrea Arnold, won the Jury Prize, equivalent to third place. Red Road, Ms. Arnold’s first feature, centers on a woman who works at a surveillance center and seems to live vicariously through the strangers she watches. Coupled with Mr. Loach’s victory, Ms. Arnold’s made this an unusually strong year for British filmmakers, though their harsh portrayal of their country’s past and present are not likely to please the tourist board.

Two short films, Conte de Quartier from France and Primera Nieve from Argentina, received special mention, while the Palme d’Or in that category went to Sniffer, by a 31-year-old Norwegian director, Bobbie Peers.