2006 Muriel Awards

Paul Clark


Paul's blog:

Silly Hats Only

Paul's ballot:

Best Feature-Length Film
1. The Prestige
2. Children of Men
3. The Departed
4. Dave Chappelle's Block Party
5. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
6. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
7. Brick
8. The Proposition
9. Borat
10. The Child

Best Lead Performance, Male
1. Sacha Baron Cohen- Borat
2. Clive Owen- Children of Men
3. Christian Bale- The Prestige
4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt- Brick
5. Hugh Jackman- The Prestige

Best Lead Performance, Female
1. Elizabeth Reaser- Sweet Land
2. Judi Dench- Notes on a Scandal
3. Isabelle Huppert- Gabrielle
4. Gretchen Mol- The Notorious Bettie Page
5. Julia Jentsch- Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Best Supporting Performance, Male
1. Nick Nolte- Clean
2. Michael Caine- The Prestige
3. Ray Winstone- The Proposition
4. Sacha Baron Cohen- Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
5. Jackie Earle Haley- Little Children

Best Supporting Performance, Female
1. Mia Kershner- The Black Dahlia
2. Maribel Verdu- Pan's Labyrinth
3. Cloris Leachman- Beerfest
4. Catherine O'Hara- For Your Consideration
5. Rebecca Hall- The Prestige

Best Direction
1. Alfonso Cuaron- Children of Men
2. Christopher Nolan- The Prestige
3. Martin Scorsese- The Departed
4. Cristi Puiu- The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
5. John Hillcoat- The Proposition

Best Screenplay
1. The Prestige
2. The Departed
3. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
4. Brick
5. Inside Man

Best Cinematic Moment
1. The Prestige- Borden tells his secret to a dying Angier
2. Borat- Borat vs. Azamat
3. Children of Men- Long take: Escaping the safe house
4. Déjà vu- Chase scene, past and present
5. jackass number two- The Valentine

Best Breakthrough Performance
1. Sacha Baron Cohen- Talladega Nights
2. Elizabeth Reaser- Sweet Land
3. Ivana Baquero- Pan's Labyrinth

Best First Feature by a Director
1. Brick- Rian Johnson
2. Duck Season- Fernando Eimbcke
3. Sweet Land- Ali Selim

Best Ensemble Performance
1. Duck Season
2. The Prestige
3. The Proposition

Best Cinematography
1. Miami Vice- Dion Beebe
2. Children of Men- Emmanuel Lubezki
3. The Proposition- Benoit Delhomme

Best new DVD Release (any region)
1. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (R1, Fox)
2. Pandora's Box (R1, Criterion)
3. Reds (R1, Paramount)

1. The Prestige

Miscellaneous commentary:

Top 5 films:

1. The Prestige (All of the great movies hold up to multiple viewings, but Christopher Nolan's THE PRESTIGE practically demands it. In fact, watching the film twice is like watching one performance each by its two principal characters. The first viewing is like an Angier performance- you groove on the showmanship and the presentation, but you're not sure how much substance is there. The second viewing, however, is pure Borden, in which you really see how intricate and thought-out the film is, which of course makes it all the more entertaining. In the end, THE PRESTIGE deals with men who would sacrifice everything (love, body parts, even their lives) for their passions, and more than that, the fallout that occurs when two of these men are at odds with each other- not just Borden vs. Angier, but also Nikola Tesla vs. Thomas Edison. Plus it's a ripping yarn with the cleverest screenplay to come along since Nolan's breakout film, MEMENTO. For my money, THE PRESTIGE is even better.)

2. Children of Men (Like THE PRESTIGE, CHILDREN OF MEN demands multiple viewings, but for a different reason. Watching CHILDREN OF MEN for the first time reminded me of when I saw EYES WIDE SHUT on opening night- it made a strong impression, but it was difficult to grasp everything that the film was up to. I think that's because Alfonso Cuaron, like Kubrick, refuses to stop and explain what he's doing, trusting the audience to hold on and keep up, which of course is much easier to do when you know what's in store for you. The film's technical specs are impeccable, with three already-legendary extended camera shots raising the bar for such things. But Cuaron and D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki aren't just dicking around with the camera, but using these bravura shots as a way of plunging the audience directly into the action, and it works beautifully- on both of my viewings of the film to date, I barely even noticed that one of these long takes was uninterrupted. The only question is, after throwing the sex movie for a loop, crafting the best (read: least slavish) movie adaptation of HARRY POTTER, and now this, what else could Cuaron possibly have up his sleeve?)

3. The Departed (Marty's comeback? Dude hasn't gone anywhere; it's the audience that refused to follow him- to 1870s New York, to Tibet, and so forth. That said, it's good to see Scorsese jump back into the genre that more or less (ahem) made him, without sacrificing any of his style or verve. But Scorsese has always surrounded himself with able collaborators, and THE DEPARTED is no exception- Andrew Lau supplied the inspiration with his HK hit INFERNAL AFFAIRS, William Monahan wrote the complex and gleefully salty screenplay, and the cast, made up almost entirely of Scorsese newbies, is as good as any from this past year. And Leonardo DiCaprio, the sole Scorsese vet among the principals, gives perhaps his best performance yet as the troubled, conflicted, in-too-deep undercover cop, and he's matched punch for punch by Matt Damon, exuding golden-boy charisma as the slimy mole in the State police. Some have complained that THE DEPARTED is too long, but I can't imagine it working without the initial 90 minutes of buildup- it's because Scorsese, Monahan, and the
rest have laid the groundwork, establishing the principals and the conflicts, that once the reckonings come down and the bodies begin piling up, it means something rather than being simply a series of killings and plot twists.)

4. Dave Chappelle's Block Party (Year in and year out, many of the best films tend to be downers, movies that stimulate our minds and engage us mentally, but don't exactly leave us walking out with grins on our faces. DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY is a major exception to this rule, and despite what fans of DREAMGIRLS and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE might tell you, it's the true feel-good movie of 2006. In a brief, blessed window of time between Chappelle's blockbuster Comedy Central deal and his nervous breakdown, he put on a free concert featuring some of his favorite recording artists/friends and invited an assortment of New Yorkers and people from his own hometown to share in the fun. The resulting film, in which director Michel Gondry deftly compresses the preparations, the backstage activities, and the show itself, is above all about the idea of community- the community of artists to which Chappelle belongs, the Brooklyn community that hosted the show, the Yellow Springs, Ohio community which was represented not only by Chappelle but also by the Central State Marching Band and an assortment of audience members. Above all, the Block Party, and the film DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY as well, creates a community unto itself (not unlike the ideal of "Woodstock Nation" that reigned for three days decades ago), and perhaps its greatest achievement is the way it invites everyone who watches it to be a part of that community.)

5. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (With a title like that, one does not go in expecting to have a good time, but while THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU is harrowing, it's also essential viewing for anyone who takes world cinema seriously. Much of the credit for the film's success can be attributed to Ion Fiscuteanu, who embodies the title character with a complete lack of guile, fearlessly venturing through the bowels of the Romanian health care system that, over the course of one night, will suck away his dignity and his humanity, leaving him naked, barely breathing, and waiting to die. Meanwhile, the system swirls around him, with hospitals sending him elsewhere, doctors taking him to task for his drinking and diet rather than dealing with the problem in front of them, and everyone trifling over paperwork and procedure, perhaps to cope with all the suffering. Director Cristi Puiu never allows his film to devolve into a wallow, leavening the story with sardonic humor borne out of exasperation and impotence in a way that hasn't been done this well since Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL.)

Other notable achievements:

Best opening scene: TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY, easily. The all-sung recounting of the story of young J.B. had me ready for what had to be the most awesome movie in ages. However, the movie that followed couldn't sustain that energy. Watching the scene again recently on YouTube, it dawned on me that the movie needed less Cheech and Chong and more Jim Steinman to live up to my expectations for it. Too bad...

Worst performance in a good movie: Scarlett Johansson, THE BLACK DAHLIA. There are some who would contend that Hilary Swank's vampy play-acting or Fiona Shaw's rich woman off her rocker deserve mention here as well, but not me. Both Swank and Shaw give exactly the kind of performances the movie calls for, but Johansson is not only completely wrong for the period- she doesn't even attempt to fit in. Kay is supposed to be the emotional center of the story, but Johansson does nothing to warrant the love two men feel towards her. Originally Eva Green was cast in the Swank role, but seeing Green's mournful sexiness in CASINO ROYALE led me to wonder whether she might not have been better-suited to Kay. Hell, she could hardly have been worse than Johansson.

Best unreleased gems of 2006: IDIOCRACY was completely manhandled by Fox for reasons that were never made clear. Was it really as unmarketable as Fox claimed, or were they just terrified of a movie that scathingly took down the sub-average bubbas who might have comprised much of the film's target audience? Either way, Mike Judge's film, while hardly perfect, deserved much better than it got. Jim Finn's INTERKOSMOS, on the other hand, may truly be unmarketable- with its bargain-basement sets and highly specific sense of humor (deployed most memorably in a scene where two East German astronauts debate the merits of "The Trolley Song" over their radios) it resembles nothing so much as a more obscure Wes Anderson film. But look behind the seemingly detached style and one discovers a delicate love story at the film's center, one that'ss as subtle as it is affecting. Let's hope that INTERKOSMOS finds its audience once it gets a DVD release.

Most fascinating cinematic object: ROCKY BALBOA. It's easy to dismiss this movie as a cheap cashing-in by an over-the-hill star. But to do so is to miss the genuine feeling that Stallone injects into this iconic character's final hurrah. Both Rocky and Stallone have something to prove with this film, and it's a tribute to how enduring the character of Rocky truly is that despite the clichés and the formula, I actually found myself invested in the movie. The film was released in the thick of Oscar season, yet while it was surrounded by awards contenders and pretenders, I'd rather watch this again than most of its more "respectable" competition. ROCKY BALBOA isn't exactly a good movie, but it's impossible to hate, especially if you're the sort of person who visited Philly as a kid and couldn't help but dash up the Art Museum steps.