The movies made me grouchy this year, because so few of them stepped up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park, and many of those that did, or at least came closest—The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, The Descent, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, even two-year-old Clean—were late arrivals from earlier years. Inconsistency was a problem, with several films triumphing with one formal element, one thematic ambition, or a clutch of sterling performances but falling down badly in other areas. Then again, the positive side of such inconsistency was that even when the movies disappointed on the whole, we had plenty to watch, enjoy, and admire within them. The pickings are ripe, then, for an itemized list of what worked best in 2006, all the way from commercial titans (The Departed, Casino Royale) to nonfiction exposés (Jesus Camp, Iraq in Fragments), from arthouse headliners (Half Nelson, The Last King of Scotland) to offshore imports (Requiem, Three Times) to festival esoterica (Police Beat, Syndromes and a Century) to midnight-mass psychotica (INLAND EMPIRE, The Black Dahlia). Reserve some props for films like The Road to Guantánamo, The Fountain, and Children of Men that blurred our sense of where they belonged within or between those conventional categories, and for directors like Michael Winterbottom, Clint Eastwood, Michel Gondry, and a rejuvenated Spike Lee who kept things hopping with impressively dissimilar double-plays. From hearts that exploded (Crank) to hearts that stopped (Lazarescu), the movies gave us plenty to love, even if our love was rarely unconditional.

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General Categories

Best Non-English Language Film                
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Imagine saddling a movie with literary, Biblical, and allegorical overtones, stitching all of that to a public-policy critique, laying your central character flat on his back and pickling him in booze and syrup, and playing all of this out for two and a half hours under gross fluorescent lights. By all rights, the movie should be as heavy and remote as Dante Remus Lazarescu is. The surprise is that it isn't. The miracle is that it translates, brilliantly, to audiences around the world.
Unlike a lot of critics, I had room in my life for The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but Requiem is good enough to shrink me into embarrassment. The obvious and frightening way to go is to find poor Emily, sitting there doing her homework, suddenly gripped by demonic spasms. The mature and illuminating approach, evinced in Requiem and still very frightening, is to afflict her with the spasms, and still have her struggling with the homework. Life goes on in Requiem, even as it gets worse and grows nastier. Because of where the film ends, it isn't so much the story of a possessed girl as that of a girl begging to be believed, and begging to believe, but hoping as much as possible to sweep all of this beneath the carpet of a "normal" life.
Syndromes and a Century
Apichatpong has split has last two movies—Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady—into two surprising parts, partitioning the urban and the bucolic in the first case, the quotidian and the subconscious in the second. Syndromes revisits that structural habit but with more delicacy and obvious tenderness. Not every viewer will grasp the moment when the film has begun to double back on itself, and without sentimentalizing or falsely pastoralizing his country for easy international consumption, Apichatpong manages a lilting, intelligent ode to family, quiet, decency, and durability, all of them flecked with rue.
Three Times
Hou Hsiao-hsien takes a more heavy-handed approach than Apichatpong does to memorial filmmaking and self-quotation, and Three Times occasionally feels a bit relentless in its sonic and visual motifs, even a little bit cramped in its three-part structure. I think we come to Hou's films, though, to be reminded of how many filmmakers short-change what light is, what color is, what composition is, and how these elements can kiss but also pull at one another within a shot or a sequence. Three Times' hermeticism isn't an immediate count against it, not just because of the gorgeous compensations, but because we're welcome to accept the movie as a time capsule of the director's own stylistic influences. It opens inward as well as outward, and in its infinitely more subdued way, it's just as much a personal threnody as A Prairie Home Companion was. Since Hou is not yet 60, there is hopefully more, and possibly something new, to follow.
Two Drifters (Odete)
Desire=kitsch. That's the informing link behind João Pedro Rodrigues' unnerving second feature, which casts a harsh light (often literally so) on the permeable borders and arbitrary swerves among fleeting diversions, earnest loves, and brutish obsessions. There is nothing gentle about Rodrigues' approach. Kitsch isn't camp, and though Drifters has a healthy comic sense of the ridiculous, the film's edges and surfaces are determinedly abrasive and anti-sentimental, as when Rodrigues cues a patently artificial rain shower during a crucial and terrible death, or when his loopy protagonist (a bewitching Ana Cristina de Oliveira) pushes an empty, fetishized baby stroller over uneven pavement for a loud, solid minute. Rodrigues eventually offers his characters a mutual, intimate reprieve from their errant search for love and consolation, but it's not the tender, lachrymose redemption of a film like L'Enfant. Instead, Two Drifters culminates in an outrageous tableau of erotic role-playing and mutual objectification that gives everyone, including the audience, what they thought they wanted. The bonds between straight women and gay men have rarely been carried to such an extreme, or hauled out for such provocative interrogation.

Best Documentary                
Dave Chappelle's Block Party
Michel Gondry, dir.
Perhaps not a "documentary" in the most conventional sense, since Gondry & Co. seem to be shaping the tone and even the structure of the concert, more than simply observing and recording what they see. Still, many of the best documentaries have always done this, and Gondry's artistry—more than just his chumminess with Dave and his backstage pass—is what ultimately allows Block Party to evoke this Bed-Stuy musical revival with such poignancy, humor, and depth. Beautifully balancing the music and its contexts, the performers and their audience, the day and the hour and the signs o' the times, Gondry constructs such a raffishly charming film that its meticulous images and gossamer editing are easy to undervalue.
Deliver Us from Evil
Amy Berg, dir.
As with many documentaries on similarly sordid subjects—Capturing the Friedmans leaps to mind—Berg's movie sometimes opts for too much respectful, uneditorialized distance, rather than risk exploiting the pain of its people. Still, Deliver reminds us that the wounds of childhood abuse never stop bleeding, especially once they cross over into public discourse. Father O'Grady's blend of malice, contrition, and obliviousness is somehow harder to bear than a more straightforward villainy would have been, and the eruption of one woman's father into a word he's never shouted out loud, even after decades of nursing this very injury, is a great moment in truth-telling, albeit an awful one.
Iraq in Fragments
James Longley, dir.
So dull am I, and so stunted by the harrowing, brute literalism of most media reporting on Iraq, that I simply didn't imagine as I walked into this movie that the "fragments" in the title constituted an aesthetic experiment as well as a disintegrating state of national affairs. Longley presses himself on every front—as editor, as photographer, as interviewer, as endangered observer—and if his collage approach occasionally aestheticizes his subject a little too much, he also portrays an Iraq that precious few of us have seen: a mundane inferno, full of vivid colors and idle chatter, burning fires and sidewalk philosophers, urban riot and religious uprising and, in the Kurdish north, a rising anxiety about the rumble in the south.
Jesus Camp
Rachel Grady &
Heidi Ewing, dirs.

Proof positive that liberals aren't always as privileged in our insights as we think we are. "Don't they know how much they sound like Islamic fundamentalists?" I've heard people ask over and over, on the radio and in my life, in response to the evangelical Christianity thriving across our own country. Then Jesus Camp introduces you to youth pastor Becky Fischer, who not only grasped this analogy long ago, but who actively endorses it as a tit-for-tat strategy of keeping apace with the most radical religious devotions elsewhere in the world. "Training Christian warriors" is Fischer's overt intent, and without easy demonizing or blunt simplifications, the film captures a worrying phenomenon as it transpires.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
Spike Lee, dir.
Spike Lee's four-hour documentary already has two titles, but had he needed a third, he might have entertained New Orleans in Fragments. Resolutely not a movie about a hurricane, Levees is a chronicle of a people and a city largely abandonded in the aftermath of a hemispheric disaster. Privileging speed and immediacy over complex argument or rigorous self-discipline, Lee mostly points his camera at displaced New Orleanians, dazed and confused politicians, resilient musicians, scientific experts, and academic commentators as they struggle—with humor, ire, contradiction, and faith—to make sense of an underwater city, an indifferent government, and an uncertain future.


Best Director                
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Syndromes and a Century
Apichatpong coaxes lovely, delicate impersonations from his inexperienced actors, and even more gracefully, he recruits their embarrassment and docile unease into the service of the movie. The halting stutters of amorous confession, the calm rhythms of steady professionals and the palpable anxiety of new interns, the worrying dispatches of military engagement, the delicate beauty of a florist's garden, the secret lives of empty rooms: Apichatpong captures all of it, and plays them like the strings of a soft, beautiful, quietly surprising instrument. The film may not be as audacious as his previous two, but its understated elegance is itself a virtue. The camera, the sound, the editing, and the peculiar ending all demonstrate a growing, controlled finesse.
Michel Gondry
Dave Chappelle's Block Party
Given how electrified by Dave Chappelle and how enamored of him so many of Block Party's everyday people seem to be, it's a wonder that they still look so relaxed, self-assured, and often very funny on film. For that, I credit Gondry. Indeed, without diminishing or muffling the humor and charisma of anyone on screen, Dave included, Block Party is pitched beautifully between hilarity and modesty—neither as antic or self-congratulatory as it could have been, nor as overt in its ideas (they aren't even "messages") or as flaunting of its introspective ambitions as many directors would have made it. Gondry makes everyone from the Ohio teenagers to the A-list talent to the eccentric squatters in their calico house seem like a well-choreographed ensemble, and the film draws exquisitely on everybody's energies without getting too much in the way.
David Lynch
Is there another working director, this side of Nick Park, who could get away with a trio of talking rabbits, swathed in housecoats and leisure wear and mouthing vague, Pinteresque forewarnings? That's just one example of the boundary-pushing excess and debatable conceits that we permit David Lynch in INLAND EMPIRE, not just because he is David Lynch but because he scripts, films, and edits all the objects and figments of his surrealist imagination with such dark, brooding, but disarmingly funny conviction. The topographical confusions, the unreliable and itinerant characters, the Polish backstory (or is it the main story?), the bone-rattling thrums: any of it could have fallen apart instantly upon arrival, but Lynch maintains INLAND EMPIRE as a coherent experience, even as it tilts at wild windmills and gets lost in its own (literal) rabbit holes.
Cristi Puiu
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Beyond managing a large, exceptional cast in a project that must have elicited some skepiticsm, at least to some of them, Puiu also oversees an almost ceaselessly moving camera through sets of subtly harrowing verisimilitude. He avoids the temptation, especially given his Dantean inclinations, to plunge us unnecessarily into that horrendous highway pile-up we keep hearing about, and in every other way, too—sticking with that sallow lighting, denying Mr. Lazarescu many endearing or even distinguishing traits, holding back from dense situations rather than hunting for close-ups and simplifying the film's affect—Puiu demonstrates a consummate trust in his material and a flawless sense of how to articulate his ideas without overstatement. That last cut offers a perfect emblem of how, in Puiu's hands, a single, simple touch can assume prodigious dimensions.
Martin Scorsese
The Departed
I always look forward to each new Martin Scorsese movie, but I have learned to worry whenever a Big Idea or a Rare Opportunity is on the table, because his instincts can so easily be torqued by reverence, excitement, or intimidation. Kundun, gorgeous as it is, felt too timid to say much or go anywhere. The gigantism of Cinecittà, even more than that petty tyrant Harvey Weinstein, got much the better of Marty, and the inclination to view Howard Hughes as a protean historical figure on par with Charles Foster Kane accounted for much of the disconnected gravity in The Aviator. Thank goodness that Infernal Affairs was a good enough movie to remake but not good enough to cow anyone. In The Departed, Scorsese takes glorious recourse to his florid command of editing, actors, and camera orientation, speaking the language of pop film back to itself and oscillating his images between a humane, naturalistic depth of field (all the rooftop sequences) and a high-style flatness (the police headquarters). Marty's finger is on every button of this movie, and boy does he know how to push them.


Best Actress                
Annette Bening
Running with Scissors
Bening's sense of tone and her ability to ironize or redeem a flawed script have not, shall we say, always been her greatest strengths; in American Beauty if she had only noticed that the film actually shared the very passions for color, surfaces, and coordination that it ridiculed in Carolyn, she might have cajoled us to her side instead of serving up the harpy that Alan Ball seemed to want. It's a terrific, impressive surprise, then, that in another pop-psychology dramedy that keeps trivializing a character who deserves more chances (after all, whose life is harder, Augusten's or Deirdre's?), Bening is the single, most flexible, most disconcertingly earnest performer. She keeps breathing reality into the film. In her best scenes, chomping down on a simpleton's poem or demanding obeisance from her son in the thick of abject breakdown or lolling in half-delirium at a heartbreaking birthday party or suppressing an emotional riot during a goodbye in a diner, Bening shocks us with the directness of her playing, using her cutting intensity and her brittle voice and her grand airs instead of calling attention to them as sideshow diversions. She's the hard, bitter soul of a picture that would barely have one without her.
Laura Dern
Dern has remained a director's actor, tightly committed to her characters while channeling whatever spirit her films require, whether it's the raw intensity of We Don't Live Here Anymore or the forfeited friendship of Happy Endings or the period pluck of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. This gal knows her movies, understands stylization, and she performs with a self-conscious technique that reveals the character without merging her with the actress. I think this sense of Dern's customary groundedness as an actor only makes her fraying over the course of INLAND EMPIRE all the more treacherous to behold. Her casual bonhomie with co-star Justin Theroux is utterly convincing, her character's enduring generosity toward a movie she's heard is cursed matches her own reputation for putting faith in her directors, and the tension between her willowy physique and the severe, dangerous projects she appears to prefer is just waiting to explode, or backfire. The way her face slides from sunniness to sour skepticism to venal disappointment is still, after all these years, her most stunning gift, and she marshals it devilishly well for INLAND EMPIRE. It doesn't matter if she always knew what she was doing, or who she was playing. Quite palpably, she helped the film to know what it could do, who it could be, where it could go. Forget how accustomed we are to this metaphor, and rediscover what it means: Laura Dern carries this movie.
Luminita Gheorghiu
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu tells not one but two stories, of which the less obvious is titled The Life of Mioara Avram. Had the movie only been interested in the title character's demise, Cristi Puiu could easily have mounted his camera by Mr. Lazarescu's head for the full 150 minutes, and Abbas Kiarostami, at least, would have been delighted as well as envious. But Lazarescu is also about the process by which onlookers of death, even key actors within the grim pageant of dying and delivering unto death, suddenly become philosophers of life and of death: witnesses, in the fullest, most ethical sense. Gheorghiu is our conduit for grasping this idea, as Mioara starts demanding things for Mr. Lazarescu, not just of him. The quality of her gazes, her trepidation and defensiveness around his body, the way she cranes her neck to supervise his diagnoses and assure herself of his continued existence, the way her eyes dilate away from the immediate tasks at hand and into whatever moral or mortal verities she ponders in the back of the ambulance: all of these are the movie. She is our angel, our kind epitome of the day-to-day soldier, the conscientious neighbor—not entirely dissimilar from what Marge Gunderson was for Fargo, or Helen Prejean for Dead Man Walking, but an even subtler creation by a heroically devoted actress.
Sandra Hüller
For a long time during Sandra Hüller's performance, I wondered where all those Emily Watson comparisons I had read were coming from, and whether I could expect any more than the owlish, palpably frustrated person who kept blowing around her house, darting uncomfortably around her campus, trying to be noticed as well as not noticed. Gradually, Requiem reveals that the desire for normalcy amidst the harsh, disturbing encroachment of the extraordinary is its true subject, as well as the persistence of banal problems alongside the onset of remarkable ones. Hüller's dogged, unsentimental playing of Michaela shares something of the character of Élodie Bouchez in The Dreamlife of Angels: she's a girl trying to get by, insisting that other people make sense of her as she is, even as her own sense of who she is loses considerable ground to awful possibilities. When she lets fly at her family in the final sequences, the sequence is horrifying in its theological implications as well as its domestic ones, but there's a cathartic power in seeing Hüller admit so fully of the unmanageable tensions she has barely been containing up to that point. An astonishingly mature performance from a first-time feature actor.
Gretchen Mol
The Notorious Bettie Page
Like a lot of people who saw The Notorious Bette Page one time, I grumbled that Gretchen Mol had exercised so much creativity and devoted so much energy on behalf of a movie that never seemed to take her very far. For all the endless variations she concocted on themes of winking cheerfulness, relaxed inhibitions, or the blithe placing of trust in peculiar people—and it's already a credit to Mol that she's as gamely nonjudgmental as Bettie Page seems to have been—the script furnishes neither the actress nor the audience with much sense of a personality beneath all of this. On second viewing, the logic becomes clearer, and smarter, and more obviously resonant with Mary Harron's earlier American Psycho: what if there is no Bettie Page? What if, in some sense, she isn't really there, "behind" her parade of smiles and pretend-plays, or anywhere else? Harron wants to take the melodramatic thesis of something like Far from Heaven—that everyone, but especially women, are constitued as a series of social rituals and surface demeanors, dictated beyond their own control—and test the idea within a thin, genial comedy about "real" people rather than a sober, romantic drama of cultural archetypes. Primo Mol isn't quite Primo Moore, but she's equally indispensable to the director's goals, equally brave at immersing herself in an intellectualized aesthetic of which she seems fully and supplely in command, and able to charm and lead us into the heart of the tricky material.
In a year of terrific screen mothers, only Bening's qualifes for the list, but three others are bubbling right underneath: Penélope Cruz, so relaxed and offhandedly sensual and piquantly perturbed in Pedro Almodóvar's Volver; Maggie Gyllenhaal, who occasionally gets caught selling us on Sherrybaby's bleached locks and vulgar shoes, but digs deeply into scenes where Sherry humiliates herself to secure a job and then relishes the actual work, or those when Sherry realizes just how hopeless she is as a parent; and Maggie Cheung, who was a shoo-in for this list until I revisited Clean last week and felt that her performance, along with other parts of the movie, had shrunk from what I experienced on the big screen (and not just in the obvious way). Occasionally, her tones and intents came across as too muted, but her resistance of easy histrionics or ploys for audience sympathy remain inspiring, and she holds her character in an interesting grey zone of "recovering" from old, bad habits but nevertheless lacking a tremendously clear sense of her new, "improved" self.

Best Actor                
Daniel Craig
Casino Royale
Daniel Craig is a full-body organ donor. A brain, a nervous system, a heart, a musculature (!), a vascular braid of arteries and veins, an entire endocrine field of adrenaline, bile, and restlessness—there's not a psychological or physiological system imaginable that Craig doesn't imbue into the iconic (some would say calcified) role of James Bond. One of the many glories of the performance is that he's operating at all levels at all times: even that prefatory fight in the bathroom is marked by fury, fright, and the ferocious thrill of the illicit. Through the rest of the film, Craig holds tricky internal tensions in place, bristling under M's censure but in need of her tutelage, drawn to Vesper but made anxious by her, alert to ubiquitous dangers but emanating sangfroid. The physical and the psychic aren't separable in his work, as indeed they never should be, but with the whole world expecting both way too much and rather too little, Craig hit a bull's eye.
Matt Damon
The Departed
Before Daniel Craig ever ordered a martini, Matt Damon proved in the Bourne films (particularly Supremacy) that a cerebral, psychologized approach to a modern, rough-and-tumble action protagonist was richly possible. The Departed allows him to draw upon some of his Bourne-bred skills for rendering thought as spectacle and kinetic physicality as mental drama, and yet this film and this character require him to play his desperations and silent debates even closer to his bulletproof vest. While the script hands the central transformative arc to a savvy, reawakened Leonardo DiCaprio, and the director (in the film's most annoying lapse) entitles Jack Nicholson to a pupu platter of flamboyant mannerism, Damon sculpts and sharpens scenes like his elevator seduction of Vera Farmiga and their nervous first date, and his irritated but finally obedient response to Nicholson's first phone call to their first apartment. Damon literally sits behind Nicholson in one of his biggest scenes, but the most focused, generous actor in the movie still emerges with the tightest, most seamless performance.
Ryan Gosling
Half Nelson
Actors allegedly love to play junkies, but Gosling avoids cosmetic accents or blunt overstatements. Rather than allow himself to look terrible, he acts uncomfortable, idly scratching and smearing himself, working to keep his head up even when his eyes are wide open, taking too long to respond to questions from his principal and speaking too quickly in situations where precaution might be advised. What raises the performance to genius is that Gosling is forever finding other, simultaneous reasons why Dan Dunne is having a hard time in these moments—the principal's question isn't easy, at least by the measure of Dan's teacherly convictions; the air in the classroom is stifled and the light is chalky, dry. Life, the world, all of it is smeary, with or without the drugs. Gosling has that sublime, jazzy gift for playing notes in his performance that don't always match the immediate moment of the scene but which reflect and deepen the larger framework of the script. Best of all, he refuses to make Dan "symbolic" of anyone or an indictment of any social syndrome. He plays a man, a man who is shrinking to slightly less than man-size.
James McAvoy
The Last King of Scotland
From that opening scene of plunging into a cold Scottish lake, McAvoy stays tuned to the wild frequency of Nicholas' youthful abandon. Concurrently, from that second scene of restive persistence through a puffed-up family dinner, he convinces us that he really does conceive a nobler and more challenging use for his talents, and that his Oedipal craving for successful escape doesn't omit a certifiable intelligence and sound principles, however naïve and untested. Faced with the double burden of stupid Western insouciance and dramatically convenient "awakening," McAvoy dribbles each scene dexterously, so that we see that Nicholas was always a little bit savvy, even amidst his gravest narcissistic blunders, and that he remains a little bit befogged, even as he strains toward a minor, measured, but life-saving enlightenment. Throwing himself into the role, but pulling back enough for his fellow actors to reward and be rewarded by his own performance, and triumphing over his boyish looks and reedy frame, McAvoy announces his candidacy for serious roles in subtle, demanding films.
Forest Whitaker
The Last King of Scotland
Like everyone in The Last King of Scotland, Whitaker has to hold his performance together—in fact, he has to further enrich and complicate it—even as the second half of the screenplay gets rutted in clichéd dichotomies and waits for callow, endangered Innocence to make his way safely out of an increasingly dank atrium in an old-fashioned Heart of Darkness. Whitaker, like McAvoy, sees past the binary temptations, dialing his facial features between chumminess and paranoia within moments, and shifting his center of gravity among a wide smile, an accusatory gaze, and that redoubtable body. Frankly, it's an inspired breakthrough for this introverted performer to impound so much of the film for himself: Idi Amin's life seems to have been lived as a venomous internal war of personalities and preoccupations, with lethal effects on his country and his continent that he hardly seems to have noticed. Like Bruno Ganz in Downfall (one of last year's nominees), Whitaker knows the other actors are responsible for keeping pace with his precise, volatile playing; it speaks to the power and dignity of his achievement that he inspires everyone in the cast to meet his own tremendous standard.
Open-faced with fear and astonishment, dallying in macho even as he quivers in dire expectation, Leonardo DiCaprio justifies thirteen years of hype in The Departed. Michael Sheen's retinue of expressions isn't quite as wide as I'd remembered from my first time viewing The Queen, but he's still the most interesting and fruitfully challenged actor in the piece, threading bravado into decency and diplomacy and insight into arrogance. (Make no mistake that this is a lead role, since we learn nearly as much about Blair as we do about Her Majesty. The Queen names her office, but it just as importantly names his obstacle, and then his pedestal.) Ray Winstone recalibrates The Proposition away from its archetypal revenge plot and into a nimble accessible personal agon; he's a nicer guy than Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, but he's just as complicated, maybe even more so. Matt Dillon connects with the bleary, dyspeptic soul of Factotum without forgetting to be funny; Ion Fiscuteanu fulfills a similar task with flying colors in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, even though he barely gets to stand up while he does it.

Best Supporting Actress
Seema Biswas
Deepa Mehta's Water, like her earlier Fire, offers a clarion political rebuke to Indian political tradition and a series of luminous, colorful images that unfortunately don't marry all that well with the ideas in the script. Water is visually nostalgic and eager to please, and its beatific approach to its central love story has the same eroding effect on its conscientious premise. Within this urgent but constrained environment, Seema Biswas does the heroic work of investing Water with the soul that it needs. Her quiet, watchful telegraphing of her own spiritual unrest is clear, palpable, but nevertheless understated throughout the movie, until a final, cathartic scene at a train station to rival Cicely Tyson's big, running climax in Sounder. She's the only actress who isn't a placard for Mehta's ideas, investing spontaneity and huge stakes into heroic action.
Ashley Johnson
Fast Food Nation
From my longer writeup here: "How many actresses this young, and this new to cinema, can hold the screen so compellingly in shots of active listening, fond onlooking, genial small-talk, and the nearer and nearer tremors of a shifting inner life? Johnson is a terrific, fresh screen partner and a shrewd, disciplined actress, and she manages all of this with the ease of prime Kirsten Dunst, but without the aloofness or the heavy lids. She acts terrifically without ever seeming like she's auditioning for other roles, or straining to demonstrate her gravitas.... Johnson's is the smile with which Fast Food Nation serves up its terrible news. The movie wouldn't work if the smile weren't so sparkling, and so real, or if the gathering storm of fear and knowledge weren't palpable beneath that smile."
Mia Kirshner
The Black Dahlia
From my review: "Kirshner opts away from trivializing Elizabeth, or reducing her to the eventual, awful circumstances of her death. Flirting with the offscreen auteur, firmly in control of her strong but willowy gestures, doling out accents and flattery and coy demurrals, staring into the camera with eyes that are unmistakably ice-blue even in grayscale footage, Kirshner is uncanny. She humanizes Elizabeth even as she projects a Platonic ideal of her.... Kirshner makes you understand the obsession that Hartnett and Eckhart frequently profess without properly articulating. Her Elizabeth auditions for her own afterlife, existing within the discrete reality of each of her scenes, but pleading from within these soured images for her own weird form of posthumous justice. She demands that her death be taken seriously in a city that pipelines unreality."
Fiona Shaw
The Black Dahlia
From the same review: "Fiona Shaw simply decides that she's in a Genet play instead of a hamstrung neo-noir, and De Palma sparks like mad to her own fearless dementia. As Ramona Linscott, the pinched and addled mother of Hilary Swank's lascivious prowler, Shaw appears in two scenes, one of them the most uncomfortable dinner that a gentleman caller has ever attended in the history of the movies.... The other I can't possibly describe, both out of care for The Black Dahlia's putative mysteries and out of my own bafflement as to where I would even begin. Suffice it to say that in both scenes, Shaw cracks the movie open like she's breaking the shell of a lobster, and then she gobbles the movie, and then she spits it back out. Quite simply, The Black Dahlia is a different movie after each occasion when this actress has her way with it, and if the other actors look slightly terrified by her bravely calibrated derangement, De Palma leaps on the chance to wooze up the Steadicam, to spike the editing rhythms."
Emily Watson
The Proposition
Watson's Martha Stanley wants reassurance, so very badly. She is not at all a feeble woman, but she is nearing the edge of desperation: wanting to know that it was the right thing to move to this distant outpost in 1880s Australia, full of red dirt and cycles of barbarism. She wants to know that her husband (an excellent Ray Winstone) loves her, and cares about their life together. She wants to know that she isn't finally reducible to her marriage, and that she is still capable of her own principled stands, her own intelligence. She wants to do something with her fear, and with her love. She doesn't ask to be coddled, but she is thrilled when she and her Captain can close the door for a traditional Christmas dinner, even as the hordes and the winds of violence gather outside. Watson fuses all of Martha's worries and passions, and her gallant attempts at serenity, in one of her quietest but most affecting performances.
Babel's Adriana Barraza, like Biswas in Water, delivers the fullest, most quietly engaging person in a solid but schematic movie, and she builds her work toward a comparable level of disciplined intensity. Emily Blunt clacks her high heels right into a two-hander comedy in The Devil Wears Prada and demands a room of her own, sautéeing her laugh-lines and keeping imperial watch over her secretarial fiefdom. Meryl Streep dazzles in the same movie, playing against the coarser grains of the script in a semi-lead role, and gingering A Prairie Home Companion with her yearning, melodious daffiness. Charlotte Rampling, retaining every bit of her perverse knowing and her scalpel-edged carnality after all these years, makes quite a macabre impression through the first half of Lemming. Joan Cusack is the revelation in Friends with Money, stuttering bashfully as she pretends to help a friend, then barking back in a hospital waiting room. Finally, it took two viewings of The Departed for me to realize that the critics were right: Vera Farmiga really doesn't have much of a role. She poured so much thought, tension, alertness, and pre-history into the cliché of the oblivious, ambivalent girlfriend that I barely recognized the cliché.

Best Supporting Actor
Alec Baldwin
The Departed
The cast of The Departed are more than pitch-perfect: collectively, they are incredibly nervy and delightfully surprising in the very range of notes and pitches they coax out of the piece. Just looking at the words and scenes on the page wouldn't prepare you for Mark Wahlberg's wry, bullying stridency or Ray Winstone's understated watchfulness or Vera Farmiga's erotic rebellion against all forms of better judgment. But the best, most creative surprise in the cast is the comic zing of Alec Baldwin as Boston P.D. Captain Ellerby, cracking himself up and almost casually taking the piss out of everyone on the force as he walks them through the plans of a major sting operation and delivers the unwelcome report about a mole in their midst. Such insouciance is usually the lot of criminals in a tale like this, but Baldwin's perfectly right to keep energy high and self-inflated importance to a minimum: he keeps his scenes humming and gives the other actors permission to do the same.
Rob Brydon
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Is Brydon's Uncle Toby a supporting performance or a co-lead? For once, this isn't just an awards-season dilemma but a directly, deliciously addressed sticking-point within the opening sequence. Steve Coogan, at least in character as himself, is utterly nonplussed at Brydon's suggestion, but you can see where he's coming from: just like Toby in the novel Tristram Shandy, Brydon's dizziness, nerves, and constant distractions never quite conceal the openness of his heart—all the more touching among such frantic characters in a purposefully show-offy piece. Brydon's good at everything, from punchlines to repartee to sly, silent bystanderdom.
Greg Kinnear
Fast Food Nation
Greg Kinnear's insecure, quietly desperate papa in Little Miss Sunshine isn't just the most celebrated of his 2006 performances; it might finally be the role for which he's best remembered. Still, it takes nothing away from his clarity and economy in that part to assert that he's even better in Fast Food Nation, striving to keep that famous Kinnear twinkle alive even as he reckons with previously unplumbed implications of his job, his diet, his lifestyle, his ethics. Kinnear's Don keeps adopting an earnest, unpretentious, let's-just-face-the-music attitude in response to the corporate horrors he uncovers, for which he is constantly ridiculed, rebuffed, or attacked. That he keeps trying, and that he wants so much to be liked, adds poignancy and a dash of the pathetic to his character; when he finally sours for a split-second at a hotel concierge desk, and no one even notices, Kinnear's underplaying makes it a standout moment in a movie brimming with sad humiliations.
David Morse
Down in the Valley
Often cast as gentle good guys (Contact, The Green Mile) or depressed but still imposing heavies (Dancer in the Dark), Morse ambles into Down in the Valley and puts his willowy daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), her reedy suitor (Edward Norton), and the entire audience on notice: here there be dragons, and in that house of thin walls, slamming doors, and absent mothers, it doesn't take long for Morse to uncork the temper in this hulking, sad-eyed officer of the law. Despite this robust and occasionally scary impression, Morse never loses sight of his intense affection for and protectiveness of his children—a real, muscled love, not a sentimental alibi for cruelty. All the better, then, when the movie reveals Morse to be the most trustworthy character on screen. He's not the dad you want, but he might be the dad you need, and even at that, Morse limns the character's resolve and his rock-solid intuition without making it easy for us to like him. Powerful, truthful playing.
Nick Nolte
Nolte plays an even gentler giant than Morse does, an old boatbuilder whose enormous frame suggests a lively, athletic youth now hunched into taciturnity, anxiety, and a compulsion to placate. When his son dies of an overdose, he has to force himself to be anything but tender and conciliatory toward his strongly implicated daughter-in-law. He quietly plots a just course of action of which he knows his own ailing wife will disapprove; he is scared to upset her, and even more scared of losing her, but he cannot bear to abdicate such a key opportunity for taking the high moral road. Gentle but awkward in his scenes with a child, friendly but uncomfortable in his scenes with Maggie Cheung's Emily, who ultimately rouses his curiosity and his unexpected admiration, Nolte plays the performance along a series of low, modest notes that directors rarely ask of him—but maybe now they will. (They certainly should.)
Danny Trejo in Sherrybaby is so seedy yet so sensitive that we're forced into Sherry's own position of warily, ardently trusting him. Eddie Murphy is antic and outlandish in Dreamgirls, but his despair and his dreams are nonetheless palpable. Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson and Oleg Stefan in The Good Shepherd cut elegant, surprisingly candid figures as men we know better than to take at their word. Doru Ana is the first and in some ways the most memorable of several ostensible caretakers and well-wishers in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu who nonetheless hope to wipe their hands soon of a sordid situation. Finally, the crucial contributions of Álex Angulo and Mark Bazeley to, respectively, Pan's Labyrinth and The Queen have already been commemorated here.


Best Original Screenplay                
Olivier Assayas
One of the few modern maternal melodramas that hasn't come saturated in the spirit of Douglas Sirk, Clean immerses its female lead not in a world of strict rules but in a world emphatically without them; Emily wants all that heaven allows, but only in the vaguest way. A eulogy for the old bonds (drugs?) of love and family, half celebrating and half lamenting the isolation, free will, and unpredictability that has replaced them.
Cristi Puiu & Razvan Radulescu
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Insisting on its classical antecedents without hammering away at them, alert to the problems of medical bureaucracy without thinning itself into a screed, Lazarescu has a perfect ear for when specific personal complaints blur into social critiques (or vice versa), and when caretaking procedures reveal stubborn prejudices (or vice versa). Finds the rich anecdotal possibilities in a simple, seemingly fore-ordained structure.
Eric Roth
The Good Shepherd
Starting out as a long dark night of Nixon-style unrest with opaque but incriminating evidence, slowly giving way to a Ripley-style parable of the only kind of upward mobility available in a cultish society of wealth and power, Shepherd ultimately plays out as a mosaic of unease, tacit betrayal, and pervasive suspicion: the rare film about unfelt emotions that avoids the temptation toward fifth-act monologues, and the even rarer film about Cold War paranoia that doesn't imagine it has all the answers. Taut, smart, and multifaceted.
Russell Gewirtz
Inside Man
Does this film expect us to take it as anything but Dog Day Afternoon redux? What could the writer be thinking, cutting away from a tense, lockdown situation to flash-forward interviews with the surviving hostages? Every time Inside Man seems to undercut its own generic templates, it reveals something richer and cleverer underneath. Playing the dozens with its genre, its predecessors, and its audience, it's a con game where everyone's a sucker, but there's pleasure and folksy camaraderie, not the usual archness and pessimism, in exposing just how much we failed to figure out.
Bernd Lange
Ever heard the one about the girl possessed by devils? Probably so, but probably not like this. Lange is meticulous in building a real case for his heroine's plight as a psycho-somatic projection; even better, he is uncommonly generous in assuming that an illness occasioned by youth, provincialism, sexual anxiety, and several forms of abandonment is just as serious as a spiritual haunting... although, when Hell finally breaks loose, it sure does feel like Hell.
Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's script for Half Nelson spun artful, incisive variations on the general theme of the teacher-student relationship. They avoided many of the usual tarpits of the standard addiciton narrative and the Liberal White Redeemer parable, and as a tale of intergenerational like (if not love), I prefer it to Lost in Translation or this year's Venus. If things didn't stall and fray so disappointingly in the last 20 minutes, just as my nominated scripts start adding layers of interest and implication, Half Nelson would certainly qualify for this list. Darren Aronofsky's screenplay for The Fountain might reduce to almost nothing if he weren't also directing it, but that shouldn't distract from the conceptual ambitions and the ardent, unafraid belief in clichés and conceits that are written right into the script.

Best Adapted Screenplay                
William Monahan
The Departed
Especially after a second viewing, one stops regretting that Sleepless in Seattle way in which The Departed keeps partitioning the two people we keep expecting to meet, and underplaying the central conceit of their mirrored and reciprocal deceptions. In fact, the screenplay stays remarkably (and entertainingly) true to its thematic colors, confounding our expectations of what is "central" and what is "peripheral" in its plot—particularly since Monahan never stops finding unexplored angles and untapped possibilities in his third- and fourth-level characters, all the way to the nasty end, and the next nasty end, and the next.
Bent Hamer &
Jim Stark

Alcoholics are never easy people to spend two hours of movie time with, especially since we rarely experience what Jules Winnfield once called their "moments of clarity" as anything beyond a fleeting, merry hiatus before the inevitable fall. How fresh and surprising, then, that Factotum keeps faith with its deliberately paced, anecdotal structure, sustaining its grasp of Henry Chianski's catastrophic personhood while also finding the color, humor, and piquancy of his life: all of it inseparable from drink.
Eric Schlosser & Richard Linklater
Fast Food Nation
Fast Food Nation may not always have nailed the distinctions between expository prose and humanistic dialogue, and yet, Schlosser's gift for punchy fact and telling synthesis blended in surprising and variegated ways with Linklater's ear for rhythm, cadence, and vocabulary. The household chatter amongst Arquette, Johnson, and Arquette is nothing like the strained corporate euphemisms around Greg Kinnear's company, and Bruce Willis and Kris Kristofferson have lots to chew on in their discomfiting arias of, respectively, cruel pragmatism and weary outrage. Also, dropping Kinnear halfway through is brilliant.
Richard Linklater
A Scanner Darkly
I'm not sure that the Sabiston-trademarked rotoscope animation was the best way to capture Scanner's story, even if some of its key images and effects would not have been possible in any other medium. Still, Linklater holds tightly throughout his script to the dark trajectories and confusing irrealities of the plot. As funny as the movie often is (especially in the mouth of Robert Downey Jr.), the comedy never seizes pride of place over the central tragedy, and the conclusion is appropriately bleak.
Frank Cottrell Boyce
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Few literary adaptations have got nearly this strong a grasp of their source novels, especially a novel as dizzying and anarchic as Tristram Shandy. Nor do many screenwriters oblige themselves to keep making jokes out of the travesty they're making of the book (where's the Tristrapedia? where's the Widow Wadman?), nor do they alchemize the banalities of celebrity satire and movie-within-a-movie clichés into bright, shiny, revitalized humor. Nor do they do all of this in 95 minutes, and still find room for two great scenes with an upside-down man in a giant uterus.

Visuals & Editing

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki
Children of Men
When was the last time that a movie this rooted in despair avoided the cliché of super-saturated, high-contrast photography? It's already a measure of Lubezki's prepossessing intelligence and his refusals of the obvious that Children of Men has a peculiar beauty, even as the light has a flat, gray quality that bespeaks two more decades of environmental abuse and collective malaise. Shots as static as an emergency delivery or as simple as Clive Owen drifting off on a commuter train against a scarred, vandalized landscape are breathtakingly composed, to say nothing of the mind-blowing sequence shots that have made the movie famous. Occasionally, Children of Men is a little too mannered in its lensing (why are we looking at Kee through a hole in a shattered window?), but in a movie that so regularly combines technical brio, rigorous fusions of natural and artificial light sources, and evocative, properly downcast aesthetics, a little self-indulgence is worth a whole lot of jaw-dropping revelation.
Alain Marcoen
For filmmakers who prefer such direct, allegorical scenarios and who restrict dialogue to such a relative minimum, the brothers Dardenne have a stunningly novelistic sense of the camera, choreographing long, meticulous, handheld shots and a virtuosic command of focus and depth of field to draw us in and out of the competing subjective forcefields of various characters, and to endow their movies with a rigorous attention to both the solidity and temperature of the material world and the restless roils of interior life. As in the case of a writer like Thomas Hardy, but with much less ambivalence about the deep Christian structures organizing the world, the Dardennes and regular d.p. Alain Marcoen evoke a potent experience of the spiritual through their combined articulation of the physical plane, the tests of the soul, and the trials of social life, and though beauty rarely exists for its own sake in a film like L'Enfant (which is nonetheless more rapturous to observe than Rosetta or The Son), the rigorous tones and free-indirect expression of character are compelling, too, in their colors, contrasts, and compositions.
James Longley
Iraq in Fragments
One principle of cinematography that assumes even greater weight in a documentary film like Iraq in Fragments is the placement of the camera—its vantages in the world it purports to evoke or capture, and the intimacy it achieves with its subjects. From this perspective (so to speak), Iraq in Fragments is an almost unmitigated triumph: one quickly forgets, but one shouldn't, what miracles have been managed to encroach so closely and yet with such delicacy on the scolding of a small child by the uncle who employs him, or penetrating so far into the fervent bellicosity of Muktada al-Sadr's army of righteous avengers. How Longley insinuated himself into these worlds and achieved this footage is a story worth researching, but while you're watching Iraq in Fragments, the daunting heroism of the logistics recede beneath the potency of the images themselves, illuminated and framed with more emotional impact than most fiction films, which obviously allow much more controlled choreography. The colors and rough surfaces in all three shooting locations have been gorgeously coaxed onto the screen, and the juxtapositions of faces to landscapes, however self-consciously iconic in some cases, are absolutely resonant.
Lance Acord
Marie Antoinette
Take even a quick tour of Marie Antoinette's publicity photos and you'll notice how remarkably few shadows are allowed in the queen's world. The effect is by no means a resplendent consensus of joy and optimism, but a strong visual implication that Marie Antoinette's life admits no such thing as real privacy, and that despite the girlish palette and soft, sumptuous textures that surround her, she is pinioned like an entomological specimen into a world with almost zero depth. Even slight variations on this basic template assume enormous resonance in this movie, and as with every other aspect of her life, major changes assert themselves in the photography when the larger world riots against her in the closing passages. Still, even before the advent of those overt challenges to her happiness, the chronically underestimated Lance Acord finds just the right tones, colors, and distance to suggest her wistful loneliness, her youthful abandon, and her superficial grasp of her position, her universe. Sure, he accomplished something similar in Lost in Translation and in the insufficiently celebrated Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, but his lensing attains new levels of self-assurance and sophistication with each new project.
Mark Lee Ping-Bin
Three Times
Somehow, every color field in a Hou Hsiao-hsien movie, whether a garment or a wall or a lamp or a brocade, even the skin and hair of the actors, feels like its own source of sublime, translucent light. The heady pleasures of color, smoke, rain, felt, and casual, seductive movement are particularly well-evoked in the first, saucy segment of Three Times, where the delicious flirtations of the pool hall alternate with the melancholic shots of various roadsigns welcoming Chang Chen's returning soldier into a series of towns where Shu Qi's May will remain elusive. The middle segment adopts more antique, period-appropriate lighting schemes—proximate to those that Lee recently devised for Springtime in a Small Town—that flatter a whole range of rich, improbably coordinated colors within single shots. Still, in many ways, the apex of the photography in Three Times arrives for me in the final installment. Despite the impacted, frustrating contemporary narrative about a love triangle, "A Time for Youth" expands upon the experiments with neon, fluorescence, and compartmentalized spaces in Hou's Millennium Mambo. Lee also reprises the gorgeous simplicity of Mambo's prologue with the long coda of Three Times , as Chang and Shu ride his motorbike into an uncertain future... or do they? Perhaps they get left behind in their own moment, as a new "time" subsumes theirs. In moments like these, the pristine images augment the whispered intimations of the script and the editing.
For literary precision of focus, movement, and implied psychology, L'Enfant was nearly matched by Eric Gautier's careful work on Clean and Andrei Butica and Oleg Mutu's hospital-green and post-communist sepia compositions in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. For finely wrought and splendidly plotted lensing of a documentary that still exudes a heightened spontaneity, Ellen Kuras and the rest of her team on Dave Chappelle's Block Party deserve high accolades, perhaps as shouted through Dave's megaphone. Through the rendering of taut, compressed spaces and through its devilish play of waning light against menacing dark, The Descent, shot by Sam McCurdy, held me in a quite a grip. The verisimilitude of United 93 (shot, no surprise, by Ken Loach's right-hand man, Barry Ackroyd) and the operatic artifice of The Black Dahlia (a well-deserved Oscar nominee for Vilmos Zsigmond) represent pinnacle achievements of diametrically opposite kinds.

Best Film Editing
Luc Barnier
As observant and rigorously plotted as Eric Gautier's camera is, it's Luc Barnier's brilliant editing that really unveils the emotional substrata in Clean. The cutting is energetic and musically keen during that early club performance by the band Metric. (The film's musical enthusiasms, handled clumsily in the script, comes alive in the montage; Barnier even throws in some jump cuts to make the film seem eager for this concert.) Soon, the cutting gets dully combative as Lee's wife and manager fight over his contracts, but the editing keeps Lee himself in the scene, painting a sort of swan song for his love of rock, embodied in one quick, clipped insert of pure musical abandon, ending on the lyric, "I know you're trying to change things." Timing, rhythm, and expert management of character remain the signposts of Barnier's work, maintaining balance in some hugely loaded conversations (Cheung and Nolte in a fast-food joint, Cheung and McKellar in jail, Nolte and Henry in a hospital), accenting the sense of nervous peer-review underlying a billiards game between Cheung and Béatrice Dalle, or injecting a strange, lethargic note of defeatism in a scene where Cheung almost loses her son in a zoo. Nondiegetic cuts to belching factories work their own strange magic. Even subtle comedy is accommodated, particularly around Jeanne Balibar. Despite all of that internal variation, Clean never stops moving forward at the slow but steady clip of Cheung's hard-won resilience.
J.Buchanan, S.Flack, and J.Kirkpatrick
Dave Chappelle's Block Party
A trio of editors—including Sarah Flack, a frequent handmaiden for the films of Sofia Coppola and Steven Soderbergh—offer Block Party its invigorating, soul-caressing dual identity as both a discrete, fleeting event captured amidst its own unfolding and a kind of boisterous, spiritual koan that transcends the immediate moment, encompassing a place and a timespan that are hopefully bigger than one special Saturday on a Bed-Stuy intersection. Blending the musicians' backstage conversations into their onstage routines, without impeding the energy of the performances, is a pristine technical feat; even better, it dismantles the assumption that the concert itself is the climax of the film, making the music and what the artists say about their music and how the people respond to the music and the world in which this music participates into the simultaneous centerpieces of the film. Chappelle's ad libs and rehearsals ensure his pride of place, but Flack & Co. have honed in expertly on the nuggets of his jokes, so as not to pull focus too far or for too long from the other players, the distinctive architecture, the looming showers as they become actual rainfall. Swiftly juxtaposed low and high angles give the rappers and singers a potent, playful aura. The Wyclef coda is a quick, clean rapture. The subliminal interplay between daytime and night shots also lifts this documentary out of the realm of the linear and the pedestrian, carrying the movie to elevated ground, to the boombox of the spheres.
Thelma Schoonmaker
The Departed
Colin Sullivan's passage from childhood into adulthood is a brute, implacable thing, obviating almost every trace of that childhood beyond a few black pearls of Frank Costello's wisdom and guidance. Academy training is another perfunctory, accelerated process on the path toward a "real" life of nagging unreality—which is just as true for Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan. For both characters, as for most of their colleagues, life is lived as some sort of barreling, machinic forward march. When Colin steps outside of that parade, he's slick but sweaty, as in his dinner date with Vera Farmiga; when Billy steps out, he's slowly and roundly humiliated, either by Mark Wahlberg's blistering detective or Kevin Corrigan's embarrassment of a cousin. The actors know these things, but they're occasionally called away to emphasize some other story-point, so it's Thelma Schoonmaker's job to maintain the lay of the land, a rugged mix of cruelty and excitement. She also lets a few scenes blur uneasily together, without banally overstating the movie's themes of slippage and structural breakdown. The freeze-frames during the big shoot-out work ingeniously well, as does the silent, slow spectacle of Martin Sheen's big fall. Every time Schoonmaker calls attention to herself, she scores a slam-dunk, but she's working just as hard with those fleet, carefully timed cuts that keep the movie rolling, and keep every character visible, and every performance indelible.
Anna Boden
Half Nelson
Half Nelson attempts a tricky perspectival "voice," penetrating pretty far into the subjective realities of Gosling's druggy highs and lows and Epps' closely guarded reticence, but still assessing them both from a delicately suggested critical distance. Credit first-time director Ryan Fleck for eliciting performances that allow for so much rewarding observation, but co-writer Anna Boden makes it all work beautifully in the editing. She nails the simultaneous frenzy and longeurs of a classroom run by an exciting but feckless neophyte, and inhabited by bored but not unmotivated students. Boden escapes drug-movie clichés by refusing exact correspondences—sometimes the film is manic when Gosling isn't, and vice versa—and she shows tremendous, film-enriching generosity to the second- and third-tier characters by sneaking in some point-of-view shots. When an old girlfriend shows up at Gosling's basketball game, the camera observes him in a subtly new way: attractive but evasive, and antsy. When Anthony Mackie starts circling Shareeka Epps, Boden often opts for wide shots, to emphasize the warm, familiar interplay within scenes that might otherwise seem too obviously dangerous. Archival footage bursts into the movie at odd intervals, but they fit into Half Nelson's sense of political currents that affect our intimate lives without our ever truly digesting them. A shame about the listless and protracted ending (endings, really), but sterling work up until that point.
Kelly Reichardt
Old Joy
Edits become unusually important in a film with so little dialogue, with a strong proclivity toward natural lighting, and with greater investments in atmosphere and impalpable essences than in literal information or fully known characters. Director Kelly Reichardt, serving as her own editor, makes efficient work of getting her leads into their car, and she lets the driving scenes continue long enough to evoke a mood, and to crystallize some timely fragments of radio conversation, but not so long that the film seems uninteresting as cinema. The barely visible montage obscures our sense of exactly when the pair gets lost, or even if they get lost, and both the hike and the sauna are immediately felt as small, pleasurable, infinitesimally tense dramas in themselves, rather than prologues to some other, more obvious narrative turn. The freeze-frame at the end, recalling the final shot of last year's similarly scaled Forty Shades of Blue, offers a wistful but firm punctuation to the story, and it holds a memory of Will Oldham's Kurt (our memory? his friend's?) just at the tactful moment before larger, disavowed truths such as Kurt's almost certain homelessness would seep into this story—this private episode that he, more than anyone, has proposed and inhabited as a respite from wider, more complicated realities. Old Joy constitutes lovely environmental filmmaking, as well as a keen, judicious translation of short-story poetics, without ever making a shrill show of the movie's own minimalism.
Editors are geniuses, and annoyingly under-celebrated. There are always too many editing jobs to praise in a given year: witness everything from the harrowing grind and fraught recesses of Children of Men to the creative, speed-racing hilarity of Crank to the gorgeously, thoughtfully matched shots of L'Enfant to the alternations between a claustrophobic cabin and a panicking, cavernous control room in United 93 to the succinct, silly, but literate comedy of Tristram Shandy to the ambitious, unusual montage of sight-gags, listless wanderings, and warring conjectures in Police Beat. Still, even with all those fine runners-up, the most distinguished contenders that didn't quite make the final cut (as it were!) are INLAND EMPIRE, for its bold disruption of spatial cerrtainties and layers of psychic projections, and The Good Shepherd, for its slow, sour, determinedly oblique take on Cold War espionage, and on an entire culture of profound alienation. David Lynch, in an atypical move for him, assumes editing duties for himself on EMPIRE; Tariq Anwar is the disciplined architect of Shepherd.

Best Art Direction/ Production Design
Jim Clay & Geoffrey Kirkland
Children of Men
A prodigious and bleakly plausible world of the near future, with stubborn signs of life holding on amidst a sea of debris and waste. Squadrons of guards and sizzling gates work to divide the roiling chaos from the outright anarchy. That's as good as it gets—but it's fascinating to observe.
Simon Bowles
The Descent
When is The Descent scariest: when it's a nail-biting excursion into musty, claustrophobic spaces or when it turns out those caves are an unholy inn for a whole pack of carnivorous guests? The ingenious set design, using stunningly few actual locations, elicits every possible form of fright, without turning campy.
Ed Verreaux
Monster House
The premise seems inane, but then the cleverly drawn kids draw you into the story, then the house starts showing its true, snarling colors. By the end, every prop, backdrop, and character merges graphic delight with tonal sophistication. Plays well to kids, but not only to kids.
Eugenio Caballero
Pan's Labyrinth
From the winding roads to the topiary maze to the goopy mud to the creaking, shadowy house, the above-ground world is richly colored and textured... and that's even before we meet the peculiar, discomfiting faun, the warped tree with its giant roots, the cannibal's lair, the russet-colored catacombs. A sticky surfeit of juvenile projections, battling with a wintry palette of grown-up cruelty and desperation.
William Sandell
One of many shining virtues of this unfairly ignored blockbuster (along with John Seale's bright, well-framed photography) was the resplendent tackiness of the cruise ship, which morphs into a smartly mounted obstacle course of water, wires, cables, railings, portholes, and wreckage.
Runners-Up: The funny, unsettling production design was the only aspect of Art School Confidential that was wicked in a good way, instead of just crass and misanthropic. Drawing Restraint 9 and The Fountain scored with their mashups and fact and fancy, as did the best scenes and sets in Fur: An Imaginative Portrait of Diane Arbus. The Prestige showed its seams a little, and Three Times got a little drunk on itself, but they both impressed.
Best Costume Design
Patricia Field
The Devil Wears Prada
If I were a Project Runway judge (and who among us isn't?), I might have bounced a few of Anne Hathaway's more severe black-on-black ensembles, and almost no one in the cast escapes without a tacky do or two. But that's also what I love about the Prada costumes: they ask the viewer to judge and debate them, instead of just deride them, as a dumber, lazier movie would have allowed.
Matthew Barney
Restraint 9
No one who has seen the Cremaster movies, or even the Drawing Restraint website, will doubt Barney's gift with unexpected shapes, clashes of cultures and textures, and bizarre melds of the elfin and the mass-industrial. The ornate, layered elements of hides, fur, shells, seaweed, and alien jewelry were baffling, satisfying art installations in and of themselves.
Sharen Davis
The songs don't always rhyme with their intended eras, and the sets have that standard John Myhre problem of cutting lots of corners while pretending to look opulent. But the costumes are above reproach, evoking multiple epochs and idioms, while also playing gladly into the delicious dress-up fantasia that's elemental to the piece.
Michael Wilkinson
Friends with Money
Modern daywear might be Oscar's biggest blindspot, which is a shame, given how much character information a good designer can express through the cuts, colors, styles, and class associations of a film's wardrobe. The thrift-store hipsterism of Friends' self-deprecating millionaires and the sleek self-stylings of their men filled in an incredible amount about Holofcener's large cast. (Casual Dept. runner-up: Little Miss Sunshine)
Milena Canonero
Marie Antoinette
By contrast to Friends with Money, Marie Antoinette sewed up its Oscar nod in the first, wordless scene. But Canonero (Titus, Barry Lyndon) is never one to blindly recycle the past, and here, she answers a rich invitation to play up the sauciness, the perversity, and the sartorial fun of being obscenely, arrogantly rich, with blissful fidelity to Sofia Coppola's point of view.

Best Visual Effects                
The Fountain Sometimes necessity really is the mother of invention, and though I'll always wonder what Aronofsky could have made with all that money Warner Bros. wasted on Ant Bully and Lady in the Water, The Fountain makes glorious, shimmering use of low-fi photographic effects, superimpositions, wire and matte work, thrifty and nifty model sets, camera trickery, and digital embellishment. For a movie that's all about reaching high and low, the range of effects is as crucial and impressive as their beauty; the decision to use microscopic images as the basic for galactic panoramas as an ingenious thematic rhyme that pays huge visual dividends.
Mission: Impossible III For once, a summer blockbuster eschews the temptation to show us Things We've Never Seen Before and devotes itself instead to a terrific, kinetic proficiency with old reliables like helicopters, crazy stunts, and big fireballs. It helps that J.J. Abrams films these spectacles as though they really matter to his characters and his film.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Would that Pirates had any of M:I-3's verve, to say nothing of The Fountain's soul and ambition, but you still can't fault the F/X team that made Davey Jones' writhing, tentacled face the hottest seat of movement and action in the entire film. I dimly recall someone with barnacles all over the side of his face, and though I can't imagine who this was or why he was talking (I doubt I even understood it at the time), I marveled at the image. Extra points for ghost ships and what Joe Bob Briggs might have called "Kraken Fu."

Best Makeup                
The Notorious Bettie Page No one's doubting that Gretchen Mol looks splendid, ready, and willing, but you don't get skin that perfect or images that flattering without smart, self-concealing cosmetics. The period work on all of the characters—Sarah Paulson's Miami photographer, Lili Taylor's urban dame, Jonathan Woodward's honest joe, Cara Seymour's seen-it-all model—is exacting and attractive, without being too "pretty." And Mol, who's no dead ringer for Bettie, suddenly is, without looking fussed over.
Pan's Labyrinth The ghoul at the table. Say what you will about the other terrific makeup in the movie (the gradual sallowing of the doomed mother, the ghastly prosthetic that allows Sergi López to sew his own cheek back together), but as with any discussion of Pan's Labyrinth, the talk eventually drifts back to that saggy, eyeless troll splaying his talons at his banquet table. It's an indelible image, crystallizing the movie better than any scene in the script.
Running with Scissors I met Joseph Cross the night I saw Running with Scissors, and he doesn't look nearly as refined, as fragile, as he did (indeed, needed to) in the movie. Nor does Brian Cox look so comically pompous (yet believable), nor Jill Clayburgh so pathetically careworn (yet believable). Annette Bening's gallery of looks, stretching from the cheeky to the addled to the frightening, are carefully assembled and character-specific. Good shows, all around.
Runners-Up: The Devil Wears Prada is hard to leave out of this race, although the mess that is Simon Baker's face does tug away a little at the glories of Meryl's hair and Emily's eye shadow. Judi Dench's hair and makeup in Notes on a Scandal offer a stunning encapsulation of the character, and the department didn't do badly by Cate Blanchett, either. I concede that Apocalypto makes such a strong graphic impression that it's hard to ignore, but where's the degree of difficulty in this level of mad conjecture, or in such distracting, focus-pulling detail?

Sound & Music

Best Sound
Children of Men Is there a support group for people who worked on Children of Men? The sound team did powerful justice to the movie, blending urban warfare, tense seclusion, quick, idiosyncratic accents, and loaded musical quotations ("Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima"). If you don't slit your wrists listening to this, you're bound to be hugely impressed.
The Departed The brash songs and blaring volume fused energy and vulgarity, in perfect keeping with the script and the direction. I love that Howard Shore tango, weaving into a movie full of gun blasts, cell phones, and sickening thuds, and the sound overlaps from scene to scene imparted terrific momentum and eerie echo-effects.
INLAND EMPIRE Is anything less surprising than a haunting, precise, and unusual sound design in a David Lynch movie? From the retreating footsteps of unseen spies to the flat pitch of the dialogue to the loud, ragged rips in the world's fiber, everything here haunts the ear as well as the eye.
Miami Vice The visuals in Miami Vice felt inchoate, too high-concept, but the audio effects keep bringing the movie to literally arresting life. By a similar token, even when the actors couldn't hook into the emotional life of the script, the soundtrack's oscillations between colorful fullness and gaping emptiness bore a mournful affect of its own.
Syndromes and a Century Eventually, Thai wunderkind Apichatpong may need to learn some new tricks, but for now, I'm still jazzed by his tweetering jungles, his bashful karaoke tracks, and the faraway hum inside his clinics and offices. Extra points for that dull roar of air through that vacuum-duct at the end, somehow summing up all the moods and even the ideas about time and space in the film.
Best Original Score
Mark Isham
The Black Dahlia
The opening and final third of the movie are more richly scored than the middle, but what would a De Palma movie be without wild variations in tone, theme, and refinement? When Isham's music is good, it's good in just the right way: nervy, moody, rabid and self-indulgent in its sadness.
Björk, Matthew Barney, and Valgeir Sigurðsson
Drawing Restraint 9
The whole film is a study in tensions: within the images, within the soundscape, and between the two. Björk melds Nordic, Eastern, and Martian influences almost as memorably as she did on that Homogenic cover art.
Clint Mansell
The Fountain
Play the CD out of context of the movie, and it can sound a little airy and familiar in its mood-rock tropes. Still, within the film, the low, slow refrains capture the swings and falls of a profound love, varying wildly in pitch, pace, and instrumentation, but distilled gorgeously in the major themes. Music that strikes at the brain, streams through the heart, and reaches for the stars.
Bruce Fowler & Marcelo Zarvos
The Good Shepherd
I don't remember any music underneath any of the dialogue in The Good Shepherd; the movie refuses to help you through its oblique, staccato conversations, but the broody, minimalist score creeps into the film's cracks and interludes, evoking dark emotions that the film mostly (and necessarily) suppresses.
Alexandre Desplat
The Painted Veil
Desplat is one of the few modern composers (Wojciech Kilar is another) who seems to the symphony born, but who still marshals his gifts and compresses his effects perfectly for the scale of a film score. Veil's music, like its characters, is uncommonly pretty and ambitious, finding intimate notes within big, historical canvases.
Runners-Up: I didn't go in for Curse of the Golden Flower, but Shigeru Umebayashi is a resonant, gripping composer, without recycling himself quite so much as Tan Dun tends to do. Speaking of bad films with good music, I didn't much like what the director did with tomandandy's schizo riffs in The Hills Have Eyes, but I loved the creativity and suggestive power of their approach.

Best Song Score/ Adaptation Score
Clean Songs adhere to the film's rough, understated aesthetic and its multinational idioms, while subtly underlining character points. Bonus: Maggie Cheung's songs are only modest achievements and don't oversell the character's unproven abilities.
Down in the Valley Peter Salett and Mazzy Star (name-checked in Clean) feed the plaintive, elegiac tone of this not-quite-love story. Tart use of Patsy Cline, too, plus Norton and Morse covering Hank Williams.
Miami Vice Brilliant combo of techno, Latin, R&B, and rock evokes a complex, sophisticated South Florida. Standout tracks: Patti LaBelle's update on Moby's "One of These Mornings," that perfectly Mann-ish remake of "In the Air Tonight," and one of two superb 2006 interpolations of Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" (see also: INLAND EMPIRE).
A Prairie Home Companion You can practically hear Robert Altman chuckling behind the camera during Woody & John's "Bad Jokes," and digging the sass of Jearlyn Steele. Bonus: Meryl, as ever, gliding between hokum and lovely sincerity on "Goodbye to My Mama" and on "My Minnesota Home," a direct reply to Ronee Blakley's "Idaho Home" in Nashville.
Shortbus Bubbly, distinctive tracks by Scott Matthew ("Surgery"), Jay Brannan ("Soda Shop"), and Azure Ray ("If You Fall") distill the charm and the rueful undertones of the movie when it's working best. Bonus: Opening the movie on Anita O'Day.
Runners-Up: Dave Chappelle's Block Party and Shut Up & Sing both came equipped with ready-made and hard-to-beat soundtracks. Three Times might have overplayed its shimmering '60s pop, but the tunes were still deftly chosen. Half Nelson and Two Drifters picked eclectic, pertly modified tracks.
Best Sound Effects
Children of Men The naturalism of the sound elements lend credibility to a production design that might otherwise have felt too conceptual or rhetorical. The precisely timed explosions and gun blasts are harrowing, as is a sputtering car engine, the smashing of a windshield, and even, in its way, the fleeting bucolic respite of a chirping glade.
Crank Expanding perpetually and with wonderful wit on the ridiculous premise, Crank's sound effects work in tandem with the jokey camera angles to ricochet us back and forth between a heartbeat in hyperdrive and the precipice of catatonia and collapse. Love that sizzling waffle-iron.
Miami Vice How many gunshots have I heard at the movies, and why have they never sounded this rude and stentorian? How many gadgets, computers, speedboats, sirens, fuzzy phones, and jumpin' clubs can Michael Mann squeeze into a movie, and still make an impression with each one?
Mission: Impossible III As with the rest of the movie, M:I-3 may not have broken new ground, but the professionalism, consistency, and integration of its sound effects made for a whipping good time. The screams of that low-flying jet gave great you-are-there bangs for our buck.
World Trade Center World Trade Center seemed unsure of where to take its story or how to connect the worlds inside and beneath the towers and that of the horrified families and onlookers. Its most lasting impact, though, was in the sonic evocation of the buildings' moaning demise. Is this the sound of a falling structure or of something awful, rumbling up from beneath the earth? You can't blame the Cage and Peña characters for failing to tell the difference.

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