Bright Lights Film Journal

Has the Academy Finally Grown Up?

Like everyone else who follows the film business, I assumed the lightly likeable Dreamgirls was a shoo-in to be nominated for Best Picture, and that it was the candidate most likely to win the Oscar in that category, following the footsteps of past Best Picture winners like Chicago, Oliver!, etc.

For the record, my choices for the three best films of 2006 were, in any order you prefer, Letters From Iwo Jima (above), Children of Men, and Inland Empire. (Confession: I have not seen The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a film which has topped many respected critics’ lists.) Challenging, compassionate films that reflect a filmmaker’s personal vision. I did not expect any of them to be nominated, except possibly in the craft categories.

Ergo, like everyone else, I was stunned when the Academy snubbed Dreamgirls in the Best Picture category, even more surprised to see Letters From Iwo Jima nominated for Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Original Screenplay, and delighted to see my dark horse favorite Children of Men recognized for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing. The five nominees for Best Picture are Babel, The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen, all of them respectable candidates, if not necessarily my personal favorites. I was also happily surprised to see the Academy did not award a Best Picture nomination to Paul Greengrass’s pseudodocumentary version of Snakes on a Plane. (Greengrass is nominated in the Best Directing category, but Academy voters are more likely to favor Marty or Clint.)

Even in the Best Documentary category, usually one of the biggest embarrassments, the Academy was smart enough this year to acknowledge An Inconvenient Truth, Iraq in Fragments, and Jesus Camp. For once, the Oscars may really mean something.

For a complete list of the nominations, go here.