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Blockbusters, ‘Dreamgirls’ off Oscar’s list

Late last year, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” became the third film in history to top $1 billion at the worldwide box office. But it won’t be following the first one (“Titanic”) or the second (“Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”) to Oscar glory Feb. 25.
/ Source: contributor

Late last year, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” became the third film in history to top $1 billion at the worldwide box office. But it won’t be following the first one (“Titanic”) or the second (“Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”) to Oscar glory Feb. 25.

Each of its predecessors won 11 Academy Awards, including best picture, but “Dead Man’s Chest” isn’t in the running at all for that award. It’s most likely to score only in the special-effects department.

Instead, the Academy is bestowing its most important nominations on a multi-lingual box-office disappointment (“Babel”), a road comedy that became 2006’s biggest Sundance Film Festival success (“Little Miss Sunshine”), a crime drama that has turned out to be Martin Scorsese’s top-grossing film (“The Departed”), a Clint Eastwood-directed war movie that is only now going into general release (“Letters From Iwo Jima”), and a slow-building British-monarchy drama that has yet to break through to a large American audience (“The Queen”).

The most nominations (eight) went to “Dreamgirls,” but three of those are for best song — and it was shut out of the best-picture race. This happens rarely enough that you’d have to go back several decades for a comparable situation, when “Hud” (1963) and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969) each earned several key nominations but failed to land in the best-picture contest.

While there were few surprises in the acting categories, which are almost identical to the Screen Actors Guild nominations, Ben Affleck did fail to earn a nomination for his work as the 1950s Superman, George Reeves, in “Hollywoodland,” and Michael Sheen was passed over for his impersonation of Tony Blair in “The Queen.” Affleck won a Venice Film Festival prize for his work, and Sheen was named best supporting actor by the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Association.

Also among the missing are such notable performers as Annette Bening (“Running With Scissors”), Brad Pitt (“Babel”), Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”), Naomi Watts (“The Painted Veil”), Steve Carell (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Charlotte Rampling (“Heading South”) and Laura Dern (“Inland Empire”). Several actors were expected to score for “The Departed,” including DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, but only Mark Wahlberg made the cut.

In the crowded field for best director, the missing include Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”), Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), David Lynch (“Inland Empire”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men”).

“Apocalypto”The year’s top-grossing foreign-language film, with more than $50 million in the till to date, Mel Gibson’s bloody Mayan adventure movie isn’t eligible in the foreign-film category, though it did earn nominations for makeup and sound editing. While it was shot in Mexico, it wasn’t produced by Mexico, so it’s essentially a film without a country in the Academy’s eyes.

When this version of the Truman Capote story opened last fall, many critics praised the performances of Toby Jones as Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee. Even though the movie told essentially the same story as 2005’s Oscar winner, “Capote,” there was talk of Academy nominations for Jones and Bullock, who has never earned better reviews. But the movie failed so completely at the box office that it figured in none of the year-end awards.

“Army of Shadows”
Some critics thought this engrossing French Resistance tale was the best film of 2006, even though it was made in 1969 and wasn’t shown in the United States until last year. It would seem that it has no place in the Academy’s awards, yet there was a precedent: Charles Chaplin’s “Limelight.” Barely released in 1952, thanks to blacklist-era Chaplin boycotts, it finally played Los Angeles in 1972, when it was nominated for best original score — and won.

Catherine O’Hara, “For Your Consideration”
Maggie Smith won an Oscar for playing an Oscar loser in “California Suite,” and Judy Garland lost an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner in “A Star Is Born.” But O’Hara hasn’t even been nominated for her daffy incarnation of an Oscar-obsessed actress in “For Your Consideration,” an Academy Awards spoof that follows her tempted character to the bitter end.

Gretchen Mol, “The Notorious Bettie Page”Mol played girlfriend roles in “Donnie Brasco” and “Rounders,” then demonstrated more range in “Cradle Will Rock” and the TV remake of “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Last year, she finally got her breakthrough role, playing a devout Tennessee Christian who saw nothing wrong with becoming one of Playboy’s first nudes. The movie isn’t much more than a sketch, but Mol’s uninhibited performance was not quite like anything we’ve seen before.

Daniel Craig, “Casino Royale”
Maybe no one’s ever mentioned “Oscar” and “007” in the same sentence before, but Craig’s overhaul of James Bond was so complete that it deserved some recognition. Perhaps more surprising is the film’s failure to earn nominations for best editing and cinematography.

“The Yacoubian Building”
The story of a gay newspaper editor living in Cairo, Egypt’s entry in the foreign-film race was a surprise blockbuster in a country that is widely regarded as homophobic. Also eligible but missing from the foreign-film competition are Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver” (Spain), Zhang Yimou’s “Curse of the Golden Flower” (China), Jan Svankmajer’s “Lunacy” (Czech Republic), Aki Kaurismaki’s “Lights in the Dusk” (Finland), and Paul Verhoeven’s popular Dutch entry, “Black Book.”

“51 Birch Street”
Left out of the most competitive documentary competition in memory was this devastating tale of a family discovering its true identity. Also missing from the non-fiction category are “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing,” “The Road to Guantanamo” and “The Trials of Darryl Hunt.”

None of them made a dime. That doesn’t mean that those who saw them are likely to forget them. In the long run, “Dead Man’s Chest” may not hold on to its distinction as the 2006 movie that made the biggest impression. While it made Disney’s shareholders happy, it’s likely to fade as memories of more substantial movies gain force.

And when those dollars are adjusted for inflation, and actual ticket sales are counted, the second “Pirates” doesn’t come close to toppling such all-time blockbusters as “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars,” which are still No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of the number of tickets sold. When inflation is considered, according to Box Office Mojo, “Dead Man’s Chest” is only No. 44 on the all-time list of box-office attractions.