Does anyone now remember that Daniel Craig was supposed to be too blond and just not manly enough to play James Bond, at least according to some fan sites and tabloid newspapers? “Casino Royale” turned out to be a triumphant rebirth of the tired Bond franchise, with more grit, more blood, more passion and fewer gimmicks, jokes and gags. No Moneypenny, no Q, just brilliantly orchestrated action, drama with real heart, and proper acting by two proper actors, Craig and Eva Green. And Martin Campbell no longer seems like a conservative choice as director, either.
Variety said: “‘Casino Royale’ sees Bond recharged with fresh toughness and arrogance, along with balancing hints of sadism and humanity, just as the fabled series is reinvigorated by going back to basics.”
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
It’s testimony to the stature of director Kevin Macdonald’s dramatic debut that Forest Whitaker’s towering central performance as the Ugandan despot Idi Amin doesn’t dwarf the rest of the movie. Shot in Uganda itself for just $9 million, which brings a thrillingly rough and edgy feel to the movie, and beautifully lensed by Anthony Dod Mantle (who mysteriously failed to get a cinematography nod), this political thriller based on real events amply delivers on the promise of Macdonald’s award-winning docs “One Day in September” and “Touching the Void.”
Variety said: “Helmer Kevin Macdonald’s plunge into full-fledged dramatic filmmaking after the partial crossover from documentaries in ‘Touching the Void’ starts well, but trips over preposterous plot developments as it pushes toward its climax.”
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Adapted by Patrick Marber from Zoe Heller’s novel about the dysfunctional relationship between a pair of mixed-up schoolmarms in North London, “Notes on a Scandal” is a showcase for two powerhouse performances by two great actresses, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. That, along with rigorous Hollywood-style editing and scoring, elevates what might otherwise be a bog-standard Brit middle-class TV drama into true bigscreen entertainment.
Variety said: “A deviously entertaining account of one woman’s indiscretions as related by a not-so-disinterested third party … the riveting interplay between Dench and Blanchett draws bold with every scene, thanks to a precision-honed script and Eyre’s equally incisive directing.”
The year’s highest-grossing British film after “Casino Royale,” “The Queen” has swept critics and audiences away since its through-the-roof premiere at Venice in September. Reliving the backstage drama between Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street in the week after Princess Diana died, the alchemy between Peter Morgan’s script, Helen Mirren’s performance and Stephen Frears’ direction has created a global phenomenon, whipping up sympathy for Queen Elizabeth II and even reminding war-weary Brits that they once, not too long ago, liked and voted for Tony Blair.
Variety said: “Tradition and informality collide — and mutually benefit — in the deliciously written and expertly played ‘The Queen,’ (which) cheekily mixes on-the-nail perfs and doc footage into a witty and finally moving re-creation of a period that challenged both royals and pols.”
Perhaps “United 93” suffers in award season by being a film without actors of the recognized kind. Yet writer-director Paul Greengrass drew stunning authenticity out of his cast of pros and non-pros in re-creating the events of 9/11, using techniques of docudrama honed on his previous telepics “Bloody Sunday” and “The Murder of Stephen Lawrence.” In a hangar at Pinewood Studios, Greengrass ran the doomed United 93 flight through in real time, three times a day for seven days. The moment when the New York air traffic controllers see the second plane hit the second tower was the most heartstopping cinematic moment of 2006.
Variety said: “Taut, visceral and predictably gut-wrenching, ‘United 93’ trades in some emotional impact for authenticity, capturing the overwhelming sense of chaos surrounding the harrowing events of 9/11.”