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Martin Scorsese, Helen Mirren: Chicago Film Critics Winners

With nine nominations, including Best Film and Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Babel seems to be the Chicago Film Critics Association's favorite 2006 flick.

Among the other multiple nominees are The Departed and The Queen, both of which are in the running for Best Film and Best Director (Martin Scorsese and Stephen Frears, respectively).

The two biggest surprises among the Chicago critics' list were the inclusion of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gavin Hood's Tsotsi.

There are six nominees for the Best Actress slot — I'm assuming that's how Gyllenhaal was able to sneak in for her performance as an ex-con who discovers motherhood in the little-seen Sherrybaby. She has also been nominated for a Best Actress - Drama Golden Globe, and was up for a Satellite Award in the same category (she lost to, who else, Helen Mirren in The Queen). Additionally, Gyllenhaal has won Best Actress awards at festivals in Karlovy Vary and Stockholm.

Tsotsi (2005) by Gavin Hood, with Presley Chweneyagae, Terry PhetoAs for Tsotsi, the Academy Award-winning South African social drama about a thug and a baby has thus far been thoroughly ignored by U.S. critics' groups. (Tsotsi, however, could use some publicity. The film was hardly a major hit on U.S. shores, earning only about US$3 million. But it's already won an Oscar, so why bother? Critics want to predict the future, not reiterate the past.)

Letters from Iwo Jima and Apocalypto, for their part, continue to receive nominations in the Best Foreign Language Film category, a great way to keep as many awards as possible within the Hollywood circle.

And that brings me to the use — or uselessness — of film award nominations. In addition to working as a self-promotional tool, those nominations can be useful if they call attention to deserving movies and individuals that would generally be ignored by the media and the public. When it comes to U.S. film critics, however, nods for little-known talent are rare. This year, apart from a handful of unusual acknowledgments — e.g., the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's choice for Best Supporting Actress, Luminita Gheorghiu for the Romanian comedy-drama Moartea domnului Lazarescu / The Death of Mr. Lazarescu — only the San Diego Film Critics Society has dared to take a step away from mainstream groupthink for several of their top choices.

Most film critics' groups don't have that much to lose if they opt for the unconventional. Since it's not as if the planet — or even Chicago — is baiting its breath waiting for the results of the Chicago critics' picks for 2006, it's both disheartening and irritating that instead of using their brief media spotlight to help lift deserving films out of obscurity, those film critics have made safe choices that will (they hope) label them accurate Oscar prognosticators.

The Chicago winners — can we wait that long? — will be announced on Dec. 28.

The 19th Chicago Film Critics Association Award nominations were announced on December 19, 2006. The 19th Chicago Film Critics Association Award winners were announced on December 28, 2006.

Best Picture
* The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen
United 93

Best Foreign Language Film
* Letters from Iwo Jima
Pan's Labyrinth

Best Director
Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears for The Queen
Paul Greengrass for United 93
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
* Martin Scorsese for The Departed

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Departed
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole for Venus
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness
* Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland

Best Actress
Penélope Cruz for Volver
Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby
* Helen Mirren for The Queen
Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet for Little Children

Best Supporting Actor
Ben Affleck for Hollywoodland
* Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson for The Departed
Brad Pitt for Babel
Michael Sheen for The Queen

Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza for Babel
Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine
Toni Collette for Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
* Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

Best Original Screenplay
Babel — Guillermo Arriaga
Letters from Iwo Jima –Iris Yamashita
Little Miss Sunshine — Michael Arndt
* The Queen — Peter Morgan
United 93 — Paul Greengrass

Best Adapted Screenplay
* The Departed — William Monahan
Little Children — Todd Field & Tom Perrotta
Notes on a Scandal — Patrick Marber
A Prairie Home Companion — Garrison Keillor
Thank You for Smoking — Jason Reitman

Best Cinematography
Babel — Rodrigo Prieto
* Children of Men — Emmanuel Lubezki
The Departed – Michael Ballhaus
The Fountain — Matthew Libatique
Letters from Iwo Jima — Tom Stern

Best Original Score
Babel — Gustavo Santaolalla
* The Fountain — Clint Mansell
Letters from Iwo Jima — Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
Notes on a Scandal – Philip Glass
The Queen — Alexandre Desplat

Best Documentary
Deliver Us from Evil
* An Inconvenient Truth
Jesus Camp
Shut Up & Sing

Most Promising Performer
Ivana Baquero for Pan's Labyrinth
* Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Shareeka Epps for Half Nelson
Rinko Kikuchi for Babel
Keke Palmer for Akeelah and the Bee

Most Promising Director
* Rian Johnson for Brick
Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris for Little Miss Sunshine
Gil Kenan for Monster House
Jason Reitman Thank You for Smoking
James McTeigue for V for Vendetta

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