Romanian Actress + Suburban Emma Bovary & 1969 French WWII Drama: Critics' Surprises

by S. Montgomery
Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu The Death of Mr. Lazarescu: L.A. Film Critics surprise winnerRomanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu with Ion Fiscuteanu. The Los Angeles Film Critics Awards' most surprising winner was veteran Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu, selected as the year's Best Supporting Actress for her work in Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Gheorghiu has been a luminary on her native country's stage since the early 1970s, appearing in plays ranging from Pirandello's The Giants of the Mountain and Chekhov's Three Sisters to Molière's Tartuffe and George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession.

Los Angeles Film Critics Awards: Romanian actress is biggest surprise

The most “interesting” winner at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, announced on Dec. 9, was veteran Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu, who plays a nurse assisting a sick elderly man (Ion Fiscuteanu) in Cristi Puiu's enthusiastically received, three-hour-long Romanian comedy-drama The Death of Mr. Lazarescu / Moartea domnului Lazarescu.

The Best Supporting Actress pick, Gheorghiu beat popular favorite Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), and bigger names like Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. Making her victory even more surprising is the fact that U.S. film critics only sporadically opt for performers in non-English-language productions. (See further below the full list of this year's Los Angeles Film Critics winners and runners-up.)

As a curious plus, one could easily visualize For Your Consideration co-star Catherine O'Hara, one of this year's top Best Supporting Actress contenders and the National Board of Review winner, going totally berserk because the L.A. Film Critics chose a Romanian actress instead of her. (In For Your Consideration, a French actress inadvertently pushes O'Hara's shoo-in Academy Award contender off both the Oscar shortlist and the deep end.)

Having said that, when it comes to the real-life Academy Awards, O'Hara has nothing to fear from her Romanian actress competitor. Gheorghiu's chances of landing a Best Supporting Actress nomination are all but nil.

January 2013 update: See also “L.A. Film Critics Awards: Foreign-Language Drama Wins Best Picture.”

WWII from the Japanese(-language) side + the Great Kazakh Hope

Besides Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu, other Los Angeles Film Critics winners include the following:

  • Best Film Letters from Iwo Jima, a World War II drama presenting the conflagration from the Japanese side – and with Japanese dialogue, to boot. Its director was English-speaking Hollywood icon and U.S. critics' fave Clint Eastwood.
  • Best Director Paul Greengrass for United 93, about the hijacking of one of the airplanes during the Sept. 11 '01 terrorist attacks. Eastwood was the runner-up for both Letters from Iwo Jima and its companion piece, Flags of Our Fathers.
  • Best Actress Helen Mirren for her widely acclaimed performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears' The Queen. Michael Sheen was voted Best Supporting Actor for playing disgraced British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
  • Best Actors – it was a tie – Forest Whitaker and, surprisingly, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen: the former for his portrayal of another political leader, unbalanced Uganda dictator Idi Amin Dada, in Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland; the latter for his performance as the intellectually challenged title character in Larry Charles' Borat - Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
  • Best Foreign Language Film The Lives of Others / Das Leben der Anderen Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's East Germany-set spy melodrama starring Ulrich Mühe as a Stasi spy, and Martina Gedeck and Sebastian Koch as two of his victims.
  • Career Achievement Award recipient Robert Mulligan, whose directorial credits include To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), Up the Down Staircase (1967), Summer of '42 (1971), Same Time Next Year (1978), and Kiss Me Goodbye (1982).

Frightening thought: Could Sacha Baron Cohen become the Roberto Benigni of the 2007 Academy Awards?

Immediately below is the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards list.

Los Angeles Film Critics winners & runners-up

Best Film: Letters from Iwo Jima.

Runners-up: The Queen. United 93. Army of Shadows / L'Armée des ombres.*

* A 1969 release in France, the Jean-Pierre Melville-directed, French Resistance-themed Army of Shadows – despite a cast that includes Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, and Jean-Pierre Cassel – reached U.S. screens only in 2006. It was the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Foreign Language Film of the year. See further below.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Lives of Others.

Runner-up: Volver, dir.: Pedro Almodóvar.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen.

Runners-up: Penélope Cruz, Volver. Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal. Kate Winslet, Little Children.

Best Actor (tie): Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, & Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland.

Runners-up: Peter O'Toole, Venus. Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson.

Best Supporting Actress: Luminita Gheorghiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.

Runners-up: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls. Cate Blanchett (no film specified)†; Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada. Frances de la Tour, The History Boys.

† Cate Blanchett's 2006 films were: Babel, Notes on a Scandal, and The Good German.

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Sheen, The Queen.

Runners-up: Sergi López, Pan's Labyrinth / El Laberinto del fauno. Mark Wahlberg, The Departed. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls.

Best Director: Paul Greengrass, United 93.

Runners-up: Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima. Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men.

Best Screenplay: Peter Morgan, The Queen.

Runners-up: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine. William Monahan, The Departed.

Best Documentary / Nonfiction Film: An Inconvenient Truth, dir.: Davis Guggenheim.

Runner-up: Darwin's Nightmare, dir.: Hubert Sauper.

Best Animated Feature: Happy Feet, dir.: George Miller.

Runner-up: Cars, dir.: John Lasseter & co-director Joe Ranft.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men.

Runner-up: Tom Stern, Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima.

Best Music Score: Alexandre Desplat, The Queen.

Runner-up: Thomas Newman, The Good German & Little Children.

Best Production Design: Eugenio Caballero, Pan's Labyrinth.

Runner-up: Jim Clay, Veronica Falzon & Geoffrey Kirkland, Children of Men.

Career Achievement Award: Robert Mulligan.

New Generation Award: Michael Arndt (screenwriter), Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (directors), Little Miss Sunshine.

Douglas Edwards Experimental / Independent Film / Video (tie): Old Joy, dir.: Kelly Reichardt, & In Between Days, dir.: So Yong Kim.

Special Citations: To Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film Army of Shadows, which had its U.S. premiere in 2006, and to Jonas Mekas for his career as a critic and filmmaker.

Army of Shadows Simone Signoret: French WWII drama is NY Film Critics' surprise winnerArmy of Shadows with Simone Signoret. The L.A. Film Critics' biggest surprise winner was Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu. As for the New York Film Critics Circle, their big shocker was Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 French Resistance drama Army of Shadows being selected the Best Foreign Language Film of 2006. How come? That's because – notwithstanding its stellar cast – Army of Shadows (original title: L'Armée des ombres) reached U.S. screens only this year.

1969 French WWII drama 'Army of Shadows' is New York Film Critics' Best Foreign Language Film of 2006

U.S. film critics continue to make several curious choices this awards season. First, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association selected veteran Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu as their Best Supporting Actress for The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen as their co-Best Actor (along with Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland)

Next, the New York Film Critics Circle, whose winners were announced on Dec. 10, came up with a Did they really? pick in the Best Foreign Language Film category: screenwriter-director Jean-Pierre Melville's somber 1969 French Resistance drama Army of Shadows / L'Armée des ombres, based on a novel by Joseph Kessel. Both Melville (born Jean-Pierre Grumbach) and Kessel were French Jews who joined the Resistance in 1941.

Although released in France nearly four decades ago, Army of Shadows had its U.S. debut only this year. In the cast:

Lino Ventura. Paul Meurisse. Jean-Pierre Cassel. Claude Mann. Serge Reggiani. Christian Barbier. Paul Crauchet. Jean-Marie Robain.

Best Actress Oscar winner Simone Signoret (Room at the Top, 1959).

Early Oscar favorites Helen Mirren & Forest Whitaker

Among this year's other New York Film Critics winners were:

  • Best Film United 93, Paul Greengrass' version of the events aboard the plane brought down on a Pennsylvania field in September 2001.
  • Best Actress – and already odds-on Oscar favorite – Helen Mirren for The Queen, which also earned Peter Morgan the Best Screenplay Award. Mirren had previously won an NYFCC Award in the Best Supporting Actress category, for Robert Altman's 2001 ensemble comedy-drama-mystery Gosford Park.
  • Best Actor Forest Whitaker, another odds-on Oscar favorite, for The Last King of Scotland.
  • Best Director Martin Scorsese, a New Yorker singled out for his handling of the (Boston-based) crime drama The Departed, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Vera Farmiga. Scorsese had previously won in 1990, for another – more realistic – crime drama, Goodfellas.

Clint Eastwood's World War II Japanese-language drama Letters from Iwo Jima, the top film at the 2006 National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards, showed up only once among the New York Film Critics' top three choices: Third place for Eastwood in the Best Director category.

'The Queen' vs. 'The Departed': New York Film Critics' curious 'compromise' winners

According to The Gold Derby, The Queen and The Departed were actually the New York Film Critics' two favorite movies of the year. However, as a result of their labyrinthine voting rules, United 93 ended up as their “compromise” winner.

Previous such “compromises” include:

See below the full list of this year's New York Film Critics winners and runners-up.

New York Film Critics winners & runners-up

Best Film: United 93.

Runners-up: The Queen. The Departed.

Best Foreign Language Film: Army of Shadows.

Runners-up: Volver. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed.

Runners-up: Stephen Frears, The Queen. Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen.

Runners-up: Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada.

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland.

Runners-up: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson. Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls.

Runners-up: Shareeka Epps, Half Nelson. Catherine O'Hara, For Your Consideration.

Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children.

Runners-up: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls. Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Screenplay: Peter Morgan, The Queen.

Runners-up: William Monahan, The Departed. Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth.

Runners-up: Zhao Xiaoding, Curse of the Golden Flower. Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men.

Best Non-Fiction Film: Deliver Us from Evil, dir.: Amy Berg.

Runners-up: 49 Up, dir.: Michael Apted. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. An Inconvenient Truth.

Best Animated Film: Happy Feet.

Runners-up: A Scanner Darkly, dir.: Richard Linklater. Cars.

Best First Film: Half Nelson, dir.: Ryan Fleck.

Runners-up: Little Miss Sunshine. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, dir.: Dito Montiel.

Emma Bovary Kate Winslet Little Children: Dark underbelly of Boston suburbEmma Bovary of American suburbia: Kate Winslet in Little Children. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Todd Field, this depiction of the dark underbelly of a well-to-do Boston suburb is reminiscent of suburbia/small-town literary and cinema classics – and not-so-classics – such as Kings Row, Peyton Place, The Restless Years, No Down Payment, A Summer Place, Blue Velvet, and American Beauty. The equivalent of the L.A. Film Critics' “Romanian actress surprise,” Little Children was the San Francisco Film Critics' Best Film.

San Francisco Film Critics' Best Film surprise

While Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's most curious pick, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's top unusual choice was its Best Film: Todd Field's Little Children.

An adult drama about suburban social repression and sexual hysteria, Little Children generally received positive reviews upon its limited release in the United States. Yet despite the presence of Kate Winslet as suburbia's Emma Bovary and Patrick Wilson as her adulterous lover, the film has failed to catch on with the moviegoing public.

In addition to its Best Film win, Little Children also earned former child actor Jackie Earle Haley (The Bad News Bears) the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of a convicted sex offender.

Sacha Baron Cohen strikes again

Among the other San Francisco Film Critics winners were:

  • Best Actress Helen Mirren for The Queen – as the veteran stage, film, and television actress continues to rule over this particular category.
  • Best Actor Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat – a victory that reportedly raised a few eyebrows within the Circle.
  • Best Supporting Actress Adriana Barraza, as the immigrant nanny in Alejandro González Iñárritu's multipronged Babel.
  • Best Director Paul Greengrass for United 93.
  • Best Foreign Language Film Pan's Labyrinth. Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Guillermo del Toro's Spanish-Mexican dark fantasy was also the selection of the Las Vegas (see further below), Boston, and Washington D.C. film critics.

And finally, Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu received a special citation.

Las Vegas Film Critics winners: No Romanian actress surprise

There were no Romanian actress or Little Children surprises among the Las Vegas Film Critics Society winners, but Gil Kenan's Monster House wasn't exactly a Best Animated Film shoo-in.

Among Las Vegas' usual suspects were Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Scorsese, and his Boston mafia thriller The Departed.

See also: “Australian Aborigines Tale Top AFI Awards + Heath Ledger & Rachel Griffiths.”

San Francisco Film Critics winners

Best Film: Little Children.

Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen.

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza, Babel.

Best Actor: Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat.

Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children.

Best Director: Paul Greengrass, United 93.

Best Original Screenplay: Rian Johnson, Brick.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Todd Field & Tom Perrotta, Little Children.

Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth.

Special Citation (for overlooked gems): The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.

Marlon Riggs Award (for local talent): Stephen Salmons, co-founder and artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
 

Las Vegas Film Critics winners

Best Film: The Departed.

Best Foreign Language Film: Pan's Labyrinth.

Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth.

Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen.

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland.

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls.

Best Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed.

Best Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Thank You for Smoking.

Best Animated Film: Monster House.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men.

Best Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Departed.

Best Score: Thomas Newman, The Good German.

Best Song: “Ordinary Miracle,” David Stewart & Glen Ballard, performed by Sarah McLachlan, Charlotte's Web.

Best Art Direction: Production designer K. Barrett; art directors Pierre Duboisberranger & Anne Seibel, Marie Antoinette.

Best Costume Design: Milena Canonero, Marie Antoinette.

Best Visual Effects: X-Men: The Last Stand.

Youth in Film Award: Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Family Film: Charlotte's Web, dir.: Gary Winick.

Best DVD:Superman Ultimate Collectors Edition.”

William Holden Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter O'Toole.

 
Los Angeles Film Critics Association website.

Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu and Ion Fiscuteanu The Death of Mr. Lazarescu image: Mandragora.

Simone Signoret Army of Shadows / L'Armée des ombres image: Rialto Pictures.

Kate Winslet Little Children image: New Line Cinema.

“Romanian Actress + Suburban Emma Bovary & 1969 French WWII Drama: Critics' Surprises” last updated in January 2019.

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