The Academy Awards are the highest profile snapshot of what films are highly rated within 12 months of their release. What they can’t predict, however, is how well regarded their choices will age, and only time can tell you that. Which is why I thought it’d be interesting to go back a decade, and see how the winners of the 79th Academy Awards, handed out on Feb. 25 2007, stack up ten years on…
Best Picture: The Departed
Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen
At the time, there was a little bit of acceptance that The Departed would have a Scent of a Woman moment. Just as Al Pacino got rewarded for good work in a film that’s not his finest, The Departed was showered with perhaps more gifts than it warranted.
A remake of the admittedly superior Infernal Affairs, I’ve always been quite partial to The Departed while accepting that it’s not Goodfellas, and perhaps not The Wolf of Wall Street either. Yet the field it was up against wasn’t brimming with too many riches, which is worth acknowledging. Little Miss Sunshine is arguably the standout runner-up (Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima is rich, however, and a good few steps up from his subsequent American Sniper).
Some excellent films didn’t make the list, notably: Half Nelson, Venus, United 93, Little Children, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Apocalypto were all the same year. We’re going to come back to some of those.
Has The Departed stood the test of time though? About as well as the other nominees on the list.
Best Director: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel)Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima)Stephen Frears (The Queen)Paul Greengrass (United 93)
I watched these Oscars, and I think most of us who did cheered a little when Martin Scorsese got given his gong. As he acknowledged in his speech, he knew a lot of people wanted the prize for him. I suspect he got to the point where he wanted it himself, but when you’ve been overlooked for Taxi Driver, for Goodfellas, for Raging Bull, and for so many more, it’s easy to think your day is never going to come.
But it did, and few quarrel to this day about Scorsese’s direction of and work on The Departed, even if it doesn’t rank as his peak work. Of his fellow nominees, Inarritu’s day would come, twice as it happens, winning Best Director gongs for Birdman and The Revenant. Both, I’d argue, comfortably eclipse Babel, a film I barely hear anyone talk about anymore. I do think there was a strong case for what Paul Greengrass did with United 93, but the feeling of ‘too soon’ was prevalent in some people’s reaction to the film. I do think it’s a superb piece of work, and a decade on, it feels just as important as it did then.
The obvious snub on the nominee list is Guillermo del Toro, again for Pan’s Labyrinth. I’d argue if there’s one film in particular that’s stood the test of time since 2006, it’s that one…
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)
Leonardo Di Caprio (Blood Diamond)Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)Peter O’toole (Venus)Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
A shoo-in for the prize by the time the limos rolled up for the Oscars, Forest Whitaker’s career-best work as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland is something he’s not matched since. But that’s more down to the quality of what he did with that particular role, a genuine standout. Many of Whitaker’s choices since his Oscar have certainly been of note too, producing and backing Ryan Coogler’s breakthrough film, Fruitvale Station for one. 2016 also saw him in the sci-fi double header of Arrival and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Of the competition, the standouts there are Ryan Gosling’s extraordinary breakthrough in Half Nelson, and the last hurrah for Peter O’Toole in the wonderful Venus. The Pursuit Of Happyness marked the peak of Will Smith’s Oscar bait movies, incidentally, with the most recent, Collateral Beauty, not troubling Academy voters’ ballots. Just think: if someone had given him the prize back then, would he have swapped subsqeuent award-hunting for some better movies?
Best Actress: Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Penelope Cruz (Volver)Judi Dench (Notes On A Scandal)Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)Kate Winslet (Little Children)
The safest bet of the night was that Helen Mirren – next to be seen in Fast & Furious 9 – would be collecting Oscar gold for her performance in The Queen. And you’d have to say that it’s a performance that’s stood time’s test, too, with Mirren reprising the role on stage in The Audience, for which she won a Tony award in 2015. There’s a strong argument that her work in that specific role has endured as well as anything the Oscars rewarded in 2007.
That said, what a field she was up against. Talentless Meryl Streep bagging yet another nomination, Judi Dench’s spine-tingling turn in Notes on a Scandal, and Penelope Cruz on top form in Volver. Yet I’d argue that the best performance of the lot here, and I don’t say that lightly, was Kate Winslet’s. Little Woman is a very difficult, but stunning, piece of work, and Winslet is as good as she’s ever been in it. A standout movie, too.
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)
Another strong field this, and on the night, quite a surprise. Eddie Murphy was the pre-show favorite, and was rumored to be less than pleased when his name wasn’t read out. In fact, he was reported to have left the Kodak Theatre before the show had ended.
When Alan Arkin’s name was announced, it was a genuine surprise, although not an unwelcome one. And ten years on, the impact of Little Miss Sunshine hasn’t disappeared. Its creatives have landed juicy projects, and it’s still talked about as one of the handful of indie movies in recent years that’s broken out of the proverbial pack.
It’d be remiss not to nod to the others who missed out. Hounsou was excellent in Blood Diamond (as he was when he was overlooked for Amistad), while Mark Wahlberg stole scenes aplenty in The Departed (and showed that, on form, he can deliver a killer one-liner). Again, though, I can’t help but cite Little Children, and the work in this case of Jackie Earle Haley. A tough role, in a little seen film. But if you’ve seen it, you ain’t forgetting it…
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Adriana Barazza (Babel)Cate Blanchett (Notes On A Scandal)Abigal Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)
Another hot favorite, who duly walked away with an Oscar. Jennifer Hudson had a great story behind her exceptional performance in Dreamgirls, having come to prominence via American Idol. It’s just a pity that in recent years she hasn’t found acting roles to match her talents. She did after all just appear in, um, Cats.
Babel remains interesting. It’s not my favorite Inarritu film – Amores Perros was the one that really blew me away – but Babel does have plenty of merits. Not least the acting, reflected in the number of nods its performers attracted. Her, Adriana Barazza and Rinko Koikuchi inevitably split the vote, but their work doesn’t deserve to be forgotten about.
And the rest…
The Departed was the big winner at the 79th Oscars, but several other films have endured on top of those discussed already. Best animated feature and best documentary feature winners – Happy Feet and An Inconvenient Truth (the former winning George Miller Oscar gold) – have both gone on to have sequels. And Ennio Morricone’s honorary Oscar hasn’t stopped him working.
The two best films nominated, however, were in my view in the Best Foreign Language film category. Here Pan’s Labyrinth, which picked up a trio of Oscars elsewhere, actually lost out. But it lost to the stunning The Lives of Others, a film that haunts, I’d imagine, everyone who’s watched it, even if not that many seem to seek it out. A pity, as it’s something really very special, indeed.
del Toro meanwhile would have his moment a little over 10 years later when he won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for The Shape of Water.