Celebrating the best of '06 stage, screen

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NEW YORK -- The six great treats of the Broadway season in 2006: "The History Boys," "Grey Gardens," "Sweeney Todd," "Awake and Sing!" "The Pajama Game" (primarily because of the unexpected impact of Harry Connick Jr.) and "The Drowsy Chaperone." The toughest to take: the musicalized "Tarzan." The most unnecessarily maligned: "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" and Julia Roberts in "Three Days of Rain." ... The movies I liked best are, in no particular order, "Wordplay" (who would think a documentary about crossword puzzle solvers could be so witty and entertaining?); "Babel," which features the best screen work by anyone this year from the amazing Adriana Barraza as a Mexican baby-sitter caught in a nightmarish border hell; "The Queen," a triumph not only for those rightfully getting accolades for it -- Helen Mirren, screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Stephen Frears -- but also because of Michael Sheen, who plays Tony Blair so impeccably, which also adds great interest to the fact that Sheen is Broadway bound in '07 as TV interviewer David Frost in Morgan's "Frost/Nixon" after that play's current West End success; "Little Children" because of its cinematic punch to the senses and the great work by Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley. Also high on my list: Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and Nicholas Hytner's "The History Boys." The most thoroughly entertaining film I saw all year was "The Illusionist"; "Little Miss Sunshine" was the best feel-good movie, marred only by a not-so-satisfiying ending; "For Your Consideration" is in my top 10 if only because any year is better when Christopher Guest and his madcap stock company come up with something new to tickle the funny bone, especially when Catherine O'Hara gets such a tour de force role to savor. ... Moviewise, it was a year also enriched by remarkable double-headers: "History Boys" on Broadway and on film, both towering triumphs, both filled with fresh faces, dazzling words and ideas from its playwright and screenwriter Alan Bennett; Matt Damon in "Departed" and "The Good Shepherd," each of his performances giving ample proof why directors the caliber of Scorsese and Robert De Niro would pick Damon to star in pet projects; Judi Dench in "Casino Royale" and "Notes on a Scandal," which seems a perfect place for any actress to find herself in, doing a high-profile smash like the Bond movie one day and a gutsy, demanding role as in "Notes" the next; the no-longer-boyish Leonardo DiCaprio in "Departed" and "Blood Diamond," every bit the inventive, mature and mesmerizing actor at 32 we hoped he would become when we saw him at age 18 in "This Boy's Life" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape"; finally, Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima," the most ambitious double whammy anyone has ever attempted in Hollywood. There also was one awesome triple whammy: Meryl Streep onscreen in "A Prairie Home Companion" and "The Devil Wears Prada" and onstage in "Mother Courage," a further testament -- not that we need one at this point -- to the amazing range, power and brilliance of our best American actress.
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