Broadcast critics mark their votes

Their individual territories might be small, but Broadcast Film Critics Assn. voters still wield great influence when it comes to awards season.

Were it not for the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.'s annual Critics' Choice Awards, insists BFCA president Joey Berlin, the film industry would be a poorer, smaller place.

"Our job is to shine a spotlight on the best films our industry puts out," Berlin explains. "On the one hand, you're honoring those who have too much already -- but really, what we're doing is shining a spotlight on films which, if this spotlight didn't exist, otherwise might not get made. Popcorn movies will always get made. These are the finer films."

He might have a point. Friday's 12th annual Critics' Choice Awards, which will again take place at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, is comprised of 19 sections that run the usual gamut of categories: best picture, actor, etc. But the ceremony also includes bonus categories not present in many other awards programs, such as family film and young actor/actress, which enable the critics to showcase quality titles that have receded into the background of awards-season conversations for one reason or another, films such as Sony Pictures Classics' docu "Who Killed the Electric Car?" or Lionsgate's "Akeelah and the Bee."

Comprised of approximately 200 TV and radio reporters (membership isn't capped but doesn't increase much from year to year), the BFCA ranks spread out through nearly all 50 states. They are, in many cases, the local guy or gal to whom the vast midsection of the country looks for advice and guidance when trying to figure out where to spend movie dollars on any given weekend. An individual member's audience might be small, but they're part of the local community and have the trust of their viewership, something many big-name national critics never achieve.

The BFCA membership is strengthened by having an active -- and private -- message board attached to its Web site ( "We have a lot of fun debating internally who's eligible for what and who should be considered for what," Berlin says. "Everybody in our line of work gets swamped with screeners and invitations, and there's not enough time to do everything or see everything. So, the boards are important in helping to figure out, 'OK, I've got to make sure to stay up and watch these three movies tonight.'"

Such communication might be one of the reasons that the organization has such an excellent track record when it comes to predicting future Oscar winners. Last year, of the 20 Academy Award acting nominations, 19 were Critics' Choice nominees first, Berlin says, adding that many of the industry's biggest names are usually on hand for the Critics' Choice ceremony as well.

"Ours is the first (awards show) where the full field of nominees is present," Berlin says. "Traditionally, everybody comes to the show -- all of the executives and filmmakers and nominees are there -- and it's fun because there are only a couple times a year where these people actually get together like that.

"Our voters are a lot like Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) voters," he adds. "These are full-time professional people. We think about movies all year long."

This year, E! Entertainment Television is set to tape the ceremony and air it Jan. 20.

Following, three BFCA members reveal who they believe will win during Friday's gala.

Peter Howell
Movie critic, The Toronto Star/
Best Picture: "Letters From Iwo Jima"
Best Director: Martin Scorsese ("The Departed")
Best Actor: Ken Watanabe ("Letters From Iwo Jima")
Best Actress: Helen Mirren ("The Queen")
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson ("The Departed")
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls")
Best Acting Ensemble: "Little Miss Sunshine"
Best Writer: Peter Morgan ("The Queen")
Best Comedy: "Little Miss Sunshine"

Presumptions turned into horse races this year. Like many critics, I thought until recently that Clint Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers" (Paramount/DreamWorks) was a cinch for a nomination and likely win for both best picture and best director -- not just for Critics' Choice but all kinds of awards. I figured "Dreamgirls," "The Queen," "The Departed" and Paramount Vantage's "Babel" would be the major challengers, in roughly that order.

I thought Martin Scorsese might yet again get a head pat but no trophy. And Helen Mirren ("Queen") and Forest Whitaker (Fox Searchlight's "The Last King of Scotland") were locks for best actress and best actor.

But the uneven "Flags" failed to fly, and it has been supplanted by its far-superior companion piece "Letters From Iwo Jima," which I predict will go all the way to the Oscars. Ditto the outstanding performance by Ken Watanabe as the beleaguered Japanese general heading to certain defeat in World War II. Bad news for Whitaker, whose fiery portrayal of Gen. Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" made that movie seem a lot better than it is. Eastwood is worthy of a directing prize, too, but worthier still is Scorsese, whose "Departed" is both a return to gritty form and crackling good entertainment. Helen Mirren still looks like a sure thing for her masterful portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, but I wouldn't be surprised if Judi Dench snatches the prize for her sympathetic portrayal of a lonely and unhinged teacher in Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal." And I really liked Meryl Streep's take on bitchiness for Fox's "The Devil Wears Prada."

Best supporting actress has to be Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls," but I would enjoy the surprise of seeing Cate Blanchett ("Notes") or Catherine O'Hara (Warner Independent's "For Your Consideration") nab it. Best supporting actor is another close call, and it's missing a nom for Mark Wahlberg's high-strung cop from "Departed." I think we'll give the gold to Jack Nicholson for "Departed," if only to enjoy his great acceptance speech. But I'd vote for Alan Arkin for "Little Miss Sunshine," the Little Comedy That Could from Sundance -- and let's give that film the comedy and acting ensemble prizes, too. But Peter Morgan's elegant and insightful screenplay for "The Queen" demands the writing honors. Her Majesty would not be amused by anything less.

Cynthia Haines
Film critic, KCUR-Kansas City
Best Picture: "The Departed"
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland")
Best Actress: Helen Mirren ("The Queen")
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson ("The Departed")
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine O'Hara ("For Your Consideration")
Best Acting Ensemble: "Little Miss Sunshine"
Best Writer: William Monahan ("The Departed")
Best Comedy: "Borat" (Fox)

This time of year, many film critics create two lists: one for the films and actors who will win awards and a second list of who should win. With the release of "The Departed," (in many categories) my lists merged. Martin Scorsese has directed a film that masterfully synthesizes (many) cinematic elements and has created a motion picture appreciated by professional film critics and by people who pay money to see a movie in a theater. This should be Scorsese's year. I hope it is.

On occasion, a performance in a film is so startling and powerful that, even prehype, the phrase "award winning" applies immediately. Such was the case with Forest Whitaker's frightening and compelling take on Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" and Helen Mirren's poignant portrayal of Elizabeth II in "The Queen." History and the odds favor performances based on historical figures.

No one plays Jack Nicholson better than Jack Nicholson. He's never been better playing himself than in "Departed."

Few people appreciate irony more than director Christopher Guest and his merry ensemble of actors, except maybe the heads of talent agencies. It would only be appropriate that Catherine O'Hara, who lays bare an actor's ego and vanity in "For Your Consideration," should win an award for skewering Hollywood's awards process.

Since the word "ensemble" describes a group of actors who perform together, several films nominated in this category don't really fit the criteria. Scenes filmed continents and weeks apart and pieced together in an editing room do not, in my mind, qualify. Six talented actors playing neurotic characters crammed together in a VW bus on their way to a beauty pageant, however, qualify "Little Miss Sunshine" as a true ensemble film. It definitely deserves to win the category.

When a screenwriter finds the right words for the right actors, something memorable happens. "Departed," William Monahan's interpretation of Felix Chong and Siu Fai Mak's script for (the 2004 U.S. release) "Infernal Affairs" translated a distinct Hong Kong setting with Chinese characters almost flawlessly to Boston and put the wicked words in the mouths of half a dozen great actors. Monahan provided an extraordinary form around which Scorsese and his actors created a very memorable film.

"Borat," one of the most offensively funny films of the year, should be taken seriously as best comedy and probably best foreign film. The laugh quotient was off the charts. And to think, the joke was on us.

Jeffrey Lyons
NBC film critic/co-host, "Reel Talk"
Best Picture: "Letters From Iwo Jima"
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland")
Best Actress: Penelope Cruz ("Volver")
Best Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou ("Blood Diamond")
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett ("Notes on a Scandal")
Best Acting Ensemble: "Babel" (Paramount Vantage)
Best Writer: Guillermo Arriaga ("Babel")
Best Comedy: "Thank You for Smoking"

Although my choice for best picture would be Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth," of the nominees here, I'd pick "Letters From Iwo Jima." Ken Watanabe portrays a real-life seventh-generation samurai warrior who adapted unusual tactics to defend the strategic island, knowing his cause was hopeless.

Forest Whitaker became Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." He put fire in his eyes as he transformed himself. No other actor could have played the role, even badly. Whitaker evokes fear and loathing in a way hardly ever seen before.

Penelope Cruz in "Volver" allowed herself to look dowdy, almost drab -- if that's imaginable -- as a mother married to a hard-drinking loser. Cruz's character evolves from a woman unhappy in marriage to a terrified keeper of a terrible secret. The result is a nuanced performance that is at once compelling and dignified.

Although my choice is Eli Wallach for best supporting actor in Sony's "The Holiday," of the nominees here in a very close race, I think Djimon Hounsou for "Blood Diamond" gave the most powerful performance.

My colleagues at the (Broadcast Film Critics Assn.) overlooked Marcia Gay Harden in First Look Pictures' "The Dead Girl," which would be my choice (in the supporting actress category). But of the BFCA nominees, Cate Blanchett in "Notes on a Scandal" ran the gamut of emotions. She's this generation's Meryl Streep.

The best ensemble came from the cast of "Babel," which made three stories come together and keep our interest as the movie swung halfway around the world. Guillermo Arriaga's "Babel" screenplay kept us guessing all through the movie, wondering how three apparently disparate plotlines were related. Each one might have made its own full-length movie, but the way they were ultimately strung together was ingenious.

"Thank You for Smoking" was sly, witty and bitingly sarcastic, while addressing serious issues. Its underplayed performances sent a powerful message about the slow suicide millions of Americans continue to commit every time they light up.