Contending for the top prize among the year's Limited Releases are a motley crew of documentaries and dramas, among them a puzzle master and his kooky world; an inconvenient truth about global warming; the mother of all British monarchy dramas; women on the verge; and a family road-tripping in a VW minibus.
Who doesn't love crossword puzzles? This year, the critics did -- at least, they loved Wordplay, a fun, geeky documentary about NY Times puzzles editor Will Shortz, the mind-benders he publishes, and the people (and celebrities) addicted to them. As The New York Observer's Andrew Sarris writes, Wordplay "cheerfully and winningly celebrates the passionate practitioners of crossword puzzles," and many scribes agreed.
Former Vice President Al Gore also stole the spotlight in 2006 with his global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The feature-length lecture in environmental politics lacked all the trimmings of a major blockbuster production, yet compelled viewers to watch, learn and act -- even prompting Roger Ebert to urge, "You owe it to yourself to see this film."
The celebrated auteur Pedro Almodovar triumphed in 2006 with his latest female-powered tragicomedy, Volver. Starring Penelope Cruz, this Spanish-language film combined all the best of Almodovar and his cast into what Moira MacDonald of the Seattle Times calls "intoxicating." The ensemble pic about a multi-generational family of calamity-stricken women won over the mostly male critical mass with Almodovar's expert blending of rich visuals, characterizations, and darkly humorous style.
Another fan and critic fave of 2006 was the dysfunctional family road-trip flick Little Miss Sunshine. "This indie, a sweet, tart and smart satire about a family of losers in a world obsessed with winning, is an authentic crowd pleaser," says Newsweek's David Ansen. The scribes agreed that the well-cast film was indeed an offbeat and endearing charmer, and audiences flocked to theaters en masse, making Sunshine the little indie that could.
Yet the Golden Tomato winner for best-reviewed movie in Limited Release is ... The Queen!
With Helen Mirren getting accolades for her portrayal as Queen Elizabeth II, it's not surprising to find The Queen is not only the best-reviewed Limited release, but the year's best-reviewed overall movie as well. The Queen centers on the matriarch of Buckingham Palace as the death of Diana Spencer, the "People's Princess," is announced; will the Queen deny the former princess a state funeral, or will she relent and give the people what they want? Variety's Derek Elley calls "The Queen" "deliciously written and expertly played," while Reel.com's Timothy Knight merely gasps, "All hail, Dame Mirren!" Stephen Frears' film reigns supreme over the land of limited releases with an adjusted score of 86.89 and a Tomatometer of 98 percent.