Oscar Vault Monday – Little Miss Sunshine, 2006 (dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris)

2006 is one of my least favorite Oscar years in the last decade. Mostly because I think Children of Men was the best film to come out that year and although it got a few tech nominations, I think it deserved a Best Picture nod over several of the nominees that year. That’s why I’ve waited so long to write about this year. As it happens, I don’t love any of the nominees from 2006 (and actively dislike one of them, in fact.) But I do like Little Miss Sunshine, thus I am writing about it. I think this film is more about the performances than it is the story. I mean, it has a fun story, but it is weak in more places than people like to mention. The performances, however, I think are flawless. Although, I guess the Academy disagrees with me because it won for its screenplay. Go figure. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning two: Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actor Alan Arkin (won), Best Supporting Actress Abigail Breslin, Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were: Babel, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Queen and winner The Departed.

Two things I do really love about this film are its color pallet and its soundtrack. It’s refreshing to see a film use color very strongly to set its tone. And I am a huge Sufjan Stevens/DeVotchKa fan.

I think Abigail Breslin had a lot of fun playing the role of Olive and it shows. Apparently she was six years old when she was cast in this film (she made her film debut at the age of five in Signs), but was ten by the time the film was released. She became the fourth youngest actress to receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actress by the Academy. She lost to Jennifer Hudson’s show-stopping performance in Dreamgirls.

I have been a fan of Greg Kinnear since his Oscar-nominated turn as Simon in 1997’s As Good As It Gets, which I saw in theaters and is one of my all-time favorite films. Kinnear is great as the Hoover family’s patriarch Richard, who tries desperately to seem full of self-confidence, but who is really struggling with some weighty insecurity issues. Of all the characters in the film, Richard probably benefits the most from their epic journey to the Little Miss Sunshine competition in California.

Although Toni Collette made her big break in America with her Oscar-nominated turn as Haley Joel Osment’s mother in 1999’s The Sixth Sense, I will always love her as the titular Muriel in 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding. Collette plays the most unlikable character in the film, but that’s not to say you don’t like her. Maybe in lesser hands Sheryl would have become a grating cliche, but Collette manages to make her feel like a real woman. She’s as flawed as any of us, but still full of unconditional love for her family, no matter how trying they may be.

I’m not the biggest Steve Carrell fan, but I gotta say I love him in this movie. I relate like woah to him in this movie. And not just because I’m a huge Marcel Proust fan. After making a little splash playing bizarre supporting roles films like Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, Carrell hit it big playing Michael Scott in NBC’s American version of The Office in 2005, followed very shortly by the surprise hit The 40 Year-Old Virgin. I remember being hesitant when this film came out because I expected it to be a lot wackier based on the casting of Carrell. Obviously, this was not the case. I haven’t seen any of Carrell’s other forays into more dramatic territory, but if his performance as Frank does anything, it proves he’s got the chops to do it when the part is right.

Paul Dano goes through about two-thirds or more of this film not speaking a word and yet completely stealing every scene he’s in. Then when he does speak he’s equally fantastic. I expected great things from him after this film and so far he’s been kind of hit-or-miss. He was flipping fantastic in 2007’s There Will Be Blood, as the voice of one of the wild things in 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are and  the great ensemble western earlier this year Meek’s Cutoff, but some of his other choices in the last five years have been a little off. I look forward to him in next year’s Looper, though, because I love Rian Johnson.

Lastly, let’s discuss Alan Arkin. Alan freaking Arkin. He gets to just go nuts in this film, and he clearly enjoyed it. I will always love Alan Arkin as the voice of Schmendrick The Magician in The Last Unicorn, but that is probably just me. Arkin won the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as foul-mouther grandfather Edwin, beating front-runner Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls. This was Arkin’s third nomination, having been nominated for Best Actor twice in the 1960s, for 1966’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and 1968’s The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter; he is absolutely heartbreaking in the latter.

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About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on November 7, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. which film do you “actively dislike”?

    also as much as I love alan arkin, i truly believe that paul dano deserved an oscar nom for his amazing performance.

    Last but not least i think that if steve carrel’s role had been more dark we would have an oscar nom. because seriosuly that opening image of him in the wheelchair is heartbreaking and not a single word is spoken by him.

  1. Pingback: Oscar Vault Monday – Lost in Translation, 2003 (dir. Sofia Coppola) « the diary of a film history fanatic

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