(1) Miramax Films' "The Queen" was the year's best movie. I felt that way when I first saw it in the fall and I still do now at year-end. I've recommended it to people and felt perfectly safe promising to pay for their tickets if they didn't love it, too. Thus far, I haven't had to hand over a single dollar.
"Queen" has everything going for it -- outstanding direction by Stephen Frears, Peter Morgan's marvelous screenplay and memorable lead (Helen Mirren) and supporting performances (Michael Sheen as Tony Blair). It looked to me like an awards contender from the get-go and it's already been honored by some key critics groups as well as with four very well deserved Golden Globe nominations (best picture-drama, director, screenplay and actress-drama). "Queen" is as safe a bet as there is this year to be a major contender in prime Oscar race categories.
"It's been great to see the way in which people have reacted to the film, yourself included," Miramax president Daniel Battsek told me. "It's been interesting to watch people both react incredibly to a really extraordinary performance from Helen Mirren, but also recognize that the film is really an insightful and moving -- and, in fact, there's some humor to it, as well -- portrait of an extraordinary moment and an extraordinary group of people. It's a real drama and there's a real sort of feature film time scale to it because there is something of a ticking clock going on there. I lived through that time so I realized how extraordinary it was and it's just great the way it's been brought so dramatically to the screen. I think the thing that struck me is what a wonderful job Stephen has done in making it so cinematic and so vibrant...
"I think what you get with a really great actress is that ability to have that extraordinary range, whether it is something like 'Calendar Girls' (which Mirren starred in and Battsek got Disney to green light while heading Disney's Buena Vista International operations in London) or, as you say, to be playing two Elizabeths spanning many a century (Mirren won an Emmy for playing Elizabeth I) and a whole entirely different environment is really extraordinary. I remember just from the first moment of seeing some rough dailies of Helen from the production that she just completely captured that entire look and personality and speech and everything about that character, which is really an extraordinary achievement."
Michael Sheen, the film's other principal star, plays British prime minister Tony Blair in an Oscar worthy supporting actor performance. When I asked Sheen how he managed to bring Blair to life on the screen so convincingly well, he recalled how he first tackled the role in the British television movie "The Deal." I hadn't seen that film when we spoke, but I've seen it since and would strongly recommend it to anyone who'd like to sharpen their understanding of the Blair character that Sheen portrays so well in "Queen."
"About four years ago now I did a TV film called 'The Deal,' which was also written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Frears, in which I played Tony Blair," Sheen told me. "That was the very young Blair before he was the leader of the Labour Party and certainly long before he became Prime Minister. A lot of my research was done then for that. So coming to play him again in 'The Queen' I had the opportunity to play the character four or five years on from when I played him before. I watched a lot of television video footage of him from around the time of the film and just read more about him and listened to his speeches and things like that and just sort of got my head back into being Prime Minister again..."