And The Altie Goes To ...

The battle for cinematic domination in the 2004 Altie Awards was fierce, with a field of movies as diverse as any in recent memory. The top two nominees for the Big Award -- "Lost in Translation" and "Return of the King" -- could not have been more dissimilar, one as demure and atmospheric as the other is pounding and epic.

For the second year in a row, however, loyal fans bestowed the coveted Big Award on the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "The magnificent conclusion to one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of cinema," wrote one voter. Reader Ellyn O'Toole predicted that "the entire trilogy will be popular long after we are dead," provided, she added, the planet could survive the Bush administration.

Runner-up "Lost in Translation" was not without its staunch defenders. Wrote voter Mary Rusnak, "Sofia Coppola created a beautiful, subtle film with dynamic, convincing performances. She didn't need to rely on computer-generated special effects to do it, just her eye and her storytelling sensibility."

"Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," Robert Greenwald's bold documentary unmasking Bush administration lies, took top Altie honors for the Truth To Power Award. "Uncovered" had a huge lead over the runner-up, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," and also beat out "Fog of War," Erroll Morris' study of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara.

As much as people loved "Uncovered," many also marveled at the unique distribution methods the Greenwald team used to bring their indie doc to a wide audience. "Important not only for its content, which history will confirm and current events already are, but for the [MoveOn.org] 'underground' house party distribution method," Mike Dixon wrote.

"This gets my vote for the sheer guts and marketing of this film through nationwide house parties," voter Noel Hermele wrote.

The You Can't Make This Stuff Up documentary award came down to a fight between the birds and the bees. Ultimately, "Winged Migration" won by a feather, with "Spellbound" the runner-up. "Fantastic, beautiful, charming, whimsical (how the hell did they do it?)," marveled voter James Sandrolini of the soaring documentary on the secret lives of birds.

While many readers were dazzled by Charlize Theron's metamorphosis into murderer Aileen Wuornos in runner-up "Monster," it was "Mystic River," Clint Eastwood's moody meditation on crime, punishment and redemption, that nabbed the Altie for Best 'Feel Bad' Movie. "It was a character study of the lives of working class people, which you do not see often in films," wrote Kathleen Clementi.

In the most surprising victory, voters passed over "Laurel Canyon" and gave the Altie for In the Spirit of Catherine Deneuve to the seductive mystery, "Swimming Pool."

"Charlotte Rampling did something in this movie that showed amazing courage for a woman of 58 years," wrote one voter. "Rampling was amazing, considering she was sharing most of her screen time with Ludivine Sagnier, that's pretty damn impressive to me," added another. Runner up in this category was "Calendar Girls," with Helen Mirren leading a group of Brits-of-a-certain-age who shed their frocks and knickers for a good cause.

Mock-doc "A Mighty Wind" -- "a very funny movie with a big heart," said one reader -- staged a come-from-behind win, stealing the Laugh Out Loud Altie from runner-up "Finding Nemo," by only 15 votes.

Voters decided that the characters played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in "Lost In Translation" deserved the Misfits Unite and Triumph Altie. Coppola's casting, wrote reader Ash Townsend "was purely genius." "Whale Rider" was the runner-up.

"Lost In Translation" also grabbed a second Altie in the Transformative Love category, ahead of runner-up "In America."

It wasn't much a contest in Guilty Pleasures, with "Pirates of the Caribbean" swashbuckling its way to nearly twice the votes of runner-up, "X-Men: X2." What was the main pleasure of "Pirates"? "Pretty people breaking the rules and saving the day," wrote Mary Mueller. Sounds guilt-free to us.

The 'Still Wishing You Could Get Your Money Back' Award was hotly contested, but when all the votes were in we were shocked, shocked, to find so many people still ruing the day they forked over 10 bucks for "Matrix Reloaded" -- which voter Don Friedkin dubbed "The Matrix Reloaded Redux Redundant All Over Again."

A somewhat lesser number of people were still mourning that their wallets were thinner after a painful viewing of "Terminator 3."

And last but not least, the honorary Democracy Works Altie goes to Caleb Kleppner and the crew at Center for Voting and Democracy, who generously donated their time to the Alties, tallying the votes with Instant Runoff Voting.

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