It's been another stellar year in the history of the Hardyville Freedom Film Festival (a Hardy County institution since 2004). The competition was fierce. Famous stars and directors vied for the coveted Hardy Awards. Which was pretty amazing, what with several of those celebrities busy being dead.
The gossip, backbiting, politicking, and campaigning were fierce. At least they were fierce around the judges' table at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed. At one point Nat and Dora's disagreements came to a head - rather literally -- when she flung a bloody-rare steak, complete with sizzling platter, at his skull. (The steak toss might have been considered assault with a deadly weapon, but Nat salted and devoured the evidence.)
Outside the Hog Trough, nearly 200 readers voted for the Free People's Choice Awards. A Judges' Award and a People's Choice Award were chosen in each of six categories.
For details on the voting methods - including why the judges' discussion devolved into steak-flinging -- scroll or jump down to the sidebar, "How the Hardy Award Votes Were Tallied."
But we know you've been waiting with bated breath for the results. So without further ado, we give you:
The 2004 Hardy Awards
For Excellence in Freedom Filmmaking
In the category:
Free People's Choice Award: The Hardy goes to Braveheart
Braveheart was the one, true runaway winner in the entire competition. Out of 195 total reader votes for Blockbusters, Braveheart won 124 (64 percent). Lord of the Rings was second, with 35 votes - so distant that Aragorn on a galloping steed couldn't even see William Wallace's waving sword.
Judges' Award: The Hardy goes to The Lord of the Rings
Just as Braveheart ran away with the People's Choice Award, in the judge's eyes, no Blockbuster but LOTR was ever even in the running. LOTR's combined judge's score (see the sidebar) was the maximum possible - a 10.
By Dora's standards (really, you need to read that sidebar) few movies in history have ever come close to this monumental epic for all-round artistic achievement. By Nat's standards -- "Did the good guys win?" -- LOTR, in which heroes vanquish worldwide evil while refusing to use the Ring of Power, easily tops any movie that ends with its hero's guts being wound out on a winch.
Braveheart came in second among the judges. But Wallace couldn't even see Aragorn's galloping steed, or the dust from his hooves.
Free People's Choice Award: The Hardy goes to Spartacus
Uh oh. I'm in big trouble. I told Oliver Del Signore (BHM's webmaster) at the outset of the voting that I'd eat my hat if Death Wish didn't turn out to be the People's Choice winner in this category. I was sure readers would be devoted to it in a Braveheartish way.
Nevertheless Spartacus, the 1950s Kirk Douglas/Stanley Kubrik saga about an almost-successful slave revolt against the Roman empire, leaped ahead early on. (I think there was a secret Spartacus cartel.) Death Wish continued to climb after Spartacus voting slowed down, and in the end was a mere 5 votes behind - 56 to 51, with other films also getting substantial votes.
But close isn't good enough. I'm marinating my Mariner's cap and getting ready to feast.
Judges' Award: The Hardy goes to Death Wish
And this is where the steaks began to fly.
"Death Wish???" Dora shrieked when Nat gave it his top score. "An undistinguished film about some urban cowboy, played by an actor imitating a block of wood, blasting villains all over the landscape? This is award-winning art?"
"Art schmart," said Nat. "The good guy wins. Then he goes on to do the same thing in another town. We need more awards for that."
Without a doubt, by Nat's standards Death Wish had to trump the two excellent films that ended up tying for second place. A Man for All Seasons loses his head on principle. And that fella who flew over the cuckoo's nest lost his brain. But long after the steak hit the wall, Dora was shaking her head and telling one and all, "Death Wish won on a technicality!"
Free People's Choice Award: The Hardy goes to: Enemy of the State
Okay, fess up. You voted without watching them all, didn't you? Two mainstream films and three art-house flix (Pleasantville, The Magdalene Sisters, and Rabbit-Proof Fence) and the mainstreamers got all but a tiny handful of the votes. Hm.
Enemy of the State, with Will Smith as a modern everyman trying to escape the vengeance of omnipresent Big Brother, was another dominant winner (90 votes). Only the exhilarating Shawshank Redemption (70 votes) kept it from galloping out of sight of the competition.
Judges' Award: The Hardy goes to Rabbit-Proof Fence
Rabbit-Proof Fence was one of three films the judges agreed on 100 percent and rated a solid 10. For Dora, this true story of three little girls trekking 1500 miles across the Australian outback after escaping from a government re-education camp was a primo piece of filmmaking - especially the performances by children who'd never been in front of a camera before. For Nat ... well, the good guys (in this case, the good girls) certainly won.
Shawshank - a fantastic film - was the only other movie that came close to winning the Judges' Award in this category. Enemy of the State barely cracked the judges' consciousness.
Free People's Choice Awards: The Hardy goes to Secondhand Lions
Aside from Braveheart, the next closest thing to a runaway winner was Secondhand Lions (74 votes), a feel-great, laugh-out-loud celebration of non-conformity and personal heroism (that also happened to feature guns, guns, guns used in many wildly funny, but never negative, ways). Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Haley Joel Osment well deserve to share their Hardy for this one.
Mel Gibson and friends came in next with Chicken Run (47 votes). But the lions left the chickens scratching in the dirt.
Judges' Award: The Hardy goes to A Home of Our Own
Nat figured we ought to award the perfectly plausible self-reliance that shines through this movie. It beats the heck out of George W. Bush's version of "self-reliance," which consists of handing government downpayments to perfectly well-off people who don't bother to save for their own. Dora praised the performances. Kathy Bates is - as always - outstanding as the mother of a big, poverty-stricken brood who's determined to build a house without any handouts. A very young Edward Furlong (who's headed toward being one of the finest actors in the world if he keeps this up) shines as the oldest son.
Secondhand Lions was a very, very, very close second, earning 8 points, to A Home of Our Own's 9. Dora rated Lions her top choice, so I'm giving it an extra push. If you haven't seen it, you're gonna love it.
Free People's Choice Award: The Hardy goes to Pelle the Conqueror
Judges' Award: The Hardy goes to Pelle the Conqueror
No contest. Pelle took almost 50 percent of the reader vote and scored a 10 from the panel around the big table at the Hog Trough. This Danish film about the tribulations of a loving father and son stuck in a nineteenth-century hellhole easily beat the other contenders, Camila (the second place tragedy of illicit lovers pursued by church and state) and the tax-revolt tale from India, Lagaan. Max von Sydow towers as the adoring, but broken, father. Pelle Hvenegaard as his young son who dreams passionately of escaping to America and opportunity is every bit his equal.
Free People's Choice Award: The Hardy goes to Fahrenheit 451
This was the most even race, perhaps not because all the films were equally good but because they were in some ways equally bad. Not one of the nominees would make the top 10 list of a typical film buff. But that didn't stop them from being great SF. Or having powerful freedom messages.
Reader-voters showed themselves to have more class than the judges. The heartbreaking (but dated) movie about the destruction of all reading material and insipid domination of the mind by television won with 32 percent of the vote. Tremors and Logan's Run were close behind.
But - sob! -- hardly anybody loves my favorite SF movie in the world, the 1980 version of Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
Judges' Award: The Hardy goes to Tremors
Dora could not believe it. This bit of fluff beating out the think-piece movies, Fahrenheit 451, Logan's Run, and Gattaca? Well, that's the way it goes in combined-score voting.
Nat rated it highest. Dora didn't hate it. So, on points, there you have it. But then ... what's wrong with good fun fluff? Nat loved the ingenuity and teamwork of the isolated Nevada villagers fighting off the monsters. Even Dora appreciated the humor - as well as Kevin Bacon's young buns. And what freedom lover could not cheer the famous "You picked the wrong rec room!" scene, complete with its Dillon reloading equipment and well-chosen arsenal?
Next year in Hardyville
Now the searchlights go dim. The frilly party dresses and the Sunday-best Carhartts are folded up and put away. The parade of well-polished pickup trucks slowly wends its way out of Hardyville, headed back to Billings, Casper, and Winnemucca. The Freedom Film Festival ends for another year.
But recommendations are pouring in for the 2005 film festival. They include expected choices like Red Dawn, Equilibrium, and Mel Gibson's The Patriot. Somebody also sent a vote for an old-time favorite: Harry's War, in which one ordinary, indignant man takes on the power of the IRS.
They also include a few more challenging or unusual recommendations. Try these: Ride with the Devil, The Wind and the Lion, Fight Club (very strange movie!), The Seven Samurai and - of course! -- next year's release of Serenity, based on the canceled Fox TV series, Firefly. That Serenity hasn't even been produced yet can't stop a rowdy crowd of Hardyvillians when they're determined to vote early and often.
Thanks for your votes and recommendations. And for making the Hardyville Freedom Film Festival the grand institution that it is. Without you, nightlife in Hardyville would be just another endless round of The Princess Diaries 2 at the one-plex.
How the Hardy Award Votes Were Tallied
The Free People's Choice Awards were decided on a straight vote count. One hundred ninety-six readers participated. If a film got more votes than its competitors, it won its category. We required voters to submit their e-mail address with their votes to cut down on ballot-box stuffing. Not a perfect system, perhaps. But it beat the heck out of either Diebold black boxes or Florida chads.
The Judge's Award voting was more complicated. The judges first gave the films in each category a rating from 1-5, with 5 being the best. Then they combined and totaled their rankings. The film with the highest combined point score in each category won.
To make matters more tricky, after everybody else in Hardyville begged off (Carty to go wild-boar hunting; Bob-the-Nerd to attend his Linux Users Group; you know how it goes), the judge's panel consisted of only Nat and Dora.** This coupling did not lead to harmonious agreement.
Dora's standards for film quality went something like this: "Did the auteur express the gestalt of the filmic arts in a full panoply of expressionistic excellence via sensitive direction, authentic ambiance, crisply shaped editing, and a quirky, deconstructivist-impressionistic soundtrack finely tuned to the aural palate of the true film connoisseur?"
Nat's standards went exactly like this: "Did the good guys win?"
Lost causes? Lost votes. Period.
Thus the need for resolving certain disputes by hurling slabs of half-raw meat across the room. Meating on common ground was out of the question.
** The judges were actually Oliver Del Signore, the Backwoods Home webmaster, and me. But why let truth stand in the way of a good story? Everything else I say about their judging is absolutely the straight dope.
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