"If I seem a little bit vague, it's because I've just spent seven hours sitting next to the man whom I'm about to give this award to on a plane, and it's a heavy experience," he declared, prior to presenting the critics' award for Best Screenplay to Peter Morgan. "He only got me to be in 'The Queen' because he told me it was going to be called 'Blair.'"
Sheen plays Tony Blair to Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II in the film and, in that capacity, stuck around to accept the Best Actress award for Mirren, who was busy in London with filming. His opening line: "Actually, I am in fact Helen Mirren, pulling off another remarkable disguise." Then, he mimicked removing a computer-generated mask.
Mirren left him a note, which he wittily read: "Thank you very much for this great honor, which is all the more meaningful coming from the knowing and beady-eyed New York film critics. I truly regret not being able to be with you and look you in those beady eyes myself as I say thank you. I am currently working in London and unable to get away."
"The Queen" deals with the personal crisis that occurred behind closed palace doors following the death of Princess Diana — and the efforts of Prime Minister Blair to prod a show of public compassion from the queen. Mirren's astonishingly life-exact portrayal has captured every major Best Actress honor of the season, and Sheen's diplomatic nudging on the sidelines puts him in very good standing indeed for an Oscar nomination.
"I think I'm probably the luckiest actor alive at the moment," said Sheen, "because not only have I been able to perform in Peter's extraordinary script, 'The Queen,' on film this year but I also have the great honor of going up on stage every night — every night, apart from tonight — and perform his equally extraordinary script, Frost/Nixon. He gives an actor everything he could possibly need or wish for. His characters have wit. They have intelligence. They have, above all, humanity. Whenever anyone goes to watch a film or play of his, I think everyone comes out feeling like the characters they've watched have grown three dimensional. They know more about themselves as well as about the characters. He puts so much of himself into it. That's what he has done with 'The Queen.' He has taken these iconic figures that we feel we're all very familiar with and made them live and breathe and give of them such humanity which I do hope they actually have." Sheen will conclude playing David Frost to Frank Langella's Richard Nixon in London on Feb. 3. Then, after a few weeks rest, director Michael Grandage will put the two back in harness and rehearse here in mid-March, starting preview April 8 for an April 22 bow. This will be Sheen's first time back on Broadway since he played the title role in the revival of Amadeus. "It was the millennium, it was 2000 — different city, different time now — but I'm really looking forward to being here. It'll be interesting to see how the play goes down here because it's more about America than it is about Britain in a way."
Counterpointing "The Queen," the critics' Best Actor pick was the title player of "The Last King of Scotland" — Forest Whittaker, who plays Ugandan president Idi Amin Dada in that picture.
Jennifer Hudson, an "American Idol" loser, emerged the big winner for Best Supporting Actress, scoring in Jennifer Holliday's Tony-winning role of the dejected Dreamgirl, Effie.
An ex-"Bad News Bear" who came back (albeit as a pedophile and community outcast in "Little Children"), Jackie Earle Haley was cited as Best Supporting Actor and, later, thanked Off-Broadway actress Phyllis Somerville who played his mother in the picture. Director Todd Field cast his film with experienced, but lesser-known, New York actors.
Experienced, but lesser-known, New York actors were also aboard "United 93," the Critics' choice for Best Picture of 2006, Paul Greengrass' harrowing quasi-docudrama about the fourth ill-fated flight of 9/11.
Martin Scorsese, a critics' darling of long-standing, was named the year's Best Director for his work on "The Departed." He was introduced by that film's star, Leonardo DiCaprio.
As chaired by Star's Marshall Fine, the award-giving was dispatched smoothly and swiftly. There was only one "Greer Garson moment" (overly long thank you). Two, tops.
The Best Foreign-Language Film of 2006 was made in 1969 by the late Jean-Pierre Melville — "Army of Shadows" — and only now given its proper due and distribution here.
Other awards: Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" for Best First Film; Amy Berg's "Deliver Us From Evil" for Best Non-Fiction Film; Guillermo Navaroo's "Pan's Labyrinth" for Best Cinematography and George Miller's "Happy Feet" for Best Animated Film. The latter was presented — and accepted — by Robin Williams, a daunting push-me/pull-me chore for a lesser man, but a great chance for Williams to riff outrageously and hilariously as is his happy feat.
The funniest line of the evening, however came lapping up on these shores from an old French New Wave, by way of the American director, Jim Jarmusch. "There's a quote of Jean-Luc Godard sorta running around in the back of my mind," Jarmusch said, "something about film critics being soldiers that are firing on their own troops."
(Harry Haun writes Playbill.com's On Opening Night columns.)