10/02/2006. Contributed by Jessica Martin
Groundhog's Day 2006 was a memorable one in many ways. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, Canada's albino groundhog (Wiarton Willie) boldly predicted a short winter for Ontario, and Sunnyvale won the first annual Golden Groundhog Award as the Best Underground Film of 2005.
The Golden Groundhog Awards were established to recognize outstanding films that lacked the distribution and marketing support needed to become the blockbuster hits they deserved to be.
To be considered for a Golden Groundhog, a film must meet three criteria: the film must have been released during the previous year, grossed less than $1 million at the U.S. box office, and received rave reviews from the limited audiences who watched the film. This year's Golden Groundhog Awards were held in an undisclosed, "underground" location, with William Shatner presiding as master of ceremonies.
The Golden Groundhog Awards take their name from an unlikely American hero - the groundhog. The groundhog hibernates in an underground burrow throughout the winter before emerging on February 2nd to make his annual winter weather prediction. The nominees for the Golden Groundhog award are kindred spirits to the groundhog, underground movie hits waiting for their opportunity to emerge and take their rightful place in the spotlight of American popular culture.
This year's winner, Sunnyvale, is an often offensive and dark comedy centering around a porn-watching, food-obsessed loner whose life is changed when a slightly lost (but very attractive) pot delivery girl (April Wade) decides to "improve" him. Over the course of the movie, the reformed protagonist (Opie) develops relationships with the pot delivery girl, her goddess lesbian girlfriend (Ute Werner), and a quirkily sexy girl he meets through an on-line dating service.
While Sunnyvale manages to crown "young William Shatner" as the sexiest man ever, and offend Jews, lesbians, Mormon swingers, and animal activists, it also manages to deliver consistent laughs and great production values on a budget of under $100,000.
In his acceptance speech, James Ricardo said, "I'd like to give a great big thank you to the Golden Groundhog Awards for choosing Sunnyvale as the winner of this year's best underground movie. It's thrilling just to be nominated alongside such incredible films. This will definitely inspire me to keep making movies."
However, master of ceremonies William Shatner really stole the show with his well-timed one-liners and genuine enthusiasm.
According to a Golden Groundhog spokesperson, William Shatner was the natural choice to host this year's inaugural award ceremony. This is largely because he recently founded the William Shatner DVD Club (www.shatnerdvdclub.com) which identifies sci-fi and fantasy films, and offers them to customers for just $4 each.
Stephanie Silver, one of the founders of the Golden Groundhogs, told SFcrowsnest, "The whole purpose of our organization is to highlight the amazing films that did not make it into the public consciousness because they didn't have support from studios and distributors. The William Shatner DVD Club has a similar mission. They are focused on bringing underground sci-fi hits to audiences who will appreciate them in an easy and inexpensive format. Given that William Shatner is also a true Hollywood icon, he was a perfect choice."
After the Golden Groundhog award ceremony, Shatner said, "This was a lot of fun. It's really a different kind of awards show. It's a nice change of pace from the same films being nominated over and over again." When asked about his DVD Club, Mr. Shatner responded, "I love show business. But the movie business is a business, and sometimes great movies fail to become big hits for the wrong reasons. I saw this as an opportunity to share some of the most deserving but overlooked movies of the last decade with my fans. Not only are they entertaining and memorable, but I made sure you can own each one for less than the cost of a rental."
While Sunnyvale won the Golden Groundhog Award, it was just one of five noteworthy films nominated.
The other nominees included Green Street Hooligans, Mirrormask, Nine Lives, and Up For Grabs. In the on-line voting conducted over the previous month, nearly 100,000 movie fans cast their ballot for who should win the Golden Groundhog. Although the clear on-line winner was Green Street Hooligans with 72% of the vote (compared to 6% for Sunnyvale), the Golden Groundhog Award Committee considers a variety of factors in making its final determination, including the audience movie ratings collected by IMDB.
Interestingly, while Green Street Hooligans received an extremely strong IMDB audience rating (7.4), Sunnyvale received an other-worldly 8.8, putting it in the company of such classic comedies as The Graduate (8.1), Monte Python & The Holy Grail (8.4), and Trainspotting (8.0).
People interested in seeing Sunnyvale for themselves can catch it at upcoming film festivals at Delray Beach (March 8-12, 2006) and in Alabama at the UNA Film Festival on March 3rd. More information on the movie can be found at www.sunnyvalemovie.com.
If you are interested in receiving updates on additional screenings of Sunnyvale, you can also sign up for the Golden Groundhog newsletter at www.goldengroundhogs.com
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