I’m finding it rather difficult to overly excited for the Academy Awards, knowing that there will be a limited amount of surprises, a bunch of performances for Best Song I’m not attached to and a movie I probably didn’t like that much winning Best Picture to cap everything off. The last few years have had at least one redeemable quality to them (Scorsese winning with Spielberg, Lucas and Capra; Three 6 Mafia being so ridiculously happy they won, as opposed to the usual controlled restraint from those in the winner’s circle), and I don’t see one this year.
As per the misogynistic usual, I’ve seen the Best Picture nominees and a lot of the Best Actor flicks, and absolutely none of the Best Actress offers except for Juno. I’ve seen them all within the last few months, from No Country For Old Men right before Christmas break to Michael Clayton last night, and seen each only once, although I really wanted to see No Country and Juno again to see how a second viewing influenced the strong aftertaste of varying anger and joy they both left in their wake.
We’ll hit the Best Pictures in order of who I’d like to win, have a brief discussion of some of the acting roles and then final predictions I hope all come incredibly, disastrously wrong for the sake of entertainment and critics going batshit crazy in the aftermath like they did when Crash upset Brokeback Mountain.
The first half of this movie is a beautifully constructed, intriguing romance in the English countryside between the wars, with Keira Knightley fulfilling her destiny of only appearing in period pieces and James McAvoy being quite good. I found the little girl, Best Supporting Actress nominee Saoirse Ramon, incredibly annoying and infuriating, but I suppose that’s a credit to her character construction more than anything. The hot summer’s night is shattered by a crime no one can piece together correctly, and we sadly move onto the second half of the movie.
The second half reads like the checklist some researchers put together after looking at what makes a movie successful come Oscar season, with the folks behind Atonement more than giddy to put a mark by everyone one. Non-linear plot (this is also used in the first half, but to a much more enjoyable degree)? Check. War scenes? Check. Romantic, heart-wrenching scene in city street with bus pulling away and someone running after it? Check. Extended shot of a beach following the Battle of Dunkirk, which was nothing more than an exercise in masturbative cinematography that added nothing to the plot of the movie? Check. Old lady popping up at the end like in Titanic to deliver some sort of lesson? You betcha.
I’m not sure how Atonement got a Best Picture nomination. I went in expecting to hate it and certainly did not, but if the Academy didn’t find McAvoy or Knightley worthy of a nomination, how does this work out? I don’t have anything I particularly loved I’d replace it with (I suppose the Academy would frown on Live Free or Die Hard), but it seems like this movie belongs next to The English Patient in the 1990’s.
4. There Will Be Blood
If you’ll let me channel my inner Simon Cowell, I didn’t get it. I didn’t get what the plot was, what the point was or why it had to be three hours long. I appreciate the craftsmanship, in a Citizen Kane sort of way, and Paul Dano and Daniel-Day Lewis were both good, but it bordered on the ridiculous during some points. Loved the Johnny Greenwood score that annoyed some of the audience, and loved some of the individual scenes, but all strung together, I just didn’t get it. I don’t know why I have this at four when this might be more an an attempt at being an Oscar nominee first and an entertaining movie second.
If it’s supposed to be a character piece on Daniel Plainview, that’s great, but it starts you off too late in his life. He’s already a man, mining the earth for silver, and then oil, with some great shots sans dialogue that establish his intensity. But we never see why
It also loses some points for the ending, which is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen, and SNL parodied it perfectly last night with “I Drink Your Milkshake.” I appreciate what Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to do, and I can understand why film buffs might love it, but everyone I went with – and most people I’ve talked to that saw it – just didn’t get it. You could flip-flop this and Atonement, really, and I wouldn’t be overly upset.
3. No Country For Old Men
I’m not sure where I want to put the latest Coens film, because in the aftermath of seeing it, I was a mixture of confused, angry and disgusted with how they ended it. When you go into a movie knowing the ending, without any specifics, is going to be something that’s caused a lot of people confusion, and you’re so focused on not missing anything and you still walk out of the theater going “What the f*ck?”, that’s a problem. What made me even angrier was the claims when I was skimming reviews and the IMDB boards that if you didn’t get it, you were some sort of idiot. Enlighten me, Peter Travers!
Those people, of course, are deaf, dumb and blind to anything that isn't spelled out between commercials on dying TV networks. Joel and Ethan Coen's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel is an indisputably great movie, at this point the year's very best. Set in 1980 in West Texas, where the chase is on for stolen drug money, the film — a new career peak for the Coen brothers, who share writing and directing credits — is a literate meditation (scary words for the Transformers crowd) on
's bloodlust for the easy fix. America
So there you go: if you don’t get it, you’ve been too dumbed down by television. Never mind the fact that the main plot of the movie revolves around a man hunt that you don’t even see the climax of, but you’re supposed to be okay with that. I understand the difficulty in translating the novel, which focuses on the inner workings of Tommy Lee Jones’ character, to the screen, but if you’re going to do it, you can’t make Jones an outlier to the story most of the movie and then somehow use him to drive to your conclusion.
There is a lot of good to this movie, though. The lack of any non-diegetic music should be nominated for Best Score, because it really added to the suspense of the man hunt between Javier Bardem and James Brolin, who were both great. This was a taut tight thriller with a Woody Harrelson cameo (really, what purpose does he serve in the movie other than getting to be Woody Harrelson?) until it all unraveled at the end. The more time that passes, the more I think I’ll enjoy and appreciate it a lot more on a second viewing, but there’s also the chance I would just absolutely loathe it. This is third with an asterisk, as I think it could ascend another spot or two – or drop below Keira Knightley’s green dress- after an encore viewing.
2. Michael Clayton
I really think you could flip-flop the next two, as I know Michael Clayton would be more enjoyable on a second viewing. The first time through, you’re trying to make sure you’re not missing anything important to the legal thriller plot, which is actually quite easy to follow. While you pay attention to the plot, you miss killer performances from everyone involved, with Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney all at the absolute tops of their game. Swinton might have been my favorite, with the flashes of her nervously preparing for everything spliced in with the super smooth delivery in crunch time, you saw how precarious her position and persona were.
I should of course point out that I’m terribly biased in this because I love George Clooney, but I don’t care, he’s fantastic. The list of movies Clooney has made that I’ve really enjoyed-to-love since the turn of the millennium is getting quite lengthy, with Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Thirteen, Good Night, and Good Luck, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and now Michael Clayton. Heck, Intolerable Cruelty wasn’t bad and I’m yet to see Syriana, which gets a lot of love from people. When movie pundits projecting the Oscar field mention “…and Clooney will get nominated because the Academy just loves him,” I want to scream “Why shouldn’t they?!”. He mixes blockbusters with smaller, art house fare, seems to treat everyone well behind the scenes and gives great interviews like this one. I’m sorry that a discussion of a film turned into a man crush rant on Clooney, but I just want to disclose that.
I can understand Michael Clayton might not get a lot of credit because you could interpret it as a straight legal thriller with some impeccable acting. I’d like to think this movie is a better character profile 0far better, actually – than Blood is of
(Sidebar: I realize I focus a lot on narrative, and that makes me short-sighted, populist and just plain dumb in my movie viewing, but that’s what is important to me. I think you can make a great movie with all kinds of beautiful cinematography and well-planned shots and still have it be entertaining. I don’t enjoy movies that are simply vehicles for a director to try and get a few thousand film elitists all hot and heavy with their flick. Something can be entertaining, well put together and carry a message – the former is not exclusive from the latter two.)
There’s the great potential that upon seeing Juno for a second time – something I’ve almost done a few times in the last couple weeks, just to check myself – I won’t enjoy it nearly as much, but I don’t think so. It really was a perfect storm for me, with a ton of supporting actors I loved with a pretty entertaining script and a director whose last work I really enjoyed. The fact there’s been a massive backlash against it also leads me to believe it was as good as I initially thought, if only because any time Roger Ebert picks a comedy as his best film of the year, it’s a box office success and gets a bunch of Academy Award nominations, people are going to hate.
When I first saw this with Livey over Christmas break, one of the hundreds of movies we’ve seen together, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t want to break out in praise and seem silly – as I will when Ellen Page falls off the face of the earth, the movie doesn’t hold up at all and someone digs this up in three years – but nearly at the same time, we both started pouring out nearly unanimous praise for it. I had loved the soundtrack some people hate and found, despite the ludicrous early scene with Rainn Wilson, that Juno’s smart alecky-ness was really grounded in her breakdowns later in the movie. She was just a really smart girl putting up a good front when she was scared, but deep down, she was absolutely terrified.
Much like if you put George Clooney in a movie I’m probably going to like it, putting Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, JK Simmons and Allison Janney into one gives it a big heads up. One complaint I’ve heard is that it wasn’t that funny, but I think that’s got more to do with expectations than anything else, as it certainly had comedic elements, but more of a milder Appatow humor instead of Frat Pack. The idea that it’s not big enough – or however detractors are putting it – to win Best Picture is also silly. I’m sick of the Oscars shunning really well made, entertaining, poignant movies because they don’t fit the right genre (action and comedy, please keep on moving) or don’t span enough decades or nations in their epic-ness.
It might not hold up on a second viewing, and I reserve my right to change my opinion later, but of the five films nominated, I say Juno most deserves the little golden man.
Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor: Day-Lewis and Bardem have these locked up, which is a shame, because Clooney and Wilkinson were also very good. Philip Seymour Hoffman was his usual amazing self in Charlie Wilson’s War, but that film just never got legs during the award season, and PSH pays the price.
Best Actress: Thought Ellen Page was great, obviously, but apparently Julie Christie and Marion Cotillard were far too good for her to be really considered. It would be nice to see Laura Linney to get a little credit for just continually churning out good stuff. (Amy Adams should have a nomination here, by the way.)
Best Supporting Actress: Probably the most wide open field, and despite not seeing Gone Baby Gone, I’m going with Amy Ryan due to her wonderful arc on The Wire. If the Emmys don’t want to pay tribute to the show, then it can just start winning Oscars instead.