Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar-time is again upon us, and for once I've seen all five films nominated for best picture. AMC screened all five movies back-to-back, and for thirty dollars you could see all three, and get all the popcorn you could eat. They've done this for the last couple years, but this was the first year I've actually wanted to see all five best picture nominees, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a bit grueling, watching movies for twelve straight hours (I was in the second row--the theater was completely full--and my neck was straining and my back sore by the end), but it was a credit to all five films that time never really seemed to drag. There Will Be Blood, in particular, did not at all feel like two hours and forty minutes.

The ceremonies start rather soon, so I'll just provide some quick impressions, so that my opinion might reach the Hollywood community in time (I know they were quite worried as to my opinion). Michael Clayton was excellent, and if Tom Wilkinson doesn't win Best Supporting Actor, I must be confused about just what a supporting actor is (in fairness, I haven't seen Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild, and I'm sure he's good, too). There Will Be Blood was also excellent, not really what I expected, though it struck me as the sort of thing I needed time to mull over, not well-suited to a day of binge viewing. The final act was a bit strange, but helped put things into some context, I'd like to see the film again knowing the characters' fate. Atonement was a surprise; I didn't like the book, but the movie wasn't bad. I suppose I didn't like the book because I didn't really care enough about the characters to make the arduous effort of reading worth-while; the movie, in contrast, went down easy enough that getting the payoff at the end was palatable. Still, though, I found myself spending much of my time during the movie thinking about other similar movies I'd rather be watching (I do need to see The Remains of the Day again sometime). Juno was the only film of the lot that I didn't like. Nor did I hate it, I just found it a little ball of nothing that I didn't care much about. It seemed like something that should of come from the Sundance Film Festival around 1998 or so. A dated movie in subject matter and sensibility, trying to make up for it with a faux-Gilmore Girls wit. A few funny lines, but you've already heard them, most likely ("makes his junk smell like pie," for instance, is funny enough to warrant a call-back).

And that just leaves No Country for Old Men. It's by the Coen Brothers, and thus automatically deserves consideration (the audience seemed unwilling to consider the ending; at the final fade to black, the film was met with jeers and "What the Hell?"s). Honestly, while aspects of the ending bothered me, I'm willing to accept that. The film's conclusion is in keeping with the film's themes of nihilism, chance, and impotence. If anything, the ended was rather heavy-handedly foreshadowed, with the bookending coin-flip discussions. So I don't think a different ending would have satisfied critics, and I imagine most of them wouldn't argue the point. For me, a bigger flaw than the ending was the one-damn-thing-after-another plot progression. Just Bardem hunting Brolin for two hours. Which isn't the worst thing in the world. It actually probably would have been better if that dynamic had been kept pure, but of course Tommy Lee Jones' sherrif was integral to the themes addressed. The point of Woody Harrelson's character? I have no idea. But he had a conversation with Stephen Root; anything giving Stephen Root screen time is a good thing.

Ultimately, I was disappointed in No County for Old Men. Probably not a big shock to me, as I didn't like Fargo, and this covers similar ground. But it's not just a Southwestern Fargo, more like the anti-Fargo, with Tommy Lee Jones as an ineffectual Frances McDormond. In any event, not quite my cup of tea, though it held my interest and gave me some food for thought.

My final verdict, having seen the five films: Sweeney Todd should be the winner, but of the five nominated films, I give it to There Will Be Blood. (as for actual predictions, I have a gut feeling there might be an Atonement upset tonight)

UPDATE: Nothing against Javier Bardem, he was excellent. I just don't think he should have won for supporting actor, because he was the fucking star of the movie, no? But whatever, good for him. And good for the Coen Brothers, they deserved the recognition. Just wish it was for a film I liked better (The Hudsucker Proxy should have swept the Oscars).

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