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I Sez: No Country for The Good Doctor

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 26, 2008

Mad Spoiler Alert

“You know, Lee, most of these movies that win a lot of Oscars, I can’t stand. They’re all safe, geriatric, coffee-table dogshit, y’know?…All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books. Mad Max, that’s a movie. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, THAT’S a movie. Rio Bravo, THAT’S a movie.” -Clarence Worley, True Romance

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot since No Country for Old Men took home the Best Picture Oscar last night. As I’ve now stated all too forcefully on this blog now, I did not expect No Country for Old Men or its partner-in-crime, There Will Be Blood, to take home the Best Picture. Because for at least the last decade-and-a-half, safe, geriatric, coffee-table dogshit movies made from unreadable books seem to be about all that’s been winning. And now, this marks two years in a row (The Departed for those of you with less long-term Oscar memory) where movies that Clarence would almost surely have whole-heartedly endorsed have taken home top honors, marking the longest such streak since Silence of the Lambs and Unforgiven won in back-to-back years in ’91 and ’92. Pretty remarkable, if you ask me.

But when I think about it, past Oscar transgressions weren’t the only reason why I predicted No Country to be upset by Juno, or even Atonement. Partly, it’s because even though NCFOM winning is one of the coolest things to happen to the Oscars in ages, and even though it might’ve been my favorite movie of those nominated (only Blood gives it competition), I still kind of wanted it to lose. In a weird way, No Country losing would’ve validated the nagging feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction that No Country left me with–the kind of feeling that no Best Picture winner as strange and untraditional as No Country should really leave me with.

“There wasn’t a single thing about that movie I didn’t love,” one of my friends exclaimed about No Country while discussing it during the Oscars last night. I smiled and nodded, even murmured a half-hearted agreement, even though it wasn’t really the truth. Because I wanted it to be the truth. I wanted it so, so very badly to be the truth. Moreover, because it fucking should have been the truth. Because it seems like everyone loves No Country unreservedly. Because the Academy, the same group of know-nothing know-it-alls that elected Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas and Gladiator over Traffic, were bowled over enough by it to overlook that it was a cynical, understated and extremely violent thriller and not some poncey bullshit that happened a long-ass time ago. Because there seems like no good reason that I shouldn’t love it unreservedly.

And because, for the first 90 minutes of the movie, I did love it unreservedly. Those first 90 minutes were basically the Coens and company putting on a clinic, so to speak–displaying such unbelievable verve in every filmmaking category that counts that it could almost be interpreted as showing off. It was THE perfect thriller, an unbelievable mixture of technical innovation, fascinating storytelling and good old-fashioned suspense. Those 90 minutes ensure Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin as inductees in the all-time badass canon, cement the Coens as being among the most relevant filmmakers of their generation once more, and prove once-and-for-all that it doesn’t matter what accent she’s doing, there’s not an actress on the planet more heartmeltingly adorable than Kelly McDonald. Those 90 minutes ensure that No Country For Old Men is a stone classic, no matter what.

And then…the turn. You remember the first time you saw Mulholland Drive? It’s kind of hard to remember now, for me at least, but the first time I was watching that movie, I was totally with it for about as long as I was with No Country, and I absolutely loved it, the coolest, freakiest and hottest neo-noir I had maybe ever seen. And then there was the scene with the box–you know the one–and everything I thought I knew about the movie changed. Technically, my eyes and ears followed the rest of the movie to its fruition, but mentally, I checked out of the movie at the beginning of the turn. Because I was pissed off. Because I liked that movie–the movie of the first 90 or so minutes, that is–so unbelievably much, and I was furious that David Lynch had robbed me of the opportunity to see how it would’ve ended. I didn’t care nearly as much how this new, unrecognizable movie ended.

Now, a few years later, a whole bunch more late-night viewings, a whole lot of theory reading, and I understand. I get why the movie–the whole movie–ended the way it did, I think it’s as brilliant as anything Lynch has ever done, and I don’t begrudge the turn anymore. So I’m willing to acknowledge that with time, with viewings, with perspective, I might feel similarly about No Country‘s detour. But what infuriates me is the way that no one seems willing to discuss it, that no one even seems to care. Suggest that maybe No Country would have been better served with a more conventional ending, and you may as well be suggesting that Raging Bull should’ve ended with Jake LaMotta hiring Burgess Meredith, losing 50 pounds and fighting his way back to the top to the strains of Bill Conti.

But let’s compare it to another movie from Clarence’s That’s a Movie canon. Let’s say you’re watching The Good, The Bad & the Ugly. You’re about up to the scene where Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach blow up the bridge to sabotage the fighting soldiers on both sides so they can get across unfettered and get to the treasure buried in the nearby graveyard. Only, say this time, before Clint and Eli get there, Lee Van Cleef sneaks up on Eli when he’s alone and kills him. And then, off-screen, we hear Clint getting winged by some enemy fire, and then we see his bloody corpse. Meanwhile, turns out there’s been a nosy sheriff that’s been following all three the entire time, only he’s more interested in eating breakfast and telling metaphorical stories than actually doing any effective detective work, and he never even encounters any of the three main players. Lee Van Cleef slinks back to his dark hole wherever, and the treasure stays buried forever.

OK, so it’s not the same thing. OK, so there’s a deeper meaning to the way the Coens’ movie ended, one more concerned with matters of death and fate and inevitability than with who gets away with the sack with the dollar sign on it. OK, so there’s actually a fairly respected source text that the Coens are referring to here, and they couldn’t very well shape out a completely brand-new, crowd-pleasing ending without fans, critics and anyone else who knows enoughto give a damn screaming bloody murder. I’m willing to concede all of these things. I’m even willing to admit that it makes me an essentially shallow film watcher to demand such instant gratification, especially from filmmakers I claim to love as much as the Coen brothers.

But just for a second, step forward to the monitor. Look me straight in the eyes. And tell me the truth–weren’t you just a little bit disappointed that the movie ended the way it did? Wasn’t there a part of you that was absolutely heartbroken that you didn’t get to see some super-tense Mexican Standoff between Bardem, Brolin and Harrelson, or at least some grand-scale shootout between the first two to determine, as Brolin would put it, the Last Man Standing? Weren’t you a tiny bit flustered when Bardem didn’t even have it out with Tommy Lee Jones at the end? Fuck the Oscars, No Country had the potential to be, straight up, the best thriller maybe ever made, a popcorn classic for the ages, a thinking man’s T2. Are you actually going to tell me you weren’t even slightly angry when that dream was shot full of holes with Brolin?

Well, then, mister, you’re a better movie watcher than I. And hey, maybe you’re part of the contingent that actually gave a great movie the Best Picture Oscar for only the second or third time this decade, so more power to you. But I’m sorry, I guess I’m just not ready to say OK. I’m not ready to be a part of this world yet.

Posted in I Sez, Oscar Sweep '08 | 7 Comments »

Oscar Sweep ’08: Oh Well

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 24, 2008

Could’ve happened

As those of you keeping track of this blog have surely guessed by now, my admittedly ambitious project to watch every movie nominated for an Oscar this year (in the non foreign-short-doc cats) fell short of the mark. It took me too long to get up the courage to sit through movies like August Rush and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and too many of my TV watching hours were spent on distractions like The Wire, LOST and the NBA. To my credit, I did come sort of close–of the 34 movies nominated for an Oscar, there are only nine that I didn’t get around to seeing, and of the movies I didn’t see, none received more than three nominations. Still, I was hoping to present my Oscar Picks for the first time as a fully informed honorary Academy speculator, and instead I’m just presenting them like the rest of you half-informed Oscar Johnny-Come-Latelys. Bummer.

(Italics = Have Not Yet Seen)

Best Picture

* Atonement
* Juno
* Michael Clayton
* No Country for Old Men
* There Will Be Blood

Will Win: You’d be a foolish man to bet on any one of these five nominees–all of them have, in my opinion, at least one reason why there’s no way they can win the Best Picture. I’m saying Juno just because, but moreso, I’m saying it won’t be favorites No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood.

Should Win: There Will Be Blood. As singular and unnerving a movie to ever be nominated for the Best Picture (and should it win, easily the most experimental winner since The Deer Hunter)

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Diving Bell & the Butterfly, I’m Not There, Superbad (hey, like Juno should be any more likely?)

Best Director

* Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
* Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
* Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
* Jason Reitman – Juno
* Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Will Win: Coens. Whether or not it wins Pic, this should be a slam dunk.

Should Win: Probably Coens. PTA and Schnabel both have about equal claim for their masterful works, but they also didn’t direct Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo and The Big Lebowski with only one nom and 0 wins to show for it.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Todd Haynes for I’m Not There and David Fincher for Zodiac. I can’t say I’m surprised about either, but the fact that neither has yet to be recognized for their respective decades-plus of work is getting progressively more unforgivable.

Best Actor

* George Clooney – Michael Clayton
* Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
* Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
* Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah
* Viggo Mortensen – Eastern Promises

Will Win: Is anyone going against Day-Lewis for this? Some other good nominess here, but you’d have to be a crazy person to think anyone has a chance against Mr. Plainview.

Should Win: I liked Tommy Lee Jones in Elah way more than I thought I would, but this is DDL’s year. Not just anyone could’ve turned “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! I DRINK IT UP!” into a SportsCenter-acknowledged catchphrase.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Usually movies/books about people that hit the road to try to really experience life, maaaan just piss me off, but Emile Hirsch somehow made me care about Into the Wild (and also made me forget all about Alpha Dog). I’d give him an Oscar for that.

Best Actress

* Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
* Julie Christie – Away from Her
* Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose (La môme)
* Laura Linney – The Savages
* Ellen Page – Juno

Will Win: Christie.

Should Win: Christie.

Robbed, I Tells Ya:  Not exactly the strongest year for lead actresses, as evidenced by Ellen Page’s ability to sneak in there under the wire. And aside from maybe Keira Knightley in Atonement, I can’t think of a more worthy nominee to take her place.

Best Supporting Actor

* Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
* Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
* Philip Seymour Hoffman – Charlie Wilson’s War
* Hal Holbrook – Into the Wild
* Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton

Will Win: Bardem. It’s one of those Classic performances.

Should Win: Really, I’d be OK with anyone besides Hoffman (phoning it in, though that’s arguably Oscar-worthy in itself) winning, but personally I’d give it to Affleck for the out-of-nowhereness of his performance, playing an insecure, underappreciated hanger-on the way I suppose only the younger brother of Ben Affleck could really now how.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Stacked year for Best Supporting Actors, as Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma, Max Von Sydow in Diving Bell & the Butterfly, and of course, Michael Cera in Superbad (OK, so Randy Quaid, Jennifer Tilly and Juliette Lewis can all get at least one Oscar nomination for playing the only role they know how to play, yet somehow it’s unthinkable that Cera’s brilliance be recognized??) all get the snub. And though it might be heresy to say, I actually prefer Josh Brolin’s performance in NCFOM to Bardem’s. “Where’d you get that pistol?” “At the gettin’ place.” Fucking immaculate.

Best Supporting Actress

* Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
* Ruby Dee – American Gangster
* Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
* Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
* Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton

Will Win: It’s ridiculous, it’s inexplicable, and yet it feels so inevitable–Ruby Dee will take home Best Supporting Actress for her approximately fourteen seconds’ worth of work in American Gangster. A life’s worth of work yet to be recognized by the Academy, and the only major nomination landed by one of the most successful movies of 2007. Look into your heart, you know it to be true.

Should Win: Aside from Dee, this category is almost as stacked as Supporting Actor, and Swinton and Blanchett give career performances in their respective movies. Maybe it’s the Wire fanboy in me, but I still gotta give this to Ryan. She’s barely in the movie after the first half, but the enduring impression from Gone Baby Gone is still of Ryan’s performance. Stunning.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: The almost unbearably quirky world of Juno seems to be designed specifically to net Best Supporting Actress nominations, so it’s shocking that Alison Janney, Jennifer Garner and the extremely underappreciated Olivia Thirbly (the friend) were all unable to land nods. Besides them, Catherine Keener in Into the Wild doesn’t get too much screentime, but lends the movie an unbelievable amount of soul in her few scenes. Also, no one plays a shrew quite like Leslie Mann in Knocked Up.

Best Original Screenplay

* Juno – Diablo Cody
* Lars and the Real Girl – Nancy Oliver
* Michael Clayton – Tony Gilroy
* Ratatouille – Brad Bird
* The Savages – Tamara Jenkins

Will Win: Never mind, this is the plum category for Juno. The quirky romantic comedy has won this category three of the last four years, and Juno’s is written by someone named Diablo Cody. An ex-stripper, no less! Bet the farm.

Should Win: Not exactly getting the competition of a lifetime in Michael Clayton and the good-but-severely-overrated Ratatouille, Juno is probably most deserving here (though Lars and the Real Girl could very well be a masterwork, dunno).

Robbed I, Tells Ya: Hm. Knocked Up, Hot Fuzz, Planet Terror, SUPERBADDDD….really, anything but Charlie Wilson’s War.

Best Adapted Screenplay

* Atonement – Christopher Hampton, from Atonement, novel by Ian McEwan
* Away from Her – Sarah Polley, from “The Bear Came over the Mountain”, short story by Alice Munro
* The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Ronald Harwood, from Le scaphandre et le papillon, memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby
* No Country for Old Men – Joel and Ethan Coen, from No Country for Old Men, novel by Cormac McCarthy
* There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson, from Oil!, novel by Upton Sinclair

Will Win: This could actually go a number of ways, but I’m betting on an upset from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I’ve heard the idea of NCFOM and Blood splitting votes dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but if it doesn’t hurt them in the Best Pic, I really think it will hurt them here.

Should Win: Probably Diving Bell. Brilliant though their screenplays were, NCFOM and Blood were much more about acting and cinematic verve for me, whereas the story in Diving Bell was everything.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Does I’m Not There count as an adapted screenplay?

Best Animated Feature

* Persepolis
* Ratatouille
* Surf’s Up

Will Win: Ratatouille.

Should Win: The obvious choice here is the innovative and super-serious Persepolis, which in my mind was only half a great movie (problem with flicks based on true stories, don’t you know). Between it and the consistently above-average Ratatouille…it’s a tossup.

What About Me?: Too bad the brilliant first ten minutes of Enchanted weren’t enough to qualify here. And I wasn’t the biggest fan of it or anything, but how the hell did Surf’s Up get in over The Simpsons Movie?

Best Art Direction

* Arthur Max and Beth Rubino – American Gangster
* Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer – Atonement
* Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock – The Golden Compass
* Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
* Jack Fisk and Jim Erickson – There Will Be Blood

Will Win: Tough one. I guess they gotta give something to Atonement, right?

Should Win: Golden Compass was the prettiest, but There Will Be Blood the most striking.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: I’m Not There juggled about eight different and equally compelling visual schemes without seeming jarring or bombastic. Well, not too bombastic anyway.

Best Cinematography

* Roger Deakins – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
* Seamus McGarvey – Atonement
* Janusz Kaminski – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
* Roger Deakins – No Country for Old Men
* Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood

Will Win: There Will Be Blood, I’d say.

Should Win: This actually might be the most stacked category of all–only Atonement‘s cinematgoraphy was anything less than stunning. In lieu of a tiebreaker, I’ll give the award to Roger Deakins for lifetime achievement as a regular Coen collaborator, the man who’s had almost as much of a hand in shaping their classics as the Coens themselves.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Into the Wild? There was some outdoor, landscape-y shit in that, no?

Best Costume Design

* Albert Wolsky – Across the Universe
* Jacqueline Durran – Atonement
* Alexandra Byrne – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
* Marit Allen – La Vie en Rose
* Colleen Atwood – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Will Win: I guess they gotta give something to Sweeney Todd too, right?

Should Win: As I’ve said earlier, Across the Unvierse, for sheer volume’s sake.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Black Snake Moan, anyone? Did you see Christina Ricci in those trailers?

[edit] Best Film Editing

* Christopher Rouse – The Bourne Ultimatum
* Juliette Welfling – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
* Jay Cassidy – Into the Wild
* Roderick Jaynes – No Country for Old Men
* Dylan Tichenor – There Will Be Blood

Will Win: Tossup between Bourne and No Country, but momentum and prestige’ll probably sway it towards No Country.

Should Win: Same deal, pretty much.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: 3:10 to Yuma. Heart-pounding for about the last half-hour, that’s pretty good.

Best Makeup

* Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald – La Vie en Rose
* Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji – Norbit
* Ve Neill and Martin Samuel – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Will Win: Norbit. I hope.

Should Win: Only category where I didn’t see a single one of the nominees, so I’ll refrain from casting judgement here. But NORBIT.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Across the Universe, for the same reasons as Costume Design.

Best Original Score

* Dario Marianelli – Atonement
* Alberto Iglesias – The Kite Runner
* James Newton Howard – Michael Clayton
* Michael Giacchino – Ratatouille
* Marco Beltrami – 3:10 to Yuma

Will Win: Atonement‘s was the flashiest, I think, so I’d give it to that.

Should Win: I liked 3:10 and Michael Clayton, but none of these are exactly worth buying the soundtrack for.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Academy rules I think disqualified Johnny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood and Eddie Vedder’s work on I’m Not There. Too bad, because their music actually had something to do with the success of their respective movies.

Best Original Song

* Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – “Falling Slowly” from Once
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – “So Close” from Enchanted
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted
* Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas – “Raise It Up” from August Rush

Will Win: Three nods tend to cancel each other out (LOL Dreamgirls), and “Raise It Up” isn’t that notable, so “Falling Slowly.”

Should Win: Kind of cheating since I didn’t actually see the movie, but “Falling Slowly” sure is one purty song.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: None of them are eligible, probably, but Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun,” Michael Cera and Ellen Page’s “Anyone Else But You,” and T.V. Caripo’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were all pretty tight.

Best Sound Editing

* Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg – The Bourne Ultimatum
* Skip Lievsay – No Country for Old Men
* Randy Thom and Michael Silvers – Ratatouille
* Matthew Wood – There Will Be Blood
* Ethan van Der Ryn and Mike Hopkins – Transformers

Will Win: Bourne.

Should Win: Bourne.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Academy Awards viewers for having to sit through both this and Best Sound Mixing.

Best Sound Mixing

* Scott Millan, David Parker, and Kirk Francis – The Bourne Ultimatum
* Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter Kurland – No Country for Old Men
* Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, and Doc Kane – Ratatouille
* Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Jim Steube – 3:10 to Yuma
* Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Peter J. Devlin – Transformers

Should Win: No Country.

Will Win: No Country.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Skibbity-boop bop bop bop bop

Best Visual Effects

* The Golden Compass
* Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
* Transformers

Will Win: Transformers.

Should Win: Transformers. Really, the movie had one task: Have cars turned into robots and make it look cool. It failed at everything else, but that one thing was pretty cool.

Posted in Oscar Sweep '08 | 3 Comments »

Oscar Sweep ’08: Eastern to Gone

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 23, 2008

Eastern Promises

Plot Summary: Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital, is shocked when a young Russian girl comes into her hospital pregnant and quickly dies of complications. Taking her diary, she makes the mistake of tracing it to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a kind-seeming old man who agrees to translate the diary for Anna, but is actually a mob boss only doing it out of fear it will incriminate him. Anna strikes the fancy of Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the driver for Semyon’s fool of a son Kirill (Vincent Cassell), which creates problems as Anna’s outrage over the girl’s death gets her in further and further over her head with the mob.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Mortensen)

Mini Review: Despite involving the mob, child prostitution, and several gory fight scenes, Eastern Promises is actually one of the least disturbing Cronenberg movies I think I’ve ever seen. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because A History of Violence was so shocking in so many ways to me that by comparison Eastern Promises may as well have been Witless Protection, but this movie just didn’t have the sort of sucker-punch moments that I’ve come to expect from Cronenberg. Not to say that it isn’t worth watching–the acting, and at least one fairly noteworthy fight scene, make it a winner–but emotionally I felt underwhelmed by it, like there was some creepy subtext that i just wasn’t picking up on.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: Mortensen for Best Actor? I dunno. His work in Violence seemed a lot more compelling and a whole lot tougher to me, yet the Academy decided only to recognize William Hurt’s sole scene’s worth of contribution instead. He’s great, of course–the accent is particularly flawless–but it’s just not a role that screams Oscar to me.

What About Me?: Frankly, I’m shocked the Oscar committee even knew this movie existed.

If the Category Existed: Best Naked Knife Fight…ever? Can’t think of too much in the ways of competition.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Plot Summary: Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen of England (Cate Blanchett), needs to find two things: A way to stop the Spanish from conquering her country, and a man. Both are proving particularly challenging, though she does find a loveable rogue in the form of Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). But as war becomes imminent with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), Elizabeth also finds that Raleigh has knocked up her most trusted assistant (Abbie Cornish). Lizzie has some shit to work through.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Blanchett), best Costume Design

Mini-Review: I mean, whatever. People gave this movie a lot of shit, but is it really any worse than the Oscar nod-lavished first Elizabeth? I don’t remember that movie being all that great. True, I was only 12 when I saw it and I think I was asleep for at least half the movie, but I don’t think I’m missing much. Yeah, sure, this one’s more melodramatic I guess (Elizabeth comes off a bit like a teenage crybaby that just happens to have half the power of the free world), but at least that means I was able to actually follow it. And Clive Owen! That dude’s awesome.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: Fuck, it’s Cate Blanchett in a movie about people from a long time ago. And costumes! There are lots of ’em! Big ones! What’re you gonna do, not give them nominations?

What About Me: Score was kind of intense, dunno.
If the Category Existed: Creepiest Foreign Person (tie between King Phillip, who sounds like a Spanish Smeagol, Anthony Babington, who appears to have modelled himself after Paul Bettany in Da Vinci Code, and Mary/Samantha Morton, who is disturbingly quiet even for Samantha Morton)


Plot Summary: In (literal) Disney World, Giselle (Amy Adams) is a Princess who falls in love with Prince Edward (James Marsden), to whom she quickly gets engaged, much to the chagrin of his mother, the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who wishes to remian Queen. She casts a spell on Giselle to send her to Real People World, where she meets divorce attorney Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), who reluctantly teaches her about living in the real world where she teaches him not to be disillusioned about life and romance. Unfortunately, Philip is already engaged, and hear come Edward and Narissa to find Giselle in the Real World.

Oscar Nominations: Best Song (“So Close,” “Happy Working Song” and “That’s How You Know”)

Mini-Review: To hell with this movie. Seriously. It started out well enough–it’s really sort of stunning how right on they got these early animated scenes, it looks (and more importantly, sounds) straight out of a Golden Age Disney flick. But then it’s back to the Real World, and you get all this meta-fairy-tale bullshit. Do you remember when animated Disney Movies were just animated Disney Movies? No irony, no dialogue with Disney history, no real-world practicality–just solid animation and a good story? Are kids these days going to grow up even knowing what a Little Mermaid or a Lion King feels like? It’s sort of interesting that the movie goes with the very anti-Disney premise that true love is based on bond and mutual understanding over love at first sight, but…I dunno. I’ve had enough.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: And that’s what really bugged me–these weren’t great songs at all. Three of ’em, and not a one of ’em would I say is even worthy of a token “Song from an Animated Musical” nod. “Be Our Guest”! “Arabian Knights”! Hell, even “Colors of the Wind” was better than these! This is what happens when you focus too much on making the movie real-world relatable enough to be compatible for adults. You miss out on the important stuff.

What About Me?: “True Love’s Kiss,” the song from the beginning animated part of the movie, was definitely on point enough a satire to be worthy of a nod. Moreso than the three that were nominated, anyway.

If the Category Existed: Maybe a Lifetime Achievement That Guy Award to James Marsden for continually filling such a specific That Guy role. If you’re counting, this now marks the fourth time that poor Jimmy has played a good-guy boyfriend that gets thrown over for a newer, more exciting love–also happened in X-Men, The Notebook and Superman Returns. Hell, if you count X2 and X3, it’s the sixth time. At least at this time, he gets a different chick at the end, even if she’s a hell of a step down from Amy Adams.

The Golden Compass

Plot Summary: I dunno, something about a Golden Compass. And Dust. And Polar Bears.
Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects

Mini-Review: Are all kids super-prodigies these days or something? I had to read the Wikipedia entry on this to catch up to what I was watching half the time, how the hell are youngn’s, the presumed target audience for this flick, supposed to keep up with it? Or is this just one of those book series that everyone under a certain age already knows backwards and forwards? I mean, I guess this is only the first of three, and the Star Wars trilogy asks you to roll with a lot of new info in the first movie as well, but damn. I suppose something needs to prepare adolescents for Dan Brown.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: I’ve got no problem with either of these nods. Despite my misgivings about the plot, this was a hell of a movie visually–the entire movie is bathed in a sort of glow that makes it looks like a single ray of sunlight shining through an otherwise closed curtain on a summer afternoon. And the visual effects–hey, there are lots of goofy-looking animals talking. I love talking, goofy-looking animals. Plus, there was that one scene…
What About Me?: Nah, we’re good.

If the Category Existed: Best Polar Bear Fight Scene EVAH. Man was that some nifty shit. Even better if you pretend that they’re fighting over a bottle of Coke.

Gone Baby Gone

Plot Summary: When the child of cokehead Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) disappears, private detectives / lovers Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired by her distressed sister Bea (Amy Madigan) to help investigate. They end up working with FBI agents Nick and Remy (John Ashton and Ed Harris) to track the baby down, which they eventually trace to a drug dealer than Helene stole money from. A hand-off is arranged, but goes awry, and soon enough, everything is fucked up…

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Ryan)

Mini-Review: You know things are fucked up when Eli is winning Super Bowl MVPs and Casey is directing and starring in critical darlings. Between this and his work in Assassination of Jesse James, Casey Affleck is emerging as one of the most exciting actors of his generation, with a sort of intelligence, sensitivity and experience not exactly hinted at in his Ocean’s 11-13 work. Gone Baby Gone is a Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) adaptation and feels like it, sharing the setting (Boston) and many of the same issues and themes of River, but I much prefer it to that movie–more disturbing, and more emotionally resonant–even if it goes a bit twist-crazy at the end.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: Hoo-ee, Beaddie Russell ain’t what she used to be. I guess you could look at Amy Ryan’s performance in this movie is what her character in The Wire would look and act like if McNulty had gotten to her at a particularly early age and permanently fucked up her ability to form genuine human connections, but her character in this movie is selfish almost to the point of supervillainy. Tight jeans, exorbidant nail polish, the shrillest Boston accent in history, and a motherfucking evil grin. “You’re an abomination!” Amy Madigan exhorts at one point. Yeah, I’d give her an Oscar.

What About Me?: Maybe if Casey hadn’t gotten the nod for Jesse, he could’ve had a claim to Best Actor here. And I haven’t read the book, but it seems like a Best Adapted Screenplay nod would’ve been appropriate as well.

If the Category Existed: Could give Atonement a run for the Best Title Reference category. “Then she’s gone, baby. Gone.” They actually worked the second “gone” in there. Wow.

Posted in Oscar Sweep '08 | 1 Comment »

Oscar Sweep ’08: August to the Diving Bell

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 10, 2008

August Rush

Plot Summary: Wide-eyed kid (Freddie Highmore) gets birthed by two super-musician parents, Cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) and Rocker Louis (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) during a glorious one-night tryst, but circumstances separate the two parents from each other and from their offspring, and kid grows up an orphan convinced music can help him bring back his parents. Wandering in New York to find them, he hooks up with Pied Piper type Wizard (Robin Williams) and turns out to be a prodigy on the guitar, organ, and pretty much anything else he touches. Meanwhile, Mom learns of Kid’s existence, and Dad tries to find Mom again…

Oscar Nominations: Best Song (“Raise It Up”)

Mini-Review: Let it never be said that I do not sacrifice for this blog. Not only did I waste 100 minutes of my life on this piece of shit, the best version I could find of it was a badly camcordered rip. Needless to say, movie sucks–the kind of movie where one character will say “Call me crazy,” and another will respond “OK, you’re crazy,” the kind of movie that asks you to believe that after being given a rudimentary lesson in piano scales, an eleven-year-old can then compose entire symphonies, the kind of movie that asks “What can we do to make this even more annoying?” and answers “I know–throw in an overacting Robin Williams!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Oscar Worthiness: The movie’s one saving grace, the only thing that makes it even remotely watchable, is the music itself. “Raise It Up” is pretty good–a hope-through-desperate-times gospel number that is refreshingly raw for a Best Song nominee. But the best music in August Rush comes courtesy of kid August’s prodigious guitar playing–especially those early numbers where he plays the guitar like a rhythm instrument, slapping and fooling around with it until it almost sounds like a Disco Inferno song. Awesome.

What About Me?: Yeah, no.

If the Category Existed: If a Razzie existed for worst use of a classic song, this movie’s butchering of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” would certainly qualify.

Away From Her

Plot Summary: Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is forced to make the difficult decision to place his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) in a nursing home for Alzheimer’s sufferers. She gradually begins to forget about her husband and forges an attachment with fellow patient Aubrey (Michael Murphy) while Grant finds solace in the company of Aubrey’s wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis).

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Christie), Best Original Screenplay

Mini-Review: Well, I can’t say I was looking forward much to watching this, but it’s the kind of movie I suppose you need to watch every couple of months to remind you that good cinema isn’t always American Gangster and 3:10 to Yuma. And considering the ceaseless emotional pummeling this Away From Her could’ve provided, it’s actually a relatively gentle and tasteful movie–not pulling its punches or anything, but not being needlessly cruel either. Ceratinly a thought-provoking movie, though not the kind of thoughts you generally want to dwell on for too long.

Oscar Worthiness: Christie is pretty much a slam dunk for the Oscar here, and it’d be kind of hard to fault the committee for it. Christie’s performance is as dignified and non-indulgent as you’d expect from a pro like her, and creates a beautiful portrait of a character confused and frustrated by her tragic condition, but one also mature and understanding enough to find the peace and solace necessary to endure it. The screenplay, while certainly taking the back seat to the actors, is also impressively sensitive and even-handed, not letting either of its lead characters look selfish or truly pitiable, but not letting them look like emotional superheroes either.

What About Me?: Pinsent could definitely make a case that his load-bearing performance is nod-worthy–his role is less obviously Oscar-baiting than Christie, but is arguably more important to the film’s success. Also, as nurse Kristy, Kristen Thomson takes a thankless, mostly expository role and and adds grace and compassion to it, certainly a more deserving supporting actress than OH I DUNNO SAY RUBY DEE. Sarah Polley might also be an arguable snub for best director, but if she’s making movies like this at age 27, I’m sure her moment won’t be too far off.

If the Category Existed: Pretty much a lock for Best Senior Citizen Sex Scene. With two different choices!

The Bourne Ultimatum

Plot Summary: People are still chasing Bourne (Matt Damon). He doesn’t much appreciate it.

Oscar Nominations: Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing

Mini-Review: At the very least, you certainly know what you’re getting into with a Bourne movie. I’m pretty sure you could cut and paste random scenes from all three flicks and you’d still get a movie about as coherent as any of the three are on their own. That said, Ultimatum is probably my favorite of the three, since it’s the one that gets least bogged down in all the plottiness hogwash and whenever possible, cuts straight to the action. And in the more-than-capable hands of director Paul Greengrass, the action is better than ever–tighter and more kinetic than in any action movie maybe since the Matrix trilogy.

Oscar Worthiness: The Academy are damn, damn fools should they deign any movie more worthy of the editing Oscar than this one–Bourne is an editor’s dream project, and Christopher Rouse is more than up to the task, crafting some of the most eye-catching and fast-breaking set pieces in recent film. I still don’t really understand the distinction between Best Sound and Best Sound Editing, but with a movie as attuned to the way action sequences sound as to how they look as this is, I’d be cool with the Academy for awarding either.

What About Me?: Joan Allen is the kind of actresses that arguably deserves nods just for showing up in movies like this. But there aren’t any real snubs here.

If the Category Existed: Best Chase Sequence, and it’d have at least three of the nominees. And Highest Paycheck to Onscreen Effort ratio for Julia Stiles’s performance, which no doubt reaped her countless millions for a performance that demanded about two lines of dialogue and even fewer facial expressions.

Charlie Wilson’s War

Plot Summary: In the late 80s, freewheeling Senator Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is put on a mission by political playmaker and on-and-off love interest Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to help raise funs to help Afghani fighters in their efforts shooting down Soviet helicopters. He joins up with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and together, the three raise funds and get policies created that help bring about the end of the Cold War.

Oscar Nominees: Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman)

Mini-Review: It’s amazing how plug-and-play Aaron Sorkin projects are, even when working in different mediums, with different ratings, and with different directors. There’s nothing really wrong with Charlie Wilson’s War–all involved certainly do their part, and it’s an entertaining-enough film I suppose, but if you’ve been keeping even the the loosest of tabs on Sorkin’s career, nothing here feels remotely fresh. I’d like to see Sorkin take on, like, a Prison Drama, or maybe a musical based on a modern day Rock Opera or some such. Wait a sec. Are you kidding?

Oscar Worthiness: It’s hard to really complain about Hoffman’s nod, since he’s up to his usual standard of acting greatness, and he gets the only really memorable scene in the movie when he smashes his boss’s window (for the second straight time). But Hoffman’s getting a nod is kind of like Dwayne Wade getting the All-Star start–yeah, technically maybe he’s got the stats, but he didn’t really elevate his team that much, and there are other, more interesting and just as worthy stars that could’ve gotten the recognition instead. It’s still far better than a selection for Tracy McGrady (Hanks) or even worse, Gilbert Arenas (Roberts), though.

What About Me?: You’ll take your one nod and like it, thanks.

If the Category Existed: Best Hot Chick Window Dressing, maybe? Aside from Roberts, of course.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)

Plot Summary: Jean-Do Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) was a fashion photographer living a playboy lifestyle before having a stroke and developing “Locked-In Syndrome,” a condition that leaves him mentally capable but completely paralyzed except for his left eye. Using that eye, he learns to communicate, and with the help of a patient translator even begins to write a book about his experience. The film is filmed largely from Bauby’s perspective, as the viewer often sees things only from his limited viewing range and hears things through the context of his unvocalized thoughts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director (Julian Schnabel), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

Mini-Review: I had no idea what to expect going into Diving Bell, except for a review blurb I had read that had said that the movie had the power to “change the way you look at life.” It didn’t quite go that far–really, how many movies do?–but it definitely moved me more than probably any other movie I saw this year, and certainly more than I would expect from reading the plot summary, which would probably make it sound like a Ron Howard flick. The brave choice to film mostly from Bauby’s perspective, a decision which could’ve felt gimmicky or suffocating if handled less adeptly, instead makes you care about and relate to the character far more than if you were just looking at an inactive, vacant-looking body for two hours. And rather than coming off depressing, which a plot summary would DEFINITELY imply, the flick is oddly life-affirming, and I left the theater as emotionally charged as these movies are usually supposed to make you feel, but so rarely actually do.

Oscar Worthiness: The direction and screenplay are both note-perfect, but the one I’d really like to see this win is Best Cinematography. You wouldn’t think camerawork would be much of a factor in a movie like this, but the juxtaposition of the warped, disorienting soft-focus cinematography in the early, bed-ridden scenes and the gorgeous, sun-drenched in the later outdoor scenes tells almost as much of a story as the screenplay itself. The editing is paced well enough, but I can’t say I really see it as Oscar-worthy.

What About Me?: Best Movie, anyone?

If the Category Existed: Best Use of an Underrated Album Track, for the stunning use of U2’s blissfully loaded classic “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” Baaaaaby, baaaby, baby….

Posted in Oscar Sweep '08 | 2 Comments »