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Archive for February 24th, 2008

No award for old men?

Posted by metaphorical on 24 February 2008

In the run up to the Academy Awards, Knowledge News has a nice article, “Oscar’s Biggest Snubs” (thanks Claire, for the link), describing how some of Hollywood’s best films didn’t even win best-picture in the year they were released.

Citizen Kane, often cited as the greatest movie of all time, tops the list, and two of my favorite movies ever are there as well, Chinatown, and Double Indemnity. Singin’ in the Rain, not one of my favorite movies, but surely touched by greatness, and Some Like It Hot, round out the list. There’s also an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, surely the most underawarded director in Academy history.

Singin’ in the Rain apparently lost out to The Greatest Show on Earth. Now that’s a movie that I could watch over and over again, but it’s hard to see it as better than one of a few score movies that people will remember for the next fifty years.

Hollywood has always confused entertainment with greatness, and it’s always fun to see that tension play out as the Academy votes each year. Oddly, they struggled in reverse with Hitchcock—voters obviously thought of movies like Rear Window and Psycho as throw-away entertainment, when in fact we now see their lasting value and Hitchcock as one of the great auteurs of all time.

Which brings us to this year. Of the five nominees, there’s no obvious winner, though a couple will be memorable for a long time and none of them is really disposable entertainment. (The official list is here, but you have to like ImdB’s for its linkability.)

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

We can cross There Will Be Blood off the list right away. It’s a mess of a movie, structurally unsound, poorly plotted, and with absolutely no likeable characters. It’s hard to even see how it even got nominated, except for Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance.

Michael Clayton is a terrific movie, but not the kind that normally emerges as Best Picture. For one thing, it has no actual point, other than revenge is sweet and, at least in Hollywood, the smartest guy sometimes wins. It puts wit and charm in an action movie, but, frankly, that was true of Sneakers and The Italian Job, and no one ever nominated them for Oscars.

No Country for Old Men is a strong contender, because it captures a lot of mind-share as possibly the best-ever for its genre, which is that of Gruesome Thoughtful-Action Movie, a specialty of the Coen brothers. Unforgiven was in that genre, and did well its year, as did Fargo. The comparisons are limited, in that each of those movies had characters more likeable than Tommy Lee Jones’s. On the other hand, there’s a growing recognition of the auteur quality to the Coen oeuvre.

Juno is the kind of small picture that can, in these post-Little-Miss-Sunshine days, easily get nominated, but perhaps never win. It does have the merits of actual themes, a plot, a point of view, and funky believable characters, the central one of which has just the sort of change that a leading lady, even one of 16, is supposed to undergo. In other words, it’s a classic movie, and those are in somewhat short supply this year.

Even more interestingly, the central character in Atonement is likewise transformed and then, as the characters who inspired it die off, reverts to her earlier self. That’s a remarkably difficult message for Hollywood to deliver, and Atonement succeeds against all odds. Combine that with the luminous development of two characters we give our hearts to in the first part of the movie, and the radically different cinematography in the front and back halves, either of which probably deserves an award in that category, and I would have to pick this as my favorite movie of the year, and the one I’d like to see win the Best Picture award.

Some other quick picks:

Best Actor – I only saw two of the nominated performances, so I don’t get a vote. If anyone beats Daniel Day-Lewis, though, I will have to run out and see that movie.

Best Actress – I only saw one performance here. Normally that wouldn’t matter, because it was Ellen Page’s, and you ask yourself, is anyone good enough to beat that? Unfortunately, when the category includes Cate Blanchett and Julie Christie, the answer is yes.

Best Supporting Actor – the three performances I saw, Javier Bardem, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Tom Wilkinson, were pretty amazing. Even more astonishing, though, is that Casey Affleck is nominated for something that’s presumably even better than he was in Gone Baby Gone. Personally, I hope Javier Bardem wins, because we’ll see Philip Seymour Hoffman get nominated a bunch more times, while this was Bardem’s role of a lifetime.

Best Supporting Actress – I saw four of the performances. Ruby Dee might get it, for sentimental reasons. I hope not, because it just wasn’t that memorable a role, certainly not compared to Saoirse Ronan’s, or Amy Ryan’s. Again, the missing performance is Cate Blanchett, so anything could happen here. I’m rooting for the kid.

Adapted Screenplay – I missed two of these films, unfortunately. I just hope and trust that There Will Be Blood doesn’t win, because most of its problems as a movie, not the least of which is an ending that’s both totally inevitable and completely unsatisfying, could have been fixed at the screenplay level.

Original Screenplay – I only saw two nominees, but I hope Juno gets it. It is, truly, original, in its story and its characters, in all the best ways. As a budding screenwriter, I am in awe of the writing in movies like Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno.

Update:

Well, most of the awards I cared most about fell where I wanted them to. In many cases, I didn’t see the winner’s work, so I can’t judge how smartly the Academy vote.

One exception to that was Tilda Swinton, who won best supporting actress; it was a great little part, played with greatness, sure, but it was a little part, and surely any number of actresses would have done just as well. I thought none of that was true of Saoirse Ronan’s performance.

We actually have the DVD of “La Vie en Rose” in the house, I’m eager to see Marion Cotillard’s performance. She looked and sounded pretty damned good.

I’m disappointed that Atonement didn’t win Best Picture, but I’m happy that the Coen brothers won for directing. Similarly that There Will Be Blood won for cinematography; whatever that’s pictures flaws were, there were none at the level of images on the screen.

On the plus side, Javier Bardem won his gold, and gave a great speech.

Best of all, Juno won for original screenplay.

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