OK, so I finally got around to seeing all of the nominated films for Best Picture. Here are my thoughts on...
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
I think it's safe to say that NCFOM and TWBB are the two best films of the nominees for Best Picture. NCFOM was a tense thriller involving engaging and terrifying characters forced into situations that would make normal men crumble. It's without a doubt one of, if not, the best film the Coen brothers have ever made. However, I think the last half an hour of NCFOM was a bit weak, a downer to an exciting film up to that point. And for that reason, I don't think it should beat out the year's best film, There Will Be Blood.
TWBB is a character study from Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a corrupt oil tycoon in turn of the century Texas. Day-Lewis' portrayal of Plainview is downright gripping, and in my opinion one of the best performances I've ever seen, right up there with Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone in The Godfather, and Robert Duval's Apostle E.F. in The Apostle. It's a performance full of depth and discussion points. People will no doubt be talking about Daniel Plainview well into the future. Oh and by the way, Day-Lewis' performance isn't the only great thing about TWBB. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) gives a solid performance as Plainview's rival, false prophet Eli Sunday. Kevin J. O'Conner, Stephen Sommers' (The Mummy) comedic go-to-guy, shines in a small amount of screen-time as a drifter claiming to be Daniel's brother, and Johnny Greenwood's (Radiohead) score is haunting. It brings me deep regret to inform you that his score was unfortunately disqualified for Best Score because a portion of it was not written for the film. And like Day-Lewis' performance being one of the best I've ever seen, Greenwood's score is one of the best I've ever heard. Meanwhile, Paul Thomas Anderson has cemented his status as one of the most focused and intriguing directors working today and deserves the statue for Best Director. There Will Be Blood is quite possibly the best film of the decade thus far.
The rest of the field is filled with solid films in their own right, but none of them can match the intensity and complexity that TWBB and NCFOM bring to the table. Atonement does everything well, but does nothing great. It's lead actors (James McAvoy and Keira Knightly) manage to portray heartbreaking young lovers who are torn apart by a deceitful lie in a limited amount of screen time, but the shift in the film's focus is jarring, albeit necessary. However, this causes Atonement to be two different films in one, neither of which are grandiose enough to steal the Oscar from TWBB or NCFOM.
Michael Clayton is an engaging corporate and legal thriller, and George Clooney shines as the title character, a down on his luck legal "janitor" who gets caught up in crisis of morals when one of his colleagues stops taking his medication and suffers a breakdown of conscience in the middle of a high-profile corporate case. Clooney is essentially himself in every role, but here he manages to inject the right amount of desperation into Clayton, and manages to keep his cool at the same time. In the end, MC is another corporate scandal movie, and at least half a dozen of these potboilers are released each year. The only difference here is Clooney's performance and sure-handed script and direction from Tony Gilroy.
Rounding up the year's Best Picture nominees is the general public's darling film, Juno. Ellen Page gives a great performance full of sarcasm and wit, but first-timer Diablo Cody's hip dialog is forced at times and the film wears its art-house movie heart on its sleeve. There are at least 5 movies that deserve to be nominated over Juno, but that's not to say it's a bad film. Just overrated. And since it's so popular, Juno stands a good chance to take home the trophy. It just doesn't deserve to.
Of the films that were slighted, Zodiac is the biggest tragedy. David Fincher's workmanlike study of the terrifying Zodiac serial killer case is a two and a half hour Unsolved Mysteries episode in the vein of All the President's Men. There is a lot of talking, but Jake Gyllehaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo all make their characters interesting. But the star of the movie is the Zodiac case itself, which lends itself well to today's age of media blitz events like the Beltway Sniper.
Sean Penn's Into the Wild was another movie that deserved more recognition. Emile Hirsch plays the troubled Christopher McCandless, a rich-kid who decides to trek across the country when he graduates college instead of follow in his parents footsteps. This allows him to meet some fascinating supporting characters such as Hal Holbrook's mournful turn as a lonely old man seeking to adopt McCandless, knowing that Chris headed toward trouble in Alaska. Hirsch, like Ben Foster and Ryan Gosling, is one of young Hollywood's best actors and this is his movie, and he doesn't disappoint. He brings the right amount of angst and humility to a man who didn't know what he wanted, but not knowing what he wanted was the exact thing he did want.
And finally, the other film that deserved more recognition this Oscar season was the non-traditional musical, Once. Instead of being another tedious dialog-as-song musical, Once is actually about music and musicians, not demon barbers or jailed songbirds. Once tells the story of a starving artist songwriter who meets and eventually falls for a piano-playing Czech girl in modern-day Dublin. The two record an album together while mending each other's broken hearts. But it doesn't turn out like you think it would. After all, this isn't the Hugh Grant/Drew Berrymore rom-com, Music and Lyrics. At any rate, the music in Once is great, but sadly, the film was practically shut out, earning only one nomination for Best Song when all five nominations for Best Song could have easily come from this film. Shockingly, the Disney film Enchanted earned three for Best Song alone. And if that's not a crime, then I don't know what is.
So this Oscar season is no different from any other. A lot of films do get the recognition they deserve, but a lot of other films don't. And while many people dismiss the Academy Awards for its pretentiousness, they still do a good job selecting the year's best films. At any rate it gives us something to talk about.