Movie Reviews by Paul Preston
Reviews in alphabetical order
OSCAR RANT 2007-2008!!!!
80th Academy Awards – Nominations
(Honoring the films of 2007)
But first, here’s my Top Ten Films of 2007, to get you in my frame of mind.
10. THE HUNTING PARTY – Richard Shepard made a great film a few years back called “The Matador” that mixed dark comedy with suspense and sheer cool. He hasn’t strayed from that winning formula with this film, either. But this time, the comedy is blacker and the suspense is more amped up. Richard Gere and Terrance Howard play reporters looking for an interview with one of Serbia’s most notorious war criminals. When they’re mistaken for CIA, shit hits the fan. As dramatic as that plot synopsis sounds, it’s played with a cavalier we’re-crazy-for-doing-this attitude that is a total trip. As our heroes get deeper and deeper in trouble, and the stakes get raised, the movie delivers.
9. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM – More summer blockbusters should be directed by art-house-minded directors. Landing Paul Greengrass (“United 93”, “Bloody Sunday”) to helm the last two “Bourne” films was a stroke of genius, and the results easily catapult “Ultimatum” to the top of this year’s action films. From the excellent script by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) to the A.D.D. editing & photography, the film succeeds because both the spy game (Jason Bourne’s final attempt to discover his true identity) AND the fierce action hold the same weight. I defy you to tell me what happened in “Pirates 3”. Good action scriptwriting isn’t a new concept, it’s just one heeded to far too infrequently. Apparently, we’re out of Robert Ludlum novels, which is a shame, ‘cause I could watch another four or five Bourne films.
8. SICKO – I talked about this film all year long. Michael Moore has created a genre unto himself over the years, but he subverts his own formula a bit this time out, not appearing in his film until the halfway mark (despite providing voice-over). This is a wise move that probably helped silence some of his critics who have a problem with the way he injects himself into a documentary. But it also helps make way for real human stories about the health care dilemma in America. A guy like me gets into all the Moore grandstanding, too, so I enjoyed the usual stunts and gimmicks that accompany a Michael Moore outing, because whatever you make of the delivery of the message, it’s always entertaining. “Sicko” got me talking ‘cause I took a huge theory away from it: Our current health care system prevents people from pursuing the American dream. Think of the people you know who stay at a job for months, years, decades longer than they want to because ‘they have benefits’. Do they want to be in that job? Were there some dreams tossed aside to stick with the job that’ll take care of their health? I’ve seen this situation A LOT. It’s called Upstate New York. Looks like I’ll continue to talk about “Sicko” all this year long, too…
7. NO END IN SIGHT – Another fascinating documentary, rightfully nominated for an Oscar. The best asset of Charles Ferguson’s doc is how plainly it lays out the massive fuck-ups that formulated our plan to start war in Iraq. Not only does this film show how and why we’re losing the war, but it also explains how we never had a CHANCE of being successful in the first place. This is a documentary in the real sense, never seeming snarky, forcing an agenda, but letting the ugly truth speak for itself. It’s a mystery why the least qualified Bush cronies got such important jobs as re-building Iraq. It’s a mystery why the Iraqi army was dismantled, sending thousands of disgruntled Iraqis into the streets. It’s a mystery why overwhelmed and underintelligent Paul Bremer enacted de-Ba’athification, when many members of the Ba’th party weren’t necessarily enamored of Saddam Hussein. The ineptitude, immaturity and irresponsibility of the Bush administration ran rampant at the start of the Iraq war, leading us to an ominous and haunting title for this mesmerizing documentary.
6. 3:10 TO YUMA – When a western gets it right, it’s a beautiful thing. “3:10 to Yuma” hits on almost all counts. The two leads, Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, as an outlaw and the family man who volunteers to bring him to prison, just seemed right as soon as I saw them on the poster. These are serious actors. Not just that they take their work seriously, but they tell serious tales, and tend to be tough as nails – perfect for a western! And they are. There are shots of Crowe in this movie that say a thousand words with no dialogue. It’s a classic western tale, part heroic tale, part tragedy, with a great ending. Not just the very end, but the last fifteen minutes or so are outstanding in every way.
5. GONE BABY GONE – I had no idea what I was getting into walking into Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, a film more accomplished and engrossing than anything he’s appeared in. What starts out as an effective child kidnapping story quickly evolves into a powerful police story and a great platform for moral issue debate. All this is wrapped in great Boston dialogue and authentic performances from Casey Affleck, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. The film hinges on Amy Ryan, who came out of nowhere on my radar and blew me away. She’s so good as the mother of an abducted child, you swear you know many women just like her. They populate your hometown. Conflicted, contradictory, selfish, angry, yet she tears your heart out. Ben Affleck seems to have withdrawn from the Hollywood spotlight and has a nice streak going with “Hollywoodland” and “Gone Baby Gone”. I hope he keeps it up, ‘cause he definitely has the chops to maintain a run of prestige projects.
4. RATATOUILLE – It wouldn’t be my Top 10 of the Year without an appearance by Pixar. But as long as they continue to make great, great films, I’ll continue to talk about ‘em. Brad Bird, of “The Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles” switches genres from sci-fi and directs this wonderful story of a rat, the scourge of the kitchen, who wants to become a chef. All the elements of a great Pixar film are here – a winning protagonist, funny sidekicks (Linguini and Gusteau), exciting action scenes that can only be achieved with animation (I especially like Remy the Rat running through the kitchen, jumping in and out of the feet and carts of the chefs), and LAUGHS. Anton Ego’s final visit to Gusteau’s has the year’s biggest laugh in it – the theater I was in was howling. Pixar employs old school storytelling values like friendship, love and simplicity and the results are always engaging, eliciting laughs and tears. Think of the simplicity of a rat getting inspired by a cookbook unassumingly titled “Anyone Can Cook”. That, and this whole film, just makes me smile.
3. KNOCKED UP – Nobody is writing better comedy for adults right now than Judd Apatow. He’s starting to lend his name to a lot of projects, but when he writes and directs, like here and “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, he hits a home run. Seth Rogen plays a dumpy loser who gets the beautiful Katherine Heigl pregnant, and irresponsibility ensues. I was at a screening of “Evan Almighty” and there was a scene where Evan enters his living room to talk to his kids. The scene ended up being lame. My friend Adam told me that if this were an Apatow film, the kids would’ve been doing something funny before Evan entered. That’s one of the reasons this movie hits big for me – no moment is wasted. The other reason is the dialogue. When I watch an Apatow movie, it sounds the way people talk……but funnier. It’s been said about “Virgin”, that there’s a level of sweetness underneath the comedy that sold it. That strategy is employed here again. But don’t be mistaken, it’s not a “sweetness” added to give the film broader appeal. Apatow just has a knack for creating characters you care about……but funnier.
2. MICHAEL CLAYTON – Wanna feel smarter? Check out Tony Gilroy’s masterful thriller with George Clooney as a “fix-it” lawyer who finds himself involved in the shady dealings of law firms and corporations. As usual, I won’t give away too much of the plot, but be prepared, you still may not know what’s going on forty-five minutes into the flick. But the pay-off is AWESOME! Do you hear me “Syriana”? J.J. Abrams? The PAY-OFF is awesome. In the era of please-remove-your-head-before watching television, the story and dialogue of “Michael Clayton” are so engaging, so smart and surprising, it demands your attention and I think you’ll find yourself glad to give it. The film is filled with great performances – Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and the GREAT Syndey Pollack, but is anchored by a career-best George Clooney, who mixed the right amount of humanism into Clayton, while preserving the slick lawyer he has to be to wrestle himself out of a jam. More of Hollywood’s stars should take a cue from the “Ocean’s” gang. When Clooney, Damon and Pitt counter their summer entertainment with the likes of “Clayton”, “Bourne” and “Jesse James”, they’re not just movie stars, they’re damn good actors.
1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – Certainly one of the decade’s best films as well, “No Country for Old Men” is the Coen Brothers at the TOP of their game. I found this movie thematically overwhelming. From themes helplessness, to the death of the old west, to time marching on, every inch of this film is crafted with such care, such poetic artistry, I sat in awe all three times I’ve seen it. The plot is actually quite simple, an uncomplicated welder in Texas comes across a drug deal gone wrong, and the chase is on for the missing money. Josh Brolin gives a strong performance as Llewellyn Moss, the tough guy protagonist. Javier Bardem is fantastic as the Terminator-like Anton Chirguh, this year’s most unusual and menacing character. And Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is the soul of the movie, as the 1980s approach, he questions his worth, and value in this world, and he hasn’t given stronger performances than as Bell and as Hank Deerfield in “In the Valley of Elah”. This is his year. Joel and Ethan Coen are two of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and “No Country” really marks their first straight serious film, none of their hijinks, show-offy-ness or snarky attitude is here. It, as most of their films are, is an individual, distinctive work that showcases the best in filmmaking – powerful, controlled cinematography, incisive sound design, empty locations that recall the vast, vacant expanse of Texas, and deliberate editing that tells the story at the pace of the land in which it takes place. Despite all the talk of dreary theming, “No Country” is also a fierce thriller. I’d rather watch Anton and Llewellyn chase each other around a small town for hours than sit through the mess of a finale of “The Golden Compass”. I could go into greater and greater detail, but I’d have to go into plot specifics. Please contact me if you’re seen it, ‘cause I definitely COULD go on. The good news is that “No Country” is now the Oscar front-runner, eclipsing “Atonement”. If “No Country” doesn’t win, I swear to you I will punch a child, Friend-O.
“THE HOAX” – Wildly entertaining based in truth about a desperate writer’s attempt to fake an autobiography of a living legend. Richard Gere keeps you on your toes throughout wondering what he’s gonna do next to keep up the ridiculous line of B.S. he’s created. Based on a true story, only the craziest parts….
“HOT FUZZ” – Once again, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright do a bang-up job sending up a genre, this time the overwrought Bruckheimer-style action movie. There’s a nice combination here of fish-out-of-water laughs, too, as Pegg’s big-time action cop ends up in a quaint English town. Best thing Timothy Dalton’s done in years.
“A MIGHTY HEART” – Remind me never to go to Pakistan. A very good police story mixed with a very good political/war story. Released in the summer, I think they thought Jolie would bring the film more box office. That’s a shame, ‘cause perhaps a holiday release would’ve garnered this solid film more awards acclaim.
“JUNO” – Sharp dialogue and a lot of laughs sell this teen comedy. The heartwarming angle that usually propels an indie, offbeat family comedy is less present, but still effective. Again, this movie works because of the dialogue, which works so cleverly it’s probably a genre unto itself.
THE WORST OF 2007:
“GHOST RIDER” – Wes Bentley sucked in this movie. Was he really in “American Beauty”?
“SHREK THE THIRD” – What happened to this franchise? So much going on, and so little did I care. The wrap-up at the end just seemed obligatory instead of exciting or effective. Lame.
“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END” – I’m the captain! No, I’m the captain! No, I’M the captain! WHO GIVES A SHIT! Sound and noise, signifying nothing.
“EVAN ALMIGHTY” – Interesting plot, they just forgot the part about being funny…
“WAR” – Jason Statham has zero screen presence. I haven’t seen the “Transporter” movies, but this didn’t make me want to.
“THE GOLDEN COMPASS” – A steaming pile with enough check-out-our-cool-mode-of-transportation and isn’t-this-a-cool-location establishing shots to even make George Lucas hurl.
So, the Academy has had EIGHTY YEARS to get their picks right. Unfortunately, they routinely bat .500, but that’s the fun of the great debate. Let’s see how they did this year with the nominations:
Performance by an actor in a leading role:
George Clooney in “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in “In the Valley of Elah” (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises” (Focus Features)
Glaring Omission: Nothing too ‘glaring’, but here are a few folks who I thought had a shot at a nomination. Ryan Gosling, a critical fave, got previous notice this year for his work in “Lars and the Real Girl”. The simplicity of that film, I think, proved a bit too cloying and cutesy for some. And the Academy would rather reward the trips to the dark side, as nominated above. Brad Pitt was the first award winner of the year, winning Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, however, not hearing much about his work since, an nomination seemed unlikely. I also thought there was an outside chance for Emile Hirsch for “Into the Wild”. Depp and Tommy Lee edged out all three of these guys.
Runners-up: If Josh Brolin could be considered the ‘lead’ in what was essentially a male trio of leads in “No Country for Old Men”, his understated performance and genuine rootability was great. How about Matt Damon? His work as Jason Bourne is also understated for an action lead, but is enormously effective, and reminiscent of Harrison Ford. And I have to shout out to Richard Gere, who had an awesome year in two outstanding movies, “The Hoax”, and “The Hunting Party”. Since his resurgence in “Chicago”, he’s shown up in some very cool projects, and he’s the wild, manic force behind both features he appeared in this year. Also, just to include non-award winners, Will Smith was very good in “I Am Legend” (an otherwise lame flick). It’s tough to carry a whole film like he did, and the scene with the dog was awesome. Heartbreaking. Go ahead, give me shit for it. He was very good.
Great Inclusion: Tommy Lee Jones. He won an Oscar previously for playing the fast-talking, focused bad-ass. But who knew those same eyes could portray such sadness? Jones had a great year, and it was good to see his quality performance in a quality film get a nod.
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should win: Clooney, edging out Day-Lewis. Daniel Day-Lewis is compulsively watchable. He did everything short of literally CHEW the curtains of his mansion. Nearly every performance in his career has been crack-like. But, c’mon, as much as you like him, he was a bit over the top, right? Clooney was as cool as the other side of the pillow.
Performance by an actor in a supporting role:
Casey Affleck in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Charlie Wilson’s War” (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in “Into the Wild” (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)
Glaring Omission: JK Simmons, “Juno”. Again, it’s not too ‘glaring’, but there was such a love-fest for this movie, I thought he’d go with the flow and pick up a nomination. He was great, and he’ll be great again. Also, the Screen Actors Guild gave Tommy Lee Jones a nomination for “No Country”, but he probably edged himself out in the Oscars by showing up in the Actor category.
Runners-up: Homayoun Ershadi, “The Kite Runner”. He played a lifetime of emotions brilliantly, with many memorable scenes – the scene in the bar where he boasts about his son, the doctor; the scene in the truck where he stands up for a couple being abused by a soldier; the feeble scenes late in life. He nailed ‘em all and his emotions reflected the glory and fall of Afghanistan. Robert Downey, Jr. brought his too-cool-for-school attitude and smarts to a memorable role in “Zodiac”. For me, the movie slowed when he wasn’t on screen. I hope he rocks “Iron Man”. Alfred Molina was great in “The Hoax” as reluctant assistant to Richard Gere’s schemes. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s not the first or last time you’ll hear of it mentioned here. Also, Ben Foster in “3:10 to Yuma” knocked me on my ass. Such a stubborn, brutal, violent, single-minded criminal, and his talent came out of nowhere. Really? This guy was Angel?!
Great Inclusion: Hoffman. This is one of the great performances of his career. You can the see and feel the weight of a long, troubled career in the CIA in his every move. He gave it 100% and it showed. Best thing about that film.
Will win: Bardem
Should win: Bardem. When you create an iconic character, you’ll take home gold. See Hannibal Lecter, Don Corleone, Rain Man and Patton for details. I think the acting, combined with the haircut, the air gun and the line “Friend-O” locks it in for Bardem.
Performance by an actress in a leading role:
Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (Universal)
Julie Christie in “Away from Her” (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in “The Savages” (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in “Juno” (A Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production)
Glaring Omission: Angelina Jolie. SO good as Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart”, she makes you wish the film had a different ending. Plus, the Academy loves her.
Runners-up: Give Katherine Heigl a little love for “Knocked Up”. She’s adorable, but also smart and funny. It’s crucial in a comedy like this that the girl be worth the effort. She is.
Great Inclusion: Cate Blanchett. I don’t care if the movie was a far cry from the first “Elizabeth”. Blanchett is a sure thing in every film appearance. If she’s in a Verizon Wireless ad – OSCAR.
Will win: Christie, despite a previous win here, I think she beats unknown Cotillard.
Should win: I’m going with Page, ‘cause I’m severely underinformed about this category. She carried that film on her back, and I was impressed with the layer breakdown her character went through as the film went on. I just have a feeling this’ll bring back feelings of when Jessica Lange won for “Blue Sky”. People will see the Best Actress acceptance speech, and say, “never saw it”.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role:
Cate Blanchett in “I’m Not There” (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in “American Gangster” (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement” (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in “Gone Baby Gone” (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in “Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.)
Glaring Omission: LESLIE MANN! One of my favorite performances by anyone in any category this year is Leslie Mann as Debbie, Katherine Heigl’s sister in “Knocked Up”. So funny and just owns every scene she’s in. Also, she brings a pathos to her character, who is frightened of her age, despite her seemingly confident attitude in her conversations with her husband and family. I also thought Catherine Keener in “Into the Wild” had a shot due to some nominations for previous awards, including a SAG award.
Runners-up: Kelly Macdonald in “No Country for Old Men”. For her final scene with Anton Chirguh alone. Brilliant.
Great Inclusion: Amy Ryan, “Gone Baby Gone”. I mentioned her in my review above. She spans the globe of emotions and carries the audience along the way. Good for the Academy for recognizing this film wherever possible.
Will win: Blanchett. Ryan has the upset card, but I think Blanchett, again, is so good ALL the time, it’d be impossible not to award the most eclectic performance of her career.
Should win: Ryan. Tough call between her and Blanchett, but I liked “Gone Baby Gone” SO much more than “I’m Not There”.
Best animated feature film of the year:
“Persepolis” (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
“Surf’s Up” (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck
Glaring Omission: “The Simpsons Movie”. Please, Academy… “Surf’s Up”…over “The Simpsons Movie”?!!? Puh-leeze.
Runners-up: “Beowulf”. I loved Zemeckis’ take on the classic story. Makes me wanna scream “In the Name of Odin!!!” every time something pisses me off. I really thought that film was exciting and badass. Maybe I was the only one, but I thought it delivered the goods.
Great Inclusion: “Persepolis”. This French film was as artistic in story and emotion as it was in the dynamic animation, which could be both noir and frightening and dream-like and whimsical. Very good film.
Will win: “Ratatouille”
Should win: “Ratatouille”. Pixar is the best. And the Academy owes Pixar an Oscar for awarding “Happy Feet” over “Cars” last year. Seriously? “Happy Feet”? That movie SUCKED. Any year Pixar doesn’t win means the Academy just wants to spread the wealth, not that another movie was better. “Happy Feet”? Oh, god, I’m still pissed….
Achievement in art direction:
“American Gangster” (Universal): Art Direction: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
“Atonement” (Focus Features): Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
“The Golden Compass” (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners): Art Direction: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
“Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount): Art Direction: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson
Glaring Omission: “No Country for Old Men”. I thought this art direction would be thrown in with the other nominations. Not so, I guess. The vast landscape was practically a character – the ratty motels, the border crossing, Ellis’ house with all the casts in it. More brilliant work in a brilliant movie, and it’s all more exceptional work than the bogus CGI locations in “Compass”.
Runners-up: “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. Both great westerns that capture time and place at least as well as “There Will Be Blood”. “Across the Universe” had more Julie Taymor set pieces that blended well with the special effects. The work is great, again, in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, but it’s tough to nominate a film that’s using design from previous movies.
Great Inclusion: I’m always a big fan of the urban settings getting a nod, so kudos to “American Gangster”. The challenge is creating the 1970’s, but when you transport someone to another reality (“Compass”) or exotic time period (“Atonement”), and do it well, it gets noticed. It’s good to see a familiar city in a not-too-distant past get noticed. It’s the same with costumes. Period pieces get the fanfare, so it’s cool when someone does a lot with what we see every day.
Will win: “Sweeney Todd”. I think the Academy loves Ferretti, who’s done all that great work with Scorsese. Plus, the best asset of “Todd” was it’s look!
Should win: “There Will Be Blood”. In creating the sparse landscape of early America, less is more.
Achievement in cinematography:
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (Warner Bros.): Roger Deakins
“Atonement” (Focus Features): Seamus McGarvey
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Janusz Kaminski
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Robert Elswit
Glaring Omission: “Into the Wild” (Eric Gautier). In this film, a young man leaves his life of privilege for the natural beauty North America, and eventually, Alaska. It’s crucial that the wild be captured on film at its most seductive and beautiful. Gautier nailed it. And, outside of Hal Holbrook, I thought this was the film’s best shot at another nomination.
Runners-up: Edward Lachman, “I’m Not There”. I’m not such a big fan of this film, but the contrasting shooting styles used to tell the different stories in the movie worked very well. Harris Savides captured the always-interesting visual style of David Fincher for “Zodiac”, and that film was the first made with a “tapeless” workflow. All footage was shot with new cameras that recorded directly to a hard drive. Doing that successfully was pretty impressive.
Great Inclusion: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. Since hooking up with Spielberg, Kaminski has won two Oscars. The work here with Julian Schnabel is very inventive. The opening twenty minutes of the movie or so are otherworldly. Well done. Can’t wait to see his work on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, OPENING MAY 22nd!!!!!! Woohoo!!!!
Will win: Tough call between Deakins and Elswit, but I’ll go with Elswit, who won the Cinematographer’s Guild award.
Should win: Let me just say that this is an awesome set of nominees. I might’ve swapped out “Atonement” for “Into the Wild”, but other than that, all this work was stellar. I’d give it to Deakins for “No Country for Old Men”, for the policeman’s scuff marks on the floor, the reflections in the blown-out hotel lock, the truck silhouetted on the edge of the canyon, the reflections in the TV set, the opening montage, etc., etc., etc., there are TONS of memorable shots in that film.
Achievement in costume design:
“Across the Universe” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Albert Wolsky
“Atonement” (Focus Features) Jacqueline Durran
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (Universal) Alexandra Byrne
“La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse) Marit Allen
“Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount) Colleen Atwood
Glaring Omission: The westerns. This category loves the period piece, but “3:10”, “There Will be Blood” and “Jesse James” all got left out. And “No Country”, in its own western way.
Runners-up: I thought “300” had an outside shot here. The Spartan soldiers were just so memorable and then throw in Xerxes and the council members all toga-d up – it was pretty cool stuff. Here’s another lost opportunity to nominate a lot done with modern dress, as “Michael Clayton” really captured the professional world of law and business, and it was great to see that slick look counter a lot of nasty people. And just for fun, how great were the costumes in “Blades of Glory”?!!
Great Inclusion: “Sweeney Todd”. That movie looked great in every way.
Will win: “Todd”
Should win: “Todd”
Achievement in directing:
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
“Juno” (A Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production), Jason Reitman
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson
Glaring Omission: As with every year, the most glaring omission is the movie nominated for Best Picture that apparently directed itself. So, where’s Joe Wright’s nomination for “Atonement”? This has happened for as long as I can remember. My belief is that they’re rewarding a guy (Schnabel) who did more with more challenging material than, perhaps, Wright did. Which is hard to judge, given the expansive production of “Atonement”. “Butterfly” is like directing “Birdy” or “A Clockwork Orange” where you look at the source material and think, “how the hell do we make this?”. So Schnabel pulling it off snuck him into the list of nominees. Also missing here are Tim Burton and Sean Penn. They generated a lot of buzz pre-Oscar, and I thought if any film’s director would get the shaft, it would be Reitman, who, one could argue, just opened up the indie comedy playbook and followed the rules.
Runners-up: Brad Bird for “Ratatouille”. In Pixarland, all the characters end up being good actors, thanx to the work of hundreds of animators, special f/x wizards and voice talent. Bird oversaw a winning combination of all those talents. Judd Apatow? How crazy would it be to see his name next to the Coen Brothers? It would have been great to see Ben Affleck, a decade after his writing Oscar win, get nominated again behind the camera. Telling you something, Ben?
Great Inclusion: Tony Gilroy. Don’t forget, “Michael Clayton” is his directorial DEBUT, and it’s as sure-footed as anything Lumet, Pakula or Pollack would’ve done in their heyday.
Will win: Joel & Ethan Coen
Should win: Joel & Ethan Coen. When too often, the Academy awards people for the wrong films (Paul Newman, Martin Scorsese, etc.), it would be nice to see the Coens win at the right time.
Best documentary feature:
“No End in Sight” (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
“Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
“Sicko” (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O’Hara
“Taxi to the Dark Side” (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
“War/Dance” (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine
Glaring Omission: “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”. I, unfortunately, never saw this flick, but heard great things. The ‘serious’ films tend to get more play.
Runners-up: I honestly haven’t seen much beyond these films, doc-wise. Wasn’t “Shoot ‘Em Up” a documentary?
Great Inclusion: “Sicko”. I love me a Michael Moore film. This year, the theme of the doc is anti-war. Take a hint, W… But all the nominees didn’t go that way, and I’m glad Moore snuck in.
Will win: “No End in Sight”. Read the review up above, it’s great and defines documentary. Did I mention the Campbell Scott’s narration is good, too.
Should win: “No End in Sight”
Best documentary short subject:
“Freeheld” A Lieutenant Films Production: Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
“La Corona (The Crown)” A Runaway Films and Vega Films Production: Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
“Salim Baba” A Ropa Vieja Films and Paradox Smoke Production: Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
“Sari’s Mother” (Cinema Guild) A Daylight Factory Production: James Longley
Glaring Omission: Didn’t see any…
Runners-up: Didn’t see any…
Great Inclusion: Didn’t see ‘em.
Will win: “Freeheld”
Should win: Anything but “Confessions of a Superhero”
Achievement in film editing:
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal): Christopher Rouse
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Juliette Welfling
“Into the Wild” (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment): Jay Cassidy
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Roderick Jaynes
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Dylan Tichenor
Glaring Omission: Actually, these nominees are pretty great. Sometimes, the Best Picture candidates have a good chance here, so perhaps “Atonement” is a bit of a surprise not being here.
Runners-up: How about “Grindhouse”? Some of the greatest bits in the movie were accomplished with wacky editing. Then the masterful car chase is certainly a huge achievement in cinematography and editing.
Great Inclusion: “The Bourne Ultimatum”. The pace of the movie is bananas, and the result of frenetic editing.
Will win: “No Country for Old Men”
Should win: “No Country for Old Men”, and if the film’s editor, Roderick Jaynes, wins, we’ll all learn that that name is a pseudonym for the Coen Brothers themselves. The Coen’s have a chance to win four Oscars in one night – producing, directing, writing and editing “No Country”. That’s gotta be a record….
Best foreign language film of the year:
“The Counterfeiters” Austria
Glaring Omission: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. So what is the dumbassed rule that keeps great foreign-language films from being nominated year after year? Instead of a much-heralded movie, we have five flicks we’ve never heard of here. Also, Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” encountered some snafu that kept it from being considered for a nomination, too. That’s just annoying.
Runners-up: “The Kite Runner”. Although the book was a best seller, the film falied to reach an audience. It was by no means perfect, but there were some very effective moments, and overall was quite an adventure.
Great Inclusion: “The Counterfeiters”. Because that one I’ve actually heard of…
Will win: “The Counterfeiters”. It’s about the holocaust.
Should win: “The Counterfeiters”
Achievement in makeup:
“La Vie en Rose” (Picturehouse) Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald
“Norbit” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount): Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (Walt Disney): Ve Neill and Martin Samuel
Glaring Omission: “Sweeney Todd”, for providing an excellent level of filth the the characters of London, and the brash pale skin of Sweeney himself.
Runners-up: How’s about “Grindhouse” for the nasty zombies of ‘Planet Terror’? Or “300” with it’s goat-headed harem musician & Xerxes eyeliner? I also thought “Stardust” did a fine job of aging the witches and making up the treasonous brothers to look like fun, different kinds of dead in the afterlife.
Great Inclusion: “Norbit”. A lot of people thought “Norbit” might’ve cost Eddie Murphy the Oscar last year. How ironic if the film itself earns more Oscars then Axel Foley himself.
Will win: “La Vie en Rose”. This is just from my reading up on this movie that I neglected to see, but the filmmakers age Marion Cotillard down 13 years, then up 15 years effectively.
Should win: “La Vie en Rose”, ‘cause if that noisy piece of dogshit “Pirates 3” wins becomes an Academy Award Winning Film, then UUUUUUUGH.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):
“Atonement” (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli
“The Kite Runner” (DreamWorks, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Participant Productions, Distributed by Paramount Classics): Alberto Iglesias
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.) James Newton Howard
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney) Michael Giacchino
“3:10 to Yuma” (Lionsgate) Marco Beltrami
Glaring Omission: Johnny Greenwood, “There Will Be Blood”. Rock stars got the shaft this year, and none more so than Radiohead’s Greenwood, who kept getting praise after praise for his haunting, blaring score that seemed to warn us that good things were not in store for Daniel Plainview. If only he heard it.
Runners-up: No real action movies here is also a surprise. Known for being rousing, symphonic and huge, they’ve even won a couple of times, like in the case of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings”. This year’s group was not as strong as those, but “The Bourne Ultimatum” music was fast and furious, and as kinetic and the pace itself. Also Nicholas Hooper picked up where John Williams and Patrick Doyle left off with an exciting score for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
Great Inclusion: “Michael Clayton”. James Newton Howard is one of the best composers for film out there. He can go from action like “Batman Begins” and “King Kong” and turn around and nail a completely opposite tone for the likes of “Michael Clayton” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”
Will win: “Ratatouille”. And they OWE Michael Giacchino. His score for “The Incredibles” was outstanding, and he got ROBBED. The biggest competition is the typewriter-enhanced staccato vibe of “Atonement”’s score.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song):
“Falling Slowly” from “Once” (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and: Marketa Irglova
“Happy Working Song” from “Enchanted” (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
“Raise It Up” from “August Rush” (Warner Bros.): Music and Lyric by Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas
“So Close” from “Enchanted” (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
“That’s How You Know” from “Enchanted” (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
Glaring Omission: Eddie Vedder, “Into the Wild”. He wrote and performed all the songs for that film, and with the film getting such acclaim, and such a lack of great songs this year, I thought he was in. Again, rock stars getting da boot. I remember my last fart better than anything from “August Rush”.
Runners-up: OK, this is a runner-up AND a glaring omission. The best use of an original song I’ve seen in ANY film this year is the first song and opening music video of “Music & Lyrics” – ‘Pop Goes My Heart’. I laughed my ass off at this brilliant take on ‘80s pop songs. It’s perfectly designed, like a mix of Spandau Ballet, Wham! and Howard Jones. And come to think of it, “A Way Back into Love” is worthy of a nomination, too. Spread it around a little bit, will ya, Oscar? Does the “Spider-Pig” song count? Probably not, ‘cause it’s a parody….d’oh!
Great Inclusion: The return of Alan Menken! Remember when he dominated this category in the ‘90s? He won about 6 Oscars. Looks like he could resurface again. Good news is that he’s really, really good!
Will win: “Falling Slowly”. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen what I’m told is a beautiful film in “Once”. But I think it upends the three nominations for “Enchanted” and gives them the “Dreamgirls” treatment. Plus, how great will it be for these unknown actors to show up at the Oscars and perform?!!!
Should win: “Falling Slowly”, ‘cause I wanna see the indie filmmakers freak out.
Best motion picture of the year:
“Atonement” (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
“Juno” (A Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production) A Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers
Glaring Omission: This is near the group of nominees I expected. Period pieces, critical darlings, the indie comedy/”Little Miss Sunshine” nominee, the adult theme abounds. Outside shots include “Eastern Promises”, “Into the Wild”, “American Gangster” and “Sweeney Todd”, but I can’t see any film they would upend in the current nominee list. The one I thought might pull it off the most was “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, ‘cause it got so many other high-end nominations – director, script, editing and cinematography, plus there was the idea that they ‘make up’ for no possible foreign film nod.
Runners-up: If you read my Top 10, you know the answers here – “Ratatouille”, “Knocked Up” and “Gone Baby Gone” should join “Michael Clayton” & “No Country for Old Men” and the five nominees.
Great Inclusion: “No Country for Old Men”. I thought “The Departed” winning last year was a good sign for “No Country”, ‘cause it shows that the Academy is willing to nominate great filmmaking despite the downer tone and violence. And there’s no question “No Country” is better than “The Departed”, so bring on Oscar!
Will win: “No Country for Old Men”
Should win: “No Country for Old Men”
Best animated short film:
“I Met the Walrus” A Kids & Explosions Production: Josh Raskin
“Madame Tutli-Putli” (National Film Board of Canada) A National Film Board of Canada Production Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski
“Même les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)” (Premium Films) A BUF Compagnie Production Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse
“My Love (Moya Lyubov)” (Channel One Russia) A Dago-Film Studio, Channel One Russia and Dentsu Tec Production Alexander Petrov
“Peter & the Wolf” (BreakThru Films) A BreakThru Films/Se-ma-for Studios Production Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman
Glaring Omission: Didn’t see any this year…
Runners-up: Didn’t see any this year…
Great Inclusion: Didn’t see any this year…
Will win: “I Met the Walrus”, ‘cause I read somewhere that it was good
Should win: “Two Guys Drinking at a Bar”
Best live action short film:
“At Night” A Zentropa Entertainments 10 Production: Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth
“Il Supplente (The Substitute)” (Sky Cinema Italia) A Frame by Frame Italia Production: Andrea Jublin
“Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)” (Premium Films) A Karé Production: Philippe Pollet-Villard
“Tanghi Argentini” (Premium Films) An Another Dimension of an Idea Production: Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans
“The Tonto Woman” A Knucklehead, Little Mo and Rose Hackney Barber Production: Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown
Glaring Omission: “Sweetener”
Runners-up: “Help Yourself”
Great Inclusion: Didn’t see ‘em.
Will win: “Freeheld”
Should win: “Two Guys Drinking at a Bar”
Achievement in sound mixing:
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal) Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney): Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
“3:10 to Yuma” (Lionsgate): Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe
“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin
Glaring Omission: Nothing too glaring, maybe another action film like “Harry Potter” or “Pirates” here. I like these nominees a lot. Often musicals are nominated, like “Dreamgirls” before it, so I’m surprised there’s no “Hairspray” here.
Runners-up: I also liked the music and effect mix of “Across the Universe”. A lot of the actors sang live on camera, then their voices were mixed into the grand design. Pretty impressive.
Great Inclusion: “Ratatouille”. In these animated films, it’s tough to remember that ALL the sounds are created from scratch. To blend them together and give them substance, texture and depth is an awesome achievement. However…
Will win: …there’s something to be said for bombast, so I expect the carnage created by Optimus Prime and Co. in “Transformers” to win 20-TIME nominee Kevin O’Connell his FIRST Oscar!!!
Should win: “Ratatouille”
Achievement in sound editing:
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Universal): Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Skip Lievsay
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney): Randy Thom and Michael Silvers
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Christopher Scarabosio and Matthew Wood
“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins
Glaring Omission: “Beowulf”. Like “Ratatouille”, these sound f/x don’t exist in real time or a real place! Editing them into a completely animated world is quite a feat.
Runners-up: “Live Free or Die Hard”, “Spider-Man 3” come to mind as action flicks (not as good as “Bourne”) that do fine work with sound.
Great Inclusion: “No Country for Old Men”. The Coen’s have demanded a lot from sound in this film, and Lievsay and his team really stepped up.
Will win: “Transformers”. Let’s face it, this movie is practically animated.
Should win: “No Country for Old Men”
Achievement in visual effects:
“The Golden Compass” (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners): Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (Walt Disney): John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier
“Transformers” (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier
Glaring Omission: Am I the only one who thought “The Golden Compass” sucked?! That’s a glaring INCLUSION. How about “300” in this group? “300” has already been ripped off and it has a distinct style that is iconic. “Compass” is just a mess.
Runners-up: “Stardust”. The most FUN with effects this year.
Great Inclusion: “Transformers”. Damn you, Michael Bay, but that movie was pretty good. Not GREAT, Michael Bay…pretty good.
Will win: “Transformers”
Should win: “Transformers”, the other two movies are so bad, who cares how they look.
“Atonement” (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
“Away from Her” (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
“No Country for Old Men” (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
Glaring Omission: “Charlie Wilson’s War”. No one out there does it better than Aaron Sorkin, and “War” was no different. Great dialogue, outrageous situations, liberalism worn out on his sleeve. I love Sorkin, and I thought he’d get nominated here. I’m sure Polley’s nomination surprised even him! Although I wasn’t thrilled with it, “Into the Wild” was a possible nominee here.
Runners-up: “Gone Baby Gone”. Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard captured the hard-ass characters and dialogue as if the lines were written for Ed Harris and Amy Ryan.
Great Inclusion: “No Country for Old Men”. Simply one of the finest screenplays of the last ten years. I have a copy in .pdf form if you want it. It’s film school.
Will win: “No Country”, having swept every award up to now, practically.
Should win: “No Country for Old Men”
“Juno” (A Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production), Written by Diablo Cody
“Lars and the Real Girl” (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
“Michael Clayton” (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
“Ratatouille” (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
“The Savages” (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins
Glaring Omission: I really, really wanted a nomination for “Knocked Up” here. The Academy was good to nominate a couple comedies, but they would’ve shown some balls spotting the human element and outrageous comedy of Apatow’s script.
Runners-up: Gilroy’s script for “Clayton” was great, so was his “The Bourne Ultimatum” script. It’s a good year for a guy I hadn’t heard of before!
Great Inclusion: “Ratatouille”. When Pixar gets so much love for their storytelling, you HAVE to nominate the screenplay.
Will win: “Juno”
Should win: “Michael Clayton”, but GIlroy’s been watching from the wings as Diablo Cody’s “Juno” script has won every major award up to now.
There you have it, Friend-O.