Friday, February 22, 2008

The Oscars According To Solon, 2007 Edition

For years, film aficionado Solon has sent out a lengthy email to all of his so-called mates in which he breaks down the Oscars. Last year I shared it here and it generated some discussion, so here is this year's email, which I received last night. It's the shortest one ever, but still damn good as always.

If you really want to dork out, Solon's much more in depth review from years past:

Oscars According To Solon 2006

Oscars According To Solon 2005
Oscars According To Solon 2004

FYI the Academy Awards are Sunday night. Enjoy

Greetings all.

First things first, the PhD applications really stuffed me this year, so my movie-going experience is not nearly as prolific as it is most years--in fact, truth be told, I've seen less than 20 movies (as opposed to my usual 50 or so). But I have seen all of the big ones and people are asking, so I'll produce. But don't be offended if I missed your hip little independent film, I just didn't have the time.

Also, the format's a little different this year. Next year I'll be back to my normal lists. Until then, hopefully this will suffice. Enjoy.

Best Picture
Should win: JUNO

The standard beef with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is that the ending is poor. In reality, it is not that it is poor, but that it is uninteresting; I have not seen a movie lose so much momentum toward the end since (ironically) MAGNOLIA. It has other flaws as well--Woody Harrelson's character is unnecessary, for example--and while it's wonderfully shot, it most assuredly does not live up to its hype as a "classic American film" the way that THERE WILL BE BLOOD does.

I do not think THERE WILL BE BLOOD is Paul Thomas Anderson's best work--that honor still goes to the outstanding BOOGIE NIGHTS--but I can see where people are coming from when they call it an epic. I think it probably falls a bit short with what it is trying to get across--it's a poor man's CITIZEN KANE, largely since Plainview isn't as well developed as Kane is--but, as I said, I would not begrudge someone for believing the movie pulled off what it sought to accomplish. As for the story, while I did not particularly care for the ending--I think it descended a little too much into absurdity--at least it held my attention.
The year's best offering, however, is JUNO. The haters are out in force for this movie, telling everyone who will listen that the character of Juno is annoying, that the dialogue is unrealistic, or that the movie tries "too hard to be cool," but all of those people can just go and get stuffed (I mean, seriously, is there any more dickheaded appeal than saying something "tries too hard to be cool"? Please, let me know what is sufficiently cool, so I can bow down to you for making that determination for me.). I mean, anyone can get a stick up their ass and talk about how people who like a movie they hate don't know anything about movies--hell, I should know, I did it the last two years with LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and CRASH--but it doesn't mean they have any idea what they are talking about. For the record, I asked my 15-year-old niece if she thought the dialogue was unrealistic, and she pointed out that not only is Juno set in a different part of the country than she lives in, but that even at her high school not everyone talks the same way. In any event, she didn't find the dialogue to be unrealistic or distracting. Of course, she also has the benefit of not being a pretentious ass, so I suppose that helps.
Where to start with JUNO? The screenplay is great, of course, but the acting is also perfect--everyone's so wonderfully cast, it's hard to imagine any improvements. With a few minor exceptions, the characters aren't played for laughs--sort of the opposite of an Alexander Payne movie. All of them have good qualities, but they are all flawed as well. The plot is original and, for the most part, unpredictable (take that, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) and I was fully invested in the story and the characters. It is, as I read somewhere, one of the rare movies that can warm your heart and break it all at the same time. Is some of the dialogue strained? Sure it is, but why isn't anyone bitching about "What business is it of yours where I'm from, friend-o" as much as they are bitching about "Honest to blog"? I mean, you want to talk about some seriously stupid shit, it's some psychopath calling someone "friend-o." Let's face it, most movies have a line or two that hurt it, but it doesn't ruin the movie unless you want it to.

Best Director:
Will win: Joel and Ethan Coen, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Should win: Paul Thomas Anderson, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

I like the Coens, but I think they are immensely overrated. I never really understood the hype surrounding FARGO, which is fine but strikes me as more of a quirky movie that caught on as opposed to an actual legitimate film (sort of like a lesser GHOST WORLD or HEATHERS--or, for that matter, a lesser THE BIG LEBOWSKI). In terms of direction, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is certainly the best thing they've ever done, but, to be perfectly honest, that isn't saying too much (what's it better than--BARTON FINK and O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, I guess--and neither of those is a classic by any measure). I don't mean to imply that the job they did here wasn't good--because it was outstanding. And, in most years, they'd deserve an Oscar for the job they did--in fact, Bardem is going to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as much because of their direction (and Deakins' cinematography) as for his acting. But this year they are second-best.
The ironic thing about Paul Thomas Anderson's job in THERE WILL BE BLOOD is that one of his greatest strengths as a director--his ability to match the perfect music to a scene, where he is arguably the equal of Scorsese, and better than Tarantino--is not really in evidence here. Jonny Greenwood's score is getting a lot of hype, but I thought it was a little heavy-handed, myself, and I found it to be a great disappointment given the effectiveness of Anderson's use of music in the past. That said, the rest Anderson's direction was pretty amazing; the movie is one great scene after another. The scene with the oil fire is one of the great scenes of recent years, and it's rare that such a great scene lasts as long as that one does (though this year there was a similarly great long scene, the Dunkirk scene in ATONEMENT)--and it's the one time in the movie that the music fits perfectly. I was a little concerned about Anderson after PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE--but he has come back in a big way here.

Best Actor:
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Daniel Day-Lewis--who, amazingly, has only been in 3 movies in the last 10 years, and only been in 8 since MY LEFT FOOT nearly 20 years ago--might have been the only actor who could have pulled off the character of Daniel Plainview, but pull it off he did. His character does seem to derive from John Huston in CHINATOWN, but that's not too bad a thing--Cate Blanchett won an Academy Award recently for playing a caricature, and she wasn't nearly as good as Day-Lewis was. I wish the character had been more developed--why does he have a competition in him, and not want anyone else to succeed?--but that's not Day-Lewis' failing. Sure, he probably takes the last scene a little too far, but I'm not sure there's a better way to play it--and even though he's also a nutter in the penultimate scene, he isn't too over-the-top in that one despite the necessary theatrics.

Best Actress:
Will win: Julie Christie, AWAY FROM HER
Should win: Ellen Page, JUNO

This is the strongest of the major categories this year, which I feel confident in saying despite not having seen Blanchett. Christie and Cotillard will battle this one out, but I think Christie rates the edge here. Both are great, but I personally think Cotillard overacts a little, whereas Christie's performance is much more subtle and that will likely serve her well. I was pretty amazed that Cotillard won the BAFTA but I think the Academy will turn the tables and Christie will get a well-deserved second Oscar. Also, Sarah Polley's direction was so great that it would be a tragedy if the movie wasn't rewarded in some way, and she won't win for adapted screenplay.

Ellen Page, though, dominates JUNO and gives a performance the equal of Day-Lewis' in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Her great performance is no surprise--she was outstanding in a difficult role in HARD CANDY and has received accolades for her completed-but-unreleased performance in AN AMERICAN CRIME--but what's unfortunate is that it's easy to lose sight of how good her performance is. One can argue about how true-to-life Cody's screenplay is, but it's not really possible to argue that Page struggles with it even though it's a pretty demanding role. It requires her to wear many hats, and she runs through them all pretty seamlessly. Sure, she's great when she cries in the car, but she's even better when she's talking about shooting babies out of t-shirt guns in China. She's helped by a strong cast--no one in the movie is bad--but it's her show, and the movie is only as good as it is because she carries it.

Credit also is due to Anamaria Marinca in 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS, who is outstanding (and I rate it as the 3rd best movie this year, behind JUNO and THERE WILL BE BLOOD). The three best performances this year are Day-Lewis', Page's, and Marinca's, and there's not much to separate the three of them. Her scene at the dinner table is arguably the most powerful scene in any movie this year, and it's pretty much just her facial expressions. Amazing. It's unfortunate that she isn't getting more credit for her performance, especially considering that it's her cinematic debut.

Best Supporting Actor:
Will win: Javier Bardem, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Should win: Tom Wilkinson, MICHAEL CLAYTON

The only thing that stuns me more than the hype for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is the hype that Bardem is getting. Sure, he acts like a crazy fucker, but he doesn't do much other than look like a nut and has a crazy look on his face. Really, he's only got three scenes where he does any "acting"--at the Texaco station, with Woody Harrelson, and with Kelly MacDonald--and, for the most part, the other person in each scene out-acts him (maybe not in the Woody Harrelson scene, but this is the weakest of the three). In my estimation, in his signature scene--the one at the Texaco station--he's not the one who dominates that scene, the old man does. "You have to call it, this is the best I can do"? "This coin took 22 years to get here"? Big fucking deal. Compare Bardem's performance to Ben Kingsley's performance in SEXY BEAST, and, well, there's no comparison. Kingsley's a small guy who comes off as this seriously intimidating scary dude, whereas Bardem just has a crazy look on his face and a gun (or that cattle stun-gun thing).
On the other hand, Wilkinson is great in MICHAEL CLAYTON--the scene where he is arguing with Clooney about his coming to terms with his life's work is amazing ("I am Shiva, the god of death."), as is the scene where he sticks it to Clooney when he is challenged on his area of expertise. To be perfectly honest, having worked in the legal field for so long, and seeing the complete lack of intellectual integrity on the part of many high-powered attorneys probably had me wondering why breakdowns like his don't happen more often, and had be cheering for him a little bit. Still, it's not easy to play a man in his position undergoing a breakdown with conviction, but Wilkinson doesn't take a wrong step. Unfortunately for him, he is a bit player in what is probably the year's most memorable scene, which, for the record, is much scarier than any of the shit Bardem participates in.

Best Supporting Actress:
Will win: Amy Ryan, GONE BABY GONE
Should win: Saoirse Ronan, ATONEMENT

Here is where my ignorance catches up with me, as I have only seen Swinton and Ronan of the nominees.
The favorite is Blanchett, but I can't imagine she'll win another Supporting Actress Oscar for essentially playing another caricature of someone with whom everyone is familiar. Ryan is by all accounts excellent in GONE BABY GONE, and while she's won her share of awards this season--enough to suggest she can win the Oscar--she hasn't won so many that the Academy will feel the need to even things up with Blanchett. So take the price and go with Ryan.

I didn't think much of Swinton in MICHAEL CLAYTON, which makes my decision pretty easy; and, in truth, watching her struggle with an American accent gave me a lot more respect for Day-Lewis' performance in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. But Ronan is quite good--probably not good enough for a win, but certainly good enough for a nomination. Really, all of the Brionys in ATONEMENT are good, and while Redgrave is probably better her role is so tiny that there's little question which one of the three is the most impressive.

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, February 24th. Enjoy.


oreo said...

Well said, I enjoy your knowledgeable opinion.
I'd say that I only watched about 25 movies that came out last year. From all I've seen and heard you're dead-on with your predictions on who will win. Supporting Actress is the only one that I'm not 100% sure on...I think it will be between Adams and Blanchett and I can see the latter taking it.

This year I really have no problems if any of the movies wins best picture. They're all quality films and I don't think one really distinguishes itself as that much better than one of the me its not like Crash winning it over Brokeback, and I wouldn't feel bad.

I ranked No Country 1A and Juno 1B as my favorites this year. No Country had beautiful cinematography, good editing, was well acted all round and from all accounts follows the book to the smallest of details. I didn't mind the ending either...most that didn't like it needed to see all the knots being tied but I don't think it took anything away from the movie. Loved Juno as well. Great casting, very funny and your line about its warmth is perfect. I'm glad it did so well at the box office and I look forward to what Reitman brings us next.
I do hope that both movies win the screenplay awards, though they're up against some tough competition.

A couple of things I have a different opinion of:
1.I liked the music in There Will Be Blood. Thought the violins and the music (and lack of at times) was very haunting and fit in well.
2.You're forgetting Blood Simple...I think that after No Country that's probably my favorite Coen movie. Was early in their career but I really enjoyed a lot of the little details in it.
3.I actually thought Punch-Drunk Love was alright...
4.I'm not sure that Leading Actress would be considered the strongest category. It lacks star power (especially when comparing it to the Leading Actors) and basically includes Blanchett in a reprisal of a role that she's already been nominated in (and a bad movie from all I've heard), a comedic performance (albeit a very strong one), and the two leading candidates to win(Cotillard and Christie) are from movies that basically nobody has seen. Just don't think the category is that memorable or particularly strong.
5.I enjoyed Bardem's character. The man can act. We were scared from the beginning not just because of that haircut. Every step, every look, every soft sentence spoken gave you the weebie jeebies. Still can't match the Frank Booth character in Blue Velvet, but close. If anybody is going to beat him is going to be Wilkinson or the old guy from Into The Wild. You're right about Kingsley in Sexy Beast. He was a scary scary man too.

Some of my other favorite things this year:
-The beach scene in Atonement (maybe showing off a little but such a long continuous scene with that many actors/extras/machines is a very difficult thing to pull off, and it was quite amazing to see how well he pulled it off).
-The fire scene in There Will Be Blood.
-Daniel Day-Lewis. The man is a wonderful actor.

This is the one awards that I actually sit down to watch every year and talk to friends about so I'm glad that its still going to be on. I look forward to it and to catching a few more of the movies that I haven't seen yet.
Thanks for writing this again, and Kanu thanks for posting it.
Cheers and the enjoy the weekend fellas,

Kanu said...

I saw JUNO on Friday and NCFOM last night, bringing me up to 4 of 5- unfortunately I won't get to see TWWB in time.

Call me crazy, because all the talk seems to be with Juno, NCFOM, and TWWB, but personally I liked MICHAEL CLAYTON and ATONEMENT the best.

I agree with you that Bardem will win as much on the direction and cinematography as for his acting.

And although I failed to catch 3 of the 5 BEst Doc movies, only seeing SICKO and WARDANCE, I really rally want to see WARDACNE win Best Doc. It is an amazing movie.

Enjoy tonight.

Kanu said...

Also, for me, PSH in CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR was way better than Bardem in NCFOM. Wilkinson was probably better for me as well {didn't see INTO THE WILD or TAOJJBTCRF}.

Anonymous said...

Four out of six is not too bad, especially since I don't think anyone saw Swinton winning.


I appreciate your comments.

Congratulations, the screenplay awards worked out for you.

Regarding our "disagreements"--

(1) I liked the music in There Will Be Blood as well, it's just that it was obtrusive. It was obtrusive in the Oil Fire scene as well, but it didn't matter because there was enough going on in the scene that it was almost better to have a score like that (kind of like a heartbeat...relentless and rhythmic).

(2) You're right, I did forget Blood Simple. Definitely the second best directing they've done, to No Country.

(3) Punch-Drunk Love suffers in comparison to Boogie Nights. Just about everything does. It's sort of like being disappointed with every Tricky CD since "Maxinquaye" because nothing else measures up.

(4) I wasn't clear enough on what I meant about the Lead Actress being the strongest category. I didn't necessarily mean that they were five great roles (although I'm sure they all were), I meant that those five actresses are all incredible.

Page is the best actress of her generation (18-25), and is so far ahead of everyone else (after what, three movies?) that no one is even in the conversation (Knightley? Paquin?). Christie is an incredible actress, with four Oscar nominations. Linney is an amazing actress as well. I'm not the biggest fan of Blanchett, but her body of work speaks for itself. The weak link in the bunch is Cotillard, who is no slouch--and who, at this point, a (deserving) Oscar winner.

When compared with the lead actors, I think they are much better. Day-Lewis is a genuine giant, and Clooney is great as well. Jones, though, is a better supporting actor; Depp is highly overrated, and is almost more of a clown at this point (Willy Wonka, Jack Sparrow, Sweeney Todd); Mortenson's fine, but he's not great by any stretch of the imagination. Just my opinion.

(5) Bardem is a great actor, no doubt about it. But what I was trying to illustrate by comparing him with Kingsley was that you can give anyone a gun, have them shoot up a lot of people, and say the guy is scary.

But the indication of a great actor is when a Kingsley (a smallish, bookish Brit--Izhtak Stern and Gandhi, for fuck's sake) or when Hopkins (some old, portly Shakespearean actor Brit) convince you they are psychopaths without having to rely on a gun.

Hell, I'm scary if you give me a gun and a script that calls for me to shoot up a bunch of people, and at this point I'm just a fat curmudgeonly dude who tells the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn.

Anyway, thanks for the comments. It's always good to discuss with others who are similarly passionate.

ATL_eagle said...

Good job as usual Solon, although I disagree with the Coens being overrated. They are prolific, therefore have a few duds in their catalog, but they have made five great films (Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Fargo, Big Lebowski and No Country) as well as some very good ones (O'Brother, Blood Simple). They are great writers but also have a very good visual sense and are great at casting their own films. I am glad to see them finally win.