Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar preview & There Will Be Blood

Well, the Oscars start in a couple hours, so I finally got out to see There Will Be Blood to see how Daniel Day-Lewis did this time. When we last saw Mr. Day-Lewis in a film, he was stealing Gangs of New York from Leonardo DiCaprio (and everybody else) in a brilliant performance as Billy the Butcher. My hopes were high.

I have mixed feelings about There Will Be Blood. It's a Paul Thomas Anderson production and, on the whole, it's not his best movie. I don't think it's up at the level of Magnolia, or even Boogie Nights. The script is a bit weak in areas, and parts of it seem rather affected. For example, there isn't any dialogue at all for the first fifteen minutes of the film. That seems to me to be PTA showing off rather than doing the best thing to advance the film.

TWBB is an extended story about Daniel Planview, played by DD-L, a self-made oil man in California at the turn of the 20th century. About halfway through the film, I realized that this film was not going to be a dry, dispassionate study of the hard life in the oil business, but rather it was going to be entirely a long, drawn-out story about the conflict between materialism, as personified by Plainview, and religion, as personified by Paul Dano as the preacher Eli Sunday. Eli's brother Paul, also played by Dano, is the one who alerts Plainview to the existence of a massive oil field under some overlooked land near the coast of California. Dano reminded me somewhat of Edward Norton, and I totally missed that he was the one who played the Graham Woodring character in Little Miss Sunshine.

The acting is tremendous, especially Day-Lewis and Dano. The problem is that the screenplay is plodding, wandering all over the place for no good reason. It's weird: many of the individual scenes work very well, but the film doesn't really hang together well as a whole. I still recommend it to any interested filmgoer, because every performance by Daniel Day-Lewis should be seen and enjoyed. Is he a bit over-the-top at times in this film? Perhaps. But many people in real life go over the top at times, too.

The general incoherence stands in stark contrast to what I think was hands down the best film of 2007: No Country for Old Men. No Country for Old Men has a clear structure to it, and everything in the film contributes to the underlying themes. I have been meaning to give this film its own post at some point, but I've been avoiding reality for the past week since Buffy died. And yeah, it's pretty bad if writing a film review is too close to reality.

Anyway, on to the predictions:

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
It's got the momentum and the cast and it's the best film I saw. I've managed to see four of the five nominees, only missing chick flick Atonement. While I enjoyed Michael Clayton, Juno, and There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men is simply better. By a lot.

Best Actor:
Well for starters we can rule out Viggo Morgenstern in a film nobody saw and Johnny Depp for his role in Sweeney Todd. George Clooney was very good in Michael Clayton, but not really up to the level of the other two nominees. I've already praised Tommy Lee Jones for his work in In the Valley of Elah on this blog. That might be the best work of the year. But he's got no hope going up against Daniel Day-Lewis. It would be a huge upset for anybody other than Day-Lewis to win here. This was a year where most of the best acting was in the Supporting Actor category.

Best Actress:
Of the five performances, the only one I've seen is Ellen Page in Juno. And she's not going to win, no matter how adorable she was in this film. I don't even know who the favorite is supposed to be. I doubt it will be Keira Knightley for Atonement. (checks) According to, the fans think Julie Christie will win for Away From Her. I've voted for Cate Blanchett for the second Elizabeth film, which I have yet to see, based on the idea that she's probably at least as good as she was in the first one.

Best Supporting Actor:
Javier Bardem, hands down. Anton Chigurgh is the best bad-ass character to come to film since Hannibal Lecter. I have a lot of fondness for Tom Wilkinson in this category, and I doubted I could see a better acting performance in a supporting role after seeing Michael Clayton, but Bardem just blows him and everybody else away.

Best Supporting Actress:
I only saw two of the five, and of the two, Ruby Dee in American Gangster is a non-entity. Consider this to be a lifetime achievement nomination. Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton is excellent in a central role of the film. Apparently this is a category that Blanchett might win?

Best Director:
Well, this often goes to the director of the Best Film winner, and I think this year will follow that logic. It'll go to Joel and/or Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men.

Best Original Screenplay:
Candidates include Juno, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, Lars and the Real Girl, and The Savages. The last two are also-rans. Ratatouile is reportedly excellent, but I haven't seen it. Given the choice between Juno and Michael Clayton, I would lean a bit to Juno for its rare ability to capture the essence of teenage life accurately. Note to screenwriters: teenagers don't talk in deep tones about their lives like the kids on 90210 did. Mostly they have strong opinions about some things and are completely clueless about a lot of things. Juno has an excellent screenplay, and I hope it wins here.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
No Country for Old Men should win this one, too. An excellent adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy story (novel? novella?)

Best Animated Film:
I suspect Ratatouille will win. Some have complained that The Simpsons Movie wasn't included. I think it should have been included just as a nod to the years of excellence for the TV series, but the film itself was hardly one of the better Simpsons' stories.

Best Documentary:
Sicko? As usual, I haven't seen most of these.

Time to play Civ IV for an hour and then watch the Oscars. Perhaps I'll get to bed before 3 a.m. tonight?


whispers said...

Well, I missed Best Actress and Best Documentary, but on the whole I'm pretty pleased with my picks. Like I thought, it was a huge night for No Country for Old Men. And Tilda Swinton won the Best Supporting Actress in a small surprise.

Jolene said...

One of these years, maybe I'll actually get around to seeing more of the nominated movies. I did see Juno (obviously), but no others. Kind of makes for a less interesting Oscars when you can't really judge for yourself whether any of the awards are justified. Usually I just watch to see what people are wearing - kind of boring this year, I have to say. Probably the most interesting thing from the red carpet was seeing Jennifer Garner nearly get molested by Gary Busey.

antje said...

Viggo Mortensen!
Maybe these european names are difficult for americans ;-)

whispers said...

Blecch - my bad about Viggo.