1. Best Picture: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."
Well, at least I've so far reviewed four of the five Best Picture nominees. I must have gotten a half dozen invitations to "Juno." but a quirky teen pregnancy comedy sounded doubtful compared to all the late Fall Oscar heavyweights like "Atonement" and "Margot at the Wedding."
Not a great year for movies, at least not for the kind that get Oscar nods. "No Country" tries to be profound by having Tommy Lee Jones mumble Cormac McCarthy's cranky soliloquies about kids these days, but at heart it's a video game on screen, an exercise in pushing a lot of buttons in the brains of males with 3-digit IQs. As I wrote:
Finally, Joel and Ethan Coen ("Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski"), the most gifted of the many brother-act frauteurs making films today, have figured out how to bring the pleasures of a problem-solving first person shooter game to the movie theatre. ...The Coen Brothers have discovered that the paradoxical key to making a video game movie is to slow down the action, allowing the viewer to think along with the hero and villain. Not since the sniper scene that makes up the second half of Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam film "Full Metal Jacket" has a movie played fairer with the audience in detailing the physical puzzles confronting the characters. How, for example, could you best hide two cubic feet of $100 bills in your motel room? And how could your enemy find such well-concealed money?
I know I've seen a well-crafted film when I walk out of the theatre yet still feel like I'm living in the movie. Leaving the amnesia thriller "Memento," for example, I was convinced I'd never remember where I'd parked my car. With "No Country," this post-movie spell lasted longer than I can ever recall. Even the next night, every car that passed me on a quiet street seemed an eerie, sinister harbinger of sudden violence.
2. Actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"; Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"; Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"; Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises."
Daniel Day-Lewis is a given. Excellent choice of Tommy Lee Jones for his stoic portrayal of the heartbroken old soldier in "Elah" rather than for his chatty, ineffectual, and (due to his accent) somewhat inaudible role in the more popular "No Country for Old Men." Viggo Mortensen is a first rate pick in Hollywood's favorite role: the dangerous man with a heart of gold. But where is Josh Brolin, who had a similar role as the hero in "No Country" and was even more winning? They should have dumped Clooney for Brolin. (By the way, Oliver Stone wants to star Brolin in a biopic about George W. Bush. Stone is not quite right in the head, but then so are many famous men, which means his biopics can be sympathetically insightful.) I might have gone for Benicio Del Toro, overacting entertainingly, in "Things We Lost in the Fire."
3. Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie, "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"; Laura Linney, "The Savages"; Ellen Page, "Juno."
Cotillard's impersonation of the 4'-8" French songbird Edith Piaf would be amazing even if she weren't over 10 inches taller. I can't blame the Academy for skipping Angelina Jolie's critically acclaimed but lousy performance in "A Mighty Heart."
4. Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."
Affleck's is more of a lead role - he must be on-screen at least an hour. I would have liked 10 minutes of his character, but with somebody so whiny and perturbed-looking, a little goes a long way. I guess Bardem's the favorite for his Terminator-style role as the relentless hit man in "No Country," but if he wins it, the Academy ought to go back and give Ah-nold a Best Supporting Actor for "Terminator." It's one of those one-note performances -- a terrific note, but not a lot of variety there.
5. Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"; Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"; Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"; Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."
Amy Ryan, a New York theatre actress, is terrific in a short role in Gone Baby Gone as the coke-addict Boston Irish skank mom of a kidnapped little girl, stealing most of the scenes she's in from Casey Affleck as the detective. But a nonprofessional local from the neighborhood named Jill Quigg, who plays her even skankier best friend Dottie, who is permanently ensconced next to her on the couch in front of the TV, almost steals Ryan's scenes from her. I think there should be an Oscar for Best Cameo for people on screen less than a few minutes.
6. Director: Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Jason Reitman, "Juno"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."
8. Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, "Atonement"; Sarah Polley, "Away from Her"; Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."
9. Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, "Juno"; Nancy Oliver, "Lars and the Real Girl"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco, "Ratatouille"; Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages."
10. Animated Feature Film: "Persepolis"; "Ratatouille"; "Surf's Up."
"Surf's Up" got in on the penguin craze too late, but it's better than you'd expect. Picking this over "The Simpsons Movie" was a good call. Brad Bird's "Ratatouille" is of course excellent, but I've never had much to say about it.
12. Cinematography: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," "Atonement," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood.""Jesse James" is quite beautiful, while "No Country" is not, but the latter is more effective.
18. Documentary Feature: "No End in Sight," "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," "Sicko," "Taxi to the Dark Side," "War/Dance."
20. Film Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Into the Wild," "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."
This usually goes to the Best Picture. People in the industry respect film editors, but they don't really know what they do, so they assume that if they like a movie, it must have been because of the editing. The interesting race here is between the two action movies: the state-of-the-art ultra-frenetic "Bourne Ultimatum" and the very deliberate "No Country." I'd vote for the latter.