Monthly Archives: February 2008

The 2008 Awards With No Name

Well, how was that for a completely uneventful night at the Academy Awards?  There were no upsets in the Big Eight categories except for Marion Cotillard stealing it from Julie Christie, devastating the English who only got two instead of three of the four acting awards. At least Oscar can’t be accused of American bias since the Best Actors and Actresses were spread among nationals of three European countries.

In the other categories of injustice, I wasn’t crazy about Transformers but I can’t believe it was denied the Special Effects award in favor of The Golden Compass, whose digital imagery seemed pretty unremarkable to me. Both Transformers and At World’s End were more deserving. And absent a nomination for Sunshine in the Sound category, No Country should have won since its sound was the score.

Even though No Country deserved every one of its awards, the other nominations themselves reflected a lack, not so much of imagination, as of memory. Here then are my picks for what could have been nominated, in the first (annual?) Awards With No Name.

BEST PICTURE

There’s no doubt that No Country for Old Men was a flawless picture, but there were several other films across many genres that could have been nominated along with it:

Ratatouille

Blades of Glory

Live Free or Die Hard

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Day-Lewis’ Galactuslike Devourer of Scenes is best described in the words of the unconverted Daniel Plainview himself: “That was one goddamn helluva show.” Jim Emerson explains why:

The fatal miscalculation of this film and this performance [is that] Day-Lewis isn’t content to play this character; he stands apart from Plainview, judging him and telling us how we should feel about him, every step of the way. Plainview himself sucks the air out of any room he inhabits (even when he’s outdoors), but I feel like Day-Lewis goes him one further, strutting and fretting to upstage his own character.

Some better alternatives:

Brad Pitt, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (a performance that is perhaps too effective for the character’s own good, the supressed suspicion portrayed through Pitt’s eyes is so convincing it appears to be certain knowledge of his traitor)

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (this was nominated as a Supporting Role but deserves recognition as the true lead of the film)

Woody Harrelson, The Walker (a fuller and more complex treatment of Harrelson’s Southern Gentleman persona used in his three memorable No Country scenes)

Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men (a perfectly pitched performance understandably overshadowed by Bardem’s attention-drawing role)

Will Smith, I Am Legend (the first movie in which he hasn’t shouted “Aw, hail, no!” and his best performance to date, making it all the more a shame the movie let him down)

Michael Cera, Superbad (has any comedian better perfected the art of self-effacement? Give this man an award now before he moves to the other side of the camera and never comes back, as predicted by Chris)

BEST ACTRESS

Unfortunately for actresses, this was a year of homosocial movies with very few lead actresses. In three hours Daniel Plainview never even spoke to a woman individually!

Cate Blanchett is a fine actress but I award her no points for being in the worst movie of the year (Elizabeth: The Golden Age; I haven’t seen I’m Not There). Marion Cotillard deserves recognition for her physical transformation, but when compared with actual footage of Edith Piaf towards the end of her life, Cotillard’s performance is revealed to be largely a cartoon of decrepitude. (Thanks to Beady Eyes Al for drawing my attention to the fact.)

Therefore, having missed Away from Her, the only role which I saw that I think deserves Best Actress came from someone who took what was literally a cartoonish role — which in anyone else’s hands could barely have been stretched into a five-minute sketch without becoming cringeworthy — and transformed it into a three-dimensional character through sincerity and enthusiasm without resorting to mere irony. Never retreating from the highly mannered acting requirements, she invested a one-note gimmick with a completely genuine heart, enabling Disney to deconstruct its own mythologies without for a moment betraying them.

So for achieving the impossible, the Best Actress Award with No Name must go to the one and only:

Amy Adams, Enchanted

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

I can’t fault the Academy for nominating Philip Seymour Hoffman (the only great acting in Charlie Wilson’s War) and Javier Bardem (No Country), but lest we forget some of the unsung minor roles last year, consider the contributions — so disproportionate to their screentime — made by:

Garrett Dillahunt, No Country for Old Men (as the foil of TLJ, Dillahunt’s deputy brings some needed humor to this dark fable) 

James Marsden, Hairspray (180-degrees from his sourpuss turned brooding loner in X-Men, he plays Corny Collins with relish)

James Marsden, Enchanted (the only role to outdo Marsden’s turn in Hairspray)

Sacha Baron Cohen, Sweeney Todd (the first movie to properly exploit Cohen’s affinity for ludicrous accents)

Michael Cera, Juno (one of the few reliefs from the Diablo Cody’s marathon of cuteness)

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad (the only actor to rival Cera’s ease with looking uncool)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

As above, I measure supporting performances by the ratio of impact to screentime:

Samantha Morton, Control (how many 30-something actresses can play a teenager?)

Kristen Wiig, Knocked Up (as Heigl’s passive-aggressive, undermining coworker, Wiig throws away jokes as lightly as Bateman and Cera)

Amanda Bynes, Hairspray (the only respite of fun in this overbearing embarrassment)

Kelly MacDonald, No Country for Old Men (strong-accented Scot plays strong-accented Texan without becoming a caricature)

Jennifer Garner, Juno (as The Kingdom reminded us, seeing Garner actually play a character a rare thing indeed)

BEST PICTURE OF PREGNANCY

Maternity Chic ruled 2007, but let’s be honest: every other movie about the topic was a truer depiction of the state of pregnancy than the glib Juno. Let me make a wild guess: Diablo Cody’s never been pregnant. Here are some better movies about the subject:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 

Knocked Up

Waitress

BEST DOCUMENTARY

For me, one of the most suspenseful movies of 2007 was a documentary about the most well known event of the 20th century. Thankfully there was no narration except the words of the Apollo astronauts themselves:

In the Shadow of the Moon

BEST FOREIGN FILM

Ne le dis a personne (Tell No One)

La Tourneuse de pages (The Page Turner)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

La Mome (La Vie en rose)

Moliere

BEST SCORE

Compared to the other nominees, Dario Marianelli deserved every ounce of his little golden god, as much for Pride & Prejudice (which deserved a win more than the repetitive theme from Brokeback Mountain) as for the irresistable typewriter-infused score of Atonement.

Mathieu Chedid, Ne le dis a personne (seventy percent of the suspense is a result of the smoldering guitar score by Chedid as “-M-“)

Jérôme Lemonnier, La Tourneuse de pages

Johnny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood

John Murphy and Underworld, Sunshine (the most overwhelming sonic experience of the year, thanks in large part to Underworld’s score)

John Murphy, 28 Weeks Later

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The Ass. of Jesse James

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

This is the Academy’s most reliable category, with unimpeachable nominees last year and this. Unfortunately just as Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men) was denied last year in favor of Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), the best photographer was likewise robbed this year. 

But even though Roger Deakins was the Man of 2007 (double-nominated for No Country and Jesse James), it was wise recognition on the part of the Academy that There Will Be Blood had a better cinematographer (Robert Elswit) than overall director. I suppose that just because There Will Be Blood is a fabrege egg — a beautiful shell with nothing underneath it but the dried-up remains of unrealized promise — that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get credit for its pretty surface.

But in addition to the Oscar-nominated Janusz Kaminski (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and Seamus McGarvey (Atonement), at least two more cinematographers come to mind whose work in 2007 deserves recognition:

Martin Ruhe, Control (the fact that every frame of film could be framed and hung is nearly overwhelming, but perhaps due as much to the director, photographer Anton Corbijn, as to the film’s official photographer) 

Alwin Küchler, Sunshine (a vibrant meditation on light and optics that compares the orbs of sun and eyeball, appropriate to a film about the source that makes our vision possible)

Advertisements

Sixties Chic

Jeri notes the difficulty of identifying the time period of The Way We Were. Not because it was timeless but because the era in which it was made overpowers the era that was meant to be evoked:

It wasn’t until the day of FDR’s death that I found out we were in the 40s, and I was surprised, especially considering Barbara Streiand’s very 70s makeup and the distinctly 70s look to all of Redford’s clothing.

It occurred to me last week, while I was watching the original Thomas Crowne Affair for the first time, that one of the reasons films from the 60s hold up so well is that it was the last decade in which the clothing still looks as good now as it did then. And yet you can tell even the style of Thomas Crowne is approaching the end of that decade. From about 1970 onwards the clothing became too trendy, leaving the movies visually dated. The same is true of the oversized 80s and the return to flared collars in the 90s. It’s still naturally impossible for us to tell the degree to which this decade’s movies are slaves to trends.

The style of the 60s was still classic enough that it has a wonderfully timeless quality. But what would a new movie made to look like it was made in the 60s look like? That seems to be the intent of Michael Radford in his new heist picture Flawless. I’m not sure why he casted Demi Moore to play an Englishwoman while there are plenty of his fellow countrywomen to choose from, but I can understand why she’d take the role. She hasn’t had a good one in ten years, if ever. But Moore does have an icy look, like a brunette Tippi Hedren, and Radford may be after a Hitchcockian vibe. At any rate Michael Caine is enough to get me in the door.

CLOVERFIELD

As an anti-Lost activist I was never that interested in Cloverfield and almost didn’t go because I was afraid the found-object recording was going to be an insufferable gimmick, but that image of the Statue of Liberty’s head crashing into the street got me in the door and I have to admit I loved every second of it!  It totally worked and I thought it was one of the most suspenseful films I’ve seen in a while.

Perhaps it was my non-existent expectations that gave me the opposite experience of nearly everyone else who seemed to be driven mad with anticipation by Cloverfield’s teasing marketing campaign. Maybe because I hadn’t spent a spare second of the past six months wondering what the nature of the monster might be, I never felt frustrated by the first act’s introduction of the five main characters and their relationship to each other.

Even so, none of the characters are really important except for one. The only crucial bit of casting, fufilled perfectly by T.J. Miller, is the role of the amateur cameraman. We only catch a glimpse of him twice but it is his naive narration throughout the film that really carries it. His enthusiasm excuses his intrusiveness as a cameraman, but since he obviously isn’t the real cinematographer Miller’s job is hardly more than an on-set voice-over. An actor might consider it a thankless job since he follows the other actors everywhere to interact with them, but must always be kept out of frame. But his is the best acting in the film since he must convey his entire personality through his voice without reliance on gesture or facial expression.

The problem with World Trade Center was that it was too glossy, too polished, and any piece of amateur footage from 9/11 on YouTube is infinitely more interesting.  JJ Abrams & Co. apparently recognized that fact in establishing the concept, and Matt Reeves has made a film that is in many ways more “pure” than Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.

Perhaps the negative reports of Redacted had soured my expectations for Cloverfield but aside from the formal conceit they couldn’t be farther apart. From what I can gather (because it hasn’t yet been released here) the gravitas of Meaning seeping through every frame of Redacted undermines its artiface of spontaneity and practically sinks the film, while Cloverfield pretends to eschew Deeper Meaning at every turn. None of the characters even mention 9/11, but its pretense of obliviousness is the agent that activates its inherent subtexts.