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)

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16 thoughts on “The 2008 Awards With No Name

  1. Ryan says:

    I wish I had more to comment on, but for now all I can do is complain that I haven’t seen The Assassination of Jesse James or No Country For Old Men yet.

    (Also, you misspelled ‘assassination’ — there’s two asses in it.)

  2. Ryan says:

    There ARE two asses in it. Dang it! You can’t knock someone else for spelling if your grammar is off.

  3. Nobody says:

    That’s what I get for misspelling it once then copy/pasting it every time thereafter!

    Anyway, get thee to a theater! No Country is still playing at the AMC Fullerton, Edwards Brea, and AMC at the Block!

  4. jeri says:

    Did you just diss Daniel DL?!?! Honestly, I sat through TWBB with a grin on my face the majority of the time because his acting thrills the heck out of me.

    As for Michael Cera, who is wonderful at that type of role, he is simply George Michael in Superbad and Juno, but in different clothes. I’m okay with that, but it really isn’t much of a stretch. I need to re-watch No Country and haven’t seen any of your other actor nominees.

    If you watch the DVD for La Vie en Rose, Cotillard reveals that she isn’t trying to imitate Piaf, but rather tell a story based on a person’s life. While I didn’t care for the story itself, I think the “cartoon” was pretty well played. As for Away from Her, the star of that show for me is the HUSBAND of Christie’s character, played by Gordon Pinsent. Christie plays well, but I was against her for Best Actress. I agree with you about Amy Adams, though.

    I think Juno is the first time that I realized Jennifer Garner is a capable actress. I really loved how she played her character.

    Thanks for acknowledging Waitress! It was a complete surprise of a movie for me, and I have thought about it more often than most of the movies I have seen this year.

    Oh, and I don’t think Ryan will be going to see No Country at the Fullerton AMC. Two guys got stabbed during a screening of The Signal there, so we’re all scared of that theater now (especially since the stabber got away)!

  5. Nobody says:

    Blasphemy, I know. I enjoyed DDL’s John Huston impersonation (referencing both The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and his character in Chinatown, I presume) but the moment he lost me was in the final scene when he started slobbering. Gimme a break. However I liked Plainview better than Bill the Butcher, whom I noticed fluctuates in and out of accent when I finally saw it a second time this month.

    But it is probably PTA’s fault as much as DDL’s that TWBB provides no insight into Plainview as a person. We never learn why he hates these…people…so much, we are just expected to trust that he does because he tells us so. It’s like an actor telling us he’s laughing instead of smiling or telling us he’s distraught instead of crying.

    Not that DDL doesn’t reveal emotions — after all nothing is so on display as the veins popping out of his forehead — but we only see what and never learn why. His misanthropy is never justified, which should be easy enough to do!

  6. Nobody says:

    I forgot to address Jeri’s other points.

    Cera: True, Polly Bleaker is George Michael–“I try pretty hard, actually”–but I think Cera’s Superbad role is more of a different character than Bateman’s Juno character is from Michael Bluth. After all, even Michael is not without a creepy vibe at times, he just usually catches himself in time.

    It took me a while to become comfortable with Cera in Superbad precisely because I was expecting George Michael (he would never be so vulgar!) and I had to realize this was somebody else. Obviously Cera has his own style of comedy and every character he ever plays will use it, but that is no different than most other comic actors.

    Cotillard: It’s a difficult call whether biopics “should” be based on pure impersonation (Ray), thereby always drawing attention to the fact that it is an artificial re-enactment, or rather capturing the “vibe” of a personality without letting it get in the way of the character’s own credibility in the movie (Walk the Line). Come to think of it, the prime example of this would be Capote vs. Infamous!

    Fortunately I saw La Vie en Rose without any previous familiarity with Piaf so I was able to enjoy it without comparing the performance to the historical character, so my comments are admittedly retrospective rather than a reflection of my experience during the movie, which I appreciated. I don’t begrudge her the Oscar, as much as it perpetuates the tradition of Best Actresses going to portrayals of historical characters.

    Waitress: Confession time — my comments were vague because I haven’t actually seen Waitress or 4 Months, I just assumed they must be better than Juno. The trailer put me off of Waitress because it was portrayed as a syrupy sweet RomCom and by the time I saw your appreciative review it was too late. So I just took your word for it and assumed 89% on RotTom can’t be wrong either!

    I wouldn’t have taken Fullerton as the site of a multiple stabbing, so maybe the Signal is real! (Until now I hadn’t heard of it but I just looked up the plot outline.) But the stabber’s escape is believable since the theater does have easy getaway access to the freeway.

  7. jeri says:

    I disagree about Plainview completely. He starts off mildly estranged from people, but as we can see, the closer he gets to them, the more vulnerable and weak he can let himself be. I think weakness is what he hates, and is something he can’t live with because he has such drive.

    He gets close to his son, but one accident (which makes his son physically and communicatively weakened) drives the two apart. He also lets his brother into his life, and the anger he experiences when he discovers he opened himself up to a con (to me) is what sends him over the edge. He also lets himself get entangled with the local social power, the church, and has to force a relationship. His interaction there is also a reason to hate people, especially the baptism scene, where he sees the hypocrisy of the church leader. What reason does he have to LIKE anyone?

    He hates the weakness and hypocrisy in other people, which often reveals his own weaknesses.

    I didn’t know much about Piaf either when I saw the movie, which is why I was impressed with the actress and not the person. I like that you bring up Capote vs. Infamous. Do you have a preference? I thought Capote captured the essence of the story while Infamous captured the essence of the man. I wouldn’t necessarily prefer one over the other.

    I hope you do like Waitress when you see it. It’s a romance, but it’s not a blind comedy, and certainly does not conclude toooo much like a romantic comedy. It’s full of sarcasm and Keri Russell is wonderful.

  8. Nobody says:

    Hmmm, all good points about Plainview. I will keep them in mind when I see it a second time hopefully.

    I wasn’t able to catch Infamous actually, the only Daniel Craig perf I’ve missed since 2004 (except for The Invasion but I’m not sure anyone saw that)!

  9. Amanda Mae says:

    Fancy fancy. I liked Juno. I loved Waitress. I think it captures pregnancy at two different times, but I identified a bit more with Russell in Waitress. Erm, not that I’ve ever been pregnant. I guess I felt she was really desperate, and lost. She did a great job.

    I could not stand La Vie En Rose. Marion Cotillard was fabulous though. Once I was convinced that Marion Cotillard was this woman from a ballet class I took, the girl looked just like her and was named Marion.

    TWBB’s production design was exquisite. I am most drawn to that element of most films, and I remember being so stunned by the work that must have been a great partnership between designer and cinematographer. Truly a team effort instead of the two excelling separately. The time period, costumes, hell even the sweat was perfect and appropriate.

    The thing about the Brokeback score is I haven’t heard it since I saw the movie, and perhaps again a refrain at the oscars, and I can still hum or sing the mainline. A score that stays with you is important, I feel.

  10. Amanda Mae says:

    Reading over that first paragraph, I didn’t explain myself too well. I felt that I COULD identify more with Russell, she seemed to be playing a real person. That person seemed to exist, not in a cutesy world of hamberger phones and silly best friends, and even though many elements were fantasy, her desperation and attitude towards babies was so refreshing. “I’m having this baby but I’m not happy about it.”

  11. Nobody says:

    The thing about the Brokeback score is that I haven’t heard it since I saw the movie either and it’s still haunting me. And I mean haunting in the bad way, as in I can’t get it out of my head no matter how hard I try. A “theme” is one thing but how many times can you get away with plucking the same seven notes in one movie!

    I also thought its nomination for cinematography was deserved more by the location scout — and the crew who hauled the cameras up into the mountains — than the photographer.

    In fact the only nomination it deserved was for Heath Ledger. Brokeback was more interesting the first time 40 years ago when it was called Becket.

  12. Amanda Mae says:

    I would love to see a count of that. How many times did those eight notes appear in the score. That sounds like a rainy day afternoon project when you have two broken legs and the only movie in the house is Brokeback. But those are very specific conditions.

    Yeah, I suppose it is cheating a bit when you have such beautiful things to photgraph.

  13. puckspice says:

    Ok, can’t believe I didn’t check this earlier – how can you, my dear, dear friend Nobody, not like There Will Be Blood? It’s freaking Homeric! I thought you of all people would slobber over it like ol’ Plainview at the end.

    Seriously, though, it really is very Greek in its refusal to explore the psychology of its main character. Plainview is Plainview, no explanation, and the film is an exploration of how a character like him interacts in that world. Maybe it’s just that I’m taking a class on Greek tragic theatre at the moment, but it struck me as more literary than anything else, and remarkably fresh on the screen.

  14. Nobody says:

    A compelling interpretation, Puck. I would be eager to read a short essay on TWBB as Greek tragedy if you’ve written anything on it, but how does one identify a good “Greek” refusal to explore psychology versus a movie that simply fails to do it?

    In other words, what will keep us from excusing genuinely failed movies by saying “It must be Greek”? I guess we are Shakespeare’s children, all of us, and it’s still hard for me to be otherwise. Incidentally I’m not convinced of the Homer = no-character-development equation either (Telemachus is only the most obvious counter example).

    Wish I could be in your class on Greek tragedy though (yesterday I read an article on the printing history of Aes., Soph., Eur., and Arist. before 1600). Since you’re an educator, what’s your take on Eric Havelok’s thesis that theatre was the primary means of Greek education, which was unsatisfactory for Plato who initiated the change from oral to written culture and education?

  15. linds says:

    Wow – lots to go on.

    I guess by Greek, I don’t mean ‘no character development’ but rather that a clearly-defined, dramatic character arc isn’t the be all and end all of literary pursuit. It’s incredibly hard to imagine drama before Freud for me (I’ve tried and failed miserably), but the more I think about Oedipus, the less of an arc I see in his character. Same for most of the heavy hitters (Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clytaemnestra, Orestes, Ajax… the gang). I don’t have much profound to say about it yet (though I could give you quite a lecture on the 20th century performance history of the Bacchae), but it’s something I’m mulling over.

    What I see in Plainview is a person whose character is fully developed, just revealed throughout the story. I don’t see that as a failure, just a very different approach for cinema. I think it succeeds, and pushes cinema in a more literary direction than is typical (which is why I think it really was the best picture of the year, though I can’t fault the Academy for acknowledging the flawlessness in No Country). And I agree with you on the whole excuse theory – it’d be easy to use this as a copout, which is why I think Anderson succeeds.

    As for the whole Plato and Greek education thing – I hadn’t thought much about it, actually. I don’t know that I agree that theatre was ever primary education. It seems the sophists more than filled that role, and the nature of the plays are such that they wouldn’t make great educational material. They seem much more to be political in nature, especially when you analyze the metatheatrics of them (Suppliant Women’s parade of young hoplites contrasted with the real parade of young hoplites before the show began, etc.). I’d have to read up more on it though.

  16. Nobody says:

    By “theater” I meant not just tragedy but all “dramatic” and oral performance of all poetry (especially that of Homer) which would include solo rhapsodes such as Ion. I kind of assume the sophists were the equivalent of higher education or graduate school for lawyers and such to learn rhetorical techniques.

    So Plato’s criticism of the poets was based on their role as society’s teachers and on Homeric poetry’s encyclopaedic character. The locus classicus is Havelok’s “Preface to Plato” (Harvard UP, 1963).

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