Tuesday, February 19, 2008

THE 2007 OSCAR WRAP-UP: NO LOCAL PARTY, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD-SCHOOL OSCAR BAIT



Why, Mr. Day-Lewis, did you just win an Oscar for Best Actor, or are you just glad to see me?

Thank God, AMPAS and the WGA—we will not be denied our Oscar party this year! I’ve had Oscar gatherings at my house every year since I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago, and, oh, what a crushing blow it would have been to have had to swallow the news that this year there would be no memorable moments from the Kodak Theater. As Conan O’Brien speculated last January in his writer’s strike diary (published in Entertainment Weekly), “Blasphemy! Horror! The Golden Globes are canceled and the Oscars may be next. I want no part of a world that refuses to congratulate itself.” Fortunately, we have been spared the waves of dementia and disorientation that plagued O’Brien in the final, desperate passages of his tome. All is well in Hollywood. The Oscars will be on your TV this coming Sunday, February 24—pregame shows beginning as early as 3:00 p.m. Well, they are in Los Angeles anyway, where our priorities are, to quote Conrad Veidt in The Thief of Bagdad, as straight as the letter alif. The streets surrounding Hollywood and Highland— the heart of Hollywood, in other words— have been blocked off since last Sunday. God help the poor family intent on spending $60 just to get into the El Capitan to see Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus—Best of Both Worlds that has to run that security gauntlet.

The difference for me this year is that I will not be watching the Oscars from home, but instead from high atop a neighborhood hill in Springfield, Oregon, overlooking Autzen Stadium, where I will be taking in the glitter in the luxurious manse of my best friend Bruce (Blaaagh to many of y’all). My wife and daughters pretend that this is sad news, that they will miss me. I suspect, however, that the opposite is true. This year, no grown men will be screaming at the TV over the announcement of the winner of the Best Sound Mixing award. No stale Cheetos will be ground into the carpet. There will be no post-show moping about how one day Laura Linney will get her due, goddamn it.

(I kid about the volatility and general level of raucous fun of my Oscar party, but I swear to you that on any given year it looks nothing like this:



No offense, but anyone showing up to my house in a tux, or even a tux T-shirt, on Oscar Night, would be shown the back door.)

The girls will get to bed on this Oscar school night on time, perhaps even early, with no swearing and drunken laughter to keep them awake. My wife will shut off the lights five minutes after the girls are tucked in and proceed to tuck herself in with a good book, most likely one that would be far too literary and difficult for Hollywood to ever consider adapting. She will fall asleep without the sound of Billy Bush, Joan Rivers, Richard Roeper and the local ABC news crew, all decked out in tuxes and gowns, squawking and echoing inside her skull. She will, this one year, strive to forget that Hollywood even exists on this night of nights. And she will go to sleep not knowing, yet suspecting, that once again, even given such a quality crop, the goddamned worthless Oscars will screw up and give the big prize to the wrong movie. There may be blood, but there will not be Oscar bling-bling. The 2007 twist, however, is that front-running movies this year, from No Country for Old Men to There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Away from Her and Ratatouille actually deserve the pole position, and traditional Oscar bait like Atonement isn't likely to be a serious contender for any major awards. (The less said about potential spoiler Juno the better, particularly since I've already grouched about it at length.)


Actor Ian Charleson enacts the aneurysm on schedule for me when when Juno wins for Best Screenplay

Yet up in Springfield, there will be bombast and blasphemy and pulverized snack foods settling into the deep shag. My best friend and I will see the Oscars together for the first time in nearly 15 years, and no matter what does or doesn’t happen on TV all will be right because of that. I’ll be hopping a plane to Eugene Thursday morning, which means that it’s time now, before I have no other time, to go on the record with my phony baloney Oscar predictions. Those of you looking for a quick fix for your office Oscar pool are warned right away that you’d be better off cribbing someone else’s notes. I’ve held about 20 years worth of office Oscar pools to go along with my legendary Oscar parties, and I’ve won the pool exactly once (the year Million Dollar Baby took home the gold). So if I were you, I would recommend heeding the soothsayings available from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times or Entertainment Weekly before giving the following picks more weight than one of Paulie Bleeker's orange TicTacs. Much like compulsively trotting out my Oscar nomination predictions, the posting of my predictions for the actual awards feeds little else beside some dark desire to be publicly humiliated, in addition, of course, to the hungry little squirrel that keeps the revolving treadmill of my fragile ego constantly rotating. So let’s gorge the little bastard, shall we? Here are my picks for this year’s Oscar winners:

PICTURE: No Country for Old Men (Worst nightmare: A Juno win anywhere, but particularly here.)

ACTRESS: Julie Christie (please, Lord…)

ACTOR: It’s madness, but I’m following my heart-- George Clooney. (But really, if Daniel Day-Lewis loses, look for the sun to not rise on Monday morning.)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Javier Bardem (though Hal Holbrook could easily upset)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett is not the force that Bardem is in the Supporting Actor category, so the Lifetime Achievement Award Syndrome has a much better chance of reigning supreme here. But Ruby Dee is gonna be this year’s Lauren Bacall. Shaky limb, here I come: Tilda Swinton.

DIRECTOR: Joel and Ethan Coen

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: No Country for Old Men

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Is typing this now worse than hearing it on Sunday? I think not: Juno. (What I wouldn’t give to see the rat or the awakening lawyer steal the cheese from Diablo Cody…)

ANIMATED FEATURE: With all due respect to Persepolis, it’s gonna be Ratatouille.

ART DIRECTION/SET DESIGN: Sweeney Todd…

CINEMATOGRAPHY: My gut tells me the deserving winner, Roger Deakins, gets hurt by being double-nominated, which paves the way for a win by Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood.

COSTUME DESIGN: Atonement

FILM EDITING: No Country for Old Men. The Coen Brothers incredible (is it also unprecedented?) run of four Oscar wins begins here.

MAKEUP: You thought last year was bad? The ultimate Eddie Murphy snub comes this year when Oscar awards the movie that allegedly caused voters to turn away from Eddie’s Dreamgirls performance: Norbit! Norbit! Norbit! Norbit!

ORIGINAL MUSICAL SCORE: He should have won for The Incredibles, but I’ll be happy when Michael Giacchino wins for Ratatouille.

ORIGINAL SONG: Enchanted’s happy ever after crashes and burns here. The winner: ”Falling Slowly.”

SOUND EDITING: Voters will remember Jonny Greenwood’s score and think it was something the sound guys did. No Country is too quiet, therefore no real sound to speak of, right? Winner: There Will Be Blood.

SOUND MIXING: The left hand knows not what the right hand does in this category. Winner: Transformers.

VISUAL EFFECTS: Transformers

FOREIGN FILM: The Counterfeiters

DOCUMENTARY: No End in Sight

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Sari’s Mother

ANIMATED SHORT: Madame Tutli Putli

LIVE ACTION SHORT: The Tonto Woman

Let the public dunking begin!


IT WAS 34 YEARS AGO: God bless Robert Opel and his shortcomings...

And if that’s not enough Oscar action for you, there’s plenty of other places to go that will make the time between now and Sunday evening pass like an outtake from Jumper.

First, just to prove to yourself that you don’t know everything there is to know about the Academy Awards, check out Film Site’s comprehensive guide to the Oscars-- all the nominees in every category in Academy history, plus a ton of other facts to clog up your brain pan that you hope will dislodge and come spilling out in front of the water cooler.

Paul Clark has the latest on the 2007 Muriels including up to the minute entries for Best Body of Work, the year’s Best Ensemble Performance, the Muriel for Best Music (Original, Adapted or Compiled) and, fresh as this morning's coffee, Best Cinematography.

And speaking of Paul, he has a tip on where you can see Oscar-nominated short Madame Tutli Putli.

If you liked Nathaniel R’s Oscar Symposium, there’s plenty more intelligent Oscar talk on which to eavesdrop. Glenn Kenny gets together with ex-L.A.Weekly film critic and current arts editor for the Washington Post Express Arion Berger to hash over some Oscar talk. Here’s Part One and her’s Part Two. And do stay tuned: I get the feeling Glenn and Arion aren’t done yet.

For those looking for more reliable Oscar analysis than what I just regurgitated, Carrie Rickey of the Philadephia Inquirer has some thoughts, and she also links to Justin Chang’s analysis in Variety.

The always-comment-worthy Jim Emerson has some notions on the curing of Hollywood Ham on his Scanners site. Directly related is Jim’s back-and-forth with Kathleen Murphy: the two debate the merits of Daniel Day-Lewis, specifically his Daniel Plainview, over at MSN, where also lurketh lots of other Oscar coverage. (Thanks for the tip, Kim!) And Stephanie Zacharek pipes in on the Daniel Plainview/Day-Lewis discussion as well: "The care Day-Lewis has taken in building this character borders on obsession: His locution, the precise but laconic way he unpacks his tattered leather suitcase full of sentences, is borrowed straight from John Huston; he even mimics perfectly the grayed, whiskery undertones of Huston's voice. At first the choice seems brilliant. What voice better represents gruff, manly American determination than Huston's? Then again, once we notice an actor's choice, that choice is no longer transparent. And past a certain point -- once we begin to notice, and even perhaps marvel at, the way an actor squints to signal mistrust or doubt, or screws up the side of his mouth just so -- his choices move to the fore and the character recedes. And that's how easily we can lose a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis to greatness."

Craig Phillips of Green Cine Daily fame has his own Oscar predictions and hopes up for grabs at his blog Notes from Underdog. But where Craig really delivers is the news of Green Cine’s upcoming Live Oscar Blog. It’ll commence Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. and continue as long as the show goes—the group of bloggers Craig will have lined up will shoot snark as long as Oscar holds out, and we know that can be a long while. Any subject related to Oscar will be on the table, and if, like me, you can’t participate in the live fun, either as a blogger or a follower, you can always print it out later and relive the night’s glories and garish disasters through the eyes of Green Cine’s finest. I may be looking forward to reading this more than I am seeing the actual show!

And last but by no means least, Larry Aydlette, the wise and funny proprietor of Welcome to L.A., where it’s now Day 21 of the Burt Reynolds-a-Thon, is also the entertainment editor of the Palm Beach Post, and he has unleashed an epic Oscar quiz that promises to be the perfect warm-up for the big night. I am off to take the test right now, but I won't be making my score common knowledge-- I'm not that much to public humiliation. You can-- No, you must take the test now!

Not a bad lineup for an Oscar week with two days off stitched in for me as well. May your favorites emerge victorious on Oscar Night, as long as they coincide with mine, of course. I’ve decided to not pretend I’m above it all this year. The stakes are too high. The Coens could get four Oscars for the best movie of the year, and one of their best as well. As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell once said, “Okay, I’ll be part of that world.” You can be too. Drop your predictions in the comments column, and let the Hollywood adulation begin.

40 comments:

bill said...

I honestly did not know the Oscars were this Sunday. And I don't mean, "Oh, I don't care about the Oscars, and therefore was unaware when that horrid show was being broadcast." I mean I genuinely didn't know. Preparations must be made!

And George Clooney??? Yeah, you're wrong about that one. You might be right about Swinton, though.

Adam Ross said...

I think it's possible that the number of statues handed out in L.A. Sunday will be greater than the total of Oscar viewers in Springfield! Also, if you've never had the pleasure -- Jim's Landing in "downtown" Springfield is maybe the best place in Oregon to play authentic shuffleboard.

And again -- the new banner is awesome!

Peter Nellhaus said...

The Oscar show is three inspired minutes wrapped in three hours of boredom. I'm not even going to watch this year, although I am rooting for Julie. The best part is the memorial tribute so I may be better off watching something with Deborah Kerr.

Thom McGregor said...

I'm very glad that this year you'll be watching "the show" with someone who, unlike me, won't be mocking it and most of the movies it celebrates and movies and movie stars in general. I must admit the show usually disgusts me on some basic level, and so I probably can't see the moments of goodness. I've seen you weep as stars weep while gripping their golden man, and been totally unmoved. Why? Probably because they're stars. I'd sooner weep for you weeping. So your description of my Sunday evening might be close to right, although I actually have a few movies to root for, namely "There Will Be Blood." I'm very much looking forward to-- though I don't even know if it's scheduled to happen-- Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's performance of "Falling Slowly." So maybe I WILL be watching this beast. But I won't miss the Cheetos ground into the carpet, or men shouting for no good reason. I will certainly miss you though and so will the kids. First time I won't see the Oscars with you in 15 years. It's almost traumatic. But at least you're in the best of hands with Blaaagh and wife.

Greg Cagle said...

You're watching the Oscars on Kelly Butte!?? Awesome! I used to watch FIREWORKS from up there.

- Greg

Jonathan Lapper said...

Just a few points:

1. Bill, you didn't know? For shame.

2. Adam - Shuffleboard / Springfield. I'll remember that.

3. Peter, for christ sake don't talk so crazy, you'll anger the Oscar gods.

4. I'm still confused on the whole name thing with Dennis' wife. But now I know Dennis weeps for Oscar winners. And that's gold - pure gold.

5. Greg - Great name. Love it.


Larry, you paying attention?

Paul C. said...

Someone should tell Larry that question #9 is wrong. The party in question won Best Actor, not Director.

Jonathan Lapper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Lapper said...

Paul C. - I'd tell him but I live in a giant bucket. Say, Tuesday's coming. Did you bring your coat?

Anonymous said...

Do the actors and actresses who attend the Oscars stay at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel? It just seems practical. I 've heard rumors of a few staying there. What do they do before the Oscars?

drink and eat?
shop?
go to the spa?

well I know that if it was me I would for sure be getting spa treatments before the big show. There is actually a new one opening up at H&H called Spa Luce. I have already signed up as a member at spaluce.com so I can receive discounts and perks. I may want to be treated like a star but I can't always afford it so discounts and perks are a plus for me.

well back to the main topic at hand, i love the Oscars and can't wait till sunday!

Thom McGregor said...

Mr. Lapper, I, Dennis's wife, am basically a lurker these days mostly because I'm very intimidated by the level of film knowledge and strength of passion for film that you and most of the other regulars here display. But I'll be happy to explain my name. Two of my favorite men, excluding Dennis, of course-- Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) and Ewan McGregor. Thom McGregor! Mystery solved!

blaaagh said...

Well, all I can say is, on behalf of Kelly Butte and me (and Mrs. Blaaagh), we are excited to take in the Oscars with you! You've always given the friendliest, most competititve Oscar parties around--and that includes the early days, when we were all living in L.A.

Greg--I've only spent one Summer on Kelly Butte, but all of our friends who attended our Fourth of July party agreed: we must do it every year! The fireworks are extraordinary up here.

Adam Ross: I'm as hesitant to defend Springfield as anyone here--almost--but after living here for a year and a half, and being so close to the river and to my job in Eugene, I'm happy to report that it's pretty wonderful. I am out in the neighborhood every day with out dogs, and I'll bet that a large percentage of our neighbors will be watching--and betting on--the Oscars.

Humbly yours,

Blaaagh

Ali Arikan said...

Not only am I definitely watching them, since I live in Istanbul, I am getting up at three in the morning to catch them live, and then going to work afterwards. There is nothing I won't do for high camp...

Paul C. said...

Jonathan~ I suppose I'll tell him myself. After all, I'm feeling fat and sassy.

Larry Aydlette said...

Paul C: I'll check it out when I get to work, and fix it. Thanks for the heads-up.

Jonathan Lapper said...

I see Thom McGregor - A Portmanteau of two favorites! How delightful. In fact... hold on, I'll be right back.

Dennis B Aydlette said...

Ah... that's better. From now on it's Dennis B Aydlette for me (the B stands for Bill). Feels like a breath of fresh air.

bill said...

Jonathan, you've inspired me...

Lapper Belichik said...

I don't know about you, but I like it.

Dennis B Aydlette said...

I'm glad to have inspired you lapper belichik. Funny you should choose that name because I always felt your first 18 comments on my blog were perfect but your 19th just blew chunks.

And be sure to click on my Dennis B Aydlette icon to see my profile and new blog - "Sergio Leone Welcomes You to L.A." (although I get the feeling it's going to be one of those abandoned blogs clogging up the tubes).

Greg Cagle said...

I grew up in Springfield; Kelly Butte is probably the nicest area in Springfield.

Side note: local legend has it that in the 50s Clint Eastwood worked for a while at the Weyerhauser plant in Springfield, and was thrown out of the White Horse Tavern. If you've been to the White Horse you'll understand :).

- Greg

(yes, that's my real name)

Anonymous said...

Man this blog sucks, oh no Junos gonna win an award lmao.You hate on it because you secretly liked it but cant stand to admit it. Man your gonna be crying when Ellen Page wins, oh ya it just may win best picture too. HAHAHH There Will Be Blood sucks, its Oscar Bait to the core, overacted and hailed as a masterpiece by critics who are obviously out of touch with what audiences and most ppl think. Juno made more on its tail end run then Blood made at its most profitable point. DDL is robbing Viggo Mortenson too, Viggo was 10 times better and heres the most Important part MORE ENTERTAINING.

bill said...

"Man this blog sucks, oh no Junos gonna win an award lmao.You hate on it because you secretly liked it but cant stand to admit it. Man your gonna be crying when Ellen Page wins, oh ya it just may win best picture too."

Dennis, I believe you've just been "zinged". Anonymous has looked into your very heart, and found it wanting. I think you have a lot of soul-searching to do, my friend, and I don't think you're going to be happy with what you find out about yourself.

Godspeed, Dennis. Perhaps this will simply be a new dawn...

Dennis B Aydlette said...

When I read anonymous' comments I always think the same thing: Courage.
Dignity.
Strength.
Small penis.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Good one Dennis.

Dennis B Aydlette said...

Thanks Jonathan.

bill said...

Okay, now that's just sad.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Bill's just jealous Dennis.

Dennis B Aydlette said...

I know.

Thom - Tell your husband to acknowledge his comment section. I'm getting restless.

bill said...

Me, too. I'm so restless that I just yelled at a passing baby.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Whew. This is what happens when a guy goes on vacation, eh? How does the old Oscar-nominated song go: "Where do I begin..."

Bill: I know that the George Clooney pick hasn't a snowball's chance in downtown L.A. of happening. I was just allowing myself a little impromptu fantasia on the theme of unexpected happiness. But I do think the little elf that comes in through my window at night, repairs my shoes and leaves Oscar-handicapping tips on my nightstand may be on to something with Tilda Swinton, unless the power of the Career Achievement Award proves too irresistible.

Adam: Thanks for the props on the banner. I will, when I return, make sure to give proper credit where proper credit is due, 'cause I love it too. I'm typing this in Springfield, and I tell ya, the whole town is abuzz with Oscar fever! It's amazing-- several strangers at the Gateway Mall, where Bruce and I took in a $1.50 show of The Mist this afternoon, stopped me and asked me if I thought Atonement had the steam to swipe the art direction award from Sweeney Todd. We have yet to make our way to Jim's Landing (and I was feeling a little shuffleboardy too), but we're currently floating on copious, delicious and reasonably priced draught beers obtained from another landing, Rennie's Landing, right there on the U of O campus. But we just may shuffle tomorrow!

Peter: After 40-some years of Oscar-watching, I have to admit to myself that the boredom is now an inextricable part of what I enjoy about the show, and I resent these new-age attempts to speed it along, because the cuts inevitably come at the expense of the actual winners and their time in the spotlight. Now, if they wanted to whack the musical numbers, I wouldn't complain.

Thom McG: Thanks for outing my tendency to weep when Reese and Gwyneth and Cate get up their and spew all their blubbery thank-yous! They're such underdogs, in life and in art, and it's so wonderful to see them getting their due. Now I don't seem so much like a gruff old John Milius type anymore in the eyes of readers like Mr. Lapper, but instead a milquetoasty Pat McCormick-ish guy instead. Outed. Damn.

Greg: The view from Kelly Butte is pretty f-in' awesome, especially when I woke up to it this morning. Bruce lives right under the Springfield water tower, and we took a walk up there last night with the dogs. I really was amazed that there was a part of Springfield that looked this nice, as my impression of it when I was in school here was not so great. But from up here it looks just fine.

By the way, I'm never going to the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, ever.

Ali: You are dedicated beyond belief. I used to get up at 5:00 to watch the nominations, but I can't even do that anymore. And I don't know if I could face a work day after the draining experience of watching the Oscars either. Whew. But I must say, that Daniel Plainview drawing of ours is mighty impressive. Everybody needs to see Plainview through Ali's eyes, and check out his Oscar predix as well.

Larry: 85%!!! But you threw me with that local impressario/Oscar nominee question!

And here's where the comments column gets more than a little schizophrenic. JL, I can't believe you created a blog for this Dennis B. Aydlette fella. With all that energy, you could power a small town.

And is it just me, or did Anonymous seem a little drunk this time? I was so devastated by the pain inflicted by the revelation of my secret love for Juno that I was barely able to read on. But I'm glad I did, because I found out that not only are critics out of touch with what most ppl think, but also that one of the most compelling bits of evidence as to the quality of Juno appears to be that it has made more money than There Will Be Blood and all the other nominees. I'm still trying to figure out what "lmao" means, but I would head up any movement to get Anon a book on punctuation for his/her birthday. Thanks, Anon, for keeping me real. And thanks, Bill, for the well wishes. My journey into the wilderness begins at approximately 9:00 p.. PST.

Well, Thom did indeed pass on the word that things were getting a bit weird here, so I'm glad I stopped sipping on my gin and tonic long enough to check in. Does anybody have any last-minute limbs they want to crawl out on? Does anyone think the palpable resistance to Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in the air of late will translate to anything other than interesting pieces to read? (I liked Jim and Kathleen's back and forth, and although I found Stephanie Zacharek's assessment of his work a bit dour, it was also kinda convincing.) Several pieces I've read in the last couple of days are trying to stir up some of the predictability of the awards by suggesting the Coens may not go four for four. I think that's one of the only sure things on the night, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the Cinematography and Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress awards shake out. Those could be giant killers in the office pool sweepstakes.

Well, folks, I'm off to sushi and perhaps Persepolis. I'll check in again tomorrow, I promise! And if I don't manage to stop by and say so at your house, Jim, thanks for the keen links and words at Scanners today, Jim. And I'm really enjoying your Pacific Northwest too!

Thom McGregor said...

In a perfect world, Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2 could go to the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel spa and just have a real lmao time together!

Robert Fiore said...

We had a discussion earlier where I questioned some of the merits of No Country for Old Men, and there were a few further points I wanted to clarify. If we look at No Country as nothing more than a thriller, then my criticisms are irrelevant. As a thriller it's an unqualified success because it's unlike any thriller you've ever seen. A great misconception of highbrow critics of lowbrow art is that the lowbrow audience just wants the same thing over and over again. It's a particularly deceptive notion because it's half true. The lowbrow audience does want the same thing over and over, but they want it to feel the same way it felt when they saw it for the first time. That's the trick, and No Country pulls it off.

However, if what you are saying is that the movie says something about the nature of contemporary violence through a portrait of one violent man, then there's another movie that does that so much better that it renders No Country trivial. The name of that movie is Taxi Driver. I seriously doubt that anyone quite like Chigurh actually exists. Travis you see in the news all the time. Industrial society is so affluent that it creates a kind of artificial benevolence. However, if the society has no use for you economically or socially, you soon realize that it is utterly indifferent to you. If you are one of these misfits and you don't have a history of violence, society will be indifferent to you even as you gather your arsenal in preparation for a horrendous act of violence. The Virginia Tech killer was even getting therapy before his act, but this did nothing to stop him. The Travis type killer imagines himself to be terribly injured and realizes he has it in his power to inflict staggering amounts of suffering on others while depriving them of any kind of revenge by ending a life he wasn't enjoying anyway. (You might recall that Travis doesn't kill himself only because he runs out of ammunition.) The one point Taxi Driver missed is that these people would come from the very young and hence less rational portion of society.

Even if the subject were the effect of the drug trade on violence No Country is off message. The drug trade took a form of endeavor that is disorderly by nature and stripped it of what order it had, not just because of the nature of the business and the money involved but because the sellers sampled the goods. I don't see how Chigurh reads on this.

There is one point that the film does make, which is that in a conflict between one party that wants to kill people and another that doesn't -- or between someone who primarily wants to kill and someone who primarily doesn't want to die -- the latter is at a significant disadvantage. For instance, because the police want to capture Chigurh and put him on trial he has the opportunity to kill a policeman and escape. The trouble is that the movie assumes there is nothing Chigurh can do that will make the authorities abandon due process, and I don't think that's true. Surely you haven't forgot the news footage of the bank robber allowed to lie there and bleed to death? As the plague of suicide that seized the Baader-Meinhof gang in prison may have slipped your mind, I'll remind you of that, too. If a Chigurh keeps killing people and they can't bring in him alive, eventually they will just shoot the bastard.

Robert Fiore said...

Oh and by the way, if this is actually also a baseball blog, Bill James has a really fascinating article on Roger Clemens on his website billjamesonline.net, though you have to pay for it. Which I guess is burying the lead that Bill James has a website. It's three fucking bucks a month. How can you not?

Brian said...

Hi Dennis!

Here's my own guesses (and runners-up) and preferences. Hope you don't mind me placing them here. I'm not exactly sure why we know with such certainty that the Academy isn't gonna go for Atonement in every catagory it can, but I'll play along.

Picture: No Country For Old Men (Michael Clayton)
my vote: There Will Be Blood

Director: No Country For Old Men (Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
my vote: There Will Be Blood

Actress: La Vie En Rose (Away From Her)
my vote: abstain; I've only seen Juno and The Savages

Actor: There Will Be Blood (Michael Clayton)
my vote: Eastern Promises

Supporting Actor: No Country For Old Men (Into the Wild)
my vote: Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Supporting Actress: Michael Clayton (American Gangster)
my vote: abstain; I've seen none of these

Original Screenplay: Juno (Michael Clayton)
my vote: Ratatouille

Adapted Screenplay: No Country For Old Men (Diving Bell & the Butterfly)
my vote: There Will Be Blood

Editing: Bourne Ultimatum (No Country For Old Men)
my vote: No Country For Old Men

Cinematography: There Will Be Blood (No Country For Old Men)
my vote: There Will Be Blood

Art Direction: Sweeney Todd (There Will Be Blood)
my vote: There Will Be Blood

Costumes: Atonement (La Vie En Rose)
my vote: abstain; I've only seen Sweeney Todd

Song: Once (August Rush)
my vote: Once

Score: Atonement (Michael Clayton)
my vote: Ratatouille

Sound Mixing: No Country For Old Men (Bourne Ultimatum)
my vote: No Country For Old Men

Sound Effects Editing: Bourne Ultimatum (No Country For Old Men)
my vote: No Country For Old Men

Visual Effects: Transformers (the Golden Compass)
my vote: abstain; I've only seen Golden Compass

Makeup: La Vie En Rose (Pirates of the Carribean: at World's End)
my vote: abstain; I've seen none

Animated Feature: Ratatouille (Persepolis)
my vote: Persepolis by a rat hair.

Foreign Film: 12 (Counterfeiters)
my vote: abstain; I've seen none

Documentary Feature: War/Dance (No End in Sight)
my vote: abstain; I've seen only Sicko

Documentary Short: Freeheld (La Corona)
my vote: La Corona, and if not that, Salim Baba

Animated Short: Peter and the Wolf (I Met the Walrus)
my vote: Madame Tutli-Putli

Live-Action Short: At Night (the Mozart of Pickpockets)
my vote: Tanghi Argentini

Bob Westal said...

Hey Dennis -- Sorry I haven't been by lately. I blame election-mania (I've been labeled an Obamabot, btw). Anyhow, as commenter #36, just wanted to wish you continued fun on your vacation (though I'm sure you're L.A. Oscar soirees must be something else) and to say I love the new look you and your cohort (a great blogger whose handle I suddenly can't remember) cooked up. Great work. Now back to my obligatory pre-Oscar post.

Bob Turnbull said...

Great post Dennis...

I was very happy to see your mention of Madame Tutli-Putli - a short I managed to see twice in theatres last year. I think it's brillant and it would be my favourite win of the night if it gets the Oscar (and since I'm Canadian, I'm legally required to cheer for NFB productions).

Because of a promotion that allowed web site visitors to unlock individual frames of the film, the CBC is now streaming the entire film in much better resolution than those YouTube clips.

You know, I hear the complaints about the Oscar telecast, but I usually enjoy the hell out of it. The self-congratulations can get tiresome, but there's usually fun to be had and a few segments that reinforce my love of film (the montages of film noir and foreign films in past years were both great). And if you don't mind me flogging one of my own posts, there are occasionally some great musical performances too.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"The lowbrow audience does want the same thing over and over, but they want it to feel the same way it felt when they saw it for the first time. That's the trick, and No Country pulls it off."

Robert: I certainly believe that audiences you characterize as "lowbrow" want the same thing over and over, and they want it to feel familiar and new at the same time. (I might use the word "general," but it's a semantic difference-- we're talking here, I assume, about audiences who may read reviews but themselves but do not themselves tend to approach films analytically.) But if the response of the "general" audience with which I saw No Country this very evening, here in Eugene, Oregon, means anything, then it's not at all safe to assume that the movie pulls this trick off for these audiences. The audience I saw the movie with tonight clearly was confused by the apparent disregard for the mechanics of genre that has the Coens dispensing with conventions by eliding scenes involving the fates of major characters. They were equally put off by the apparent fact that Chigurh seems to avoid the meting out of justice that would provide them some sort of closure or comfort or satisfaction.

(What does happen to him certainly illustrates that one of the thematic threads running through the movie-- you can't always see what's coming-- proves as applicable to him as to anyone else in the film, whether or not you believe him to be an apparition, a symbolic embodiment of evil, or just a standard-issue psycho killer.)

A good portion of this general audience was vocally derisive when the line "And then I woke up is followed by the cut to black and the end credits. There was laughter, some hissing, and the woman behind me was complaining loudly: "That's up for an Academy Award? Jesus Christ, we wasted the opportunity to see a good movie tonight!" (I'd like to think she took me completely seriously when I turned around and suggested she run straight to the 9:45 showing of 27 Dresses.)

The movie has captured a lot of people's attention, critics and audiences-- it's the Coens' biggest hit. But as box-office take is never an indicator of what people actually think of a movie on the way out, only of their desire to pay to go in, it's probably a mistake to hold up No Country as a movie that quenches people's thirst for a good thriller. It certainly does for me, and it goes far beyond that as well, but I suspect a lot of people who prefer their genre films laid out in a more straightforward and even comforting manner find it frustrating.

"If what you are saying is that the movie says something about the nature of contemporary violence through a portrait of one violent man, then there's another movie that does that so much better that it renders No Country trivial. The name of that movie is Taxi Driver. I seriously doubt that anyone quite like Chigurh actually exists."

"Even if the subject were the effect of the drug trade on violence No Country is off message."

I agree that Taxi Driver is a brilliant film that has many things to say that are germane to a discussion about the seeds of frustration and impotency that often result in spectacularly inexplicable acts of violence in modern society. It is also a fearlessly imagined character study. I also don't think that Taxi Driver has much at all to do with what is going on in No Country.

And no, I'm not saying that the movie the Coens have made is about the nature of contemporary violence through a portrait of one man, or the effect of the drug trade on violence. No Country for Old Men is not a character study of Anton Chigurh, nor does it try to specifically comment on any particular social issue like a rise in the level of violent crime in society or any particulars of the drug trade.

Instead, in my eyes the Coens film brilliantly fuses form and content to address some fairly free-floating ideas about the unchanging nature of violence and the vagaries of fate and does so indirectly, in the manner of many films in the past that have avoided specifics of politics and societal concerns, like Psycho or Night of the Living Dead, in order to access discussion of and experience with some pretty deep-seated fears that may be characteristic of the zeitgeist of a certain time. I think it misses the point of No Country to expect it, or to criticize it, for not making direct observations about Iraq or the kind of psychology that results in a Columbine. The fact that the movie takes place is 1980 is indication that, though it may tap into fears we have for the current direction of our country, specificity is not its subject. (For this reason, I suspect it may be one of those movies that remains relevant to future audiences because it is not rooted in observations of or relevant to a particular time and place.)

Nor does the movie concern itself with trying to ground Chigurh in some recognizable context in which we can see him as human or otherwise "relate" to him. He is the embodiment of the kind of pervasive evil that Sheriff Ed Tom Bell feels has changed the world but is actually just an indicator of its consistency. Ed Tom is weary, and it's his fundamental misunderstanding that the horrors we're subject to as human beings, some of which are visited upon characters in No Country, are things that are refashioned for new generations. It seems to me the movie is about not a world that is rapidly changing, going down the tubes into some unfathomable social disarray, but instead a world that is and has always been a far more random and foul place, a place where evil dwells and can never be understood, than people like Ed Tom can ever recognize or admit. The days of Ed Tom's father and grandfather, days of law enforcement when guns didn't have to be worn, is an illusion, a delusion-- his uncle tells him so when he confronts the sheriff about quitting and says, with frightening clarity, that to think that evil waits on him, that it is somehow looking for an opportunity to single him out, is vanity. We are not helpless, but perhaps we are, as Ed Tom fears, overmatched.

I think No Country for Old Men succeeds as a formal accomplishment and as something deeper. It is not Taxi Driver. It is not a journalistic film about the far-reaching tendrils of the drug trade. It is a story of men faced with something they think they understand which goes far beyond their capacity to comprehend, a force which seems corporeal but which may be something else, and the chilling effect the realization of that force has on one man's soul.

By the way, Robert, there's a great conversation going about all of this over at The House Next Door which you might appreciate. Thanks for writing! Now, who are you picking tonight?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Bob W: That's Kimberly Lindbergs on the new design tip! I'll make sure to log in with more thanks for her, and Peet and Jonathan, later this week. Hope your faves do well tonight!

Bob T: I have to agree that even though the show can drag on forever, I've rarely found it as boring and/or useless as the Monday-morning pundits tend to have it. There's always something in there for film fans, even you disagree with the fundamental concept of the Oscars or anything else in the show itself. And really, that Madame Tutti Putli is wonderful. Thanks so much for the link!

Hey, Brian! Thanks for going out on a limb with me. We can't be ALL wrong, can we? :) By the way, I'm sure there's someone doing this in SF, but the Bijou here in Eugene, the art house that used to be a mortuary (!), is showing the Oscars in HD in one of their auditoriums. I was thinking that might be fun, but there's something about sitting inside here on a rainy day and kicking back with some food courtesy of my best friend's wife, who is a marvelous cook, and enjoying the show with my socks off (unless that ruins somebody else's good time, of course) that I cannot resist. Any big plans for you for tonight?

Brian said...

Well, I have to work until 5PM, but after that I'll head over to a friend's Oscar party I was invited to. When my sister and I were living together in 2004-2005 we hosted such events, but once she moved back up to Portland she took the party-organizer instinct with her (I know she's hosting one today, and last I heard I think she was going to be dressed as Bob Dylan). Last year I went to one of the local theatre presentations (not HD) and it was loads of fun, especially when Celine Dion came on screen and everyone was yelling at the screen.

Have a great day! May Juno be goose-egged!