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Best Picture Nominees

February 20, 2008
Roscoe, N.Y.

Did this year seem a little cinematically emaciated? Regardless, here are my takes on the Big Five from worst to best:

Atonement

Ian McEwan's Atonement is a wonderful novel. From the opening paragraphs, the character of budding novelist Briony Tallis is a true marvel. Through a vivid imagination deeper than her understanding, Briony makes a serious mistake with catastrophic consequences, and for which she spends the rest of the novel (or, let's say, the entire novel, if you know what I mean) atoning.

Turning this novel into a movie of thwarted love is moronic. This is a film that never should have been made.

Michael Clayton

Sure I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but it left me as soon as I exited the theater. Even while watching, I wondered: Why is one murder done so skillfully so that no trace can be found, while the next murder attempt involves a very showy car bomb? A well-made trifle.

No Country for Old Men

I didn't read the Cormac McCarthy novel this was based on, but I have to assume that the Tommy Lee Jones role was reduced once the Coen brothers got a load of Javier Bardem's scene-stealing performance. I generally like Coen brothers movies more than most people — I'm a big fan of Miller's Crossing, for example — but this one seemed lopsided to me.

Juno

Yes, you can get pregnant the first time. This story of a smart wise-cracking 16-year old tomboy is at times a little too precious and a little too over-written, but Ellen Page and Michael Cera make it very real and very touching. Ellen Page is a gifted young actress — you might want to catch her truly disturbing performance in Hard Candy to see what I mean — and I'm curious to see where she'll be headed in the future.

There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson has always had epic tendencies, even with the non-epic subjects of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch Drunk Love. In this film, a rise-and-fall portrait of an oilman portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson finally tackles a subject that fits his skills. It's no Citizen Kane or Chinatown (and at times bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Giant) but it's a full commanding meld of American history and personal tragedy.

Sweeney Todd

I was very skeptical about this film, mostly because I still have fond memories of the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 operetta, and nothing here seemed right. Casting Johnny Depp in the lead role seemed ridiculous and I hadn't been much impressed with much that Tim Burton has done recently. Then I read that all the choruses were being removed — including the unforgettable opening "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd" and indispensable "More meat pies! More meat pies!" How could this possibly work?

Well, whattaya know: Tim Burton turned in a true masterpiece, a bleak view of Victorian London with dark gaslit interiors and foggy exteriors separated by wrinkled glass.

This is a near flawless integration of music, visuals, and performances. Too bad it wasn't even nominated.


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