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Archive for April, 2015

The 80th Academy Awards: My Verdict

AcademyAwards-2008As much as I love old movies, the best thing about 2007’s best picture nominees as compared to those from 1956 is that I didn’t have to watch any three-hour epics, let alone three. It was kind of a relief.

Anyway, aside from all being mercifully short (at least comparatively), the movies from 2007 are kind of a mixed bag. There’s a period romance, a quirky independent comedy, a cerebral mystery, a period drama, an extremely violent period thriller. Okay, so three of the five movies are period movies based on novels, but they are all very different, which made for a very fun viewing week. It also made for an interesting year at the Oscars, because the awards themselves were spread out. The movie that won the most Oscars (No Country for Old Men) only won four. There was no one movie that was clearly better than all the others; on the other hand, none of the nominees were unworthy. There were five very good movies all nominated for best picture in 2007.

2007 is actually a year that I wish that there would have been a couple of ties. Javier Bardem was so good in No Country for Old Men, and he totally deserved recognition for his acting, but I wish Tom Wilkerson had also won for Michael Clayton. He also did an amazing job. I know, I know, ties are rare, but they can happen. I feel the same way about Tilda Swinton and Saoirse Ronan. They were both fantastic, and I wouldn’t have been able to pick one if I had to vote. Actually, no, I might have voted for Saoirse Ronan just because if she hadn’t done as well as she did, Atonement would have been ruined, but Michael Clayton wouldn’t have suffered as much if Tilda Swinton had been a little bit off her game. But still. They were both amazing performances. I’m actually a little bit sad that the movies that were nominated for best picture didn’t get more acting nominations. I like it when I’ve seen all the performances; then I feel like I can really have an opinion on whether or not the right actors got them. Sadly, in this year of male-centric movies, I missed a lot of the acting nominees. If I could somehow make this blog my full-time job, I might be able to watch all the movies that were nominated for an award, but alas. It is not to be.

The one random winner that I am going to mention is the winner for best original song. I remember when I watched the Oscars in 2007 that I was sad that none of the songs from Enchanted won. But just recently, I discovered the song “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once. I don’t remember how I happened upon it, but it is a beautiful song. While all the songs from Enchanted are cute songs, “Falling Slowly” is a truly wonderful song. If you don’t know it, go find it and listen to it. It’s great.

I’m having a really hard time putting the movies in order this time around. I thought all of them were really good. So know that my rankings below might be different if I were doing them at a different time of day or if I were in a slightly different mood:

5. Atonement
4. Michael Clayton
3. Juno
2. There Will Be Blood
1. No Country for Old Men

And just because I ranked No Country for Old Men in the number one spot doesn’t mean it’s a movie I would like to watch over and over again. It’s fantastic, but I don’t think I could sit through it again. Ugh. It’s hard to justify my own rankings sometimes. But that just feels right.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

No_Country_for_Old_Men_posterDirected by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

I know it’s been a little while since I’ve posted, and I feel very bad about that. I know I left all my adoring fans hanging in 2007 (hahaha! Look at me, pretending I have fans!), but writing when you have a fever rarely produces anything that makes any sense, let alone anything readable. So in the future, I will attempt to not get sick until I’ve posted an entire week’s worth of reviews so that you, my loyal readers, will not be left without my wisdom.

I knew two things about this movie before I watched it: 1) It was based on a book by Cormac McCarthy and 2) It was a Coen brothers film. And this time, I was right on both counts! This movie makes a lot more sense for the Coen brothers. Although it’s a drama, it still has enough quirky characters and funny lines to bring that Coen brothers feel to it. Of course, that makes me extremely curious about the book that it’s based on. Does it have that same quirky feeling to it? Maybe one day when I have time in my life, I will find out.

So what’s the story? One day while he is out hunting (or poaching, maybe?) in the desert, Llewelyn Moss stumbles across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. He finds a case containing two million dollars, and instead of reporting it to the police, he decides to keep the money and run. Because he leaves his truck at the scene, he is soon being pursued by both the county sheriff and a psychopathic killer who works for the drug lord.

The Good: It’s extremely well-acted. Josh Brolin is Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran who wants more in his life. Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom, the county sheriff who just can’t understand the mindless violence that has entered his life. And Javier Bardem won an Oscar for his portrayal of Anton Chigurh, the incredibly scary psychopathic killer. Side note: I realized while I was watching this movie that although Javier Bardem is an attractive man, I’ve only seen him in movies where he plays a really bad guy, so I’m a little bit scared of him. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice man in real life, but I would need to see him being nice in real life to overcome the scary people I’ve seen him play. Kelly MacDonald is Moss’s innocent young wife with a backbone of steel. Her scene at the end was so well-played, I had to watch it twice.

I don’t know whether it was the acting or the screenplay or the direction, but No Country for Old Men is a gripping movie. I couldn’t stop watching. I got a phone call in the middle of the movie from someone I love, and getting pulled out of the movie made me really frustrated. I was so annoyed that I had to pause it; I was so into it and so absorbed in the world of the movie that coming out for a phone call was almost painful. And that was to talk to someone I care about. If it had been a telemarketer, I’m not sure what I would have done.

The Bad: Although I love Kelly MacDonald and think she’s a great actress, she looked so young that when I first saw her, I thought she was Josh Brolin’s teenaged daughter, which made it really creepy when he told her that if she didn’t stop talking, he was going to take her to the bedroom. It honestly took me a bit to realize she was supposed to be his wife. I think that’s more the fault of the makeup and costume people than anything. Everything else makeup and costumey worked, even Chigurh’s creepy haircut, but something needed to be done to make Kelly MacDonald not look like a sixteen-year-old.

I also felt like there was a lot of backstory to everyone which we as viewers never really get told about. Backstory is a good thing; it adds a lot of richness to a movie. But it left me with the feeling that there were things going on that I didn’t understand, and that frustrated me a bit. The questions didn’t all get answered, either. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MONEY?

The Ugly: After watching No Country for Old Men, I feel kind of silly saying that There Will Be Blood was violent. No Country for Old Men is so much worse. People get shot left and right for no discernable purpose. I am also now afraid of oxygen tanks, although I recognize that Chigurh’s was a special cattle tool. Still. They are scary. And because there were so many deaths, I was left feeling empty at the end. I thought, “Wait. That’s it? That’s all there is to this story? What? How? Who? No, there has to be another ten minutes or so.” I didn’t have a feeling of closure; the movie just…ended. I didn’t like that at all. I felt like if that’s how it was going to end, then there wasn’t much point to the two hours that led up to the ending.

Oscars Won: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actor in a supporting role (Javier Bardem); best achievement in directing; best writing, adapted screenplay.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best achievement in cinematography; best achievement in film editing; best achievement in sound mixing; best achievement in sound editing.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

600full-there-will-be-blood-poster-finalDirected by Paul Thomas Anderson

I knew two things about There Will Be Blood before I watched it: 1)it was based on a book by Upton Sinclair; 2)it was a Coen brothers film. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but think it was a very odd film for the Coen brothers. It was just so serious and everything was played completely straight. About midway through, I looked it up on IMDb and realized that I had only known one thing about There Will Be Blood: it was based on a book by Upton Sinclair.

So what’s the story? On a tip from a young man named Paul Sunday, prospector-turned-oilman Daniel Plainview travels with his son to the community of Little Boston to see if he can start some oil wells. The land is promising, but Paul’s creepy twin brother, Eli Sunday, has a strange hold over the people of Little Boston.

The Good: I’m not very familiar with Daniel Day-Lewis as an actor, but I didn’t think very much of his performance in Gangs of New York, so I wasn’t exactly jumping with excitement to see him in There Will Be Blood. But his performance as Daniel Plainview was excellent. It had to be; Daniel is in almost the entire movie and for some of the movie, he’s the only person onscreen. The movie wouldn’t have worked with a lesser actor.

I really liked the soundtrack. It wasn’t constant; at times there was no music at all. I like that. It makes it feel more real and less manipulative. I liked, too, that the music was usually played by a smaller group, not necessarily a full orchestra. It reflected the bare bones of the frontier places Plainview was.

The Bad: There were a couple questions I had that never really got answered. Why did HW stop talking? He had the capability to speak. Why did he not? And what happened to Paul Sunday? I suppose if I had a creepy brother like Eli, I might leave and never come back, but why does his family never mention him again? I kept waiting for him to show up again, but he never did. I felt like other people disappeared, too, like Ciaran Hinds’ character. What happened to all those people?

The Ugly: I’m not a big fan of violence, whether it’s intentional or accidental, and many distressingly violent things happen in this movie. My cat finally moved off my lap in disgust because I kept jumping and gasping at things that were happening. Mining and oil well-digging were very dangerous jobs back then, and I didn’t like seeing what could happen to people while they practiced those professions. I’m not mortally offended by it; I’m just not good at handling that kind of stuff.

Oscars Won: Best performance by an actor in a leading role (Daniel Day-Lewis); best achievement in cinematography.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best achievement in directing; best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in film editing; best achievement in art direction; best achievement in sound editing.

Michael Clayton (2007)

michael claytonDirected by Tony Gilroy

When I was growing up, my dad would turn a movie on while he finished up paperwork at night. When the movie ended, he would simply rewind it and start the same movie over again. It never really bothered me too much (except when the movie was Groundhog Day), but I’ve never had the urge to do that myself until I watched Michael Clayton. It’s a very subtle corporate thriller, and I feel like I didn’t quite pick up on everything the first time through. I would like to watch it a couple more times, but since I have a full-time job which not my blog, I can’t do everything I want.

So what’s the story? Michael Clayton is his law firm’s clean-up man. Whenever anything goes wrong, he’s called on to fix it. So when the firm gets a call that one of the partners who was at a deposition has stripped himself and started chasing a witness through the parking lot, Michael Clayton is sent to see what can be done. When he gets there, Michael finds out that everything is not as it seems…

The Good: There were some fabulous performances in this movie. George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a man who’s dealing with all kinds of stress at work and in his family life. It’s a very understated performance. His acting in the last few minutes of the movie and into the end credits was incredible. Tilda Swinton is the head legal counsel for the company that Clayton’s team is supposed to be representing. She is a fascinating character; she is smart and capable, but not at all confident. I’ve never been a huge fan of hers, but I have to admit that she is fabulous in Michael Clayton. Tom Wilkinson plays Arthur Edens, the partner whose breakdown leads Michael Clayton on a search for the truth. Movie director Sydney Pollack does a good acting job as one of the heads of the firm, and Austin Williams plays Michael’s fantasy-novel obsessed young son.

The cinematography really set the mood for the movie. It takes place during the late fall or early winter, and the cold, dying landscape and the wintry light reflected Michael’s mood.

The Bad: I like to think that I’m an intelligent person, but I know I missed some plot points. I will admit that I was tired and my brain wasn’t functioning at full capacity, but feel like I shouldn’t have to watch a movie more than once to understand all of what’s going on.

Also, why were the horses in the field bridled? I’m no horse expert, but I have always thought that horses don’t wear their bridles when they are left in the pasture. It’s a silly thing, but it disquieted me for the whole movie.

The Ugly: Even though Michael Clayton was interesting and had good acting, I never connected with the movie on an emotional level. I feel like I should have felt something, but the movie felt more like an intellectual logic puzzle than a work that touched my soul. I think an excellent movie should touch the viewer in some way.

Oscar Won: Best performance by an actress in a supporting role (Tilda Swinton).

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actor in a leading role (George Clooney); best performance by an actor in a supporting role (Tom Wilkinson); best achievement in directing; best writing, original screenplay; best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score.

Juno (2007)

JunoDirected by Jason Reitman

When people rave about a quirky independent comedy, I always worry a little. Is the movie really that good, or are people afraid to say they don’t like it for fear of being seen as uncool or unsophisticated? Because let’s face it, not every independent movie is good. Some are downright boring. But because they aren’t made by the established Hollywood studios, independent movies are seen by a certain set of people as being automatically amazing. Then more and more people jump on the bandwagon and suddenly this independent movie is the best movie ever made, according to popular opinion. And then I watch it and I have no clue what everyone sees in it. (Sorry for the tirade. I just hate pretentious people.) Anyway, that wasn’t the case with Juno. It’s a fun, funny, enjoyable movie–and I’m not just saying that to please the hipsters.

So what’s the story? Sixteen-year-old Juno has sex for the first time with her best friend/unacknowledged crush Paulie Bleekman and ends up pregnant. She goes to get an abortion, but just can’t do it. She decides to put the baby up for adoption. She looks for potential adoptive parents in the Penny Saver ads and finds Vanessa and Mark, a seemingly perfect couple. Juno hits it off with Mark right away, but has a harder time connecting to the worried, perfectionist Vanessa. But there are many surprises in store for everyone during Juno’s pregnancy.

The Good: I like the cast. Ellen Page makes a very believable sixteen-year-old who’s trying to figure out life. Michael Cera is at his awkward best as Paulie Bleekman. Jennifer Garner is delightful as uptight Vanessa. Jason Bateman captures just the right attitude as Mark, the man who’s not ready to grow up. Allison Janney is Bren, Juno’s dog-obsessed stepmom who is still unsure of her relationship with Juno, but is willing to support her to the end. I decided I wanted to be friends with J.K. Simmons when he wore a fedora to the Oscars this year; Juno makes me want to be his friend even more. As Juno’s dad, he’s a little rough around the edges, but he loves his daughter and will do anything for her. So yeah. The cast was awesome.

I liked the music, too. I like happy acoustic guitar music. Does that make me a hipster? Ugh! I am having so many mixed feelings about liking anything about this movie.

The screenplay was excellent. Diablo Cody managed to make the viewer like Mark and hate Vanessa at first and then slowly reverse position. That was very clever. There were a lot of good, funny lines, too. Very well done all around.

The Bad: Leah didn’t fit in the movie. She was funny, and the actress was good, but the friendship didn’t feel real. In my experience, cheerleaders aren’t BFFs with quirky, semi-loner musicians.

The Ugly: I didn’t find any in Juno. There were some awkward moments, but awkwardness is a part of adolescence. Juno herself was a little more clever and self-confident than most high school juniors I’ve met, but it’s a movie.

Oscar Won: Best writing, original screenplay.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actress in a leading role (Ellen Page); best achievement in directing.

Atonement (2007)

Atonement-movie-posterDirected by Joe Wright

It was five or six years ago when I read Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, but it has stayed with me. Even though I liked the writing style and thought that the characters were very well drawn, it was a hard book for me to get through. As soon as Robbie handed Briony his note, I knew things were going to take a turn for the worse; I didn’t want that to happen, so I put the book down for a while. I couldn’t stay away, though; I had to find out exactly what happened to all of these great characters. I finished it and loved it, but never felt like I had to emotional strength to read it again. So it was with a feeling of trepidation that I watched Atonement. I didn’t want to see all the bad things happen to the people I cared about. I needn’t have worried. Although it’s a good film, I didn’t get as emotionally caught up with the characters as I did when I read the book. Maybe it’s because I already knew what was going to happen, so I subconsciously made the decision to stay detached.

So what’s the story? On a hot summer’s day in 1935 England, thirteen-year-old Briony witnesses some things that she doesn’t understand and so misinterprets as menacing. When her cousin is attacked, Briony makes an accusation based on what she’s seen earlier. This accusation has serious repercussions for Briony’s sister, Cecelia, and Cecelia’s lover, Robbie, that will echo throughout the rest of their lives.

The Good: The music struck me from the very beginning. I really liked the way that the typewriter was used almost as a percussion instrument. It was very clever and somehow added to the tension of the movie.

The acting was very good. I don’t usually like Keira Knightly, but she really fit her part here. James McAvoy made an excellent Robbie. Saoirse Ronan was nominated for best supporting actress for her role as thirteen-year-old Briony. She has very expressive eyes. Romola Garai plays eighteen-year-old Briony, a young woman haunted by what she did five years before. They are all excellent in their roles.

The cinematography was lovely. The very long tracking shot on the beach emphasized the hopelessness and chaos of the situation. The cinematographer also somehow made the scenes at the country house glow like a long-cherished memory. It’s a very pretty movie.

The screenplay was well-done, too. I was wondering how they were going to show what really happened and also what Briony saw and interpreted. They did an excellent job with that.

The Bad: I kept wondering about the scene between Cecelia and Robbie in the coffee shop/at the bus stop. (SPOILER ALERT): If everything we see in the movie up until the interview is Briony’s story that she’s rewritten for Robbie and Cecelia’s happy ending, how did Briony know about that meeting and the summer cottage? Because when we see Robbie dying, he has the photograph of the beach house. That kind of bugged me.

The Ugly: The movie itself didn’t have anything ugly about it, but the story is frustrating and sad. It’s probably not a good movie for the easily depressed to watch.

Oscar Won: Best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actress in a supporting role (Saoirse Ronan); best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in cinematography; best achievement in art direction; best achievement in costume design. (When did the names of the awards get so long?)

The 29th Academy Awards: My Verdict

yul brynner

Yul Brynner receives his Academy Award from Anna Magnani.

After I decided I was going to watch all of the movies that have been nominated for best picture, I typed up a list of all the nominees and winners by year and crossed out all the ones I had already seen. There were two years where I had seen every single nominee, but not the movies that had actually won best picture. 1956 was one of those years. (If you’re curious, the other one is 1995. No, I’ve never seen Braveheart. Don’t judge.) So this week was a week of watching some old favorites and way too many epic movies (three of the movies this week were three hours or more) and trying to figure out why in the world The Ten Commandments hadn’t won best picture; I thought biblical epics had always been favorites for best picture wins. But I also got to see a fun new movie that I probably would never have watched if not for this blog.

Having seen so many of the movies and having loved so many of them for so long makes it really hard for me to be impartial. Do I think The Ten Commandments deserved the award for best art direction-set direction because I love the movie, or do I truly think that it was better than The King and I? Actually, no, I think The Ten Commandments should have gotten that one. And best costume design. And since I also love The King and I, I’m not showing too much favoritism, right? But it would have been a hard year to vote on some things. The music in all the movies I watched was equally good. While Yul Brynner did an excellent job in The King and I, and I don’t begrudge him the award at all,  James Dean was equally good in Giant. Actually, I’m a little bit surprised that James Dean didn’t win; sentimentality often plays a part in who wins, and James Dean’s nomination was posthumous. Anyway, a lot of good things happened in motion pictures in 1956.

However, I don’t agree with the best picture winner. Around the World in Eighty Days was fun, and the cinematography was amazing, and the sheer amount of work that it must have taken is mind-boggling. While it deserved recognition for all of that, the movie that I think is the best of the five didn’t win a single Academy Award. Friendly Persuasion is my pick for best picture. In a year of epics, it stands out as a quiet movie about a single family. Everything about it is good, from the acting to the music to the screenplay. The characters are all so alive; they have their virtues, but they also have flaws. Many of the characters are facing inner struggles, which are hard to portray in a movie, but the actors are so good that you can see the struggle inside. The characters aren’t judged for their decisions, either. Each one makes his choice, but the movie doesn’t condemn anyone for what they do. The viewers may or may not disagree with what everyone does, but that’s left to the viewer. The movie itself is neutral, which isn’t often the case, especially when it comes to war movies. I think that was a real feat in and of itself. That’s why I think Friendly Persuasion was the best movie from 1956.

How do I rank the nominees?

5. Giant
3. Around the World in Eighty Days and The Ten Commandments (tie)
2. The King and I
1. Friendly Persuasion

Why a tie? Around the World in Eighty Days drags a bit at times, while The Ten Commandments is interesting all the way through. However, the screenplay for The Ten Commandments is not the best. Around the World in Eighty Days has an excellent screenplay. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I always admire in a movie. I would have given The Ten Commandments the edge just because I like it so much, but that’s not fair, so it’s a tie.