Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 25, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OSCAR THREAD....I was OK with most of the Academy Awards last night except for the winners in the two supporting actor categories. Javier Bardem was fine as hit man Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, but I often wonder if intense, showy roles like this are really all that difficult to pull off. (Comments on this score are welcome from people who know more about the craft of acting than I do.) I would have chosen Casey Affleck instead for his genuinely interesting and affecting turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

And Tilda Swinton? Spare me. We've seen the cold corporate lawyer character a hundred times before, and Swinton didn't do anything new or interesting with it. I think I would have chosen any of the other nominees over her, with my top pick going to Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone. I didn't actually care for the movie all that much (more flash than substance and an ending that was too heavy handed for my taste), but Ryan's performance was pitch perfect.

But we all have our gripes. And I was certainly happy to see No Country for Old Men beat out There Will Be Blood. TWBB was arresting and, often, enthralling, but like a lot of people I'm growing tired of Paul Thomas Anderson's inability to take all his bits of interesting filmmaking and turn them into a genuine, complete film. On that level, No Country was simply a better movie.

What did you like or hate about the Oscars? The floor is open.

UPDATE: Lots of disagreement in comments over my dissing of Tilda Swinton. Will Allen: "Look at how she interacts with the Ken Howard character; it is a study in self-loathing via bootlicking servility." Ralph: "Swinton's performance was the antithesis of a cliche and made the true villain of the piece all too human." I'm not really on board here, but these are good points. Read the thread for more.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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I completely agree with you on both counts. Tilda Swinton's performance was all cliche. I would even go further and say Tommy Lee Jones should've won best actor for his amazing, understated performance in In the Valley of Elah, instead of the intense, showy, screamy Daniel Day-Lewis in TWBB.

Posted by: Julie on February 25, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't see Swinton's performance, but MAN, I loved her speech. She seemed astounded (and totally unprepared) to be there, and just said whatever popped into the top of her head.

I was also really happy that Jon Stewart let Marketa Irglova come out and give her own acceptance speech. It was really classy of him.

Posted by: Rob S. on February 25, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

George Clooney was fantastic in MC. He dominated every scene he was in. I'm a big fan of Daniel Day Lewis but the character he won the Oscar for was very like the character he played in Gangs of New York. I found it neither original nor oscar-esque. And again, I like him. But Clkooney's role was much better.

Posted by: peacefrogx on February 25, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

It was a crime that Transformers did not win visual effects.

Posted by: John Hansen on February 25, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Do they ever release the actual vote counts? Would love to know who wins by a landslide -vs- a first place with a very close 2nd place.

Posted by: RobertSeattle on February 25, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

I think Casey Affleck was pretty damn good in Jesse James, but how was that a supporting role?

Posted by: phil on February 25, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Tilda Swinton's performance was cliche? Come on. Have you ever seen a more vulnerable villain? Ever?

Posted by: Wagster on February 25, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Agree on Tilda Swinton, it was just her White Witch role from Chronicles of Narnia in different garb and Transformers should have won best fx.

Posted by: tom.a on February 25, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin - I think you're giving short shrift to what was entailed in representing the menace that Bardem did in NCFOM. Bardem was positively ominous, and the film wouldn't have worked nearly as well with someone who couldn't project this sense of dread in those who encountered him. There's an intensity that's rushing just below the surface but is still practically visceral. It was a great performance.

Posted by: Kurzbein on February 25, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, there wasn't a compelling movie up for best film. Seriously name one movie on that list worthy of the price of a ticket. They all seem to be wait for the video movies to me.

What does the academy have against blockbusters anyway?

Ratatouille was a better movie than any of the best movie nominees.

Posted by: corpus juris on February 25, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I tought Inkblot should have won best actor for his roll in INKBLOT's SNACK SHACK.

Posted by: optical weenie on February 25, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

The biggest tragedy of the night, which was well known in advance, was that There Will Be Blood's score by Johnny Greenwood wasn't eligible for Best Score.

Posted by: crazymonk on February 25, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Wagster; Swinton was nowhere near being the cold heartless villain. That fact was made all he more obvious by the flashbacks. When she was talking with the reporter and with the stockholders, she was calm and cool, but that was intercut with flashbacks of her prepping like crazy. But when she was talking with the hitman and talking with Clooney at the end, you could see her nerves fraying as she was getting sucked into places she didn't want to go.

Posted by: Algerine on February 25, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

This is clearly a more important matter than CBS finally getting around to airing it's segment on the Don Siegelman hit-job....

Posted by: mattski on February 25, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Bardem was the scariest, creepiest character in movie history. To get a real appreciation of this actor's range, see him as a gay Cuban poet in Julian Schnabel's beautiful film Before Night Falls (his most recent picture before Diving Bell).

Posted by: Matt on February 25, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Very much agree with you on Bardem. He has charisma, which makes him solid in that kind of quiet badass role, but it's just not very hard to do---stand still, keep your eyes open, and say the lines without a quaver and you'll be scary. Fun to watch, easy to do.

Didn't see MC or GBG, but judging from the clips, Amy Ryan was pretty amazing...

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard on February 25, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

When the Limited Edition Director's Cut of NCFOM gets released on DVD, will Coen Bros Inc provide us a friggin ending?
Other than Tommy Lee Jones deciding to go senile?

Posted by: TonyC on February 25, 2008 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't see any nominated films this year except for The Bourne Ultimatum. However, I do have the soundtrack to Once, and I'm thrilled that Falling Slowly beat out the musically boring selections from Enchanted.

Posted by: maurinsky on February 25, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

My favorite flicks from last year were re-makes: "3:10 to Yuma" and "Rescue Dawn"(Best Picture). Of the 5 nominees, "Michael Clayton" would have won by default. (Mostly boilerplate corporate-meenie stuff until the weird scene where Clayton gets out of his car to go chase the horses. I was reminded of the Whitman line, "the look of the bay mare shames the silliness out of me", but that's probably not what the director intended.)

Javier Bardem should have won several years ago for his amazing Gary Cooper good guy in the police procedural "The Dancer Upstairs". (John Malcovich's directorial debut.)

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 25, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I completely agree with Kevin about Paul Thomas Anderson. Is it by design that his movies have essentially no arc? I was "there" for most of TWBB but by the end, I realized there was no "there".

But I agree with the poster above: Johnny Greenwood's score was stunning. What a shame it couldn't be nominated.

Posted by: walt on February 25, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Tilda Swinton was trying to portray someone who was WAY over her head, and did a great job. She wasn't trying to portray someone cold and calculating- she was so terrified of screwing up that she didn't even think about morals. A great portrayal of the banality of evil.

Posted by: alameda on February 25, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

maurinsky I didn't know Bourne Ultimatum was nominated. As I recall the nominees were Atonement, Juno, NCFOM, TWBB, and Michael Clayton. Maybe I am wrong.

If Bourne Ultimatum had been up I would be right with you. A better flick than any of the actual nominees. The Academy hates blockbusters.

Posted by: corpus juris on February 25, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

What was interesting about how Swinton played the part was how she showed how the character actually hated her life, and felt as trapped as a hamster spinning a wheel in a cage, or perhaps more aptly; like a seal blowing horns in the circus. Look at how she interacts with the Ken Howard character; it is a study in self-loathing via bootlicking servility. This was a far cry from the stereotyped Hollywood reptillian corporate villain, ruthlessly pursuing profits.

I haven't seen the Coen or Day Lewis movies yet, but Swinton's was a terrific performance. "Micheal Clayton" was either one rewrite too many or one rewrite too few away from being a great movie. The acting and directing were wonderful, but the screenplay fell short.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 25, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Kevin, I think you have it exactly backwards on two of your points. I thought Swinton's performance was the antithesis of a cliche and made the true villain of the piece all too human.
No Country for Old Men was a visually stunning and genuinely exciting story with an appealling though flawed protagonist and a truly scary dreadful bad guy. There are several great scenes (e.g. the gas station w/ Bardem) but otherwise the whole is mostly less than it's parts. The more we see Tommy Lee staring out into space and spouting Cormac McCarthy's overwrought blather, the more the movie falls apart. The last third was mostly boring and the movie left no lasting impressions.

There Will Be Blood, for all its flaws, was at least as visually stunning, but the story stayed with me much longer, even with that strange ending. And Daniel Plainview is no simple heavy at all. Watch his interactions with his first right hand man and his son and his "brother". Each of them suggest the possibility that this man yearns for more, for someone he could at least share his bleak view of the world with.

Though NCFOM represents a step forward for the Coen brothers because it mostly avoids their usual need to stay ironically separate from their own stories and characters , I think it will recede some with time. TWBB's reputation will grow with time. That's my prediction.

Michael Clayton waas easily the tightest of all the movies nominated and quite satisifying. Hard to compare it to the big heavies though. Apples and oranges. Still, probably the best movie, all in all. That's my two cents.

Posted by: Ralph on February 25, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

To answer RobertSeattle's question: no, unfortunately, they've never released vote totals, even years later. Too bad, because there would be fascinating details in that data. But, with 5 nominees for most awards, I imagine there have been a lot of cases where the winner slipped by with less than 25% of the vote and the Academy must want to maintain the illusion that all the winners won by large margins.

Posted by: paul on February 25, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I might have said this before, I'm very glad that Kevin is the brilliant political guy he is and not a movie critic, because he'd be one sourest critic, though not as mean as John Simon, just so hard to impress. I've never seen him rave about anything very much.

Anyhow, the best supporting actor and actress categories are traditionally the strongest. I thought four of five women nominated completely deserved it. Of the four, I might have gone with the sentimental choice with Ruby Dee (which is not to take anything away from her amazing work in the otherwise thoroughy "meh" "American Gangster"). But -- with the strength of actually haven taken acting classes and stuff -- I thought Tilda Swinton was remarkable in "Michael Clayton." I'm not sure what Kevin expects in terms of originality in portraying nervousness, but the point is believability, not originality, and she was perfect in that regard. Also, she didn't play her character as a villain or a neurotic. She played her as a woman doing an extremely hard job to which she was completely committed. Actors always talk about not judging their characters, but I've never seen less judgment of a villainous character. Her character as written might not have been that original, but I thought their approach to her was far more honest than usual. (I liked "Michael Clayton" a lot, but not as much as a lot of my cinephile brethren and sistren.)

As for best actor, I thought Bardem deserved it. True, awards tend to go to flashy roles like this -- but being flashy is actually the job a lot of time (it is entertainment after all) and the degree of difficulty is not necessarily a criteria. The point is he did it beautifully and was a helluva a lot of fun to watch. He's just absolutely riveting and believable as this implacable, inhuman force. I missed "Jesse James" so I can't speak to it, but I wouldn't have been upset with anyone winning. (Phillip Seymour Hoffman was especially fun in the okay-but-semi-whitewashy "Charlie Wilson's War")

A very similar argument could be made, btw, against Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood." His performance is 100% USDA Grade Ham -- but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I even forgive him doing a semi-John Huston impression because it brings some humor to a movie which is great but at times threatens to become overly dry. It's always fun to imitate his imitation. Still, I personally might have voted for Viggo Mortensen. He was a more low-key grade of charismatic in his part but every bit as memorable and less baroque; he really might be a victim of playing things too low-key/believably to win.

As for best picture, no complaints though I would have been just as happy (but surprised) with "There Will Be Blood." Personally, I thought that "Once" was the best movie of the year and I thought that "Sweeney Todd" at least deserved a nomination. (But I'm partial to musicals.)

Posted by: Bob on February 25, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the ending (as well as the rest of the money) to NCFOM was faithful to the book. What would you have the Coen Brothers do, have Tommy Lee meet up with Javier at the chiropractor's office, and end it with a bloody shoot-em-out? Or maybe Javier take that friggin' coin, go to Vegas, and score big on the slots and change his ways? (The latter maybe being more in the Coens' taste...)

Posted by: artsmith on February 25, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I really, really (really!) disagree on Tilda Swinton; it was an upset and my happiest moment of the night. She was marvelous, and her take on the character was not the stereotypical corporate lawyer, contra to your opinion, her character was different. It was fear of failure and anxiety that drove her character to murder, not the ordinary corporate greed (her over polite nervousness with the hitmen was great). I thought Amy Adams was far too hammy in Gone Baby Gone (a movie that I did not particularly like). She was good, but you could see her acting wheels turning furiously in playing the lower class Bostonian. Of course, I thought the same of Sean Penn in Mystic River and am clearly in a minority. (Maybe it's a Dennis Lehane thing. I'm a big fan of American hard boiled mysteries in the Chandler/Hammett/McDonald vein, but I don't care for Lehane and gave up on him after several tries.)

However, I do agree with you on Bardem. I liked No Country and Bardem was fine in it. But it was really a director's movie and many good actors could have given essentially the same performance. My pick would have been Tom Wilkinson or Philip Seymour Hoffman (and both might actually have been hurt by the fact that they annually turn out one or more Oscar worthy performances). I just saw Jesse James (in Blueray hi-def) and while Affleck (who I did not like much in Gone Baby Gone)was interesting, the movie was a terrible, pretentious mess and I wouldn't have awarded it a thing (just pass this one up and watch Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda as the James boys in 1939's Jesse James). I've been meaning to see There Will Be Blood, so I can't yet factor in Day-Lewis' performance, but I would have gone with either Viggo Mortensen, who was terrific in Eastern Promises, or George Clooney, who (as previously) shed his movie star glamour to give a low key, and dead on, performance of a middle aged, self loathing failure (albeit with a good salary). As you might have guessed from my discussion of the acting awards, i would have given best picture to Michael Clayton, a very solid, serious thriller that Hollywood,sadly, rarely makes anymore.

Posted by: Marlowe on February 25, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Amy Ryan.
I was watching her as Beadie in "The Wire,2", trying to remember where I'd seen her before.
It was in "I'll Fly Away". She was Parkie Sasser, the poor white girl whose pregnancy threatened the college plans of the second junior male lead. She played her with such a mix of grit and life that you began to think that there were worse fates than being married to her, however unplanned.
There's a lot of people who need an Oscar to boost their careers. Thankfully, Ryan isn't one of them.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on February 25, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

I was just glad to the Coen brothers win, even though I have not yet seen this particular movie. It is about time.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 25, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I had the same problem with both "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood." Though of course everyone's interpreted them as "tragedies" they were both essentially long and adoring odes to violence.

Posted by: dalloway on February 25, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I totally disagree with your analysis. TWBB was a more complete movie than NCFOM- the latter was strictly linear and the former had character development. I would call the cinematography pretty close to equal but TWBB was by far a more original film. The truth is that neither movie was great but the nominations do represent an improvement from prior years to reward risk. As to the acting, the issue gets political. Unless there is a superb performance (DDL) or the opposite, the winner will float from the Hollywood cesspool. I have no problem with any of the winners though I do like Amy Ryan because of her work in The Wire and CI.

Posted by: Raoul on February 25, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't seen any of the movies in question, but as a dedicadet Wirehead, I'm a big fan of Amy Ryan, and I was rooting for her. I think she's very good at what she does.

Posted by: editer on February 25, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

"MOVIE", not "MONEY"! Sorry; should have previewed the post! (Or is my Freudian slip showing?)

Posted by: artsmith on February 25, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I was bored off my butt by both No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. It was a weak year for movies.

Posted by: Quinn on February 25, 2008 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK


Not trying to start a battle of the amphibians or anything, but I was much more impressed with DDL in There Will Be Blood than in Gangs of New York. Note the way he portrayed Daniel Plainview's aging over the course of the film, to single out just one technical detail. Plus, the Plainview role called for more range, I think. The two films were similar vehicles for him, though, in that both were rambling epic-scale period pieces in which he played a power-hungry sociopath. I think the reference earlier in the thread to a lack of "arc" sums up my main complaint about There Will Be Blood. The plot had enough complexity to it, and some of the characters were extraordinary (Eli, especially) but the last twenty minutes or so of the film seemed unconnected, sort of an obligatory epilogue.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 25, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

I was quite happy to see Marie Cotillard win the Oscar for "Best Actress" for her amazing and transcendant turn as the ever-increasingly embittered Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. It was simply the year's best performance, far and away.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on February 25, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

NCFOM was the best 80% movie of the year. Now, when they tack an ending on to it, then we can talk about best film.

Posted by: hollywood on February 25, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with corpus juris about Ratatouille; It certainly was the movie I most enjoyed this year.

If they were going to give the Best Supporting Oscar to someone in a "showy" role, I would have chosen Philip Semour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War". Talk about dominating every scene! It's funny: When Hoffman isn't on the screen, Hanks dominates, but the moment Hoffman enters the picture even the 2-time Best Actor winner disappears.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago on February 25, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I loved Javier Bardem so not sure can agree with you on that one, but ITA about Tilda Swinton and Amy Ryan. Swinton's portayal was not all that interesting, imo, and Amy Ryan was incredible.

Posted by: scruncher on February 25, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Me again! Me again! I want to tell everyone how I got 10 right out of my 20 Oscar picks, including the all-important Sound Editing category! That must be, like, pretty good, yes?

If the strike had been going on I would have totally skipped it. Mostly, it was SUCH A BIG BORE, without too much I cared about or was rooting for. But I was COMPLETELY HAPPY ABOUT Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova winning for their song "Once." That was the only award I really cared about.

At least they brought her back out and gave her her moment. I was incredulous at the way the orchestra just smashed her initial chance to speak.

If you haven't seen their movie, you have to. It's very affecting.

Posted by: Anon on February 25, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Au contraire: Tilda Swinton wasn't just your average corporate flack that we've seen many times, she was the corporate flack going through a visible, slow-motion nervous breakdown.

As for Bardem, Anton Chigurh will become a classic bad guy a la Hannibel Lechter. And he's an interesting bad guy. Plenty of intense bad guys around, but I can't remember any off-hand. Chigurh will be hard to forget. Didn't see Jesse James, but I don't see any way Bardem doesn't win

Posted by: jbarab on February 25, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

The thing is, when you have a highly competitive category, its really easy for votes to be split. Thus a win for Swintonnay occur even if she wasn't the majority's first or second choice. I think something similar happened in 1999 with Michael Caine's win. That year the favorites were Michael Clark Duncan, Jude Law and Hailey Joel Osmet, with Tom Cruise having a lot if buzz too. As a result, none of them gained more votes than Caine, even though if asked, most voters probably didn't even consider him their second choice. I think Caine himself recognized this, as his speech that year was especially gracious to his fellow nominees, and as classy as anything I've seen at the Oscars.

Posted by: mark kawakami on February 25, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't seen any of the nominated movies, either, but I really liked Helen Mirren's dress.

Posted by: Emily on February 25, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Donald from Hawaii: I was thrilled, but shocked, that Marion Cotillard won. I thought Julie Christie would get it, and she was excellent in "Away from Her," but Cotillard absolutely channeled Piaf. The movie wasn't wonderful, but she was wonderful in it. Also, it was classy of Jon Stewart to let Marketa Inglova give her acceptance speech. She deserved her moment in the sun. "Once" was charming and I urge everyone to see it.

Posted by: Dallas on February 25, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

*spoiler alter* -- Tilda Swinton (to echo the points made above) was *not* the cold calculating lawyer, she was completely believable as a sill, stupid, ambitious woman in over her head who makes the most unlikely and stupid decision in the movie (but very necessary for the plot). Her job as an actress was to make it believable that a corporate lawyer would hire a hitman to kill two plaintiffs' attorneys in the case the corporation was already winning, and I think she carried it off. I suspect that was why she won an Oscar.

And I think NCFOM deserved the Oscar over TWBB. NCFOM was the essence of the American movie: once there's a suitcase full of drug money floating around, it becomes the self-assigned task of every red-blooded American male with a gun to try to go and get it. I think the Coen brothers riffed off the tradition of the Western (especially the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) is a very interesting and atypical way.

TWBB was conventionally shot (e.g., opposing characters face off on opposite sides of the screen), improbably plotted (DDL is a rich handsome oil man; if he wanted a family, there are dozens of loose women who would have him, pychosis and all), and full of non-issues (who cares if a wild cat oil man is a family man or not?)

It's a shame that Michael Clayton wasn't a better film, though. You can see that Clooney was trying to make a movie about flawed people in the real world without any fake dilemmas (unlike TWBB). He didn't succeed, and Swinton's accomplishment was to make the fake dilemma believable.

Posted by: Diana on February 25, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Re 'the Academy hates blockbusters':

You mean, like "Forest Gump," "Braveheart," "Titanic," "Gladiator," "A Beautiful Mind," "The Departed," etc.?

The Academy almost always favors popular movies. This year it took a little turn into a more artistic movie, but that won't be a permanent move.

Posted by: Scott on February 25, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Having seen neither "Clayton" nor "Baby," I can't make judgements on Adams over Swinton, but I wholy disagree on Affleck over Bardem for Supporting Actor. Bardem's Anton Chigruh is a villain for the ages, arguably the scariest villain since Hannibal Lecter first strolled onto the stage. (He and Lecter are very much alike in that they don't even seem human...more like something the Devil dropkicked out of Hell because they creeped him out.) The gas station scene alone pretty much guaranteed him the Oscar. ("What time do you close? "Well, now." "Now is not a time.")

Posted by: gf120581 on February 25, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Amy Ryan was good and I wanted to throttle her character, so I don't know if that means she pulled the portrayal off or failed at it. I love Dennis Lehane, though - particularly te early books.

Count me in as a admirer of Tilda Swindon's performance in "Michael Clayton". She played a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. I can't think of a another performance that's shown fragility in quite that manner before.

And Tom Wilkinson, as always, was terrific. I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

Posted by: Miss Otis on February 25, 2008 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

To me it was no question Daniel Day Lewis would win the actor prize, but i'm not too surprised at the backlash given how good other performances were this year.

Still he nailed it. Everyone concentrates on his over-the-top "I drink your milkshake" performance in the finale but where he shined was during the first 2/3rds of the movie. Plainview's character was far less evil than the Butcher from Gangs of New York. And Lewis played that nuance perfectly. I almost cracked up at the end - his acting saved it in my opinion.

Paul Thomas Anderson still has some ways to go as a director and I agree with Kevin's criticism. I'll say though that this is his most mature, least gimmicky, film to date.

Posted by: samsin on February 25, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

To those of use who liked Swnton's performance, which scene did you like best? I thought (minor spoiler alert) the scene in which she is pitching the settlement to the Board of Directors as a tax advantage was really great. She is just managing to control her inner torment as she goes throught the details, and feels overwhelming relief as she finishes the presentation, topped off by deferring to Ken Howard as if he were the high school qb/homecoming king, and she is the plain girl desperate to get a date to the dance, before going out to meet her fate in the mezzanine.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 25, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

I have to disagree with the Ratatouille posters. I said this in another thread, and I will say it again (sorry, but I will post what I posted on another thread - I really do want more people to see Persepolis). Persepolis is a far more deserving movie for the best animated category than Ratatouille.

Although I enjoyed Ratatouille, it really is a standard Disney talking animal film. If the rat just follows his dream and works really, really hard, he can eventually achieve his goal. It is a good story, and has engaging and likable characters, but it has a "been there, done that" feel to it. The animation is superb. But this is Pixar, and it is getting to the point where their computer animation just seems stale and routine (and this is coming from someone living ten miles from the Pixar studios in Emeryville, CA).

Persepolis, on the other hand, is an engaging, moving, and unpredictable story. It shows Iran, and the Iranian people, in a completely different light. It shows living in Iran, and any totalitarian state, in a completely different light. It is a very relevant movie today, and I would recomment that people see it before the sing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," because it shows that a lot of Iranians don't like the current regime. And it does this all with warmth and humor. Additionally, it is also a great coming of age story. And the animation has a distinctive style and new feel to it (it is very much like the comic books that it is derived from). After seeing computer animated films for the past several years, it is just refreshing to see something in 2-D and beautiful black and white.

Additionally, this was an opportunity for the Academy to make a really bold choice for something new and different (yes, I am aware that black and white 2-D animation has been around for over a century). Instead, it went with the safe and predictable choice. If Persepolis had won, it would have gotten more exposure, and more people would see this remarkable film. Ratatouille will sell a lot of DVDs no matter if it wins or not.

So, go see Persepolis - definately worth the price of admission! Sure, it is not a blockbuster, but it still should have won its category.

Also, Amy Adams should have been nominated for Enchanted (instead of Cate Blanchett), and Christian Bale should have been nominated for Rescue Dawn (instead of Johnny Depp).

Posted by: adlsad on February 25, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well my 2 cents is that TWBB was a stunning shocking American film and NCFOM was good but not surprising.

They are both fairly depressing slices of Americana but TWBB takes the conventional and rips it to shreds. Not only in plot but in style. The movie makes use of repulsion and in my opinion it does it for political purposes. The main character is repulsive while also referencing heroic American themes, which ends up being revelatory. The music (FANTASTIC score!!) is oddly disorienting. The surprising aspects of the style tumble the viewer past habits of cynicism and distance into genuine shock. The twin myths of business and religion in American life end up being savaged. The guts of the movie is shown in how it takes on the role of the preacher. So much for American fundamentalism - brutally exposed.

I went home after this movie and couldn't sleep. I wept, actually. I can't remember ever doing that before, after a movie.

By contrast, the twangs and folksy characters of NCFOM seem to me like movie tropes. For all of its American-ness, the movie didn't have much to say. Greed, violence, okay. That's entertainment! Is there anything beyond that? No wonder the Coen brothers say they never consider the wider context of their work. In that way, they are vacuous.

Daniel Day Lewis was brilliant, not showy. He dared to show the repulsiveness of his character: that is brave for an actor, even fearless. His performance was possibly inspired by the disgust that so many of us have felt for our country over the last 8 years, making this a moral act. Bush Is Us. This movie explores what that means.

I think both these films reflect the zeitgeist. But TWBB will be recognized over time as a stunning brilliant movie, more daring even then Citizen Kane.

Posted by: dissent on February 25, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

There was something slippery on the floor. One of the earlier presenters mentioned it but no one apparently did anything about it, so John Travolta slid and almost fell (after his dance number).

I really liked John Stewart's impromptu remark about the arrogance of Inglova's associate. He never once looked at her, much less smile or congratulate her, and then hogged the mike. Then he bragged about shooting for less than $100,000 in 3 weeks with handi-cams. It was ugly and I'm glad others noticed it too and gave her that moment on stage.

Posted by: Mary on February 25, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Best "moment" of the night, was the song from "Once" winning and the two acceptance speeches for it. I have to second the notion that everybody must see this movie. The scene with "Falling Slowly" is one of those rare moments in a movie where you just get transported.

I enjoyed Swinton's win, too, because she really did seem completely taken aback by her win, as though it just hadn't occurred to her that it might happen.

And finally, after all the red dresses that showed up through the evening, I thought Helen Mirren's was the best, as if to say, "THIS is how you wear a red dress, girls."

Posted by: mrgumby2u on February 25, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK
What does the academy have against blockbusters anyway?

Nothing, plenty of blockbusters win Academy Awards (and not just in technical categories), and many more are nominated. OTOH, what's immediately popular and what people in the industry see as being the peak of their art isn't always the same, even though they can overlap.

Popularity already has its own, rather powerful, reward in the form of cold, hard cash.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 25, 2008 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

To Will Allen:

those of use who liked Swnton's performance, which scene did you like best? I thought (minor spoiler alert) the scene in which she is pitching the settlement to the Board of Directors as a tax advantage was really great.

I can't really disagree with you - that was probably the best one. But the small scene where she was laying out her clothes and panty hose has really stayed with me. I can't even put my finger on it except it summed up how she seemed to be barely hanging together - and everything about her was artificial and rehearsed to the nth degree for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Which is exactly what she did in the end, of course.

Posted by: Miss Otis on February 25, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

But I agree with the poster above: Johnny Greenwood's score was stunning. What a shame it couldn't be nominated.

There is no "h" in Jonny Greenwood's name. The joke around Radiohead is that Thom Yorke stole it. just wondering, why wasn't TWBB eligible for best score?

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on February 25, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

favorite Swinton moment: the hitmen come to her for instructions and she's trying to be subtle but manages just to convince the hitmen (and therefore the audience) that she's incredibly stupid. And then you realize the villains in this movie are doing something stupid because, well, they're stupid people. Like DDL, she was showing the repulsiveness of the character.

Posted by: Diana on February 25, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

"why wasn't TWBB eligible for best score?"

Because some of the music had appeared earlier in other venues (though not in other movies).

Posted by: mrgumby2u on February 25, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes the oscar goes to an actor or actress because of their body of work, not just the role they were nominated for.

Tilda Swinton has been in a lot of interesting movies and has been around quite a while.

Did you ever see her in Orlando? She was great.

Posted by: Laura on February 25, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

I do not recall any Academy Awards program ending ten minutes early.

Posted by: Brojo on February 25, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Please, stop with the abbreviations (e.g., TWBB, DDL, NCFOM)! Jeez, does it take that much longer to spell it out?

Posted by: melissa on February 25, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK



Posted by: TonyC on February 25, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Michael Clayton was a well-crafted, emotionally satisfying experience, while No Country for Old Men while also well-crafted, just stopped without any emotional resolution. NCOM could have been a great movie but the ending sucked. It should not have won Best Picture in my view.

Posted by: Bob C on February 25, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

corpus juris:

Ratatouille was a better movie than any of the best movie nominees.

Agreed.. No Country was utterly unsatisfying for me. Actually, the last Best Picture I agree with is Annie Hall, so what do I know..

Posted by: Andy on February 25, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Mary, you do realize that Stewart was being sarcastic, right? He obviously was taken with the movie and both its stars.

Posted by: Bob on February 25, 2008 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

both might actually have been hurt by the fact that they annually turn out one or more Oscar worthy performances


Sometimes the oscar goes to an actor or actress because of their body of work, not just the role they were nominated for.

I'll side with the second view. I first arrived at that conclusion when Diane Keaton won for Annie Hall. It's a good role and Keaton nailed it, but without the contrast of her role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, I don't think she wins the Oscar.

Posted by: freelunch on February 25, 2008 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Ratatouille was GREAT, but Persepolis was great art--visually arresting and deeply moving and hilarious and showing us the inside of a country whose history has been hidden and caricatured by the US.

Go see Persepolis--it'll blow your mind. The personal is the political, and vice versa. And even tho it's animated, it brings home what real violence does to people--you really mourn the dead, they have a presence. NCFOM and TWBB were indeed odes to violence, and way over the top. Stupid, even as you stare. ANOTHER great hitman role?

Get a life, people. OH--and JUNO was three times as good as any of those frothing over the toppers. Hilarious, moving etc. Just like persepolis. Go. Now.

Posted by: Andreep on February 25, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, on the Oscars themselves ...well, it was kind of a dull night, overall but enjoyable for me and my group of yearly party people.

I may be in a tiny minority, but I love the old clips of movie stars. I'd like more/longer clips of the nominated performances. I hated almost all the nominated songs. Where was "Hairspray"?

Posted by: Miss Otis on February 25, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK


To answer your question about acting... speaking as a former actor / director / theatre and politics blogger, I'd say that honestly the answer is it depends on the actor... some actors are really good at doing the normal guy (Ron Livingston comes to mind as do Jason Bateman and David Strathairn) and would be terrible as Anton Chigeur. Some actors on the other hand, thrive in extremes and get lumped in to the "character actor" category (I would argue that Daniel Day Lewis belongs in this camp as do Johns Goodman and Lithgow). And some super-duper actors (Jeff Bridges, for example) can do just about anything. But your question goes to the heart of a number of debates about acting... Chief among them... which matters more in good acting, the amount of effort it takes to pull something off or the final result? Is a glorious performance that is "Easy" for the actor less good than a not-quite-successful performance that shows an artist stretching themselves? In other words... Is Jason bateman in JUNO better than George Clooney in "O Brother". Is the goal of acting to be believable, or is it a kind of virtuosic performance piece like a great classical soloist? Also, should you be aware that you are seeing someone act or not?

All of this depends on the material and people's tastes. To me, I hadn't seen Javier Bardem do something like that yet so I'd be inclined to believe that he worked at it, and clearly devoured the role and was having great fun with it. And was hilarious and terrifying at the same time. None of that is easy to pull off.

There's also a third category of actors who are very rare, who are the actors who completely shut the viewer out. Casey Affleck and Cillian Murphy are two of those. They refuse to let you see what is going on on the inside of their characters. Watch "SUNSHINE" for evidence of this. It is unclear throughout most of the movie whether or not you're supposed to like Murphy's character, and the film is much more unsettling for it.

Also, Amy Ryan was frackin' robbed.

Posted by: isaac on February 25, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

How could anyone who actually saw the movie be so wrong about Swinton? Several of the other commenters saw it: the furthest thing possible from a cliched character, she played someone who's at heart (but also resents being) a quiet, decent, fearful backroom researcher. She has lucked into a powerful position that's way, way, way over her head. I can't think of any other portrait of a corporate lawyer, or probably any lawyer, remotely as real as this.

Posted by: urban legend on February 25, 2008 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

I'm really amazed "The Assasination of Jesse James...." didn't pick up alot more nods from the Academy. It's a brilliant piece of shabby-chic American cinema and shouldn't have been overshadowed by the good but not great "Juno."

God why didn't Colin farrel slip in that liquid by the podium........potential classic moment in the making.

Funniest line John stewarts comment " That guy is so arrogant" regarding Glen Hansards acceptance speech.

Posted by: Dublin on February 25, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Again, I've GOT to run.

But the best movie I saw this year was Into the Wild.

Will read the whole thread tomorrow, hopefully, tho taxes really do need to be gotten to.

Posted by: Cal Gal on February 25, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Swinton gave us a study of the deformities in character created by the sexism of the corporate world. We saw the Clooney character's backstory - a small army of supporting actors showed us his ethnic working class background. We felt Swinton's in the twist of her lip and the constriction in her voice. She was absolutely brilliant.

Posted by: Bloix on February 25, 2008 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Adding to the chorus supporting Tilda Swinton--I've never seen that character before, as portrayed by her. She was anything but cold; her entire world seemed to be defined by conflicting terrors, and all she could do was react to them, moment by moment. Her performance really brought out the way a person who is extremely smart, and as naturally decent as anyone else, can somehow, without ever making a fully conscious choice, become a monster.

Overall I thought the film was very good but not great, but her performace was fantastic.

Posted by: Adam on February 25, 2008 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Re best animated film, I'm a big fan of Brad Bird but Ratatouille was, in my mind, a mess that he script-doctored with his usual skill but failed to turn around. Bird tosses aside the waiter character, Luigi, in the last act because he's not a worthy member of the aristocracy of talent that Bird believes should rule the earth (or at least prevail in the artistic community). At the end Luigi gets in touch with his inner schlub and ends up like he started out--a waiter in somebody else's restaurant. Not exactly the character arc that should be at the heart of a film. The logic of the story was that the rat and the girl--the two talented but undervalued outsiders--should have gotten together at the heart of the film and Luigi should have stayed at the periphery. But I suppose the hint of interspecies romance between a male rat and a Frenchwoman was too much for Disney. Minnie would have gotten jealous.

Posted by: China Hand on February 26, 2008 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

China Hand,

I liked Ratatouille and The Incredibles, but I am not a big Brad Bird fan for precisely the reasons that you stated. Also, I am definately not a member of the "aristocracy of talent," so all his films leave me feeling empty inside.

I think that someone refered to Brad Bird as a "Randroid" in another thread. I think that is a very apt description.

Posted by: adlsad on February 26, 2008 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

One more thing about Swinton: her part was underwritten. She could have played it as Kevin saw it - if they'd cast a man (nothing in the script requires a woman) that's how it would have been. Swinton took it and made something much deeper.

Posted by: Bloix on February 26, 2008 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK



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