Saturday, September 23, 2017

OVP: Picture (2007)

OVP: Best Picture (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, Atonement
Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, and Russell Smith, Juno
Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox, and Kerry Orent, Michael Clayton
Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
JoAnne Seller, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Daniel Lupi, There Will Be Blood

My Thoughts: Well, we officially have come to the finale of the 2007 write-ups.  I have decided to stop pretending that these series' aren't going to take forever to write (it's twenty very long articles, and I don't want the only thing on the blog to be OVP write-ups in case you come here for something not related to a golden statue), so I'm going to not attempt to finish 2015 (our next year) not in a month that becomes a year, but instead in ten weeks, two articles each week.  It's going to be a challenge, admittedly, but I'm up for it.  In the meantime, though, we still have one more race of 2007 to get through, and it's a doozy-arguably the finest Best Picture lineup ever assembled by Oscar during my lifetime.

The only film in this bunch that didn't get a corresponding Best Director nomination was Atonement, which is a pity as Joe Wright's magnum opus is surely a director's film.  Broken into three parts and based on Ian McEwan's breathtaking novel, the picture's true center is watching how one person's decision to bend and then shatter the truth can have lifelong consequences.  The way that Wright frames Atonement is so important because it'd be easy to simply cast Briony as a villain or to assume that the world will get better for Robbie and Cecilia, but things cannot be so uncomplicated, and actions have dire ripple effects.  The movie is gorgeously shot, particularly that famed tracking shot on the beach at Dunkirk and the steamy sex scene in the library, but Wright's greatest gift in the movie is the monumental way that we see how small actions can have major consequences, and finding a way to make romantic epics seem raw and urgent again.

If nothing else has been gained from me revisiting 2007's cinematic lineup, it's that I have saved Michael Clayton in my brain.  I have written about this several times before (all past 2007 races are linked at the bottom of the article, along with every other Best Picture lineup we've covered), but when I first caught it I didn't think much of Michael Clayton, dismissing it as simply another crime procedural, except now on the big screen.  I was wrong, though, as Michael Clayton rises above the procedural, smartly sniffing out the corruption that would become all-too-apparent to the American public in following years after the financial collapse of 2008, and is anchored by two astoundingly good performances from Clooney & Swinton.  Their acting duet, along with sharp music, dialogue, and showy editing makes for a classic 70's-style thriller, in the vein of The French Connection or Z.  It's proof that being a genre snob is a bad idea, as you can still make a terrific movie in any format if the writing and acting is good enough.

This is also the case with Juno, a movie that it's impossible not to love even if you can see its limitations.  There are no bad movies in this lineup, nor mediocre ones (the first time I've been able to say that in our OVP), but Juno is the only one where there are clearly mistakes.  The film doesn't quite know what to do with Jason Bateman's character (and neither does Bateman), and Michael Cera is almost a completely blank slate, as is his romance with Juno (and Rainn Wilson's role feels cloying at best).  Still, the relationship between Juno and her parents, the way that she grows so gradually but still believably, and the twist of Jennifer Garner emerging as the audience favorite (still the best thing she's done in her career by a country mile), makes for a difficult-to-root-against movie. Flawed, but highly watchable (and rewatchable).

It's easy to get lost in There Will Be Blood's towering central performance of Daniel Day-Lewis the fact that the movie itself is quite a miracle onto itself.  So often when I think of There Will Be Blood (which is often-it's a gargantuan cinematic experience for me), I think of Day-Lewis shooting for the rafters in a way that's impossible to ignore-it's one of those performances that probably could win an Oscar in most years, not just the one it was placed within.  But the film itself still unfolds like a short story, in a series of quick vignettes which is a great trick in a picture that clocks in at 160 minutes.  The movie wouldn't work if we didn't see the slow decay of Eli Sunday, or if it didn't wander aimlessly in the vast expanse of the Texas desert.  It's a major motion picture, the kind that can only work as a movie (TV would ruin this story completely by trying to "understand" Daniel rather than just leaving him a menacing nightmare), and the best thing anyone involved has made before or since.

It's still fascinating to me that two leading contenders for the Oscars could be so similar, and so wonderful (in many ways, 2007 reminds me of the twin achievements of All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard, who were battling it out for Best Picture some 57 years previous).  No Country for Old Men also requires desolation, men of questionable integrity, and the harshness of the Texas countryside to create its mood, but while There Will Be Blood is a small story told large, No Country is a movie that hinges on its script being told as a ticking clock, counting down to inevitable destruction and doom.  The movie works because the Coen Brothers know this, never wasting a second of film on anything that isn't getting us to inevitable showdowns, a dire High Noon for the modern age.  Anchored by three terrific leading men and a supporting woman that links them all, it's a still vital and austere look at shredded humanity and what a man damned to hell becomes on his descent.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes in 2007 got awfully greedy, though understandably considering how good the year was for films, and actually nominated twelve pictures for their top prizes, a result of a strange tie in the Best Drama category, where Atonement stood atop six rather than the usual four nominees (American Gangster, Eastern Promises, The Great Debaters (a movie I never got around to-is it any good?), Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood).  The Comedy category stayed sanely at five, though again they struck their own chord with the victor as Sweeney Todd bested Across the Universe, Charlie Wilson's War, Hairspray, and Juno.  The PGA Awards were still in a five-wide field at the time, but skipped HFPA's victorious Atonement from Oscar's lineup, instead selecting The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (No Country won), while BAFTA passed on both Juno and Michael Clayton in favor of The Lives of Others and American Gangster (Atonement won here as well).  In terms of who just missed, I think you could make a sincere argument that American Gangster or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly were in sixth place, but my gut is telling me that the latter was always more of a "odd-man out in Best Director" situation, so I'd guess it was Ridley Scott's largely forgotten epic that was a just miss.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I cannot reiterate enough because I won't say this very often in this project-this is a very good Best Picture lineup.  There are no problems here.  That being said, I still think that there are better movies to choose, specifically Zodiac and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  The former is a fascinating look at real men & their reaction to the figurative devil in their midst (a truly great ensemble picture), and the latter a towering acting duet that shows betrayal in its rawest forms (accompanied by splendid Roger Deakins' cinematography).  Both films feel similar in energy to No Country and There Will Be Blood, so I get why Oscar didn't go there, but they're two truly excellent movies that deserved to be called Best Picture.
Oscar’s Choice: Despite Atonement doing very well in precursors, I think it was No Country besting There Will Be Blood, and I don't think it was close.  It was one of those situations similar to the previous year's Departed where AMPAS wanted to wholly embrace one of their favorites who had never won the big prizes, so the Coen Brothers got their moment-in-the-sun.
My Choice: No Country for Old Men is one of my favorite movies, and is the winner here even though my silver (There Will Be Blood) and bronze (Atonement) would make very worthy Best Picture winners (they'd have beaten anyone in the lineup the year before or after).  Follow that with Michael Clayton and then Juno and we are closing the book on 2007!

Yes, we're done with 2007, but you can still join me for a discussion of the year in the comments-AMPAS and I matched up, but I want to hear your thoughts.  Who was the best picture of 2007?  Was it American Gangster or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly in sixth place?  What will it take to finally get Paul Thomas Anderson an Oscar?  And should I check out The Great Debaters?  Share your thoughts on anything 2007-related below!

Past Best Picture Contests: 200820092010201120122013, 2014

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