Oh, yes. A declaration and a promise. I was so sure that There Will Be Blood would be my definite pick from those in this year’s Oscar’s Best Picture selection after having been completely taken with the previews displaying images of an impassioned Paul Dano and fueled by an intense segment of the film’s engaging score. Not so afterall. A movie I had absolutely no interest in to begin with has won out in the end. The Oscars are but a day away. Big yay! Here lie my musings on this year’s offerings …There’s no curtain of the psyche pulled back to reveal the depth required to possess such anger and its source.
In viewing There Will Be Blood, I was struck by the score immediately. It made me look at the vast, sprawling cinematic camera shots of barren land with great expectancy. Music to keep one on their toes, alert. A main draw in the film, much ballyhooed, is Daniel Day-Lewis’s topnotch (and nominated) performance. He portrays a driven, ambitious man in search of wealth, an “oil man” as he fondly and repeatedly refers to himself, but a man who never quite gets it. “It” being life’s great connection to others, instead he systematically drives away and/or disposes of the few close to him. Day-Lewis is excellent, his face so lively, his voice almost roaring in line delivery at times. As I like to find the meaning in things, often to a fault, the film left me generally unsatisfied. And not in the good way in which one is left wanting more after just a taste, no. Ambiguous, it all was. The man had tremendous anger, though, no explanation is even hinted at as to why. No reason. No motive. The payoff lies in the “why,” don’t they know? There’s no curtain of the psyche pulled back to reveal the depth required to possess such anger and its source. Count me ultimately disengaged and wondering at the intent of the director in so telling the story.
Among the men …
Every little bit of me screams for Johnny, Johnny DEPP!! Go, fight, win! An Oscar, yes! But, for his role as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street? Nooooooo! Overlooked for many a fine performance over the years only to land a third nomination for Sweeney Todd. Say it ain’t so. A movie I thought I’d absolutely love due to its gruesome take on meat pie filling, monstrously funny, and a musical at that, lost my affection with its focus purely on revenge rather than on redemption. A bang up job he did, all the same, the man can emote in glorious pallor, thus he must remain my top pick for Lead Actor. I am so championing for Casey Affleck to win for Supporting Actor in the The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (quite the mouthful). I swear I could see actual love and admiration, the real deal, pouring out from his eyes as Robert Ford in a discussion with Jesse James played by Brad Pitt. Viggo Mortensen, Viggo is nominated solely for having displayed his pretty pink parts on screen for all to see. During a fight seen in a bathhouse, no less. In his turn as Nikolai, a driver for one of London’s most notorious organized crime families of Russian descent in Eastern Promises, his accent is kept wonderfully consistent, but an inadequate show of emotional range fails to convince me of his Oscar deservedness. FYI, I’m apparently a fan of Russian criminal tattoos, who knew?
What’s the deal with Clooney? Why does the academy again deem him worthy of an Oscar acting accolade? Nevermind the actual movie, Michael Clayton, for which he’s nominated capturing a Best Picture nod (and even Original Screenplay). Clooney plays the fixer for a high-power law firm whose client, an agrichemical industry giant, is wreaking untold havoc on their consumers’ health. Tilda Swinton, nominated for Supporting Actress, plays chief counsel for said industry giant. I so thoroughly abhorred her, more that of what she represents- the money-grubbing corporate mongers who check any scruples at the door in exchange for a sizable expense account and a noteworthy entry on their resume only to live out the existence of a soulless stooge. Michael Clayton plays like a grimmer version of the movie Erin Brockovich, though, Mr. Clayton must be dragged to his duty whereas Ms. Brokovich led the crusade. Michael Clayton is a slow build to a resolute, but disappointing end, seemingly aimed at providing Clooney with fodder with which to shoot for an Oscar. I’m prepared to birth a small baby cow if Michael Clayton takes it. Or Clooney for that matter. Moo.
Let’s talk women …
Juno. Oh, Juno. I really, really didn’t wanna see this film. Despite immensely enjoying the quirky Napoleon Dynamite-ish style seen in the trailer and on the poster that all called my name, I was completely turned off by that Ellen Page, Juno, with her harsh, smug line delivery. Juno is 16 and pregnant, obvious dilemma therein. Rolled my eyes and let out a groan when it was announced she was nominated, as well as the movie. FINE. Off I drove to see it in my pursuit of an informed opinion over that of stubborn bias. Not even five minutes in, and I was lovin’ it! Abandoned my disdain for her character entirely. Was won over by her, rooting for her, and genuinely adding her to the “Most Admirable Characters” list. Also nominated for Original Screenplay (take that, Michael Clayton!) it contains the pleasurably sardonic nature of Diablo Cody’s (clearly a pseudo name) writing, just as in her published memoirs. My personal choice is for that of the most lovely Cate Blanchett. Whether she wins for her title role in Elizabeth: The Golden Age or for her portrayal of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There for Supporting Actress, no matter. She’s power. She’s strength. She’s soft. She’s tender. Diverse, malleable, a true chameleon. When she bellows the words “I, too, can command the wind, sir! I have a hurricane in me that will strip Spain bare when you dare to try me!” as Queen Elizabeth, my spirit rises up to match hers and I feel I could conquer the world. As for who should win, the radiant Julie Christie captures all the multifacets to be found in the slipping away through Alzheimer’s dementia with poignancy and grace in Away From Her.
The moment cannot pass without mention of the beauty that is the film Atonement aptly nominated for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Score. I have not read the book from which it was adapted, though, in watching it I felt very much as though I were reading some delicious unfolding of languorous description. It is a ravishing romance set in 1935 with a decided undertone of carnal tension. As the credits rolled, Bean asked what I thought of it, to which I said it was one of those films that I needed a little space from to see if it grew on or away from me. A definite case of absence growing the heart fonder, it burned in my mind, and I returned a second time to experience its haunting mood. The music was integral, the score responsible for sweeping me further in. As the There Will Be Blood score was not nominated due to a missed technical requirement, the Atonement score simply MUST win! The pressing repetition of one piano key played again and again heightening each moment on screen before taking off, coupling with a frenzied string accompaniment, soaring high then sweeping low. The addition of the sound of typewriter keys, interwoven here and there, appropo as the plot hinges on that of a misinterpreted typed letter.
A sucker for a good bad guy, I am, strictly on screen, that is. My personal choice for Best Picture edges out Atonement by a smidge: No Country for Old Men. Wasn’t moved one bit by the trailers I’d seen leading up to its release. Sometime afterward, I heard somewhere that Javier Bardem’s character was being compared to Hannibal Lecter. Interest peaked and with the announcement of a Best Picture nomination, off I went to watch. Out wandering the wide open land of a Texas border town in hunt of antelope, Josh Brolin’s character, Llewelyn, comes across a massacre, a drug deal gone horribly wrong. A case of $2 million in cash left there for the taking. And take he does. Soon found out, he finds Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, in hot and ruthless pursuit. Bardem’s highly intense. To a most enjoyably mental degree. His weapon of choice: An unlikely cattle gun. The pacing in this film is right on, keeping the viewer from any ease as Llewelyn, an “everyman” easy to root for, makes seemingly plausible move after plausible move in order to shake the trail of Chigurh, but to no avail as he’s continually caught up with. I felt sure the calm, calculating, perversely humorous Chigurh would walk up the aisle of the theatre at any moment and plug me with that rotten cattle gun. The ending seems to simply drop off out of nowhere, though, it’s supposed to be true to the book it’s taken from, so hooray for that, I suppose.
There is a similar theme amidst many of the nominated works this year. That of bleakness, a dispiritedness. Some are outright tragic. Many appear a slam against America. From society’s tendency to seek out a quick fix, the want of something for nothing, to the end all, be all of money as God, greed replacing any remaining integrity as the big business modis operandi. Catered to the realist and not the idealist. One must certainly acknowledge realism, begin there, but never, never stop there, always shooting, aiming high, for idealism. One doesn’t work without the other and I look forward to a new batch of films in the coming year trained maybe a bit more towards that of said idealism, that of hope. ♦