Monday, February 18, 2008

Oscars 2008: Thoughtful, Life-Affirming, Artistic


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


       I think 2007 will go down as the all-round best year for cinema in decades - though I think the main Academy Award categories could have had several more films added to them if rules and practicality would have allowed. On the other hand, Academy voters got the nominations right; they chose the best. The films, acting, and filmmaking are so good that it is extremely hard to predict who or which film will win. I have seen thirty-three of the forty-six films in the main categories.


Before selecting my winning nominees, I would like to mention what many reviewers and critics have already noticed: that many 2007 films are life-affirming from conception to old age, to the search for life’s meaning, and the celebration of family and friends. Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was a surprise (despite the yuck factor). Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson give us an experience of deeply felt life in Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List. Jindabyne from Australian director Ray Lawrence, illustrated the connection between humanity, morality and nature. Then there are the nominees of course, from the sleeper indie hit Juno to Sean Penn’s journey film Into the Wild to one of my favorites, Lars and the Real Girl. As the Jesuit Anthony de Mello (1931-1987) once said, “You have yet to understand, my friends, that the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.” I think de Mello would have enjoyed 2007 at the movies.


Best Actor in a Leading Role – This is such a hard call because Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There Will Be Blood is so outstanding. I would not be surprised if this dark study of a man who turns America’s virtues into vices, sweeps the Awards. The Oscar may go to Johnny Depp as Sweeny Todd, but my vote goes to Tommy Lee Jones as the heart-broken retired soldier who searches for his son who disappears after returning from Iraq in Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah.


Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Hands down,  Hal Holbrook deserves this award as the elderly widower who befriends a young man on his quest for truth and humanity in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Holbrook’s authentic and poignant performance touched my heart. Casey Affleck, in the dark historical drama The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and the other nominees, are deserving as well (I missed Charlie Wilson’s War however.)


Best Actress in a Leading Role – Cate Blanchette is always marvelous, and Julie Christie in Away from Her is getting all the buzz, but I would love to see the Oscar go to either Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose or to Ellen Page in Juno. Marion Cotillard plays Edith Piaf to perfection but a win for newcomer Ellen Page’s fresh persona as the young, super-smart pregnant teen in the biggest dilemma of her life, exudes life and promise for the future of the cinema arts.


Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Watch Cate Blanchette win for I’m Not There where she plays Bob Dylan, but the real contest is between Tilda Swinton as the ambitious lawyer on the wrong side in Michael Clayton and the young Saoirse Ronan in Atonement. This young actress literally stole the show, giving depth and credence to an act of betrayal with life-long consequences.


Animated FeaturesPersepolis could win for its artistic originality that told a bleak story with realism, but my hunch is that Ratatouille will win for its heart and accessibility for young and old alike.


Art Direction – I am going with There Will Be Blood, although the artistic achievement of The Golden Compass is noteworthy.


Cinematography – All five nominees could win here, but my favorite is Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This is a film that proved the sacramental quality of filmmaking: it was able to bring the audience into an experience of the inner reality of a man’s life and soul through the external realities of sight and sound.


Costume DesignElizabeth, the Golden Age seems like the obvious choice (some have said the costumes areall the film had going for it), but what made La Vie En Rose was the historical realism of the decades of her life shown through many factors, including costumes.


Best Director  - I think all these directors are brilliant. The Coen Brothers deserve it for No Country for Old Men, but I think Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood may win it.


Documentary Feature – I wish The Price of Sugar would have been nominated, but in lieu of that, my vote is for Michael Moore’s assessment of universal health care in Sicko.


Film Editing – No contest: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly that created an inner world of memory and imagination for the screen, and a reason to choose life over death.


Original Score – Thisis a very hard call. I think Dario Marianelli will get the Oscar for Atonement but I would like Alberto Iglesias receive it for The Kite Runner, one of my top ten films for 2007.


Original Song – “Falling Slowly” in Once, the small musical that could, is my choice, though “Raise It Up” in August Rush is deserving. I did enjoy Enchanted, but it was very mainstream. The small films seemed to capture more of the magic of sight and sound.


Best Picture – I want Juno to win, but any of these films could win and it would be right and just. Michael Clayton is a film about conscience in contemporary life, the struggle between immoral and illegal; No Country for Old Men is about a sheriff walking in a nightmare of criminal activity he could never have imagined. Atonement is a fine, subtle film about truth and consequences, and There Will be Blood, it’s exact opposite. My guess is that There Will be Blood may very well win.


Best Visual Effects – I have to say that my nephews and I thoroughly enjoyed The Transformers, so I am going with this because it was so extreme – and funny.


Best Adapted ScreenplayNo Country for Old Men would be my hunch because it seems to stay closer to the book, although The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a strong contender.


Best Original Screenplay – All deserving, it has to come down to Juno or Lars and the Real Girl. Both films are filled with life, humanity, family, community, tenderness, great kindness, and are completely original in their approach. These kinds of films make you want to go to the movies.


The best movies that were not nominated: The Namesake, Amazing Grace, A Mighty Heart.



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