Sunday, February 17, 2008

The 2nd Annual Oscar Obsession Honors

Winners are in bold. If you haven't seen the nominations, click here. Here we go...

Atonement: The idea of two lovers separated by a child's misunderstanding, and how that effects all three of their lives. The premise itself provokes much thought about the small things we do. Very intriguing indeed.

Away from Her: The idea of a woman forgetting that her husband ever existed. This is truly a real-life horror movie. Also, I always love when movies explore the lives of the elderly.

Enchanted: The idea of a fairy tale princess transported into the real world. The movie itself had script problems galore, I am not about to deny that hearing this idea made me smile.

Persepolis: The idea of a rebellious, naive young woman growing up in a time of horror: the Iranian Revolution. This is a simple but original premise that you know will be the jumping off point for quite a movie.

There Will Be Blood: The idea of an indescribably greedy man whose lies and selfish doings tie him up in a web he can't escape from. It's so rare for movies to be made where the protagonist is anything but likeable, so when it is, it is always intriguing.

Hairspray: This score is the very definition of fun. And the movie never takes itself too seriously to actually use that as a basis for satire, smiles and toe-tapping.

Juno: The movie's soundtrack plays a crucial role in identifying Juno as a character: offbeat, an acquired taste and the kind of thing you love, but don't know why. Brilliant job.

Once: The music in this film is respectful, very sincere and moving--just like the movie. But the real reason it won here is because it was a musical fairy tale that never for one second seemed self-indulgent or even unrealistic. Listening to the soundtrack, and watching the film, just makes you feel good about life.

Sweeney Todd: While the film may not have used the greatest musical score ever written to its fullest advantage, the very presence of songs like "A Little Priest", "The Worst Pies in London" and "Johanna" are enough to get a spot here.

There Will Be Blood: The movie uses a strange blend of classical, modern and downright creepy music to create a mood that we have never seen before. And the opera-like melody after Day-Lewis's closing line is just amazing.

300: The movie itself is highly flawed, however, the cinematography was exquisitely surreal, and made the movie seem a lot more fun than it actually was.

Atonement: Simply gorgeous footage, be it in a battle scene or an upper-class mansion.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: This wins the prize because the cinematography plays a crucial role in telling this story. Had we not seen the world through the protagonist's blinking left eye, I doubt I would have felt so much sympathy for him. So few movies dare go into the second person, but this film did. A risk, but not without reward.

No Country for Old Men: Downright creepy cinematography. Most of the thrills in the film can be attributed to these haunting images (and, of course, Bardem).

There Will Be Blood: Each shot is set up in an unpredictable manner. One of the reasons I was so compelled was just to see what the next one would look like.

Atonement: The now famous 5.5 minute tracking shot is enough to secure a nod here. Very difficult, and well-done, editing.

Juno: A fast-paced, quick comedy that needs good editing to be successful. It had it.

Once: Musicals are always difficult to edit, especially if you're looking for a realistic tone. The editing in Once gives us the most information about a character possible, even when they're singing about something totally different.

No Country for Old Men: This is a movie that had a lot of substance, but still moved extremely quickly. Pulling such a thing off is the very definition of achievement in editing.

There Will Be Blood: The film has very little dialogue, but also a great deal of story. The editors had the task of picking what best conveys the plot simply by the cinematography and facial expressions of the actors. The result was just excellent.

BEST ENDING (of course, spoilers)
Gone Baby Gone: The ending is really what made this movie. I totally did not expect Amanda to be alive, and I certainly didn't expect Captain Doyle to have "kidnapped" her. I found myself questioning Doyle's morals for weeks.

Juno: This is exactly the ending every romantic comedy wants: happy and satisfying, but not predictable. When Mark left Vanessa, I was afraid that Juno was going to decide to keep the baby, which would have totally ruined it. Instead, it turns the protagonist into a wise young woman instead of a self-indulgent teen and brings Vanessa down to earth--and into bliss. Superb.

Persepolis: An ending that is both tragic and hopeful. Marjane has left her home so many times, but this is the first time she leaves home, but takes it with her, as displayed in the final scene in the taxi. A very challenging and rewarding ending.

Sweeney Todd: I almost feel like I'm cheating by giving this the award, because it just totally knocks out all the other competition. I really and truly think this is the best ending we've ever seen in any medium of storytelling. It is both conclusive--in that most every character dies--but also thought provoking. Would Sweeney had done what he did if Mrs. Lovett never lied to him?

There Will Be Blood: That final scene In just one scene, there are four lines that I find myself referencing daily:
"Don't bully me, Daniel!"
"I'm FINISHED!" (one of the best closing lines ever)
"Did you really think your little song and dance could save you?!"
and, of course
"I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"
Ultimately, Daniel's greed brings him everything he wants. However, his greed also keeps him from wanting anything. Very interesting.

Giselle - Enchanted: A fairy tale princess that starts becoming perilously close to human in the real world. And in a movie with such a great storyline. God, I really wish this were as good as it could have been.

Juno MacGuff - Juno: Well, DUH! I haven't liked a movie character this much in ages. In the beginning, she is a fun girl, but tries oh-so-hard to be precocious and funny. However, by the end, she is a genuine, smart young adult. A character arc that is so rarely actually executed, but when it is, it's absolutely lovely. She wins by a mile.

Vanessa Loring - Juno: She could have easily been portrayed as a pushy, fake woman. And, in the beginning, that's exactly what she is. However, when we see her holding her baby, we realize that she was rather unpleasant because she had never gotten what she always wanted. A truly three-dimensional character.

Jenna - Waitress: She starts off likable, but not the kind of person you want to be best friends with. However, as the plot develops, we understand why everyone in the world (except her husband) is so happy to have her.

Old Joe - Waitress: A cranky old man that turns out to be the nicest guy ever. Love it. And played to perfection by Andy Griffith.

Briony Tallis - Atonement: Truly an excellent character. Did she lie, or was it just her imagination being overworked? Is she really sorry for what she has done? These are questions that were on my mind constantly as I watched this film. Simply fascinating.

Jean-Dominique Bauby - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A lesser screenwriter would have portrayed Jean-Do as a perfect man who is struck with a terrible illness. However, here we see that Jean-Do is really a combination of the two: sure, he is a kind family man, but he's also promiscuities and overly sarcastic and cynical. Tragedy, however, turns out to make him a better person.

Marjane's Grandmother - Persepolis: Who would have thought that one of the funniest, most endearing characters of the year would come from a movie about the Iranian Revolution?

Daniel Plainview - There Will Be Blood: I genuinely believe that Daniel started out a good man. Why else would he have raised H.W.? However, greed drives him to stop caring about everything except money and oil, and he becomes one of the most unlikeable characters we've seen on screen recently.

Mrs. Lovett - Sweeney Todd: This is a role every actress who can sing should be killing for. Is she a diabolical villain who is willing to let everyone around her die just because of her schoolgirl crush, or was she just hypnotized by Sweeney? I started thinking about her character since I first saw the show a few years back, and still am today.

Juno: Every name on the poster for this film (Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons and Alison Janney) were, at some point, in consideration for one of my acting awards. Every actor -- and I mean EVERY actor -- in the film understood their characters perfectly. The ensemble is simply a godsend.

Knocked Up: Flaws outweigh benefits for most of the characters, however Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann still make us love them. Quite a feat.

No Country for Old Men: The characters are mostly built around fear of Chigurh, but in all different ways. Every performance holds its own in an ensemble-heavy film.

The Savages: A movie that could have easily come off as a bunch of grown-up losers complaining about life turns into a genuine, heartfelt dramadey thanks to affectionate performances by Laura Linney, Philip Bosco and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Waitress: By the end, I wanted to hug every character in the film (except for Earl, obviously). This ensemble is pure love.

Atonement: Initially, it seems light script-wise. However, by the time you get to the intense confrontation scene and Vanessa Redgrave's moving epilogue, you start hearing some of the best dialogue of the year.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: This wins this category because it was just such a remarkable accomplishment. It is a movie about a man who can communicate only by blinking his left eye, and yet it's funny, poignant, inspiring and never boring for one second. Everything about the movie was sincere and honest. A great screenplay indeed.

Persepolis: Offers some of the most clever scenes of the year, as well as some clever one-liners. However, the real reason this is here is because it's an animated film that has story and dialogue elements as thought provoking and interesting as any of the other great films of 2007. Lovely.

No Country for Old Men: The violent sequences are not only well-directed and choreographed, but also well-written. The way the characters react to violence--and the way Anton kills--are key elements to the film's success. Not to mention that the dialogue is full of subtext that we so rarely find in films anymore.

There Will Be Blood: As I said before, nearly every line is quotable. The plot is full of twists, turns and quirks that is guided perfectly by the screenplay. A difficult, touchy film that is put in perfect hands.BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Juno: The screenplay to this film is both the frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay, and the most hated screenplay of the year. It is being called "overwritten", when in fact, that is just Juno's character. And as the film progresses, and Juno becomes a more real person, the dialogue and situations become more real. An outstanding achievement.

Knocked Up: It's being called a sex comedy with heart, but I would say it's more than a sex comedy; I would say it's also a social commentary on casual sex. The screenplay, like with many comedies, is what made the movie a success. An impressive, and downright hilarious, screenplay.

The Savages: This comes in an EXTREMELY close second. This is really an amazing screenplay: not quite a comedy...not quite a drama...just life. And this dialogue is some of the most realistic I've ever heard in a film.

The Simpsons Movie: I was shocked to see that the best sitcom of all time transferred to the screen so perfectly. I love this show, I love this movie, I love this screenplay. Its main criticism is that it's basically one long episode. That, however, is what I loved most about it.

Waitress: The fact that the intense talent behind this funny, feel-good romantic comedy won't ever make another film is just depressing. This screenplay alone, however, is enough to create a legacy.
Jennifer Garner - Juno: I've always been against Garner, but I was shocked at the maturity and classiness she brought to Juno. Unlike so many other actresses that try to defend their character's flaws, Garner just lets Vanessa be Vanessa. Great work.

Marion Josee-Croze - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Probably more lead than supporting, but I needed to put her somewhere. The scene where she is on the boat with Jean-Do ("you may be my diving bell, but you're also my butterfly") just sent me over the edge. A beautiful performance in a beautiful film.

Alison Janney - Juno: She only has a few minutes of screentime, but she makes such a lasting impression that I felt like she had 30. At once, Janney establishes a real connection with Page. Unlike so many stepmother roles, Janney is a warm, protective and very loving mother figure to Page's Juno. And she's freaking hilarious.

Amy Ryan - Gone Baby Gone: This was the strongest category of the year, but when you come down to it, Ryan simply gave the best female supporting performance of the year. She absolutely transforms into a drug addicted, self-centered mother, but is never melodramatic. As much as we dislike her character, we can't help but feel for her. Really a great performance.

Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton: Takes a total bitch of a character and makes us see her side of the story. I don't want to spoil the movie, but I'll just say that if you can get people to sympathize with this character

Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men: Every time he was on screen, I was afraid to open my eyes, but couldn't turn away. Bardem makes us compelled to see what happens to a character we absolutely hate.

Michael Cera - Juno: Lovingly awkward. His Bleeker was fun, laid-back and just adorable.

Paul Dano - There Will Be Blood: His eccentric sermons are disturbing and captivating, and in the end, we just pity him for having led a life he never wanted to lead.

Tommy Lee Jones - No Country for Old Men: A mysterious, quiet performance. In the last 30 minutes of the film, we forget that we ever saw anyone but him. Bonus points for making some sense out of that end monologue, too.

Tom Wilkinson - Michael Clayton: The best part in an otherwise flawed movie (not a bad one, but not a perfect one either). At times, Arthur is the most sane person in the film, and at other times, he's...uh...not. But whatever he was doing, he was undeniably convincing.

Helena Bonham Carter - Sweeney Todd: When I first heard her recording on the soundtrack, I was aggravated. I've always viewed Mrs. Lovett as an obnoxious, repuslive and fascinating woman. However, when I saw the movie, she put a spin on the part that I never anticipated would work. She really made it her own.

Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose: The incredibly versatile Ms. Cotillard plays Edith Piaf at every point in her life, displaying every emotion one can imagine, in the most effective and interesting way possible. I did not for one second think it was an actress in the role. It well may be the best biopic performance ever--I know it's the best I've seen.

Ellen Page - Juno: I spent weeks debating over whether to give this title to Cotillard or Page, but in the end, Page just captured my heart. Rarely have I encountered a performance where the actor fully understands their character. That certainly was not the case for Ellen Page in Juno. Anyone can portray her as a snarky pregnant teenager, but it takes true talent to dive into the mind of a comedic character. Page did so, and pulled it off completely. One of the best comedic performances of all time; and she was just 19 when she filmed it.

Keri Russell - Waitress: Keri's shyness but lovability brings Jenna, and the movie itself, into a more mature state.

Tabu - The Namesake: A criminally underappreciated performance. From the moment she appears on screen, we sympathize with her struggles, but also question her flaws. Tabu's subtlety conveys more emotion than something as simple as crying on cue can do.

Josh Brolin - No Country for Old Men: A man of questionable ethics, but also of great likability. Brolin has proven, if nothing else, that he is well on his way to superstardom.

Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood: Among the 20 best performances of all time. Day-Lewis absolutely dissolves into the form of a greedy, angry, insane oilman. I could talk forever and still not fully explain how powerful this performance is.

Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Savages: Linney got the nod, and her work was great, but the real strength of The Savages comes from Hoffman. While Wendy is more the main character, Jon is a mysterious, but very friendly character that I found myself quite intrigued by; much to the credit of Hoffman.

James McAvoy - Atonement: A gentle performance, but not without a strong backbone. McAvoy shows off a very wide range in this surprisingly great performance.

Gordon Pinsent - Away from Her: His co-star is picking up all the awards for her good-but-not-great performance, but Pinsent is really what drives Away from Her into excellence.

Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood: One of the best directed films of all time. I believe that you could cut up every frame of the film, shuffle them, select one and analyze it for days. There is not a single shot in this film that is not entirely thought-out. Truly a towering accomplishment.

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men: The Coen Brothers take No Country for Old Men's bleak tone and make something provocative and chilling out of it. A slick, flat-out cool movie.

Jason Reitman - Juno: An immensely underrated directing effort, and I applaud the Academy for finally honoring it. Reitman makes something honest and meaningful out of Diabo Cody's challenging but brilliant screenplay.

Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Schnabel dares to do highly unconventional things with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the most notable being, of course, the fact that a portion of the film is seen through the main character's eyes (er...eye). A risky, but highly rewarding, directorial effort.

Joe Wright - Atonement: Wright takes an epic story, and really does make it epic. At a young age of 35, Wright has the courage to shoot abroad and use ultra-wide shots. He gets this nod to reward going all out.

and, alas...

BEST PICTURE (for elaboration, read the top 10)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

and the winner is....THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Now, the top 10.

10. Gone Baby Gone
A tense, emotionally taxing film. From the beginning to the climax, I found myself questioning everything about it. And then, when the shocking ending was revealed, everything fell into place. I hate most everything about Ben Affleck, but I was surprised that he was able to make such a great film. Let's have more directing and writing from him and less acting.

9. The Simpsons Movie
I'm sure that I'm extremely biased because I am the world's biggest Simpsons fan, but I was really impressed at the quality of the jokes here. It truly did mimic a classic Simpsons episode, which is certainly enough to get on my top 10.

8. Waitress
An absolutely delightful film from the (sadly) late Adrienne Shelly. Almost all modern romantic comedies have a simple formula: awkward but lovable and attractive man meets a smart, professional woman and they fall in love for some reason. Waitress, however, is much more complicated and human. A smart and very funny film.

7. Once
I've never in my life seen a movie like this. It's a comedy, it's a tragedy, it's a musical, it's a fairy tale, it's realistic fiction...and yet it's so simple. All in all, it's just a story about two friends. It's impossible to watch and not just feel good afterwards.

6. Persepolis
The animated memoirs of Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is a truly unique film. There is nothing conventional about it; it jumps back and forward in time, it has dramatized sequences and quirky moments. However, most of all, this is just a story about coming to terms with yourself. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes both at the same time, Persepolis is an eye-opening film.

5. Atonement
I was hesitant about seeing Atonement. When I read the book, I felt like it was wasting a phenomenal premise on a slightly-better-than-average novel. So imagine my surprise when the film adaptation was actually much better than the book. This is a beautiful, melancholy epic about lost love that is vital for anyone with an interest in art direction, cinematography, or just good movies.

4. No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men is probably the most talked about film of the Oscar nominees. It is receiving universal praise, yet it doesn't really have a message. No, it's just a fascinating story, and a truly entertaining one. For the first time since Chicago, the Best Picture winner is pure, moral-free fun. I just love this movie.

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Damn, France had an amazing year. The best word to describe The Diving Bell and the Butterfly really is "beautiful." The premise makes it sound like a well-made film, but a dull one. I'm pleased to say that it's impossible to be bored during this film. With its well-developed characters, gorgeous cinematography and direction and inspiring story, this film is really and deeply worthwhile.

2. Juno
Like No Country for Old Men, Juno is pure entertainment. However, Juno also has a ton of heart and talking points. And for simply having introduced me to my beloved Juno MacGuff, I am proud to have this film on my list. I was almost sure it would be my favorite of the year. But then...

1. There Will Be Blood
I think that this is the first time since Lord of the Rings that I have sat in a theater and witnessed cinema history. This film will be studied for ages by screenwriters, cinematographers, actors and directors. I know for a fact that it will go down as one of the greatest films of all time. The movie is nothing short of epic. Watching There Will Be Blood is like witnessing history in the making.

Well, there we have it. 2007 was an amazing year for movies!

Now, let's fast forward a week...

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