Oscar's Best - The Best Picture Nominees

The 80th Academy Awards, the film industry’s biggest night, will be broadcast live from Hollywood on Sunday, February 24 with an 8:00PM EST start. With the WGA writer's strike over and the Hollywood machine gearing up for the one week that puts the glam, glitter and glitz in Tinseltown, I put together a Best Picture sampling meant to whet the appetite for the full course and will leave the entrée choice up to you. See one or see all. They're all worth it.

Last year's Oscar winner, Martin Scorsese, accepts his Achievement in Directing for "The Departed" from Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

The nominees for this year’s Best Picture include, No Country for Old Men, Atonement, There Will Be Blood, Juno and Michael Clayton.

I must admit I have never been a Coen brother’s film fan. Their sense of humor, film style, directorial approach and my film viewing desires simply never meshed. Until now. 

Josh Brolin in Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men."

No Country For Old Men,  directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, opens with a voice over by Tommy Lee Jones describing how times have changed and how time changes a man.  The cinematography immediately grabs the attention and plays an integral part in braiding into the storyline the belief of autonomy. The film weaves together the lives of drug runners, drug lords, the innocent bystander and the Sheriff in the early days of the drug trade.  Thus, begins the Coen’s saga of money, drugs and Texas justice.

The film moves into a violent strangulation that leaves a Jackson Pollock canvas of scuffmarks on the floor performed by a sociopath played flawlessly by Javier Bardem who is the muscle for a drug operation. Josh Brolin, a Vietnam Vet with a conscience, is the innocent bystander who stumbles onto the drug deal gone very wrong and finds the cash and with it, he believes, retirement. That thought is very short lived but worth the effort.  Woody Harrelson and Tommy Lee Jones give excellent performances. Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin provide noteworthy performances that invoke reaction by the viewer. I saw this film twice. That is the best review I can give and I guess that makes me a Coen brother’s film fan, at least for now.

Keira Knightly and James McAvoy in Joe Wright's adaptation of "Atonement."

Atonement, starring a brunette Keira Knightly, provides a journey of life after a lie is told and adolescent imaginations are gathered in the heart of a child. The film moves from a pre-Hilter London and a future of the two main characters, Knightley, who smolders with a momentary passion, and James McAvoy the igniter of the passion.

The film travels through WWII with the sights and sounds of War that always reveal a story never told, and the young child who grows, tormented by her past, into a woman and finally, played by Vanessa Redgrave, recounts the story of how on a summer night as a child, her imaginations created an impossible desire that when met with reality became an explosion that abbreviated the lives and futures of those who meant the most to her. It is an absolutely fabulous movie. 

Daniel Day Lewis as Oilman Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood."

There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day Lewis as Oil Tycoon Daniel Plainview, traces the early days of homesteading and wildcatting across South Texas. Daniel Day Lewis embodies Daniel Plainview complete with passion, drive, determination and his desire to build an oil pipeline to the ocean. Plainview’s luck changed forever after Paul Sunday, the son of a destitute farmer, approached him and told him about oil as far as the eye could see.

Plainview and his son, played by Dillon Freasier, moved to the Sunday ranch and proceed to buy out the surrounding land. He is always one step ahead of the big oil companies who are buying up all the land. Eil Sunday, played by Paul Dano, portrays the beginnings of a modern Texas televangelist, who ministers the local church for the money, power and control it can bring him. The film reveals the struggles of Eli’s and Plainview’s ego and Eli’s determination to be respected by Plainview. In the end these two, Sunday and Plainview, end their years of clashing in a violent confrontation.  This, too, is a must see.

Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Ellen Page in Jason Reitman's "Juno."

Juno, directed by Jason Reitman, deals with teenage pregnancy. The sense of humor of the main character, Juno, played by Oscar nominated actress Ellen Page, helps move the film past the same issues that every other film that depicts teenage pregnancy details. This time the issues are met with a sense of humor usually not associated with the situation.  The decision to keep the child as opposed to abortion seems to be a non-decision. Although keeping the baby to term and giving the child up for adoption proves more difficult as Juno searches for the perfect parents.

Enter Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, the perfect choice as far as the adolescents are concerned to be the perfect parents for their child. The child never seems to be thought of without love. Love and the future needs are considerations made by a mature portrayal of a girl who made adult decisions without believing the worst-case scenario could happen. An outstanding performance by Law & Order’s resident psychologist, J.K. Simmons, who portrays Juno’s dad with the same sense of humor.  A 'there is no wrong we can’t make right' attitude, except being expelled from school, then we’re in trouble is portrayed with a belief that a sense of humor can get you through the bad times.  The movie has a cult following among teens and the message should be clear: Sometime the worst-case scenario happens and it can still be made right. 

George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton."

Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney and directed by Tony Gilroy. I did not see this movie and yet, I know this movie. I have spent the last five years investigating a New York Law firm and filing a series of articles for which I received two Pulitzer nominations for On-line Breaking News reporting after reveling the details of their corruption.

The plot is Conscience vs. Status quo, a case of justice.  While entertaining, it is rare that this type of action is ever presented in a judicial courtroom. Tony Gilroy’s film is all about the New York Corporate law firm world: A world unto themselves. It is a world where the "first year's" are rarely noticed unless they are scouted for sexual favors, it is a world where documents are stored next to the shredder, just in case. It is a world where every possible scenario is set and investigated before the criminal plan is in play. It is a place that is so far from the law that the line is not even a blur or a blip on the horizon. It is a world of knowing how to use the law so you can break the law. Very few corporate attorneys ever see the justice they deserve simply due to 'the bigger the firm the bigger the favors' and you can always count on judicial favors if your criminal deeds see the light of day. The film has been nominated for Best Picture: Tony Gilroy, for Achievement in Directing, George Clooney for Best Actor and Tom Wilkenson for Best Supporting Actor. So see this movie and tell me if I’m wrong.

Hollywood's favorite Golden Boy, Oscar.

It wouldn’t be a complete article without a prediction. With the recent Director’s Guild Presentation of Achievement to the Coen’s they are the odds on favorite for Achievement in Directing. I don’t think this year’s Oscar will provide any significant upsets so my prediction for Best Picture and Achievement in Directing goes to Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men. 

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