Friday, February 22, 2008

No gold men for "Country"?

In a season that has been all about the triumph of the underdog -- Obama in the primaries and caucuses; The Giants at the Super Bowl; Herbie Hancock at the Grammys -- will the Oscar frontrunner, "No Country for Old Men," be spectacularly usurped?

No one expects no gold men for "Country." The movie is as much a presumed winner as Obama at this stage, though, as in the Democratic nominee race, you wouldn't want to call the race just yet. This year's awards could mirror the out-of-nowhere wins of "Shakespeare in Love" or "Crash." There's recent talk in Hollywood about how voters are tired of "No Country for Old Men" winning everything for months. But momentum is a notoriously nebulous thing to quantify since George Gallup isn't cold-calling Academy members and the ballots are secret to everyone except Entertainment Weekly.

Going against "No Country": that Rorschach-test ending and liberal gouges of gory violence that may not play well with older Academy voters. It's safe to assume, however, that Javier Bardem will saunter to the podium to collect a Best Supporting Actor award, if only to have a charming acceptance speech help exorcise all our nightmares about the prospect of Anton Chigurh being somewhere on the loose out there. (If I had a Catch-22 choice between being pursed by either The Terminator or Chigurh -- and I'd hope it wouldn't come down to a coin-toss -- I'd say the futuristic cyborg is the less-scary option.)

Here's what "No Country" has going for it. It's filmmaking that lingers on the corneas and in dark cranial corners long after one emerges from the cinema. This thriller about the senseless nature of evil that will resonate with anyone who turns on the nightly news only to see yellow police cordon tape outside a quiet suburban home or a body bag on a bloodied street corner. And it boasts an unforgettable soundtrack. (That's a joke.)

Ultimately, none of the other big pictures seems to have quite the right ingredients to overtake "No Country for Old Men."
  • "Juno" is comedic – those don't tend to do too well at the Kodak theater – and such a big box-office hit that it's no longer an underdog. The film's only shot at something other than a screenplay award for Diablo Cody will be if voters are tired of the sturm und drang of the other Best Picture nominees. (Here's one prediction I'm confident about– Cody will have the most entertaining acceptance speech of the night: "Mom, dad, I hope this finally makes you proud of me after all that stripper stuff.")
  • "Michael Clayton" has won less votes than Dennis Kucinich all awards season (but watch out for a possible win for Tilda Swinton).
  • "There Will be Blood" will fare well among the younger voters but, even though PT Anderson's film doesn't have a hailstorm of frogs from the sky, it's still weird enough to put some voters off their milkshakes. For starters, Jonny Greenwood's score – which wouldn't have sounded out of place during parts of "2001: A Space Odyssey" – wasn't even nominated due to arcane reasons.
  • "Atonement" just doesn't have any lingering buzz, does it? I've criticized the adaptation of McEwan's great novel and many critics concur. Still, it won a BAFTA (though that's a little like George Bush winning the vote in Texas) and The Golden Globe. Its self-conciously epic and old-fashioned sensibilities could sway some voters. But the absence of a nod for its director or Keira Knightley or James McAvoy doesn't do it any favors.
Still, I think we're going to see a surprise or two on Sunday night, especially since no one seems to agree on whether Swinton, Blanchett, or Ryan will win Best Supporting Actress. And will "Persepolis" spoil Ratatouille's post-Oscar dinner at Mortons?

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