The Nominees Are: OSCARS 2008
LOVEFiLM's lowdown on the main contenders for Oscar glory on Sunday night…
No Country For Old Men
It's obvious that critics have been pining for a good Coen brothers' movie; the reviews for this lean Texas thriller were rapturous. Exciting to watch but grave in tone, it should have broad appeal to Academy voters if they're not turned off by the violence (it's also proved the Coens' most commercially successful picture). It's got to be the odds-on favourite.
Another critics' choice, Paul Thomas Anderson's oil epic bears the hallmarks of classic moviemaking, recalling past greats like Citizen Kane, Giant and Chinatown. Even so, the Academy might decide it's too much of a good thing; the melodramatic final act has proved contentious for many, and there may be a suspicion that Anderson hasn't quite paid his dues yet. Should it win? We think so. Will it win? I suspect not.
Inevitably the inclusion of this leftfield indie spurs comparisons with Little Miss Sunshine. The two movies do share an acerbic wit, but they have little else in common. Some of Diablo Cody's smart patter may be too near the knuckle, but Jason Reitman's film is a comedy people feel good about, maybe because it casts such a sympathetic eye on everyday foibles. With four nominations in "major" categories, Juno is the little movie that just might. If there's a Crash - type upset, this is where it will come from.
In a strange way Tony Gilroy's anti-corporate thriller is looking like the safe, establishment choice this year. That's quite a turnaround for a picture that was once rumored to be a headache for the studio. It's been a slow burner at the box-office, but this throwback to 70s style conspiracy movies has proved its staying power.
This occupies the slot traditionally reserved for an English art-house offering - something classy and middle-brow, with impeccable acting and the kind of brittle dialogue that can only be situated in a drawing room (last year it was The Queen). Despite its Golden Globes and BAFTA victories and an impressive haul of seven nominations, Atonement must be considered an outsider - it has been overlooked for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor.
Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Surprisingly Day Lewis has only one Oscar to his name (for My Left Foot in 1989) but that is likely to change this year. A performance of this size, detail and conviction is well nigh impossible to ignore. Anderson really builds the film around his prodigious leading man; Daniel Plainview's transformation over the course of nearly three decades is a mesmerizing journey. I can't see him not winning.
After Elah's wretched box office Jones was probably the least expected of the Best Actor nominees (though some of us predicted it back in September). It's richly rewarded. Jones is devastating as the fiercely proud veteran reluctantly drawn to reexamine his core convictions when his son is reported AWOL shortly after returning from Iraq. It's like seeing Mount Rushmore crumble.
George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
If there were any doubts about Clooney's range he dispelled them with his win in the supporting category for Syriana. The title role in Michael Clayton was further evidence that he was ready and able to stretch. A bagman for an uptown legal firm, Clayton slowly comes to face the price of his ethically compromised life choices, culminating in what is likely to be the most sustained close up in Clooney's career. None of which makes him more than eye-candy for the red carpet this year.
"At last, my arm is complete again!" gloats Sweeney Todd, once he's got his razors back. Todd might be Edward Scissorhands in another life - a life consumed with the obsessive quest for vengeance. Grim and glowering, Depp doesn't soften this macabre anti-hero's misanthropic streak, but he does convey the romantic anguish beneath his cut-throat ways. So what if he murders a few songs?
On the face of things, the part of the henchman for a Russian gangster in London would hardly seem obvious Oscar bait, but such is Mortensen's exact, meticulous, enigmatic performance, everything this man does is interesting, whether it's the way he disposes of a corpse or his solicitous efforts to repair a broken down motorcycle. He manages to suggest ruthless efficiency and underlying compassion without ever appearing to give anything away.
For my money, Cotillard gives the most impressive performance of the bunch as Edith Piaf. Her transformation into the plucky chanteuse - a pale waif with pencil thin eyebrows over big, round eyes - is even more impressive if you remember Cotillard as the Provencal honey in Ridley Scott's "A Good Year". It's a totally committed piece of acting that honours Piaf's passionate intensity. If the Little Sparrow had more of a US following this would have been a sure winner - showbiz biopics are always popular with the voters - and that BAFTA upset may just tip it in her favour.
It's 22 years since Julie Christie won the Oscar for Darling, and this well liked 60s icon has to be this year's sentimental favourite. While that's not always enough to bring home the bacon (just ask Peter O'Toole) the Academy could smile on this performance. Christie is luminously beautiful even as she succumbs to dementia in Sarah Polley's sensitive character piece - but maybe the movie too small for the big time?
Ellen Page (Juno)
It's great to see the terrific young (21-year-old) Canadian actress Page get this recognition so early in her career. Sure, screenwriter Diablo Cody supplied her with a non-stop barrage of wisecracks, but don't imagine that will have made the pregnant teen easy to play. Page doesn't just make us laugh, she makes us care. It's a tough call in this category, but with Juno the only major contender raking it in at the box-office, and youthful promise trumping experience in the US this year, I have a hunch Page might be in for the night of her life.
The Academy's deference to royalty must have factored in this nomination: Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a silly film, and Blanchett has done better work elsewhere. Still, by now we're all aware she's probably the most versatile actress of her generation, and if we're not, this is the role to remind us, running the gamut from imperious pride to girly vulnerability and back again. Blanchett has a better chance at taking home the gold in the Supporting stakes.
Candidly, it hasn't been a great year for women in film. Elizabeth aside, none of the nominees comes from a mainstream studio movie. But you can always count on Laura Linney. Tamara Jenkins wrote her a lovely part: Wendy Savage is a smart, unhappy and frustrated writer who is thrown off-course by the sudden mental decline of her father. Her sparring with on-screen sibling Philip Seymour Hoffman is probably the season's wittiest and most touching double act experience in the US this year.
It's extremely rare for co-directors to share a nomination like this (though Buck Henry and Warren Beatty won for Heaven Can Wait). When Fargo was nominated in 1997, only Joel was credited as director. In their 50s now, the brothers are the most experienced filmmakers on the list, and must practically count as the old guard in a year that marks a generational shift in this category. I believe their time has come.
Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Previously nominated for his original screenplays Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Anderson finally earns a directing nomination for his fifth feature. He may be a child of Hollywood (or at least the San Fernando Valley), but this self-styled "auteur" can come across as bratty and arrogant, qualities that won't endear him to the community at large. His work here is exceptional, but it's also punishing and potentially alienating in a way that's not true of main rival No Country For Old Men.
Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton)
An established screenwriter (notably with the Bourne movies), Gilroy has been nominated for his directorial debut. Like many of this year's best pictures Michael Clayton consciously evokes the classical style of 1970s dramas, an aesthetic that is more fashionable in Hollywood than it has proved with today's movie fans. Although Michael Clayton has seven nominations, it would be a major upset if Gilroy actually won the thing.
Jason Reitman (Juno)
Another young Hollywood kid, Reitman (son of Ivan) just turned 30, and has only directed one film before, 2005's satire Thank You For Smoking. Juno is probably a shade too quirky to pass the Academy respectability test in the most prestigious categories, but this semi-independent hit has generated all the popular momentum. Who knew the Academy was this hip?
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was passed over in the Best Picture category, but this French-language drama about "Elle" editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was completely paralyzed save for his left eye is so visually arresting it has garnered nominations for cinematography and editing, and for Julian Schnabel's direction. The first major artist since Cocteau to make his mark as a narrative filmmaker, Schnabel also won the directing prize at Cannes this year. Will he show up in his pajamas? It's more likely than him walking away with the Oscar.
Best Supporting Actor
This was a breakthrough year for Affleck (he also starred in brother Ben's impressive Gone, Baby, Gone), and he fully deserves the nomination - even if some of us reckon that Robert Ford is a leading role in disguise. That's the point of the movie, or part of it: Robert is one of life's supporting players who insists on seeing himself as the hero, with tragic results all round. (Too bad Brad Pitt didn't also get some love.)
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Best known in the US for The Sea Inside, Spanish actor Bardem has the showiest role in what is a very strong line-up in this category. It says something that he's the only actor from No Country for Old Men to get the nod. With his argumentative haircut, his cattle gun and his philosophical bent, the eccentric professional killer Chigurh is probably the most charismatic psychopath since Hannibal Lecter. It's hard to see him losing.
Born in 1925, Hal Holbrook made his feature film debut in The Group, more than 40 years ago. Surprisingly this is the veteran character actor's first nomination. Into the Wild is the biggest oversight in this year's Academy selection - Sean Penn's movie could easily have expected half a dozen nominations, but comes away with only two. That said, Holbrook's interlude is the soul of the piece, his OAP Ron Franz begins by giving Chris McCandless a lift, and ends up offering to adopt him. If anyone can stop the Coens' killer, it will be Holbrook.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War)
Hoffman could have had three nominations this year, what with his stellar work in Before The Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages. But if you have to pick just one, then unconventional CIA operative Gust Avrakotos would be the one to go for. A mercurial American who makes a point of speaking truth to power, Gust is a comic tornado who threatens to blow Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts off the screen. It's a great performance, but the movie tanked and the Academy knows they will be seeing a lot more of PSH.
Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)
The first time most Americans got an eyeful of Tom Wilkinson he was stripping off in The Full Monty. He's at it again, here, this time in the middle of a courtroom disposition. Oscar loves a breakdown, and better yet a visionary madman. Wilkinson is so good in Michael Clayton you might wish the movie was called Arthur Edens. But it wasn't. And even BAFTA preferred Bardem.
Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There)
Blanchett's second chance at Oscar glory this year. Of the half dozen actors who play variations on Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, it's Blanchett who makes the biggest impression. The movie may be too arty for the voters, and Amy Ryan swept the US critics' awards, but the Academy has fallen in love with Blanchett, I think she might sneak it.
American Gangster is another Oscar hopeful that has underperformed with the Academy members (sorry Denzel!), perhaps it just felt too familiar. Dee's nomination is a bit of a surprise, this is a very small role, but she's an American institution after all (you may remember her in Do the Right Thing), and few would argue that the highly-charged scene in which she finally stands up to her son is absolutely riveting. She's also the only person of colour with a major nomination this year.
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement)
The first of three actors to play Briony Tallis in Atonement (the others are Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave), thirteen-year-old Ronan is the only one of the distinguished cast to get a nomination (sorry Keira!). Inquisitive, intelligent and more vulnerable than she realizes, Briony unwittingly instigates the film's bold romantic tragedy, and it must be said the movie loses some of its fascination when she's no longer around.
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Ryan's junkie mom wowed US movie critics and must be the favourite for the Oscar. This is a fiercely unsentimental, no-holds-barred performance that dredges up all manner of difficult issues about class prejudice (it looks like the film will get a release here in the spring). Win or lose, it's a safe bet we'll be seeing a lot more of Ryan in the future.
Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)
If it was up to me, I'd give the Oscar to Tilda Swinton as the rising corporate star who sells her soul for success in Michael Clayton. Her screen time is limited, but the details are so incisive and vividly realized, this supporting performance takes the movie to a whole different level. Swinton commands increasing respect in the US and the film is very well liked.
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