Miraculously, here at WHAP all three writers on staff have managed to see all five Oscar films before the big awards show. It’s a first for us, which might explain why we’re so engrossed in this year’s ceremony. Anyway, with four days until Sunday, we’re going to spend the next three each putting our two cents in how we rank the Oscar five. Also, in parentheses you’ll find our ranking within our own top five, and for the films that don’t make it, below the fold you’ll find the ones we believe should have. Today, Bryan will lead us off.
1. Juno (1)
The reason I love Juno is that we have this dominant character that is so admittedly flawed and confused, and comes to grow as a product of her surroundings, the ensemble characters. The genius of this movie is on the periphery — I actually remember so many scenes featuring heartfelt supporting moments than I do Juno’s quips, which have been the center of the criticism. J.K. Simmons, Juno’s father, telling her in the hospital that one day she’ll be back on her account. Allison Janney, her sometimes disagreeable step-mother, fighting for Juno during the first ultrasound. So many Jennifer Garner scenes — but most, when she first feels her baby’s kick in the mall. And, in a wonderful written moment by Diablo Cody, Juno’s boyfriend (Michael Cera) winning his race, and upon not finding Juno in the crowd, realizing exactly where she is. Through these people, Juno grows, and we see her reject Jason Bateman, profess her love to Bleaker, and of course, write the most wonderfully heartfelt, and perfectly brief, note. Cody’s written characters and Jason Reitman’s ability to bring them to life make this the best movie in a loaded year.
2. There Will Be Blood (2)
From a fantastically brilliant ensemble cast, we move to a film with the most wonderfully vibrant single character. P.T. Anderson never moves his camera far from Daniel Day-Lewis’ face, and in the end, we are so thankful for it. While Anderson adapted this film from Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!”, he only took the first 150 pages for a reason — he refuses to let the film be muddled with anything outside of its point. Greed is a topic that Hollywood has beaten to death, a topic that comes up in so many movies, but perhaps no character captures its pitfalls more than Daniel Plainview. Also, I love Paul Dano, so his portrayal of a false prophet never seemed a reach to me. Paul Thomas Anderson did so much to keep this a narrow, tight film, and for that, I see more of a work of art in this film that I do any other made in 2007.
3. Atonement (4)
For awhile in December, as Oscar pundits obsessed over each film’s showing in each guild award, many had me convinced “Atonement” would not made the Academy’s final five. Now, it appears, the film is entrenched as fifth out of five, but I’m just glad it will get its due on Sunday. There are so many people who made this an absolutely touching film, it will be hard to hit on them all. But most of all is Christopher Hampton, who adapted the hell out of a difficult book to adapt, and crafted an ending that blindsided me as much as any of the year. Atonement leaves us hallow, but in the way that only a deep emotional reaction can. Credit also belongs to Seamus McGarvey for his fantastic work in cinematography, and Dario Marinelli’s beautiful, resounding score. And importantly, this was an ensemble that hit me hard — James McAvoy most substantially in a role trapped between leading and supporting, as well as all three versions of Briony. This was such a bold movie, such a big one to take on, yet somehow, Joe Wright nailed it.
4. No Country for Old Men (NR)
At this point, it has become so clear that when I talk about No Country, I am talking about the 2007 Academy Awards Best Picture. It is going to win, and while I think it’s a bit of a shame — the movie just fell out of my top ten with a few new movies in the last week — I will try to stay nice here. Cynicism was a major theme in movies this year, and as the name implies, No Country is a movie that gets across its cynicism loud and clear. If nothing else, the Coen Brothers did a very good job turning Cormac McCarthy’s villain into a character we will never forget; Javier Bardem is a deserving Oscar winner. The movie is also very beautifully shot, a contrast that is so obviously intended, and the product of good work between the Coens and fantastic cinematographer Roger Deakins. You’ll never hear me say that No Country is a bad movie, it’s a resonating film to be sure, but one of two choices by the Academy for which I’ll never agree.
5. Michael Clayton (NR)
Last night, thanks to a great release date by Warner Brothers, I did every Michael Clayton fan a favor and saw the movie again. Surely, I was missing something. Upon first viewing, I thought the Michael Clayton was a good movie — Tony Gilroy had crafted a thriller that runs its viewer around in circles and keeps us on the edge of our chairs. But, for me then and for me now, it’s no film. What is it trying to say, that sometimes big business is bad? That lawyers, who admittedly wrongly profit, have a conscience too? These are not ideas that resonate, so while Gilroy did a fantastic job building a tight movie, I’ll ultimately forget it. If nothing else, I’ll say this: there is some damn good ensemble work in there. George Clooney is a bit more brilliant than I thought, Tom Wilkinson is just as good, and Sydney Pollack did great work. But in the end, this is a thriller, nothing less, and at best, not much more.
Bryan’s #3 — Into the Wild
When we look at the nominations “Into the Wild” received from different award groups this season, it appears this may have been the one movie more divisive than Juno. In some awards, it received the most nominations. At the Oscars, it received a pathetic two — one for Hal Holbrook and one for editing. None for Sean Penn, none for Emile Hirsh, none even for Eddie Vedder, and certainly not for Best Picture. It’s certainly a shame, because it deserved nominations in all those categories, and more. Initially, this is a movie about rebellion, and for this, it bridges a generational gap that I think represents where it lost the Academy. But if you dig further, it’s a movie about exploration, and the realization in the importance of people. Because if Chris McCandless discovered anything in his own isolation, it was that he missed and needed the people that had aided his journey into Alaska. And, correspondingly, this movie succeeds from some absolutely beautiful supporting performances. Holbrook deserves his nomination, but Catherine Keener frustratingly missed out on one, despite being the character that hit me hardest. I also loved Elizabeth Stewart, who Hirsch has called one of Hollywood’s next great actresses. And, like you would expect for a movie with its locales, Sean Penn’s passion project is a beautiful one, with shots that are not easy to forget. I don’t harbor much resentment at the Academy this year, but its rejection of this movie is not one I let go easily.
Bryan’s #5 — Away From Her
This was such a difficult selection, because I saw “Gone Baby Gone” last week, and immediately put it in this slot. But as I pondered between these two movies, I realized I remember my emotional reaction to “Away From Her” more, a reaction that also sustained itself over a second viewing. At the heart of Sarah Polley’s script is the notion of being left behind, one that is presented so beautifully by Gordon Pinsent. We see him battle through so many emotions as his wife loses her mind — fear, loneliness, anger, and more. And the while, there’s Fiona, breaking her husband’s heart without knowing it at all. Julie Christie doesn’t have Ellen Page’s screen dominance or Marion Cotillard’s change in looks, but never for a second do we doubt that she’s acting as if she’s forgotten … everything. The movie of course ends in the most beautiful place, as both Pinsent and Christie’s characters come full circle — Pinsent out of his resentment, and Christie back into, if only for a moment, the place she once was.