Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bill's Picks for the 2007 Oscars

Here are “Bill’s Picks” for the Academy Awards for 2007. I base these on the meanings the movies have for issues that matter the most to me, and on how effectively these movies help viewers “connect the dots” in the various issues that I write about.

Most of the time I follow the Oscar nominations, but maybe not always.

Best Picture:

Well, choosing between “Atonement” and “There Will Be Blood” is like picking a Democratic presidential nominee if you’re a super-Delegate.

I pick "Atonement" (Focus, dir. Joe Wright). The issue of a false accusation and the succeeding consequences are very real to me, as in a sense this happened to me in the early 60s, during my coming of age. I like the way the “atonement” happens in imagination or fiction, and that the “real life” consequences are so dire. The direction and music score are mesmerizing, although I would have preferred 2.35:1. Perhaps Wright wanted a more “Focus” like effect (pun intended) as in a Hitchcock film, which this resembles a bit. One wrinkle that I pick up: there is relatively little time or detail spent on the “real crime” or on police investigation, which seems superficial. It seems everyone is taken in by appearances (“reputation defense” again, have you), like the “typewriter bad word” incident, and then the drawing room passion. Atonement also gets “Best Art Direction.”

For both Best Direction (Paul Thomas Anderson) and Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), the Oscars to “There Will Be Blood.” Now I award a couple prizes to non-nominees for this film. I would add Best Music Score (Jonny Greenwood), not nominated. (The only thing was the compression of the finale of the Brahms Violin Concerto in the closing credits.) I also want to add Best Supporting Actor (Paul Dano). This 23-year-old’s performance as Eli Sunday is absolutely volcanic. Dano may become a superstar.

For Actress, my choice has to be Ellen Page for Juno.

For Supporting Actress, it’s Cate Blancett for I’m Not There (I love the black-and-white Cinemascope). And she can certainly bend the genders.

For cinematography, I’ll pick the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men.

For costume design, La Vie En Rose.

For Best Documentary Short, Freeheld, about a lesbian couple, one of whom (a police officer) dies of cancer and the other partner has to win pension benefits from a New Jersey County.

For best documentary feature, "Taxi to the Dark Side", which gives a riveting account of mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

A couple of other (back to mainstream) films on my “best” list:

Best original screenplay: Michael Clayton (Warner Bros., wr. Tony Gilroy), an adult legal thriller. The kind of movie yuppie parents hire babysitters to see.

Adapted Screenplay: Away from Her, Lions Gate, wr. Sarah Polley, adapted from the story by Alice Munro, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” about Alzheimers.

I couldn’t fit these into the award categories. But I wanted to acknowledge Casey Affleck in “Gone Baby Gone” (directed by brother Ben) and “The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford.”

I’ll add a couple categories of my own:

Best GLBT feature: The Yacoubian Building, dir. Marwan Hamed, a political drama and mystery with a gay subplot set in Egypt (Strand Releasing / Good News), in Arabic with subtitles. It's incredible that a film like this came from a Muslim country.

Best GLBT short: Bugcrush, dir. Carter Smith (Strand), a thriller whose ambiguous, if catastrophic conclusion started a spirited debate online as to what the film “means.” (OKay, make it "best male GLBT short", since I named "Freeheld" as best short already/)

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