Thursday, February 28, 2008


“I see nothing worth liking.”

Right, whatever. I can’t be surprised that this year’s Oscar telecast was the lowest rated ever. It had been so clear for so long that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was going to win the Big Prize that there was just no reason to watch. It certainly did continue the current Oscar tradition of honoring the Safest Picture rather than the Best Picture.

For my money, THERE WILL BE BLOOD was the best and most interesting and effective and memorable of the nominated films that I’ve seen. MICHAEL CLAYTON is the only one I haven’t seen, due largely to a long-standing allergy I have to George Clooney, way too much of whose performances seem to depend on him peering out from under those admittedly gorgeous eyebrows while he sets somebody straight about something. For the rest of my money, SWEENEY TODD was the film of the year. Tim Burton’s non-nomination as Best Director, and consequent non-win, is yet another in an apparently endless series of Irrefutable Proofs that these Oscar things are just a waste.

Worse movies than NO COUNTRY have won more awards. Of course, better movies than NO COUNTRY have won fewer. The whole fuss over the film continues to amaze me: what was the big deal? Don't get me wrong, a perfectly fine movie, easily the Coens' best film since RAISING ARIZONA, well made and acted, and with only glimmers of the stylish smartass nonsense that has made so much of the Coen Brothers work so chokingly awful over the years. I remember enjoying watching Tommy Lee Jones’ sherriff putting all the pieces together, and Javier Bardem’s performance as an apparently unstoppable hit man has really stayed with me. His final scene with Kelly McDonald as a potential victim who turns the tables on him is easily the film’s high point. Stylish but not too stylish, you could feel the Coens backing off from their usual excess in what was apparently intended as a return to the cooler style of their first film BLOOD SIMPLE but which, as with the surrealistically over-rated FARGO, ultimately comes off more as Bleak Chic.

It wasn’t long before I started to find the film's ongoing parade of carefully convoluted but not too convoluted events rather tiresome, and was ready for the end long before Tommy Lee Jones’ final Salute To His Father’s Memory. Was I really supposed to give a damn about that Llewelyn guy? And are the Coens really so shocked, shocked! to find that there is evil in the world? I think I might have shared their assumed horror if I’d seen a little more actual evil in the proceedings. I got more out of Tommy Lee Jones’ monologue about the casual murderer he sent to the chair; there seemed to be more of the abyss in that little bit of voice-over narration than in the plots that tie up the film’s running time. The fact that the evil in the film is consistently presented as being the actions of non-white non-Americans seems to have been overlooked in the rush to acclaim this movie a masterpiece, which reminds of the wild acclaim that seems to follow the films of Clint Eastwood. I have to say that I just don’t get it. I enjoyed the film well enough, I guess, but a masterpiece it just plain ain't. I don't think it has anywhere near the weight of Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD, or the brainsmashing impact of THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

As for THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Basically, you get to sit and watch Daniel Day-Lewis hit bold new lows of human awfulness for nearly three hours, and impossibly it never gets boring. The action is lively and focused, as opposed to the Altmanathons of crisscrossing storylines and characters that director Paul Thomas Anderson has churned out before. Day-Lewis' performance as the impossibly driven Daniel Plainview is one for the ages, a harrowing picture of a man who has no loves lusts or appetites apart from the ruthless acquisition of oil properties, but who finds himself frantically trying to paper up certain emotional cracks when things don't quite go his way. There's a lot more to this performance than an extended John Huston impression. All in all, the film is a hugely ambitious, wildly exhilarating film that at first glance feels like a major statement about Greed and the costs thereof, sort of TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE without the bandits, and with Charles Foster Kane instead of Fred C. Dobbs.

But what exactly is it a major statement about? It doesn't necessarily have to be a Major Statement, I guess; it is certainly enough for it to be a beautifully executed portrait of a man so incredibly driven that he manages to destroy pretty much everything in his life, a la RAGING BULL. But there's none of the redemption that Scorsese manages to suggest in his film. BLOOD ends with a now-notorious sequence that feels somehow inevitable and tacked-on at the same time.

I can’t quite banish a certain distrust of the film. I’m concerned that I’m so dazzled by the very very high quality of the acting (not just Daniel Day-Lewis’, there isn’t a weak performance in the film) and the brilliance of the production itself that I’m missing out on larger problems that I’ll catch on to later. After all, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, the Altman protégé/wannabe whose earlier films include the vile BOOGIE NIGHTS (a film that only gets more repellent with each passing year) and the epic self-indulgent compendium of Big Scenes for Actors-in-search-of-a-subject MAGNOLIA. If THERE WILL BE BLOOD is as good as I think it may be, it will be the biggest turn-around in a previously dreadful director’s work I’ve experienced since Fincher’s ZODIAC.

As for the show: I thought it was as close to ideal as we're going to get. Swifter, with none of the nonsense of irrelevant self-congratulatory montages and Chris Connelly leading in to each commercial break by telling us what we've just seen. I like seeing Robert Boyle get an honorary Oscar, and hope they keep going with honoring people behind the scenes with Lifetime Achievement awards.

And John Stewart can come back as permanent host, as far as I'm concerned.

1 comment:

Pooji said...

Maybe the writers should go on strike every year. Without months and months to write bad banter, the show was a lot less tedious than in previous years.

Although, I did miss seeing Teri Garr dancing on an airplane wing. Or whatever the equivalent should have been this year.

If they cut the show by an hour, and condensed all musical numbers into one four-minute medley (with movement by the choreographically incomprehensible Debbie Allen), the telecast would be perfect.