Academy Splits Oscar into 13 Pieces

Photo Credit: The New York Times

The 80th annual Academy Awards ceremony aired last night, hosted for the second time by Jon Stewart. It was more informal and well down on the energy scale than in years past. Mr. Stewart did a great job at bringing his signature lines and delivery to the telecast, while being mindful to not step over the line. But the shows’ planners may have over-prepared for the potential of having to go on without the writers, then decided to keep it all in the show. There were many more prerecorded clips of past Oscar moments than usual. Oddly enough, I liked seeing most of them having always felt the writing, especially for the presenters, was trite and and not in keeping with the sophistication of the night. But they either went by too quickly, or were repeated too often. I think I saw Cher accepting her Moonstruck award three times! Note to the Academy. Here’s a new best practice. Don’t let the writers write so much. Less writing = shorter telecast.

Joel and Ethan Coen Photo Credit: The New York Times

No film dominated, as the awards were handed out quite evenly across the board. Looking back at the year, that felt right to me. My personal favorite No Country for old Men, won the three big ones; picture (Scott Rudin producer), director and adapted screenplay (both by Joel and Ethan Coen). The film had only one actor nomination and won it. Javier Bardem’s supporting role in his portrayal of Anton Chigurh. Not a character you ever want to encounter, friend-O.

Rounding out the other acting awards were, Daniel-Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood (no brainer), Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (somewhat of a surprise) and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (the long shot comes in).

The Bourne Ultimatum won three technical awards (editing, sound editing and sound mixing), while There Will be Blood snagged the cinematography statue (Robert Elswit). Juno took the Oscar for original screenplay (Diablo Cody). Atonement walked away with only one, original score. Best song went to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for Falling Slowly from the film Once (the Menken/Schwartz days may be over).

A good, not great year for film. The same can be said for the awards show.


Oscars Go Bleak – Love It

The best picture category nominations are as follows. No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood (eight each). Michael Clayton, Atonement (each with seven), and Juno (four). This list of serious and dark films is a reflection of what we have been living this past year. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan droning on, the sub-prime housing bust shaking the economy (no lessons learned there), a critical presidential election now in full swing, and global warming pushing uncomfortably into our protected cocoon; it’s no wonder we’re feeling a little down. The entertainment business can add one more to that list, the Writers Guild of America strike.


But the news isn’t all bad. Depends on your perspective. This slate of pictures is top shelf. Great acting, strong writing, meaningful stories, even an Independent in the bunch. Drama has made a comeback and pushed special effects to the side. Hooray! As a film enthusiast there’s lots to chew on here, and I continue to maintain that the darker side is so much more interesting.

The big question is will the Writer’s strike be settled in time? If not, will they work out a way for the Writers to actually write the show while on strike? The lead in banter given the presenters is trite enough when written by actual writers. Can you imagine what we might have to endure if amateurs are brought in? But we’ve got Jon Stewart as host, so it will be entertaining.Go here to get a printer friendly version of all the nominations. Visit the official Oscar site.

Hollywood Movies Rest In Peace, Long Live Film

Theatrical box office ticket sales for 2007 were slightly up (4%) over the previous year, but attendance was not. Hollywood is still addicted to the franchise sequel formula, which gets riskier with each year and will eventually wear thin. The box office winner was Spider-Man 3, followed by Shrek the Third, both of which produced healthy ticket sales even as a third installment in a series. Rounding out the top ten were, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend, 300, Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie. Clearly Americans love fantasy/science fiction stories, with animated feature length movies having earned their place along side live action pictures some time ago. With so many tickets being sold on sequels, audiences seem to prefer familiar characters.


Source: Media by Numbers Chart: The New York Times

But the high water mark for ticket sales in a single year was back in 2002. Why has Hollywood been unable to grow their market share? Certainly we know there is competition for leisure time, particularly among the young. A significant amount of time is being soaked up by online usage. Each year more and more resource is being poured into an ever-shrinking number of pictures. The stakes get higher and higher for fewer and fewer films. Marketing budgets are huge now and are boosted even further by support from campaigns launched by secondary products, such as books, toys and video games. The studios are also pouring millions into stand alone Internet sites to promote film releases. The viral components of these interactive sites are beginning to crack open a new marketing avenue, which should help.

Hollywood shoulders most of the blame, but the exhibitors are also at fault, as the overall show going experience has deteriorated over time. When you enter a multiplex (no longer called a theater) you are immediately bombarded by repackaged television promotions and product commercials. Then there is the parade of public service announcements. Pleas for the audience to silence their cell phones and leave the talking to the actors. That’s how far we’ve veered from a respectful theatrical experience. No one takes watching movies seriously. It’s become like television. Acceptable to answer the phone, talk, get up to get snacks, etc. I long for the day when exhibitors publish the actual movie start time, so I can calculate my entrance accordingly. Generally I am fine with trailers, but those have become formulaic as well (will save that for another post). Compare what I just described to the pre-event atmosphere you find while waiting for a dramatic play, or a classical music performance to begin. Miles apart!

But I posit that there is a fundamental flaw in the final product being produced by Hollywood. There is very little pure film DNA found in today’s movies. If Hollywood doesn’t turn it around soon, they will find even fewer butts in their seats over the next few years. Now I’m not all doom here. There are still serious films being financed, shot and released. But the money will dry up for those real cinema films. The current Writer’s Guild strike has yet to be a factor for Hollywood, due to lead times, but if it drags out much longer it will be a big problem. I submit the following observations about film.


Film is an art form that has been perfected and refined by masters of cinema past and present. Individuals that were/are students of a revered craft, and contributors to its ongoing aesthetic.


Compared to the recycled content we see today, which I refer to as strictly a movie.


There is still time to make a change. The question is, does Hollywood have the courage, business creativity, and ability to identify the talent necessary to pull it off? I hope so. In the meantime, I am hopelessly passionate about film and will continue to buy tickets while watching for signs of change. One thing is for sure. When I do see great work, I appreciate it so much more. Then there is always my home film collection available to me whenever I want. That’s what really keeps me going.

No Country for Old Men – Film Review

nocountrypost.jpgJoel and Ethan Coen have a talent for hitting the audience right between the eyes (sorry). What an amazing body of work. Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother, Where Art Though?, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and now No Country for Old Men. Yes I’ve left some out, but these are the important works. I ponder long and hard over how best to characterize their films, but I keep changing my mind. My latest word paring description is dramatic surrealism. Their elements are visceral and easily recognized. Serious but laced with humor. Almost always violent, but often the dialog is as sweet as pie. Usually the situation is a little uncomfortable for the characters and the observer, but you can’t possibly look away, no matter what you might imagine will happen. And as you stand back and look at the whole, something is very much askew.

Watching No Country for Old Men frequently evoked Fargo for me. Opening shots of a bleak, barren landscape, not fit for man nor beast. This is not a world of cell phones or blogs, but one of instinct and stop-at-nothing drive. The locations contain only what is essential to the story, no extras, no filler, just pure story. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet and a retired welder living in a run down trailer park in nowhere Texas. He is married to Carla Jean Moss (Kelly MacDonald). All we know about her is she works at Wal-Mart and loves Llewelyn. While he is out hunting one day (still stalking the enemy), he comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone terribly wrong. Carnage everywhere. One of the pick-up trucks is still loaded with product, but there is no money in sight. He follows a trail of blood–the entire movie is a trail of blood–and comes across the last man standing who has $2MM in a sample case. Looks remarkably like the sample case that held the money in Fargo. Llewelyn of course takes the money, thinking that he can actually get away with it. He obviously doesn’t know about one of the basics of life which states, “Just because you find something out there there in the universe doesn’t make it yours.”


Needless to say the finance guys want their cash back. And so their man to retrieve it is Anton Chigurh, played with chilling steadiness by Javier Bardem. They could not have made a better choice. His weapon, or “right tool” is a gas propelled cattle stun/kill gun (no bullets). His voice is deep and dark like the rest of his persona.


Then there is the county sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who is approaching retirement and has presided over this corner of Texas since he was 25. Although age-wise, he still wonders why people do what they do, dealing with it through the use of humor and storytelling. He genuinely wants to solve this case so he remains engaged, but he knows the players in this game are out of his league, so he stays on the fringes.

The story is primarily a violent game of chase between Llewelyn and Anton. Llewelyn leverages his military experience to stay one step ahead, but it takes him too long to discover that the money has been lo jacked with a transponder. There is much these men have in common and we see them doing the same things in isolation, such as treating their own wounds. But only once do they actually speak to each other in a chilling phone conversation (rotary dial models only), where each one ups the ante and challenge. Both make promises you know they will either keep or die trying.I was completely riveted to the screen by the performances, drawn in by the dialog, and in awe of how they use the camera and lighting. The editing was invisible, while Carter Burwell’s music (noticed over the end credits) is more environmental than musical, causing the viewer to reflect on character’s choices and state of mind. So many things are linked together, but left unexplained; a Coen brothers hallmark. Perhaps Cormac McCarthy’s novel, on which this film is based, does a better job of connecting Sheriff Bell’s personal and family dynamics to the rest of the story. But here it is not a useful detour. I did however find it interesting, especially when the Sheriff recounts his dreams and speaks of the proud professional linage that has defined the men in his family. In the end he states that he is “over matched,” an observation that allows him to actually reach retirement. Others in his family didn’t fare as well.

Want to see this one again because I still have some unanswered questions in my mind. And as always, can’t wait till the next Coen brothers installment. In the meantime, I’m still looking for the money Carl Showalter buried in the snow.

Link to the official movie site for No Country for Old Men. Embedded within the end credits is a statement that the production is 100% carbon neutral. Yet another detail the Coen brothers have attended to.