What a BLEAK year for film. Maybe it's just because Hollywood did so well last year that this year's batch seems lackluster... anyway, here are my capsule reviews for your reading pleasure...
MICHAEL CLAYTON - I skipped this one in the first round because I thought it would be another improbable legal story. NOT SO! It's a first rate thriller with Tom Wilkinson doing a breathtaking portrayal of a full-blown unmedicated bipolar person and George Clooney turning in a first rate performance as well. I really enjoyed this one. That it villifies an ADM/Monsanto type corporation enhanced my enjoyment considerably.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD - I can't tell you how excited I was to see that Daniel Day Lewis was starring in an Upton Sinclair story about the oil industry. One would think that with a title like "There Will be Blood" that we'd have the makings of a first rate allegory for our times about oil/greed/death. Instead we have a fairly compelling but resolutely bleak study of a psychopathic brute... and not much else. I would have enjoyed this more if there had been the slightest hint of background on how Daniel Day Lewis came to be so soulless.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - I'm a huge Coen brothers fan, and this film doesn't disappoint. It's certainly not uplifiting, but it is compelling. Javier Bardem is absolutely amazing - the scariest bad guy since Hannibal Lecter.. woof! and Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant. This is the most suspenseful film the Coens have pulled off, and it's riveting. They should win the Directing Oscar. The ending is going to leave a lot of you groaning... but it just makes me want to see it again.
ATONEMENT really missed the boat. I think this could have been a really good movie... and I suspect it came from a very good book. It's impossible to believe that a much-less-than-tender, very brief and almost certainly unconsummated tryst in the family library forms the basis for years of yearning and selfless devotion - especially from Keira Knightley -- It's impossible to believe she wouldn't have moved on with her young life if that was truly their only encounter. I suspect that in the book she and Robbie Turner (the housekeeper's son played by James McEvoy) were secret lovers at school, but the class barriers that separate them became painfully obvious when they returned to her family's estate. For my money, the underrated KITE RUNNER was a better and more engaging version of the same story - Youngster does things in his/her youth that are wrong/shameful, spends rest of life worrying about it, becomes novelist.
JUNO - What is JUNO doing in this list? If I had caught it as a Tuesday night special on Lifetime I might have thought it a pretty good made-for-TV movie. The film's version of visit to an abortion clinic was nothing short of preposterous ... I love a witty script if the people uttering the lines are old enough to have conceivably thought up the words they are delivering. It did have a good soundtrack, though.
INTO THE WILD was a much better film than either ATONEMENT or JUNO. So was THE SAVAGES. So was GONE BABY GONE. I thought ENCHANTED was a better musical than Tim Burton's hugely disappointing SWEENEY TODD. (And believe me, I LOVE Tim Burton AND Johnny Depp.) I'm on my way to see AWAY FROM HER right now. Julie Christie looks like a shoo-in to me, sight unseen. Best supporting actor is filled with fantastic choices. Philip Seymour Hoffman was brilliant in CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR - Cate Blanchett was fabulous in I'M NOT THERE -- but I'm rooting for the always amazing Ruby Dee, even though I haven't found the almost 4 hours required to see AMERICAN GANGSTER. I haven't seen the DIVING BELL/3:10 TO YUMA/LA VIE EN ROSE/THE ASSSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES/IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH/EASTERN PROMISES/LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. I can't make a call on best actor... but if Tommy Lee Jones is better in IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH than he was in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, my money is on him.
I'm stunned that the brilliant screenplay for CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR didn't get an Oscar nomination - maybe it was because the film was such a distorted pack of lies that it made the snappy script hard to swallow. I haven't seen enough of the nominees in either of the writing categories to make a call...
This would have been a better year to have Michael Moore going for BEST PICTURE instead of BEST DOCUMENTARY. I loved SICKO, and it deserves a huge audience...(besides, he used the Austin Lounge Lizards version of Irving Berlin's C-U-B-A.) But the Oscar for best documentary almost certainly has to go to one of the fabulous anti-war documentaries - My money's on NO END IN SIGHT.
Amazingly, I haven't seen even one of the nominees for best foreign film. But I did enjoy both KINGS and EL VIOLIN - despite the fact that both films were very depressing and, well, BLEAK. For best picture of 2008, I'll be rooting for Michael Clayton, just because the good guys win, and in this year of extremely brutal, bleak films, I found that refreshing. See you at the movies!