The Back Lot: FILM NEWS & RUMINATIONS for 2-27-08

Oscars reward some frontrunners, some long shots

As I write:
The pundits have weighed in and the competition has been thoroughly assessed. The primary season (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, etc.) is over. The election is about to begin, and the battle seems to be between “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” — two meditations on American violence and monetary greed. Now come the second-guessings of the experts who will wonder (for 48 hours or so) whether the frontrunners might split the Academy’s 6,000-plus votes, leaving the victor’s statue in the hands of a dark horse (third party?) candidate like “Juno” or “Michael Clayton.” The other best picture nominee, “Atonement,” is the sort of lavish romance often favored by the Academy and so cannot be counted out. But the fight still seems mainly between the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson (both for picture and director).

As I watch:
If an award were given for best acceptance speech, it would go to Brad Bird (“Ratatouille”), who thanked his high school guidance counselor. If they gave one for best haircut, they’d probably have to give it to Clooney. Best dressed? Jessica Alba, without a doubt. Jon Stewart continues to be a more-than-able host. Seth Rogen is no Halle Berry. Harrison Ford is pompous and square.

As I type:
Tilda Swinton over Cate Blanchett and Ruby Dee (who should have gotten the sympathy vote)? Not that “Michael Clayton” isn’t a fine film. Marion Cotillard as best actress? I was rooting for her, but I never thought it would happen. Perhaps another instance of vote splitting allowed a long shot to succeed.

It was wonderful (meaning miraculous) that Robert Boyle was finally recognized for his lifetime of fine work. The memorial montage ending with Heath Ledger was the lamest in years. “Juno” was justifiably rewarded for its clever, quirky screenplay. But there were no real surprises in the major categories. Daniel Day Lewis, Javier Bardem, both expected to win, did so. The Coens got best picture and best director statues for their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s scary nouveau Western. The dudes abide. —Paul Kopasz