Tommy Lee Jones – the beating heart and soul of No Country for Old Men (2007).

The 80th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2007.  The nominations were announced on 22 January, 2008 and the awards were held on 24 February, 2008.

Best Picture:  No Country for Old Men

  • Atonement
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Michael Clayton
  • Juno

Most Surprising Omission:  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Across the Universe

Rank (out of 84) Among Best Picture Years:  #2

The Race:

The Contenders:

No Country for Old Men

  • Pre-Cursor Awards:  Best Picture  (BFCA, NYFC, BSFC, NBR, CFC); Best Director (BFCA, NYFC, CFC); Best Screenplay (Globe, NYFC, NBR, CFC)
  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (BAFTA, PGA, Globe – Drama, PGA); Best Director  (BAFTA, DGA, Globe); Best Screenplay  (BAFTA, WGA, BFCA); Best Ensemble  (SAG)
  • Strengths:  Directed by two brothers who had already won Oscars for writing, but not for Picture or Director.  A well-received source that had been faithfully adapted.  Strong critical reaction.  A wide group of critics awards.  Already their highest-grossing film.
  • Weaknesses:  For a nomination, none.  For a win, it had lost Picture at the Globes.
  • Likely Outcome:  Easily a nominee.  More than likely the winner.

There Will Be Blood

  • Pre-Cursor Awards:  Best Picture  (LAFC, NSFC); Best Director (LAFC, NYFC)
  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (BAFTA, PGA, Globe, BFCA); Best Director (BAFTA, DGA); Best Screenplay (BATFA, WGA)
  • Strengths:  A magnificent performance from Daniel Day-Lewis likely to win him a second Oscar.  A young director who had been nominated twice for writing, but not for Picture or Director.  The best reviewed film of the year.  A solid amount of critics awards.
  • Weaknesses:  Overlooked for Director by the Globes.  An art-house film that wasn’t reaching a wide audience (less than $10 million in gross).  Very bleak.
  • Likely Outcome:  Very likely a nominee for Picture and Director.  Small chance for a win.

Michael Clayton

  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (PGA, Globe – Drama, BFCA); Best Director (DGA); Best Screenplay  (BAFTA, WGA, BFCA)
  • Strengths:  George Clooney, winner or nominee of several awards.  Strong Best Picture nominations.
  • Weaknesses:  Not a lot of nominations in each group.  Not a big box office hit.  First-time director.
  • Likely Outcome:  Strong probably for a nomination, given the PGA / DGA / WGA trifecta.  Likely to go winless at the Oscars.

Juno

  • Pre-Cursor Awards:  Best Screenplay  (BFCA, NBR, CFC)
  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (PGA, Globe – Comedy, BFCA); Best Screenplay (BAFTA, WGA, Globe)
  • Strengths:  Hip.  Good young stars.  Very good box office (second biggest among major contenders).  Widespread acclaim for the script.
  • Weaknesses:  2nd film for a young director.  Lost the Picture – Comedy award at the Globes.
  • Likely Outcome:  Strong for Picture.  Definite for Screenplay.  Likely to be passed over for Director.

Into the Wild

  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture (BFCA); Best Director (DGA, BFCA); Best Screenplay (WGA, BFCA); Best Ensemble (SAG)
  • Strengths:  Respected director who had won for acting but never nominated as a director.  Very strong guild and Broadcast Film Critics support.
  • Weaknesses:  Almost shut out at Globes.  Shut out at BAFTAs.  Very low box office.
  • Likely Outcome:  Potential 5th nominee for Director.  Longer shot potential 5th nominee for Picture.

Atonement

  • Pre-Cursor Awards:  Best Picture  (Globe – Drama)
  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (BAFTA, BFCA); Best Director  (BAFTA, Globe, BFCA); Screenplay (BAFTA, Globe)
  • Strengths:  Adapted from acclaimed novel.  Most nominations at Globes and BAFTAs.
  • Weaknesses:  Almost completely ignored at guilds.  Likely to lose money at box office.
  • Likely Outcome:  Could go either way.  Still potential for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor and Actress or potential to miss all five.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  • Pre-Cursor Awards:  Best Director  (Globe, BSFC); Best Foreign Film (Globe, BFCA, BSFC, NBR)
  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (PGA, BFCA);  Best Director  (DGA, BFCA);  Best Screenplay  (BAFTA, WGA, Globe)
  • Strengths:  Critically revered.  A slough of Director and Foreign Film awards.
  • Weaknesses:  Foreign Film.
  • Likely Outcome:  Likely to be 5th Director nominee and Adapted Screenplay nominee but miss out on Picture.

American Gangster

  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (BAFTA, Globe – Drama, BFCA); Best Director  (Globe); Best Screenplay (BAFTA); Best Ensemble (SAG)
  • Strengths:  Highest box office of major contenders.  Comeback for Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington (both early decade Oscar winners).
  • Weaknesses:  No widespread support anywhere.
  • Likely Outcome:  Potential spoiler for Picture or Director.  More probably to get some nominations but not big 3.

Sweeney Todd

  • Pre-Cursor Awards:  Best Picture  (Globe – Comedy);  Best Director  (NBR)
  • Pre-Cursor Noms:  Best Picture  (BFCA);  Best Director  (Globe, BFCA)
  • Strengths:  Director who had never been nominated.  Star (Depp) quickly becoming Oscar darling.  Winner of Globe – Comedy.
  • Weaknesses:  Very dark.  Big money loser.  Director who had never been nominated.
  • Likely Outcome:  Fading chances for Picture or Director.  More likely Actor and technical nominations.

The Results:  As expected, No Country, Blood and Michael Clayton were in for Picture, Director and Screenplay.  Not surprising, the final two slots went to Juno and Atonement and the 5th Best Director slot went to Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  The big surprise was that it was Jason Reitman who was the 4th Director for Juno, rather than Joe Wright for Atonement (the other surprise being that Atonement, without Actor, Actress or Director only earned 7 nominations, and so, for the third straight year no film reached double digits in nominations).

In the weeks that followed, nothing changed.  No Country swept the guild awards, winning the PGA, DGA, WGA and SAG Ensemble (with Juno taking the Original Screenplay award).  Though Atonement would win Best Picture at the BAFTAs (widely expected given its 14 nominations), the Coens would win Best Director.  So, going into Oscar night, everyone was expecting the Coens to take home Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay with newcomer Diablo Cody winning Original Screenplay.  And that was what happened.  The only surprise was that Michael Clayton did actually win an award – taking home Best Supporting Actress for Tilda Swinton.  Combined with Day-Lewis and the original score win for Atonement, this meant that no Best Picture nominee went home empty-handed.

The Oscars get it right two years in a row.

No Country for Old Men

  • Director:  Ethan Coen  /  Joel Coen
  • Writer:  Ethan Coen  /  Joel Coen  (from the novel by Cormac McCarthy)
  • Producer:  Ethan Coen  /  Joel Coen  /  Scott Rudin
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Stars:  Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Bardem), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  420
  • Length:   122 min
  • Genre:  Crime
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:   9 November 2007
  • Box Office Gross:  $74.28 mil  (#36  -  2007)
  • Metacritic Score:  91
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #55  (nominees)  /  #21  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Jones), Supporting Actor (Bardem), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  445

The Film:  Josh Brolin is the star of No Country for Old Men, and he is excellent in the role of a Texas welder out hunting who stumbles on a mess that will come to cut off his life.  Javier Bardem is the walking embodiment of evil who walked in with death in hand and walked away with every award of the year and he is even better.  But it is the other two roles that are in a sense, key to the film.

The first is Tommy Lee Jones as the sheriff who is trying to follow the whole mess (“It’s a mess, ain’t it, Sheriff?” he is asked part-way through.  His perfect reply is “If it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here.”).  Jones is the beating heart and soul of this film.  Jones has had a varied career, bordering on the edge between brilliance and over-the-top hamminess, and his Oscar-winning performance in The Fugitive seemed to find a balance.  But here he gives what might be the best performance of his career.  He takes one look and knows this is over his head and way over the head of poor Llewellyn Moss.  He knows Moss is involved somehow because he sees his truck.  Jones is the kind of sheriff who knows what the people in his county drive because he genuinely cares about these people, cares about keeping them safe, is the one willing to take that bullet so that some poor soul living under his protection doesn’t have to.  He keeps after the whole mess, trailing just a little too far behind to be able to do what he wants to do.  But he keeps at it, making smart deductions, smart comments and looking as weary as we’ve ever seen him.

The mess itself occurs when Moss, played so well by Brolin, comes upon a drug deal done wrong.  Moss is a crafty guy, figures out there’s money missing and eventually finds it.  But, he’s not smart enough not to go back and this ends with him on the run, staying one step ahead of death for so long because he is crafty.  But death, in the form of Javier Bardem, as a truly disturbing man who carries around an air tank with a cattle gun on the end and kills people with it, seemingly just because he’s bored, is coming close behind him.  There is another man involved, played in a strong performance by Woody Harrelson, trying to either save Moss or save the money, but in the end can’t even save himself.

But then we get to the other performance.  That’s Kelly MacDonald.  Here, playing a young Texas woman married to Moss (whom she seems to genuinely love), she is the link between all the men in the film.  In the start of the film, she has a couple of great scenes with her husband (“Where’d you get that?” “At the gettin place.” goes one exchange.  “I’ve got a bad feeling.”  “Well I’ve got a good one so that oughta even out.” goes another).  But, once her husband is running for his life, she ends up in a wonderful scene in a diner with Jones.  Jones desperately tries to get her to see what kind of terrible danger her husband is in.  But she stands by her man, determined that he will come out on top, loyal to the end.  But in the end, unfortunately, loyalty is not enough, or at least not loyalty in this direction.  Because the end of the film brings the final encounter, as she deals with Bardem himself.  Bardem is following his own code, a disturbing promise made to Moss while he was still on the run.  And we all know, her, him, the audience, the only way that this can end, and it is so bleak that you almost want the film to stop there (wisely, the Coens, who have had some truly gory death scenes in their films, decided not to put on film the final actions in that room).

Then, with death walking away into nothingness, we get a scene with Jones again.  He is there, the eternal narrator of the film (just as he was of the book), and he is talking about a dream.  And the dream doesn’t go anywhere, and then he woke up and then the film ends, just as the book ended, and we are reminded that sometimes there is a lot of sound and a lot of fury and it doesn’t signify anything.  But with writing like this, directing like this, incredible acting like this, phenomenal editing (the construction of the story requires great editing), great cinematography, everything can fit together and it doesn’t have to signify anything.  Sometimes you just wake up.

Keira and Joe Wright strike gold again.

Atonement

  • Director:  Joe Wright
  • Writer:  Christopher Hampton  (from the novel by Ian McEwan)
  • Producer:  Tim Bevan  /  Eric Fellner  /  Paul Webster
  • Studio:  Focus Features
  • Stars:  Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Ronan), Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  230
  • Length:   123 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Romance)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:   7 December 2007
  • Box Office Gross:  $50.92 mil  (#50  -  2007)
  • Metacritic Score:  85
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #60  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (McAvoy), Actress (Knightley), Supporting Actress (Ronan), Supporting Actress (Garai), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Nighthawk Points:  420

The Film:  “Come back to me,” she whispers, and it is not the only time it is said in the film.  Here we are again in a British country house between the wars, and this time it is the romance between the upstairs and downstairs (or, more precisely, the house and the gardens) that is the focus.  And it is unbridled sexuality, combined with completely bridled sexuality, combined with sexuality that doesn’t yet know what the hell a bridle is, not to mention another disturbing sexual escapade on the outside that figure into all of this and make for one of the most tragic films of our age, complete with the ending that feels right, in spite of the fact that we never get it.

Come back to me, we hear, and we do come back.  In the opening moments, with young Briony Tallis, propelled forward by the pound of keys on her typewriter, echoed in the score, comes to a window and sees something that she can not understand, and that we ourselves are hard pressed to understand as well.  But we come back, we see things from the other side of the window, we understand what he has happened outside between Cecilia, the young woman coming into her own, and Robbie, the handsome young gardener that Cecilia is only about to learn she is in love with.  That these actions would be witnessed by Briony is the first stumble on their road to happiness.  That Briony herself would love Robbie in a way that she is not yet capable of voicing is a second stumble.  That Robbie would send the wrong note to Cecilia, which would be intercepted by Briony is yet another.  But when Robbie rings the bell and Cecilia answers, in that green dress, and they lock eyes, there is a measure of passion that can not be expressed in mere words (yet is expressed so well in the expressions of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, two stars who absolutely deserved to be Oscar nominated).  That this passion would soon be consummated against the wall of the library (definitely something not done in a proper house outside of D.H. Lawrence, and even then, done in the garden or the gardener’s shack) would not be a stumble, except that Briony witnesses this as well and this is too much for her young emotions to get a grip on.  This will bring about a mistake, compounded by a lie (though not her lie) and that will be the final unbreachable chasm in the hopes of Robbie and Cecilia to find happiness together.  That ends the Saoirse Ronan part of the film, a magnificent performance from such a young actress and one that was absolutely deserving of her nomination.

Then we get the war.  These stories don’t usually get that far – they usually deal with the years between the wars.  But this story would be nothing without the war, without the fleeting moments that Robbie and Cecilia actually get together before he is off to the continent.  Sadly, it is not too long before he is fleeing back towards the war, and when he smells the sea he begins to run and therein follows one of the most magnificent shots in all of film history.  We follow Robbie and two of his comrades through their arrival at Dunkirk, that desperate hope for all those men that they would escape back home, maybe forever, maybe just for a chance to come back again.  And then we are further in and we are into the Romola Garai part of the film.  This is the adult Briony, working in a hospital, helping to heal, hoping to make amends.  And when she goes to see her sister and is forced to interact with both of those that she has wronged, we hear again, Cecilia whispering to Robbie, trying to keep him calm, “Come back to me.”  And Garai, like Ronan, is also magnificent, as someone who this time knows she’s in over her head and is trying to do what she can to stay afloat.

But then we come to the end, to Vanessa Redgrave, in her short performance, giving eulogy to those in her past.  And we slowly understand that this scene, this desperate hope for atonement at the hands of her sister and her love, nothing has been atoned.  For we learn the sad truth about what really happened, both at Dunkirk, waiting for rescue, and in the dark tunnels underneath London during the Blitz.  And we want to push away from the film.  But then we get that glimmer of hope.  We can think again about a film like Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta dies halfway through, but there he is at the end of the film, walking away into the morning light, safe and sound.  And when we watch these two lovers together, in the sand, near their house by the  sea, so in love, so happy together, we get a measure of the happy ending we wish they could have gotten.  And we could think more about the wonderful score, the amazing cinematography, the crisp way all the stories fit together, the wonderful sets and perfect costumes.  But mostly we walk away and take that happy ending that could have been, that Briony wishes she could have given them.

The Best Actor race is done before it begins for the second year in a row.

There Will Be Blood

  • Director:  Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Writer:  Paul Thomas Anderson  (from the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair)
  • Producer:  Paul Thomas Anderson  /  JoAnne Sellar  /  Daniel Lupi
  • Studio:  Paramount Vantage
  • Stars:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarin Hinds, Dillon Freasier
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Day-Lewis), Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  320
  • Length:   158 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:   26 December 2007
  • Box Office Gross:  $40.22 mil  (#66  -  2007)
  • Metacritic Score:  92
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #4  (year)  /  #110  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Day-Lewis), Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Nighthawk Points:  335

The Film:  There is a bitter irony at the heart of P.T. Anderson films.  That irony is not that the one common link that runs through his films is the angry man.  Not the angry young man of late 50′s / early 60′s British stage and screen.  But an individual who has consecrated rage at his very heart and strikes out against the world.  The irony comes from the fact that of the main characters in his films, it is the one who heads willingly into the porn industry that is best able to focus that rage into acceptable means of communication and find a way to cope with the world.  You could say there is a misogynistic streak through his films, but except for Tom Cruise in Magnolia, it’s not so much hate aimed at women as hate without aim at all, or, in the case of many of them, hate so pushed inwards, that the hate propels him forward because there is only so much you can do when the hate is driven inwards.

The fascinating thing with Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview is that he doesn’t seem to be quite certain who or what it is exactly that he hates.  But, like Dirk Diggler, he finds an outlet for his rage in the propulsion of his career.  And that hate pushing everything away makes him perhaps the most isolated of the major characters in Anderson’s films and given his films, that is saying a hell of a lot.  But what’s so fascinating is how much Day-Lewis is able to show Plainview struggling with his hatred, with his understanding of it, and finding the ways to focus it.  It is that rage, as much as the voice, as much as the dead look in his eyes that ensured him an Oscar from the first minute of the film.  In fact, it’s that rage in his eyes that really does it from the start, especially when you remember that the first 15 minutes of this film have essentially no dialogue.

Which actually brings us to another aspect of Anderson that is interesting.  Hard Eight, his first film, was solidly written.  But the next two films, while excellently directed, were built around their scripts – every character was fleshed out and the scripts moved well and never got boring for a second.  But then came Punch Drunk Love, which was a bit of an oddity.  And then we get here, and between this and The Master, there is amazing acting, first-rate directing, incredible cinematography and a driving, mesmerizing score.  But the writing seems to have taken a back seat.  With The Master, that’s a bit of a problem, but here, it’s not so much, because the focus is less on the script, than on the portrait of an unforgettable character.  Many actors win Oscars and later on you try to remember something about the performance.  But will anyone be able to forget Daniel Plainview?  Will anyone be able to forget how he drank that milkshake, and sucked the land dry, leaving nothing for anyone else.

Perhaps it’s only right that this is an oil man.  He comes in and he sucks everything away, the life, the soul, the energy, and he leaves it to dry up.  He does it with his business, and he does it with his personal life.  Yes, he takes in another man’s son, and he raises him, but as soon as he is a liability, he is shipped away.  And that hatred is alive in his eyes when he is forced to admitting this, screaming out “I’ve abandoned my boy,” while undergoing humiliation at the hands of the man that he knows someday he will be able to crush beneath his dirty hands.  He drinks us all dry with this performance and it is not a lesson we are ever likely to forget.

The second bi-annual George Clooney odd year Oscar nomination.

Michael Clayton

  • Director:  Tony Gilroy
  • Writer:  Tony Gilroy
  • Producer:  Sydney Pollack  /  Jennifer Fox  /  Kerry Orent
  • Studio:  Warner Bros
  • Stars:  George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Clooney), Supporting Actor (Wilkinson), Supporting Actress (Swinton), Original Score
  • Oscar Points:  285
  • Length:   119 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Release Date:   5 October 2007
  • Box Office Gross:  $49.03 mil  (#55  -  2007)
  • Metacritic Score:  82
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #8  (year)  /  #172  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Actor (Clooney), Supporting Actor (Wilkinson), Supporting Actress (Swinton)
  • Nighthawk Points:  165

The Film:  In life, George Clooney often seems to have it all together.  He’s smart, charming, extraordinarily talented and of course, the best looking man on the planet.  So, there is a tendency to think that he’s going to have it all together on film.  And people tend to forget that in his films, especially in his best performances, he has so little of it together, that he is holding on by his nails and hoping he doesn’t fall.  We meet Michael Clayton and the film wastes no time in offering us both sides of this coin.  First, he is losing money in a card game, clearly making bad choices.  Then, he is called to go help out an important client, and clearly he has been described as the man who can make problems go away, as the miracle worker.  “I’m not a miracle worker,” he explains.  “I’m a janitor.”  He’s the person who comes in to clean up the mess.

This opening would serve to be a good introduction for the character, but it goes one step further.  Leaving the house, Michael stops to look at some wild horses in a field.  While he is standing there, with the dawn just beginning to light up the sky, his car explodes, and suddenly we are in a much more serious film than we had realized.  For that matter, Michael is in a much more serious film than he realized.  And what got him there is a fascinating story, filled with crisp directing, smart writing and absolute first-class performances.

It would be bad enough if the key litigator for your huge law firm suddenly goes bonkers.  It’s awful if he starts leaking information to the plaintiffs.  But when he does both, that’s when you call in someone to fix the mess.  What makes it so personal and painful for Michael is that this mess involves Arthur, who Michael clearly is close to.  It seems like they have both lost their way and are holding to each other in the ever-growing darkness of their ongoing lives.  But then Arthur runs away and that makes it all the more painful.  The law firm wants something done (the man in charge of the firm is played by Sydney Pollack, and it’s a reminder that Pollack has always been a solid director, but he has been a very good, bordering on excellent, actor in everything I have ever seen him in), but, we get a very good scene when they debate the commitment laws in New York and Michael reminds them all that of all the lawyers at the firm, the one who knows the most about involuntary commitment laws in New York is Arthur.

It was George Clooney who got all the main attention for the film (because he is the star and because he is excellent).  It was Tilda Swinton, as another lawyer involved in the lawsuit who won the Oscar for her performance as someone in way over her head, making stupid decisions, trying to stay in charge, and it was a good choice.  But it is Tom Wilkinson as Arthur who gives the most impressive performance in the film.  This is a man who has reached the end of what he can deal with in this life.  He has several early scenes, where he is desperately trying to hang on and do what is right after a lifetime of doing what would make him rich.  And then we get a scene where he and Michael meet in New York and they talk about what is going on, and the subtlety in the performances, the perfect way they play off each other is just superb to watch.  Finally, Michael, frustrated, reminds Arthur “I’m not the enemy.”  Arthur gives him a very knowing look and simply replies “Then who are you?”

This could have easily been a more typical Hollywood film, with Clooney as the important lawyer, the one who comes in and gives the big performance in court, more reminiscent of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder or Paul Newman in The Verdict.  But instead, this is about how the law gets away from people, and how much of this goes on outside the courtroom.  This is a fascinating character study, not just of Michael, but also of Arthur, and it’s a first-rate film in a year that is absolutely filled to the gills with first-rate films.

I never even saw this poster but it’s better than having Michael Cera on it.

Juno

  • Director:  Jason Reitman
  • Writer:  Diablo Cody
  • Producer:  Lianne Halfon  /  Mason Novick  /  Russell Smith
  • Studio:  Fox Searchlight
  • Stars:  Ellen Page, Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress (Page)
  • Oscar Points:  210
  • Length:   96 min
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Release Date:   5 December 2007
  • Box Office Gross:  $143.49 mil  (#15  -  2007)
  • Metacritic Score:  81
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #9  (year)  /  #183  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Screenplay, Actress (Page)
  • Nighthawk Points:  115

The Film:  Juno easily could have had the same kind of backlash that my mind stuck to Little Miss Sunshine.  But, yet, it is still damn funny and charming when you go back to it years later.  Part of that, no doubt, comes from the very smart script by Diablo Cody.  But so much of it comes from the performances.

I had barely heard of Juno in late 2007.  It was only the second film from Jason Reitman, whose Thank You for Smoking had been one of the wittiest films of the year before.  But I still mostly thought of him as Ivan’s kid.  I knew who Ellen Page was because in the third X-Men film she had played my favorite character – Kitty Pryde (and because she had been very good in the horribly uncomfortable Hard Candy).  Because I had not yet seen any of “Arrested Development” and had skipped Superbad, I had no idea who Michael Cera was (other than the guy in the commercials for Superbad).  And I didn’t watch “The Office”, so I barely knew who Rainn Wilson was.  And I hadn’t seen Jason Bateman in anything for eons.  But I saw the trailer for Juno and I was immediately won over.  It was smart and funny and even warm and this was a film I absolutely had to see.  I saw it and loved it (even if almost every line uttered by Rainn Wilson, utterly brilliant, was basically already in the trailer).  And when Veronica and I went to see There Will Be Blood and it was sold out, I took her to see Juno – one of the few times in the last five years I have seen a film in the theaters more than once.

And there was so much about the film that won me over.  First of all, there was the script.  It’s not just that its so hip and smart and funny.  It’s that it understands the way that teenagers communicate, not only with each other, but also with adults – the ones they feel they can communicate with, and those they can’t.  But it understands how teenagers can react – look at the scene between Juno and Paulie in front of his locker and you can see real people reacting to each other in some of the irrational ways that real people do.  But there is also the great conversation between Juno and her father at the table, or the understanding one between Juno and her stepmother.  And of course, there is everything said by Rainn Wilson (not just the lines in the trailer – let’s also remember “You still have to pay for that.  Don’t think it’s your just cause you marked it with your urine.”).

But the script itself wouldn’t get you very far if it weren’t for the performances from the actors.  Ellen Page is a magnificent discovery here – nothing in Hard Candy made me realize how warm and charming she could be.  And who could have watched the Spider-Man films and realized that J.K. Simmons could be so human.  But the individual performances work because they play off each other, not just the stars, but everyone (like in the scene “Did you hear Juno McGuff is pregnant?”  “Uh, yeah.”  “Did you hear it’s yours?”).  You watch the way that Juno interacts with her father and stepmother and you realize you’re actually seeing a family – not a stupid movie family, but a real family.

Then there is the music.  It is very rare for me to walk into a film, not know almost any of the songs being used, and then go out and buy the soundtrack.  But that was exactly what I did.  And every song fits perfectly in the film, right down to the last one, with Juno and Paulie sitting there, learning how to fall in love with each other.  The same way we all fall in love with Juno.

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