Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Watch’

Anton Chigurh – Talk of the Town

December 14, 2007

No Country for Old Men a critical response

Jim Emerson writes at his blog Scanners

(A comment by Phillip Kelly in reply to an earlier post made me chuckle and got me thinking. He wrote: “I guess my theorizing [of] Anton Chigurh as main character doesn’t stand now that Miramax is touting him for Best Supporting Actor. Too bad.” That’s the jumping-off place for this entry.)

The New York Film Critics Circle gave Javier Bardem its 2007 Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Anton Chigurh (“shi-GUR”) in Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country For Old Men” (which was also named Best Picture). The funny thing is, so much of the discussion of the of the movie centers around Chigurh that you’d think he was was the lead. And critical reservations about “No Country” tend to focus on interpretations of Chigurh, and whether the critic accepts him as a character or a mythological presence or a haircut or some combination thereof.

Go read the rest of it, because he’s got more interesting points. Actually read all the articles he’s got there about “NCFOM”, and then all theearlier posts here. It’s a great film to discuss. That being said…

I still won’t relinquish my feeling that Chigurh is the lead character. He’s the only one we get to know well enough to understand his tics. Sure Carla Jean’s fate is sealed off camera, but he checks his boots. And what is it that we know he doesn’t like getting on his boots? We don’t get to know any of the other characters this intimately. He’s the only character talked openly about as having a code, which as I’ve written before a main character will either come around to a common belief or believe so strongly in something that the other character’s in the filmcome around to his – Anton falls under the latter. He’s really the only character others react to within any level of emotion for goodness sakes! I’m sorry but if Hopkins can win for best actor as Lecter, then this a lead role. But no, instead the character that we don’t get to see until several scenes in, the one whose demise we don’t even get to witness, whose face is hardly seen when we realize he’s dead, who merely steps into this story that’s already happening without him and would continue without him…who really just holds things up briefly in the grand scheme of things (boy if he represents mankind in this mess we’re in trouble!) is made to be the lead character. Only because he’s the closest thing to a “hero” we have. He’s fighting for his life after all, right? Just like we do every day. But we know better, just as Chigurh does when he tells him over the phone, the best deal he’s going to get is the one offered, and no offer says he’ll live. Does his life have the same meaning as even Tom Bell’s does? Is there hope for him afterwards, someone waiting for him? He doesn’t even make it to be one of the old men that the title refers to. We have no idea what he does for a living until he’s practically dead!! Main character my foot.

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“Juno”: Anyone want a lollipop?

December 10, 2007

Juno

I’m not a fan of The Breakfast Club. For a movie that everyone claims to exemplify High School life, I found it to be very false, even as a kid. Never did I meet fellow classmates that were as singular as the characters John Hughes presented. There was never the “jock” or the “nerd” or the “outcast”, and I went to a lot of schools. What Hughes did was create simplified versions that everyone then held on to. It was all more interesting and complicated than that. I’ve always found The Breakfast Club to be the ideal example of Hollywood reality. Hughes’s other film Some Kind of Wonderful hits a little closer, and aside from the slow clap in the final moments of the film Lucas (not John Hughes) hit the head just about right (the original ending did not contain the slow clap but was more morose.) I had the pleasure of seeing Lucas screened this last year and was surprised at how well it has withstood the test of time. It’s too bad the same can’t be said for The Breakfast Club. Now we have Juno, a film many have compared to the films of John Hughes. The writer Diablo Cody has been called a writer who’s got the voice of our youth down pat. I would agree with that, at least more so than they said Hughes did during his time. When the High School characters in Juno aren’t living and breathing pop culture idiosyncrasies, they carry all the uncertain starts and stops and pregnant pauses of people who aren’t wise enough to know the right thing to say immediately or at all. They have their own language, their own way of viewing the world, one that befuddles the adults in the film. One that befuddles me to some degree – does this mean I’m getting old? It feels to me that the quantity of eccentric High Schoolers has grown over the years – at least as far as independent films are concerned.

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“Margot at the Wedding”

December 9, 2007

Margot at the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding might be a hard pill for some to swallow, for others it will be exactly the type of medicine they are looking for. People expecting and wanting a comedy are going to be sorely disappointed. That isn’t to say we don’t laugh at things that happen, but set ups and punch lines aren’t given. We laugh at the characters, not because they’re embarrassing, but because they act so realistically to the events that surround them. If you take Ingmar Bergman and add a dollop of John Cassavettes you get Noah Baumbach’s newest creation which leaves the overt quirk of The Life Aquatic and the diminishing quirk of The Squid and the Whale behind for something sharper and more bare bones. It’s not so much a character study, though the character at the center of it all, Margot, could certainly use a good slap across the face, but a study of how Margot infects the lives of the people around her. Nicole Kidman is slyly manipulative as Margot, slowly creeping in for the kill, and before the characters’ know it they are buying into her innuendo and hearsay. But she doesn’t play it as evil. Margot is an insecure woman who feeds off those around her. This is the type of role I love to see Kidman tackle. Her persona is a complicated one and when she dives into more Hollywood roles those complex traits become watered down and she becomes a very small presence. In this film she’s as brilliant as any of the greats.

The occasion bringing her into the story is her sister Pauline’s wedding. I’m so happy to see Jeniffer Jason Leigh on the screen again. She’s one of those overlooked actresses who I love and who plays Pauline at once with a now knowing eye about her sister’s ways, but also as someone who wants to see the good in everyone, even her fiancee Malcolm, whose schlubbiness could only be authenticated by Jack Black. We get the idea that the two sisters parted on ill terms and are trying to make up for lost time. Saying desperately that they love each other, and wanting to believe it as they say it. When Pauline talks you understand she means it, she wants it. But what Margot wants it ultimately more complicated. You see, it’s difficult for her to not have something under her thumb. So whether she truly thinks Malcolm is right for her or not isn’t the point. Margot wants to control her sister’s life as she has in the past when we also learn that perhaps she talked Pauline away from another suitor. But Pauline knows that Margot is sick. Margot knows Margot is sick, but in the end that perhaps is an act. She would trade sympathy for love any day.

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“The Savages”

December 7, 2007

The Savahes

The film The Savages is smart enough to live in the present, but finds clever ways to give us clues about the characters’ pasts, which is very important, so pay attention. It’s the story about a sister, Wendy, and brother, Jon Savage (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) who suddenly have their aging father Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) thrust into their lives when he comes down with a case of dementia and his girlfriend dies. It turns out that neither child even knows where he lives. While the film unfolds in the present the character’s are certainly affected by their pasts and all three give performances that radiate emotional history, a plethora of emotional history. These are probably three of the most well crafted and effective performances I’ve seen this year.

The film making is exceptional as well. For awhile the writer/director Tamara Jenkins finds ways to merge the environment with the performances. Wendy stares at her father’s x-rays absently as the hum of the x-ray machine drowns out the sounds around her. Or as Wendy slowly wakes up Lenny’s voice gradually increases in volume. These are subtle tricks but really ground you into the reality of the film, it’s unfortunate that she stops using these storytelling devices about half way through. Thankfully the writing and direction is strong enough that’s its not a necessity.

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“Enchanted”: The Title Appropriate

December 7, 2007

Enchanted

I stopped watching Disney movies a long time ago. And I don’t mean the Bruckheimer or the Pixar films. I still see those. Though I missed Cars. No, what I’m talking about, are the Disney films with talking animals and fluffy songs. I stopped watching those, not because I outgrew them, but because they lost their charm. I missed Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and pretty much everything since which mainly consists of direct-to DVDs. Whatever charm they were missing they got it back in spades with Enchanted, and they really don’t even need a story, all they have to do is keep the camera trained on Amy Adams beatific face and there’s enough charm for 50 movies to come, and lucky for the audience that’s what the director has chosen to do. Her eyes are so big and full of life in this film that one can imagine her as one of those silent film bomb shells, innocent yet someone you can never stop dreaming about. And without the 100% commitment she gives to the role, the film would have been obnoxious as all get out. To be cute for a minute or two, or even a line of dialogue is a tough sell sometimes, but Adams keeps it going and keeps it fresh for two hours. So even parts of the script that could have been stagnant are alive. Slow down Phil, but what is the film about you ask?

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“I’m Not There”: An Artist as Landscape

December 5, 2007

I’m Not There

I don’t really like talking about my films. Everything I want to say is in the film itself; for me to say anything more is, as the proverb goes, like “drawing legs on a picture of snake.” But from time to time and idea I thought I had conveyed in the film does not seem to have been generally understood. On those occasions I do feel an urge to talk about my work. Nevertheless, I try not to. If what I have said in my film is true, someone will understand.’ – Akira Kurosawa

None of the characters are called Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’s bio of the eccentric artist I’m Not There, which is fine since we’re not dealing with absolutes. I’ve grown weary over the years of bios dealing with the same old things (since Chaplin for goodness sake): who they were sleeping with, what drugs they did, how it all influenced their … yawn! Haynes avoids many of these cliches, partly through non-linear storytelling much like the wonderful film La Vie en Rose did earlier this year, but also by creating the most complex and realistic interpretation of not only an artist but a human being I’ve seen in a long time. It plays almost as a hate letter in response to those who try to put artists and people in simple to understand boxes. That because they are good at something or stand up for something in the world, then that’s all that they are. There’s a devastating moment in the film in which a pompous British interviewer an unnamed character (so proclaims the blank space on imdb.com) played by Bruce Greenwood who in searching for his idea of what truth is uncovers Dylan’s origins and the room falls silent as the mystery behind this artist begins to crumble. Doesn’t the interviewer realize that a person is more than where they’ve come from or more than the style of music that has influenced them or that they’ve influenced. Don’t Dylan’s fans realize that in order to thrive as an artist, the artist has to change! They have to work against the pull of society and who they are as a person. Artists’ have to challenge themselves and what they believe.

In this film Dylan seems to be just as much in search of who he is as Haynes is searching out who Dylan is, but unlike the Brit Interviewer he gives us more than one truth.

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