Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bloggers' Debate

I asked fellow bloggers Craig Kennedy of Living in Cinema and Nicholas Plowman of Fataculture to engage in a friendly debate about this year's Best Picture nominees. Here is the dialogue that ensued, and please visit their respective sites to show your support.

Nicholas Plowman: Fataculture

Every once in a while a film that you know nothing about comes along, you go see it because the trailer is just so damn heart-warming and you are in love with it's star but you still don't expect much and 90 something minutes later you walk out with a smile on your face and a hole where your heart could normally be found. Juno stole my heart. In a good way. It has kept it too, not sure if I am ever getting it back, or at least not for a while.

This year, pregnancy, abortion, adoption etc have all been dealt with. We saw it in Knocked Up and laughed, some saw it in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and "Lake of Fire" but it was only when little miss Juno McGruff strolls onto the screen with her bottle of Sunny D. that I truly felt that cinematic gold had been struck.

Here is what I felt:

Ellen Page would finally be recognized as a great actress and one of the best in her generation, even though she was just as good in Hard Candy but not many people saw that one. She embodied Juno and gave her something more than a quick tongue and a pregnant belly. She was a " big, puffy version of Junebug" and I bow in the presence of greatness.

Jason Reitman was more in control and more personally involved in this film than he was in the sterile "Thank You for Smoking" and it shows. Did he deserve a Best Director nomination? Maybe, maybe not, he got one nonetheless.

In the end, the film belongs to Ms. Cody. Her quirky and atypical dialogue is a marvel. Some found it annoying, I thought the exact opposite. Without the dialogue, it would not be the same film, and then I would have cared less for it and we would not be having this wholesome debate and then I would have no other choice but to say: "Oh my god! Oh, shit! Phuket Thailand" and go on with my life.

I think Juno has an advantage over the other Best Picture nominees in the fact that it is the lighter film amongst the bunch. I know what you are thinking. Little Miss Sunshine had people saying the same thing. However, Juno has more to it than Little Miss Sunshine. It is the most easily accessible to all, in my opinion.

Sure No Country and There Will Be Blood are regarded as the best films of the year. Which is all great, but Juno has a heart and is the least male-centric of the nominees. Everyone has a family and has to deal with growing up, so people can identify with the characters in Juno and have a good time doing so. No Country is a serious film goers dream, as is There Will Be Blood, but Juno is a hit with mainstream audiences as well as a few serious film buffs. The Academy is not all just old men with dead-on eye for what film is the best film of the year. In case no one noticed, they hardly ever give the award to the most deserving, so I could be wrong, and that means something other than Juno would win.

In addition, as I say all this, I realize something. I have only seen two of the Best Picture nominees so far anyway; Juno and Atonement so do not knock my obsession with Juno just yet. I know that you guys, Craig and Matt, did not feel much for Juno. So let the punches roll... Metaphorically speaking. This should be fun!



Craig Kennedy: Living in Cinema

I had a hard time choosing my favorite movie of the year in 2007. It was a rare instance where two movies were so clearly ahead of all the others, but so close together themselves. I ended up picking "No Country for Old Men" over "There Will Be Blood," but the decision, appropriately was almost a coin toss.


What finally elevated "No Country" for me was the very elusive quality that frustrated some viewers. It asked many questions without providing any easy answers. Instead of carefully explaining what it was all about, the Coen Brothers took a more beguiling, philosophical approach. They managed to touch on my fears and my feelings, but they left me wanting more. I ended up seeing the movie four times and each experience was better than the one before.


So often, one falls in love with a movie only to find later that it grows stale upon repeat viewings. The true masterpieces hold up over time. While it's too early to tell whether "No Country" will become a classic, so far it shows all the signs of one. Because of that, it's my pick for the best picture of 2007.


Matthew Lucas: From the Front Row

I've made my opinions on all the films pretty well known by now. For me, There Will Be Blood is far and away the year's best film in a year filled with great films – No Country for Old Men included. Sorry Nick, I know you love Juno but it just didn't do it for me. I didn't go into it looking to hate it, but the harder I tried the less I liked it, and by the end I had a scowl so firmly etched into my face that my friend turned to me and asked what was wrong. Dialogue like "When I see them all running like that, with their things bouncing around in their shorts, I always picture them naked, even if I don't want to. All i see is pork swords" or "Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine's Day. And I'm like, "Thanks a heap coyote ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment." is not clever – it's ingratiating. It sounds like Diablo Cody sat down and wrote down a list of smart-ass comments and made a screenplay out of them. It's more of a collection of quirks than an actual movie.


There Will Be Blood, on the other hand, is bold, visionary cinema – the kind of auteur powerhouse filmmaking that defined American cinema in the 1970s, playing out like some kind of holy alliance between Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles being channeled through the great Paul Thomas Anderson. They don't make 'em like this anymore.


The same could be said of the Sergio Leone meets Sam Peckinpah aesthetic (dashed with the wry humor of the Coen brothers) of No Country for Old Men. But even after seeing No Country for the second time last week on screener DVD, I always felt like Blood operates on a higher plane. Anderson's vision is the most daring artistic risk of the year, and boy does it ever pay off.



CK:

A common reaction even among people who loved Juno is that they couldn't stand the first 20 minutes or so. The movie kicks off all snark and quirk, but eventually it kicks in and wins audiences over. The thing is, Juno never clicked for me. It remained an amalgam of quirks and smartass remarks that never rang true. At the end, it reached for an emotional depth it hadn't earned and it covered its shallow tracks with a Moldy Peaches song. Juno may have box office on its side, but I'm not so sure about history. I can't imagine it resonating over time as I'd hope a worthy best picture winner would.

As for There Will Be Blood, it's difficult for me to argue against it because it's my 2nd favorite movie of 2007, but there is a reason it fell just short of being my number one. There is a bluntness and a directness to Blood that is powerful and appealing. Daniel Day-Lewis especially is a force of nature and the movie has a visceral impact that can't be denied. However, where No Country For Old Men continued to grow more fascinating on the 3rd and 4th screenings, There Will Be Blood started to feel a little tired. It lacked the depth and essential mystery that drives the Coen Brothers film. For that reason, I believe No Country has a greater chance to stand the test of time and prove itself the real best picture of 2007.



NP:
Mmmmm. You two have several points that are hard to side step!
I am very sure Juno doesn’t match with No Country or Blood artistically or even story wise, but Juno is all I have. It has a heart, not everyone can see that, but it does. Something I am beginning to realize though is that this heart I speak of is probably why it got nominated, and not why it would win. Perhaps it does not deserve to win, but it still has a better chance than Atonement and Michael Clayton, in my opinion, and maybe even Blood. You see, I am told, that Blood is very much like Citizen Cane - in it's boldness, unique vision and uncompromised way of story telling - and look how well that one went with the Academy. I do not see Blood winning, purely because I think it is too daring and artistic for the Academy. It will win a few artistic and tech awards (Art Direction and Cinematography, I think) but not with the top prize. Now, No Country is probably the easiest film to acknowledge in terms of it's greatness - I am sure it is better when looking deeper into the film and exploring it more and more with each viewing - but it is easy to see how good it is just by looking at the surface. Maybe I am horribly wrong, but I have only seen the first 20 minutes of Blood and Country, so that is all I have to go on. I am predicting No Country for the win, based on it’s success in the precursor season and not much else.


ML:

Thanks for the debate guys. You both have very good points (although I will have to take issue with your dismissing of Thank You For Smoking Nick, it just barely missed my top ten list last year). I definitely think the Oscar will go to either No Country or Juno. I freely admit that Blood stands pretty much no chance, it's just too artistically challenging for the Academy. But hey, I can dream right?

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