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Film

The Best of a Brutally Good Year


Frank J. Avella's
Film Column


January 19, 2008

Predictions Redux
Oscar column Addendum

Just two weeks ago, I boldly made my Oscar nomination predictions in my column and two weeks later, post-Guild nominations and glamless Golden Globe announcement (and how lousy was that???), I feel the need to reevaluate my selections. (Kudos to Sasha Stone at AwardsDaily.com for calling this one!)

To defend myself, I needed to file a January column, but it is fascinating to study the choices from two weeks ago and see how the tide has turned AGAINST certain films/perfs…and FOR others…

That tide is specific to the SAG, DGA, WGA and tech guild choices. Three years ago, the Hollywood Foreign Press would have had more of an influence on the race-- and kept Atonement and Sweeney Todd more alive—but the AMPAS ballots were already mailed by the time the winners were announced.


Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood

The most surprising (and wonderful) momentum gainer is There Will Be Blood. Who’d have thought that a film this clever, cerebral and ballsy would ever be in the best picture running? There is definitely more love for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Into the Wild than most initially supposed and little Guild support for Atonement and Sweeney Todd. Sadly, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead seems, well, dead. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the continued love for No Country for Old Men and Michael Clayton. These two diverse films will be getting a lot of mentions on the morning of January 22nd.

One final note: In the acting races, it would seem too easy to simply go with the SAG choices since last year they matched nineteen out of twenty. It’s my feeling that every category will miss by, at least, one.


James McAvoy and Keira Knightley in Atonement

Now let’s take a re-look at the major races.


Best Picture

What I predicted two weeks ago:

American Gangster; Atonement; Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; Sweeney Todd

Looming possibilities: There Will Be Blood; Juno; Into the Wild; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I still think, as do the progs, the lineup will come from these nine films. The locks are now:

Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood

The last two slots are tricky with Juno and Diving Bell seemingly in the lead and Into the Wild just behind. But I’m going to go with my gut here.

Final Predictions

Atonement
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney in Michael Clayton


Best Actor

What I predicted two weeks ago:

George Clooney in Michael Clayton; Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood; Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd; James McAvoy in Atonement; Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises

Looming possibilities: Denzel Washington in American Gangster; Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild; Matthieu Almaric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl

I still believe Depp has the support to pull it off, can’t say the same for Mr. McAvoy.


Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd

Final Predictions

George Clooney in Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd
Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises


Amy Adams in Enchanted


Best Actress

What I predicted two weeks ago:

Amy Adams in Enchanted; Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd; Julie Christie in Away from Her; Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose; Ellen Page in Juno

Looming possibilities: Keira Knightley in Atonement; Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart; Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Laura Linney in The Savages

So HBC might have happened if Sweeney didn’t seem so…cooked. I am still thinking Adams is going to pull it off.

Final Predictions

Amy Adams in Enchanted
Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie in Away from Her
Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose
Ellen Page in Juno

Best Director

What I predicted two weeks ago:
Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood; Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd; Joel & Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men; Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton; Sidney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Looming possibilities: Ridley Scott for American Gangster; Sean Penn for Into the Wild; Joe Wright for Atonement; Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Basically, Schnabel is in, Burton’s out. And Lumet, Gilroy and Penn fight for the last two slots. I have to support Lumet here and…hope…

Final Predictions

Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood
Joel & Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men
Sidney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Sean Penn for Into the Wild
Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt
The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

Best Suporting Actor

What I predicted two weeks ago:

Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men; Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild; John Travolta in Hairspray; Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton

Looming possibilities: Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men; Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War; Albert Finney in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood; Max Von Sydow in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

As much as I still think there’s love for Travolta, I’m going to go with the juggernaut here and guess the Academy will want to recognize new blood in Blood.


Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men

Final Predictions

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Paul Dano inThere Will Be Blood
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton

Best Suporting Actress

What I predicted two weeks ago:


Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There; Ruby Dee in American Gangster; Saoirse Ronan in Atonement; Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone; Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton

Looming possibilities: Catherine Keener in Into the Wild; Vanessa Redgrave in Atonement; Kelly McDonald in No Country for Old Men; Michelle Pfeiffer in Hairspray; Jennifer Garner in Juno

Going to stick with my initial predictions here. Keener may seem to have the lead but I think Ronan will bump her.

Final Predictions

Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There
Ruby Dee in American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton

January 1, 2008

This being my “official” Oscar predictions/Best of 2007 combo-column, I was planning on launching into a litany of grievances specific to all the legion of Oscar experts out there in blogland who have appointed themselves soothsayers of all things AMPAS yet chant the William Goldman-appropriated mantra: “Nobody knows anything.” Those three wise words help conveniently cover their respective asses when they blunder big time, as most of them did last year overlooking Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, Letters from Iwo Jima as a viable Best Picture candidate and, instead, anointing Dreamgirls based more on hype created by a few of those chosen “experts” than anything substantial. (I will be attacked for this statement, as they will cite certain Guild awards, etc…for their not recognizing Letters, but the bottom line is, they were wrong. But since “nobody knows anything” it’s, of course, excusable! (BTW, I did predict Letters, which simply means I guessed better).

Oh gee, I thought I wasn’t going to bitch and moan about the arrogance displayed by so many of the Award-predicting websites! Now you may rightly wonder if it sour grapes due to the fact that I am not one the select few prestige film experts…a guru or sultan or sulu or whatever they call themselves…hardly. Truth to be told I have been living, sleeping and breathing all things film and Oscar since the mid-seventies, when I was just learning to write…and I have followed each Academy Awards season with great excitement (plus there’s that trusty grad degree I have in Cinema Studies from NYU)…I simply never thought about making money from it. Foolish me!

Each year gets more insane with newer critics groups choosing awards. This year it’s been downright comical watching the now four billion critics groups select their winners (enough already with the Iowa film critics…really!) and having these bloggers report on their choices as if they will really matter to the outcome. And watching No Country for Old Men canonized as the best film ever made on any planet in any galaxy was just annoying but quite reminiscent of the critical hosannas piled on Sideways in 2004 and L.A. Confidential in 1997—two very good, but hardly great films.

Then the Hollywood Foreign press chimed and confused everyone. Last week SAG confounded things further, since 19 of the 20 actors SAG nominated last year matched Oscar and since SAG's choices this year went against the expected grain. In the coming weeks, more guilds will announce and the bloggers will blog…but most will ride the “nobody knows anything” wave to safety…giving them free reign to say anything. Those of us who love film, take it all so seriously. We can’t help it. And so we enjoy arguing, predicting, attacking, hailing, etc… But there are a few out there who feel superior to others and imply they can actually influence the outcome. Who are they? I don’t want to name names but simply perusing the most popular sites, you will get a good idea. (Over at AwardsDaily.com, Sasha Stone, at least tries to be as inclusive as possible…Tom O’Nell at theenvelope.com does his best as well, but many others give new meaning to the word imperious!)

What I would respect...would rejoice at, much more than hiding behind “Nobody knows anything,” would be someone having the balls to put themselves on the line and say, based on my experience and taking into account blah-blah-blah factors, here are my predictions…which I stand by. How refreshing would that be--actually showing a fearlessness and confidence in your calls, especially if you run a blog that implies that you are an expert of some sort!

That said, based on everything I feel really factors into predicting the Oscars as well as my gut instinct, here is how I see nominations going down on the morning of January 22nd (realizing that ballots are out and that so much can change in the next two weeks…):


Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney
Michael Clayton

Best Picture:
American Gangster
Atonement
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
Sweeney Todd

Looming possibilities: There Will Be Blood; Juno; Into the Wild; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

If I had my way: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

I’m not as comfortable with Atonement as everyone else is (it may just become the Dreamgirls of 2007) and I feel that There Will Be Blood could be the one to surprise here with Into the Wild a dark horse.

 

Best Actor:
George Clooney in Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd
James McAvoy in Atonement
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises

Looming possibilities: Denzel Washington in American Gangster; Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild; Matthieu Almaric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl

If I had my way: Sam Riley in Control

I’m pretty comfortable with these, although McAvoy is probably not as safe as assumed. Washington or Hirsch could snag his spot. I do think Mortensen will finally be recognized with a nomination. And, although Depp was not nominated for a SAG, there is no way he will be overlooked by AMPAS.


Amy Adams in Enchanted

Best Actress:
Amy Adams in Enchanted
Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd
Julie Christie in Away from Her
Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose
Ellen Page in Juno

Looming possibilities: Keira Knightley in Atonement; Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart; Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Laura Linney in The Savages

If I had my way: Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding

Right up until typing this I had Knightley in Bonham Carter’s place, but after seeing Sweeney again, I have a feeling if AMPAS goes for the bloodfest, they will in a big way. Blanchett and Jolie were SAG nominated so they could surprise as well.

Best Director:
Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood
Tim Burton for Sweeney Todd
Joel & Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton
Sidney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Looming possibilities: Ridley Scott for American Gangster; Sean Penn for Into the Wild; Joe Wright for Atonement; Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

If I had my way: David Cronenberg for Eastern Promises

Best Suporting Actor:
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild
John Travolta in Hairspray
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton

Looming possibilities: Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men; Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War; Albert Finney in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood; Max Von Sydow in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

If I had my way: Ethan Hawke in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead


Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There

Best Suporting Actress:
Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There
Ruby Dee in American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton

Looming possibilities: Catherine Keener in Into the Wild; Vanessa Redgrave in Atonement; Kelly McDonald in No Country for Old Men; Michelle Pfeiffer in Hairspray; Jennifer Garner in Juno

If I had my way: Marisa Tomei in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead


And now on to the films that consider the Best of a pretty terrific year at the movies:

No top ten list would be complete without a list of runners-up that, in a less stellar year, could have cracked the top then. They are (alphabetically):

3:10 to Yuma
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Bubble
Cassandra’s Dream
Charlie Wilson’s War
Control
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Golden Door
Gone Baby Gone
The Hoax
Juno
The Lives of Others
Margot at the Wedding
Michael Clayton
The Nines
Once


Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men

10. No Country for Old Men – Arguably the most overrated film of the year, but it’s so friggin’ good! I labored about this tenth spot (with Michael Clayton, Juno, Margot at the Wedding and this film) but No Country excited me and made me want to see it again. The Coens are masters at exposing the dark side of humanity and here they do it with a vengeance.


Emile Hirsch and Sean Penn on the Set of Into the Wild

9. Into the Wild – Sean Penn’s extraordinary and haunting film that boasts a career-making performance from Emile Hirsch. This road trip to hell is paved with a lot of misguided notions…and a lot of snow…


Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac

8. Zodiac – One of the most fascinating films to come along in a while. Director David Fincher structures the story as if the viewer is sifting through a visual file cabinet filled with pieces to a puzzle. We are riveted and cannot wait to figure out the outcome.


Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt in
The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

7. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford -- Andrew Dominik’s revisionist western is bold, epic filmmaking that features Brad Pitt’s best performance to date and a star-making turn by Casey Affleck.

6. Eastern Promises – Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg should keep making films together forever! This nasty, provocative look into a little publicized mob subculture was one of 2007’s most delightful surprises.

5. American Gangster – Ridley Scott’s best film since Alien, this sprawling saga had me from the get go and never let me go. Denzel Washington, as the paradoxic Frank Lucas, has never been better and Russell Crowe continues to prove that he is one of the best actors of his generation.


James McAvoy and Keira Knightley in Atonement

4. Atonement – The worst thing I can say about this stunning meditation on guilt and redemption is that it was too short! James McAvoy and Keira Knightley are terrific and Joe Wright directs with a seamlessness that usually takes decades to perfect.


Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd

3. Sweeney Todd – The terrifying teaming of Tim Burton and Stephen Sondheim could have spelled disaster. Instead, this macabre musical blends the best of both artists and they create one bloody brilliant piece of cinema. Damn near close to a masterpiece (A.O. Scott in the Times called that one), Johnny Depp gives his best performance as the demonic and vengeful barber. There is little hope for the nature of mankind offered up in this gem, and, like that or not, it makes for fantastic storytelling.


Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood

2. There Will Be Blood – And speaking of bleak…Paul Thomas Anderson’s astonishing and groundbreaking film is also spellbound by the worst in human nature—this time when given the opportunity to amass a fortune and achieve great power. Anderson also perfectly shows the evils of hubristic religious zealots out for their own piece of the American pie. Daniel Day-Lewis is simply astounding in one of the best performances of the decade. Evoking Kubrick, Altman and, yes, Welles, Anderson must now be considered a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. There will be detractors. There will be awards. There will be iconic status.


Ethan Hawke, Albert Fininey and Marisa Tomei
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

1. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Rounding out the trilogy of bleak and brilliant, Devil is the film that shook me the most in 2007—not just for it’s bone-chilling ending (There Will Be Blood and Sweeney Todd, also had amazing jaw-dropper endings), and not just because it was so mesmerizing and moving, but because it had something different to say about familial dynamics, revenge and redemption. At age 83, Sidney Lumet has made another classic--this time blending elements of the crime caper with the dysfunctional family drama. This film can rightly stand next to the best of his best. Devil also features the best ensemble acting of the year.



 


 

 

 


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