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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

If I Had An Oscar Ballot…

We’re a little more than a week away from the announcement of what films were nominated by the Academy Awards and so I decided to write up my own ballot of the top eight categories.  The films that I nominate are not necessarily the ones I believe will get nominated, but the ones that I feel should be nominated.  I’ll also let you know which ones I believe will ultimately be the winners.

Best Picture
The Darjeeling Limited
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

I have written extensively about each of these five films (they are in fact my top five of the year) and I think three of them have a real shot at getting an actual nomination (Darjeeling and Zodiac are not loved enough).

I still believe that the winner will most likely be No Country for Old Men.  It’s been an extremely unpredictable year with frontrunners like Charlie Wilson’s War and Atonementfalling by the wayside, and films that were seemingly long shots have been pushed to the fore.  I think that when the Academy members sit down and re-watch all of the screeners of the nominated films they will cast a vote for the film that they couldn’t stop thinking about.  For me, that film would be There Will Be Blood but I know a lot more people who feel that way about No Country.  Regardless of what the implications are, There Will Be Blood has a definite and recognizable ending and meaning.  The Coen Brothers flick is one that invites a lot more conversation because of the ambiguity of its ending, which I think will cause the Academy members to converse with one another about “what it all means” and therefore it will always be fresh in their brains.  I think No Country for Old Men has been the film that, love it or hate it, everyone has wanted to discuss.

Best Director
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
David Fincher, Zodiac
Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

This is interesting for me because I think it’s impossible to be one of the best films of the year without also being one of the best directed.  After all, how good a film turns out is usually a result of how well the director performed his tasks.  If the script is decent and the cast is decent, then it is the duty of the director to put all of those ingredients in a bowl, supervise all pre- and post-production and make sure that in the end, the result is as good as it can be.

So, with that said, I had to put Lumet on this list.  I think Tony Gilroy did a masterful job his first time out with Michael Clayton, but Sidney Lumet is one of the greatest directors of all-time and he has not won an Oscar.  The man who directed Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Pawnbroker, 12 Angry Men, Serpico, The Verdict and Prince of the City has only an honorary Oscar that he received in 2005.  At the very least, he should be given a nomination for his work on Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which has the soul and vitality of a much younger director, willing to take risks and push his actors to the extremes.  It’s just a great job from top to bottom that edges out Gilroy’s beautiful looking Michael Clayton simply because the 83 year old Lumet has been churning out great flicks for fifty years.

I wish I could have found room for Julian Schnabel’s work on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly because I love him so much as an artist and a filmmaker.  I just didn’t think his latest film was the equal of his last two and while his work on the new one was brilliant, the script didn’t reel me in.  And great directing of a middling script can only take you so far.

I think in the end Paul Thomas Anderson will steal the directing Oscar from the Coens, which I think would be deserved.  I’m sure many Academy members will be turned off by the last half hour of There Will Be Blood, but the scene where the oil derrick catches fire might be the best directed scene of the year.  It’s a devastating combination of score, near silent acting, emotional pull and beautiful photography.  It’s a scene that reminds the viewer of what film can do at its best, when everything is firing on all cylinders and it all comes together in a moment that is nearly cathartic.  When Daniel Day-Lewis finally sits down and puts that pipe in his mouth, we can finally breathe again, unaware of the strangle-hold that Anderson had us in for the last five minutes.  This is why he will and should win the Best Director Oscar.

Best Actor
Christian Bale, Rescue Dawn
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild
Thomas Turgoose, This is England

I think those middle three will most likely get the nomination, but Bale and Turgoose have almost no shot.  In fact, I haven’t heard Turgoose’s name mentioned at all since the film was released and as I was looking through my lists, trying to find the five best lead male performances of the past year, I kept thinking about Turgoose and shaking it off because he’s too young or the film is too small, etc.  But, I realized that this is my list and he definitely gave one of the five best performances by an actor in 2007 and deserves the recognition.  His role as the young skinhead Shaun is one that is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time; seeing him slowly grow up, trying desperately to be a man without a man in his home to teach him how.  He’s a little punk who we instantly feel affection for, cursing like a sailor and trying to navigate the murky waters of England during the Falklands War.  I can’t wait to see what he does next.

I’ve spoken highly of all the other actors, writing in depth about Hirsch, Clooney and Bale. Daniel Day-Lewis gave the single best performance of the year, as he usually does any time he decides to grace our screens, and if it does not earn him his second Oscar, then I will be astounded and disappointed.  Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview is iconic and deserves all of the recognition that it gets.  I’ll say it once again: he is the greatest living actor on this Earth.

I’d also like to say that despite the majesty of Julie Christie in Away From Her, I thinkGordon Pinsent is the one who truly shines in that film as her confused husband.  Just like with Alzheimer’s, it is not the one who has the disease that suffers the most, but the ones around them.  Pinsent is the one that has to suffer quietly, with dignity as he watches his beloved wife slip away slowly to senility.  I wish the Academy would recognize his brilliant work.

Best Actress
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Julie Delpy, 2 Days in Paris
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Nicole Kidman, Margot at the Wedding
Sienna Miller, Interview

I think Jolie and Christie are the only ones with a shot of actually being recognized by the Academy, but I think the other three women all give brilliant performances.  If this were the actual nomination list, it might be the most beautiful class of Best Actress nominees in the history of the awards.

I want to single out Julie Delpy for not only giving a brilliant, nuanced and honest portrait in 2 Days in Paris, but also for writing it, directing it, editing it.  To be able to give such a wonderful performance while also being able handle all of those technical duties is nothing short of amazing.  The film is basically her own personal version of Annie Hall and she is most definitely Woody Allen, right down to the thick glasses she wears throughout the film.  I first fell in love with Delpy in Before Sunrise when she was the young and hopeful Celine and here she plays the antithesis of that character, someone jaded and stuck in a relationship that she can’t quite figure out.  The relationship works, but does it work well enough?  The film is also hysterically funny and not just in the cliché Ugly American goes to Paris vein.  I cannot wait to see what Delpy does next, either behind the camera or in front of it.

That being said, it is Angelina Jolie who gives the best performance in this category.  I don’t really care about the politics behind it, nor do I care about what she does in her private life – okay, maybe I do, I’m human.  But the most important thing is what goes on the screen and what Jolie does is pretty remarkable.  Not only does she nail a difficult accent (a mixture of French and Cuban), but she remains so tightly wound throughout the entire picture that we just want her to scream and when she finally does, it is so heartbreaking and relieving at the same time; we lament the fact that she is upset, but we are so glad the misery of waiting is over.  Jolie makes Marianne Pearl more than just the widow of Daniel Pearl; she makes her into a person we can all relate to, someone whose pain and anguish we never want to suffer through.

Julie Christie or Marion Cotillard might get the win, but I think Jolie’s performance will be the best remembered.

Best Supporting Actor
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Robert Downey, Jr., Zodiac
Ethan Hawke, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Irfan Khan, The Namesake

I’m pretty sure Bardem has this one locked up and it would be deserving.  His performance as the menacing embodiment of death, Chigurh, is horrifying and iconic.  He’s the last person you’d want to meet in a dark alley because he won’t stop coming until one of you is dead … and chances are it would probably be you.  But the really scary part of this performance is in the details, the moments where you’d expect his human side to come through but it never does.  The scene at the end with Carla Jean Moss is so frightening because he is impervious to reason.  He doesn’t see humanity any differently than he would view a dog or an ant; it’s just something that comes and eventually goes.

That being said, I think the best supporting performance of the whole year was Irfan Khan’s.  I enjoyed The Namesake, but I didn’t love it and yet I cannot stop thinking about Khan’s performance as Ashoke, the patriarch of the Ganguli clan.  Throughout the first half of the picture, I didn’t like him very much and thought of him as demanding and unreasonable.  And then, slowly, I began to realize just how much he sacrificed for the good of his ungrateful children who don’t understand what their father had to go through in order to get them to a life that they resent.  Khan’s eyes are so expressive, even when he’s just standing and looking at his son in his room, trying to relate to a world that he cannot comprehend because he was never given the tools to comprehend it.  When Ashoke makes a phone call to his wife towards the end of the film, I couldn’t help but feel choked up because I finally understood that it’s in the words that he doesn’t say that makes him such a wonderful, sad man.  He doesn’t feel the need to tell people he is hurting, he just suffers silently and alone, not wanting to be a burden to anyone.

I wish I could have found room for the great Hal Holbrook, who was so moving in Into the Wild. Needless to say, if he sneaks in there, I wouldn’t be upset.

Best Supporting Actress
Charlotte Gainsbourg, I’m Not There
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding
AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

This is the category that Cate Blanchett seems to have wrapped up for her role as one of the Bob Dylans in I’m Not There, but as you can see I didn’t even think it was the best performance in that movie.  Blanchett does a great job if impersonating the Bob Dylan made famous in D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, but it’s exactly that; an impersonation.  What Charlotte Gainsbourg does is create a character that is more than just mimicry (brilliant mimicry at that), more than just a hodgepodge of familiar eccentricities; Gainsbourg creates the only character in the film that acts like a human being, one that we can relate to.  The image of her folding laundry, waiting for her famous husband to come home, is a cliché but Gainsbourg’s expressions and the lilt in her tone help make it something new, something depressing.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of the film, but Gainsbourg helped make her section into something I could recognize that wasn’t already filmed for a documentary.

AnnaSophia Robb, like Thomas Turgoose, is one that I was hesitant to put on her because of her age.  But she is so confident and wonderfully charismatic in Bridge to Terabithia and it holds the entire film together.  If we don’t care for her character as much as we do, then the picture falls apart.  But we do care for her and it is the reason why I am in tears at the end of the film.

The best supporting female performance for me, however, is Jennifer Jason Leigh as Pauline in Margot at the Wedding.  She is more meek than her older sister Margot, but Pauline has the strength of being compassionate.  Pauline seems full of love and desperately trying to find a place to project that love onto.  She has moments where she can be just as cutting as her older sister, but mostly she doesn’t have that kind of malice.  She’s kind enough to include her tough older sister, despite the fact that Margot puts down everything Pauline does.  She also tries to impart some wisdom and love onto Margot’s son, who seems to be reeling from being stuck under Margot’s cold wing for so long.  This performance is a reminder that Leigh is one of the finest actresses working, someone who is so naked on screen (both literally and figuratively) that it both titillates us and frightens us because she is so intense.  I hope that Leigh continues to find more work like this, continuing to get more beautiful as she gets older and more comfortable in her skin.

Best Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, The Darjeeling Limited
Judd Apatow, Knocked Up
Noah Baumbach, Margot at the Wedding
John Carney, Once
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Diablo Cody will wind up winning this award at the Oscars for her script for Juno, a film that I don’t understand why everybody is flipping for.  It’s basically a collection of puns and bloggy talk that doesn’t sound the way people actually speak and that’s okay if it fits with the rest of the film.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t.  For example, Jennifer Garner seems like she’s in a completely different (and much better) movie.  She is an actual character who is affected by the changes around her.  Juno, the character, doesn’t seem overly fazed by the fact that she’s giving birth.  She has one scene where she seems to be overwhelmed by everything, but she never feels like a real person from the second she shows up on screen drinking a gallon of Sunny D.  It’s all just so damn cutesy and precious that I never connected and it all starts with the dialogue in Cody’s script.  The film is basically just a less religious Saved! with a lot more one-liners.  I enjoyed the film, don’t get me wrong, but I liked 10 Things I Hate About You too and I didn’t think it should’ve gotten nominated for an Oscar.  Also, I’m upset about the fact that now everyone is going to pretend that they’ve been listening to The Moldy Peaches for years.

I think what Anderson, Coppola and Schwartzman do in The Darjeeling Limited might piss people off for the same reason that Juno pissed me off and I can’t really defend it except that it works in the context of the story.  The world that is created within the pages of The Darjeeling Limited is complete with everybody on the same wave-length whereas in Juno, it felt disjointed.  The script for The Darjeeling Limited is deceptive in its complexity because it is a collection of short stories connected like a Jenga set; you might be able to remove a piece or two without the whole thing collapsing, but it starts to look worse and eventually if you remove enough of the piece, the structure collapses in on itself.  So, yes, you could remove the river scene from the film or the flashback scene in the garage and it wouldn’t ruin the film, but it would make it less stable and it would eat away at the nuances of this world.  The Darjeeling Limited succeeds because it has universal themes wrapped up in an unusual story, whereas Juno is an ordinary story about universal themes.  It’s all in the packaging, I suppose and I liked the package of The Darjeeling Limited and found it to be masterful achievement in screenwriting that begs to be rewarded.  Every utterance is not designed to be hip for hip’s sake, each flourish is rooted deep into the bones of the story, with every nuance well thought out.  I pray that it gets a nomination.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson’s War
James Vanderbilt, Zodiac

I have not read any of these scripts, but I bet that Sorkin’s would be the most entertaining on the page.  It is just chock-full of great dialogue, the kind of back and forth we haven’t seen on the screen in ages.  Supposedly there was much cut out of the final film, a lot of it dealing with the complexities of the current situation in Afghanistan, but I thought Charlie Wilson’s War was pretty great as is and I think the script is the main reason why.  It pops and sizzles on the screen, even when some of the actors do not.

Still, my pick for the best adapted screenplay would have to be No Country for Old Men, which will likely be the winner.  I think that There Will Be Blood and Zodiac are brilliant, but I think those two films owe a lot to the execution.  I would be willing to wager that No Country For Old Men is nearly as affecting on the page.  Cormac McCarthy is notoriously difficult to adapt and this novel especially is tough, but the Coens are intelligent enough to know how to script things so that the power remains the same when it is translated onto the screen.  Adapting a novel for film is a bit like being an interpreter and trying to find the right language to convey a novel’s point in a way that film audiences will understand.  The Coens first book adaptation shows that they have a knack for this sort of thing and it is evident in the scene in which Sheriff Ed Tom Bell goes to that motel room.  What happens?  Well, the point is for you to ask that question and the way in which the Coens decided to write that scene out (and then later film it) leads us to that inevitable question.

Noah Forrest
January 16, 2007

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon