Oscar showdown overshadows lack of strong new films

Now that the writers strike is over, Hollywood pundits seem happy to return to the subject closest t

Now that the writers strike is over, Hollywood pundits seem happy to return to the subject closest to their hearts this time of year.

Taking their minds off the usual news that so far we have had nothing close to an outstanding 2008 movie, they are happily hooked on Oscar bait. The ceremony is a week away, starlets are inspecting their gowns, and we are all considering the odds. One more week before we return to time present, and with two mundane months behind us, wondering what’s in store for a new movie year.

In short time, foolish entries like “27 Dresses,” “Fool’s Gold” and fractured romances like “Definitely, Maybe” will be old news. Right now, the new news is old news: the race, or as one intimate observer called it, “the slugfest” between stars and movies vying for top Oscar honors.

So far, just about everyone is predicting “No Country for Old Men” as top picture and Daniel-Day Lewis as best actor for his role in “There Will Be Blood.” These choices do not sit well with viewers, many of them women, who bristle at the idea of two tough, violent films slugging it out for top honors. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this female revolt, or rather, revulsion, and I plan to address the topic in a future column.

Conventional entry

Back to the race, if “No Country for Old Men” fails to get the nod, which could happen if voters turn to “Michael Clayton” (a most worthy choice), that gives “Juno” a chance to rise to the top. Certainly, it is the most conventionally enjoyable entry, almost sure to get a best original screenplay victory for Diablo Cody, who happens to be a woman in a year in which, as I discussed in a recent column, women are responsible for directing and writing some terrific movies.

For now, the attention is focused on the Coen Brothers, who not only directed “No Country for Old Men” but penned the screenplay, adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel. It could be quite a coup for the brothers, Ethan and Joel Coen. Oscars for best movie, best direction, and best adapted screenplay. Too bad they cannot get a statuette for best editing. But hold on, folks. Everyone knows that Roderick Jaynes, nominated for best editing Oscar, is really a pseudonym for two guys: Joel and Ethan Coen.

Holy Cow! Four visits to the podium.

In the best actress category, Julie Christie still seems to be the favorite, but in her native land, the Brits gave their version of the Oscar to Marion Cotillard for her depiction of Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose.” Cotillard has been making the rounds in Hollywood; a win would guarantee more Americans will discover Piaf. That would be a good thing.

Supporting actress

A month ago, Amy Ryan was the odds-on choice for best supporting actress. But now, there’s a chance that 83-year-old Ruby Dee will get a sentimental surge of appreciation for her work as the gangster’s mother in “American Gangster.” Then there is Tilda Swinton, who gets my vote. She is superb as the stern negotiator in “Michael Clayton.”

As for supporting actor, everyone is picking Javier Bardem for his role as the psychotic killer in “No Country for Old Men.” The sentimental choice, and an apt one at that, is Hal Holbrook for his work in “Into the Wild.”

If there are upsets Oscar evening, and you are a sucker for longshot wagers, think Holbrook and “Juno.”

Meanwhile, if you are up for Oscar perspective, travel back 40 years ago — the other day — and consider the nominees in the major categories. Next week, more about those movies and actors whose names still resonate for all sorts of important reasons.

Categories: Life and Arts

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