THE VERDICT – Best Motion Picture: 2007

After months of wait, here are the results!

# 5 and # 4 were easy. I really had a hard time ranking the top 3 so…

You can just click on the titles for their profiles.

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5. There Will Be Blood

There’s a lot of potential in this movie: there’s Daniel Day-Lewis’s fantastic if uneven performance, picturesque cinematography, good screenplay, and some fantastic scenes – but all of these are wasted by the lazy direction. It just didn’t keep my interest the whole time.

3

Best Scene: The oil rig explosion, causing H.W.’s deafness
Best Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview

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4. Juno

Fantastically written, wonderfully directed, intelligently directed, and directly told, this is a fabulous movie about a generation of women undergoing turbulent times in her growth represented in this smart-ass but definitely approachable woman. It’s having a hard time in defining itself as something special amidst the wave of independent drama comedies, but it’s a damn great one.

4

Best Scene: Juno refusing to see her baby
Best Performance: Ellen Page as Juno

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3. Michael Clayton

This film caught me by surprise, much to my delight. We have a great cast in great performances, a direction that keeps the tension throughout the film, and a screenplay that will need multiple viewings to be completely understood. I’m glad I did this year because of the newfound great film. If you haven’t watched this film yet, please do. You’re giving yourself a favor.

4

Best Scene: Michael Clayton confronting Karen Crowder about the bribe
Best Performance: George Clooney as Michael Clayton

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2. No Country for Old Men

This was such a hard thing to do. But by preference, I was forced to place this as number two. Still, it doesn’t diminish my high respect and adoration for this fantastic thriller. There is high knowledge in this film that flows through every aspect of the film  – direction, acting, screenplay, cinematography, editing, sound – all. And this serves as one of the best thrillers of recent memory.

Best Scene: Llewelyn running from the unseen killer
Best Performance: Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh

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1. Atonement

I’m really glad I rewatched this film. It’s a testament on how powerful cinema could evoke towards moviegoers. It brings you in the place and never lets go of you for the whole time. Harrowing but definitely romantic, the story is as engaging as it can be, the actors are on the top of their game, and other elements blend well to create a visceral movie experience. I love it.

Best Scene: The Dunkirk sequence
Best Performance: James McAvoy as Robbie Turner

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I think the Academy really hard time picking the best picture winners this year. Four of the nominees make very deserving picks while one, at least, was potentially great.

We all know the battle for the top prize was between Country and Blood, so I think the latter was # 2. Call me crazy, but I think Juno was # 3, given the popularity that it was. Michael Clayton was # 4, and Atonement, sadly, was # 5.

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So, what’s the next year? Drop in your suggestions or you can wait for me to post a poll.

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Thanks for being patient!

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What’s you pick? Do you agree with the Academy, or with me, or you have a different choice?

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Best Picture Profile: No Country for Old Men

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Company: Paramount Vantage / Miramax Films

Runtime: 122 minutes

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The film is about three men connected by crime and death.

The first man is Llewelyn Moss, a welder who goes on deer shooting one sunny afternoon. After seeing a crime scene where there are two cars with drugs on their trunks, he discovers a bag filled with money. Because no one was alive in the scene, he took it.

The second one is Anton Chigurh, a mysterious psychopathic killer who runs after the money that Llewelyn carries. He was tasked to get the money, and with his murderous tricks, he’ll do anything just to get the money back.

The third man is Tom Bell, a sheriff soon to retire trying to trace the whereabouts of Llewelyn and Anton. Serving as the moral element of the story, Tom worries what is happening to his life and to his surroundings.

Throughout the movie is a relentless cat-and-mouse game that results to bloodshed.

So, wow! What a movie!

The direction is as good as you can get. This two-headed director brings out the best of the material in creating an unbearably tense movie that surely brings entertainment and brilliance together. Look at how they bring a very controlled and suffocating atmosphere that never drops the ball when it’s not supposed to. Right from the start of the film, the directors already set a very grim mood that perfectly paces the opening. It’s a very quiet opening, but it definitely pushes the tension right into us as we witness the violence being immersed unto us.

As the movie moves forward, the direction gives us time to breathe, but the creeping sensation of danger is always there. There is always an impending  feeling that death just clings somewhere. There are scenes where they just talk about life, but we are always placed on a situation where we constantly look out for any signs of peril ahead. There is a lot of uncertainty going around in the whole film, and there are a lot of events that could have been randomly placed, but with the director’s full guidance, the film is tightly made and it is a very effective thriller, thanks to its direction.

The screenplay also works so well in creating this world so tense and so intense. Just like the direction, the screenplay relentlessly envelopes the scenario presented in the film with either unbearable ticking clock of the demented psychosis of the characters, or with a subtle but very effective comic relief.

There are times in the movie is built through quietness, every second of silence accelerating the incoming danger. There is the scene where Llewelyn is trying to get the money from where he hid it. Anton hears noises and goes on a very quiet search, costing three lives of people not even involved with the money. That whole scene doesn’t have dialogue, and yet, the screenplay does a lot of work in it.

And there are also times where it is the dialogue that raises the tension. Two scenes to mention in that statement – the scene between Anton and the gas station owner, and the scene between Anton and the desert aire manager – all of these scenes don’t have blood or guns in it. But Anton himself is written as a deadly weapon that will kill you wherever you are. Each scene of interaction creates a ticking time bomb, every tick leading to the possible death.

Aside from the tension made by the writing, I also want to applaud how it had written the characters. Each character has their motives clear unto us – Llewelyn wants a better life, Anton kills for his job, and Tom does everything because he is supposed to. There are stereotypes used to create a bigger palette of people present in this world.

The cinematography of the film helps a lot in painting death all around it. Sure, the dark shades of the landscapes help a lot in shading the film, but it is the interior shots that will definitely haunt you. Some scenes are lit in such a way  that the light is almost confined to a corner, as if the darkness is taking over it all. Or when there is light, that is definitely not the light that will bring warmth and comfort, it is still a dangerous light.

The editing is top-notch. Because of the quiet yet intense nature of the direction, the editing enforces the almost uncontrollable sight of death with the brilliant cuts in the scenes. Wrong editing would automatically give us boring scenes, but the editing itself is in full blast that its pace definitely holds our attention, no matter how bad is happening in front of our eyes.

The sound does a lot with the editing since the movie has almost non-existent music and it’s the sound that feeds the mood to us. Every crunch that we hear from the broken glass provides the rhythm in the scenes. There’s almost no music, but with the editing and sound in synchronization in perfecting the flow of the story, who needs music?

The cast is certainly on the top of their form.

Josh Brolin is great as Llewelyn. He wants no harm, but when he gets into it, he has got no other choice but to respond to the need of a reply from the attackers. Somehow, his actions are really unsympathetic because, who would get money from a crime scene? There’s a lot of crap in it. I myself wouldn’t get the bag of money, even if it is millions. But Brolin anchors a sense of approachability and understanding to Llewelyn the character that we know that he only got the money for the good.

Tommy Lee Jones is good as Tom. He is the most low-key of all the characters in the film and he comes as passive, but that doesn’t mean that he’s got nothing to do. He serves the need for morality and desire for life in the movie. Everybody’s going to die in this game of cat and mouse, but he does his job to prevent it. Something hinders him a bit, and that is his feeling of sadness as he approaches retirement. With all of this thrown in his back, Lee Jones successfully brings every emotion that the role demands. He closes the film with a monologue filled with despair, but somewhat with hope, leaving a remarkable symbol of underlying life ahead of them.

Kelly MacDonald is the only female character in the film that actually means a lot to the narrative, and she serves the role efficiently. Though I did not find her job to be amazing, it’s her performance that profoundly indicates what the movie is about – confusion and desperation. She’s got a husband in trouble, and she faced death face-to-face, and all of these are acted realistically by MacDonald.

Javier Bardem is Anton Chigurh, as someone has said. He completely inhabits the role with such mastery, proficiency, and care that we are just so captivated by his Anton Chigurh. Every move that he makes is calculated, but definitely unpredictable. The haircut could have brought a lot to the character, but without Bardem, the film is nothing. He graces the screen with such confidence and darkness, making Chigurh one of the greatest villains that ever appeared in the history of motion pictures. Words aren’t enough to express how I feel about his. Just watch him.

The rest of the actors in small parts live the spirit of the movie itself. There is the fat manager, the motel receptionist, the businessman, and all of them.

This is a very effective thriller that does not just scares the hell out of you, but it manages to slowly creep under your skin, resulting to better results. The film will stand the test of time, I’m telling you.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: Juno

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Runtime: 96 minutes

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The film is about the titular character Juno MacGuff, a 16-year old high school student with some weirdness, who accidentally gets pregnant after she had sex with her best friend Paul Bleeker. After failing to have her child aborted, she decides to give her child to Mark and Vanessa Loring, a well-off couple living in the suburbs, longing to have their child.

In the process of waiting for her child to be born, her relationship with Paul and the Lorings complicate, bringing out the maturity that she needs in handling the situation. Also, we follow her through a series of events involving her family and friends that leads to her childbirth.

It’s actually hard to discuss the plot without enumerating individual events in this film.

The direction creates a breezy pace that perfectly fits the story. Right from the start of the movie, it brings a lively mood to the story, just like the lead character. It creates a pace that is so easy to ride in but we never compromise the intelligence the direction brings to the table. It’s subtle all-around, nothing showy unlike the other nominees this year, but it carries the film with a steady hand throughout the time. Other directors could have emphasized on the humor or too much on the sad side, but the director carefully handles the material and gracefully blends those two elements together. Again, it’s not flashy, and it would take repeated viewings for you to appreciate the direction here, but when you actually see the brilliance, you cannot just take it for granted.

The screenplay is the one that’s getting the spotlight in the film. Sure, nobody talks like this in real life, but it makes you think that “what if we actually talk like this”. Full of cultural references, the film certainly polarized viewers with its screenplay, but it carries the youthful soul of the film. It establishes the ground of this peculiar girl. Juno’s not your ordinary beautiful, somewhat flirtatious girl, no. She’s different, and the screenplay manages to create her a distinction from other girls without making her an alien.

It also has its humane side. The family side of the film, either with Juno and her parents, or with Vanessa and Mark Loring, is just emotionally affecting. Thy feel like they’re real. The screenplay vividly creates this world with lots of humor from outside, and yet, inside, we get something real.

Of course, the screenplay has its flaws. It’s over-the-top, but it goes too over-the-top at times. I know people don’t talk like this, and I don’t hate it. I even love it. Just saying. Okay, I’ll say a very strange dialogue from the film – “What? Honest to blog?” Okay, that makes me laugh while I’m typing this, but that’s too much, okay? Maybe I love it now, but that is a totally unrealistic line that is one of the film’s weaker lines, but the over-all screenplay is damn good and resonating to the younger generations and to the adults alike.

There is no sense of talking about the other technical parts of this film aside from maybe editing and music. This is an independent contemporary film, and there is nothing to mention in any of its technicalities.

The editing is smart enough to be able to juice out everything it can from the screenplay in the span of 96 minutes without feeling contrived or hurried, just perfect. The music provides the backbone of the film. It’s where the screenplay hinges because it defines what the screenplay want to state about the youth and Juno’s soul, and the music perfectly captures the essence of Juno – smart-ass, but humane.

The performances are top-notch.

Ellen Page is great as the titular character. She carries the film even if she has a supporting cast. Her veracity in the scenes, even with some fake-sounding lines, creates an assurance that we will be with her whatever she does throughout the film. She has a quirky exterior, but inside is a girl who doesn’t want things to be screwed up, but through her attitude, she never lets her guard down to the situation. She’s tough when needed, but we also see scenes where she sheds her protection and lets us see the real her.

In an early scene where she placed a living room set in Paul’s lawn, when she said that she’s pregnant and Paul didn’t have an immediate reaction, there is a powerful shot of her somewhat lowering herself, like she was instantly humiliated by that because he might not accept her. She brings back her confidence in the succeeding scenes because she needs to. A lot of people won’t accept her condition because girls like her would mostly have an abortion, so by keeping the baby, she is doing that will definitely create a steam to the people around her. She’s cool at it, but we know she’s just being brave.

But above all of her wonderful line readings, her best moments are where she lets herself out of her comfort zone and shows herself. Confused inside an abortion clinic, the short pause before she says she’s pregnant, her smile as she sees Vanessa playing with other children, or when she stops by the road just for a moment of outburst – all of these show how she made Juno the character her own.

Though the spotlight is definitely on Page, the supporting cast is not to be underestimated.

J.K. Simmons is wonderful as the calm father of Juno, underlining his desire for a better future for Juno while keeping his father figure. Michael Cera is subtle as Paul. He is not actually great, but I could say it was perfect casting. Olivia Thirlby is cool as Juno’s supportive friend. Jennifer Garner is fantastic as the adoptive mother of Juno’s baby, showing a lot of vulnerability without turning her character into a pathetic one-note. Jason Bateman is really good as the immature adoptive father. Allison Janney brings a lot of dignity and fun to her role as Juno’s stepmother.

Definitely a fantastic group of actors.

And with all of the goodness in this film, I can’t actually find something that makes it special or, I would say, awards material. I know, I’m not looking for an awards-bait. I don’t want to raise a comparison between this movie and the other four nominees this year, but with this being an independent contemporary film, though I find it to be mostly fantastic, I don’t know if there is timelessness in it.

That’s my only criticism for this movie. I’m not saying that this is a bad movie, I would never say that. But it’s just that, I will find a hard time remembering the film’s accomplishments because I can’t actually see much that makes this movie special.

For this, the movie gets:

4
What are your thoughts, dear reader?

I'm definitely hurrying up because we've been stuck with this year for 
months now. Classes will start tomorrow, but I'll definitely finish this 
year.

Best Picture Profile: Michael Clayton

Directed by: Tony Gilroy

Company: Castle Rock Entertainment / Warner Bros. Pictures

Runtime: 119 minutes

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The film is about the titular character who is a fixer of a law firm. One night, his car exploded, realizing that someone wanted to kill him.

Jumping back four days earlier, Michael finds out that one of the firm’s lawyers, Arthur Edens, gets into an outrageous emotional outburst in a deposition involving U-North, a company involved in agricultural products. He was able to get Edens with him, but he escapes.

Karen Crowder, a high-ranking officer in the company, discovers Arthur’s documents containing the details of a pesticide that they produce which turn out to cause cancer. Learning that Arthur has a mental disorder, she hires two men to kill him and make it appear that he had taken suicide.

Michael is now left with no other choice but to find out who did that to Arthur, and he sees links with the U-North personnel. In the process, men start to tail him, in Karen’s order. After a poker game that night, he drives away from the two men, not knowing that they have planted a bomb in his car. As he stops beside a hill with horses, his car explodes.

Seeing it for the first time, I was overwhelmed. Seeing for the second time, I was still overwhelmed, but I already understood it.

The first thing that pops into my mind with this film is the screenplay. It talks about a very complicated subject because it is set in the corporate world. The words used could ave been too simplistic, or too professional, but it refuses to go either way. Instead, it walks into a very fine line between it for us moviegoers to understand what’s going on but at the same time, we know we are not just in our daily lives; we are in the corporate world.

The screenplay flourishes right from the start of the movie.  In a bombastic voice-over monologue brilliantly delivered by Tom Wilkinson (more about him later), the tone is already set right in those minutes. We are in a corporate world where people talk professionally, but it doesn’t neglect the fact that they are not just professionals. They are people, and the human emotions are completely there. It powerfully blends emotions and intelligence right from the start. It already brings us into a fixed direction of the tension, and on the way, it never gets monotonous.

Its genius never stops throughout the film. It follows some conventions of a legal thriller, but it manages to reinvent them into something fresh. Sure, there are points where I was asking to myself “is it going this way, like the conventional one?” and it almost gets you there, until it pulls back to give something new.

It’s actually a very dangerous thing to do because it really looks like it is a commercialized film, not that there is anything bad about it. But we know what’s going on with the film industry right now. Independent productions rule over commercial or mainstream films, and just the term mainstream already connotes something of lesser quality, especially if other movies in the mainstream are either brainless action films, unromantic or schmaltzy romance-dramas, cheap and uninspired horror films, or just stupefying so-called comedies. But movies like Michael Clayton actually give the words commercial and mainstream better image. And I can say it – Michael Clayton is a commercial film. Nothing bad about it, just saying that it is. Okay, enough of that.

The thing is the screenplay has sophistication and intelligence that sets it apart from other mainstream films of its genre. Moving along…

The direction works so well with the screenplay that it, in its entirety, creates a thrilling ride. Going to the direction, it has a lot of energy in it. But it also knows when to go subtle and when to give us the thrilling part and it is very balanced and not turning it to inconsistency. Yes, that’s the word – well-balanced. I could say that the job of the screenplay was bigger in this movie, but the contribution of the direction is no lesser. It stresses out the filmmaking techniques used, but doesn’t overdirect it. Precious did that, but not this (okay, what’s the comparison about, anyway?) Again, I think it is more of a showcase of the screenplay, but the direction definitely has an impressive control and hold in the proceedings, giving the film the right pace.

I can say that the cinematography is not as beautiful as Atonement or as mysterious as No Country for Old Men, but the cinematography of this movie does a lot for this movie. Right from the first shot, it effectively sets the corporate world with something mysterious going on. It comes of with a neo-noirish feel that is so effective in illustrating the movie itself – there are a lot of hidden things in it. Guess what? Even that close up in the wheels of a cabinet-thing is so haunting.

The editing makes the movie more powerful. It constantly raises the intrigue in the scenes. It knows when to give us the quick shots to risen the action, while it also knows when to give us one long Steadicam shot to evoke tension. It never goes overboard and never tries to make the whole editing showy. It does some very complicated job with some scenes but it remains subtle throughout the film.

The costume and production design are not necessarily worthy of any awards or something, but at least they deserve notice for adding actually a lot on the film.

Other things don’t matter now because this, aside from being a writer’s movie and a director’s movie, is an actor’s movie.

George Clooney is on the top of his game as the titular character. Like his beautiful work in Up in the Air, his performance here is not very showy. There are a couple or three of scenes that stand out, but the whole work is very impressive. Mostly, what he needs to do is to embody the character very well for us to actually believe the character’s motivations that push the movie forward. For the whole length of the movie, he does a really great job not just in playing the character, but in being able to define it from his other performances.

Most of Clooney’s detractors say that he always gives the same performance in his movies. Well, I’ve never seen Clooney bring such strength in his work. In Up in the Air, he played vulnerability. Here, he played strength. I guess the similarity comes from the fact that both performances showed restraint.

Going back to his performance, three scenes stand out. First is his climb to the hill, seeing the horses. It was played twice. The first time, the scene focused on the explosion itself. When we saw it again, we are now invested with the reaction of Clooney. He played it with shock but at the same time, it’s like he actually knew it. Of course, we know he didn’t know it, but his reaction was not a full shock. It’s as if it didn’t scare him. It even made him stronger. But what’s noticeable in that scene is his sudden change of reaction. When he saw the horses, it’s like he’s pitying them, unsure of what will happen to the horses. In just a snap, his expression changes when the car exploded. It’s in a snap, but the change was gradual. I don’t know how to say it, but was such a powerful moment in the film.

The second one was his confrontation with Tilda Swinton’s character (more about Tilda later) about her bribing him. It’s where he actually gets angry with a character in the film.  Most of the time, he remains cool. A thing may agitate him, but he keeps it cool. That scene stunned me. When he finally said to her “Do I look like I’m negotiating?”, that is so great. That is what you call the perfect Oscar clip – not in the sense that its only purpose was for him to have an Oscar clip, but it represents the entirety of the performance, which is indeed powerful, while it still is a part of the character’s logical actions.

But if I’m going to pick his Oscar clip, that would be the final shot of the movie – he sitting at the backseat of the car as his cab drives. It’s the only moment where we see Michael in peace. It’s a breathtaking shot masterfully acted by Clooney. There are a lot of emotions taking over him, but he clearly shows us the transition happening in him with just his eyes. It was like, at first, he was in peace, but he starts to tear up, possibly having doubts and regrets. Someone who hasn’t seen the film yet might be confused by what I am saying, but I think it is a powerful way to end the film. That shot on his face just lasts even if the screen is already in black. Definitely an engrossing performance.

Tom Wilkinson and Sydney Pollack adds a lot of integrity and brilliance in their roles. For Wilkinson’s part, it could have been an annoying one-note caricature filled with hysterical antics, but he was able to give a very haunting, and at the same time, natural performance. His voice-over at the start of the film is one of the best voice-overs ever. As in ever. On the other hand, Pollack has less to do, but his outcome is still in the caliber of the great cast. His brief performance looks like more of a showcase of the screenplay, but he handles it very well indeed.

That leads us to Tilda Swinton in an absolutely remarkable performance. Right from her first scene, she establishes a doubtful aura. Maybe it’s her likable presence that makes her antagonist hard to define. What do I mean by hard to define? We like Tilda (or as we should say, as someone said, Saint Tilda) very much even if she kidnaps a child or gets into an extramarital affair with her son, friend. And she also has a deglam of sorts here, so it makes her more likable. But as the film progresses, the film slowly peels off her sympathetic exterior to show us how evil this woman is. Her American accent is very convincing, technically-wise. Her first scenes, including an uncomfortable scene in a cubicle and an intercutting scene while she is practicing her speech, already establish the character’s discreet but violent nature.

Her best scene, her confrontation with Clooney, perfectly draws her character. It is a criminal undergoing a torture of wits with Clooney. We see here how she gets trapped by the situation, and her stunned reaction, together with that weakening of the knees, are all in perfect harmony. What I can only criticize on her character, not her, is that it looked too easy. We know Tilda’s acting range (and we know there’s more!) and with a character of Karen Crowder, no matter how complex her character is, still feels too easy for her because we know she can do better than that. Don’t get me wrong – Karen Crowder the  character is hard to nail. And Swinton gets it so greatly. But we are just stuck in wanting more from her. Anyway, I can’t deny how powerful her presence was.

This movie brings its fully realized material into life and creates a very suspenseful, yet meaningful ride. The lead character was not just used as a device to forward the story; he himself has a story to tell. And this is not an action story, this is a story about morality and how it affects people. This could have been ordinary, but the movie turned out to be something special.

For this, the movie gets:

4

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: There Will Be Blood

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Company: Paramount Vantage / Miramax Films

Runtime: 158 minutes

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 The movie starts with Daniel Plainview, a man looking for minerals. On his way digging down, he finds oil and starts a small drilling company. He meets Paul Sunday and starts to negotiate with him about a piece of land that he owns that he can bargain for.

Arriving at the place, he meets Paul’s twin brother Eli, a pastor in the church located in the vicinity. He increases the amount of the land  to Daniel to fund projects for the church.  Eli’s father interferes, and he was able to buy the land in a bargain.

He establishes a bigger company, hiring people nearby to give them jobs. Eli uses Daniel to further propagate his teachings. But things weren’t that good for Daniel and for the employees. There was an accident involving an employee, and the oil rig explodes and was on fire, bringing Daniel’s boy H.W. loss of hearing.

A man named Henry visits Daniel and claims that he is Daniel’s half-brother. Due to his non-acceptance to the new visitor, H.W. was sent by Daniel to San Francisco. As it turns out, the man is actually not Henry. After this, Daniel joins Eli’s church.

Years after, H.W. comes back to him to fix their relationship. Daniel , now a drunkard but still wealthy, admits that H.W. is not his son. Eli comes back, and Daniel goes with a roller-coaster ride of emotions that will ultimately lead to Eli’s death.

I have to say that I have respect in this film. And I am saying this because it is actually very accomplished. But it also has big holes that distracts my full respect for this.

The direction is somewhat good and intelligent, but most of the times, undecided and lazy.

The good things first: there are scenes in this film that are so well-handled and could compete as the year’s best directed scenes.

The death of the employee as he digs in the pond of oil down below is excruciating to watch because of the brutality, but its unflinching handling of the situation is somewhat fantastic. There is an overwhelming tension in that scene that is already unbearable even if the death didn’t happen yet. It keeps  you on the edge of your seat in that specific scene. It’s that intensity on the hold of the direction that makes this specific scene a well-directed scene.

Another one is the explosion of the oil rig. Definitely one of the best scenes ever filmed. It has a startling quality in its entirety – from the shaking rig to the fall of it after it burned. The direction captures the whole ‘being in there’ feeling. And it grabs the essence of the scene and underlines it in its whole length – it wasn’t the grandiose production or the polished technicality of the scene that makes it important. It was the effect of it in the whole movie. It was not the destruction of the rig that makes it important. It is the loss in Daniel’s side that makes it a shocking scene.

And here are the bad things: a lot of the other scenes , even if still intelligent,  are definitely lifeless. Many of the conversation scenes – Daniel’s conversation to the Sunday family, Daniel’s talk with Henry about his real identity, Daniel and H.W. in the restaurant, among others – these are well-shot scenes. It has a very good screenplay, but the direction is just a mess. It was never cohesive and the whole thing just turns pointless. Too sad that the weakest point of the film is actually the most important. With poor pacing and unwise decisions, the direction of the movie gives the film its biggest letdown.

The screenplay is well-written. We need not care much about the other characters, as they only help to move the story forward, but let us focus on Daniel Plainview.

I like the fact that Plainview is multifaceted. People call sometimes call Plainview a “psychopathic killer” or a “psychotic”, that’s why I am quite surprised when I watched it for the first time. True, there is something going on in his mind that is stated very well in his lines, but it is not simply some murderous or threatening lines you would usually hear with a character normally called as “psychopathic.” He has murderous capacity, that’s for sure, but is not the character’s biggest “thing.”

He has a life, and he cares for it. We could say that he loves oil more than his life. He cares for H.W. more than himself. Maybe not. The screenplay establishes all of the possible doubts and trust in the character so well that we become involved with him. He’s the only driving force of the film, because without Plainview, the film wouldn’t have succeeded. The screenplay gave him depth, which is why we care for this unsympathetic man so much. In his love for oil and, impliedly, money, he becomes selfish. But why do we care so much for him? Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis had given a great performance, but it is also because of the richly textured character.

And also, it was actually smart to start the film with no dialogue. So, the writing is far better than direction. Now, I said it.

The cinematography is terrific. It has the picturesque landscapes and some shadings of white in it, but everything looks sinister. The overwhelming black blending with a little amount of white made it all work. In every shot, there is a mystery, like everything is dangerous. It’s as if this massive hell of a movie is still confined in Plainview’s eyes, and I really like it because it becomes more of a personal journey for Daniel rather than just a showcase of sweeping shots.

The editing is okay. Some scenes edited with such veracity and artistry, like the above mentioned scene about the oil rig. Still, there are some scenes that the editing could have worked for the better. Some scenes are definitely overlong and needs some trimming, but still, it was good.

The sound is actually good. Sometimes, too clear for me to hear things I should not hear, but still fine.

The musical score makes an interesting case. I acknowledge the courage showed in the music. It was definitely non-traditionalist, and I appreciate the effort. But that doesn’t mean that I liked it. I respect it, but I thought that it actually distracted my focus in some scenes. There are also scenes where it worked, but as a whole, I would really have another music score for this film.

The costume design is also good. We see a lot of people in oil. But we also get to see some nice, but not noteworthy dresses there.

In contrast to that, the production design leaves a mark. No explanation needed with that. It’s just one piece of fine work. The oil rigs themselves are pretty impressive. Indoor scenes create a sense of paranoia, suffocation, and claustrophobia in it. In the case of the bowling lane in the end, it’s like “there is no way out there.” And when you have a character like Daniel Plainview, a psychological ticking clock, it terrifies you. And the whole place feels like it is Plainview – dark and sinister, maybe light at sight, but disturbing and dangerous.

The acting is, well… it could be narrowed down to Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano.

Paul Dano is good. He plays two characters here, and unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to draw the line between them. He plays twin brothers Eli and Paul with such similarity and monotony that I actually got confused who is who. On my first viewing of the film, I never actually thought that there is a twin thing. I thought it was just Eli all the way. Maybe it’s the screenplay’s fault of not giving any contrast to the two, but he had the chance to create two different characters. That’s my only criticism on his performance. The rest is really something.

His subtler moments actually are good. He gets to solidify Eli’s presence as the sort of conscience to Daniel in the scenes of quiet tone. Even in the ending, his restrain is actually beautifully done. And there are the loud moments, which are for me, the ones that made me believe Paul Dano can do great acting. His scenes at the church look liked Oscar-begging, but it’s so realistic.

On the other hand, Daniel Day Lewis’ performance turns into a dramatic caricature when he gets noisy. His milkshake scene is an Oscar clip right from its start, and I can feel Daniel is acting hiss ass off that scene because it’s so over-the-top. Actually, it worked, but I was looking for subtlety under that. I mean, even if you’re already so noisy, you should still make it grounded to the reality. It’s just so delicious, yet so theatrical and, yes, unnatural. It really is good, but the over-the-top scenes create a deliciously unnatural performance.

But the subtle moments are actually good. It’s a creepy facade, but I can feel the humanity. He looks so tough and somewhat murderous, but whenever something bad happens, he reacts to it discreetly, but we know he’s upset. When he’s being forced to say that he has abandoned his child, it’s somewhat heartbreaking and so real. His pauses in between his shouting of the guilt in him is like an accumulation of stress. He can’t admit that, but he’s forced, and it’s a terrific scene. It’s a mixed performance, but actually, you can just forget the bad part, just wash the memories away, and you get a hard-hitting performance. When you have a powerful performance, you can just forget any flaws.

While it really has a fair share of accomplishments, I just can’t pass the idea that it’s deeply flawed, and, well, distasteful. I don’t know. It really is something, and I understand the praise, but maybe it’s just… not for me.

For this, the movie gets:

3

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Best Picture Profile: Atonement

Directed by: Joe Wright

Company: Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Relativity Media

Runtime: 123 minutes

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The film starts with Briony Tallis, a young girl aspiring to become a playwright. As she prepares for the play that will be presented tonight, she sees events that she interprets as displays of sexual behavior of their trusted men and old family friend Robbie Turner to her sister Cecilia, on which she reacts discreetly with aggressiveness.

In a series of events and misunderstandings, she sees him having sex with her sister, further prompting her belief that he is a sex maniac. During the dinner, Briony’s cousins disappeared, causing a search. While looking for them, Briony sees her cousin Lola sexually assaulted by a man. With the preconception that Robbie has a disturbing sexual nature, she gives an assurance that the man that raped Lola was Robbie. In the arrival of the police, they arrested Robbie, leaving Cecilia with hope of his return to her.

During the war, Robbie got lost from his group. He meets Cecilia, now a nurse, and receives a post card from her as a symbol of remembrance. On the other hand, Briony is also a nurse serving the soldiers wounded during the battles, experiencing the horrors of war. She decides to meet with Cecilia to ask for forgiveness. In this, she also unexpectedly meets Robbie wherein her presence enrages him.

Now, an aged Briony has written her last novel entitled “Atonement” where she has written her whole life and how her mistakes gave tragedy to the lives of Cecilia and Robbie, who she is in love with.

I always thought that this film was accomplished, but hard to love. I just changed my mind.

The direction is fantastic. It brings you to this series of events with such art and power without having even a second of being overdirected. The first 30 minutes of the film show the director’s prowess to create the story, a complicated story to tell, in those time. Those minutes are vital because that’s where we set the story on, and you need care in those scenes because it establishes what the film is rooted in: truth. We are talking here of the versions of the truth the film has to present through different perspectives. And what we have in those scenes are tense sequences of intertwining views on an event. It’s a fearless handling that is really evident though it never tries to steal the attention to what is really happening.

As the story goes, the feeling of dread  and desperation is immensely visible in the scenes after the affair. The scene where Robbie walks and sees a group of dead women then he remembers the time where Briony tried to drown herself for him to save her, as she has a secret crush on him, is a masterful illustration of the situation. The subtlety of the moment and the underlining sorrow is pitched in a very realistic manner. It doesn’t show fancy camera tricks, just perfect orchestration of shots and music edited together. Then we go back to what is really happening. It’s a realistic approach to the scene that is captured very well.

And what we have next are two great scenes of the movie:

The Dunkirk beach sequence exemplifies the vast knowledge and control of the director. In that renowned one shot, the camera was able to capture the spontaneity of the events filled with despair and with a clinging presence of death. It absorbs the threatening environment that the scene profoundly speaks of. We see violence everywhere and, for me, the thing in that scene that always gets me is that it summarizes the war’s effect in that scene without compressing it to a point that it felt contrived. The horses, the singing soldiers – it all sums up the big wound the war left those involved in it, and we all see it in Robbie. He should not have been there. But it is the tragedy of the scene. The war was the one that we can see, but the point of the whole scene i to show us Robbie’s tragedy. In this, we understand every bit of anger that he has on Briony when he confronted her.

And that leads us to the next great scene: the confrontation of Cecilia, Robbie, and Briony. It’s a fantastically directed scene, especially that it was a pivotal scene in the movie. It unleashes everything Robbie has kept in himself for all this time that he was in the war. Maybe we could that scene to the wonderful acting, or the smart editing, or the brilliant screenplay, but it is all the director’s job to make the whole thing work. It was never meant to be a revenge for Robbie. It’s like a release of all that he has during all those years. Aside from the Dunkirk scene, I could say this is the film’s best scene. More about this scene later.

The screenplay is top-notch. It also had a very complicated job making the whole game of fate and circumstances work. It’s all in coincidences, but the screenplay creates an established panorama of believable characters that you believe every second of their actions and the whole flow never seemed forced. The writing’s work is more evident in the first act because it served the big work in here in planting details so that when we witness the next two acts, which are more reliant on the striking imagery, we understand the poetry in it. Maybe there’s not really much to say about this, but I just want to cite how thin Cecilia Tallis was written. That’s not really a criticism. I’ll say more about that later.

The cinematography is gorgeous. I know how the unique feel was done (with thin stockings) and the result is just perfection. There is a luminous sensation to the scenes. What I can praise in the cinematography is not really the angles (though they’re terribly effective, oh, those water scenes), but its look. The whole movie look classy and a stand-out from the other nominees this year for best picture. This film looked like it was exactly from that era where it was set, of course not counting the contemporary films. The film just looked special. The most beautifully shot part of the film is undoubtedly. It’s where the sharpness is kind of blurry, everything is shiny and glossy without being distracting. It indicates the unclear view of Briony to the events. It creates a glorious feeling to the viewers which totally helps in the building up of the atmosphere.

The editing is delicious. I believe the editor had the hardest job in the first act since I just cannot think of any way to integrate those scenes without being lost in it. Its unbearable build-up of tension is absolutely near-perfect. The scenes in the hospital with Briony are also a great example of how can editing create the world in the eyes of Briony. It’s like the whole world is in high speed without being distracting because we understand that this is Briony’s world. Notice the difference between scenes with Briony and scenes with Robbie and Cecilia. There is a distinction between the two because we know that Briony sees things in a very different way. It’s a skillful and very complicated job for the director, but he surely nails it.

The musical score is majestic. I cannot say much about it except that it was great. There is the massive feeling of tension and classicism in every music that plays. The dynamic use of music brings the movie to a higher level of movie experience. It absorbs us to be in this world full of distrust and panic. I mean, hell! To actually give us the tension that is going on in Briony’s mind, we have music with the sound of the typewriter perfectly integrated and orchestrated – that’s a real genius! I don’t really have much to say except that it was a great job from the composer. No wonder he raked most of the awards for music that year. It’s a juicy role in the making of the over-all impact of the film, and he does it great.

The costume design is excellent. It adroitly illustrates the characters without ever forgetting the sophistication drawn in the clothes. Just look at Cecilia’s green dress. It’s definitely a commendable effort. It’s not just a stylish outfit, it perfectly fits Cecilia’s personality in the succeeding scenes after we first see her with the dress. It signals her subliminal desire for Robbie. It’s a free-flowing, smooth dress that illustrates her independence from decency. It’s a seductive dress that sensationalizes the ensuing seduction that will linger in her scenes with Robbie later. And who will forget its use in the library scene? It’s a taste of seduction without being overt its goal. And let us not forget the other dresses. Briony’s dress in the first act clearly defines her innocent facade that clearly contrasts with her aggressive inside.

The production design completes the film’s over-all atmosphere. From the intricate design of the Dunkirk beach to the simple design of Briony’s room which all makes profound statements. And with the help of the production design, the film felt like it was epic but was so personal. The cinematography captures that, for sure, but the production design made it actually possible. There’s no bit of fallacy in the details emphasized, and even not emphasized, by the film. It’s a whole new world for us to be in, and we all experience that because of the production design.

The acting is undoubtedly the film’s strongest part. Even its weak link is strong enough to fit in the circle of skilled actors.

James McAvoy is excellent as Robbie Turner.When you watch the film, it’s him that will mostly leave a mark on you. It’s a very gentle performance that is full of passion and fire without trying to overshadow anybody else. It’s a refined but not overly mannered role done well by him. The role requires him to give courtesy, but he is not just a servant – he is a friend. When he is angry, the anger that he evokes definitely last. When he is sad, you just feel it. He makes you feel what he feels. There are good actors who can act, but cannot make us feel what they are doing, but not McAvoy. We understand every inch of his actions and words. And his eyes definitely work. Whether he simply looks at the sky, or decides to type a malicious letter, or confronts Briony after the years. It just all work for his amazing performance.

Keira Knightley is actually good, if we are also going to consider how thinly written her role is. She has a lot of conflicts, but just that. She never has a full character. Instead, she sees these events and she just reacts in it. But she does it actually well. She has a reactive character, and she understands that. She’s not the most tragic character, nor the most depressed, but she has a tragedy of her own. She lost her only love, and Knightley sells every minute of that.

Saoirse Ronan gives a serviceable but somewhat disappointing performance as the Young Briony. She does it well, and now, I’m saying this as a favor to the performance, I cannot think of any actress as Young Briony. This means that she fits so well to the role. However, maybe because of the screenplay or maybe just because of her, she merely dissolves into a symbol of distrust and self-confidence. She has a lot more opportunities than Knightley, but I cared for Knightley more than her. Still, I’m not saying she was bad. Actually, I buy the aggressive attitude that she has, especially to Robbie. Ronan is a natural, and I can see that in the dinner scene. But to see this adequate performance getting recognized beside Tilda Swinton in a terrific performance and Amy Ryan in a masterful portrayal in their respective movies, I just don’t think she fits in there. Again, she was not bad, just not that special.

But, hey, the thing that she was able to do well is to establish Briony as a person. In that way, we will not have problems when we already see the older Brionys, and she does that very well.

Romola Garai is wonderful as the Teenage Briony. Her duty is to carry on what Ronan left in the first act. Now, her Briony is much more haunting, due to the fact that this is not an aggressive Briony anymore, it’s a Briony that seeks forgiveness. She plays the character’s intentions very well. Of course, she said that she could do a lot more if she would be a nurse than to write in the university, but is it the real reason? Maybe, she serves the wounded soldiers in the war as a sign of self-forgiveness. She calms herself by treating other soldiers, thinking that she cold have already treated Robbie in a way. For me, it was her way of asking forgiveness.

But it also gives her the inner struggle, which is wonderfully seen in Garai. She is daunted by the awful sight that she has all over her place, but she never lets her guard down. Her steady face already suggests her emotions, and it’s nice to see Briony get some three-dimensionality here through the hands of Garai. In that way, she kind of redeem any shortcomings Ronan showed us in her characterization.

Vanessa Redgrave is heartbraking as the Old Briony. In her last days, Briony releases her last novel to give herself forgiveness. And we all discover that in one scene. It’s amazing how she could tell Briony’s feelings summed up in one scene and break our hearts. Of course, the two actresses who played the younger Brionys helped a lot in putting up a strong foundation for Redgrave’s version, but she adds her own flavor of acting experience and naturalism in her scene. There are no breakdown of tears, just an aching and realistic speech about her regrets and ‘could-have-beens’. She wants to be forgiven, but it is already impossible (in a twist that I won’t reveal even if the movie has been known to all), so she writes the novel. It’s a touching farewell since she is already dying, but her dedication for her novel to be released, in that one scene, is sincerely heartfelt, and dare I say, she deserves the supporting actress nomination more than Ronan.

Even then, it’s a strong cast over-all.

In its totality, it is a poetic journey into the wonders of cinema. and life It voices the unspeakable power of cinematic beauty unlike any other film that year. Repeated viewings definitely help for you to love this film. Adeptly paced and stylishly produced, it serves as one of the stronger movies in recent memory.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

INTRODUCTION – Best Motion Picture: 2007

As promised months ago after a poll, this will be the next year. I have seen four of the nominees, but a rewatch is in desperate need. So, the nominees are:

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Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

No Country For Old Men

There Will Be Blood

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Who would be my pick?

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Would it be the British epic romance? Or the small romantic-drama-comedy? Or the legal drama-thriller? Or the Western crime-thriller? Or the Western drama?

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The arrangement will be by lottery, and the last profile is the Best Picture winner, No Country For Old Men.

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So, dear reader, would I go with the Academy? Or would I go with an another nominee?