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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 2007-2008)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2007

Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

No Country for Old Men

There Will Be Blood

Analysis:

Atonement is such a great film. It’s weird that it sort of flatlined early and never stood a chance.

I remember this one so clearly. It came out early and was the “obvious” Oscar choice of the year. Immediately it was the classical choice. And when it came out, I never really had any expectations for it except a bunch of my friends were excited because they loved the book. And then I saw it on Christmas Day and loved it. Like, out and out loved it. And I remember seeing it again in January with a bunch of friends (on the day Heath Ledger died, which is just a random fact I always remember. Because I got a text midway through the movie about it happening), and still loving it. And it won the Golden Globe that year too. Though no one took that seriously because it was in the middle of the strike and the show wasn’t even televised. But then, after the nominations, it just kind of went nowhere.

It’s about a little girl who is the center of the world, in her eyes. She’s writing a play and she’s getting her cousins to act in it, and that’s how things are going. And her sister meanwhile has a weird forbidden attraction to the family gardener, which she’s unable to really do anything about, because of social stature. And we watch over the course of the day as a series of miscommunications and misinterpretations lead to something very bad happening. And we watch the reverberations of that action over other periods of these characters’ lives.

It’s a great movie. And it holds up. It’s terrific. This could have won in another year. It probably wouldn’t have been a great winner, but it’s well worth the nomination it got. I love this movie and it unfortunately happened in one of the strongest overall years in a while. Imagine there were ten nominees here. Man, would they have had some great choices. This is kind of a fourth choice here, maybe a third, and it would have been a #2 or a #1 in other years. That’s how strong this category is.

Juno is a phenomenon of a film. I remember this hitting festivals and getting a lot of buzz, and I managed to see it the weekend it came out in super limited release, and I loved it. Because it’s wonderful. And then it started growing and growing and getting bigger and people kept talking it up. And then the backlash happened, and by the time the Oscars came around, people fucking hated this movie. Which is a shame.

Ellen Page is a wise-cracking teenager who gets pregnant. And the film is about her decision to give up the baby to a couple looking to adopt, and about her pregnancy. Its’ wickedly funny, even if the dialogue is very… not everyone’s gonna like the dialogue. It’s almost a perfect nominee for 2007 because it represents a film that really was huge at the time that is really what a film ought to aspire to. A nice little movie with no real aspirations that people latch onto and really like. It had no chance here, but as a nominee, I love it.

Sure, it’s a fifth choice, but the fact that it’s even here is awesome.

Michael Clayton is such a perfect movie. This movie is getting better with age. I almost wish this happened in another year, because this could have won. It’s that good.

George Clooney is a lawyer who is a “fixer.” He makes problems go away. And the film, told non-chronologically, is about him dealing with his mentor, a lawyer on a major case for a pesticide company who cause a lot of problems for people’s health and has been tying the case up in court for years rather than pay these people, going seemingly nuts. So the company is wondering what the hell the mentor is doing, and Clooney is there to help fix the problem. And this embroils him into a whole bunch of other stuff.

It’s so good. This movie is actually perfect. This one’s gonna hold up. And it’s only because the next two films are also perfect that I can’t take it. Fucking hell, this category is so good that the third choice might win the previous three years.

No Country for Old Men is the Coens finally breaking through the Oscar barrier. For a film you wouldn’t think would strike that chord, too. But hey, whatever works, right?

Josh Brolin is a guy who happens upon a drug deal gone wrong and makes off with a suitcase full of $2 million. After a moment of compassion (or stupidity), he finds himself being trailed by a sociopathic hitman, Javier Bardem. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones is a sheriff tasked with solving the murders committed in the drug deal.

This movie is so good. When I saw this for the first time — first, I applauded at the ending, knowing that everyone around me hated it. And second, I said, “That was the best movie of the year.” Which was great, because you’d think that was a wrap. And then…

There Will Be Blood is one of the greatest films ever made. I will stand by that, and I think time is working in my favor on that one.

My god, what a masterpiece this is. This movie blew me away when I saw it. I remember at the time not having real access to transportation and taking a trip over a bridge to see this in a theater. Basically, my mother and sister went shopping, and I went to the theater to see this because the mall theater that was playing it was the only one playing it near me. And I was so awestruck by it that I ended up going back to see it twice more in theaters within the next month. And that was 2007, where no one went back to see things in theaters more than once.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an unscrupulous oil man trying to build a well in a town. That’s all you need to know, and if you haven’t already seen this, then you gotta get up on films more. Because goddamn, man.

This movie is perfect all the way through, and legitimately — I’d vote for Atonement. But then Michael Clayton I’d probably take (now, anyway) slightly more. And then No Country for Old Men shows up and that’s the automatic winner. And then this shows up and it’s like, “Holy fuck, man.” How much more of an embarrassment can these riches be?

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: The real marvel of this category is how it can be automatic and cut-and-dry and still have four films that would have made great winners in their own right.

There Will Be Blood is the choice. That movie is just too perfect for words.

No Country for Old Men is amazing. Michael Clayton is incredible. Atonement — fantastic. But they’re not There Will Be Blood.

There’s perfect and then there’s all-time. And There Will Be Blood is all-time. I can’t ignore that.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. There Will Be Blood
  2. No Country for Old Men
  3. Michael Clayton
  4. Atonement
  5. Juno

My Vote: There Will Be Blood

Recommendations:

There Will Be Blood is full on essential, and it’s gonna go down as one of the most essential American films ever made.

No Country for Old Men is essential. It won Best Picture and it’s the Coen brothers. That’s entry level stuff.

Michael Clayton is essential. This is gonna hold up so well over time, and it’s just a wonderful piece of cinema. All film buffs need to see this movie.

Atonement is maybe essential? It was when it came out, now it might not be. I can’t tell. It’s a very high recommend at worst, and for me, I call it essential, so take that for what you will.

Juno is culturally essential. This was a phenomenon. The more time goes by, the more it’s probably not essential, but it’s still a very high recommend and a terrific movie. Just consider the entire category essential. That’s easy.

The Last Word: No Country for Old Men is a great choice. I cannot argue with it whatsoever. That said, time is gonna show that the best choice in this category would have been There Will Be Blood. It’s really only the difference of a very good choice for Best Picture versus a great choice for Best Picture. They did nothing wrong or worthy of fault, but time is gonna show that there was a better decision to be had.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – – 

2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Frost/Nixon

Milk

The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

Analysis:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a wonderful film. The one that finally put David Fincher on the Oscar map. It might have won too, were it not for the… sl-underdog.

It’s about a man who ages in reverse. He is born an old man, and as he grows up, he gets younger. And the film is about his extraordinary life.

This is a great movie. I haven’t watched it as much as I probably should have, but each time I go back to it, I like it a lot. The problem though is that it’ll never be my favorite in the category. Maybe it’s Fincher’s directorial style, but it’s just a bit too cold for me. Whereas the film I’m going to take is just full of life and of energy. And I think that’s what people responded to.

Plus… this.

Frost/Nixon is one of those quintessential #4 choices. I’ve always used this as my go-to example.

It’s about David Frost, a TV interviewer who scores the interview of a lifetime — the first interview Nixon gave after his resignation. Frost wasn’t known for giving hard questions, and it was thought of as Nixon deliberately going for someone who wouldn’t challenge him with the hard questions. And the film is about Frost preparing for this interview, knowing the stakes, and the eventual “battle” between the two men, as Frost tries to get Nixon to answer the tough questions and Nixon evades him over the series of interviews.

It’s a really good movie. Ron Howard knows how to make a really solid movie. He also hasn’t really made a great movie either. They’re all in that four-star, really solid range. And his movies almost always feel like they’re fine, and worthy of a Best Picture nomination, but rarely do you like them enough to take them. That’s why I feel this is the perfect #4. You look at this category — Slumdog, Milk and Benjamin Button are the top three for most people, no matter how you rank them. And then this is below that. The first three you’d think about taking, but this one — “Yeah, I like it, but no.” That’s what #4 is all about.

Milk is a biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States.

Sean Penn plays Milk, and the movie is great.

It’s another example of a top tier leading performance putting a biopic into the Best Picture conversation. Ray, Capote — these get on when the performance is there. And this movie is legitimately very good. It’s a third choice all around for me. I love it, but I wouldn’t vote for it. Not over the other two. You could make an argument this is the second choice, but I still wouldn’t take it over Slumdog. I get people who would, I just wouldn’t.

The Reader is the film that everyone hated on when it came out. Because one, no one saw it, and two, The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated, and this got on instead. And you look at it and go, “What?”

It’s a good movie. Let me start with that. Clearly a fifth choice and clearly forgotten already. But it’s a good movie. This movie was part of the reason why they expanded the Best Picture field.

It’s about a young boy who, on his way home from school one day, comes upon Kate Winslet. The two begin a sexual relationship. And over time, he teaches her how to read. Eventually she leaves suddenly without a word. Years later, as an adult, the man sees a trial and recognizes Winslet as one of the defendants. Turns out, she was a concentration camp guard, and because she couldn’t read, had no idea what any of the papers were and was the one they made to sign them. He knows she’s keeping quiet because she’s embarrassed about the truth, and he struggles with the idea of coming forward to say it.

It’s a good drama. Not sure I’d have nominated it, but it’s not the biggest disgrace to the Best Picture field that some might think. It just — didn’t need to be here. It’s good enough on its own. But, it is what it is. Fifth choice.

Slumdog Millionaire is one of those movies… no idea how this has held up as a winner, but at the time, this was the ultimate charmer of 2008. I will say that.

It’s about a kid who ends up on Indian Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He’s from the slums, not educated, and yet he’s one question away from winning a million dollars. The authorities think he’s cheating, but as they question him, they see that, somehow, his entire life has built to this one moment, and we begin to see why he’s on the show to begin with. And it’s just wonderful.

It’s hard not to love this movie. Maybe you don’t vote for it, but it’s hard not to fall for this one. It’s so charming and so well done. Were other films in this category, perhaps this wouldn’t be the choice for me. But the way it is now, this has to be the choice. It’s top two no matter how you slice it, but there’s really nothing else that feels like a better choice than this.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Slumdog. The Reader and Frost/Nixon aren’t happening. Milk I like but wouldn’t take. And between Slumdog and Benjamin Button, I just find Button too cold to really go for. Slumdog just speaks to me more, so that’s what I’m voting for.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Slumdog Millionaire
  2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  3. Milk
  4. Frost/Nixon
  5. The Reader

My Vote: Slumdog Millionaire

Recommendations:

Slumdog Millionaire is essential. Best Picture winner, great film, and culturally it gets referenced a lot. All around gotta see.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is David Fincher. His films are essential by now, are they not?

Milk is a very high recommend at worst. Not sure if it’s full on essential, but I’d consider it essential. So just see it. It’s wonderful.

Frost/Nixon is Ron Howard, making it very solid and worthy of a watch. Not essential, but a high recommend. You’ll like this.

The Reader is solid. Moderate recommend. Only essential for Oscar buffs because of the win, otherwise it can be skipped. Though it is good enough to be worth seeing. It’s better than you think it is.

The Last Word: Slumdog is a good choice. I can’t see anything better. Benjamin Button is the only other choice they really could have made, and that wouldn’t have held up any better. So it’s fine. A solid choice that ends up around middle of the pack, historically. Solid, but not amazing, but still worthy of having won.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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