The box office intake from this year’s five best picture nominees sits just north of $300 million, which is the second lowest tally from that group in two decades. While mainstream audiences were slow to embrace the top nominees — except breakout hit “Juno” — the quality from top to bottom is strong. Despite clear frontrunners in almost every major category, the night — led by host Jon Stewart — should be entertaining and exciting, proving why the Oscars are the only awards show left in which the awards actually mean something.
At this point, it seems like “No Country For Old Men” has this award in the bag. After winning the top prize at the Directors, Screen Actors, Writers, and Producers Guild Awards, it clearly has the momentum and is the film to beat. Critical favorite “There Will Be Blood” and Golden Globe winner “Atonement” are runners-up, but they really don’t stand much of a chance. The Pick: “No Country For Old Men”
For the fourth year in a row, the winner here is a shoe-in. Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” was hauntingly explosive, showing why his rare on-screen appearances are so special. In spite of George Clooney’s best all-around performance and the always-entertaining Johnny Depp, this belongs to Day-Lewis hands down. The Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis
No matter how much I liked “Juno” and its star turn by Ellen Page, this has become a two-person race between Julie Christie in “Away From Her” and Marion Cotillard in “La Vie En Rose.” Christie’s performance, which saw her character succumb to Alzheimer’s, has won the majority of the awards so far and should win this as well. The Pick: Julie Christie
Best Supporting Actor
In any other year, Philip Seymour Hoffman would be a lock for his second Oscar win with “Charlie Wilson’s War.” However, Javier Bardem was simply superb in “No Country,” creating one of the most memorable villains in recent memory. Sorry friend-o, but this is Bardem’s award all the way. The Pick: Javier Bardem
Best Supporting Actress
The murkiest category of the year, with three actresses having a legitimate shot at winning. Amy Ryan drew raves for her work in “Gone Baby Gone,” Cate Blanchett won the Globe for “I’m Not There,” and then 83-year-old Ruby Dee won the Screen Actors prize for “American Gangster.” The Academy loves Blanchett, as evidenced by her previous win for "The Aviator" and the two nods this year, so I give her the slight edge. The Pick: Cate Blanchett
The Coen brothers did an exceptional job in adapting Cormac McCarthy’s beloved novel, “No Country For Old Men,” and in the process created the most engaging film of the year. They’ve practically won every single directing award already and should finally earn their first Best Director statue. The Pick: Joel and Ethan Coen
Best Original Screenplay
While the Academy rarely awards its top prizes to comedies, stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody’s script for “Juno” is too good to pass up. The wacky world and eccentric dialogue she created was wholly unique and the driving force behind the film, which charmed audiences all across the country. The Pick: Diablo Cody
Best Adapted Screenplay
It should come as no surprise that this award goes to the Coen brothers as well. Seriously, if you haven’t already seen this film, what are you waiting for? The Pick: Joel and Ethan Coen
Best Animated Feature: “Ratatouille”
Best Art Direction: “Sweeney Todd”
Best Cinematography: “There Will Be Blood”
Best Costume Design: “Atonement”
Best Documentary: “No End In Sight”
Best Film Editing: “No Country For Old Men”
Best Foreign Language Film: “The Counterfeiters”
Best Makeup: “La Vie En Rose”
Best Original Score: “Atonement”
Best Original Song: “Once”
Best Sound Editing: “Transformers”
Best Sound Mixing: “Transformers”
Best Visual Effects: “Transformers”
Despite what the title suggests, “There Will Be Blood” is not a horror film, nor is there much bloodshed onscreen. Instead, it is the story of a man who loses his soul when he is consumed by his own selfishness and unquenchable greed.
We are first introduced to Daniel Plainview, brought to life by the great Daniel Day-Lewis, at the dawn of the 20th century. He is in California looking to strike it big in the booming oil business, and during the opening 15 minutes — mesmerizingly told sans dialogue — he succeeds.
Then over the course of the next two hours, Plainview decomposes in front of our eyes. We see him continually backstab everyone in his life and commit heinous acts, all while refusing to live for anyone but himself. In spite of this depravity, his journey is fascinating as it unfolds, and there are even brief moments where you begin to like him. However, the film’s main downfall is that it never makes a purpose behind his collapse clear.
Paul Thomas Anderson, the brilliant director behind “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” fails to establish a lesson or moral truism to accompany the bleak tale. On the one hand, it wants to be a cautionary story in much the same way as “Citizen Kane,” yet it continually shrouds itself in vagueness, which impedes the development of a thesis.
Plainview’s inner destruction — which culminates during the conclusion — seems to be his desired outcome all along, almost to the point where he wishes to end up alone and waste away with his vapid wealth. Perhaps that he is never held responsible for his evil deeds is what is most disturbing, leaving us wondering if it can be considered punishment when he reaps what he desires.
You almost have to look to Jonny Greenwood’s dark score for any answers, which is superbly unsettling in its own right. Mirroring the rot and decay of Plainview’s moral sinews, it often communicates his state of mind better than the actions onscreen. The work of Greenwood — the famed guitarist of Radiohead — beautifully serves as its own story within the larger picture and delivers an unforgettable impact.
While “There Will Be Blood” is a radical departure for Anderson, he is unable to fully encapsulate the boldness of the change, which was loosely inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!” On the other hand, Day-Lewis’ performance is nothing short of masterful. His powerhouse display, combined with the high respect he has from the Academy, is sure to position him as a frontrunner in this year’s Best Actor race. Nevertheless, the lack of a discernable message prevents the film itself from being the masterpiece it could have been.