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Friday, Feb 22, 2008


At this point in its cinematic history, the zombie has been reduced to a journeyman horror workhorse. In a genre that once saw it as a frightmare superstar, rabid fanboy love (and the accompanying desire to show such affection via homemade imitation) has reduced your standard cannibalistic corpse into a hackneyed terror tenet. Gone are the days when the novelty of the creature could carry an entire film. Now, if there aren’t CGI hordes of these flesh craving fiends defying logic and physicality as they sprint across the screen like undead athletes, fright fans groan in disapproval. It will be interesting to see how they greet Jorge Grau’s 1974 old school scary movie The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Also known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, there’s a lot here that a new fangled macabre maven could love. There is also a great deal to test their post-modern patience. 


While on his way to a holiday in the country, antiquities dealer George has his motorcycle totaled by inconsiderate driver Edna. They strike up a bargain - she will take him to his cottage, if he will first let her visit her sick sister. Lost along the way, they seek directions from a local farmer. He is in the process of using a newfangled government device that kills bugs and other parasites via radioactivity. What they don’t know is that the machine also resurrects the dead. Edna is attacked by a strange man, and when they arrive at her sibling’s, the crazed woman is screaming about the death of her husband. Of course, the conservative police inspector doesn’t believe a word of their story. He thinks the duo are murderous hippies ala The Manson Family, ready to turn his lush part of England into their own killing fields. It will take more than a few hysterics to convince him there’s something more sinister going on. The reanimated bodies tearing up the hospital may be all the proof anyone needs.


If you’re looking for the missing link between George Romero’s zombie epics and his splattery Italian copycats, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue might just be that absentee connection. Combining the American ideal of suspense and social commentary with the Mediterranean love of all things gross and gory, Spanish transplant Jorge Grau was given a simple mandate by this eager backers - create a commercially viable color rip off of Romero’s 1968 black and white Night. With a long list of credits including recent genre efforts Penalty of Death and Bloody Ceremony (both from ‘73), the filmmaker was provided a hefty budget and the run of Cinecitta Studios. With some location work in England, and the growing emergence of Italian special effects, Grau gave his audience more than they bargained for.

Indeed, the main thing you notice about Manchester Morgue is the anti-counterculture screeds from American actor Arthur Kennedy. Attempting a passable Irish/Scottish brogue, and looking like your typical Establishment goon, the former Hollywood star repeatedly rails against, hippies, drugs, youth, long hair, non-conformity, and anything else that comes into his button down mind. He is backed up by some local bureaucrat that uses his preoccupation with the occult to accuse the newly arrived city slicker suspects of Satanism. It’s a weird juxtaposition. On the one hand, you have the typical zombie dramatics - dark night, groaning and heavy breathing, the sudden appearance of a reanimated corpse. But by placing the blame squarely on our hero and heroine, Grau gives his movie a touch of necessary realism.


There is also a staunch pro-environment message here as well. The radioactive bug zapper, its five mile range bringing the recently deceased back to life, is part of a multilayered look by Grau at that time tested standby, man vs. nature. At the beginning, when George is riding around London on his motorcycle, we see shots of nuclear power plants and dirty, decaying buildings. This is not the slick, high tech city circa 2008. Instead, Manchester Morgue suggests a metropolis dying under the influence of crass corporate and industrial practices. There’s even an overheard radio broadcast later on that supports such a view. Our lead also loves to chide the workers running the big red atom smashing pest controller. His shouting matches over the effect on the land - and later, the local corpses - provide the film with a solid bedrock of beliefs.


But for most horror fans, it’s gore that delivers the most perverse pleasure, and Manchester Morgue doesn’t disappoint. While you have to wade through 80 moody minutes to get to the sluice, Grau gives in to our basic bloodlusts. We get axes to the head, disemboweling, lopped off breasts, several bites to the neck, and enough walking ghouls to infect even the most cynical fan with a good case of the heebie jeebies. When you combine this material with the film’s already pea soup thick tone, it becomes a very unsettling experience. Like most great fear flicks, we get the distinct impression that anyone can die at any time. And since Kennedy is simply jonesing to deliver a little conservative comeuppance to the two ‘long hairs’ he feels are responsible, we get double the threat.


But The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue is really centered on style and approach. Grau doesn’t give in to the temptation to merely imitate Romero. He avoids the documentary dynamic that made Night so memorable, and instead seems to channel a great deal of Hammer’s horror ideal. Similarly, the film is not fully Italian. Instead of completely painting the cinematic canvas red, this director explores character, hot button issues, and religious symbolism as a way to make his monster mythology more believable. There are oddball elements interspersed here and there - the opening London travelogue with the occasional mysterious figures in the background, the notion that the zombie can “create” members of their killer brood by the application of blood to the eyelids - but since Grau keeps everything else grounded, we buy their overall non-believability.


Thanks to Blue Undergroud’s exceptional new transfer (bright and basically flawless) and attention to added DVD content (we get interviews with Grau, star Ray Lovelock and F/X artist Gianmetto De Rossi), The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is poised to be rediscovered by a new generation of terror aficionados. And it definitely deserves the chance, if for no other reason than to show how the entire subgenre changed and mutated to fit the current social and political clime. Instead of feeling dated, as some ‘70s films find themselves, there’s a timeless quality to what this movie accomplishes. By looking to the past while focusing on the present, Grau gives us an experience to contemplate for decades to come. It’s a dark and very disturbing vision. It also proves that, when done right, zombies can still be the creepshow kings. It’s a lesson many post-millennial moviemakers could definitely learn. 



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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008


For the weekend beginning 22 February, here are the films in focus:


Be Kind, Rewind [rating: 9]


At its core, Be Kind, Rewind is a brilliant dissection of the effect the video cassette had on the concept of movie fandom and its lasting impact of cinema in general.


There’s a strange sort of feeling that comes over a person when they stumble across another’s love letters. Of course, there’s the inherent curiosity of seeing how someone else expresses their emotion. But there can also be a small amount of discomfort, especially when the individual invaded bares their soul so completely. This will probably be the reaction most moviegoers have to Michele Gondry’s magical masterwork Be Kind, Rewind. Those looking for a riotous comedy featuring a fully unleashed Jack Black should probably wait for the comedian’s next high concept project. In this French filmmaker’s personal paean to the ‘80s and home video, everything - including the performances - is in service of his passionate, very personal vision.read full review…


Other Releases - In Brief


Vantage Point [rating: 5]


When a movie has to rely on a series of cinematic stunts to achieve its ends, the convolutions are bound to undermine the ambitions - and that’s exactly what happens in Peter Travis’ around about political thriller. Using the attempted assassination of a US president at a massive world terrorism summit (and an additional suicide bombing) as the grist for a ‘keep ‘em guessing’ bit of conspiracy theorizing, this TV director can only trade on a single glorified gimmick. The event here is replayed at least eight times, viewed from as many personal perspectives as possible, providing snippets of truth and indirect clues along the way. While the concept seems competent in theory, the execution is spotty and uninspired. Every time we think we have a handle on all the back stabbing, uneasy alliances, and double crossing, Barry Levy’s script takes an illogical shortcut, using unbelievable coincidence and contrivance to get all the actors in the same space at the same time. While the performances are uniformly good, and the last act car chase gets the pulse pounding, the overall effect is dizzying. Like a terminal case of déjà vu, Vantage Point appears destined to repeat its problems over an over again. And then it does.


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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008


There’s a strange sort of feeling that comes over a person when they stumble across another’s love letters. Of course, there’s the inherent curiosity of seeing how someone else expresses their emotion. But there can also be a small amount of discomfort, especially when the individual invaded bares their soul so completely. This will probably be the reaction most moviegoers have to Michele Gondry’s magical masterwork Be Kind, Rewind. Those looking for a riotous comedy featuring a fully unleashed Jack Black should probably wait for the comedian’s next high concept project. In this French filmmaker’s personal paean to the ‘80s and home video, everything - including the performances - is in service of his passionate, very personal vision.


In a rundown section of Passaic, New Jersey, Mr. Fletcher owns a mom and pop video store. Specializing in video tapes, he soon realizes he may have to modernize - especially with the city threatening to condemn his building and put him out of business. Leaving his likable clerk Mike in charge, the desperate man heads off on a fact finding mission. He has only one mandate - keep the loose canon crazy man Jerry out of the shop. Seems the manic mechanic believes the electric company is scrambling his brains. After an aborted mission to sabotage the utility, Jerry is magnetized. When he enters the store, all of Fletcher’s inventory is erased. Hoping to stave off disaster - and the boss’s personal spy, the nosy Mrs. Falewicz - Mike gets Jerry and dry cleaner employee Alma to help him recreate all the movies lost. He will then use these “sweded” versions of the films to keep the enterprise afloat. Hopefully.


Be Kind, Rewind, is the sort of movie you have to step away from for a moment - especially in light of the creative conceit that appears to be driving the narrative. When you learn that the main thrust of the film will focus on the ‘recreation’ (or ‘sweding’, as the script calls it) of classic ‘80s films - Ghostbusters, Robocop, Driving Miss Daisy, etc. - you expect that material to be golden. And it really is, Gondry relying on his typical homemade special effects aesthetic to mine amazing satire out of the spoofs. But once you realize how these knockoffs are made - from memory, without screenplays or copies of the films to work from - you begin to see the director’s designs. There is indeed much more to this movie than a series of pointed parodies. At its core, Be Kind, Rewind is a brilliant dissection of the effect the video cassette has had on the concept of movie fandom and its lasting impact of cinema in general.


It all begins with the premise: two semi-slackers - one, a determined video store clerk with artistic ambitions; the other, a technologically tuned-in cynic who sees the mainstream as manipulative and evil. Together, they become an independent force for film, taking iconic motion pictures and processing them through their own pop culture blender. It’s like watching the onscreen birth of Quentin Tarantino and Ain’t It Cool News simultaneously. Even better, the resulting movies become so meaningful to the clientele, so part of who they are as an audience and a community, that they rally around the guys when trouble strikes - in this case, Sigourney Weaver in a wicked cameo as a copyright touting studio suit. Everything that home video did to the medium - the ready accessibility, the collector’s obsession, the direct connection, the self-righteous self importance - becomes part of the thematic landscape that Gondry explores. It’s like an analog trip in the way-back machine.


And he does so in a more straightforward, less surreal manner, than ever before. Working from his own script, the filmmaker finds the perfect balance between the odd and the ordinary, taking outside issues (Fats Waller, jazz rent parties, the history of Passaic) and juxtaposing them against Mike and Jerry’s adventures in moviemaking. Unlike previous films, where Gondry was forced to battle with elements of magical realism, the fairytale, and the downright bizarre, he gives himself the freedom to explore both the real and the unreal world, to wander through a specific universe peppered with as much imagination and invention as the slightly sci-fi realms he’s worked in before. 


Gondry also has yet another amazing cast to help him. Mos Def’s Mike is the heart of Be Kind, Rewind. He provides the motivation to make us care, along with the vision to keep us involved. Taking point is Black as the brain addled Jerry. Walking a very thin line between endearing and aggravating, we buy most of what the character presents only because the film finds a way to keep his whimsy cheery and in check. Danny Glover and Mia Farrow add skilled, old school flavor as Fletcher and Falewicz, respectively, and former MTV fave Kid Creole does a delightful job as the manager of a local ‘Blockbuster’ style store. But the real discovery here is Melonie Diaz. While she’s worked consistently in smaller budgeted films, this is one of her first mainstream roles, and she’s great as the direct and dictatorial Alma. Without her guidance (and fiscal gifts), our heroes would be nothing but unheralded hacks.

But when it’s all put together, when Gondry’s subversive message about the way VHS revised our perception of film finally finishes, Be Kind, Rewind becomes a celebration of cinema as both a medium and a message. From the subtle references to other like minded films (the ending is so Cinema Paradiso that Giuseppe Turnatore should be flattered…or filing a lawsuit) to the original use of post-punk DIY spirit, this is an artist assembling his greatest hits in hopes it will resonate with an already jaded demographic. The biggest hurdle this fine film will have to face is a know-it-all audience that sees too much of themselves in Mike and Jerry. While Gondry definitely champions their wide-eyed wonder, the ending suggests that belief will have to succumb to business as usual. With ads selling the story as a nonstop collection of moronic remakes, there will definitely be some buyer’s remorse.


But unlike the bloated blockbusters from two decades ago, there’s a subtext to this movie beyond a single oversold gimmick. Be Kind, Rewind is as hilarious as it is heartfelt, a fully formed film, not a simple set-up for a collection of copies. And when you consider the history of videotape, how it turned a dying medium into a potent, and profitable, cultural signpost, the parallels here become all the more significant. Years from now, when scholars are ruminating on movies that accurately reflected the inherent issues within the artform, Gondry’s greatness will be revealed. Until that time, be brave and take a gander at this man’s outspoken adoration for the format that changed everything. Forget HD. Ignore DVD. The VCR was perhaps the most important filmic force since sound and color - and Be Kind, Rewind understands this all too well. That’s why it’s such a smart, sensational film.



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Wednesday, Feb 20, 2008


It’s bandwagon jumping time, and since Hollywood is about ready to hand out its own brand of bewildering backslapping, the 19-month-old SE&L figures it too can champion its own choices for award winners. Oscar might have the hoopla, the bags of swag, and all that staggering star power, but what the newly christened SEALS have is something the Academy can never boast – artistic integrity. Granted, the gray hairs in the group sometimes get it right – can’t argue with all their choices, Crash aside – and it’s possible that these new prizes will clash with conventional thinking. But when it comes right down to it, if Blockbuster Video, MTV, and The National Rolling (Down a Hill) Association can declare their preferences for the year’s trophy-deserving best, why can’t we?


That being said, we have to set up some guidelines. First and foremost, as joking Johnny-Come-Latelys, we will avoid the already nominated Academy entries. If it has already been pointed out by Oscar, we will let the Gold One have his glory and simply move on. After all, nothing smacks more of Tinsel Town tonsils to tushy than agreeing on who they feel deserves Best of Year recognition. Secondly, we will try to mine the ENTIRE previous 12 months in film. We won’t skip over efforts from January or March just because most of the cachet pictures wind up playing between November and December. And finally, this isn’t a competition. Other choices may be mentioned, but the SEALS don’t play the nomination game. Either you’re a winner, or you’re not.


So, without further ado, lame jokes from a PC host, or an interpretive dance number based around the choices for Best Song, here are the 2008 SEALS:


Best Film – Gone Baby Gone
Clint Eastwood was called some kind of GOD for turning Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River into a Method over-acting melodrama. In a perfect world, Ben Affleck’s take on another of the author’s South Boston whodunits would have been equally praised. Instead, Oscar more or less forgot about it. Too bad, really. This is the kind of engrossing, energetic cinematic tour de force from both sides of the camera that restores your faith in film. Long after the Coens and PT Anderson have gathered up their aesthetic and gone home, this will be the movie audiences return to again and again. In a year of great works, this is definitely the best.


Best Director – David Fincher (Zodiac)
It’s hard enough to capture the look of the ‘70s, let alone the predominant post-peace generation malaise. Now add in the biggest unsolved murder spree in California history, and the man who made his name with the classic serial killer saga Se7en, and you’ve got several impossible cinematic mountains to climb. Drawing on his own memories of the era, Fincher maneuvered all of these potential pitfalls flawlessly. This is Helter Skelter without the Mansion Family mania, a police procedural that dares to expose the flaws in a pre-technology system. Like a symphony in three parts, this director conducted the most memorable movie going experience of the year.


Best Actor – Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)
It’s hard to play a real life individual, let alone someone with the wide-eyed idealism and neophyte naiveté of Christopher McCandless. Adding to the issue was the depressing manner in which this true story ends. Yet Hirsch, seen mostly in disposable comedies and off-title dramas, really responded to Sean Penn’s pointed writing and directing, creating a believable vagabond whose destiny seems painted in purely fatalistic colors. We root for this lonely and lost young man, but recognize how untenable his attempt really is. It makes Hirsch’s work all the more impressive.


Best Actress – Jodie Foster (The Brave One)
Thanks to a mostly illiterate critical community, Neil Jordan’s brilliant deconstruction of big city security was tagged a ‘female Death Wish. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and Foster’s electrifying performance proves that once and for all. This is the story of ethics pushed to the edge, of normal people taking the ‘concept’ of law into their own hands. While metered out unfairly, and with little consideration for the sacredness of the social order, we watch one woman melt down and rise up, phoenix like, packing heat and ready to reclaim her sanity. It marks another courageous, brilliant turn for the two time Oscar winner.


Best Supporting Actor – Paul Rudd (Knocked Up)
It’s hard to be the anchor when all around you is going gonzo, but Rudd, reserved and resplendent as the stereotypical post modern hen pecked hubby, was absolutely marvelous as Apatow’s amiable marital commentator. From the classic reaction to his wife’s constipation, to the moment his mushroomed brain discovers the variety of chairs in a Vegas suite, he stole scene after scene from a noted moment thief like star Seth Rogen. In the old days, before leading roles leapt over one category to secure a statue, this would be the celebrated performance. Sadly, it sits, unrecognized.


Best Supporting Actress – Michelle Yeoh (Sunshine)
Considering the massive scope of his movie (this is a sci-fi film about saving an entire GALAXY), Danny Boyle had his work cut out for him when it came to making the speculative stakes more personal. Luckily, he had a magnificent cast, including this Chinese icon as the starship’s resident botanist. If a single moment can sell a performance, it’s the instant that Yeoh recognizes that all the food in the interstellar garden has been destroyed. Her face, a combination of shock and sadness, literally breaks your heart. If cameo-sized stunts can earn Oscar nods (and gold), this more substantive turn should as well.


Best Script – Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)
Describing what this amazing action spoof does best is very difficult - deconstruct the genre, or eviscerate the stiff upper lip stereotype of the British people. More than just a collection of jokes, this is the kind of satire where levels of unexpected wit arrive in the most unusual and arcane of places. From the clipped clichés of the opening to the all out splatter fest at the end, Wright and Pegg prove they’re the heir apparent to Python level lunacy. And then make cracking good films in the process.


Best Documentary – Lake of Fire
Abortion is the ultimate non-debatable issue. No side is absolutely perfect and no position is wholly evil. While it was released in Canada in 2006, the film didn’t appear in American markets until October, 2007, making its unflinching look at the issue eligible for consideration. Always confrontational and never weak willed, Tony Kaye’s take on this material is honest, forthright, and resolute. This is not an attempt to make heroes and villains of those passionate about the topic. Instead, Lake looks at the fight as part of a broader social phenomenon, and a decidedly political one as well.


Best Animated Film – Beowulf
Forget cute cooking rats. Ignore the “Down with the Shah” darkness of one young gal’s life in Iran. And who really cares about surfing penguins. This is the real animated feat of 2007, a movie rich in atmosphere, bravado, and naked male fisticuffs. Robert Zemeckis managed to take the wheezy Nordic poem and transform it into a terrific visual feast, complete with a stellar turn by Crispin Glover as the big bad monster Grendel. For those lucky enough to see it in 3D, the amazing amount of detail in the film is more than eye-popping. Add in the increasingly realistic motion capture and you’ve got a great CGI achievement.


Best Foreign Film – The Orphanage
As with the documentary a few years back, the Academy is having to answer a lot of questions as to why certain films were not eligible for Oscar consideration. Whatever lame excuses they give, there will be none that justify the exclusion of this Gilliam-esque masterwork. Sure, it’s got a couple of plot holes, and director Juan Antonio Bayona borrows more than a little from his producer/pal Guillermo Del Toro. But in a medium desperate for a good old fashioned ghost story, this amazing movie delivers in big fat spooky handfuls. Spain submitted it. The AMPAS snubbed it. Therefore, it’s destined to be a classic.


Best Guilty Pleasure – Halloween 2007
Boy, was everyone - critics and fright fans alike - totally unfair to this revisionist remake. Partly out of respect for what John Carpenter did 30 years ago with his Hitchcock homage, but also out of an utter anti-horror bias, writer/director Rob Zombie took it on the chin and came out smarting (if only slightly - the film was a BO hit). In a year that saw another fine Hostel installment, Saw go for number four, and various upstarts try to re-envision the various monster legacies, this was the real movie macabre. It did everything right, including reconfiguring the focus away from Haddenfield and its populace, and still people panned it. Oh well, their loss.


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Tuesday, Feb 19, 2008


Picking who will win the Oscars each year is like taking a trip directly into a fool’s paradise. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on who will win, the wacky members of AMPAS step in and screw everything up all over again. They’ve been known to make a mistake or two, and their decisions rarely have much to do with art or classicism. Still, if you’ve watched the talent train wreck for long enough, you learn a few lessons about forecasting the unfathomable. So while SE&L prepares its own annual Academy tie-in, here’s our shot are determining who walks away with gold come Sunday. We won’t confess if we get it wrong, but we sure will gloat if we get it right. Keeping score is optional. Let’s begin with:


Best Motion Picture of the Year
Atonement (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
Juno (Fox Searchlight) A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers


What Will Win: Atonement
What Should Win: No Country for Old Men
This is the stretch, the pick that goes against the established thinking’s grain and suggests that Oscar has learned nothing over its last 20 years. Smacking of a Crash/Brokeback Mountain - Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan fiascos, this could very well be the old guards response to the Coen’s dark, desperate vision. Remember, the voting Academy is made up of aging ex-nominees, and the mock Merchant/Ivory quality of this British period piece fits right into their cinematic comfort zone.


Performance By an Actor in a Leading Role
George Clooney in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises (Focus Features)


Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who Should Win: Johnny Depp
Call it a case of wishful thinking, but maybe, just maybe, Oscar will overlook Day-Lewis’ complete domination of the year end Best of’s (and abundant award show anointing) and chose the actor who actually did the best job of bringing his character to life. There’s no doubt that Daniel Plainview is a piece of work, but Depp took a huge chance by playing the overdone bravado of the Broadway legend as a small, sinister shell. It remains the most daring turn by any actor in 2007.


Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)


Who Will Win: Hal Holbrook
Who Should Win: Javier Bardem
Just like the Supporting Actress category, the Academy has set up this contest to be about age, experience, and career accomplishment. Holbrook holds all the cards, especially when you consider that he’s just entered his 80s and is still going somewhat strong. Bardem may be the presumptive favorite (winning every other award imaginable will do that to one’s chances) but don’t be surprised if Monday’s headlines reflect a ‘happy trails’ vs. ‘what’s happening’ mentality.


Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal)
Julie Christie in Away from Her (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in The Savages (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in Juno (Fox Searchlight)


Who Will Win: Ellen Page
Who Should Win: No One
The choices here are all suspect at best. Of the five, only one has any real buzz, and the backlash has already started to eat into Juno’s junk culture likeability. Page will probably pull it off, proving that previous statues to Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Julia Roberts haven’t shamed the frequently misguided voters back to their senses. As for the lack of a “should”, see tomorrow’s SE&L awards for some guidance.


Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in American Gangster (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)


Who Will Win: Ruby Dee
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett
Dee’s blink and you’ll miss it turn paired up with Gangster’s lack of Oscar love could confuse this category even more than it already is, but long term talent plus tragedy (Ossie Davis died three years ago this month) usually means a little gold statue. And let’s not forget the overriding issue of race. One classic African American face up against a group of youthful Caucasians spells trouble for everyone else’s chances. If it was a question of real merit, Blanchett blows everyone else away.


Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
Ratatouille (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
Surf’s Up (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck


What Will Win: Persepolis
What Should Win: Ratatouille
With the political poison of Iraq still thick in the air, anything dealing with the Middle East is bound to get undue attention. This doesn’t mean Persepolis is undeserving, just that it speaks directly to the Academy’s apologist mentality. And since Pixar has picked up a few of these babies along the way, the fascination French film has a very good chance of walking away with the win. The dudes from Surf’s Up should save some money and just stay home.


Achievement in Directing
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
Juno (Fox Searchlight), Jason Reitman
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson


Who Will Win: Joel and Ethan Coen
Who Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson
Here’s the deal - if Atonement takes home the top prize, it will be because voters figured this award was enough for the sibling auteurs. They’ve got the DGA, the critic’s polls, and the forward momentum, so all seems ripe for a return to glory. But what Paul Thomas Anderson did was so brave, so beyond his typical ‘80s artifice as deconstruction that it’s hard to believe he actually made the movie. Just for that feat alone, he deserves the nod.


Achievement in Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros.): Roger Deakins
Atonement (Focus Features): Seamus McGarvey
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Janusz Kaminski
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Robert Elswit


Who Will Win: Roger Deakins - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Who Should Win: Robert Elswit - There Will Be Blood
Elswit has the Cinematographer’s Society Award, while Deakins has the pretty pictures. Neither has one before, but the latter has the best chance, if only because he’s nominated twice. If he splits the vote, Blood will win. But Oscar is desperate to find a way of rewarding Andrew Dominik’s overlong character study, so don’t be phased if Deakins bucks the trend and takes home a trophy for bringing the Wild West back to beautiful life. 


Best Documentary Feature
No End in Sight (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
SiCKO (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O’Hara
Taxi to the Dark Side (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
War/Dance (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine


What Will Win: No End in Sight
What Should Win: SiCKO
Bush bashing has become a tradition at the Academy Awards, like Cher wearing bad Bob Mackie and facelift scars. While Michael Moore (previous President pariah) made the most important film of the year, No End is a playbook of bad policy decisions by the sitting Commander in Chief. It’s a wonderful film, and devastating in its message, so clearly it takes the night. But the wounded health care system - and those looking to take it down - could really use an Oscar boost.


Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Beaufort Israel
The Counterfeiters Austria
Katyn Poland
Mongol Kazakhstan
12 Russia
What Will Win: Who Knows
What Should Win: Who Cares
Under the arcane system applied by the Academy, the best foreign films of the year didn’t even make it into the running. Therefore, we withhold a prediction out of protest.


Best Adapted Screenplay
Atonement (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Away from Her (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
Who Will Win: No Country for Old Men
Who Should Win: No Country for Old Men
In keeping with our Atonement trajectory, the brothers will have to be happy with a double dose of Academy appreciation come the end of the evening. Taking home statues for directing and script will just have to suffice. Granted, they are without a doubt the best writers for film currently working, and their screenplays are always good for a quotable line or 20. And since they already own a similar accolade for Fargo, this will be further proof of their way with words.


Best Original Screenplay
Juno (Fox Searchlight), Written by Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
The Savages (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins
Who Will Win: Diablo Cody
Who Should Win: Brad Bird
Anyone who knows the story behind the Pixar hit would instantly jump to Brad Bird and company’s defense. Far beyond Cody’s stripper to scribe sentiment, the mind behind The Incredibles raised what was, in essence, a dead project from the cinematic grave. Taking the incomplete material left behind, he refashioned the film into one of 2007’s best. Cody will always be the Callie Khouri of this year’s model - Bird is the tested timeless talent.


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