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Monthly Archives: January 2008

Television as cinema? Why not?

Anyone who has taken a film course has come across the Marshall McLuhan idea of film being a “hot” medium and television a “cool” one. (Or maybe you just remember his name from movie theater lobby scene in Annie Hall?) It was an intro class, so we never discussed the idea in depth, so I actually don’t really know what McLuhan means by “hot” and “cool.”

But I do know that lately, at least in the States, TV hase started to getting a little lukewarm (if not “hot”). There are still great films every year that we see in the movie theater, but we forget about the “movies” on television. It’s as if a line has been blurred now that we see how great television can actually rival great movies.

Nothing proved this to me more than The Sopranos. I didn’t watch it until I found out the show was going off the air. I was dreading having to catch up with all the seasons, but when I found out it was coming to an end, I felt compelled to get into the show after hearing about how much people were enjoying it. Since I was working in a video store at the time (and we had a decent TV show selection), I’d rent the first season, watch a couple episodes a day, return it, rent the next season, and so on. I came down with a light case of pneumonia, so I had even more time to absorb the series. By the time I finished, part two of the sixth season already aired, but the encore episodes were broadcast the following week. Just in time.

I didn’t take in the show in intervals like regular viewers did, but watching the first episode to the last episode within a matter of a few months was something amazing, practically transcendental. I’m not as knowledgable about good TV as I wish I was, but of what I’ve seen in the last twenty years of my life, The Sopranos is essential art and one of the great television experiences. Nothing is as tense, epic, insightful, bewildering, and beautiful as this show.

Comparisons to film don’t stop here, though. What about all the great movies that started with an involvement with television like Berlin Alexanderplatz, Scenes from a Marriage, Mullholland Dr., The Last Emperor (the so-called “director’s cut”), Fanny and Alexander, etc.? I remember when No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s documentary about the life and times of the legendary Bob Dylan, was shown on PBS, and everyday people, including myself, began to realize how great filmmakers could use television to reach a mass audience (and maybe even as a more convenient method of distribution?) without having to worry about packed theaters because a movie experience at home is potentially more comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable than driving to a cineplex and being surrounded by talky cell-phone junkies.

In case you were wondering, this discussion did not start out of the blue. I began writing a post about In Treatment, HBO’s first half-hour show. The new series runs Monday through Friday at 8:30 CST as a therapist (Gabriel Byrne) has appointments with his patients, meeting with one patient each day (and sticking to that schedule for at least this season), and even visits his own shrink (Dianne Wiest).

I just watched the premiere tonight, and it’s off to a great start (it’s like watching a really good, well-filmed play), and I’ll write more on the show soon. Probably at the end of the week since no good movies are coming out for the second week in a row. I’ll be glued to the tube either watching the episodes I couldn’t catch during the week or checking out these Takashi Miike movies that are sitting on my endtable.

Yes, a Miike Mini-festival of Debauchery with Ichi the Killer, Gozu, and Izo. I think I have my sunny weekend planned out.


Ah, yes. it’s already time for the political process in which the most popular nominee wins the votes. No, I’m not talking about the presidential election.

The nominations for the 2008 Academy Awards were announced this morning. The winners will be announced on February 24, either by award ceremony or press conference. (Can’t wait to see which.)

Now that they’ve all been announced, here are the nom’s and my thoughts.

Best Short Film, Live Action

At Night (2004)
Supplente, Il (2006)
Mozart des pickpockets, Le (2006)
Tanghi argentini (2006)
The Tonto Woman

Who Will Win: N/A
Who Deserves to Win: N/A

Best Short Film, Animated

Même les pigeons vont au paradis (2007)
I Met the Walrus (2007)
Madame Tutli-Putli (2007)
Moya lyubov (2006)
Peter & the Wolf (2006)

Who Will Win: N/A
Who Deserves to Win: N/A

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Freeheld (2007)
Corona, La (2008)
Salim Baba (2008)
Sari’s Mother (2006)

Who Will Win: N/A
Who Deserves to Win: N/A

I have not seen any of the nominees above. The New Orleans Film Society should be doing screening of the nominated short subjects (they did last year). Maybe some of these are on YouTube?

Best Documentary, Features

No End in Sight (2007)
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (2007)
Sicko (2007)
Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
War Dance (2007)

Who Will Win: No End in Sight
Even though the Academy has a special relationship with Michael Moore, I think they’re relationship ends here. The voters are probably thinking: It’s “time” someone else gets an award.

Who Deserves to Win: Sicko
Of the two that I’ve seen (No End in Sight and Sicko), Sicko is much better (although a lot of critics seem to prefer No End, which I found sloppy and boring despite the intriguing subject matter). Sicko, I believe, is also more important, especially during an election year when the possibility of universal healthcare is right on the horizon.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Beaufort (2007)(Israel)
The Counterfeiters (2007)(Austria)
Mongol (2007)(Kazakhstan)
Katyn (2007)(Poland)
12 (2007)(Russia)

Who Will Win: N/A
Who Deserves to Win: N/A

I would give an honest guess for who I think would win, but I’m boycotting this category this year. Did the Academy completely and totally forget what else was in the running? 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days? The Orphanage? Persepolis (which was France’s selection over Diving Bell and the Butterfly)? Black Book?

I’m sure these are all good to great films, and I can only fairly judge if these films deserve to be nominated once I see them. But really… the only way you may have heard of these is 1) you attended the Venice and Berlin film festivals, or 2) you happen to be an Academy member.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Persepolis (2007): Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Ratatouille (2007): Brad Bird
Surf’s Up (2007): Ash Brannon, Chris Buck

Who Will Win: Ratatouille
Even though Ratatouille is supposed to be the sure winner, Persepolis (which won the Jury Prize and was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes last year) has been getting a lot more serious critical praise. But then Golden Palm winner 4 Months didn’t even get nominated in the foreign film category, so Ratatouilleis a good bet.

Who Deserves to Win: Ratatouille
‘s the only one I’ve seen. And it’s a masterpiece.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Golden Compass (2007): Michael L. Fink, Susan MacLeod, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charlie Gibson, John Frazier
Transformers (2007): Scott Farrar, Shari Hanson, Russell Earl, Scott Benza

Who Will Win: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charlie Gibson, John Frazier
The trend for visual effects winners tend to lean toward these kinds of movies (pirates, robots, fantasy). Pirates seemed to be the most ambitious and out-there, and therefore a likely winner for this award.

Who Deserves to Win: The Golden Compass (2007): Michael L. Fink, Susan MacLeod, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris
This was the only film I’ve seen, but I’ve also checked out the promotional material for these other movies. The Golden Compass still looked the best (and the least like effects work).

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007): Karen M. Baker, Per Hallberg
No Country for Old Men (2007): Skip Lievsay
Ratatouille (2007)
There Will Be Blood (2007): Matthew Wood, Christopher Scarabosio
Transformers (2007): Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn

Who Will Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Skip Lievsay
Who can deny the sound editing job in this? This category is usually packed with action movies, but there’re only two in sight. No Country should get it, adding another win to what will be a continuously growing total throughout the ceremony/press conference.

Who Deserves to Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Skip Lievsay
It was without a score, so No Country was dependent on the diegetic sounds of each scene. Listen to (not watch) the dog chase — the clinking of the bullet against the gun, the wading of the dog, the barking. Brilliant stuff.

Best Achievement in Sound

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007): Scott Millan, David Parker, Kirk Francis
No Country for Old Men (2007): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Ratatouille (2007): Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, Vince Caro, Doc Kane
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Transformers (2007): Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell, Peter J. Devlin

Who Will Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
See above category.

Who Deserves to Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
See above category.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

August Rush (2007)(“Raise It Up”)
Enchanted (2007)(“Happy Working Song”)
Enchanted (2007)(“So Close”)
Enchanted (2007)(“That’s How You Know”)
Once (2006)(“Falling Slowly”)

Who Will Win: Enchanted (2007)(“That’s How You Know”)
Oscar likes Alan Menken. “That’s How You Know” is the “main” song of Enchanted, but not the best, so it’s the most likely winner.

Who Deserves to Win: Once (2006)(“Falling Slowly”)
Even though I’m part of the camp that finds Once to be overrated, I still like it nonetheless. And the music isn’t bad, especially “Falling Slowly,” what generally considered the emotional centerpiece of the film.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Atonement (2007): Dario Marianelli
Into the Wild (2007): Michael Brook, Kaki King, Eddie Vedder
Michael Clayton (2007): James Newton Howard
Ratatouille (2007): Michael Giacchino
3:10 to Yuma (2007): Marco Beltrami

Who Will Win: Atonement (2007): Dario Marianelli
Academy voters like rousing scores (despite how they are used in the context of their respective films). However, they like period pieces more, and Atonement has the award hands-down.

Who Deserves to Win: Atonement (2007): Dario Marianelli
The tapping of the keys on the typewriter that’s central to the story is incorporated into the score. Need I say more?

Best Achievement in Makeup

Vie en rose, La (2007): Didier Lavergne, Loulia Sheppard
Norbit (2007): Rick Baker
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): Ve Neill, Martin Samuel

Who Will Win: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): Ve Neill, Martin Samuel
It’s got a monster, and they won’t like voting for a movie like Norbit, even if it is for makeup and not best picture.

Who Deserves to Win: Norbit (2007): Rick Baker
Whatever reputation Norbit has, the makeup was incredible.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Across the Universe (2007): Albert Wolsky
Atonement (2007): Jacqueline Durran
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007): Alexandra Byrne
Vie en rose, La (2007): Marit Allen
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): Colleen Atwood

Who Will Win: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007): Alexandra Byrne
A movie about a queen (Marie Antoinette) won last year. I think this year will mark the second time.

Who Deserves to Win: Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007): Alexandra Byrne
The costumes are quite beautiful, despite whatever is said of the quality of the movie.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

American Gangster (2007): Arthur Max
Atonement (2007): Sarah Greenwood
The Golden Compass (2007): Dennis Gassner
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): Dante Ferretti
There Will Be Blood (2007): Jack Fisk

Who Will Win: Atonement (2007): Sarah Greenwood
It’s pretty. Why shouldn’t they pick it?

Who Deserves to Win: There Will Be Blood (2007): Jack Fisk
It’s grimy, earthy, dirty… and perfect in every way. If Jack Fisk doesn’t get his deserved Oscar… shit’s going to go down.

Best Achievement in Editing

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007): Christopher Rouse
Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The (2007): Juliette Welfling
Into the Wild (2007): Jay Cassidy
No Country for Old Men (2007): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
There Will Be Blood (2007): Dylan Tichenor, Tatiana S. Riegel

Who Will Win: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007): Christopher Rouse
Oscar likes quick cuts. We have a winner!

Who Deserves to Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The more I think about No Country, the better I think it is. Really, can anyone find anything reasonably objectionable about the movie?!

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007): Roger Deakins
Atonement (2007): Seamus McGarvey
No Country for Old Men (2007): Roger Deakins
Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The (2007): Janusz Kaminski
There Will Be Blood (2007): Robert Elswit

Who Will Win: There Will Be Blood (2007): Robert Elswit
Ah, the Academy will have a choice between TWO Roger Deakins’ movies… and choose neither! Voters will most likely be yelling, “Drainage!” as they vote in this category…

Who Deserves to Win: There Will Be Blood (2007): Robert Elswit
…and maybe they would be right. Even though I didn’t care for Blood, it’s images are astounding. This is a close call, because No Country and Assassination all have gorgeous shots throughout. I wouldn’t cry if any of these won (except for Diving Bell), but Blood is my personal pick.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Atonement (2007): Christopher Hampton
Away from Her (2006): Sarah Polley
Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The (2007): Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men (2007): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood (2007): Paul Thomas Anderson

Who Will Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Although my personal choice and predicted Oscar winner don’t match for a bunch of these categories, I think the deserved will win.

Who Deserves to Win: No Country for Old Men (2007): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
The film is so well written (I wouldn’t call it “perfect,” but very well done indeed), and it blows the others out of the water. Atonement‘s limited point-of-view works beautifully and comes close, but No Country outranks it only slightly.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Juno (2007): Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl (2007): Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton (2007): Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille (2007): Brad Bird
The Savages (2007): Tamara Jenkins

Who Will Win: Juno (2007): Diablo Cody
Maybe it’s a long shot, but I can see this Cinderella story going all the way. An ex-stripper writers a cute little story about a girl who gets pregnant and makes it all the way to the Oscars. Really, could the fairy tale end any better?

Who Deserves to Win: Ratatouille (2007): Brad Bird
I have yet to see The Savages. Of the others, though, the best writing came from Ratatouille. Sure, Michael Clayton was labyrinthine, but it was nothing more than a well-done generic thriller in the style of the 1970s paranoia thrillers. Ratatouille would also be my pick for best film of the bunch.

Best Achievement in Directing

Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood (2007)
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for No Country for Old Men (2007)
Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton (2007)
Jason Reitman for Juno (2007)
Julian Schnabel for Scaphandre et le papillon, Le (2007)

Who Will Win: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for No Country for Old Men (2007)
Once again, it’s “time.” (The duo won previously for original screenplay for Fargo, but they haven’t won anything yet for directing.) I think this will be another year in which Oscar tries to spread the awards out evenly.

Who Deserves to Win: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for No Country for Old Men (2007)
Joe Wright should’ve been nominated for Atonement, but this isn’t the place for my complaints. I should praise who is nominated, and even if Wright was nominated, I would still pick the Coens for their masterful command of their style in No Country for Old Men.Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There. (2007)
Ruby Dee for American Gangster (2007)
Saoirse Ronan for Atonement (2007)
Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton (2007)

Who Will Win: Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone (2007)
She’s been in movies before, but Ryan isn’t a household name, and the Academy likes making actors household names overnight. (I guess they think it gives them some kind of indie cred.) The only other contender, Blanchett, just won a few years ago.

Who Deserves to Win: Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone (2007)
As good as Blanchett is as one of the facets of Bob Dylan, Ryan is fascinating in her trashy role in the Boston-set tale. And she’s so different than in two other movies I saw her in this year (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Dan in Real Life) that I didn’t even recognize here in Gone Baby Gone. A fantastic (and Oscar-worthy) job.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Casey Affleck for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men (2007)
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Hal Holbrook for Into the Wild (2007)
Tom Wilkinson for Michael Clayton (2007)

Who Will Win: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men (2007)
Tom Wilkinson did some overacting for Michael Clayton(which is pure Oscar bait), but Javier Bardem really nailed the part of Anton Chigurh, a ruthless killer who gets rid of anyone standing in his way.

Who Deserves to Win: Casey Affleck for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
I didn’t care for the movie, but Affleck really showed what he is capable of as an actor. As J.K. Simmons said in Juno: “I didn’t know he had it in him.” (Question: Why wasn’t he nominated?)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Julie Christie for Away from Her (2006)
Marion Cotillard for Vie en Rose, La (2007)
Laura Linney for The Savages (2007)
Ellen Page for Juno (2007)

Who Will Win:
This really is a tough one.

Who Deserves to Win: Julie Christie for Away from Her (2006)
La vie en roseis still in the same red Netflix envelope and on the same endtable as it was a month ago, so I can’t judge Cotillard’s role. (I should be watching it tonight, and I’ll have a post up soon if I do.) But Christie was fantastic in her role of a woman slowly falling victim to Alzheimer’s disease. The film felt a little manipulative in the second half, so while I don’t care deeply for the movie, Christie’s performance is undeniably powerful and breathtaking.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

George Clooney for Michael Clayton (2007)
Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood (2007)
Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tommy Lee Jones for In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises (2007)

Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood (2007)
Enough time has passed for the Academy to consider giving Day-Lewis his second Oscar. Even though I think he overacted in the film, it’s the kind of role and style of acting that the Academy would be drawn to.

Who Deserves to Win: Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises (2007)
I haven’t seen In the Valley of Elah. Of the remaining contenders, Mortensen pulled off the most remarkable performance. His transformation into a Russian mobster is one of 2007’s treasures. And as much as I love George Clooney, he’s not anything incredible in Michael Clayton: he’s satisfactory. Ditto Johnny Depp.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Atonement (2007): Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster
Juno (2007)
Michael Clayton (2007)
No Country for Old Men (2007): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin
There Will Be Blood (2007): Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar

Who Will Win: Atonement
The Academy loves period pieces, and that’s a good enough reason as any for the Oscar for Best Motion Picture to go to Atonement (at least within the confines of Oscar reasoning). No Country and There Will Be Blood are certainly contenders, but if either film won, it would be surprising to me. Juno and Michael Clayton are pure dark horses — I highly doubt any chance of either film having a chance to win.

Who Deserves to Win: Atonement
You know my feelings on There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, and No Country for Old Men. I put both Juno and Atonement in my Top 15 at the end of 2007, but hands-down, between those two, Atonement is the better picture, though I don’t think it’s the best picture of the year.<hr>

Wow. A lot of great movies seem to be getting their due this year at the Oscars. Even if my picks don’t win, it’s pretty cool that they’re nominated so that people can look back to see what was competing against the “winners.” Then they can make up their own mind.

I’m so glad I’m finally able to post this. I saw this at a screening about a week and a half ago, and then school started after that half-week (which is keeping me busy during the week, so I’ll be posting reviews and occasional essays weekly on Friday nights from now on). I’ve been dying to see if I’m the only one having these thoughts about There Will Be Blood. So, let the hate mail/comments begin.

I mean, doesn’t this just look like a poster
belonging to a really awesome movie?!

Highly-anticipated by both myself and others after the director’s five-year hiatus, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is one of those films that sweeps at critics circles before it even gets released. Now that it’s hit theaters, the movie is at 89% from 108 reviews and 94% from the Cream of the Crop at Rotten Tomatoes. The film scored a 93 and Universal Acclaim status at Metacritic.

Yet I managed to find so much to dislike about it. (Let it be known, however, that I’m a huge PTA fan: I’ve seen all his movies and would highly recommend each of them.) Blood is a movie that depends on the audience caring about the main character, and if the audience cannot sympathize, then (to the audience) the film falls apart. I didn’t have any feelings about Daniel Plainview (portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in an often overwrought performance), and watching this character’s journey for 158 minutes was painful. I didn’t just simply “not like” the movie: I hated it. And had I seen this last year, I would have placed it at number three on my Worst 5 list, below I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Fred Claus.

So, what’s happening here? Is there something wrong with me, or is there some chemical in the water that I’m not drinking that every other person with an opinion about movies is? While I’d much rather believe the latter, neither is true. One of the things that’s so great about film, and art in general, is that two people can completely disagree about a work, yet both can be right in their own way. One person can reasonably hate every second of a movie, and the other can logically love it to no end.

Therefore, I like to see this as a difference of opinion (though I am open-minded enough to want to see Blood again). So, I have some examples of trust-worthy people’s opinions and an explanation of where my line of thought differs from theirs.

Ryland Walker Knight said in his review at The House Next Door:

The horror that is Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth feature, There Will Be Blood, is not simply an amplified feeling of distress but distress itself: a seething perpetual pressure, unremitting, brutal, always on the brink of eruption. Yet the threat (or the promise) of the film’s title is a mere hint of the lurking, bubbling terror within. More pointedly, the title — written in a skuzzy, white, printing press Old English across the width of the film’s opening black screen — is the film’s first trigger pulled to wring its audience anxious and uneasy for a terse, dire, cunning two hours and forty minutes.

I see Knight’s take on the “amplified feeling of distress,” but it didn’t translate as such to me from the screen. When characters slap or whimper or spit as they screamed (who can miss that long, slow drip of saliva in the films final minutes?), it felt like everyone was overacting. At one point, Daniel rubs oil on the face of preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) and slaps him like a sissy. Daniel’s son is struck deaf by an explosion, and his tortured screaming in one of the following scenes sounds ridiculous: not like the real shouting of a person who can’t hear like in Children of a Lesser God, but more like, as Chad describes in In the Company of Men, “like Flipper.” Or a dying seal, whichever offends you less. Dano, who sprays water occasionally in his role as a loud-mouth preacher, had to walk a fine line between overacting and nailing the part. Unfortunately, he does too much, and even though he does resemble some of those in his line of work, his behavior feels inappropriately loud.

How beautiful: you can almost
feel the pain of the father and the child.

The Chicago Reader‘s Jonathan Rosebaum chose Blood as a Critic’s Choice (even though the capsule sounds negative to me). The gist of it:

The cynical shallowness of both the characters and the overall conception–American success as an unholy alliance between a turn-of-the-century capitalist (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a faith healer (Paul Dano), both hypocrites–can’t quite sustain the film’s visionary airs, even with good expressionist acting and a percussive score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. This has loads of swagger, but for stylistic audacity I prefer Anderson’s more scattershot Magnolia.

I’ve already stated my feelings about the acting, but I wanted to discuss Greenwood’s score. I love the compositions: on their own, I could listen to them forever. (As a matter of fact, I’m listening to OK Computer as of this writing.) But the music isn’t like Nick Cave’s work in The Proposition, which was not only visceral on it’s own but made you feel the sand in the character’s teeth in the film. In Blood, the score only agitates the scene, making it more irritating than “on the brink of eruption.” Even though the silent scenes in the beginning of the movie felt like they would shatter with pretension, the lack of music worked better than “tense” scenes that overused the score.

Roger Ebert:

[This character’s] name is Daniel Plainview, and he must have given the name to himself as a private joke, for little that he does is as it seems.[…]

Watching the movie is like viewing a natural disaster that you cannot turn away from. By that I do not mean that the movie is bad, any more than it is good. It is a force beyond categories. It has scenes of terror and poignancy, scenes of ruthless chicanery, scenes awesome for their scope, moments echoing with whispers and an ending that in some peculiar way this material demands, because it could not conclude on an appropriate note — there has been nothing appropriate about it. Those who hate the ending, and there may be many, might be asked to dictate a different one. Something bittersweet, perhaps? Grandly tragic? Only madness can supply a termination for this story.[…]

In images starkly and magnificently created by cinematographer Robert Elswit and set designer Jack Fisk, we see the first shaky wells replaced by vast fields, all overseen by Plainview from the porch of a rude shack, where he sips whiskey more or less ceaselessly.

The playful names were like thorns twisting into my side whenever they were spoken on the screen: “Daniel Plainview” and “Eli Sunday” just seem too “chosen.”

Another great shot.

The movie does seem to be outside categorization. When I have tried to sum up the film for people, I find myself stumped. The movie has lingered with me, and I still think about it, so I guess it’s technically “unforgettable.” But in that case, so are Mannequin and Norbit and being raped.

That’s what’s curious about Ebert’s wording: “…I do not mean that the movie is bad, any more than it is good.” So which one are you calling it? Even though it is “beyond categorization,” surely it fits in one or the other. I don’t really believe in the theory that you can call a movie a grand masterpiece but not actually enjoy it on a pleasurable level. Even though supposed “hard to like” movies like El Topo and Cronenberg’s Crash aren’t movies that move me like Citizen Kane or a Lubitsch picture, they move me in another way, and I get pleasure from the film from an aesthetic view.

And if I will compliment anything about the film, it’s the cinematography and the set design. I think this explains why I can watch (and fall in love with) promotional material for the movie. In the end, I just can’t pull away from the film that I experienced rather than the film I more or less expected.

Rating: 3/10

Part II will come once I see this again, which I don’t think will be anytime soon.

After a scene or two and a cut to black, we see little hands belonging to children tearing away at wallpaper, revealing the film’s opening credits. This clawing, almost as if the children are searching for some kind of clue or treasure, is central to what the movie is all about. A huge hit at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals, The Orphanage has made a big enough splash to get a wide release around the U.S., a stunning feat for a foreign-language film. It’s technically a 2007 film (it was released earlier in New York and L.A. for Oscar qualification), so had I seen it before January 1 of this year, I would have put it on my list of the best movies of the year.

Laura, a woman who grew up in an orphanage but was eventually adopted, returns in order to live there with her husband and a child she adopted. She plans to run the old house as a home for sick children. Laura soon becomes aware her son is talking to a few too many imaginary friends, and she realizes later than we do that just because she can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not real.

Based on the promotional material, one may be quick to judge this movie as a horror film. It’s much closer to a thriller, because there isn’t anything really frightening about the movie. Yes, we jump and scream and shudder, but then the movie slowly blossoms into drama territory, revealing that it’s about much more than things that go bump in the night.

Belén Rueda, a very attractive older woman like a Spanish Isabelle Huppert, is phenomenal in her role as Laura, one of the strongest female characters to show up on the screen in some time. Even Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter, is surprisingly human in her part as a medium who visits the orphanage to help Laura find clues about the mystery involving the home.

What’s especially touching about the movie is that for Laura (and us), there is nothing to fear but fear itself. We’re only afraid because the movie presents the story at first as if we should be scared, because Laura is too. By the end, the movie we’re not afraid anymore, and neither is Laura. Really, it’s beautiful.

It would be a pity if this movie doesn’t at least garner a nomination for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars because The Orphanage deserves to win; it’s the best foreign-language film from last year that I’ve seen. (Note: I’m still waiting dying to see Persepolis.)

Rating: 9/10