Strike or no strike, one of these films will win the award for Best Picture


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            Although the Oscars may not be wrapped in the usual glamour and glitz this year, somewhere, someone will announce the winners on February 24th. Strike or no strike, one of these films will win the award for Best Picture.

ATONEMENT is the story of a spoken secret that affects the lives of an extended family. Told in a series of confusing flashbacks, the movie is undermined by an intrusive soundtrack and much heavy breathing at high volume. It is indeed about guilt and atonement, and the last quarter of the movie is a dazzling revelation of the consequences on the path to atonement. You will see fine performances from young Saoirse Ronan, Kiera Knightly, James McAvoy, and from Vanessa Redgrave, dazzling in her final revelations. Though it is good, I still can’t find the heart in this movie.

JUNO is a marvelous collaborative effort. Diablo Cody has written a crackling contemporary script; Ellen Page brings sure instincts to her predicament as Juno, pregnant high school student. To that grand combination you can add inspired casting that ensures that the movie will never wallow in cliché or sentiment. Watch Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, and Michael Cera. Director Jason Reitman makes masterful use of Cody’s script and draws all his actors into a disarming exercise in charm.

MICHAEL CLAYTON roars through its two hours, an express train of sustained suspense. George Clooney’s Michael Clayton is a law firm “fixer,” the guy who cleans up messes created by other people. A lot of rich, capable professionals work hard to cover up for rich corrupt people in a corporate culture where you are a doofus if you wish things were different. Tilda Swinton is a grand villain; George Clooney is smooth.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD pits an oil driller and an evangelical preacher against each other in vengeful fury. Daniel Day Lewis is theatrical and demanding of our attention every moment. He plays a man who hates every person he meets. Though the movie has been written and directed with skill and imagination by Paul Thomas Anderson, it is a vastly unpleasant exercise in greed and ambition.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a fierce figment of Ethan and Joel Coen’s collective imagining of Cormac McCarthy’s book. After Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin, in a terrific performance) scoops up $2,000,000 in drug money from the sagebrush near a Texas border town, he becomes the prey of Anton Chigurh’s hunter (Javier Bardem.) This is far more than an exercise in greed which is stripped here of its conventional disguises; it is a vision of pure evil. Chigurh is a villain who kills not just for money or because someone is in his way, but just because it occurs to him. Javier Bardem sets a new standard for psychopaths while Tommy Lee Jones captures a small town lawman’s disillusionment with human beings. “Who are these people?” he asks, and we in the audience, chilled by the movie’s power, echo his question.


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