The Ten Best Films of 2007

The Number 10 Movie of the Year:

Sunshine

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Written by: Alex Garland

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evens, Michelle Yeoh, and Hiroyuki Sanada

Distributer: Fox Searchlight

Country: UK

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Date released: 7/27/2007

Date seen: 7/30/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $31,944,352

# of Oscar nominations: 0

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 6 (Art Direction, Score, Editing, Original Screenplay, and Trailer)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 1 (Most Underappreciated)

I usually reserve my number ten slot for a film that I think has been over looked and underappreciated;  something that might not quite be better than some of the honorable mentions, but which should have gotten more support from the public in general.  Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a perfect example of this.  Space movies usually come in two forms: films trying to be 2001: A Space Odyssey, and films trying to be Alien.  Sunshine, to me, is a film that manages to bridges that gap and effectively become both an intelligent sci-fi movie and a gripping thriller.  It has become a polarizing movie and I can see why some people are a bit hesitant to embrace it, but I truly think it belongs among 2007’s best.

The Number 9 Movie of the Year: Zodiac

Directed by: David Fincher

Written by: James Vanderbilt

Based on the book Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., and John Carroll Lynch

Distributor: Paramount

Country: United States

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Date released: 3/2/2007

Date seen: 3/2/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $84,785,914

# of Oscar nominations: 0

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 6 (Use of Pre-Existing Pop, Set Piece, Sound, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Poster)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 0

I was a bit disappointed when I saw Zodiac in theaters, it just didn’t grab me the way other Fincher movies do when I saw it the first time.  I was much more impressed this second time now that I knew what to expect.  The first hour and forty some minutes of this are great, and not just the murder scenes but also the investigation while the trail is still hot.  Why so low on the list? Well, there comes a point when the film flashes forward four years, this is when I sort of start to lose interest along with everyone aside from Graysmith.  I ultimately didn’t find Graysmith or his obsession as interesting as a lot of other people do.  I found his amateur detective work somewhat lame, and I was unimpressed by the little bit of circumstantial evidence he found.  By the end I was unconvinced of Arthur Leigh Allen’s guilt.  Still, when this movie works it works it works so well that I’m willing to forgive that it loses a little steam toward the end.

The Number 8 Movie of the Year:

The Bourne Ultimatum

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Written by: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, and George Nolfi

Based on the novel The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum

Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Joan Allen

Distributor: Universal

Country: United States

Language: English

Rating: PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Date released: 8/3/2007

Date seen: 8/3/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $442,730,920  

# of Oscar nominations: 3 (Editing, Sound, Sound Editing)

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 6 (Fight, Chase, and Sound)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 3 (Set Piece, Editing, and Action Film)

It’s often hard to place an action film in the same league as many of the films that find their way onto top ten lists.  However, action films rarely work as well as The Bourne Ultimatum, the final installment of the Bourne series.  It was easy to take the first two Bourne films for granted, but it became evident that this was one of the rare film series that got better as it went forward.  Ultimatum had the best fight, best car chase, and best cat and mouse chase of the entire Bourn series.  Following the great United 93, Paul Greengrass’ handheld style had been stewed to perfection, and it made Ultimatum that much better than Supremacy.   Jason Bourne is the action hero for the 21st century, and after the disasters that were Live Free and Die Hard and Rambo, I’m beginning to think I’m ready to abandon the old school of action cinema.

The Number 7 Movie of the Year:

Once

Directed by: John Carney

Written by: John Carney

Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, and Bill Hodnett

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Country: Ireland

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Date released: 5/16/2007

Date seen: 7/13/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $16,148,695  

# of Oscar nominations: 1 (Original Song)

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 2 (Musical Performance and Soundtrack)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 0

This charming independent film is by far the lowest budget movie on my top ten list.  The film looks at an unnamed street musician who, by chance meets an unnamed woman.  Both parties are in long distance relationships, but they soon form a very close platonic bond that never quite turns into a full blown romance.  The characters here have a deep love and passion for the music they make, which is well written acoustic pop.  It’s sort of hard to explain the appeal of this micro-budget pseudo-musical.  It’s a film that’s more about a feeling than a plot and you leave the theater more happy then you went in.

The Number 6 Movie of the Year:

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Directed by: Ken Loach

Written by: Paul Laverty

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, and Liam Cunningham

Distributor: IFC Films

Country: Ireland

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Date released: 3/16/2007

Date seen: 9/14/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $22,881,000

# of Oscar nominations: 0

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 2 (Original Screenplay and Under Apreciated)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 0

This film won the Palm D’or at last year’s Cannes film festival, beating out such films as Pan’s Labyrinth and Babel, but then was only given a miniscule release before falling into relative obscurity.  This movie definitely deserved more widespread recognition, as it is a great piece that works on many levels.  This film works on one level as a great history lesson, on another level as great human drama, and the film also works on one further level as an allegory for the state of world affairs today.  This is one of the best films on the subject of the conflicts in Ireland and a great entry into the Ken Loach cannon.

The Number 5 Movie of the Year:

Juno

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Written by: Diablo Cody

Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, and J.K. Simmons.

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Country: United States

Language: English

Rating: PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Date released: 12/14/2007

Date seen: 12/14/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $126,804,297

# of Oscar nominations: 4

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 4 (Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress, and Funniest Film)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 1 (Best Actress)

What looked like a cookie cutter indie comedy turned out to be a genuinely charming, smart, and funny piece of work.  Many will remember the film for its witty dialogue by Diablo Cody, and that alone may have made a memorable movie, but there’s a lot more here than that.  The film has great, well developed, and highly likable characters that you really feel like you know at the end.  The viewer has a different perception of all these characters by the end, which is an underappreciated elements of Cody’s beloved screenplay.  Also a major factor in the film’s success is the amazing cast that manages to sell this material, and the director who manages to keep this all from going off the rails.

The Number 4 Movie of the Year:

Diving Bell and Butterfly, The

Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Written by: Ronald Harwood

Based on the book Le Scaphandre et le Papillon by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, and Max Von Sydow

Distributor: Miramax

Country: France

Language: French

Rating: PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Date released: 11/30/2007

Date seen: 12/26/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $8,339,339  

# of Oscar nominations: 4

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 5 (Make-Up, Cinematogrophy, Adapted Screenplay)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 2 (Cameo & Foreign)

“The Diving Bell and Butterfly” is a very intimidating title, I know.  It sounds like the title of a very pretentious movie, but that’s not what this is at all.  The film tells the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man who suffered a debilitating stroke at the prime of his life that left him paralyzed head to toe, only able to control one eye.  Bauby could have given up hope, but instead he got a new lease on life and with the help of an assistant wrote an entire memoir by blinking as the alphabet is read to him.  This celebration of life could have easily turned to a saccharine exercise, but Julian Schnabel and Ronald Harwood managed to turn it into a beautiful work of art.

 

The Number 3 Movie of the Year:

No Country for Old Men

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Based on the book No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Kelly Macdonald

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Country: United States

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Date released: 11/21/2007

Date seen: 11/22/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $83,407,469

# of Oscar nominations: 8

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 5 (Set-Piece, Editing, & Adapted Screenplay)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 2 (Villain & Supporting Actor)

For me, the Coen Brother’s films have been hit or miss.  I’m not a huge fan of those comedies they seem to be making all the time that star John Turturro, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi (The Big Lebowski is the exception that proves the rule); however, I always love their darker films like Blood Simple and Fargo.  The newest film from the Coen brothers, No Country for Old Men, fit well into that second category. The film had brilliant suspense scenes, deep themes and great acting.  I liked the film so much that I read the Cormac McCarthy novel it was based on, which was a little disappointing, it turns out the film is a nearly word for word adaptation of the novel and that slowed down my enthusiasm for the film a little.  Still, this is an awesome movie that deserves all the praise it’s gotten.

The Number 2 Movie of the Year:

Into the Wild

Directed by: Sean Penn

Written by: Sean Penn

Based on the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Starring: Emile Hirsh, Catherine Keener, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Country: United States

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Date released: 9/21/2007

Date seen: 10/12/2007

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $37,606,908  

# of Oscar nominations: 2

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 5 (Soundtrack, Editing, Cinematogrophy, Supporting Actress)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 1 (Adapted Screenplay)

I went into this Sean Penn directed film with fairly low expectations, I was pretty much ready to hate the film’s main character and generally not take any of it very seriously.  To my shock and awe I found myself caring for the film’s main character and his odyssey of self discovery.  The film is perfectly structured, the film manages to perfectly organize a somewhat non-chronological narrative into a cohesive whole.  The film is very well photographed, there’s beautiful scenery to be found here.  The cast is great all around, Hirsh perfectly balances naiveté and likability and the supporting actors all manage to make an impression with very little screen time.  Arthur Miller once had the brilliant idea to make a tragedy about a common man, here Penn and Krakauer have made the first tragedy about a dipshit.

The Number 1 Movie of the Year:

There Will Be Blood

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Based on the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Dillon Freasier, and Paul Dano

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Country: United States

Language: English

Rating: R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Date released: 12/25/2007

Date seen: 1/4/2008

Worldwide Box Office Gross: $35,657,000

# of Oscar nominations: 2

# of Golden Stake Nominations: 6 (Set-Piece, Cinematogrophy, Adapted Screenplay, Poster)

# of Golden Stakes Won: 2 (Score & Actor)

Choosing a number one film this year is harder than it usually is.  Often I’ll see the year’s best film and know it instantly, but this year I really needed to go to great lengths to decide between the top three.  Eventually I went with the most ambitious, and some would say most flawed, of the three and I’m standing by my choice.  Here, Paul Thomas Anderson has gone to another league of film mastery and accedes his already very high standards.  At this film’s center is a virtuoso performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, this performance is among the best of the decade.  The film There Will Be Blood most seems to remind me of is Apocalypse Now, like that film this is a wildly ambitious piece of work that seems to bring filmmaking to a new level.  Also like Apocalypse Now this has an ending many feel goes over the top, but which really just brings all the film’s themes to their logical endpoint.    

 

Detailed Oscar Predictions

Best Picture:

The Nominees:

Atonement

Juno

Michael Clayton

No Country for Old Men

There Will be Blood

Who Will Win?

Conventional wisdom leans toward No Country for Old Men, which is probably the most widely acclaimed movie by critics.  Also in No Country’s favor is the fact that its brilliance is easy to see by more than just the ultra-film literate, it’s one of those rare films that works both as high art and as accessible entertainment.

The Dark Horse?

There Will Be Blood is probably too dark and too complicated to win the big award, however because it seems to appeal to the same audience as No Country, it could act as a vote siphon to that film leaving the door open to one of the other nominees to steal the award.  Michael Clayton is widely respected, but very few seem to really think it’s the absolute best.  Atonement, certainly seems like the most Oscar-ish of the nominees and its won a number of important precursors, but its failure to land nominations in other important fields like Best Director indicates a lack of support among Academy members.  As such, the most likely spoiler for No Country seems to be Juno.  The film has been charming people across the country and could be seen as a relief from its dark and depressing competitors.  When I walked out of the theater after seeing Juno I was ready to declare it the best film of the year, a few days later I came to my senses about that, but if I had an academy ballot at the time I’m not sure what I would have done.

Who Should Win?

There will Be Blood was my favorite film of the year, but this is one of those rare years where I would be somewhat happy with any of the nominees winning.  No Country for Old Men is incredibly strong, Juno is the type of movie that doesn’t usually get to win, Michael Clayton is also solid.  Atonement is probably the film I least want to win, just because it’s a really safe choice, but it certainly isn’t bad.

Who Got Snubbed?

The Diving Bell and Butterfly was a beautiful film that almost certainly would have gotten its well deserved nomination if it weren’t a foreign language film.  But the film I was even more disappointed to see absent from the shortlist was the great Sean Penn film Into the Wild which managed to form a great tragedy from the life of a fairly unsympathetic character.

Best Director: 

The Nominees:

Jason Reitman- Juno

Tony Gilroy- Michael Clayton

Joel & Ethan Coen- No Country for Old Men

Julian Schnabel- The Diving Bell and Butterfly

Paul Thomas Anderson- There Will Be Blood

Who Will Win?

Comedy directors usually have even more trouble getting Oscars than the films they direct, so Jason Reitman likely doesn’t have a serious chance.  With him and the un-nominated Joe Wright eliminated as vote siphons, The Coen Brothers shouldn’t have much of a problem winning this one.

Who’s The Dark Horse?

When a director is nominated for a film that fails to receive a best picture nomination its usually more of a sign of respect than an indication of any real likely hood of winning.  As such Julian Schnabel likely will not be going home with a statuette despite some success in precursor awards.  As such, Paul Thomas Anderson seems like the only one who can pull an upset in this category.

Who Should Win?

I generally find that whatever wins best picture should also win best director, thus my official choice is Paul Thomas Anderson.  However, The Coen Brothers are a bit more overdue, and I might be even a little more happy to see then walk away with an Oscar.  Schabel also turned in solid work worthy of an award.

Who Got Snubbed?

Of the two films overlooked for Best Picture, I would have rather seen Sean Penn get thrown a Best Director consolation prize than Schnabel.  I’m also not quite sure why they didn’t want to honor Joe Wright for Atonement, that film was certainly a director’s piece.


 Best Actor: 

The Nominees:

Viggo Mortenson- Eastern Promises

Tommy Lee Jones- In the Valley of Elah

George Clooney- Michael Clayton

Johnny Depp- Sweeney Todd

Daniel Day-Lewis- There Will Be Blood

Who Will Win?

Daniel Day-Lewis is such a front runner that this shouldn’t even need to be discussed.  He’s such a foregone conclusion that George Clooney has conceded defeat to Day-Lewis during an interview. 

Who Will Be the Dark Horse?

Almost everyone has called Daniel Day-Lewis’ win a sure thing, but they also said that about his performance in Gangs of New York five years ago, and that year he lost to Adrian Brody.  If there is an upset it might just go to Tommy Lee Jones, I havn’t seen the film but many people might be a bit more attracted to Jones’ naturalism than Day-Lewis’ theatricality.

Who Should Win?

I may sound like a broken record here, but all of Daniel Day-Lewis’ acclaim is completely warranted, it’s definitely the best performance of the year.  That said I’m rather fond of some of the creative choices the Academy made with the nominations here, namely Viggo Mortenson’s great work in Eastern Promises.  I was not however, fond of Johnny Depp’s boring work in Sweeney Todd, he goes through pretty much the whole film with a blank face and generally isn’t up to his own standards.

Who Got Snubbed?

Samuel L. Jackson gave some of the best work of his career in Black Snake Moan, but the film was never taken very seriously.  Christian Bale gave us some great work in Rescue Dawn, but that film never really had enough buzz around it to get this far.  I also would have loved to see Don Cheadle get a nomination for his fun performance in Talk to Me, but like the other actors I just mentioned, his film just didn’t stay in the public conscious.  


 Best Actress: 

The Nominees:

Julie Christie- Away From Her

Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth- The Golden Age

Ellen Page- Juno

Laura Linney- The Savages

Marian Cotilliard- La Vie En Rose

Who Will Win?

This is one of the more competitive categories, and there are three major front runners.  Julie Christie has a nostalgic appeal and has the usual Oscar performance hook of playing someone with a mental illness.  Marion Cotilliard fits in with the longstanding trend of people winning Oscars for imitating a famous person.  Ellen Page probably does the most with challenging material.  Julie Christie is the front runner, but I think I’m going to predict Page to pull an upset, she’s clearly the center of that beloved film that they’re going to want to honor somewhere and her detractors will probably be split between Christie and Cotilliard.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Cate Blanchett is lucky to have even been nominated for her performance in the widely hated Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and The Savages just isn’t a popular enough film for Laura Linney to have a chance.  Since I’m predicting the dark horse to win, I guess that means Julie Christie has the second best chance of winning.

Who Should Win?

Ellen Page deserves to win this award, as she has the most challenging role of the bunch.  She needs to create a very memorable character that anchors an entire film, at the same time she has to embody the spirit of a teenage girl while pulling off tricky lines.  I hated La Vie En Rose  and thout Away From Her Was over-rated.  To me Ellen Page is in a league above the rest of the nominees.

Who Got Snubbed?

Angelina Jolie gave a great performance in A Mighty Heart, but that film’s coldness was probably a bit too much for most of the voters.  I also rather liked Helena Bonham Carter’s turn in Sweeney Todd.


 Best Supporting Actor: 

The Nominees:

Casey Affleck- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Phillip Seymour Hoffman- Charlie Wilson’s War

Hal Holbrook- Into the Wild

Tom Wilkinson- Michael Clayton

Javier Bardem- No Country for Old Men

Who Will Win?

Javier Bardem is the absolute frontrunner here, anyone else winning would be a dramatic upset.  Here Bardem creates an extremely memorable villain along the lines of Hannibal Lecter, and this will get him far in this year that seems to be looking more toward character creating than simple mimicry.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Casey Affleck and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are both in movies that have little or no momentum, and many disagree with Affleck’s classification as supporting in the first place.  Hal Holbrook could get support from those seeking to give him a lifetime achievement award, but his part is rather small and the film was not loved by the Academy judging from its low nomination count.  Tom Wilkinson has a slight shot, Michael Clayton was clearly a well liked film and he’s overdue for an Oscar, but I doubt either of these sentiments are strong enough to topple the behemoth that is Javier Bardem this year.

Who Should Win?

I’m in complete agreement with the buzz surrounding Javier Bardem’s work in No Country, and definitely endorse his nearly eventual win.  In all fairness, I haven’t seen Charlie Wilson’s War or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but I doubt either of those performances could live up to Bardem’s brilliant work in No Country.

Who Got Snubbed?

Chris Cooper’s performance in Breach was so good many mistakenly believed it was a lead role, unfortunately few remembered the film which was released last February.  Kurt Russell’s work in Grindhouse was also awesome, but almost no one took the film seriously enough to award him.  Irfan Khan also gave a stunning performance in The Namesake, but that film never really seen widely.


 Best Supporting Actress: 

The Nominees:

Ruby Dee- American Gangster

Saorise Ronan- Atonement

Amy Ryan- Gone Baby Gone

Cate Blanchet- I’m Not There

Tilda Swinton- Michael Clayton

Who Will Win?

This is one of the hardest categories to predict because most of the precursors have been all over the map.  Cate Blanchet and Amy Ryan are the conventional front runners and both have pros and cons in their favor.  Blanchett has the impressive act of playing a man to her name, but some could be just as turned off by that and the general weirdness of the movie.  Ryan on the other hand gives a large performance as a deglamorized woman, which is a role that has worked in the past for actresses like Charlize Theron and Hillary Swank.  I’m tempted to lean toward Blanchett, but Amy Ryan ultimately seems like the safer choice.

Who’s The Dark Horse?

Ruby Dee will have a large lifetime achievement sentiment in her favor, and has had luck with precursors.  She also has the benefit of being one of the most memorable elements of a very crowded movie. Saorise Ronan probably won’t be taken very seriously, the Academy has a long record of nominating child actors in this category, but never gives the award to the novelty choice.  Tilda Swinton has none of the easily categorized benefits of her competitors, but could sneak in if there’s enough vote splitting and the voters want to honor Michael Clayton somewhere.

Who Should Win?

Blanchett’s casting in I’m Not There may be viewed as a gimmicky stunt, but it really isn’t.  It really was a rather brilliant move by Todd Haynes which allows for a deeper examination of Dylan’s character in that segment of the film than a more conventional choice would have offered.  Additionally the movie offers five other more gender appropriate actors to compare her two and she seems to outshine them all.

Who Got Snubbed?

Katherine Keener should have been nominated for her memorable, yet down to earth work in Into the Wild.  Jennifer Garner should have been honored for the sadness and reality she inserts into Juno.  And like Irfan Khan, the bollywood actress Tabu should have been honored for the great work she did in The Namesake.


 Best Adapted Screenplay: 

The Nominees:

Atonement

Away From Her

The Diving Bell and Butterfly

No Country for Old Men

There Will Be Blood

Who Will Win?

I’m predicting an overall surge for No Country for Old Men, but it’s a little more vulnerable here then it is in the director category simply because many may overlook its script in favor of the visual elements.  If that is the case it will probably go to Atonement, otherwise the Coens have this one in the bag.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

As previously stated, Atonement could take this if No Country is ignored.  Away From Her and The Diving Bell and Butterfly both failed to garner best picture nominations, so their screenplay prospects seem a bit limited.  Like in most catagories, There Will Be Blood seems to suffer the same drawbacks as No Country except to an even great extent, so it’s unlikely to win unless that movie surges.

Who Should Win?

No Country for Old Men follows its book so closely that it’s almost more like a transcript than a creative work, it made for a great film but I wouldn’t necessarily award the Coen Brothers for that part of the film making process this time.  I might want to give it to There Will be Blood, but that script really is pretty insane.  So, I’m thinking I might give this to The Diving Bell and Butterfly which uses a unique source to great effect, its solid and avoids the syrup this could have turned into.

Who Was Snubbed?

I would have liked to see Into the Wild get in here, but that’s the only real snub, otherwise this is a pretty solid category.


 Best Original Screenplay: 

The Nominees:

Juno

Lars and the Real Girl

Michael Clayton

Ratatouille

The Savages

Who Will Win?

All conventional wisdom seems to point toward a big win here for Juno.  Writer Diablo Cody’s Cinderella story has been widely publicized at this will definitely give her an edge.  Voters will also be able to easily identify the film’s highly stylized dialogue.  Breakout Indie comedies like Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine have done well in the screenplay category and this will probably be no exception.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Anyone interested in voting for a quirky comedy will likely vote for Juno rather than Lars and the Real Girl or The Savages.  Ratatouille’s nomination is probably little more than a courtesy in a weak category.  Michael Clayton is probably the only real contender to be a spoiler here, and it may have more of a chance than many people seem to think.  It’s a very well respected and well structured thriller and the phrase “honest to blog” is nowhere to be seen in it.

Who Should Win?

I think I’m going to support the dark horse here and go with Michael Clayton.  The film has great pacing, story structure, and dialogue.  Juno’s dialogue works but only because the actors were able to do wonders with strange material.

Who Was Snubbed?

Knocked Up was, if nothing else, the funniest writing of the year and it manages to do so without abandoning a somewhat realistic story.  Alex Garland also should have been nominated for the criminally underlooked sci-fi film Sunshine.  The screenplay to the Palm d’or winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley also would have been a welcome addition.


 Best Foreign Language Film: 

The Nominees:

The Counterfeiters- Austria

Beaufort- Israel

Mongol- Kazakhstan

Katyn – Poland

12- Russia

Who Will Win?

Idiotic rules and stupid nominating committees have made it so none of the best foreign language movies of the year were even eligible this year.  As such we are left with this deeply uninspired list of movies that haven’t even received domestic distribution.  12 has the highest IMDB score, for whatever that’s worth, but it sounds like a 12 Angry Men rip-off.  Beaufort sounds fairly topical, but it was the country’s second choice after the disqualified film The Band’s Visit, so it can’t be that great.  The Counterfeiters is set during World War II and that’s always a good sign, but Katyn is also set during world war two and was done by the fairly well known veteran filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, so I’m going to guess that one.

Who Should Win?

 See: Who got snubbed

 

Who Got Snubbed?

Each and every one of the major foreign language films to get a domestic release was disqualified for a variety of stupid reasons.  Each country is only allowed to submit one film, as such France choose not to submit The Diving Bell and Butterfly or La Vie En Rose for mostly political reasons.  The film they did submit, Persepolis, was not passed on to the shortlist by the nominating committee which is made up of mostly “retired academy members” (I.E. geezers).  That same committee passed on the Palm d’or winning Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, the great Spanish horror film The Orphanage, the popular Hong Kong gangster film Exiled, the Hungarian horror film Taxidermia.  At least those films had countries to submit them, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution was ruled not be Taiwanese enough to be submitted by Taiwan.  The Israeli film The Band’s Visit was ruled ineligible for having a few too many lines in English.  Other notable foreign films that failed to find their way here for one reason or another include the South Korean monster film The Host, the Iranian feminist piece Offside, and the Japanese anime Paprika.


 Best Documentary Feature: 

The Nominees:

No End in Sight

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

Sicko

Taxi to the Dark Side

War/Dance

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse?

I think I see a pattern here.  Of the five nominees: two are directly about the war in Iraq (No End in Sight and Operation Homecoming), one deals with U.S. torture policy within the greater war on terror (Taxi to the Dark Side), one has the word “war” in the title and takes place in Uganda.  The only non war related nominee is Sicko, Michael Moore’s look into the  broken U.S. healthcare system.  I’m guessing that Sicko will be the defacto choice for voters looking for something that doesn’t involve war.  It’s probably the most mainstream and accessible of the nominees, and its definitely the highest grossing, so I’m going to guess it. 

Who Should Win?

Michael Moore makes clever films but his style is begging to get a little predictable.  I’d rather see this go to No End In Sight, a well researched examination of how the war in Iraq went so wrong.  It might not be as entertaining as Sicko, but it a more mature work and ultimately the more persuasive.

Who Was Snubbed?

Helvetica, is a fascinating documentary about graphic design focusing on the Helvetica font.  In the Shadow of the Moon is also a very well made documentary about the familiar subject of the moon landing.


 Best Animated Feature: 

The Nominees:

Persepolis

Ratatouille

Surf’s Up

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse?

Ratatouile is the clear winner here. It has significantly more box office prowess than its competitors and more unanimous critical praise. Persepolis would have a chance if the shortsighted Academy were able to see that animation is a viable medium for adult oriented films.

Who Should Win?

I have not seen any of these movies, however I would like to see Persepolis, which is more than I can say about the other nominees.

Who Was Snubbed?

The academy has never been comfortable nominating adult oriented films in this category, and it’s a miracle that Persepolis managed to find its way in.  I would have liked to see Beowulf find its way in, or the great anime film Paprika.

Best Cinematography: 

The Nominees:

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Atonement

No Country for Old Men

The Diving Bell and Butterfly

There Will Be Blood

Who Will Win?

This award usually focuses less on innovative camera movement and is usually more interested in a certain pristine, often golden, look.  Innovation usually takes a backseat to aesthetic beauty.  As such I’m thinking this might be going to There Will Be Blood, I don’t entirely agree with this but many will probably not be as fussy about the black levels as I am.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Many are hoping this will be Roger Deakin’s year as he is nominated for both No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Unfortunately Assassination is better work while No Country is more widely seen, for that reason I’m predicting a Deakins vote split.  Because beauty is more valued than camera movement I don’t see Diving Bell and Butterfly or Atonement doing well either.  If anything beats There Will be Blood, it will probably be Atonement.

Who Should Win?

I definitely would like to see Deakins finally win, and I’m leaning toward giving it to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  

Who got Snubbed?

The best cinematography I saw this year was in Sweeney Todd, a movie with a very creative look and great black levels.  Into the Wild was snubbed yet again in this category.  I also would have loved to see Zodiac here for its great digital cinematography.


 Best Editing: 

The Nominees:

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Diving Bell and Butterfly

Into the Wild

No Country for Old Men

There Will Be Blood

Who Will Win?

Four of the last five editing awards have gone to the best picture winner, the one exception being the dialogue heavy Million Dollar Baby which lost to the more epic The Aviator.  So it would seem that No Country For Old Men should take this one.  The one question is whether or not the voters will be turned off by the Roderick Jaynes silliness.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

As usual, No Country’s biggest competitor is going to be There Will Be Blood, this could turn into quite a duel between the two films.  The Bourne Ultimatum’s rapid fire editing is awesome, but might be too much for some of the older traditionalist voters to handle.  There’s a lot to respect in the invisible transitions and invisible cuts of Into the Wild and The Diving Bell and Butterfly.

Who Should Win?

All of these films have very nice editing, I could be happy with a win for any of them.  In fact I probably prefer the editing in the three dark horses over the editing in the front runners.  The best of the five is probably The Bourne Ultimatum; that film took the recent trend of rapid fire editing and truly mastered it.

Who Got Snubbed?

28 Weeks Later… was just as good a rapidfire editing as The Bourne Ultimatum was but never had a real shot at a nomination.  Sunshine, was also a very well edited film that no one saw.


 Best Art Direction: 

The Nominees:

American Gangster

Atonement

The Golden Compass

Sweeney Todd

There Will Be Blood

Who Will Win?

This award often goes to inventive fantasy-ish films so long as they have some general credibility in other categories.  This would seem to place Sweeney Todd at a distinct advantage as it’s the only one that fits that description.  Combine that with the good track record of Tim Burton movies in this category and the fact that it’s the best nominee and it looks like all but a sure thing.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

American Gangster manages to recreate 70s New York very well, and that could impress a lot of voters.  There Will Be Blood or Atonement could ride their best picture buzz to a win as well.

Who Should Win?

The Academy dropped the ball I a big way in this category; the only film on my personal shortlist that made the nomination was Sweeny Todd.  So that’s obviously the nominee I’m supporting.  My number two choice is probably American Gangster.

Who Got Snubbed?

Regardless of how the voters saw the film as a whole, there should have been no denying that 300 was one of the most visually creative movies of the year.  Sunshine also should have been acknowledged for the excellent hard sci-fi design on the ship the film takes place on.  Pirates of the Carribean: At Worlds End was a terrible film, but there was some creative art direction in it.  And I probably prefer the recreation of 60s San Francisco in Zodiac more than I like the recreation of 70s New York in American Gangster.


 Best Costume Design: 

The Nominees:

Across the Universe

Atonement

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

La Vie En Rose

Sweeney Todd

Who Will Win?

This award often goes toward movies that have the best opportunity to show off, which usually means period garb and also tends to lean toward elaborate female outfits.  For that reason I’m leaning toward Elizabeth: The Golden Age for the win. I may regret that however, because some of costumes in Atonement have emerged as iconic images.

Who’s the Dark Horse?

Part of why I think Atonement could end up winning is that green dress that Keira Knightly was wearing.  I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in fashion in any way, yet I still managed to notice that, imagine how much of an impact it would have had for someone who gives a crap about such things.  La Vie En Rose also seems to fit the general pattern of victory in this category, but I doubt many will want to support that crappy movie after they actually see it.  Across the Universe and Sweeney Todd are basically also rans here.

Who Should Win?

Atonement I guess, this is really something I don’t tend to pay much attention to.

Who got snubbed?

I don’t care.                                                                                                           


 Best Original Score: 

The Nominees:

Atonement

The Kite Runner

Michael Clayton

Ratatouille

3:10 to Yuma

Who Will Win?

Memorability is key in this category moreso than quality.  For this reason Atonement is at a huge advantage.  I found Atonement’s score to be a gimmicky and overbearing distraction, but at least I remember it well.  That’s more than I can say about the Michael Clayton and 3:10 to Yuma scores, that I don’t remember a note of. 

Who’s the Dark Horse?

If any movie can beat Atonement here it might be The Kite Runner.  This type of cross cultural music score has had a good track record in recent years with films like Babel, Brokeback Mountin and Frida taking it in recent years.

Who Should Win?

I may not remember the music from Michael Clayton or 3:10 to Yuma, but that likely means that they simply blended in with the movie well.  Basically I’m rooting for every score except the Atonement score.

Who Got Snubbed?

Easily the most egregious snub was the There Will Be Blood score which was disqualified by the nominating committee because of its similarity to other published works by the composer Johnny Greenwood.  That was easily the best score of the year and this injustice taints this entire category.  Robert Rodriguez’s score on the Planet Terror portion of Grindhouse had one of the most hummable tunes of the year.  300’s score had a great fusion between conventional scoring, middle eastern music, and modern electronic.  Eastern Promises effectively combined western and Slavic music.  The Sunshine score was also a great fusion of traditional scoring and electronic.


 Best Original Song: 

The Nominees:

“Raise it Up”- August Rush

“Happy Working Song”- Enchanted

“So Close”- Enchanted

“That’s How You Know”- Enchanted

“Falling Slowly”- Once

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse?

The animated Disney-ish film usually manages to steal this award, which would seem to work in Enchanted’s favor.  But since they saw it fit to nominate three songs from that film, there’s a good chance they will cancel each other out like what happened to Dreamgirls last year.  As such, I’m going to go with the cult favorite of “Falling Slowly” from Once.  The movie wasn’t seen by enough voters to really make it in other categories, but its following was loyal and should be excited to support it in the one category they can.  If a song from Enchanted does pull through and make it will probably be “That’s How You Know.”

Who Should Win?

This category is usually poor, and this year is no exception.  The nominators clearly wouldn’t know a good song if it came up and bit them in the ass, and the nominees this year are a testament to this.  The songs from Enchanted are all sub-par parodies of Disney musical numbers that make little sence outside the context of the movie.  The August Rush song is a slight improvement, but it’s still a pretty tired cliché of a secular church choir type song.  “Falling Slowly” isn’t the type of music I generally go for, but it’s clearly better than the rest of this crap.

Who Got Snubbed?

Who didn’t?  They could have nominated “Do You Feel Me” from American Gangster, three great Eddie Veder songs from Into the Wild, the original Bob Dyaln song “Huck’s Tune” from Lucky You, and all the funny rock parodies from Walk Hard.


 Best Makeup: 

The Nominees:

La Vie En Rose

Norbit

Pirates of the Carribean: At Worlds End

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse?

I highly doubt the academy will stoop giving any award to Norbit, one of the most universally hated movies of the year.  The very nomination of this thing is an embarrassment to the Academy.  As such it is a question of whether it will go to the effects extravaganza (Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End) or to the French film (La Vie En Rose) for its old age makeup.  I’m guessing they’ll go with the former as that’s been their usual MO for this category.

Who Should Win?

I’m happy to say I never sat through Norbit, and I’m happy to report that I sat through both of the other nominees, which are both dreadful.  The makeup in La Vie En Rose is nothing short of hideous, the question is whether it is deliberately so.  Marian Potilliard appears to be covered in entirely noticeable makeup, it looks like her face could melt at any time.  This could be period accurate, but replicated crap is still crap.  The prosthetic work in Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, is more mainstream, and thus boring makeup work, but at least I couldn’t see the seams.

Who Got Snubbed?

Pretty much every movie made this year.  Specifically The Diving Bell and Butterfly.


 Best Visual Effects: 

The Nominees:

The Golden Compass

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Transformers

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse?

This will probably go to the garbage film that was Transformers.  It’s no secret that this is the category where voters like to honor bad summer blockbusters to appease the philistines who prefer them to the Best Picture nominees.  The Golden Compass was a box office dud, so I doubt they’re going anywhere near that.  Pirates of the Caribbean has a slightly better shot, but since the last installment of that series won last year, they’re probably going to spread the wealth.

Who Should Win?

Transformers is a bad movie, but I guess the explosions looked real enough.

Who Was Snubbed?

Sunshine, had some of the best, most seamless, and most creative effects of the year and it did it without anywhere near the budget of the nominated films.  300, also had some very nice effects that deserved to be honored.  Spider-Man 3 was a disappointment, but it did have some top notch effects.


 Best Sound: 

The Nominees:

The Bourne Ultimatum

No Country For Old Men

Ratatouille

3:10 to Yuma

Transformers

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse?

This award, given to the film with the best overall sound mix of existing elements, is not easy to judge unless one watches the films with sound in mind.  I’m going to predict Transformers because one of the technicians on the sound crew, Kevin O’Connell, has been nominated twenty times and has yet to win. The man has only failed to get an Oscar nomination six times in the last twenty four years.  Otherwise they’ll probably go for the intense sound work from The Bourne Ultimatum. The team from No Country for Old Men could ride that films coat tails to the win, but as a rule for this category louder is better.

Who Should Win?

I think I’d probably play along with the louder is better trend, to a degree, and go with The Bourne Ultimatum.  That was a good soundtrack to shake the theater with, that fight in Morocco alone should earn this award in my eyes.  That said, there was some neat stuff going on with the No Country for Old Men soundscape.


 Best Sound Effects Editing: 

The Nominees:

The Bourne Ultimatum

No Country for Old Men

Ratatouille

There Will Be Blood

Transformers

Who Will Win, Who’s the Dark Horse

The difference between the two sound award tends to allude a lot of people, even the nominators if the fact that the categories share four of the five nominees is any indication.  While the Best sound category gauges the best overall mix of existing sounds, Best Sound Effects Editing gauges the talent that was put into creating the sounds themselves. There’s no Kevin O’Connell in this category, but the transformation sound (wha-way-wha-wo) will probably earn Transformers a win here.

Who Should Win?

This award should belong to No Country For Old Men if only for the sound of Anton Chigurh’s weapons.  The silenced shotgun manages to cause damage in a very quietly load kind of way.  More important is the crazy pfffft sound of that cattle gun as it takes people’s lives.


 The Short Categories:

I haven’t seen or heard of any of these short films.  As such I will make my predictions here through the scientific process of judging which movie in each category has the coolest title.

Best Documentary Short:

The Nominees:

Freeheld

La Corona / The Crown

Salim Baba

Sari’s Mother

Who Will Win?

Sari’s Mother

Best Live Action Short:

The Nominees:

At Night

The Substitute

The Mozart of Pickpockets

Tanghi Argentini

The Tonto Woman

Who Will Win?

The Mozart of Pickpockets

Best Animated Short:

The Nominees:

I Met the Walrus

Madame Tutli Putli

Even Pigeons Go To Heaven

My Love

Peter and the Wolf

 

Who Will Win?

I Met the Walrus

2007 Golden Stake Awards- Genre Awards

Horror Film of the Year

Horror has been called a bastard child of the cinematic world, it often seems like it’s off on its own in a strange little niche.  Still it is a genre that many people, and many filmmakers, have a real passion for.  There are a lot of crappy horror films, but there are definitely good ones out there, and these nominees prove that.

1408: Stephen King is probably the greatest horror icon living today, and his works are often turned into decent if not great films.  Here we have a neat twist on the concept of the “haunting” of a space.  John Cusack is great here in a one man show of sorts and a scene of him looking at himself across a street is genius.

28 Weeks Later…: Making a sequel to 28 Days Later… was so crazy that it actually worked.  Juan Carlos Fresnidio turned the original film, which mostly focused on badass zombie horror, and added a fascinating political allegory into the mix.  There’s a real intensity to the zombie scenes, and the editing really makes it work.

The Host: This South Korean monster movie isn’t really a work of horror, but it does share the same genre lineage as many of its fellow nominees.  The film is a mix of effects, political allegory, design, and family struggle.  It doesn’t really excel at many of these things, but the sheer quantity of ideas makes this a very enjoyable flick.

The Mist: The other good Stephen King adaptation of the year.  More ambitious than 1408, but also more flawed.  The film is marred by simplistic characters and bad CGI, but you can really tell Frank Darabont’s enthusiasm for the subject matter throughout.  Flawed though it may be, its always nice to see someone try to make a real film out of this kind of genre material.

The Orphanage: This Spanish horror film from first time director Juan Antonio Bayona managed to get a fairly wide release because Guillermo del Toro put his name on the project.  This is in many ways trying to be the ultimate haunting film.  It has disturbing images that really stay in your head long after you’re finished watching it.

 The Golden Stake goes to… The Orphanage

The Orphanage certainly isn’t the most creative horror film of the year, 1408 does more new things for the haunting genre, but what it does do is take all the great staple scenes of the genre and does it better than anyone else has done before.  This is a freaky film that will really have you at the edge of your seat.

 Action Film of the Year

Action films are consistently one of the most popular genres around, although all too often they can be lackluster.  There are few things as fun as a really good action film that excites and grips the audience.  Unfortunately Hollywood executives all too often think anyone can make these movies, but that isn’t true, it takes real skill to make these movies right.  These nominees exemplify the right way to make an action film.

300: Machismo has been strangely absent from the cinema screens for a very long time.  That is until Zach Snyder decided to adapt Frank Miller’s graphic novel take on the battle of Thermopylae.  300 used new slow motion techniques and bluescreen technology to bring this stylized version of the battle to the cinema screen.

3:10 to Yuma: Before the early 70s, the main genre for action scenes was the Western.  James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma was a smart attempt to bring this genre back without any post-modern apologies.  There were a number of great action scenes here, particularly a stage coach robbery at the beginning and a massive shootout at the end.

Beowulf: Animation has rarely been used for action thrills outside of Japan, but Robert Zemeckis did the best he could to correct this with the innovative epic poem adaptation Beowulf.  The film continued the trend of increased machismo in screen heros that was started by the movie 300, and featured a number of awesome fights with a bunch of monsters.

The Bourne Ultimatum: The Bourne series has consistently had great action scenes as well as very strong character elements.  The third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum, is possibly the best of the series and a great showcase of Paul Greengrasses film style.  This is the type of competition that forced the James Bond series to re-invent itself.

Shooter: Let me make it clear that Shooter is not a good movie, its really quite weak.  So why is it nominated here?  Well mainly because I wanted at least one of the nominees to represent a certain old school type of R-rated thriller.  The story is lame and it’s attempts to be a sophisticated thriller fail miserably, however deep down there is a fun movie here which shows a lot of people getting shot in the head.

 The Golden Stake goes to… The Bourne Ultimatum

This is one of the easiest choices I’ve had to make all through this award thing.  The first two Bourne films were easy to take for granted, but this third installment really made me realize just how great the series has been.  300 was a definite second here, but I have no hesitation calling The Bourne Ultimatum the action film of 2007.

 Funniest Film

Comedies are frequently forgotten in year in review features, and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.  The name of this award should be pretty self explanatory, whatever makes me laugh the most wins it.  Bear in mind though, this is for the funniest, not the best.  This is not about the best all around film, but the one with the largest laugh quotient.

Hot Fuzz: A parody of the Jerry Bruckheimer action films from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.  This film gently poked fun at the action film genre much the way their previous film, Sean of the Dead, took on the Zombie film.  While Sean of the Dead was ultimately a much better film, there was still a lot of very nice stuff here like a great shootout parody toward the end.

Juno: Everyone and their mother are buzzing about how charming Juno is, and how lovable its characters are.  But this buzz sometimes forgets just how laugh out loud funny the film is throughout.  This is not the type of comedy that goes out of its way to elicit laughter, but the dialogue and character interaction throughout are more consistently funny then most all out comedies.

Knocked Up: The first of Judd Apatow’s one two punch, this is the film that made Seth Rogen a household name.  The film’s real strength is its ability to be laugh out loud funny the whole way through without interrupting its story.  The film is filled with great moments like Rogen’s phone call to Heigl’s truant gynecologist, and an ill fated trip to Las Vegas.

The Savages: This is probably the one nominated film that’s furthest from being an all out comedy, and in many ways it’s the way that the film balances comedy and drama that makes it so compelling.  The film is filled with those great little ironic one-liners that don’t make much sense out of context like “this isn’t therapy, this is real life” and “I’m sure the world is just clamoring for a book about Bertolt Brecht for the holiday season.”

Superbad: The second step in Judd Apatow’s brilliant year long plan to bring rapid-fire profanity to the mainstream.  This is like the ultimate teen sex comedy and one of the few great entries in this often awful genre.  Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and whoever played Mclovin were instant celebrities for a few weeks and this was very well deserved.

 The Golden Stake goes to… Superbad

Like I said, this category focuses more on laugh quotient than overall quality.  I think both Juno and Knocked Up are better overall movies, but the sheer quantity of belly laughs was a lot higher in Superbad.  Here we are treated to classic bits of comedy like Jonah Hill trying to get an old woman to buy him booze, Michael Cera’s near miss first sexual encounter, and McLovin’s general McLovinness.

 Most Underappreciated Film

There’s no pleasing everyone, but all too often movies fail to really get the acclaim they deserve.  This isn’t necessarily an “under-rated” category, though those are eligible too.  Really this is simply a category from movies that fell through the cracks either with critics, audiences or both.  This is for the films the critics loved that got seen by few, and the films that got seen by many but failed to be taken seriously by critics.  Its also the place for movies that just got straight up overlooked on all levels.

Beowulf:  This film was a moderate box office success, but many critics seemed unable to see the many strong attributes it had outside of its technical merits.  I think many were too distracted by the film’s 3D effects to notice that there’s a pretty clever script under all the technical advancements.  The film is an interesting adaptation of an old tale that examines the dichotomy of the hero figure

Redacted:  Of all the overlooked films that came out this year, Redacted would seem to be the most deserving.  The film features terrible acting, a simplistic script and a gimmicky set up.  However, what the film does have are balls of steel.  This is the film for the most hardcore of liberal war activist and it pulls no punches at all.  Crude though it may be; in a year of anemic issuetainment like Rendition and Lions for Lambs, this film really hit me.

Sunshine: This was a fairly large budget science fiction film with name actors and a respected director.  Because of this I was surprised to find myself as the one and only person in the audience when I went to see it opening day.  The film was ignored by audiences and argued about by polarized critics, and most certainly deserved better.

I Think I Love My Wife: This above average effort from Chris Rock is the best mediocre Woody Allen movie not to be made by Woody Allen in years.  It was far from a perfect film. But it was an attempt to make a smart, funny comedy.  Compared to the non-sence being put out by Rock’s fellow African American SNL alumni Eddie Murphy, this is something to be celebrated.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley: It may be a stretch to call a Palm D’or winner underappreciated, but I do think this film deserved better than its weak early April release date.  This movie is just as good as many of the films being nominated for Oscars yet so many are just not bothering to think about it come year’s end.

 The Golden Stake goes to… Sunshine

This was one of a few really good movies to be almost completely un appreciated both critics and audiences, and I can sort of see why it’s so polarizing. The film had an ending which could disappoint people looking for a more cerebral solution, but I’ve come to believe the ending works just fine, it just isn’t what many expected or wanted.

Best Foreign Language Film

Foreign films are all too often overlooked by those unwilling to read subtitles.  There are great films from all over the world that all too often go overlooked in favor of mainstream fare.  That isn’t to say everything with sub-titles is poor, but because of the extra complications with distributing sub-titled film the poor tend not to find their way into the English language market. 

Black Book (Zwartboek)-Denmark: This return to form for Paul Verhoven, his first Dutch film since the mid eighties.  With this World War 2 espionage film Verhoven is again able to explore the seedy, erotic side of his film style, an aspect he’s avoided since the disastrous Showgirls.  This isn’t a perfect film but it has a real energy and a sense of fearlessness.  I wish Verhoven hadn’t used a terrible framing story, but for the most part this is a wild ride.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon)-France: This has been a banner year for French cinema.  French films can be found in the animation and lead actress categories at the Oscars this year, but the real gem of them all can be found in the director category where this gem can be found.  Don’t be intimidated by the title, American director Julien Schnabel has made a beautiful film that’s accessible but never sells out.

Offside -Iran: This slice of life from Iran is a critique of the gender laws in this troubled nation.  Iran is actually one of the most democratic and affluent nations in the Muslim world, yet it still has barbaric and misogynist laws preventing women from doing things as routine as attending a sporting event.  The film tackles this subject matter in a light, somewhat humorous way that makes the you unsure whether to laugh or cry. 

The Orphanage (El Orphanto)-Spain: This Spanish language horror film introduces the world to a promising new director: J.A. Bayona.  The best film of its genre, The Orphanage is a really well made horror film that will send chills up your spine despite the familiarity of its content.  There are really strong images in this tale and an intriguing mystery at its core.

Paprika –Japan: There is so much anime coming into the country that the market has really become diluted.  Which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise whenever a really good one emerges;  Paprika, is just such a film.  This is a wildly creative film that explores the inner psyches of its characters by way of dreamscapes.  The plot is overcomplicated, but the images are really compelling.

 The Golden Stake goes to… The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Nothing else here even comes close.  This is far and away the best foreign film of the year and it annoys me to no end that it wasn’t even submitted to compete in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars.  This omission just screams for reform in that category and hopefully they will finally get it right next year. 

Documentary of the Year

This is another category that I’m not entirely confident about giving out authoritatively.  I rarely find myself seeing documentaries in theaters and there were a number of Oscar nominated Docs this year that I haven’t had a chance to see.  Still, I’m going to give this a shot, hopefully I’ll get most of the year’s documentary highlights.

Helvetica: This is a documentary about, of all things, a typeface.  Yes this is about the Helvetica font, something I see every day and never even think about.  Though Helvetica is the hook, this movie is really about more than that, it is an exploration of graphic design in general, specifically text and typefaces.  I had no idea this is something that could be turned into an 80 minute film, yet I was very interested throughout this film.

In the Shadow of the Moon: This film examines a very familiar subject that’s been analyzed in many feature films and mini-series.  That subject is the 1969 moon landing, an event that has almost become ledged.  In order to look at this subject in a new light the filmmakers decided to examine the mission on a more personal level through interviews with the astronauts involved.   

The King of Kong: Certainly one of the most popular documentaries of the year among online circles.  The subject of a rivalry over a Donkey Kong score, is a good set up for an examination of obsession and competitiveness.  I really wish the filmmakers had focused more on these themes instead of manufacturing a god vs. evil narrative.  Still, interesting things are captured.

No End in Sight: The best documentary yet about the Iraq war, and a well researched indictment of the failed policies that turned the war into the quagmire it’s become.  This is in many ways the anti- Moore documentary in that it is extremely detailed and well researched.  Most of the film consists of interviews with people who were on the scene when these decisions were made.

 

Sicko:  Michael Moore is in many ways the Oliver Stone of documentary cinema; he makes wild, inventive, and highly enjoyable pieces that tend to piss off anyone who disagrees with him.  Moore is certainly biased, but no more so than people like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, and unlike them he never pretends to be “fair and balanced.”  Sicko is in many ways the culmination of what Moore has tried before; it combines the satirical stunts of Roger and Me, the sarcastic wit of Bowling for Columbine, and the serious tone of Fahrenheit 9/11.

 The Golden Stake goes to… No End in Sight

The Iraq war is a major issue, but news accounts of it rarely go much past arguing pundits.  The brilliant thing No End in Sight does is take a step back and look at the war from beginning to end, allowing the viewer to see the bigger picture of how the war went so wrong.  Meticulously researched and fact checked, the film avoids sensationalism and delivers a strong, decisive message.

2007 Golden Stake Awards- Writing/Advertising Awards

Best line

Everyone loves to quote movie lines, but what makes one great?  I think they need to be somewhat unique, while also really flowing off the tounge in a special way, especially when its delivered by a really good actor.

“I am Ripper… Tearer… Slasher… Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength… and Lust… and Power! I AM BEOWULF!” Beowulf: Many remember similar lines from 300 but I think this line beat King Leonidas at his own war-cry game.  I love how Beowulf calls himself a “tearer,”  I don’t know what a tearer goes about tearing, but I’d rather it not happen to me.  But one should not forget that this line is important to the plot as Beowulf’s boasting and heroism is subverted in the second half.

“I Drink Your Milkshake” There Will Be Blood: Four words that embody Daniel Plainview’s decent into madness.  Out of context this makes very little sense, on their surface it’s simply a metaphor for an oil drilling technicality, but when delivered by Daniel Day-Lewis in the last moments of this great film they mean something bigger and more profound. 

“The guy’s either going think ‘here’s another guy with a fake ID’, or here’s McLovin, 25 year old Hawaiian organ donor.” Superbad: Possibly the most memorable element of Superbad was a character officially named Fogell, but who will forever be known as McLovin.  This is the line that points out the absurdity of that choice of a name and is possibly the most known line of the movie because it was one of the few lines that could be played in the trailer.

 “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit/and it’s filled with people who are filled with shit!/ And the vermin of the world inhabit it” Sweeney Todd: What really kept the music working in Sweeney Todd was Stephen Sondheim’s the masterful lyrics, and this is a great example of them.  It flows well, it rhymes, and it helps tell the story.  It also perfectly establishes Todd’s nihilistic mindset. 

“This is a pimp I wouldn’t trust to wash my car, but y’all done elected him city official…” Talk to Me: A big part of why Talk to Me is so fun is how Don Cheadle’s character is a rebellious figure, but in a very fun and flamboyant way.  This is simply a really fun line to say and when I heard it in the trailer I knew this was a film I had to see.

 The Golden Stake goes to… There Will Be Blood

This is a hard category to judge objectively, I’m sure people of a slightly different mindset would come up with five other quotes that work better for them.  “I drink your Milkshake” has already caught on in the public conscious, and it will probably continue to spread.  By the time the film hits DVD this might be as big as “Show me the money!”

 Adapted Screenplay

One would think that adapting someone else’s work would be easier than writing an original work, but in fact the process likely brings more challenges than benefits.  When adapting, a writer must try to go off in unique directions while also trying to remain true to the original source material.

Atonement: In writing Atonement, Christopher Hampton had the challenge of living up to the legacy of one of the most acclaimed books of this century.  While any adaptation has the challenge of pleasing purists of a given work, this book had a particularly large and demanding fan base to deal with, and in spite of this challenge it has still become one of the most acclaimed films of the year.

The Diving Bell and Butterfly: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is interesting in that it is adapting a very unconventional auto-biography.  Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book is largely an account of what his life is like with locked-in syndrome.  With his screenplay, Ronald Harwood draws from both the book and original research into Bauby’s life in order to tell a story that is inspiring, but never sappy.

Into the Wild: With Into the Wild, Sean Penn had the challenge of adapting a popular non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer.  While many would have simply used the book as one of many sources, Penn attempts to adapt it and preserve its basic format.  The film uses unusual techniques like writing prose on the screen in order to consistently preserve the link between the film and Krakauer’s book.

No Country for Old Men: Among these nominees, No Country for Old Men is unique in that it is the only one for which I’ve read the original source material.  I was shocked when reading the book (after seeing the film) just how little the Coen’s changed from Cormac McCarthy’s novel.  This is a nearly word for word translation to screen, which is very unusual. 

There Will Be Blood: Unlike No Country, There Will Be Blood has reportedly changed a lot from Upton Sinclair’s novel.  Interestingly this is the only nominee that has changed the story’s title from its original source. The title is a good example of how an adaptation can help a film. After all “There Will Be Blood” is a much more enticing title than “Oil!”

 The Golden Stake goes to… Into the Wild

There may have been better all around movies in the running this year, but I felt this is probably the movie that most benefitted from its script.  Christopher McCandless could have easily come across as a complete douche bag, but this screenplay manages to give an even handed account of this man’s life.  The screenplay has an almost perfect use of non-chronological storytelling and voiceover.

Original Screenplay

This year, most of the really weighty dramas are all adaptations, which is a double edged sword.  On one hand it makes the adapted screenplay competition really, really tight.  On the other hand, it opens up the original screenplay category to a lot of interesting choices as well as a lot of comedic writing.

Juno: Screenwriters are generally the most anonymous major creative force in cinema.  Aside from a few exceptions like Charlie Kaufman and various writer/directors, very few people in the average public could name a screenwriter off the top of their heads.  Oddly, Diablo Cody has managed to become a minor celebrity with only one script under her belt.  And for good reason, Juno’s charming script has everyone in the country charmed.

Knocked Up: It’s interesting that Knocked Up hasn’t been nominated yet, but Superbad has been nominated for a number of things thus far.  The reason this is getting the screenplay and not the other Judd Apatow project, is that that one had a few very funny moments while Knocked Up managed to spread great witticisms throughout.  Additionally the story goes somewhere; this is not a comedy that just throws jokes at the screen and hope some of them stick.

Michael Clayton: I was really surprised that this was an original screenplay, as this really feels like it was based on some kind of legal novel.  This is a testament to the type of rich screenplay on display here, rarely is cinema the first medium this kind of character study immediately goes to.  Most importantly this film probably has the best dramatic dialogue of the year.

Sunshine: Anyone can write a space opera filled with laser fights and alien monsters, well not anyone, but it is a lot easier.  It takes real talent to create a story with all of those thrills that is also a complex study of ethics and logic.  Sunshine gives us a desperate situation and analyzes how humans would really react to it… and it ain’t pretty.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley: The Wind That Shakes the Barley hasn’t been nominated for a single reward up to this point, and that’s probably because it is the quintessential example of how a film can be greater than the sum of its parts.  The film is a testament to how important a script is in the making of a great film.  Even if the other elements aren’t quite award worth, a great script can still lead to a great movie.

The Golden Stake goes to…

 Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton was the first film directed by the veteran Hollywood screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who brought us the Bourne films.  The film is basically what the Bourne series would have been like if they focused on the politics and espionage of the situation instead of the action.  It’s the dialogue here that really shines.  This film probably has the best dialogue of the year.

Trailer of the Year

While this is really a work of advertising, there is definitely a real art to cutting a great trailer.  One has to get enough good material into a short amount of time to entice people without giving away important plot points.  There are so many of these trailers that its really hard to stand out, yet still some manage to do it.  Sorry Gindhouse, only real trailers are eligible.

300 (Official Trailer): The 300 trailer was like an onslaught of unique and creative images.  Set against a really good Nine Inch Nails instrumental piece, this was the perfect introduction to the great visuals, blistering action, and bombastic acting that would be featured in the film.

American Gangster (Heart of the City): When Ridley Scott teamed up with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington to make a gangster film, expectations were through the roof, and this trailer set expectations even higher. The trailer cuts with a definite rhythm set by the Blueprint era Jay-Z track Heart of the City (Aint no Love). 

Cloverfield (Teaser): Few trailers (or anything else for that matter), had people talking as much as the Cloverfield teaser.  What was special about it?  Well first of all it wasn’t available online, people needed to go to Transformers to see it.  Second, J.J. Abrams was behind it, and he’s the master of watercooler mind fucks.  Third, the damn thing didn’t even have a title on it.

Rambo (Preview Footage):  All educated guesses suggested that this Rambo film was a shameless cash-in.  We are currently living in an era of wimpy, PG-13 action movies.  It seemed logical that this film would sell out much the way another fourth installment of an 80s action movie, Live Free or Die Hard, had.  That is until this extremely graphic preview footage showed up on the internet.  This trailer, which featured a decapitation and a ripped out jugular, promised that Rambo would be a redunculous good time.

Sunshine (Lux Aeterna): Like the film itself, the sunshine trailer starts slow with mystery, before it explodes into a kinetic montage of interesting looking things.  The trailer is set to a composition called “Lux Aeterna” which was part of the Requiem for a Dream score and has since been used effectively in a number of trailers.  This trailer set us up for an exiting sci-fi epic, but kept from giving too much away.

 The Golden Stake goes to… American Gangster

The American Gangster trailer may not have had a viral twist or graphic violence, but it did excel using old school trailer methods.  Every edit here seems perfectly placed and the Jay-Z song seems like a perfect match to the visuals.  It’s a well chosen song that has a hip-hop rhythm, but a 70s soul music hook that remains period appropriate.

Poster of the Year

Print advertising is a dying art, and in all industries printed media is slowly going the way of the dodo.  However, for some reason the tradition of theatrical posters still seems to be thriving.  I love film posters and I always like to look them up when I’ve seen a film. 

Zodiac

American Gangster: This movie is very much about the meeting of two major actors, and the poster smartly realizes this.  Yet, the poster subversively cuts off the faces of both of these movie stars, which is an interesting twist.  The poster is largely a homage to the famous Scarface poster, but not in a way that’s obvious to the point of parody.  I love the way Denzel’s black jacket blends in with the background.

Black Snake Moan: The Black Snake Moan poster is an interesting piece of work because it emphasizes the film’s exploitation roots a lot more then the film itself does.  The piece wisely uses a very accurate drawing technique to make this look like a mad/crazy misogynist piece of 70s goodness, with Christina Ricci in a wicked yet enjoyed sexual pose with Jackson in a strong dominating pose that makes him look very cool when looked at through a subversive 70s lens.  Its all topped off with the brilliant tagline: “Everything is hotter down south.”

Eastern Promises: Here’s another poster that revolves around a really strong tagline, “every sin leaves a mark.”  This tagline directly ties into the film’s message in many ways, and the image is also very strong.  The minimalist image of tattooed hands perfectly accentuates that great tagline, enticing audiences without giving anything away and maintaining a great sense of menace.

There Will Be Blood: This is another example of a great minimalistic approach.  This poster had the benefit of a great title: There Will Be Blood.  It’s a mysterious, yet menacing title and “menacing” is the perfect word to use to describe the poster.  This book, which looks like a bible but has the film’s title in an old English typeface, has a single drop of blood dripping down.

Zodiac: It would have been easy to make a sensationalistic poster for this serial killer film. Instead what they delivered was a poster which perfectly embodies the real threat that presides over the film; a strange, unseen force transforming the city of San Francisco into a place of fear. Additionally the cross in the title’s “O” is a very nice touch.

 The Golden Stake goes to… Black Snake Moan

More than any other poster this year, I have really considered putting this poster up on my wall.  I think that is a very interesting bit of kitch art that should plaster college dorm room walls for years to come.

The 2007 Golden Stake Awards- Acting Awards

Cameo of the Year

The definition of cameo is something that can definitely be debated, and some of my choices (one in particular) really walk the line between cameo and a complete role.  Basically any role that involved a celebrity onscreen in very few scenes is eligible.

Vanessa Redgrave in Atonement: This role most definitely pushes the boundaries of what qualifies as a cameo appearance.  In my defense she’s only in one scene, albeit a long and important one.  The ending of Atonement was absolutely essential to the emotional weight of the whole film, and Vanessa Redgrave is a big part of why it (and thus the whole film) works.

Max Von Sydow in The Diving Bell and Butterfly: This is another choice that’s a bit hard to justify as a cameo, but its closer than the above choice.  Sydow is absolutely heartbreaking in his performance as the father of the main character, and like his son he is confined to a small space.  Aging was a major theme this year, and few brought out the real terror of time like Sydow.

Nicholas Cage in Grindhouse: Unlike the two above, there should be no debate that this is a true cameo, in fact it’s probably the most pure cameo among the nominees.  Cage’s appearance as Dr. Fu Manchu in Rob Zombie’s fake trailer, Werewolf Women of the SS, was probably the biggest laugh in all of Grindhouse.  Simply by showing up cage is able to make fun of his perceived willingness to be in anything and get a big laugh along the way.

David Cross in I’m Not There: David Cross makes a brief, but memorable appearance in I’m Not There playing the poet Allen Ginsberg.  The cult comic seems to be having a blast mimic in the famous beat poet, he dawns funny fake beard and shares a memorable scene where he and Dylan look up at a crucifix with a Jesus statue and ask it “how does it feel.”

Bruce Campbell in Spider-Man 3: No matter how big Sam Raimi he always finds a place for the actor who starred in his first film, Bruce Campbell.  Campbell had increasingly large cameos in all three of the Spider-Man films, here he played a pretentious waiter pretending to be French. Even this flawed films harshest haters seem to be able to acknowledge how laugh out loud funny this cameo appearance was.

 The Golden Stake goes to… The Diving Bell and Butterfly

Max Von Sydow is a legendary actor who’s taken a multitude of parts since he made his mark in the films of Ingmar Bergman.  Despite this long career, it’s been a long time since he’s been nearly as memorable as he was in The Diving Bell and Butterfly.  This is one of those roles that’s big enough to make an impression, but not quite big enough to really feel like a full supporting role, this will make it hard for him to compete in award shows which is a shame since its some of the year’s best acting.

Villain of the Year

Everyone loves to hate villains, but what they love even better is to love a villain.  This is a category for all the cinematic evil doers of the year.  To qualify for this category one must be an actual antagonist for the hero, you won’t find any anti-heros here, just straight up villains.  Further it must be an actual entitiy, there will be no meta-villains like “greed” or “war” here.

Charlie Prince from 3:10 to Yuma: James Mangold’s western, 3:10 to Yuma, featured a flawed hero (Bale), an anti-hero (Crowe), and finally a villain (Ben Foster).  Foster was a vicious, slimy presence in the movie; a deranged psychopath, he seemed perfectly willing to kill anyone who got in his way.  Strangely, he emerged as a more memorable character than Crowe or Bale.

Stuntman Mike from Grindhouse: Stuntman Mike is amazing in that you’re never quite sure what his deal is.  At first he feels like a very charismatic, if old and crusty, person.  Later he simply feels like a run of the mill psycho with a car.  Finally it is revealed just how small a man he is in the awesome surprise ending.

Mr. Jones from I’m Not There: As any Dylan fan knows, Mr. Jones is a (possibly metaphysical) character from the song Ballad of a Thin Man, but in Todd Haynes’ eclectic biopic he’s a harsh rival to Dylan who tries to destroy the musician’s reputation out of spite.  This character adds a much needed conflict into the middle of the film which in many ways saved the entire film.

Karen Crowder from Michael Clayton: While it’s always fun to have villains like Darth Vader, evil in the real world isn’t as obvious.  Most of the world’s villain probably look a lot like Karen Crowder, as played by Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton.  The actions taken by this character are highly damaging and can only be called evil, but she doesn’t enjoy doing it.  She is often nervous and desperate as she does terrible things for her own self interest.

Anton Chiguhr from No Country for Old Men: I’m not the first person to point out that Anton Chiguhr is a great villain and I won’t be the last.  This character is a brutal sociopath who is consistently the most riveting element in a movie filled with them.  The man is death personified and his resilience goes beyond competence and passes into the realm of the supernatural.

 The Golden Stake goes to… No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men has been so widely praised that it isn’t really all that much fun to support at this point.  I was tempted to go with Karen Powder just to be provocative, but in the end I decided to give credit where credit is due.  What more can I say about Anton Chiguhr, the guy’s a scary mofo.

Best Supporting Actress

Supporting actress is often one of the most unsung of the major acting categories.  Women have a hard enough time getting good lead roles in Hollywood today that the lead actress category is often filled with glorified supporting roles.  As such supporting actress roles are virtual non-entities within the movie they’re featured in.  Still, many actresses are able to pull though and deliver stellar supporting performances. 

Cate Blanchet in I’m Not There: If nothing else this is easily the most talked about casting choice of the year.  It took a certain (mad) genius to cast Cate Blanchet in the role of Bob Dylan, although she actually plays a folk singer named Jude Quinn (all six of the “Dylans” have different names).  This could have been a really silly choice but Blanchet was talented enough to make this work perfectly.

Cathrine Keener in Into the Wild: A bit of a surprise inclusion in Into the Wild, a film largely centered on a single character. Keener, playing a burned out former hippie, is really able to act as a bride between generations of super-tramps.  Her character is a way to show how someone behaving like Christopher McCandless can live a fairly happy life, and this message is largely possible because of Keener’s tender scene stealing performance. 

Jennifer Garner in Juno:  Juno is a film that could have gone astray without some kind of rational anchor, and Garner’s character is that anchor.  There’s a real sadness in Garner’s performance, and she adds a real weight to the film.  Garner has come a long way since her days as Sydney Bristow.

Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton: It’s rare to see a woman playing a villain, and even rarer to see a woman villain who isn’t wearing a dominatrix outfit.  Swinton goes against this trend creating a character who does evil things but doesn’t look or sound evil.  This is a fascinating performance and one of the best things in Michael Clayton.

Tabu in The Namesake: The Namesake was a movie that is largely being forgot come award season, which is unfortunate as there is some great acting in it.  Bollywood actress Tabu, who has the challenge of playing a character that ages throughout the film.  She also has the challenge of internalizing many of her emotions.  There is a great dignity in this character and Tabu makes her very memorable.

 The Golden Stake goes to… Tabu

Tabu, born Tabassum Hashmi, is an actress I had never heard of before I saw The Namesake, but now I’m really curious.  Tabu’s performance is so good it hurts the film, as it makes the supporting characters more interesting than the main story.  Any performance that leaves the viewer wanting more is defiantly a triumph.

Best Supporting Actor

The supporting actor category, unlike supporting actress, is always extremely crowded.  In fact, if the five nominees I chose were eliminated there would still be five performances left that I would have been happy to nominate.

Chris Cooper in Breach: In Breach Chris Cooper delivers one of those supporting performances so imposing that many think it’s a lead role.  Cooper dwarfs, Ryan Philippe with his excellent, nuanced, performance.  The film is good, but Cooper is great; were it not for Cooper I would have forgotten about this fairly mediocre work long ago.

Kurt Russell in Grindhouse: Quentin Tarentino has long been famous for reviving the careers of forgotten actors.  His track record at this is a little overblown, I haven’t seen Pam Grier in much since Jackie Brown for instance, but I certainly hope what Kurt Russell is back to stay as what he does here is classic Russell. 

Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton: What Tom Wilkinson delivers in Michael Clayton is a performance that pretty blatantly grabs for a long overdue Oscar win.  Wilkinson has a number of really “baity” scenes and chest beating speeches.  So why is this shameless award baiting nominated here?  Because: dammit, this performance really cooks.  I could watch Wilkinson beat his chest in this role for days.

Irfan Khan in The Namesake: Here’s the other standout performance from The Namesake.  Irfan Khan has all the same challenges Tabu has in the film, and also has more screen time to overcome them with.  I think he’s just as strong in the movie as Tabu, and if this pool of performers was as weak as the supporting actress category he’d have this in the bag.

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men: Just to clear up a pet peave I have: Bardem’s first name is pronounced “häv-ēār.”  Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way I can simply say that Mr. Bardem has delivered one of the most memorable performances ever.  This more or less looks like the year when acting awards will shift away from mimicry performances and back toward character creation, and this performance is a great example of why.

 The Golden Stake goes to… Javier Bardem

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention this award season.  Bardem has created one of the best villains since Hannibal Lecter, and will be remembered for years to come.  I couldn’t get enough of the guy in No Country for Old Men.

Best Actress

It’s been a long time since the best actress category hasn’t had a far and away front-runner.  It’s been a great year for female performers, although interestingly only a few of these performances are from truly great films.

Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart: Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart was a cold film with a warm performance at its center.  Jolie provides a much needed emotive element in this procedural and delivers in spades.  As Mariane Pearl, Jolie is forced to put a dignified face onto heartbreaking emotions.  When all these emotions are released at a crucial part near the end, Jolie is able to completely break down on screen without going over the top.

Julie Christie in Away From Her: Julie Christie has surprisingly little screen time in Away From Her, a film that actually centers around Gordon Pinsent.  The performance is close to being a supporting performance, but so many are calling it a lead that I won’t argue.  Christie’s has one of the traditional “Oscar-bait” aspects: a disability.  You can really feel Christie’s agony, or lack thereof, as she descends into the depths of Alzheimer’s disease.

Ellen Page in Juno: You don’t usually expect this level of talent from a nineteen year old actress, but that’s what we got from Ellen Page in Juno.  Page is another great example of how a character can be created by an actor and be extremely memorable.  Page’s comic timing is great and she manages to deliver some crazy dialogue with a straight face.

Laura Linney in The Savages: The Savages is a film that in many ways acts as an showcase for two very good actors: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney.  One would think that Linney would be entirely upstaged by Hoffman, but that isn’t the case, Linney is very much the driving force in the film and Hoffman is basically her straight-man.

Helena Bonham Carter: Many have said that Helena Bonham Carter has a weak singing voice in Sweeney Todd, but frankly I can’t hear where this attitude is coming from.  Carter sings fine as far as I can tell, but it’s the rest of her performance that brought me to nominate her.  Visually, she’s created a really interesting take on Mrs. Lovett.  She also has a much more entertaining bad cockney accent than Depp, especially when one considers that she actually is English.

 The Golden Stake goes to… Ellen Page

A big part of why Ellen Page deserves this award is that she possibly has the hardest role and the success of her film almost entirely rests on her shoulders.  It’s not easy to pull off lines like “Thanks a heap coyote ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment” but Page completely succeeds at doing it.  It’s not often that comic roles work this well, but it’s always wonderful when they do.

Best Actor

Actors are widely seen as the portion of the filmmaking process that gets more a little more credit then it deserves.  However this perception has often lead to sort of a backlash among film aficionados like myself who obsess so much over directors and technical elements that we forget just how much an actor can improve a film.

Samuel L. Jackson in Black Snake Moan: Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been taking his craft very seriously in the last decade, and his autopilot persona was beginning to get old when it hit rock bottom in Snakes on a Plane.  After that someone must have given him an intervention and sent him to badass rehab, as he finally does some serious work in Black Snake Moan.  Jackson rather than abandoning his persona, Jackson lets it evolve, and the results are really fun to watch.

Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises: The gangster thing is really played out, but leave it to Cronenberg to do something different with the genre.  This is in many ways an extension of his work in A History of Violence, which is interesting because on the surface his character here is completely different from his role in the aforementioned film.  One can feel the gears moving in Viggo’s head as he behaves counter to his values, he also has a cool Russian accent.

Christian Bale in Rescue Down: Christian Bale has clearly overtaken Edward Norton as the most prominent actor today.  Bale really brings his A-Game to every movie he makes, and its almost worth seeing anything he’s in.  Bale is particularly noted for his general willingness to suffer for his art, so he’s perfect for a Werner Herzog film.  You can really feel Bale’s pain throughout the film, and there’s lots of moments to show it.

Don Cheadle in Talk to Me: Don Cheadle is absolutely outlandish in a great role in Talk to Me.  As 1970s talk radio host Petey Green, Cheadle can go completely over the top and still be believable.  Cheadle is able to basicly give a comedic performance is a dramatic film, and its a great mix.  There may be better performances nominated here, but this is deffinately the most fun. 

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood: To the best of my knowledge, Daniel Day-Lewis has never made a bad movie, he’s batiing 1000 and there’s no sign of him ever hurting that average.  His performance in There Will Be Blood is nothing short of majestic.  This is a theatrical performance, you can see the acting, but in a very good way.  Day-Lewis is keeping “the method” alive and in a great way. 

The Golden Stake goes to… Daniel Day-Lewis

This is another one of those “what more can I say” type choices.  In There Will be Blood one can really feel Day-Lewis towering above everyone else in the movie, and everyone else in any movie for that matter.  Day-Lewis is in a league of his own.

Ensemble Cast

There’s lots of talk and credit given to the performances of individual actors or actresses, but often it isn’t a single performance that makes a film but a collection of many solid if not showy performances that can really make a film cook.  This is an award that considers the achievements of many actors coming together and making an entire cast of great work. 

American Gangster: If nothing else, American Gangster has the advantage of sheer numbers.  Obviously there is a great star duel between Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington.  But one must also consider the work here by great character actors like Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, John Ortiz, and John Hawkes here.  The film is even able to make good use of rappers like TI, Common, and RZA.  You know something good is going on when a movie can make good use of Cuba Gooding Jr.

Atonement: This is a good example of how an ensamble can come together without a real standout performance.  James McAvoy is great here as a man who has to go through hell to make a reunion with Keira Knightly who is also really good here.  But the role that really personifies why this ensemble is great is that of Briony Tallis who is played by both Saoirse Ronan and Romola Garai.  The small role Vanessa Redgrave has is the cherry on top of this nice ensemble.

I’m Not There: Possibly the most creative way to put an ensemble together.  I’m Not There has Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw all doing different takes on Bob Dylan.  But one should not forget the achievements of those not playing Dylan like Charlotte Gainsbourgh, Bruce Greenwood, and David Cross.

Juno: Juno’s ensemble is a cast that really needs to be at the top of its game.  If the actors aren’t really solid the film’s specialized dialogue will go from being charming to being annoying.  Luckily almost all of the cast is able to prevent that worst case scenario.  Ellen Page is triumphant in a star making role and Michael Cera does great coming off his breakthrough in Superbad.  Also great are J.K. Simmons, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney.

Michael Clayton: While many of the other nominees feature casts that are better than the sum of their parts, Michael Clayton got here by having only a few very strong performers.  Most notable are George Clooney who does some of the best acting he’s ever done here, Tilda Swinton who creates a great villain, and Tom Wilkonson who is able to show off his stuff real well.  There are other nice performers like Sydney Pollack, but for the most part this cast is quality over quantity.

 The Golden Stake goes to… I’m Not ThereI’m Not There was unique in that it was a film that had a variety of strong actors and positioned them in a way that invited comparisons between the various talents involved.  All six of the Dylans are very strong in different ways and really contribute to this clever film.

The 2007 Golden Stake Awards- Technical Awards

Score

It’s no secret that music is extremely important to the success of any film, at the same time an overly present score can be a real annoyance.  Confession time… I don’t really know what I’m talking about here.  I don’t really pay that much attention to original scores and barley remember a lot of the music in the films I choose.  Still I do have a very clear idea of which of these is the best and stand by my final choice.

300: For his score to 300, Tyler Bates mixes traditional film score orchestration score, choral voices, middle eastern influences, and modern electronic elements.  The film sounds in many ways like a soaring battle anthem for the Spartan warriors, but never forgets that it is a hip reimagining of the traditional epic.

Grindhouse: Here we are specifically looking at the Rodriguez half which featured an original score, rather than Tarentino’s half which used a collected soundtrack.  Rodriguez, being the one man band that he is, opted to create his own score for “Planet Terror” and it is a catchy set of music for sure.  The music here, if nothing else does more to establish a more humable theme than the rest of the nominees here, and that is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Eastern Promises: This is almost certainly the most traditional and most orchestral score nominated here, which probably says more about my personal tastes than about the music that was created this year.  For this film, frequent Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore delivers a subtle but still noticeable score.  Matching the film’s themes, there are Slavic elements incorporated into the score, but not in a way that is distracting.

Sunshine: Sunshine’s original music by John Murphy and the electronic band Underworld is a score with a real knack for having its cake and eating it too.  It’s manages to feel epic, yet still restrained.  It uses electronic elements while still feeling like a traditional score.  It underscores the majesty of the situation while still accentuating the danger that’s present.  Most importantly it’s able to bring the character’s emotions to the forefront without feeling manipulative.

There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, There Will Be Blood, featured an absolutely killer soundtrack from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.  As one would expect from someone with a guitar background, Greenwood’s score heavily emphasizes strings, and to great effect.  Greenwood almost sounds like he’s scoring an action movie rather than a drama, and his music seems to improve every scene its present during.

The Golden Stake goes to… There Will Be Blood

It was surprising when P.T. Anderson decided to go with a guitar player from a rock band rather than a veteran composer, but it was a hell of a choice.  Greenwood brings an outsider’s ear to the world of film scoring, the result was amazing.

Soundtrack

A soundtrack category is a completely different beast from a score category.  This is a category that revolves around individual songs, usually with vocals, combined into the overall mood.  The songs can be either original or licensed and can be either performed onscreen, or played in the background diageticly or non-diageticly.  However, this is based on a viewing of the film, and I have not reviewed any of these soundtracks as albums.

Black Snake Moan: Black Snake Moan is a filmed personification of the blues, naturally it also features blues music.  Original music was created with Samuel L. Jackson providing vocals.  No, he can’t really sing that well, but his acting and general spirit on the track will make you forget that.  The real standout here was an absolutely primal cover of the blues standard “Stagger Lee”.

The Darjeeling Limited: As a film, The Darjeeling Limited left me rather cold; but Anderson’s style was still visible, more importantly it was still audible.  Basically its more of the same from Anderson, who reportedly wanted to use Beatles songs but couldn’t get the rights.  As such, he fell back on his standard British invasion selections.  The Kinks are featured the most, but the track most viewers will most vividly remember is The Rolling Stones “Playing With Fire.”

Grindhouse: This time we focus mainly on the Tarentino half of the Gindhouse music experience.  Tarentino is a director well known for his ability to meld interesting pop music pieces into his films, and here he continues that trend.  With “Death Proof” he has compiled a selection of songs that are much more obscure than even the usual Tarentino soundtrack, I wasn’t familiar with any of the music here before seeing the movie.  I don’t know where Tarentino digs this stuff up but I’m glad he does.

Into the Wild: Here we have an example of there being a thin line between soundtracks and original scores.  This is a collection of earthy folk music composed by Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder.  I don’t know that I’d want to hear this stuff separated from the film, but in the right context its perfect.  Vedder’s gravelly voice and acoustic guitar are perfect for this story.

Once: Here again we have an example of music I wouldn’t necessarily care for if it was divorced of its context, but within the film it is just what was needed.  The acoustic pop featured here isn’t really all that much grander than numerous other compositions by likeminded artists, but there is a real passion in the performances that lets it transcend its Starbucks nature. 

 The Golden Stake goes to… Grindhouse

Though officially, this award is mainly aimed at the songs selected in the Tarentino half, I couldn’t help but be influenced by the catchy score from the Rodriguez half here.  The one two punch of both elements really made me feel Grindhouse’s full soundtrack deserved this award, and this fits in well with the two for one nature of the film itself.

Sound Design

Sound is an important, yet often overlooked part of the cinematic experience.  Sound effects editing and sound mixing are rightfully separated by the AMPAS, but such a separation will not happen here simply because I’m a layman and not quite experienced enough to separate the two.

300: 300 provides viewers with spectacular visuals, but also a sonic rollercoaster ride.  From the sound of 300 Spartans chanting war cries to the sound of 300 spears going into the chests of 300 Persians the soundscape here is not to be missed.

Black Snake Moan: Black Snake Moan may not have massive explosions or frantic action scenes, but complex sound is just as important to it.  It is the film’s music and the way it is implemented that sets Moan above its peers.  The music here is great but never sounds canned, particularly a scene where Jackson plays a guitar during a thunderstorm.

The Bourne Ultimatum: Action movies traditionally have strong audio tracks, but The Bourne Ultimatum goes above and beyond the call of duty.  Every punch and every shot really jumps off the screen.  This soundtrack really kicks and adds a lot to the film’s frantic energy.

I’m Not There: I’m Not There is another example of another film about music that uses sound design to really bring the music through.  Here the mix comes across more than the editing.  Dylan’s music is sonicly reworked and sent through surround tracks in a great way.

Zodiac: Fincher’s recent film lacks loud action scene or a music heavy soundtrack, but it is worthy of praise for the way it manages to manipulate sound in subtle and interesting ways.  Consider for example, the first scene, which is able to effectively juggle period music, fireworks, and silenced gunshots all in one coherent set piece.

 The Golden Stake goes to… 300

While it would be fun to go for a less obvious choice like Zodiac or Black Snake Moan, in the end 300 simply had more impressive work.  It is interesting though, that 3/5 of the nominees here came out within about a week of each other, it seems the spring was a great sounding time for cinema.

Best Make-up

While almost all films use make-up to some extent, certain film need to go above and beyond the traditional requirements of the makeup department.  The following films are the nominees for the 2007 Golden Stake award for best make-up:

28 Weeks Later…: No one said that being undead was pretty.  The Weeks Later… series took the lead of George Romero’s zombie make-up and took it to the next level. 

The Diving Bell and Butterfly: Julien Schnabel’s film was disturbing and clostrophobic while it was confined to Jean-Dominique Bauby’s first person perspective, but the film was in some ways even more disturbing when the full extent of Bauby’s condition was on screen in full.

Eastern Promises: Viggo Mortenson’s character in Eastern Promises wouldn’t seem like as much of a makeup challenge as say, a zombie, he was possibly a bigger challenge.  The character was covered head to toe in a large assortment of tattoos that had to be replicated during every day of shooting.

Grindhouse: Grindhouse, had the challenge of living up to the gory standards of 1970s exploitation films.  Makeup artists were forced to create zombie makeup, gore effects, and a really big scar.

Rescue Dawn: In Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, makeup artists needed to depict the ravages of imprisonment and starvation while living up to the authentic standard of the film’s iconic director.

The Golden Stake goes to… Grindhouse

The main reason Grindhouse wins this award is the sheer number of different things the makeup team needed to do.  Rodriguez’s segments had some of the most original zombies in recent memory, and a variety of other gruesome creations, Tarentino’s segment had a memorable scar, and the fake trailer provided us with the likes of werewolf women and a turkey man.

Art direction

Another often misunderstood technical Oscar category.  The art director is basically the film’s visual designer; he or she controls the film’s basic look and creates the film’s sets. 

300: For the movie 300 designers were required to create an ancient Greece like no one has seen before.  Featuring red skies, hot gates, a tree of bodies, a wall of bodies, and a platform that traveled on the backs of Persian soldiers; it was clear this was not your daddy’s battle of Thermopylae.   300 managed to be a wonder to look at throughout and the art direction was a major part of that. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: Though most other elements of this mess of a film were lackluster, the design team maintained the high standard they established in the first two installments of the series.  The design work is a major part of why this series has been appealing from the beginning, in many ways this alternate universe reinvention of pirate lore is an art directors dream come true.  Particularly impressive in this installment was Shipwreck island, and an afterlife where ships can go over sand dunes.

Sunshine: Space, the final frontier.  Sunshine is a film that forces the art direction team to design the excellent futuristic interiors of a spaceship heading for the sun.  The exteriors of this ship are in and of themselves original and important to the film’s plot.  The interiors are detailed and creative, yet not elaborate to the point they seem unbelievable.

Sweeney Todd: This is by no means the first time a Tim Burton film has been recognized for its art direction, and it likely won’t be the last.  The design here turns 19th century London into a landscape all Tim Burton’s own.  Nice touches like a slanted window in the title character’s barbershop add to a detailed universe that on one level seems real and on another level a figment of Tim Burton’s imagination.

Zodiac: With Zodiac David Fincher and his design team were forced to emerge their audience in the world of late sixties San Francisco and have the audience follow then through the seventies.  The film creates a believable period setting yet doesn’t dwell on it or distract the audience with its setting.

The Golden Stake goes to… 300

Including 300 in this category almost seems like a cheat, as the true art director of this film is not the credited as such.  Frank Miller, who wrote and drew the graphic novel upon which the film is closely based is the real design force behind most of 300’s visuals.  So in a matter of thinking it is one of the simplest art designs of the year.  However what is seen on the screen, regardless of source, is definitely great design.

Editing

Editing is one of, if not the, most important elements of cinema, without it we would have never advanced past the level of the Lumière brothers.  Yet editing is one of the hardest categories to assess and rank.  Without seeing all the raw footage the editor had to work with it is impossible to truly know the extent of their work.  It is also a hard category to discuss, and to justify one’s choices.  Basically I’m following my instincts with this category.

28 Weeks Later…: While many of the films nominated here wait until their endings to really let their editors go wild, the great editing here is present in the very first scene.  The film uses editing to extenuate the action on scene.  The film allows the viewer to become disoriented, when you aren’t sure what’s going on around them, it increases their fear level.

The Bourne Ultimatum: The editing in The Bourne Ultimatum can be described in one word “intense.”  Turning Paul Greengrasses fierce handheld camera work into cohesive scenes is not an easy task but Christopher Rouse lived up to the challenge, forming some of the most exiting action scenes this year.

Into the Wild: While the editing in most of the movie is fairly conventional, what really earned the film a nomination in this category was the way the ending was handled.  Every cut in this finale was so perfectly timed as to fully ratchet up the emotional impact of the film’s dramatic conclusion.

No Country for Old Men: If “intense” describes the editing in The Bourne Ultimatum, straight up “tense” describes the editing in No Country for Old Men.  Every cut in the film seems perfectly calculated to ratchet up the tension in the suspense scenes before this tension is finally released.

 Sunshine: Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is another film that mainly uses traditional editing techniques up until its finale, at which point it really takes off.  When discussing the ending, many people focus on the character that is introduced, but the real focus should be on the kinetic energy that is injected into the film at this point.  The finale reminds us that this is a film from the director of 28 Days Later… 

The Golden Stake goes to… The Bourne Ultimatum

While the fast cutting method is often misused by the likes of Michael Bay, it can really heighten the intensity of action scenes when used by a skilled team like Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse.  Many complain that the editing here is disorienting, that it obscures the stuntwork, but this is to miss the point.  The style her accentuate the scene rather than the stunts, it helps the audience empathize with the confused main character while also drawing them into the intense onscreen action.

Cinematography

Cinematography is one of the better understood of the many technical award categories among the general public, although its sometimes used as a crutch for lazy criticism.   All too often people will try to justify the artistic merit of poor movies by saying “the cinematography was really good.”  Still, it is an important category that should not be ignored.

The Diving Bell and Butterfly: Great cinematography is not all about extremely vivid colors and lighting, its also about great camera movement and there’s definitely great camera movement to be found here, which isn’t to say it doesn’t have plenty from column A as well.  In early scenes from this film the camera acts as the main character’s eye, and moves with the movement of that eye.  It’s the most moving camera one’s likely to see in a scene that conjures claustrophobia.

Into the Wild: “Magic hour” is used to great effect in this beautiful film that doesn’t need artificial lighting to show beautiful landscapes throughout.  The beautiful sites of the American outdoors are on full display here, and it never looked better.  One should not make the mistake of thinking the sun is doing all the work here, there’s a real art to finding the right time to film these vistas, and improving every nuance.

Sweeney Todd: Sweeny Todd’s cinematography has one simple mission: to look as grim as possible, and did it ever succeed.  The film is awash in deep blacks, subtle blues, and greys.  These dark colors are mainly interrupted by sudden gushes of bright red blood that spurts often. 

There Will Be Blood: It’s really saying something that the cinematography in this film can still be nominated when it has a jarring flaw.  The black levels here were off, they weren’t deep enough and that was a pretty big problem, but the cinematography everywhere else was so damn strong that it transcended that flaw and still earned a nomination. 

Zodiac: David Fincher has never made a film with less then excellent cinematography and this is no exception.  The color pallet was great throughout and the camera movement was well executed and also rather innovative, as anyone who saw the taxi cab overhead shot can attest to.

The Golden Stake goes to… Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd, narrowly earns this award, mainly because it had the overall most creative use of cinematography.  Anyone can make a scene look slick if they have enough cash, but it takes a real creativity to come up with the formula on display here.  The black levels here are mint, I’m not sure a DVD can even replicate it, this would be a good showcase for Blu-Ray if it is transferred well.  Strangely, the photographic highlight is one of the few particularly bright scenes, a fantasy sequence that makes for a great juxtaposition with the rest of the film.  I just love the way Tim Burton and Dariusz Wolski make the ocean look in this sequence.