Friday, June 6, 2008

Late to the Oscar Show

I've been wanting to write about No Country for Old Men, the 2008 Oscar winner which I only recently saw. You'll recall I let it lie in my Oscar preparation -- I chose to see There will be Blood instead, having decided they were the same picture anyway. And in the end, I named Atonement as my pick because I underestimated how ticked off at the system everyone in Hollywood was.

To quote my damn self, ".....the egg is on my face if it actually wins, but I don't think it will."

To explain this photo: Bacon and Eggs in Stone from once-world famous Luray Caverns. I see now it should be called Clams in Stone. And the kids who work there probably call it Stone Cold Loogies. Remind me to rant some time about the lost glory of Luray Caverns. Anyway, it was a creepy picture of eggs. Fit the mood.

I can not recommend No Country for Old Men to most of you. You wouldn't watch it anyway, and if you did, you would hate it. And you would hate me for saying.... that thing is brilliant.

Hats off to you, academy, for being so brave, whatever your motivation was. You haven't made this daring a decision since Midnight Cowboy, which was just as bleak, but nowhere near as cinematic.

I was right about 1 thing: No Country and Blood are pretty much the same film. And about both of them I thought, "I am not enjoying this on any level except for what a well-made film this is."

If you already love the Cohen Brothers, think Fargo without the funny. If you already hate the Cohen Brothers, think Blood Simple with a better budget. If you can't feature how 2 people can direct a movie, join the club. Meetings are at the Country Pitcher Wednesday mornings.

If you have already given up on this posting, scroll up to the next one. Something here for everyone.
No Country opens with voiceover, so I sucked my teeth and sighed.
Tommy Lee Jones. We love you. But you are no actor. Later that weekend I watched The Valley of Elah and he was the same character. How do you figure he gets nominated for one and not the other? Was one a cowboy/cop and the other a cop/cowboy? And I thought I knew what we were in for and it would just be a simple evening.

But you never do know what you're in for with the Cohens. Sometimes it's all story, like Raising Arizona, or all acting, like Fargo, or all character, like Lebowski. And sometimes, like Barton Fink, you have no idea what is happening to you but you can't look away. No Country for Old Men brings all of that together, and once the opening voiceover was behind us, the show was on.

Violent, disturbing, suspenseful, confusing, an audio describer's nightmare --- but grant me this: you haven't quite seen this before. John Carpenter style Bogey Man + Hitchcockian Wrong Man + Gary Cooper's reluctant sheriff in a plot that boils down to a simple fable: if you want to free your hand from the cookie jar, best to let go of the cookies.

What made No Country better than that there's some blood all right had to do the use of sound and dialogue. There will be Blood is big and loud, with long talky speeches and some fine writing. And it is a very good film. No Country for Old Men manages to do without. Without dialogue and narration (after the opening) and without much music at all. No screaming volins tell you to be scared; you know what the condensation on the milk glass means. You know to watch the clocks on the wall, and the reflections in car windshields. And you remember that the language of film is visual. And you can't look away.

The first film I remember seeing contained no dialogue at all that I could understand. It was The Red Balloon and it blew my little mind away. No one told me that story -- it was shown to me. And yet I understood it and I felt it. I couldn't get it out of my mind. And that was THE MOVIES.

I am sorry that the characters are unlikeable, and the story unbelievable, and the action is bloody, and the ending is anti-climactic. I am sorry that there is not one scene I can show you that on its own is as brilliantly constructed as when you see it inside of the whole. I am sorry that a film that can actually make you feel kind of s****y is not how you want to spend a Sunday night at home. So I won't make you watch it. But don't blame Oscar if you don't.

Watch this then.


  1. I used to be a big movie buff and would always watch at least all of the movies nominated for Best Picture in a year. This year, the only one I've seen is "Juno." And it was tough trying to fit in just that one. I'll put "No Country" on my Netflix queue, just in case I ever return the 3 movies I've had sitting on my DVD player for the last 2 1/2 months.

  2. Don't you dare talk smack about The Luray Caverns. Every year, during our annual pilgrimage to Skyline Drive for Fall Foliage, we would BEG to go to Luray Caverns. And, every other year, my parents would comply. The off years we got a carmel apple from a roadside stand instead.

    Inside that place, the world dissapears and you're transported to a magical world of stlagmites and stlagtites (I'm sure I've misspelled that). And, at the end, you marvel on how you've walked 1.5 miles and didn't feel it one bit.


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