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PCR #413 (Vol. 9, No. 8) This edition is for the week of February 18--24, 2008.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Best Picture Nominees Are..."

Commentary by:
Michael A. Smith

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"The Best Picture Nominees Are..."  by Mike Smith
Dr. Paul Bearer: The Lost Photographs – Part 1  by ED Tucker
A Retired Cuban-American Activist Remembers a Different Castro  by Paul Guzzo
Barack Attack or Obama Yomama...Rondo Hatton Awards  by Matt Drinnenberg
Oscar Night .... Somewhere John Hooper Is Weeping .... Death Goes To The Movies .... Speaking Of Heath Ledger .... In Memory .... .... .... .... And The Oscar For 1981 Should Have Gone To...  by Mike Smith
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Starring: George Clooney, Ellen Page, James McAvoy, Daniel Day-Lewis
Directed by: Tony Gilroy, Jason Reitman, Joe Wright, Paul Thomas Anderson
Rated: R, PG 13, R, R
Running Time: About 7 1/2 great hours

Before I begin this week’s reviews, I would like to take a moment to mention the passing of an actor that had a very profound effect on my life: Roy Scheider. Roy passed away last week at the age of 75 after a very brave fight with cancer. I am very fortunate to have been able to call Roy Scheider a friend and for that I will be eternally grateful.

With the 80th Annual Academy Awards being presented I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the films nominated for Best Picture. As the film year comes to an end, movie upon movie is released. As a critic, my mailbox overflows with screeners of what the film companies consider their best (I received no less then 44 movies between October and December). A quick note: to be eligible for this year’s awards, a film had to play in New York City and Los Angeles at least two weeks before December 31st. Because of this rule, I saw these movies before they played the local multiplex. And, because of their limited release, I chose to review films that opened nationally each week. I did manage to review “No Country For Old Men,” the week it went wide. I gave it four stars and not only was it my pick for the best film of 2007 but it is also the film I predict will win the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday night. However, in order to help you make your own choices, here are short reviews of the other four nominated pictures:

MICHAEL CLAYTON: A legal drama in the same league as “The Verdict,” “Michael Clayton” stars George Clooney as the title character, a “fixer” for a prestigious law firm. When Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), one of the firms’ top lawyers, jeopardizes his case with his erratic behavior, Clayton is called in, only to discover even he is in over his head.

A brilliant directing debut by Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the script. The cast is outstanding, with Clooney giving the strongest performance of his career, which says a lot since he already has an Oscar. The tension flows through the film and takes the viewer along with it.

JUNO: When a 16 year old girl finds herself pregnant, she decides to give the baby up for adoption to a couple she finds in the Pennysaver.

The only comedy up for Best Picture, “Juno” is this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine;” a little film that has earned it’s way to the big prize. The two best things the film has going for it is a star making performance by Ellen Page as Juno and the script by first time writer, and former “dancer,” Diablo Cody. As portrayed by Page, Juno is a smarter-then-her years teenager who talks on a hamburger phone and is able to discuss the graphic nuances of horror filmmakers Herschel Gordon Lewis and Dario Argento. The supporting cast, including Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Alison Janey and Michael Cera, bring life to Cody’s words and raise what could have been a standard television movie-of-the-week to a much higher plain.

ATONEMENT: Briony, an imaginative 13-year old girl (Saoirse Ronan) spies her sister, Cecelia (Keira Knightley) and her lover, Robby (James McAvoy) together in the library. Later, when a houseguest is assaulted, the girl accuses Robby of the crime. Her lie will alter everyone’s lives.

A beautiful period film with outstanding performances, “Atonement” proves that no matter how hard you try, you can’t undo the past. Told through flashbacks and through the words of Briony, now an old woman (Vanessa Redgrave), the film is sweeping in it’s beauty. If Oscar made any mistakes this year it was not recognizing Knightley and McAvoy for acting honors as well as Joe Wright for it’s direction. Wright’s camera takes you on many memorable journeys, none as great as an incredible five minute tracking shot in which the scene never cuts away. Special mention as well to composer Dario Marianelli, whose score manages to include the “clack” of typewriter keys. This effect is a fine accompaniment for the action on screen.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD: A man (Daniel Day-Lewis) searching for oil finds himself pitted against a preacher (Paul Dano) looking to build a church.

After years of achieving a Hollywood cult following, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson hits the big time with his adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel, “Oil.” As the two men stage a battle of wills against the backdrop of the oil rush, the beautiful background of the American Southwest plays as strong a role as it’s stars. I really can’t think of enough words to describe Day-Lewis’ performance (they would all be defined as “brilliant”), and Dano holds his own in a somewhat confusing dual role. Anderson has been nominated in the past for his writing (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia”) and his way with words has always been his strong point. Here he upholds that reputation with a screenplay that reads as great as the book it was adapted from.

This week's commentary, "The Best Picture Nominees Are...", is ©2008 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2008, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.