Relitigating the Oscars: 10 Years Ago

Few Oscars feel like they nailed it as much as the 80th ceremony. This ceremony widely has a reputation as one of the few times where the best of the year truly was recognized. Sure, there are things missed, such as Zodiac, but it was just such a great, great year for film that the Academy almost couldn’t screw it up. But just because they mostly got it right doesn’t mean there’s nothing to discuss. Well that’s the fun.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were:

  • Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There as Jude Quinn
  • Ruby Dee – American Gangster as Mama Lucas
  • Saoirse Ronan – Atonement as Briony Tallis
  • Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone as Helene McCready
  • Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton as Karen Crowder

Who won: Tilda Swinton
Who should’ve won: Tilda Swinton
Analysis: Before I go any further, can we note that Ronan was nominated A DECADE AGO! That’s one hell of a career already. Anyway, this was the one big surprise of the night with Ryan thought to be the favorite. But I’m a massive fan of Michael Clayton and Swinton is staggeringly good in this. She’s restrained in sharp contrast to every other role she’s played. Her restraint makes everything she does all the scarier. Well deserved win.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were:

  • Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as Robert “Bob” Ford
  • Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men as Anton Chigurh
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – Charlie Wilson’s War as Gustav “Gust” Avrakotos
  • Hal Holbrook – Into the Wild as Ron Franz
  • Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton as Arthur Edens

Who won: Javier Bardem
Who should’ve won: Javier Bardem
Analysis: I’m not sure I’ll ever cover a win that feels more like a landslide win than Bardem’s win here. It couldn’t have been close, which is wild because in another year any of the nominees could’ve won. But Bardem was on another level even in this year. Anton Chigurh is an iconic character. His look, his diction, everything about him haunts you. When a character joins the roster of great villains, an Oscar feels like the least they could achieve.

Best Original Screenplay

The nominees were:

  • Juno – Diablo Cody
  • Lars and the Real Girl – Nancy Oliver
  • Michael Clayton – Tony Gilroy
  • Ratatouille – Brad Bird (screenplay and story), Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco (story)
  • The Savages – Tamara Jenkins

What won: Juno
What should’ve won: Juno
Analysis: My heart wants to say Lars and the Real Girl here but my brain knows better. Lars was a lovely film but it’s wildly problematic. I had a 25 minute piece recorded on Juno that my computer ate and I just didn’t have the energy to rerecord it knowing this was coming. So here’s my thesis: Juno isn’t a hipster film. It’s a film about how we address trauma. Juno’s speech patterns are a shield between her and the world. Even Disaster Movie knew that! The film is about someone running from reality forced to enter it. The theme of identity runs through almost everything Cody does and she’s a beast at it. I hate how she became a punchline because seriously, she’s a great.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The nominees were:

  • Atonement – Christopher Hampton based on the novel by Ian McEwan
  • Away from Her – Sarah Polley based on the short story “The Bear Went Over The Mountain” by Alice Munro
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Ronald Harwood based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • No Country for Old Men – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
  • There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair

What won: No Country For Old Men
What should’ve won: No Country For Old Men
Analysis: I’ll keep this short. Cormac McCarthy is hard to adapt. Other filmmakers have crashed against the rocks. Even McCarthy couldn’t pull his own style off. But the Coens nailed it.

Best Actress

The nominees were:

  • Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age as Queen Elizabeth I
  • Julie Christie – Away from Her as Fiona Anderson
  • Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose as Édith Piaf
  • Laura Linney – The Savages as Wendy Savage
  • Ellen Page – Juno as Juno MacGuff

Who won: Marion Cotillard
Who should’ve won: Ellen Page
Analysis: I haven’t seen La Vie en Rose so I’m probably being unfair to argue someone else should’ve won. But I really want to make a case for Page here. In the last 10 years, the industry has done Page a raw, raw, raw deal. Page has everything going for her as a movie star but with the exceptions of Super and Inception, has failed to happen onscreen. Why? :pauses: Yes, I know why. But anyway she’s incredible here. If she doesn’t sell this part, everything I said about the script doesn’t matter. She nails this role. It’s not as showy as a biopic part but it’s work that’s lasted.

Best Actor

The nominees were:

  • George Clooney – Michael Clayton as Michael Clayton
  • Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood as Daniel Plainview
  • Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as Benjamin Barker / Sweeney Todd
  • Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah as Hank Deerfield
  • Viggo Mortensen – Eastern Promises as Nikolai Luzhin

Who won: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who should’ve won: George Clooney
Analysis: Oh I’m not making any friends here. Day-Lewis was, well I’m not going to say bad but not nearly as great as hyped. I’m on record as disliking There Will Be Blood and I’m not budging. Instead, my preference is for the far subtler work by Clooney. Sure, he’s basically playing his standard persona but he’s a blast to watch in it and it’s what the film needed. Sometimes movie star work is great work.

Best Director

The nominees were:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
  • Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
  • Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
  • Jason Reitman – Juno
  • Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Who won: The Coen brothers
Who should’ve won: The Coen brothers
Analysis: The only point I’ll make here is that I’m glad they won for directing–they correctly won for writing for Fargo–after the fiction that Joel was the director of the team ended. They’ve always collaborated on writing. directing, producing, and (as Roderick Jaynes) editing. The Oscar deserved to go to both.

Best Picture

The nominees were:

  • Atonement – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster
  • Juno – Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, and Russell Smith
  • Michael Clayton – Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent, and Sydney Pollack
  • No Country for Old Men – Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
  • There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, and JoAnne Sellar

What won: No Country For Old Men
What should’ve won: No Country For Old Men
Analysis: The reason I had to be brief before with this film’s wins is I knew I’d get to it here so I didn’t want to exhaust myself. This is the best film of the decade in my eyes. If it hadn’t won Best Picture I wouldn’t have been annoyed because it’s so hard to watch. But this was a rare time I think the film community stomached the darkness. There’s no feeling of joy when this film ends but there is powerful catharsis in the form of accepting there can’t be release. There can only be painful resignation. Life is hard and pointless but we soldier on anyway. Masterpiece sums it up.

Final analysis: There’s a lot of focus on the winners of the awards but I want to look at the nominees. Every single category, if you go past the winner you find art worth seeing. This wasn’t 2002 where mediocrity was dredged. When I disagreed with the winner, the person I thought should’ve won was there and their films were recognized in other wins. If the Oscars were like this year, I would be a far greater fan. And if you haven’t seen some of these films, fix it now.

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