Sunday, February 24, 2008


“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” These are the words of Anton Ego, RATATOUILLE’s imposing food critic who has grown sour after years of being fed what he deems to be mediocrity. This, however, is a humbled moment that gives birth to a newly invigorated soul. Ego did not become a critic in order to criticize but rather to feast upon that which he appreciates the most. His expectations are just a little high.

This scene actually makes me cry. Watching films with a critical eye certainly skews the viewing but, like Ego, I am merely waiting to recapture the joy and warmth that movies have brought to my heart since I was a boy. Peel my expectations and disappointments away and you will not find a critic but rather a film enthusiast.

I am also an awards geek.
Welcome to the 2007 Mouton d’Or Awards.


I like to be entertained just like anybody. As much as I enjoy getting lost in thought and opening my mind up to perspectives unlike my own, I also enjoy shutting off and leaving my worries alone for a little while. What makes all the nominees in the category of BEST POPCORN FLICK special is that they all successfully entertain in big, bright fashion but also manage to tickle your brain at the same time. Paul Greengrass’s schizophrenic THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is non-stop action, speed and intelligence, cut together in a style that gets your heart pumping faster than perhaps it should. THE DARJEELING LIMITED is Wes Anderson’s unfortunately overlooked masterpiece. It is colorful, insightful and hilarious. Unlike most of his previous work, it is also touching and real. As the 2nd half of the GRINDHOUSE double feature, DEATH PROOF feels long but as its own separate feature, the great modern visionary, Quentin Tarantino, offers another uniquely visceral experience. Fast cars, hot chicks, smack talk galore and edge of your seat car chases propel this potentially ridiculous premise into the fast lane. Buckle up! I have never seen New York City look so haunting as it does in I AM LEGEND. Call it a vampire flick or a Will Smith puff piece but you cannot deny the odd beauty of deer hopping through grass ridden New York streets and cutting through halted traffic. Smith carries this film on his well built shoulders and never shows signs of tiring. All this said, it is no secret that I gave my heart away this last year to one very endearing and very inspirational rat. Little chef Remy finds his fate when he isn’t looking and learns to accept and embrace who he truly is. The script is calculated while still unexpected; the camera work, scattered while still controlled. The results are a delectable delight. This year’s Mouton d’Or for Best Popcorn Flick goes to Brad Bird's RATATOUILLE.


Not everyone gets to make a film with a gigantic conglomerate backing them up. The category of BEST LITTLER MOVIE is given to the film that shows genuine intention, artistry and heart. Todd Haynes’s Bob Dylan tribute, I’M NOT THERE, is ambitious in scope and abundantly original. Despite its many detractors, Haynes continues to stay true to his vision and asserts himself further as one of the great contemporary American filmmakers. JUNO is highly watchable. Repeat viewings only draw you closer to these wonderful, relatable characters. Director Jason Reitman’s 2nd feature has opened his career wide open and congratulations are due to him and screenwriter, Diablo Cody, for giving the world a young heroine with no shame and a sense of self not found in most teenage screen representations. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is a lonely experience. While that may repel some, those who are brave and fortunate enough to find themselves observing Lars as he embarks on a real relationship with a not so real partner will be given the opportunity to face their own fears about what being alone truly means. WAITRESS is just scrumptious. Every time it feels like the film might go off in a direction that would render it totally bland, it doesn’t. The late Adrienne Shelley’s choices as both director and writer are sharp and revealing for all those who know what it means to be going down a path that you never thought would be your own and without any control over that direction. Love and indie are not often words used in the same sentence. Indie and musical? Even less so. Yet here we are with a small Irish film about two people who find each other and themselves in song and the harmony they create together by simply putting their voices out there. For grounding the musical in a reality that is not tragic but progressive and for allowing love to be omnipresent without carrying anyone away, the Mouton d’Or for Best Little Movie goes to John Carney’s ONCE.


Here’s where it gets a little nasty. THE WORST MOVIE I SAW ALL YEAR goes to, well, the worst movie I saw all year. I see a lot of movies but I can’t see everything so how do I gage what to nominate here and what should win? Essentially, the winner is the film that angered me more than any other. This generally happens when potential is there, when you can smell it all around you but you are instead forced to watch it be squandered away or when the film is just plain dumb. ALPHA DOG falls into the latter category. My feelings about this film are best expressed by remembering the scene where Ben Foster takes a dump on his nemesis’s living room floor. Imagine the living room floor as this film and the scene becomes wonderfully apropos. About five minutes in to BLACK SNAKE MOAN, Christina Ricci is seen convulsing in the grass. She’s got the itch; that’s what they call nymphomania. The biblical implications of a girl being led back to salvation and pulp aesthetic cannot save this film from its own ridiculous staging. Oh, and Samuel L. Jackson should never be allowed to sing on film again. Canadian darling, Denys Arcand, came back this year with L’AGE DES TENEBRES (DAYS OF DARKNESS). His Oscar for LES INVASIONS BARBARES (BARBARIAN INVASIONS) has clearly gone to his head as he now seems to see himself as a prophet sent to warn us of the consequences of a banal life based on lies and materialism. Thanks Denys, but I think we all had that one figured out already. I don’t know why I expected more from TRANSFORMERS. I guess I wanted to be a kid again but this clunky, confusing disaster (due props for its special effects design work though) was made for today’s kids and I don’t get why they seem to enjoy being condescended to. Still, no film made me angrier this year than this particularly pointless musical. Those who loved it appreciated its artistic innovation. Art without purpose though might as well be commerce and this film took the genius music of The Beatles and rendered the words that have inspired millions meaningless and hollow. For this unforgivable offence, the Mouton d’Or for The Worst Film I Saw All Year goes to Julie Taymor’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.


Thanks to my friend, Trevor, animated film excites me in ways it never did before. This is why the award is named in his honour and the films that find themselves in this category are honoured for both their delicate craftsmanship and their ability to outshine the countless live action films that don’t measure up. As the technology in the field makes new worlds of animation possible to explore, the nominees this year are a mixed bag of 2D and 3D animation. Going the traditional 2D route to tell an entirely untraditional story, PERSEPOLIS is mostly black and white and magical. While many strive to create animated features aimed at kids as enjoyable for both adults and children, Marjane Sartrapi tells the painfully adult story of her life growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution in an unapologetically mature manner. It is a true expression of artistry and brave use of the medium. There is nothing mature about THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. The numerous creative minds behind this first feature length offering made so many people laugh this year and they did so by not only remaining true to their roots and their fans but they brought new sides to characters we have allowed in our living rooms for nearly twenty years. It may not be a work of genius but it is a solid reminder why the Simpsons are the quintessential nuclear family. Meanwhile, one animated feature achieved the implausible by getting audiences around the world to let rats into the kitchen. The good people at Pixar are the leaders in the industry but they never take their position or the story behind each of their ideas for granted. In fact, they take very good care of it. The recipe they used for their latest reveals new flavours with every serving, including inspiration, perspective and philosophy about how one’s true nature factors into one’s destiny. And their presentation is always impeccable. This year’s Mouton d’Or for The Trevor Adams Animated Feature Award goes to RATATOUILLE.


There are new technical awards this year, including this category for BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY. The results here surprised even myself. Watching ATONEMENT means weaving in and around a beautiful mansion maze with dimly lit corners that reveal shocking secrets. It all culminates in an unmatched 4½-minute continuous shot recreating the evacuation of British soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk that choreographed to perfection. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN makes desolate and alone into something picturesque. Sweeping landscapes or violence in cramped hotel rooms are equally invigorating. LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON blurs its edges and straps the viewer down to a hospitable bed with no possibility of escape. Feeling trapped has never been so artistically liberating. THERE WILL BE BLOOD takes the stillness of the desert and frames its beauty into a feeling of what it must have been like to be right there. One film though above all these wonderful works seems determined to elevate cinematographic possibilities with every shot. The film itself is not amazing but you cannot look away from its stunning style – from fields of endless wheat flowing in the wind to a screen of nothing but black suddenly interrupted by the light at the head of the train turning the corner and shining through a densely populated forest. Improving his odds by being nominated twice in this category, the Mouton d’Or for Best Cinematography goes to Roger Deakins for THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD.


In the category of Best Original Music, all five nominated films are made better by their musical accompaniment. In INTO THE WILD, I was mostly uninterested in the majority of the film but became interested each time Eddie Vedder’s light acoustic guitar filled out the frame and lent depth to the often pretty pictures. THERE WILL BE BLOOD would have been an entirely different film if it weren’t for Jonny Greenwood’s haunting and disturbingly intense score. His music made everything that much more eerie and urgent. Michael Giacchino’s score for RATATOUILLE is whimsical and wind-instrument heavy. He helped put the bounce in Remy’s scamper. The tapping of the typewriter in Dario Marionelli’s score for ATONEMENT is commanding and drives the film forward with a march and romantic swell. It is the lyricism, the melodic lull and the harmonized passion of this Best Littler Movie winner that takes the prize though. Singing brings people together in this movie and the music lives on as the two leads and composers, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova continue to tour the world with the moving music of this film. The Mouton d’Or for Best Original Music goes to ONCE.


Chop, chop, chop. Editing sets the pace of a film and should not be noticed but certainly should be celebrated. ATONEMENT plays with time and expectation. Glimpses of moments to come are spliced in and told out of sequence with their true account and significance only revealed when the right time has arrived. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN cuts back and forth between cat and mouse and changes the roles whenever it feels like. What is cut out in this film is often the most telling. LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON manages to avoid cliché despite cutting back and forth between the past and the present. Though we go to the past, we are always present. ZODIAC is epic in length and while some feel the film is long, the manner in which it is edited is done for exactly this effect so that you too can feel the exhaustion of running after a killer for years without result. The winner in this category though cuts when he feels like it instead of when it is expected. A fight scene in a tiny bathroom reaches dizzying heights of force and the viewer is never allowed to sit still to situate where in the world the film is now because the editing is relentless. The Mouton d’Or for Best Editing goes to Christopher Rouse for THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM.


It’s performance time. As the coward, Robert Ford in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, Casey Affleck is an awkward, uncomfortable star-struck boy playing in a man’s game. He embodies an inner struggle to prove himself to the idol he has emulated for years and the only way to do that is to conquer him. In MICHAEL CLAYTON, Tom Wilkinson may be crazy but it’s just the price he has to pay for his genius. The conflict between his soul and the corruption he perpetuates in his career as a lawyer has him completely unhinged and his conviction to make things right is the only thing that keeps balanced. In Wilkinson’s shoes, he is always teetering. Hal Holbrook is a welcome sight in the lengthy INTO THE WILD. This lonesome older man only appears in the later parts of the film but he leaves the most lasting imprint. His is a life that is nearing its end and yet the hope he feels still continues to overshadow a lifetime of regrets. In CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, Philip Seymour Hoffman is one pushy bastard. He is curt, crafty and calculated. Hoffman looks like he could blow up any time he graces the screen but yet good intentions and ideals can always been seen underneath his rough exterior. It only takes five minutes to spot the winner in this category. The evil in his eyes as he stares up at the ceiling while strangling a naïve policeman is so blank and cold. There is no meaning to his madness. He just exists it. Anton Chigurh is a new face of evil, an instantly iconic character brought to life in a triumphantly unflinching performance. The Mouton d’Or for Best Supporting Actor goes to JAVIER BARDEM in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

It’s the ladies’ turn now. In MICHAEL CLAYTON, Tilda Swinton is a power player in way over her head. Her ambition has led her to heights she perhaps never imagined but her nervous nature is constantly at odds with her position and status. It is a pleasure to watch her sweat. In GONE, BABY, GONE, Amy Ryan takes the character of a mother who has had her child taken from her and turns one of the most sympathetic archetypes in narrative history into someone you want punch and shake. Yet somehow, you still just want to see her get it together all the while. Saoirse Ronan is an enormous force in a tiny frame in ATONEMENT. As Briony Tallis, she is brilliant and talented but needs constant reassurance to build her fragile confidence. When she tells her infamous lie, you can tell she knows what she’s doing is wrong but has no concept of just how wrong that is. Jennifer Jason Leigh is no stranger to fragile characters that are put upon by those who surround them. In MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, she brings new layers to the troubled soul she knows so well. Her character lives the influence of her history and tries to please everyone while struggling with the knowledge that she will never reach her future until she learns to please herself. The winner in this category is an unorthodox casting choice for the character she played and yet she gives the most natural performance of the entire cast. She shares the duties of playing Bob Dylan with five other male actors and despite her sex, or perhaps because of it, gives the performance that best captures the poet. She is fidgety, angry, mouthy and still breaks just like a woman. The Mouton d’Or for Best Supporting Actress goes to CATE BLANCHETT in I’M NOT THERE.


The category of Best Actor was immensely competitive this year. Narrowing it down to five performances was extremely difficult and it meant some very fine performances could not be recognized. I guess that means if you’re here, you damn well deserve it. In addition to his fantastic turn in AMERICAN GANGSTER, Josh Brolin has an incredible return this year. In NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, he doesn’t say very much. The man doesn’t remember that his own mother has died but the moves he makes to avoid being caught by the hunter who is after him are nothing short of inspired. His focus never fails and neither does his performance. Ryan Gosling won this category last year for his turn as a drug addict high school teacher in HALF NELSON. He returns this year as a man so lonely, he invents a personality for an anatomically correct plastic doll in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. Being a good boyfriend to her is a lot easier than dealing with real people for the man who seems to fear the day light and any interaction with a real person. He needs closeness but that is what he fears the most. Tommy Lee Jones cannot find his son in IN VALLEY OF ELAH. His calm, polite nature is his defense against the bizarre new world of violence and technology. On this level, he shares a lot in common with the character he plays in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Only here, his acceptance of the reality he now lives in is quiet on the outside but tumultuous on the inside and never the two shall meet. If this were a different year and the competition were different, Viggo Mortensen would be the winner in this category for his performance as a chauffeur to the Russian mob in EASTERN PROMISES. His accent and ferocity are commanding and impressive and his vulnerability and sensitivity expose his monster front to reveal the human underneath. Still, nothing can compare to the embodiment and complete transformation of this year’s winner. One has come to expect these kinds of revelatory performances from this choosy actor but his capacity to create such detailed characters from words on a page is always surprising. As Daniel Plainview, he is ambitious, conniving and downright frightening. He is the original entrepreneur and the prototype for the watered down versions of sharks swimming in business today. The Mouton d’Or for Best Actor goes to DANIEL DAY-LEWIS in THERE WILL BE BLOOD.


The Best Actress category was not difficult to narrow down but was difficult to select a winner for. Julie Christie will likely go on to win the Oscar for her performance as a resident with Alzheimer’s adapting to her new home in AWAY FROM HER. She is delicately confused and traces of her former self sneak through at random moments. Considering we never met her before the onset of the diseases, it’s pretty impressive that we would even recognize her. As the title character in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, Nicole Kidman is a complete mess. Because she is successful, she thinks that she is better than the rest of her family but she may just be the most neurotic of the bunch. Watching her fall apart is at times enjoyable as she is not terribly likable but she still gets us to feel very sorry for her. Marion Cotillard saves LA VIE EN ROSE from being a fairly straightforward biopic. As French singer, Edith Piaf, she is radiant, fragile and exuberant. Her moods are erratic and the changes are frequent. Her descent from fame to disease is tragic but Cotillard’s performance is transcendent. Angelina Jolie should have been nominated for the Oscar for her role as Mariane Pearl, wife of kidnapped and murdered American journalist, Daniel Pearl, in A MIGHTY HEART. Her performance is so nuanced and contained. She is constantly trying to keep it together that by the time she lets it all out, you want to scream and shout with her in support. The winner in this category has done something remarkable. Her performance of a headstrong pregnant teenager has the potential to become an iconic companion to Holden Caulfield. She is smart and determined, witty and winning but also frightened and searching for more truths. Her command of her own self and her assertiveness that spites social norms is an inspiration to a group of people who have never seen themselves on screen like this before. The Mouton d’Or for Best Actress goes to ELLEN PAGE in JUNO.


Aw, the writers. Before you turned Hollywood on its back this year with your impactful strike, you wrote some lovely screenplays and here are the best of the bunch. The tone in ATONEMENT is achingly romantic. The manner in which Christopher Hampton’s story of unrequited love and lecherous regret unfolds inspires sympathy without utilizing sap to get there. The balance between time and space gives way to an ending I did not see coming that made more sense than anything I would have imagined. LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON is a hollowing experience that replenishes itself before the credits close. Ronald Harwood fearlessly puts us in the mind of a bed ridden patient with locked-in syndrome and forces us to deal with the same claustrophobia and anguish his character does. The tale is telling of the endurance of the human spirit. Paul Thomas Anderson’s script for THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a bizarre and bewildering. Things are being said about commerce and oil and business and religion. So much is being said without deliberately pointing to anything in particular that it’s hard to tie it all together. Despite this, the genius gushes in every spill. Jason Vanderbilt’s ZODIAC is playfully demonic. In its earlier sequences, it bounces back and forth between the bewilderment felt by the public regarding the Zodiac killings and the gruesome killings themselves. So much time goes by without any resolution and Vanderbilt makes sure that we want the puzzle solves just as bad and before we know it, we are just as lost as the poor detectives assigned to the case. The winning script is the one that has the most fun with its audience though. The play between the hunter and the hunted keeps everyone guessing and the writers have the audacity to thwart convention by leaving out key details that would tie everything together nicely. What we’re left with is a quiet contemplation on modern horrors and unexplained human atrocities. The Mouton d’Or for Best Adapted Screenplay goes to JOEL and ETHAN COEN for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.


Original is too light a word for the nominees in this category. Steve Zaillian’s script for EASTERN PROMISES crosses two people trying to do right by the world and themselves in starkly different fashions. Neither is selfless yet both are fighting the good fight in a world run by mobsters, allowing each of them to learn the consequences of what happens when you get too close. Nancy Oliver not only wrote a screenplay when she wrote LARS AND THE REAL GIRL; she also wrote a strong character study. Lars has lost all touch with people and yet still functions in society. In exposing this character’s palpable loneliness to the world, Oliver showed millions that they are in fact not as alone as they thought. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – rats in the kitchen is a hard sell. Through careful plotting and sharp, subtle decisions, Brad Bird manages to not only make RATATOUILLE plausible but also an exhilarating good time. By bringing us beneath the surface, Bird enlightens our minds with motivational philosophy about how the unlikeliest among us has the potential to be extraordinary. With THE SAVAGES, Tamara Jenkins makes dementia funny. That isn’t really true. What she actually does is show us how horribly taxing it is on everyone involved and teaches us that laughter must be had in order to survive it all. This year’s winner was chosen for its somehow smooth exposition of what it means to be a pregnant teenager in America today. By deciding to keep her baby and give it up for adoption, Juno MacGuff has become a poster child for both sides of the abortion issue and shown the world that having choices doesn’t automatically assume which will one will be made. It is also a love story between two young people who have found themselves in a confusing position where they have adult issues to face long before they have figured out how to feel about themselves or each other. For being honest, frank and just as hilarious as it is touching, the Mouton d’Or for Best Original Screenplay goes to DIABLO CODY for JUNO.


The Best Director category was also very competitive. Many seasoned directors made masterworks while many novice directors solidified their names and talent. Paul Thomas Anderson is from the former category. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is such an incredible change of direction for the director of BOOGIE NIGHTS and MAGNOLIA. Not only is a drastic departure but it is an immensely successful one. He wanted to challenge himself and he surpassed all expectations by doing so. Todd Haynes embodies creativity in I'M NOT THERE. He is the rare director that has found a way to work within the mainstream while creating entirely unconventional work. The sheer scope of his Bob Dylan biopic is so vast that it is impossible to take everything in upon first viewing. He has not only delivered a glorious tribute to an American icon but has changed the mechanics of the biopic itself. Painter Julian Schnabel’s LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON is a brave work of art. It is as fearless as its protagonist needed to be in order to accomplish the feats he did while he was alive. The experience is gut wrenching but worth the insight derived. Joe Wright also cast out a wide net when trying to reel in the enormity of ATONEMENT. His control over everything is felt throughout the production and he breathes a new sensual energy into a genre that is all too often frigid. It is a duo of seasoned directors though that take this award this year. After making quirky, original features for years, these siblings have finally made their masterpiece. They did so by abandoning all of their tested practices and without altering their aesthetic to the point that their involvement is unrecognizable. It is smart, darkly humourous and its intelligence is matched only by its ferocity. This year’s Mouton d’Or for Best Director goes to JOEL and ETHAN COEN for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.


You’ve made it this far and I’ve said all there is to say about each of the five nominated films for Best Picture. So, I will get right to it, not only because I'm sure you can't read anymore but I can't write anymore. Thank you for reading and your support over this last year. It has been a pleasure watching and reporting back. Here are the nominees and winner for the 2007 Mouton d’Or for Best Picture …

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