Oscar Preview

Michael Clayton

There was a lot of driving in Michael Clayton. I like driving in movies but after a while Michael Clayton started to seem like a car ad—though it showed how a car ad can be liberal. That’s a message for our times.

The Assassination of Jesse James

Everyone says that The Assassination of Jesse James (I don’t have time to say the full title) was derivative of Terrence Malick, but it’s actually better than a Terrence Malick film. It’s what a Malick film would be if it were good. I recommend this film; in fact I recommend it to Terrence Malick. Its pictorialism never interferes with its harsh sadness and no Malick film contains a performance as good as Casey Affleck’s. But you could tell the studio interfered with it.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

When I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly at BAM, in Brooklyn, it was easy to see why it resonated with the local crowd. The subject of this movie is: if only I were paralyzed from head to toe and could only move one eye, then finally I’d be able to finish that book I’ve been meaning to write.

No one would be able to complain or interrupt me in my work. They’d have to indulge my every whim. My wife would have to be nice to my mistress. If those two couldn’t get along, beautiful nurses would tell them to cool it. I wouldn’t even have to bathe myself. If I wanted to go to the beach, someone would push me there in a wheelchair. I wouldn’t even have to eat!

Which is not to say that I didn’t like it. I did like it. For those reasons.

No Country for Old Men

Whenever Javier Bardem took out that pressure hose and put it to someone’s head, I kept waiting for his victim to go, “Ouch! Stop it! Why are you doing that? That hurts! Cut it out.”

There Will Be Blood

Whenever Daniel-Day Lewis plays an American, he is the scariest person on the planet. And totally convincing. But whenever he plays someone British, which is what he actually is, I don’t believe him at all. It’s a paradox.

Everyone quotes his line, I drink your milkshake. It’s become funny but it’s an important lesson. This past year I felt that someone was drinking my milkshake, and it was important for me to see that played out on screen.


There was an interview a while ago with Ian McEwan that Zadie Smith did for the Believer in which McEwan said that “cinema is a very inferior, unsophisticated medium.” Like many people, I enjoy movies immensely and I don’t see why I should pay money to see the adaptation of a book by someone who thinks the cinema is very inferior. It was the way McEwan used the word very that really bugged me. If he had just said cinema was inferior and unsophisticated, I wouldn’t have minded so much.

Everything McEwan writes ends up as a movie. Someday his shopping lists will be filmed. I wonder how he’ll feel about the cinema’s inferiority and lack of sophistication when he cashes the check for the Untitled McEwan Shopping List Project.


I can’t say anything about Juno because I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it because I hated Little Miss Sunshine so much. After I saw Little Miss Sunshine I really wished I hadn’t. I refuse to make that mistake again. If that’s what a feel good movie is, I can’t stand to feel that good. It’s physically painful for me to feel that good.

Sweeney Todd

The thing I don’t understand about Sweeney Todd is why someone made a musical starring two people who can’t sing. As far as I know, not only can Depp and Bonham Carter not sing, they also can’t dance.

Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises is succinct and well-acted by everyone in it, not just Viggo Mortensen. It was like a Hitchcock adaptation of a Conrad novel. To its credit, it had a throwaway quality of making its points and moving on. Of all the films that examined the nature of evil this year, Eastern Promises had the most intimate knowledge of evil. And in one sense it was merely a genre film, unlike the super-genre films by the Coens and Paul Anderson and the guy who made Jesse James.

There’s an Oscar category for Best Make-up. If they have one for Best Make-up, they should have one for Best Hair. And Viggo Mortensen should win it.


Speaking of Best Make-up, the Eddie Murphy fat-suit comedy Norbit was nominated in that category, along with only two other films. I think really this movie should be acknowledged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They should take full responsibility for that nomination and give Norbit an Oscar. Then it should be shown all over the world on double-features with Sweeney Todd.

Foreign Film Nominations

How does the Academy find five foreign films so obscure that not even film critics have heard of them? The foreign-language nominees are usually bland films from nice places, good (in the moral sense) or nice (meaning innocuous) films no one cares about. This is the view the Academy has of foreign films: they should be non-threatening.

The best foreign film released in the US last year was Syndromes and a Century, a Thai film that was loved by probably everybody who saw it but, even though it was pleasant and from a nice place, wasn’t treacly, conventional, or lame. I think the Academy refused to acknowledge Syndromes and a Century because they didn’t want to embarrass Tom Hanks or whoever the presenter would be by forcing him to try to pronounce “Apichatpong Weerasethakul.”

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was an unharmonious, ugly kind of violent stabbing at the myth of family, a real emanation from the darkness of the second Bush term. I mean it was really ugly, even the film stock it was printed on was soaked in ugliness. It was only made un-ugly when Marisa Tomei took off her clothes, which immediately made everything else in the film look even uglier. There should be an award for cinematography that ugly. It was more coherent and less vague than No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood and probably the best American film of the year. It was made by an 80-year-old director, and the Academy doesn’t like to give real Oscars to men that old, only honorary ones. No Oscar for old men. Not even a nomination.

If you like this article, please subscribe to n+1.

Related Articles

Issue 30 Motherland
When a Person Goes Missing
November 14, 2011

Faced with a celebrity-endorsed blockade, the police backed down, and in the ensuing days I noticed more and more tents.

February 17, 2007

What was exciting about watching Top Chef was the montage of activity, as that strange bass and electronic song played.

April 24, 2004

Neither good writing nor bad writing, Peck’s style amounts to what an art critic would describe as primitive.

More by this Author

January 19, 2007

It’s not aspirational; it’s “pay less.” I mean, the aspiration is that you save money. But that’s a negative now, for them.

Issue 28 Half-Life

He raises the question of why people love crap, then answers it by making the kind of crap people love.

July 16, 2018
Corruptions and Duplicates of Form
Issue 27 Deep End

Some people will do anything to avoid writing.