My wife Irena and I saw two, count 'em TWO Oscar contenders over the weekend.
NCFOM is the one sucking up all the oxygen so far this awards season. Having read the book, I found No Country a lot more watchable than I expected, given its extremely bleak story. Still, I can't help thinking "what's the point?" It's a beautifully crafted piece of nihilism. The cinematography and acting are excellent, even if the casting of Tommy Lee Jones is a bit too on-the-nose. Roger Ebert praised the score, which is odd since the film has no music at all. This is bold, audacious filmmaking, but it left me a bit cold. The film is brutal, intense, riveting, and, for my money, ultimately pointless.
Michael Clayton is a conventional Hollywood political-type thriller, but I found it more satisfying. The film begins with the title character getting out of his car to admire some horses. As he stands on the hillside, his car blows up behind him. Then the film flashes back to four days earlier. This is a clever screenwriting ploy. Since we know what's coming with the near miss, when the story catches up to that point we accept what would otherwise be a credibility-killing coincidence. The themes of Michael Clayton are simple-bad corporate citizens versus our flawed hero. Still, I believe it's better to be good than original, and Michael Clayton is very, very good. Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and George Clooney are all reminders that some people are movie stars for good reason.