“He’s a psychopathic killer but so what.” “You seem like a man who wouldn’t want to waste a chair.” “If the road you followed has led you to this, of what use was the road?” “The coin ain’t got no say.” “I’m just looking for what’s coming.” “But you never see that. Beer. That’s what coming.” “That’s foolish. You pick the one right tool.” “Are you going to shoot me?” “That depends. Do you see me?” The pitch perfect Coen brothers masterpiece was one of those “too big to ignore” points in Oscar history where a career high meets overdue status meets making history. It couldn’t lose. The trick for anyone reading the race that year was realizing that. So many didn’t. They falsely believed that the ambiguous ending would count the film out, that Oscar voters would be too soft to recognize greatness when they saw it. So many didn’t understand the ending. They said things like “it ended so many times.” How silly it all seems now, looking back. Like Schindler’s List, The Departed, The Hurt Locker, and 12 Years a Slave the movie would have had to SUCK not to win. The lure of making history combined with cinematic greatness can’t be and will never be denied. Those who said No Country couldn’t win were falling into the trap many Oscar prognosticators fall into and that’s leading with why it can’t win versus why it can. This was the dilemma last year when Gravity had that “it can’t win” thing about it but it seemed to be inexplicably headed for a win anyway. The “why it couldn’t win” was concrete: effects-driven, sci-fi, 3D and two actors. All of those would be breaking down barriers and making history – but not the kind of history the Academy desires to make. Scorsese finally winning, the Coens winning at last, a woman, the first black filmmaker, etc. These things often give extra incentive to vote in support of something bigger than the Oscar race itself. It happens sometimes. ncfomsil No Country has become, for me, one of my all-time favorite films. It sits right at the top of the list alongside Jaws, Annie Hall and Citizen Kane. It combines three vital American voices, Joel and Ethan Coen and Cormac McCarthy. The McCarthy contribution is key, of course, as this adaptation remains the best of any of his books. But the Coens gift here was winnowing down an already winnowed down book, cherry-picking all of the best lines (really) and omitting stuff in the book that would never have worked cinematically. Still, it is as faithful as a rendering as one could imagine, a fully realized, breathtaking adaptation of an American classic. The book No Country for Old Men is a lot more about the history of crime in the west than it is about death. The film, though, is all about death. The mastery of the direction is the parallel stories of Anton Chiguhr (Javier Bardem in an iconic performance) and poor old Llewellyn Moss (equally great Josh Brolin). If you watch the film enough times you’ll see how these two story lines reflect off of one another insisting you ruminate on what they do and why they do it. Screen-Shot-2013-03-11-at-3.07.31-PM Two things make the film exceptional from the outset. The first is the choice to use no music at all until the end credits. This allows for us to become fully engaged in the natural sounds of the busy work we watch many of these characters do. We watch them do things – put things together, bandage themselves up, shoot people, walk through the desert. You hear this, you see it and you can almost smell it. The sounds of silence are as important as the gunfire that cracks through the vast unforgiving landscape. The other thing is Roger Deakins’ cinematography – unmatched by any of his fellow nominees. Robert Elswit won for There Will Be Blood, a worthy winner but it simply can’t touch the work of Deakins that year. In the end, No Country would only win four Oscars, Picture, Director(s), Screenplay and Supporting Actor. It should have added Editing and Cinematography to that list but that was the year the Bourne Ultimatum took those tech nods by surprise. The other big movie that year was Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant There Will Be Blood, a film I hated at the time but have come to appreciate over the years. I believe Anderson has one greater movie in him so I won’t choose to see this as his best but one could make that argument very easily. The Academy was equally enamored with the film, giving it Actor and Cinematography. That There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men were nominated in the same is fairly remarkable. That was with only five slots for Best Picture even. Atonement, Juno and Michael Clayton were the other nominees. Had there been nine slots Into the Wild would have surely gotten in, along with Bourne Ultimatum, Diving Bell and Butterfly, and maybe American Gangster. We’ll be recording in the next few days, finally, so if you have anything to add…