Arts & Entertainment

Oscars: Critic's first reactions

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Best picture: "No Country for Old Men"

Ultimately, it came down to a selection between "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood," a choice that in recent weeks seemed to take on an almost Red State-Blue State, science versus evolution, Beatles versus Stones quality. In the end, it came down to moral clarity versus moral ambiguity. The academy went with the former. For me, "No Country for Old Men" was more of an analogy in search of a story, complete with Tommy Lee Jones' character standing commenting on the proceedings. Ultimately, many of the observations about the end of morality as we know it - or knew it - were made far more eloquently by "Michael Clayton" or even by the not-nominated "In the Valley of Elah," which delved into situations far less cut and dried and far less easy to parse.

Directing: Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was robbed!

Lead actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"

Like Marion Cotillard's turn as Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," Day-Lewis' go-for-broke performance as greed-crazed oilman Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood" seemed to come from somewhere deeper and darker than most actors can access. Like Javier Bardem's character in "No Country for Old Men," Plainview is an inscrutable villain whose motives and choices are still being hotly debated, but thanks in part to Paul Thomas Anderson's remarkably intuitive directing style, Day-Lewis' villain brims with emotions we almost recognize. He teases us with an approximation of humanity that turns out to be mirage.

Original screenplay: Diablo Cody, "Juno"

Not when "The Savages," "Ratatouille" and "Michael Clayton" were also nominated. There are a lot of things to like about "Juno," but although it's a tender, well-told and likable story, the movie succeeds despite its dialogue and thanks in equal measure to inspired direction by Jason Reitman and the work of a great ensemble cast.

Best song: "Falling Slowly" from "Once"

What more is there to say? Aside from that it's too bad the excellent little movie that could wasn't nominated for several other categories. ...

Lead actress: Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"

The most technically virtuosic of all the nominated performances, Cotillard's turn as Edith Piaf had no real rival among this year's nominees. Playing Piaf from her teen years through her unbelievably ravaged middle age, Cotillard made herself completely unrecognizable for this role, always a popular trick among academy voters. But Cotillard's performance went well beyond this.

Adapted screenplay: "No Country for Old Men"

While the Coens' win comes as no surprise, I would have loved to have seen "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" walk away with this award for bringing the interior world of Jean-Dominique Bauby come to life in an amazingly dynamic and visual way. If adaptation is essentially translation into the language of a different medium, then "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" probably deserved to win.

Supporting actress: Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"

An incredible performance in an unusually strong category, Tilda Swinton's interpretation of a corporate lawyer on the verge of total emotional collapse in "Michael Clayton" was devastating. At the same time, had Cate Blanchett or Amy Ryan walked away with the award it would have been equally deserved.

Art direction: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

The stunning art direction was the best thing about "Sweeney Todd"; moody, atmospheric and gorgeous.

Supporting actor: Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"

Nobody is scarier than Bardem in a pageboy. And the chilling deadpan was impressive too. At the same time the character of Anton Chigurh was as opaque and inscrutable as they come. How the performance stacked up to Tom Wilkinson's operatic meltdown in "Michael Clayton" or Philip Seymour Hoffman's righteous diplomat in "Charlie Wilson's War" is open to discussion.

Makeup: "La Vie en Rose"

Anyone who could make the lovely Marion Cotillard look like a mummified monkey absolutely deserved to win.

Best costume design: "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"

Considering that "Elizabeth" felt like an excuse to put amazing costumes on display, Alexandra Byrne's win makes perfect sense and iswell deserved. As fetching as Keira Knightly was in wringing wet gossamer, nothing compared to the sight of the Virgin Queen slowlyspinning on a Lazy Susan wearing about a hundred pounds of silk with twin butterfly nets rising from her shoulders.

Animated feature: "Ratatouille"

If it had been up for best picture, it would have given the other nominees a run for their money. Beautiful visuals and some of the best writing of the year, "Ratatouille" was in a class by itself.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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