Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2007: No Country for Old Men vs. There Will Be Blood

The good news is that a film worthy of Best Picture won this year. The bad news is that a better film didn't.

I have little against No Country for Old Men, only a couple minor quibbles. I didn't care for the way Josh Brolin's character would talk to himself in order to serve as a narrator. I also didn't like the shift in point of view when Brolin is killed. We'd been through so much with the guy, but his end is shown through the secondhand, too-little-too-late eyes of Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff. I just felt like the viewer gets cheated by the anti-climax.

I also had to google the meaning of Jones' description of his dream that abruptly ends the film. After reading some theories, I found one that makes sense for me. I regard the fact that a film doesn't give an easy answer and makes you reflect as a good thing, which I know puts me at odds with much of the American movie-going public. Don't worry; I'll blog about Paul Blart: Mall Cop tomorrow to make up for it.

No Country for Old Men is a great movie. However, There Will Be Blood is a classic, or at least will be regarded as such one day. Full disclosure: I have a sizable man crush on Daniel Day-Lewis that renders my opinion completely unobjective.

Still, There Will Be Blood strikes me as one of those films where every single shot is meticulously planned out. Paul Thomas Anderson's vision is poetic, even when its themes are ugly.

As I've stated before, the goal with any Best Picture winner should be to fast-forward ten years and figure out the one that will best stand the test of time. That usually means a film that's not just entertaining and well-done, but one that's also about something. The bigger the idea, the better. No Country uses Jones' character to act as a meditation on how violent the world is becoming, leaving behind those who yearn for a simpler time (that may not even have existed in the first place).

Blood's ambition is much more grandiose. It aims at the core of America itself, the idea of win-at-all-costs capitalism. Daniel Plainview (even the name's meaningful) is the ultimate embodiment of that spirit, and he is a monster, morally corrupt and devoid of any emotion except the will to crush his competitors. He's an oilman because it works well visually and a metaphor for the "blood" that he values, rather than his own human relations, but the character could've just as well been any captain of industry.

It is an indictment of one of America's most deeply-held values; thus, it's a film that makes many uncomfortable. It's certainly not as accessible as No Country, which likely ultimately cost it the Oscar. Nevertheless, There Will Be Blood will be the film taught in college classes decades from now, and it won't be limited to film theory.

Nolanometer Final Grades:

No Country for Old Men: A-
There Will Be Blood: A


RTFgirl said...

I fit a man for shoes today and told him his voice sounded IDENTICAL to Daniel Day-Lewis. I think he fell in love with me. And so did his wife.

Jake said...

I remember getting into this exact debate in my film studies class back when the awards were issued. I think that PT Anderson definitely shot the movie better, some of the scenes with oil and the dramatic music were really great. So I was glad that he had won Best Cinematography for that, and I only wondered if he'd been slighted in missing Best Director and Best Picture.

I think the man thing going against Anderson for consideration for both is the reason you so quickly chose There WIll Be Blood: your man crush, Daniel Day Lewis. His performance as the character you described is so full and so convincing that he just overpowered the movie. Every scene makes a viewer watch Daniel Day Lewis and not the entirety of the movie and it takes away from other characters that could be more developed (eg. The weird con artist brother, the son). I think that No Country won because the ensemble was in fact the more intriguing part of the movie. It makes the movie feel fuller I think, where as the Daniel Day Lewis effect inappropriately makes people downplay the rest of the movie. Whether or not that's appropriate is left to a viewer, I kinda agree with you in that I think There Will Be Blood was under-appreciated and deserving of a Best Picture. But I think that it was just released in the wrong year, a movie like No Country probably wins in any individual year, even though a movie like There Will Be Blood more typifies a whole era long term.

But that's just my 2c.

Merry X-Mas,


Michael Tucker said...

I agree with you Nolan, and I'm glad you did this one. It makes me feel better.

Paul Thomas Anderson is an amazing director with an extremely unique voice. The Coen brothers are too...but their voice seems to be more 'we can do quirky or shocking things, and throw in some abstract elements that tie these quirky things together and put them in dialogue with one another.'

PTA practically speaks an entire different language of film. If most movies are normal, familiar, comfortable prose, then a PTA movie is like reading Shakespeare. It's all the same medium and language, but how he uses it is so unique and ingenious. And at the same time he can communicate to (some)audiences familiar with normal film making, in often a more powerful and unsettling way.

No Country was cute and good. PTA wins.