Monday, February 25, 2008

80th Academy Awards

The 80th Academy Awards ceremony, honoring the best in film for 2007, was broadcast from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California beginning at 5:30 p.m. PST/8:30 p.m. EST (01:00 February 25 UTC). It was the seventh time that the Kodak Theatre hosted the ceremonies since its construction, and the 33rd time that the ceremony was televised by ABC, which is under contract through 2014. Gil Cates was the producer, making it his 14th show, a record. Jon Stewart hosted the show, his second time. He previously presided over the 78th Academy Awards.

No Country for Old Men is an Academy Award-winning 2007 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem. Faithfully adapted from the well-received Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men draws heavily on McCarthy's themes of chance and fate; it tells the story of a drug deal gone wrong and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama as three men crisscross each other's paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas. No Country for Old Men was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture. Additionally, Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role; the Coen Brothers won Achievement in Directing (Best Director) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Other nominations included Best Film Editing (Roderick Jaynes), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Joel and Ethan Coen, known collectively as The Coen Brothers, are four-time Academy Award winning American filmmakers. For more than 20 years, the pair have written and directed numerous successful films, ranging from screwball comedies (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy) to film noir (Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn't There, No Country For Old Men), to movies where those two genres blur together (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink). The brothers write, direct and produce their films jointly. Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand since 1984. They have adopted a son from Paraguay named Pedro McDormand Coen (Frances and all her siblings are adopted themselves). McDormand has starred in five of the Coen Brothers' films, including a minor appearance in Miller's Crossing, a supporting role in Raising Arizona, and lead roles in Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn't There, and her Academy Award winning role in Fargo. Ethan is married to film editor Tricia Cooke. In 1984 the brothers wrote and directed Blood Simple, their first film together. Set in Texas, the film tells the tale of a shifty, sleazy bar owner who hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover. The next film written and directed by the brothers was the 1987 release Raising Arizona. The film is the story of the unlikely married couple ex-convict Hi (played by Nicolas Cage) and ex-cop Ed (played by Holly Hunter) who long for a baby but are unable to conceive. Fortune smiles on them when a local furniture tycoon appears on television with his five newly born quintuplets that he jokes 'are more than we can handle'. Seeing this as a 'sign' and an opportunity to redress the natural balance, Hi and Ed steal one of the quintuplets and start to bring up the child as their own. Miller's Crossing was released in 1990, a straight-ahead homage to the gangster movie genre. Starring Albert Finney, Gabriel Byrne and future Coen brothers' staple John Turturro, the film is set during the prohibition era of the 1930s and tells the tale of feuding mobs and gangster capers. The Coen brothers' reputation was seemingly enhanced with every subsequent release, but it took a massive leap forward with their next movie, 1991s visually stunning Barton Fink. Barton Fink is set in 1941 and is the story of a New York playwright (the eponymous Barton Fink) who moves to Los Angeles to write a B-movie. He settles down in his hotel apartment to commence the writing but all too soon gets writer's block and allows himself to receive some inspiration from the amiable man in the room next door, together with some industry associates. Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and the hotel is definitely unusual and a magnet for the bizarre. Barton Fink was a critical success, garnering Oscar nominations plus winning three major awards at Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm). The brothers returned to more familiar ground in 1996 with the low-budget noir thriller Fargo. Set in the Coen brothers' home state of Minnesota, the movie tells the tale of Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a man with a money problem, who works in his father-in-law's car showroom. Jerry is anxious to get hold of some money to move up in the world and hatches a plan to have his wife kidnapped so that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom that he can split with the kidnappers. Inevitably, his best laid plans go wrong when the bungling kidnappers deviate from the agreed non-violent plan and local cop Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) starts to investigate the whole affair. A critical and commercial success, with particular praise for its dialogue and McDormand's performance, the film received several awards including a BAFTA Award and Cannes award for direction and two Oscars, one for best screenplay and a best Actress Oscar for McDormand. The Coens' next film would build upon this success and in 1998 The Big Lebowski was released. With its story about "The Dude," an LA slacker (played by Jeff Bridges), used as an unwitting pawn in a fake kidnapping plot with his bowling buddies (Steve Buscemi and John Goodman), the Coens had hit on a film that would provide a mainstream accessibility that they had not enjoyed since Raising Arizona. The Coen brothers' next film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) was yet another critical success. Based loosely on Homer's "Odyssey" (complete with a cyclops, sirens, et al.) the story is set along the Mississippi River in the 1930s and follows a trio of escaped convicts who have absconded from a chain gang and who journey home in an attempt to recover the loot from a bank heist that the leader has buried. But they have no idea what the journey is that they are undertaking. The film also highlighted the comic abilities of George Clooney who starred as the oddball lead character of Ulysses Everett McGill (ably assisted by his sidekick, the now ubiquitous John Turturro). The film's Bluegrass soundtrack, offbeat humor and, yet again, stunning cinematography, meant it was a critical and commercial hit. Intolerable Cruelty, arguably the Coens' most mainstream release, was released in 2003 and starred George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The film was a throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1940s with a story based around Miles Massey, a hot shot divorce lawyer, and a beautiful divorcee whom Massey had managed to stop getting any money from her divorce. She sets out on a course to get even with him while he becomes smitten with her. The Coens' latest movie No Country for Old Men was released in November 2007. Based on the 2005 novel by the author Cormac McCarthy, the film tells the tale of a man named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) living on the Texas / Mexico border who stumbles upon two million dollars in drug money that he decides to pocket. He then has to go on the run to avoid those looking to recover the money, including a sinister killer (Javier Bardem) who confounds both Llewelyn and the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). This plot line is a return to the dark, noir themes which have provided the Coens with some of their most successful material, but it also marks a notable departure, including a lack of regular Coen actors (with the exception of Stephen Root), a less pronounced comedic element and minimal use of music. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, all of which were received by the Coens, as well as Best Supporting Actor received by Bardem. The Coens recently completed filming on Burn After Reading, a dark comedy starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney. The film is due to be released in Fall 2008.

The ceremony continued trends of recent years, with no film winning more than four awards, the honors for non-documentary features being spread among 13 different films, and major acting honors going to a biographical film. All four major acting awards went to European actors and actresses. The Best Actor award went to Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood. It was his second Oscar.

Marion Cotillard is an Academy Award-, BAFTA-, Golden Globe- and double César-winning French actress, best known for her landmark role as Édith Piaf in La Vie En Rose (2007). After Claudette Colbert in 1934 and Simone Signoret in 1959, she is the third French actress to win an Academy Award for Best Actress (though Juliette Binoche won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress). She is the first Best Actress winner in a non-English language performance since Sophia Loren's win in 1961 for her performance in Two Women. She is also the first and so far only winner of an Academy Award for a performance in the French language.

Javier Bardem is an Academy Award-winning Spanish actor. He has made over two dozen films in his native country, but became an international star with his starring role in the critically acclaimed Before Night Falls. With this role, he became the first ever Spanish actor to receive an Academy Award nomination. Bardem won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for his performance as the antagonist Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Bardem starred in his first major motion picture, The Ages of Lulu, when he was 20. In 1992, he made his first international hit with Jamón, Jamón, which also starred Penélope Cruz. After starring in roughly two dozen films in his native country, he would eventually land his international breakthrough performance role in Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls in 2000, as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, the first time for a Spaniard. This also marked Bardem's first English language speaking role. In 2002 he starred in John Malkovich's directorial debut, The Dancer Upstairs. Bardem won the Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his role in 2004's Mar Adentro, released in the United States as The Sea Inside, in which he portrayed assisted-suicide activist Ramón Sampedro. That year he also made a brief appearance as a vicious crime lord who summons Tom Cruise's hitman to do the dirty work of dispatching witnesses, in Michael Mann's crime drama Collateral, which also starred Jamie Foxx. In 2007 Bardem acted in two film adaptations; the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, based upon the novel of the same name and the adaptation of the classic Colombian novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. In No Country for Old Men, he plays chilling sociopath hitman Anton Chigurh. For that role, he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Best Supporting Actor and also won the Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as the 2008 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Tilda Swinton is an Academy Award- and BAFTA- winning and Golden Globe-nominated British actress known for both arthouse and mainstream films. Her early film work included several film roles for director Derek Jarman, notably War Requiem (1989) playing a nurse opposite Sir Laurence Olivier as an old soldier. Swinton also played the title role in Orlando, Sally Potter's film version of the novel by Virginia Woolf. Recent years have seen Swinton move towards more mainstream projects, including the leading role in the well-reviewed American film The Deep End (2001), for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She appeared as the scheming archangel Gabriel in Constantine with Keanu Reeves, as a supporting character in films such as Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise, and The Beach, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. Swinton has also appeared in the British films The Statement (2003) and Young Adam (2004), and sat on the jury of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. In 2005, Swinton's performance as the sinister, seductive villainess, the White Witch Jadis, in the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe garnered critical praise as did her portrayal of Audrey Cobb in the Mike Mills film adaptation of the novel Thumbsucker. Swinton's performance as Karen Crowder in Michael Clayton also drew favorable reviews, for which she earned her second Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. After winning a BAFTA award in the same category at the 61st British Academy Film Awards, Swinton won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

The Counterfeiters is an Academy Award winning 2007 Austrian / German film written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. It fictionalizes Operation Bernhard, a secret plan by the Nazis during the Second World War to destabilize the United Kingdom by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England currency. The film centers on a Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon Sorowitsch, who is coerced into assisting the Nazi operation at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The film is based on a memoir written by Adolf Burger, a professional printer who was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1942 for political dissension and later interned at Sachsenhausen to work on Operation Bernhard. It won an Oscar Best Foreign Language Film at the 2008 Academy Awards.

"Falling Slowly" is an Academy Award-winning song, written and performed by personal and professional partners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It appeared in the couple's 2006 film Once. The film was eligible for the 2007 Academy Awards, awarded on February 24, 2008. It was chosen as Best Original Song over the choral gospel song Raise It Up from August Rush and three songs from the postmodern Disney musical Enchanted. For some time, the song's eligibility for an Oscar was in dispute, as it had appeared on a 2006 CD issued by Hansard's band, The Frames, and it had been performed by the couple in various European venues. The Academy ruled that because the song had been composed for the movie, and the prior public exposure during the long period that the movie took to produce had been minimal, it remained eligible.

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