Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Right Words

I’m feeling weirdly disconnected from the Oscars this year, so the thought of making predictions doesn’t really interest me. Yes, there are a few nominees that I hope win that may very well win and while the Best Picture winner may indeed be a film that I love, my expectations for the evening are still pretty low. I hope Jon Stewart does a great job, I hope something wildly unexpected happens. But I don’t have much of an investment in any of it. Maybe these days I’m interested in watching too many films that would never be mentioned at the awards. Maybe it has to do with ZODIAC not receiving a single nomination, which has to be a true embarrassment for the Academy. On the other hand, I spent some of the other night looking at the new DVD of MICHAEL CLAYTON, which reminded me of how much I love it and that got me a little excited for the awards ceremony again. Then I received an email from someone I know telling me he didn’t think much of it at all, but I’m not going to apologize for what I thought of it. That’s just the way things go.

On the subject of another film I recently revisited, last fall I was restrained, unsure in my praise of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. Now I’ve finally been able to take another look at it to feel more assured of my feelings on the matter. And to admit the honest truth, you could hold my hand to the fire and maybe there might be an outside shot that I’ll admit to a few small issues with the film. Maybe. If I did admit such a thing, then they’d mostly be confined to sections of the first hour, where it’s possible the film feels like it’s wandering a little too much. But to argue this point with myself, that feeling might be necessary since we do need a little bit of time to drift into the film, to get a hold of its rhythm, to allow what it’s doing to begin to wash over us. It wouldn’t be quite correct to call the 160 minute film a marathon; more appropriately, it’s like a long, slow swim through a very deep body of water. And we do need to acclimate ourselves to that environment. And when I do, I find the film to be not just aware of the cinematic possibilities in its very stillness, it seems to speak to the very yearning we sometimes have in our lives to achieve a glory which may be forever beyond our reach and certainly beyond our ability to express.

I think of not just the use of Brad Pitt here and how his own persona informs the film, but also his own unpredictability in portraying the legendary outlaw who may be even more dangerous in ways he doesn’t understand then he himself realizes. It’s the best work of his career. There are many things I can say about Casey Affleck’s work here, but most of all I think of what the actor does in that long, slow silent moment at the dinner table after Robert Ford lists off a bunch of facts about Jesse James to the man himself. There’s a mixture of envy for Jesse, hatred of Jesse and hatred of his own self which wash over his eyes during this moment and it speaks volumes for anything we ever need to know about Robert Ford. I think of the continued glares of pathetic madness that come from Sam Rockwell as Charley Ford. The look on Mary-Louise Parker’s face the last time we see her. I think of the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and how it seems to tap into just the right kind of sorrowful uncertainty of what the characters can never say. I think of the beauty of Zooey Deschanel’s appearance near the end and how the effect it gives off feels like a hoped-for benediction which is never quite allowed to occur. I think of the final half hour and how hauntingly perfect it is. I think of how this film was allowed to die on the vine by Warner Bros. who treated this work of art, this work of cinematic beauty, with pure disdain and while its existence will be noted in two nominations at the ceremony (unlike ZODIAC) it won’t be what it deserves. But the movie does exist, it will exist and I know that there are others out there who feel the same as me. And I think of that day, years in the future, where there will be some sort of anniversary screening at the Motion Picture Academy and people will react with astonishment at this film that was allowed to get away. For me, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is the best film of 2007. That’s about all I have to say.


Recovering Booth Rat said...

In my opinion, the five nominated films should have been:
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
The Assassination of Jesse James (any chance the title was a reason for it being overlooked for awards?)
Into the Wild

Michael Clayton would be my sixth favorite film of the year. Most years, it would have been in the top three. Great year for movies, in my opinion.

And yes, the Academy should be ashamed that Norbit received one more nomination than Zodiac.

Anonymous said...

The family of Jesse James have posted their own 5 page review of this movie on their family web site, together with stories about the James family’s former experiences with Hollywood and Jesse James movies.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I think the reason the film was overlooked had to do more with Warners not doing much of anything to push it with the voters. And the ticket buyers.

I guess I'd put CLAYTON in the top five but I wouldn't have gotten upset if INTO THE WILD had been in there. The other four I'm in full agreement with. I mean, really, nothing for ZODIAC??

I'm glad I'm not alone on this and that there are others--including the James family--who feel the way I do about JESSE JAMES. It's a shame that more people didn't get the chance to view it in the best way possible but hopefully they'll catch up to it on DVD. Thanks very much to you both for checking in.