Review: Academy Award for Best Picture is bloody close between two bloody good films |

Review: Academy Award for Best Picture is bloody close between two bloody good films

A heavyweight fight is a mano-a-mano proposition, and so it’s fitting that this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture comes down to a bare-knuckle brawl.

I’m calling “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” the best two movies I saw last year and speculating that one of the two will be Best Picture.

That’s not to diminish the other two chief nominees. But “Atonement,” for its important commentary on literature and ill-fated romance, and its “Saving Private Ryan”-esque five-minute tracking shot of Dunkirk, is a lightweight inhabiting the same psychic space. And “Juno” ” while it certainly should win Ellen Page the Best Actress ” is probably just happy to be there.

So it appears it’s down the two flinty films from west Texas: Author Cormac McCarthy set his novel “No Country for Old Men” there. And while “There Will Be Blood” focuses on an oil baron in turn-of-the-century California, both Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen brothers filmed their contenders near the town of Marfa.

It’s fitting, then, that they’re so much alike ” and uniformly excellent. They share a gritty, no-nonsense aesthetic, airtightly hopeless plots, and neither has even a whiff of cheap visual tricks like (sorry) “Atonement.”

But they do differ. Weirdly enough, I’d almost have blindly guessed that Anderson would have done something more like “No Country”: While it ultimately boils down to a battle of wills between goon Anton Chigurh (actor Javier Bardem) and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), it’s closer to Anderson’s ensemble pieces, with important performances by James Brolin and Kelly Macdonald.

Focusing so hard on his main character, Daniel Plainview, is unusual for Anderson, and it requires an unusually sturdy performance, which Daniel Day-Lewis delivers. It’s like the actor fleshed out his role of Bill “The Butcher” Cutting from “Gangs of New York,” making the monster understandable while removing all traces of likeability.

Since Chigurh is a cipher, it’s up to Jones to center “No Country.” Bell’s a lot like the meaty roles the actor has had in lighter fare, dried to jerky in that mean ol’ Texas sun, which helps transubstantiate the Coens’ usual quirkiness into the realm of the bizarre ” like turning “Miller’s Crossing” into a deadpan oater.

There’s a lot of twisted humor in “No Country,” as there is in “Blood” ” it’s just two shades even darker. The less-is-more ethic makes the latter almost as intense as the Coens’ bloodbath with considerably fewer head-shots and many more oilman-vs.-preacher bitch-slaps.

And while I think Day-Lewis should run away with Best Actor, the movie I want to see again and think about is “No Country,” despite the viscera splattering the screen.

Best Picture: “No Country for Old Men.” By a Texas mile.

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