Two Classics, Three Masters: The "No Country For Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" Rave
After a night out at the cinema last night I'm dying to tell you all about two of my hands-down, flat-out favorite films of the last couple of years: "No Country For Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood". "No Country" I saw twice at the theater within a three week period in February and March, but it wasn't until last night that I finally saw "There Will Be Blood". Both films were released in late-2007, of course, but neither made it up here to our local theaters until recently. But it was definitely worth the wait. Filmmaking this fine is a rare thing indeed.
Raw, gritty, intense and, in the case of "No Country", quite violent, both films also have their moments of humor and are, simply put, incredibly-well-acted, -written and -directed pieces of cinematic brilliance. In other words, in case I'm not making myself completely clear, I absolutely loved both of these films!
But what else would you expect from filmmakers of this magnitude? We're talking about the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson here. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge Coen Brothers fan and have been for about 20 years now. Their work ranges all the way from excellent ("Blood Simple", "Raising Arizona", "Miller's Crossing", "Barton Fink") to classic ("Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), but it's all unmistakably unique and original - in a word, Coenesque. Working in just about any genre, from comedy to drama to thriller, every film they make has that distinctive Coen feel, most distinctively found in all their dialogue. Even their most serious movies, like "No Country", have some pretty funny lines. They've definitely got a unique style all their own.
"No Country", a clear indictment of the seemingly inherent violent nature of American society, features outstanding performances by Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, and, sounding incredibly authentic as a Texan, Scotland's Kelly Macdonald. But the standout in this great ensemble cast is clearly Javier Bardem, who, in a mindblowingly-good and very-deserved-Oscar-winning role, plays a psychotic hitman with a very unique style of killing his victims. Quite the cast and quite the film.
I have to admit, however, that on first viewing I did feel that the ending came quite unexpectedly, which is at least partly why, I think, I enjoyed it more the second time around. But that's often the case with any great film. I've usually found that the first viewing is largely about riding the roller coaster of the story, whereas the second time around you can focus more on the details of the craft: the cinematography, the direction, and the subtleties of the acting and dialogue. Perhaps it's just me, but many of my favorite films - from "Fight Club" to "On The Waterfront" to "The Godfather" to "The Usual Suspects" to "Goodfellas" to "Rushmore" to "Dr. Strangelove" to "12 Monkeys" to "Pulp Fiction" to, come to think of it, all Tarantino films - have clearly been more satisfying on second viewing.
As for Paul Thomas Anderson, he may not be as well known as the Coens, but he's almost their equal when it comes to making highly original and hugely entertaining works of movie magic. This is the guy, after all, who made two of my favorite films in the '90s: "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia". If you haven't seen them, go pick them up today. Trust me! "There Will Be Blood", it should be noted, is his first film in 5 long years... and he sure makes it count. I mean, if you're only going to do one film in 5 years, you better make it a good one, right? And he certainly did!
The film features a tale that could be seen as the story of America itself over the past century, with oil, religion, greed and the lust for power metaphorically representing, well, oil, religion, greed and the lust for power. Daniel Day-Lewis gives yet another tour de force of a performance. Man, can that guy ever act! Already one of my 3 or 4 favorite actors of all time, due to some of the greatest performances in the history of film - I'm thinking "My Left Foot" and "In The Name of The Father", to name just two - this could, in fact, be his most mesmerizing performance yet. It has to be seen to be believed. So see it!
And, for all those of you who missed either of these films at the theater, you can now see them both on DVD. "No Country" came out last month and "Blood" will be released in a few days, on April 8th. Like all great films, both of these movies should really be seen on the big screen, but DVD will do too, if it has to.
Anyhow, it was sure great to see the Coens clean up at the Oscars this year. In years past "Juno" would have won as all the old people would have voted for the one comedy over all the violent, gritty dramas. But luckily those types of voters have slowly been dying off (I'm joking, sort of) and now films like "No Country", and filmmakers like the Coens, can finally be recognized for what they are - the best. However, after seeing "There Will Be Blood" last night, I can't help but feel it's a shame there had to be just one Best Picture and Best Director winner. But if I had to go with one of the two I guess I'd go with "No Country". But then again I haven't seen "There Will Be Blood" a second time yet. That'll be next week.
One last thing: Last night I told my friend Dave Marsh, who I attended the film with, that Upton Sinclair, the author of "Oil!", the 1927 book on which "There Will Be Blood" is loosely based, was a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature when in reality he never won the Nobel at all (though he did win a Pulitzer once). I was confusing him with his contemporary Sinclair Lewis, who definitely did win the Nobel and who, believe it or not, briefly lived together with Upton on his cooperative commune in 1906-07 when Upton was already rich and famous and Lewis was the commune's janitor. To be fair here I think you'd all agree that keeping any set of Sinclairs straight is hard enough at the best of times, let alone when you're dealing with two who lived on the same bloody commune a century ago. So I admit it, I don't know my Sinclairs perhaps as well as I should, but what are you going to do, shoot me?
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
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