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February 22, 2008

Envelope, Please

Roy Meachum

Sunday night the annual Oscars show will be staged. We hope for a "surprise" every year. When it happens, there's no way to know where or who. I suppose that's really what surprises are.

A problem living in the approaches of the Catoctin Mountains reoccurs: Some of the most interesting flicks simply do not play Frederick. I'm still waiting for "Kite Runner," which was delayed until the teen co-stars could be whisked out of Afghanistan. Reading the book created a big appetite for the film.

Last year my son and I traipsed to Bethesda to see George Clooney portray Fred Friendly in the film "Good Night, Good Luck," a highly fictionalized version of Edward R. Murrow's pursuit of Sen. Joe McCarthy. I knew Fred and, believe me, he looked nothing like glamorous George. I liked the movie.

This year we waited forever for two Oscar nominees, "Juno" and "There Will Be Blood." "Atonement," "Michael Clayton" and "No Country for Old Men" made it on their own and in good time.

"There Will Be Blood" screams "epic," but it's much too artsy and painfully posed, also too bloody long. Beats the hell out of me why "Michael Clayton" wound up in the competition maybe because it stars Mr. Clooney. Although impressive, "Atonement" figures an also-ran; it's no "English Patient."

When the envelope is opened I expect the celebrity presenter will discover "No Country for Old Men," the latest Coen Brothers' gift to Hollywood. The boys are the darlings of Academy members. Their cachet will almost certainly send Javier Barden home with a statue. He's up for Best Supporting Actor.

The Coens came along years ago, when I was still reviewing on Washington television. They immediately bedazzled cinema savants; I wasn't sophisticated enough to appreciate their talents. They stepped up big time for "Fargo." They're usually big time competition.

What happened to "Juno?" That's the surprise winner I'd like in the Best Picture category: it's more than clever and very bedazzling in story and pace. Twenty-year-old Ellen Page furnishes a lot of the energy; she's downright terrific. It wouldn't make me at-all mad if the members voted her 2007's Best Actress. It'll never happen, I say with fingers crossed.

The Best Actress, reportedly, seems destined for Julie Christie, the English lady who captured a lot of male hearts back in the '60s. I have no idea how well she did in "Away From Her;" it received no run on a Frederick screen.

Not here, but to Gettysburg we traveled to catch "La Vie en Rose." Edith Piaf's cinematic story stayed that far away from I-270. The trip proved very much worthwhile for Marion Cotillard's version of the Little Sparrow, Ms. Piaf's nickname. My Army service in Europe made me a big fan. I loved the movie's performance of Edith Piaf's familiar songs.

While conceding the possibility that Julie Christie earned top prize and the perky Canadian "Juno" might more deserve it, Marion Cottilard's taking the category would not be traumatic. The others nominated are not slouches: Cate Blanchett for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and Laura Linney, named for "The Savages," which couldn't find a local screen.

Viggo Mortensen's turn In "Eastern Promises" and Tommy Lee Jones "In the Valley of Elah" may have been booked into this city, and I missed them. But the odds are good they were never here. Mr. Clooney and Johnny Depp's demon barber of Fleet Street, "Sweeny Todd," are listed; they'll all lose.

Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis's over-ripe characterization of an early 20th century greedy and exploitive oil man is supposed to put him in the Winner's Circle. As you can tell, I was not over-impressed. In the event, Mr. Day-Lewis has already been acclaimed as this year's Best Actor. We'll see.

Ruby Dee is overdue to get Best Supporting Actress for the way she mothers Densil Washington in "American Gangster." Her chief competition comes from "Michael Clayton's" Tilda Swinton: why? I don't know. Cate Blanchett may be splendid as Bob Dylan's earlier self in "I'm Not There," but you couldn't prove it by me. Nominating Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone" was a worthy recognition of her skills. That's all. Saoirse Ronan's take on the youngest villain in "Atonement" might have won in other years. But not now.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's has an Oscar statuette already sitting on a mantle. He should not receive its twin for "Charlie Wilson's War," although, as usual, he provides lessons for all who would learn to act. Casey Affleck and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" may have sold popcorn down the pike but not here. Tom Wilkinson turned in a workman-like job in "Michael Clayton" and I was delighted to see Hal Holbrook had drawn a paycheck for "Into the Wild."

But bet the farm on Javier Barden, as I said. His directors in "No Country for Old Men" make up the hot tip. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen will not be the first pair to snag a Best Director Oscar, but they shape up as the first brothers to pull it off.

Their outside threat comes from Paul Thomas Anderson who lived up to all three names, making the nitty-gritty oil-prospecting days into a pretentious and much too-long "There Will Be Blood."

On Sunday evening, check ABC Television at 8:30 for mighty Oscar's laughs and tears.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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