As my wife said, it's just not the Oscars if there's nothing to complain about. However, I was impressed that two of the year's toughest films, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (389 screens) and Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men took the most nominations. Typically, the Academy is attracted to much less challenging and easy-to-categorize films (like Atonement). Both films are fairly bleak in their vision, but I suspect There Will Be Blood will sneak out ahead for two reasons: it's an epic, and epics almost always win. And, to quote a character from Sunset Boulevard, it "says a little something" about the current sociopolitical climate.

One of the biggest controversies cropped up over the foreign film category, which came up with five nominations that no one has ever heard of. (The Counterfeiters opens sometime next month and Mongol opens in June.) Not to mention that they ignored top contenders like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (opening this week) and Persepolis (30 screens). Thankfully the outrage has begun discussions on changing the stupid, ancient rules for the category. Currently these rules require each country to submit one film, and multi-national films, such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (107 screens), to be disqualified. A small group of "specialists," rather than the Academy as a whole, votes on the small list of films. The documentary category was less obscure, and although I saw 19 documentaries in 2007, I only managed to see two of the five nominees, No End in Sight and Sicko. I have an Academy screener for Operation Homecoming that I hope to catch soon, and Taxi to the Dark Side (1 screen) is screening for Bay Area press next week.


I was amused to see that my favorite film of 2007, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (4 screens) and one of my least favorite films, Into the Wild (195 screens) each got two nominations: equal in the eyes of the Academy. And Casey Affleck and Hal Holbrook will go head-to-head in the Best Supporting Actor category. Honestly, though, I can't figure out why the latter film, with its mushy 2-hour and 20-minute running time, got a nomination for editing of all things. Of course, the even worse Transformers beat them both with its three nominations. And the godawful August Rush (314 screens) will go down in the history books with one nomination, for its terrible "original song."

I'll be curious to see if people race out to see I'm Not There (61 screens) this week because of Cate Blanchett's nomination. That's another tough film, one that requires a good deal of thought, and it'll be interesting to see how the typical Oscar voter handles it. Anyway, I suspect that Cate doesn't have much of a chance against a sentimental favorite, the 83 year-old Ruby Dee, who has her very first nomination as Denzel Washington's mom in American Gangster (213 screens). Tilda Swinton has her first nomination, too, for Michael Clayton (33 screens), but she's the type that will most likely show up here again and probably won't get many votes.

Finally, it's interesting to note the films that didn't get nominated. I'm mourning the loss of Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (58 screens) and its twin cousin, Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream (107 screens). Tom Wilkinson was nominated for Michael Clayton, but he was at least as good, if not better, in Allen's film. Likewise, the Academy ignored Philip Seymour Hoffman's deeper, subtler performances in Devil and The Savages (175 screens) in favor of his showier turn in the shallow Charlie Wilson's War. However, this could be Laura Linney's year to win, for The Savages. Of her competitors, Cate Blanchett and Julie Christie have already won, Ellen Page is likely too young and Marion Cotillard is too French. Plus it's Linney's third nom without a win.

Then there were the films that seemed poised for Oscar gold that came away empty-handed, like Ang Lee's Lust, Caution (8 screens), Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs (95 screens) and Andrew Wagner's Starting Out in the Evening (10 screens), with its much-ballyhooed lead performance by Frank Langella. It looks like Nicole Kidman will never get her third nomination, despite her being in two Oscar-buzz movies this year, Margot at the Wedding (28 screens) and The Golden Compass (340 screens), though the latter movie earned two technical nominations. I received an Academy screener and a copy of the screenplay(!) for the lifeless Dan in Real Life (157 screens), and I was pleased to see that the voters weren't fooled. Finally, I was mostly irked that The Simpsons Movie got snubbed in the animated feature category, but on the plus side, Bee Movie (296 screens) was too.