Oscar Goes Global 'No Country' is tops; foreign stars shine

Posted: February 25, 2008

No Country for Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen's unsparing account of blood, drugs and money in Texas, a film as blunt as a cattle stun-gun, swept the top awards last night at the 80th annual Academy Awards. It won four Oscars, for best picture, director, adapted screenplay and supporting actor.

In an evening where studio movies and American stars were largely overlooked, the Academy honored a United Nations of performers. It was the first time since 1965 that foreigners swept the acting categories.

British actor Daniel Day-Lewis took the lead actor statuette, his second, for his portrayal of the oil-thirsty wildcatter Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Cradling his statuette, he honored his director by saying that the Oscar "sprang like a golden sapling from the head of Paul Thomas Anderson." French actress Marion Cotillard took the best-actress prize for channeling self-destructive chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose.

Spanish thespian Javier Bardem won supporting actor for his role as No Country's Anton Chigurh, the scariest movie psycho this side of Hannibal Lecter. The first Spanish actor ever to take the prize, Bardem dedicated it to his mother, grandparents and native country, addressing them in Spanish.

And Tilda Swinton, a London-born Scot, won supporting actress for her performance as the lethal corporate lackey in Michael Clayton.

Diablo Cody, a former exotic dancer, tearfully accepted original-screenplay honors for Juno, her offbeat comedy about teenage pregnancy. She thanked lead actress Ellen Page and thanked her family for "loving me just the way I am."

The awards' host, the nimble Jon Stewart, began the night by referring to the Writers Guild strike that had pitted scribes against producers for 100 days and scuttled last month's Golden Globes ceremony. Greeting the assembled crowd of celebrities at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Stewart said: "The fight is over. Welcome to the makeup sex."

In an opening monologue that flattered the moviemakers for their work and teased them for being Democrats, Stewart simultaneously warmed and tickled the audience. Unlike his first, uneven time hosting in 2006, last night he owned the stage. Reflecting upon the crop of "Oscar-nominated, psychopathic-killer movies," Stewart asked, "Does this town need a hug? What happened? No Country for Old Men, Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood? All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy," referring to best-picture nominee Juno.

New movie-delivery systems were a theme of Stewart's jokes. Needling the audience, he fiddled with an iPod - pretending to watch panoramic Lawrence of Arabia on the minuscule screen - and played Wii on the big screen.

The Bourne Ultimatum, the lightning-paced thriller, won three statuettes, for editing, sound mixing and sound editing."

Apart from Day-Lewis' win, There Will Be Blood, a stunning account of oil and greed in early 20th-century America, was cited for Robert Elswit's evocative cinematography.

Best-picture nominee Atonement won only one prize, for Dario Marianelli's original score.

"Falling Slowly," the achingly lovely duet from the Irish film Once, was named best song, over three nominated numbers from Enchanted and one from August Rush.

It was an evening that Oscar smelled a rat - a French rat - and gave him a statuette. Ratatouille, Brad Bird's film about the rodent who becomes a four-star chef, won best animated feature. Bird previously won in this category for The Incredibles.

Going into the evening, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood each had eight Oscar nods.

With six nominations each, the historical romance Atonement and corporate-law thriller Michael Clayton, were in the hunt for best picture. Rounding out the best-picture contenders was Juno, which mined unexpected comedy from unintended pregnancy, with four nods.

Of the five best-picture contenders, only Michael Clayton was studio-made. The nominees reflect the industry split between indie prestige pictures and studio blockbusters. Of the best-picture nominees, only Juno, with revenues of $130 million, has passed the $100 million mark.

Freeheld, a documentary short chronicling the struggle of a same-sex New Jersey couple to win death benefits, took the award for documentary short for its makers Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth. And Taxi to the Dark Side, a riveting look at an Afghan taxi driver killed in U.S. custody and an indictment of U.S. interrogation procedures, won best documentary for Alex Gibney and Eva Orner.

The only sure thing last night was that Robert Boyle, 98, the legendary art director of Alfred Hitchcock classics North by Northwest and The Birds, would receive a life achievement award. He accepted with grace and humor.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com//flickgrrl.

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For more on the 80th Academy Awards, including video, fashion commentary, and a slide show, visit philly.com.

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