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T'was the week before Oscar and people were getting in the mood. The handicappers were out in force too, projecting that the year's two manly movies, No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers' saga of murder and manhood in 1980s, and There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson's tale of bold men (or one bold man, anyway) in turn-of-the-century California, would be collecting lots of gold men at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood next Sunday night. Old Men remained the John McCain of this race, with everyone from Roger Ebert to José the cab driver fingering it as the likely Best Picture winner. Still, with the memory of Crash's upset victory in 2006 fresh in critics' minds, some mused that the two man's movies might split the vote and deliver the award to Juno. A few were even saying that the quirky teen comedy's accessibility compared to the other nominees made it a shoo-in. Meanwhile, various observers wondered whether the Oscars still mean anything at all.
While the Academy may well celebrate a film called No Country for Old Men this weekend, it wasn't a bad week for old men at all. There was news that the middle-aged Kelsey Grammar would portray the elderly miser Ebenezer Scrooge in An American Carol, a new indie satire of Dickens' famous Christmas story. There was a tasty rumor that Al Pacino might be playing the villain in the next James Bond film, the perplexingly titled Quantum of Solace. And the just-completed Berlin Film Festival featured a remarkable number of veteran filmmakers from around the globe grappling with questions of aging and mortality. Speaking of which, the last week saw the passing of two greats: The French writer and enfant terrible Alain Robbe-Grillet, best known to cinephiles for writing the screenplay for Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, passed away at 85, and versatile Japanese director Kon Ichikawa, famed for his antiwar dramas, died at 92.
The week was also filled with news of bold men, though perhaps none as brazen or unhinged as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Word came that Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which he was filming with Heath Ledger before the actor's death, will be saved thanks to the involvement of Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, who will depict Ledger's character in three parallel dimensions. A new clip surfaced of Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers' brave adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's classic Where the Wild Things Are, which is apparently quite adult and rather scary. And Brazilian director Jose Padilha took the Golden Bear at the Berlinale for his film Elite Squad, the latest in a series of harsh favela exposes (which also includes the soon-to-be-released City of Men); the win prompted howls of complaint and even conspiracy theories from some critics who loathed the film, leading Padilha to accuse his detractors of stupidity at a press conference in Rio.
Finally, if men were the theme of the week, it begs the question: Where were all the women? Besides Jessica Alba recreating classic horror movie scenes and Lindsay Lohan channelling Marilyn Monroe, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot to report. Natalie Portman wasn't the first actress to grouse about roles for women when she complained recently about the virgin/whore dichotomy that characterizes most parts she gets offered, and she certainly won't be the last. To be fair, while this year's two leading Best Picture candidates present worlds that are almost entirely devoid of women, the Academy has also recognized some truly bold and unusual female acting performances as well, including Tilda Swinton's desperate corporate litigator in Michael Clayton and Julie Christie's elegant Alzheimer's patient in Away from Her. Let's hope we get to see many more roles like these in the year to come.