Thursday, December 6, 2007

Atonement: If it looks like a Best Picture ...

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2007 at 9:06 PM

click to enlarge atonement2.jpg

For award-obsessed critics and movie-goers, December is marked by heated and fairly pointless speculation over what will be the potential Oscar nominees. (It's kind of sad, really.) Simply going by what the Academy's favorite kinds of Best Pictures look like, the smart money would go to Atonement, which opens in Atlanta tomorrow.

Atonement has the fancy literary pedigree, being based on a novel by the prize-winning English novelist Ian McEwan. (Incidentally, I read the book's opening chapter on two separate occasions, thought it was good, yet somehow never mustered the effort to read the whole thing.) It depicts a star-crossed couple (played by rising stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, pictured), who are tragically separated by the devastation of war, not unlike the protagonists of The English Patient and Cold Mountain, two big Oscar contenders based on brainy best sellers. And as a period piece/costume drama set partially among the English upper classes, with plenty of sun-drenched countrysides, the film feels of a piece with such E.M. Forster films as A Room with a View and Howard's End, and, to a lesser extent, such Jane Austen movies as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. (Atonement director Joe Wright previously collaborated with Knightley on the film version of the latter.)

Atonement ultimately makes a downbeat assessment of human nature, but it’s positively Little Miss Sunshine compared to its bleak, violent best picture competition, particularly National Board of Review Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, the musical gorefest Sweeney Todd and the oil-strike epic There Will Be Blood. The Departed notwithstanding, the Academy usually doesn’t go for films that could be characterized as “bloodbaths,” and the Vulture blog has an amusing graphic, based on "Amount of Blood Spilled in Various Things," that questions whether Sweeney Todd is too gory to win the Oscar. American Gangster and Michael Clayton look like feel-good movies compared to the likes of them.

Of course, the deciding factor is often based on which movie the Academy votes like the most. Imagine!

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