Oscar shines light on darkness

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In a year when movie theaters were filled with explorations of mankind's darker impulses, the Academy went right with the program.

Voters chose three films — "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood" and "Michael Clayton" — that highlight such unsavory traits as greed and duplicity and provide only slight or twisted redemption.

Sitting atop the two prime examples of the trend was one man, the irrepressible New York producer Scott Rudin, who crosses easily between Broadway and big-screen drama.

As a producer on "No Country" and an executive producer of "Blood," Rudin had a high-class problem when it came to the Oscars.

"The thing I worried about with two movies is that one would get nominated and the other wouldn't," he said. "You kind of want both or none."

The two projects, both joint collaborations between Paramount Vantage and Miramax, came together because of Rudin's relationship with both companies. Miramax chief Daniel Battsek on Tuesday noted Rudin's "phenomenal taste" and called him "one of the most determined individuals I've ever come across."

The two movies were so intertwined that they even overlapped shooting days in the same Texas town.

Rudin said he didn't like the term "dark" but acknowledged that something significant was going on.

"These are enormously ambitious, extremely humanistic and incredibly sophisticated films, and the fact that the Academy is recognizing such challenging material is thrilling," he said.

The Academy didn't push the darkness quite to the edge, eschewing a macabre film like "Sweeney Todd" in favor of a wisecracking teen comedy in "Juno," which, with a young writer and director, suggests that the Academy has a growing constituency of younger filmmakers within its ranks. And there have been "No Country"-type best picture nominees and winners in the past — think 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs."

But the decision this year to recognize films of moral ambiguity represents a trend that both the Academy and audiences confronted head-on.
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