'No Country' takes top Oscar honors
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For "No Country for Old Men," it came up Oscar, friendo.
Joel and Ethan Coen's meditative thriller about lawlessness in the modern West claimed best picture, along with three other trophies, at the 80th annual Academy Awards on Sunday night.
Violent Americana ruled at this year's ceremonies: "There Will Be Blood," a virtual companion piece to "No Country" -- both were co-produced by Paramount Vantage and Miramax and entered the evening with eight nominations apiece -- picked up two awards.
The two films contributed to what Jon Stewart, the evening's emcee, joked was "this year's slate of Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies."
But the four acting awards -- which went to Britain's Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton, France's Marion Cotillard and Spain's Javier Bardem also showed an international side to the 5,829 voting members of the Academy. The American actors at the Kodak Theatre watched as their colleagues from abroad were called to the podium. (READ MORE: Foreigners sweep Oscar acting nods)
In accepting the best picture prize, "No Country" producer Scott Rudin credited filmmaker Sydney Pollack for teaching him that "with the opportunity to make movies comes the responsibility of making them good." And he saluted the Coens, saying, "I can't think of anybody I would rather be standing here with than the two of you."
The usually laconic Coens proved relatively chatty in their three trips to the podium, as they picked up awards for producing, directing and their adapted screenplay, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel. Younger brother Ethan might have uttered just a few words himself, but older brother Joel spoke for both of them as he described making their first films as young kids. "And honestly, what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," he said. "We're very thankful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox." (READ MORE: Coens leave the fringe behind)
On their first visit to the stage for the screenwriting prize, Joel Coen also thanked Rudin "for bringing us this novel and giving us the opportunity to make the movie. I think whatever success we've had in this area has been entirely attributable to how selective we are. We've only adapted Homer (with 2000's 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?') and Cormac McCarthy."
On a night when a number of winners talked about their fathers, Day-Lewis, winning his second best actor Oscar for playing a terrifying father in "Blood," picked up on that theme. After lavishly praising the film's director, "the mad, beautiful" Paul Thomas Anderson, he said, "I've been thinking a lot about fathers and sons in the course of this, and I'd like to accept this in the memory of my grandfather, Michael Balcon; my father Cecil Day-Lewis; and my three fine boys, Gabriel, Ronan and Cashel."
"Blood," with its stark images of gushing oil wells, resulted in the cinematography prize going to Robert Elswit, who generously shared it with the film's production designer Jack Fisk as well as Anderson for "his imagination and his energy and his extraordinary vision."
With Miramax, which distributed "No Country" domestically, and Par Vantage, which has handled "Blood's" rollout in North America, sharing the honors on the two films, the usual contest between distributors resulted in a draw, with both companies leading the field with the six Oscar wins in which they both had a stake. (READ MORE: Comeback for Miramax, Vantage)
Meanwhile, Cotillard scored something close to a cinematic grand slam. Having already won Great Britain's BAFTA and France's Cesar, she added an Oscar to her mantel for playing French chanteuse Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose."
The Paris-born actress, trembling with excitement, first called out to her director Olivier Dahan, saying, "You rocked my life, you truly rocked my life." Having thanked the Academy and the movie's U.S. distributor Picturehouse, she found herself sputtering: "Well, I'm speechless now. ... Thank you, life. Thank you, love. And it is true, there are some angels in this city."
Bardem earned his first Oscar, as best supporting actor, for playing the ferocious killer Anton Chigurh in "No Country." The actor, whose victory was something of a foregone conclusion, quickly expressed thanks to the Coens "for being crazy enough to think I could do that and putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head." He then resorted to his native Spanish to express special thanks to his mother, actress Pilar Bardem.
Swinton's conniving corporate attorney brought the actress her first Oscar. Cradling her statuette, the newly anointed best supporting actress first offered thanks to her American agent, Endeavor's Brian Swardstrom, paying one of the evening's more unusual compliments as she explained that he "is the spitting image of this. Really truly, the same shaped head and, it has to be said, the buttocks." Crediting Swardstrom for persuading her to pursue roles in America, she also proclaimed that the film's writer-director Tony Gilroy "walks on water" and praised her leading man George Clooney for "the seriousness and dedication of your art." She enthused, "You rock."
The breakout indie hit "Juno" was represented by the best screenplay award bestowed upon first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, one of the season's overnight success stories. "I especially want to thank my fellow nominees," she said. "I worship you guys. I'm learning from you every day."
The Austrian film "The Counterfeiters," which looks back at the Nazis' counterfeiting operations, became the year's foreign-language film winner. Its director Stefan Ruzowitzky observed that the Nazis had forced such Austrian-born filmmakers as Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann and Otto Preminger to flee to America, and then said, "So it sort of makes sense that the first Austrian film to win the Oscar is about the Nazis' crimes."
In a year when three documentaries looked at the various aspects of war in the Middle East, Alex Gibney and Eva Orner took the honors for "Taxi to the Dark Side," their critique of America's interrogation techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"This is dedicated to two people who are no longer with us: Dilawar, the young Afghan taxi driver, and my father, a Navy interrogator who urged me to make this film because of his fury about what was being done to the rule of law," said Gibney, who also served as exec producer of another of the nominees, "No End in Sight." "Let's hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light."
Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth copped the short documentary prize for "Freeheld," a look at how one same-sex couple struggled to hold on to their domestic partnership rights in the face of illness and death. The surviving member of that couple, Stacie Andree, was present in the audience, and Roth saluted her as a "hero in life who always did what was right." (READ MORE: Taking on the issues at the Oscars)
Paul Greengrass' compulsively kinetic "The Bourne Ultimatum" clearly impressed the Academy as it cut a swath through editing, sound editing and sound mixing. With three trophies, "Bourne" was the second-most-honored film of the night.
For "Bourne" film editor Christopher Rouse, his prize represented a closing of the family circle: In 1960, his father Russell Rouse was one of the winners of best original screenplay for "Pillow Talk." "My father was privileged enough to receive an Oscar, and I'm deeply honored that you put me in his company tonight," he said.
Sound mixer Scott Millan, who shared his award with David Parker and Kirk Francis, dedicated his Oscar to sound man J. Paul Huntsman, who died last week.
"I'm blanking out," sound editor Per Hallberg, who shared the award with Karen Baker Landers, said as they unleashed a long list of thank yous.
Early in the evening, it became clear that this year's Oscars would have an international flavor.
Their brooding designs for "Sweeney Todd" brought a second Oscar to Italian art director Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, who won for "The Aviator" in 2005.
Beyond Cotillard's win, it also was a good year for things French.
Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald took makeup honors for transforming Cotillard into chanteuse Piaf in "La Vie en Rose."
Philippe Pollet-Villard offered a "merci beaucoup" when his "Le Mozart des Pickpockets" was named best live-action short.
Their wins came on the heels of the best animated feature trophy for the Paris-set "Ratatouille." Brad Bird picked up his second gold man for directing the latest blockbuster from Disney's Pixar. He took home an Oscar three years ago in the same category for "The Incredibles."
Bird gave thanks to his high school guidance counselor, who discouraged him from pursuing a career in movies, thereby preparing him for the skepticism filmmakers constantly must overcome.
The prize for best animated short went to "Peter & the Wolf," a reimagining of Serge Prokofiev's classic score. Said the film's producer Hugh Welchman, "This amazing award ... will help to keep Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf' in the hearts and minds of children all over the world."
Costume designer Alexandra Byrne took home the evening's first award, winning for the elaborate Elizabethan-era gowns of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." Apparently, practice made perfect: Byrne also was nominated for the movie's predecessor, 1998's "Elizabeth."
Italian Dario Marianelli danced off with his first Oscar for scoring director Joe Wright's British epic "Atonement." Marianelli was first nominated for Wright's "Pride and Prejudice."
And the Irish musical "Once" produced the best song winner as Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova defeated three nominated songs from Disney's "Enchanted" with their tune "Falling Slowly."
An amazed Hansard said: "We made ('Once') for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people."
The British-flavored "The Golden Compass," the imaginative film adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy novel that included flying witches and armored bears, earned best visual effects kudos for Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood. Borrowing a line from Walt Disney, Fink said, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
Veteran production designer Robert Boyle, the evening's honorary Oscar winner who was introduced by Nicole Kidman, summed up the appeal of the movies. Looking back over nearly a century, he said, "I've noted a lot of conflicts, but there was one bright image in this whole life of ours, and that was the arts -- and particularly the art of the moviemakers."