Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lets Talk Oscar

The first post of several to dissect the decisions of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Here is a breakdown of how today’s nominations succeeded, failed and are just plain stupid.

Best Picture
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


This is the best that the big race has looked in a long time. It is unusual for the Academy to embrace originality so openly. Michael Clayton may have taken a spot for Into the Wild, but I don’t think there was one major snub to complain about, each film deserves to be here.

Actor
George Clooney: Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp: Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones: In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen: Eastern Promises

If In the Valley of Elah had to have just one nomination, I’m glad it’s for Tommy Lee Jones, who delivered a career-best performance in this underrated marvel.
Although he did a nice song and dance, Depp doesn’t deserve to be here. After his joke nomination for Pirates of the Caribbean (his first), it seems like they nominate him for anything. Emile Hirsh (Into the Wild) or Gordon Pinsent (Away From Her) would fill out the fifth slot much better.

Actress
Cate Blanchett: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie: Away From Her
Marion Cotillard: La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney: The Savages
Ellen Page: Juno

It is silly to nominate Blanchett twice. Why waste a slot on someone that is a lock in another category? Tang Wei from Lust, Caution gave such an implosively powerfully performance, brilliant debuts like hers should not go unrecognized. Hell, past nominees and/or winners Keira Knightely (Atonement), Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart), or Nicole Kidman (Margot at the Wedding) would fit the bill nicer.

Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem: No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook: Into the Wild
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Wilkinson: Michael Clayton

Why not nominate someone for the best work of their career? Philip Seymour Hoffman could’ve been nominated for three different films, and they chose the least impressive of the bunch. Nominating him for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead would’ve been magical.

Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett: I'm Not There
Ruby Dee: American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan: Atonement
Amy Ryan: Gone Baby GoneTilda Swinton: Michael Clayton

Amy Ryan has the swan-song story, but this is really Blanchett’s show. Her uncanny take on Bob Dylan marks a milestone in cinema.
I’d replace Ruby Dee’s bitch-slap of a nomination with Kelly Macdonald, who stole most of her scenes as Josh Brolin’s distraught wife in No Country For Old Men.

Director
Julian Schnabel: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman: Juno
Tony Gilroy: Michael Clayton
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood

Reitman and Gilroy are worthy surprises, but Sean Penn deserves to be here. Passion bled into every frame of his Into the Wild. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Coen brothers and Anderson cancel each other out and Schnabel’s visionary eye snags him the prize.

Original Screenplay
Diablo Cody: Juno
Nancy Oliver: Lars and the Real Girl
Tony Gilroy: Michael Clayton
Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco: Ratatouille
Tamara Jenkins: The Savages

The best quality about Juno was its quick-witted, fast-paced flush of words. But Gilroy delivered a fantastic throwback to 70s cinema with smart, clever, incisive dialogue.
Kelly Masterson’s script for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is one of the biggest sins of omission this year.

Adapted Screenplay
Christopher Hampton: Atonement
Sarah Polley: Away from Her
Ronald Harwood: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood

These are all great, but, if not given a director nod, Sean Penn’s omission for his Into the Wild script is inexcusable.
Would it have been terrible to give David Fincher’s marvelous Zodiac at least one nomination?

Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Atonement
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

This is the hardest category to call. The look of each of these films was beautiful and poetic. Roger Deakins has two chances with Jesse James and No Country to finally win the prize that has eluded him for his entire career. As one of the best living eyes behind a camera, he is long overdue.

Now, Let’s Talk Oscar Stupid
The Academy is notorious for finding rash reasons to exclude films from particular categories. The fact that Jonny Greenwood’s musical score was left out the Score competition due to a technicality is just plain idiotic. This is the biggest mistake committed by Oscar this year.
Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood is like nothing you have ever heard. Powerful, embracing, and completely haunting, it shifts the film’s focus, scene by scene.

Likewise for Eddie Vedder’s original songs for Into the Wild, or the foreign language category leaving off Romania's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and France's Persepolis.

But all and all, Oscar is getting better. They are nominating and awarding bolder, more courageous films, but it’s about time for the Academy to stop bitching and moaning and to start embracing daring aspects of great films.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Top 10 of 2007

10. Paris, je'taime: Twenty short films make up this wildly entertaining movie. Each filmmaker given a different part of the city to tell a six-minute love story. None better than the finale segment, Alexander Payne’s extraordinary piece about a middle-aged woman finding herself in the city of love. You’ll be floored by the emotional arch of the character, discovering wondrous realizations that you never thought possible in six minutes. A tour-de-force.

9. Zodiac: David Fincher’s fantastic, in-depth analysis about the San Francisco Bay Zodiac killer felt like a real investigation. Jake Gyllenhaal leads one of the best casts of the year as cartoonist turned author Robert Graysmith whose obsessions over the case nearly got him killed. Fincher is a master of dark cinema, thrilling us with Se7en, and Fight Club, but his direction has never been better in this morbid examination into the minds of people tracking a killer.

8. Into the Wild: Passion evokes itself in every frame in Sean Penn’s stunning film. A true story about Chris McCandless, a young man who gave up everything, only to reap the harsh drudges of the wild. Emile Hirsch gives a stunning, career-making performance. Great supporting turns by Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook, but it’s Penn’s show, who fuses his own remarkable style in a highly memorable film.

7. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: Veteran filmmaker Sidney Lumet’s devious return to form. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke have never been better as brothers living with the guilt of a crime gone very, very wrong. Kelly Masterson’s screenplay offers a fresh narrative in storytelling.

6. Atonement: The war-torn, romanance gets a much needed tune-up. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy light up the screen with their commanding chemistry. A poignant story with marvelous technical achievements to boot.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: Brad Pitt’s passion project is one of the most subtly astonishing film of the year. Casey Affleck steals the show as a man haunted by his obsessions, long after the killing occurs. Cinematographer Roger Deakins beautifully uses vast landscapes to tell a story of isolated men.

4. Michael Clayton: From its breathtaking, mile a minute opening monologue, to its inspirational closing credits, this is a true classic. A smart, witty and immensely enjoyable throwback to 70s era cinema.

3. No Country for Old Men: A great return for the Coen brothers, who have been stuck in a quirky-comedy rut. Jarvier Bardem, hair and all, will go down as one of the all time great villains in cinema history. A terrific, literal adaptation from one of our best living authors, Cormac MaCarthy.

2. Rescue Dawn: A remarkable true story, harrowing in every frame. A triumphant film fueled by career-best performances by Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. One of Werner Herzog’s very best films. Criminally overlooked by virtually every major award competition, proves that the best films don’t always go on to win awards.

1. There Will Be Blood: Bold, brilliant, haunting, powerful. This is a film so unmatched by anything else this year that it stands on its own. Anchored by a classic Daniel Day-Lewis performance, this is the most shockingly original piece of filmmaking this year. Filled with the perfect blend of music and revolutionary camera work, There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson's modern-day masterpiece.

And Ten More, for good measure (alphabetically):
Away From Her
The Darjeeling Limited
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Eastern Promises
Gone Baby Gone

Grindhouse (namely Death Proof)
In the Valley of Elah
Juno
Lust, Caution
Sicko

There Will Be Blood

Before a single word is spoken, There Will Be Blood has you. During the first few moments of the film, we are presented with a speechless montage of clips that establish the severe power of what is to come. Much of this is due to the blazingly cryptic musical score, sending chills up our spines, demanding our attention. But most of all, these beautiful opening shots serve to introduce a character that will forever stay etched into our brains. This, is Daniel Plainview.

In There Will Be Blood, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson creates a brand new style that we never knew he had from watching his previous masterworks, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. In the turn of the century, Plainview goes from town to town, convincing its residents to let him drill for oil there. He goes in, sets up shop and benefits largely. His sales pitch is flawless and direct, using his young son H.W. as a selling tool. He is charismatic, charming, sincere and completely ruthless.

After Plainview is visited by a young man who offers him information about oil in a town, Plainview moves across state and begins his system. He buys up all the land he can, begins drilling and soon hits oil. But no one stays on top forever.

Soon Plainview begins to feud with members of the local church, and he is forced to come to terms with a tragedy very close to him. His perfect, flawless life is stopped dead in its tracks. Everything is put to a halt, and so begins his brutal plunge into lunacy.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the best actors to ever be on screen. His intensity is unmatched. Watching There Will Be Blood, you will not for a second think that this is the same man who won an Oscar for My Left Foot, or haunted audiences with his emotional reverence in The Name of the Father, or most recently owned the streets of the Five Points in Gangs of New York. Day-Lewis isn’t himself playing Daniel Plainview, he is Daniel Plainview. This is the best work he has ever done. Not since Taxi Driver has a film and actor captured one man’s slow descent into the madness of his own mind.

Paul Dano (the silent kid from Little Miss Sunshine) will floor you as an evangelical preacher who uses his sermons like weapons of mass deliberation. Don’t be fooled by his soft face and gentle features, Dano is a real player, going toe to toe with Day-Lewis where so many other actors have failed to do so.

The film is filled with remarkable supporting turns, namely the young H.W. played by first time actor, Dillon Freasier. Freasier is incredible at matching Day-Lewis’ silence for thought, especially when his character hits a new emotional arch.

Anderson has taken all the best parts from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! and molded it into a deeply personal and affecting film. Radiohead front man, Jonny Greenwood provides the miraculous, pulse-pounding music that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Greenwood fuses in sounds reminiscent to 2001 and Psycho while remaining inexplicably original. Likewise for Robert Elswit’s bold cinematography, which proves that his ability to film in long takes is damn near unmatched by anyone else in the industry. Where Children and Men and Atonement have been accused of using special effects tricks, Elswit leaves the technical crap behind, letting Anderson’s words play out in their respected way.

Each scene of this film is a flawless, majestic work of art with equal parts camera work, music, acting, writing and directing. The fact that it has come so late in the year and is already receiving such high accolades proves that American audiences are ready for something real, something intense, something monumental.

When Citizen Kane was released in 1941, it was slammed by audiences and critics alike. But today, it is considered by many to be the best American film ever made. Decades of hindsight allow people to acknowledge that Citizen Kane was made well before its time. By using narrative techniques that hadn’t been discovered yet, all while being anchored by a brilliant screenplay. There Will Be Blood is similar in this way. Not everyone is going to get it. In fact, you will either absolutely love it, or detest it. But in recognizing what Anderson is trying to achieve, you acknowledge a classic. There Will Be Blood, dare I say, is the Citizen Kane of the 21st century. A+

Juno

The quirky, teen-sex comedy has never been this good. Ellen Page, (unbelievably good in 2005's Hard Candy, her only other major role) carries this stimulating little film into geek perfection. A bored night with best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, fresh off his Superbad mojo) turns into a life-changing, baby-toting accident.

Her parents (a never better J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) are supportive in their own, odd way, while Juno tries to find a family to take her soon to be child. Jennifer Garner (giving something here) and Jason Bateman (stepping outside a little) are the couple in need as worlds collide and words are used as weapons of comic bliss.

Director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) uses great, indie-funk tunes to fuel the movie right along, but it’s Diablo Cody’s refreshing screenplay that's the real star. Each actor delivering their lines with brilliantly timed perfection, each one-liner better than the one before, Juno uses words better than most films this year.

A highly entertaining, and original piece of comedy, Ellen Page proves after two roles that she is one of the most gifted actors of her generation, and Cody announces herself as a real Hollywood player. A

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Renowned painter Julian Schnable only makes movies about artists. His frank depiction of the life of poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls was a bold, sleeper hit in 2000. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is Schnabel’s new venture into the unknown as he tells the true story of Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a massive stroke, that left everything but his left eye paralyzed.

Schnable’s immaculate style serves as the film’s storytelling technique. For a majority of the movie, we see life through Bauby’s sole, unfocused, blinking eye. The unique look is due in large part to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (a Spielberg vet), with words from a snappy screenplay by Oscar winner Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), but enough credit can’t be given to Schnable for crafting such a deeply personal look into a fallen life. Could be a surprise Oscar contender. A

Margot at the Wedding

Wealthy, successful, liberal New Yorkers sit around and complain about the dysfunctions of life and the tragedies of family. Sounds like writer-director Noah Baumbach’s first film, The Squid and the Whale. Although both films share several similar qualities, Baumbach doges a sophomore slump, delivering a fresh take on what feels like used material.

Nicole Kidman is great as the cranky, possessive, narcissistic Margot who travels with her teenage son to attend her sister Pauline’s wedding. Fireworks are set in motion long before Pauline’s not-so-impressive fiancĂ© (Jack Black) is late to pick Margot up from the bus station.

After years of not speaking with one another, Pauline (an excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Margot do their best to remain civil. But civility only goes so far when your sister is such a domineering control freak. Events are set in motion that lead to a disastrous weekend, in which each of the characters will question why they are in their current state, and how the let themselves get there.

Baumbach uses dark exteriors and mostly natural light to fuel his subtle work. His words are sharp and coarse, as the actors flow from screaming matches to ironical laughter. Kidman gives one of her best performances, nailing each unfriendly nuance of a flawed woman. Margot knows her faults, but she’ll be damned to come to terms with them. But it’s Leigh (who is married to Baumbach) that steals the picture. Usually typecast as a prostitute or vagrant, Leigh gets to flex her acting muscle with the utmost form. The Academy should note such powerfully, subtle work. A-

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp up the odd ante in their sixth collaboration together. Based on the musical, Sweeny Todd is a great delight with its songs, allowing Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to deliver unique performances that you never saw coming. The lyrics inspirational, the choreography well paced, it all begins as a darkly gorgeous tale. But once the violence begins, everything falls into tired repetition.

Throat after throat is slashed before it becomes a quick bore. The ketchup-colored blood doesn’t help much either, even if that’s what Burton is going for.
Although mostly entertaining -anchored by another great Depp performance- Sweeny Todd works hard to be different, but ends up falling a little flat. B-

The Great Debaters

It’s hard not to admire Denzel Washington. As an actor he shells one of the most commanding presences that the film industry has ever carried. As a director, he picks his projects carefully and with great, personal conviction. When he was trying to finance his latest film, The Great Debaters, the producers asked him, “You want to cast three unknowns as your leads?” and Washington replied, “How many 13-year-old, black actors do you know? Now we’ve got three.”

Washington doesn’t hesitate to cast himself as real life professor Melvin Tolson, who transformed his Wiley College debate team into a boldly mature force.
In its debating scenes, the film packs a real punch, much in part to Robert Eisele’s clever and convincing script. The young actors nail each of their moments of glory, perfecting the art of cadence.
But when the kids aren’t on the podium, the film comes off as an Oprah Winfrey Present’s Special, which is an authentic feeling, given that Winfrey is in fact a producer of the film.
Washington’s only other directorial effort was the masterful Antwone Fisher. What that film carried in heavy-handed determination, The Great Debaters comes off as more wishful thinking. But credit is due to Washington, who carries the film with his as-expected emotional ferocity, and gives three young actors a chance to shoot into stardom. B

Charlie Wilson's War

If you step into an Aaron Sorkin-scripted film, then you came to listen. Sorkin is a master of constant, free-flowing dialogue, but that’s all for nothing if you don’t understand what the hell the actors are talking about.

Tom Hanks has a little fun playing real life Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who in 1980, funded Afghanistan troops with weapons to attack their Soviet suppressors. It’s nice to see Hanks playing a care-free, womanizing, alcoholic, who sometimes dapples with cocaine, he hasn’t strayed this far from his poster-boy image for years.

Directed by Mike Nichols, Charlie Wilson’s War sends an overabundance of words the viewer’s way, if you aren’t paying close enough attention to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s spit-fire CIA agent, then you may miss out on his incredible performance, the best part of the film.

Julia Roberts plays a wealthy Texas woman who, for reasons I apparently missed, wants Wilson to begin the funding. Roberts, smiling in her bikini shot and amusing us with her eyebrows, lives up to the demands of the part, which are short of nothing.

The film plays more as an R-rated history lesson than an entertaining romp on political satire. The problem is trying to find (or accept) the film’s lesson. Audiences may not want to sit through 95 minutes of sympathy for a country that currently plagues our society . Its abrupt ending doesn’t help matters much, only leaving the viewer to guess what the left-sided filmmakers are trying to accomplish. B-

The Savages

Philip Seymour Hoffman wraps up a great year after stealing scenes in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Charlie Wilson’s War, with his subtle portrayal as half of a sibling rivalry in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages. His better half is played by the extremely talented Laura Linney (convincible in her neurotic frenzy) as they deal with their ailing father.

The two actors work well together, engaging in believable arguments, constantly trying to one-up each other through their dysfunctional lives.

While the film is a pleasing dramedy, it remains a forgettable piece of work. The talent that the actors possess isn’t nearly used to its full capacity. B-

The Kite Runner

Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) adapts Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller into a gorgeous, easy-to-please film about two childhood friends in pre-Soviet invaded Afghanistan.

Amir and Hassan spend their days running about and perfecting their kite running skills until one of them falls victim to an unspeakable act of violence. The film is brilliant in its sympathy for the boys, but avid fans of the book may be disappointed by the film's third act, when Forster stops adapting so closely.

The Kite Runner sends a great message of friendship and shows how one moment can haunt a life forever. Its surprising PG-13 rating may throw some viewers off. This film is not to be taken lightly, it is a graphic, intense piece of melodrama that, for the most part, jumps from book to screen. B

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rescue Dawn: now on DVD

In 1997, iconic, visionary filmmaker Werner Herzog made a documentary about survived Vietnam POW, Dieter Dengler. Dengler was a pilot whose plane was shot down over Laos during the early years of the war. He was kept in a POW camp for months, escaped, and nearly starved to death while trying to be rescued. When Little Dieter Needs to Fly was complete, the soft-spoken Dengler looked at Herzog and said, “This story isn’t done.”

Ten years later Herzog accomplishes the picture he has been dying to make, a fictional film about Dengler’s story. Rescue Dawn is the same story with the same outcome, yet it plays as a surprising, powerful tale. Christian Bale plays Dengler, a kind, German-born man who had long dreams to fly. Once America gave him his wings, his life was complete. On his first mission, his plane was shot down, leaving him stranded in the jungle, ultimately captured by Viet Cong. You’ve seen this all before, right? Believe me, not like this.

When Dengler is brought to a village, hands bound with rope, guns pointing at his back, he is marched in front of dozens of curious natives. As he walks among them, he casts a huge smile. It’s a small effort that Bale makes shocking. His smile is sincere, Dengler is genuinely happy to be among people he’s never met, thinking his life will take a great new turn, no idea of the serious danger he is in. His trouble becomes more eminent once he begins to be tortured, in cringe-worthy, blood-free scenes.

Soon, Dengler is taken to a POW camp where he is to stay indefinitely. It’s there that he meets fellow prisoners Duane (Steve Zahn), Gene (Jeremy Davies) and a few others. After fighting the day to day battle to survive amidst hunger and abuse from their captures, Dengler formulates a plan to escape.

Each of the scenes in Rescue Dawn is powerful and engrossing. None more than the terrifying escape, which rivals the passengers of United 93 surging the cockpit, a true do-or-die moment that is hauntingly stunning.

The rugged authenticity of the film gives it appeal. Herzog is a filmmaker of determined obsession. You will not, for a second, think Christian Bale is on a Hollywood back lot, in fake plants and tress. He is in the wild, digging and cutting his way through the thick bush.

In a career formed on drastic bodily transformations (including accents), Bale has never been better. He plays Dengler with the man’s own self reliance and kindness. Bale, who shed 55 pounds for this role, delivers the best performance from any actor in 2007, so far. From tramping through bushes, to eating live insects, to tumbling through severe rapids, Bale is right there, putting his heart and sole into the powerful role. Steve Zahn is a revelation. The funny guy from That Thing You Do, Out of Sight, and Joy Ride, delivers a performance that you didn’t know he had in him. His Duane is a man on the edge of madness, torn between his perceptions of reality. While still, somehow, managing to throw some of his comic timing into the role, Zahn has opened the door for a new stage in his career. Be ready.

Klaus Badelt’s score is some of the best music I have ever heard in film. Its powerful drums and delicate horns heighten each scene to sheer brilliance. And cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger, gets right into the jungle with the actors, rolling over the messy terrain or delivering a great, wide shot of an isolated landscape.

Herzog, who is best known for his 2005 documentary Grizzly Man is one of our greatest living filmmakers. Often using a skeleton crew of just the principle actors, his camera man, sound engineer, and himself, Herzog never hesitates to try something new, as long as it is real. Every single stunt that the actors complete in the film, Herzog did first. If they had to walk through the jungle barefoot, among poisonous snakes and insects, then he would be first. Travel through the rushing river, Herzog is in the lead. When Bale demanded to eat the live insects, Herzog took the first bite. He proves to his actors that magic can be done in film.

There is a sad truth to this picture. Rescue Dawn, which was released in American theatres in August of 2007, is a film that no one has seen. On DVD since November, this is one of the most criminally overlooked movies that I’ve ever come across.

I could name several films in which Bale has been great, but I’m afraid I would be listing the bulk of his work. It is incredible that the man has never won an Oscar, let alone been nominated for one. If the people of the Academy would stretch away a little bit from Hollywood spectacles, then they would find this diamond in the ruff, this hauntingly wonderful film.

The story of Dieter Dengler is one great enough to fill a documentary and a fictional film. The films are different, they each have a distinct tone, but Herzog’s narrative take on the subject exceeds even the real images of a life. This is to say that Bale portrays Dengler even better than Dengler portrays himself. I’m sure even Herzog would agree. Rescue Dawn is a flawless, perfect masterpiece. One of the very best films to come out in 2007. A+

Atonement

The war-torn lovers theme is one of the oldest genres in movie history. The romantic irony of these films is that while they try to be romantic, their predictable formula is a turn off.

Joe Wright’s new spellbinding film Atonement is different. Sure, lovers fall, people get hurt, there are problems to overcome, but the way Wright conducts his film is like a great, flowing opera, poignant and beautiful.

The first act, which takes place in a lavish, all-too-rich, country home, plays like a great introduction to an Altman film. Young, aspiring writer, Briony (Saoirse Ronan) has a crush on the son of the family housekeeper Robbie (James McAvoy). So when she witnesses Robbie and her older, headstrong sister Cecilla (Kiera Knightely) in a tense moment, Briony assumes the worst. And so will you.

Jealousy soon floods Briony’s fragile heart as the day develops into one confusing spectacle after another. By the end of the night, Briony has accused Robbie of a crime he didn’t commit just to spite him and her sister.

Years later, during the early years of World War II, each character is still grossly affected from that one night. Robbie is a soldier in the war, abandoned and trying to find his way to a base, Cecilla is a nurse in England as is Briony, who is finally coming to terms with what she did and the lie she told.

The beauty of this film first rests on the shoulders of the actors. McAvoy dives deep into Robbie’s tortured sole. His eyes tense with regret, his words spoken carefully with conviction. Knightely - who should've won the best actress Oscar two years ago for her fresh take on Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Wrights first film - solidifies that her talent exceeds far beyond her classical beauty. Each of her scenes are powerful and demanding, she keeps the film afloat with her half smiles and undying love.

But it’s Ronan who steals the show. The actress only plays Briony at age 13, but she’s the one that will stay etched in your mind. Her puzzled face will have you begging to know what she is thinking. She accurately portrays the confusion that a child’s imagination can attain. Her performance is flawless.

All credit to Wright for formulating this marvelous picture. Working with a fresh script from Christopher Hampton (based on Ian McEwan’s novel) Wright frequently gives you the same scene multiple times, seen through the eyes of different people. Each time this is done, something clicks in our heads, a startling revelation that we didn’t see coming.

Wright fills his film with technical marvels as well. A curious, developing score by Dario Marianelli is like nothing you’ve ever heard. Using ferocious punches from a typewriter to change a scene. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is one for the books. Swooping in and out of a room, fusing light to catch only what we need to see, and filling the film with long, extended shots. None better than when Robbie walks along a bombed out, bloody beach that has just seen the hellish effects of war. For five minutes we are taken on a horrific ride seen through the eyes of a soldier. This shot rivals any other extended, tracking shot that you’ve seen.

Some people may have a problem with the final scenes of the film. And although I’ll never tell what happens, the final moments of Atonement encapsulate the essence of the picture. Vanessa Redgrave, in her 10 minutes on screen, will break your heart. It is a brilliant performance with one of the best character arches in recent memory.

Atonement is a powerful, refreshing take on a tired genre. Its bold and beautiful style will stay with you long after its shocking conclusion. A serious contender for best picture and one of the absolute, best films of 2007. A+