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Best Picture Breakdown: No Country For Old Men

The wait is almost over for the 2008 Oscars, which will air on Sunday night. This week, I've been breaking down the five contenders for Best Picture, giving you the scoop on why each film could win and why it might not stand a chance. I've already examined There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Atonement, and Juno. Today, I'm looking at the final nominee in the category, No Country For Old Men.


For this film, the Coen Bros. toned down their usual quirkiness to create a stark, spare thriller that creates an overwhelming feeling of dread. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, the movie tells the story of a crazed killer, a man on the run, and a sheriff who desperately wants to intervene before the worst happens. It's won the most awards of any nominated movie this season by far, and it seems to be the presumptive favorite heading into Sunday's awards. But is it a sure thing? To see how I think the movie will fare in the Best Picture race, just read more.

Why It Might Win

  • It's the complete package. From the screenplay to the cinematography to the performances to the bold decision to not have a score, there's no weak link in No Country. Every moment seems perfectly calculated to create a particular stark, bleak, terrifying mood that stays with viewers long after they've left the theater.
  • It has one of the year's most memorable performances from Javier Bardem as the quietly savage murderer Anton Chigurh (not to mention one of the year's most memorable weapons, his air tank). When I left the theater after seeing the movie, my movie-going companion jokingly whispered "careful, he's still out there" — and I actually shivered. Bardem is just that convincing as a serial killer without remorse. The other actors in the movie — Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, most notably — rise to his level.
  • The Academy likes epics; it also likes smaller, well-told stories. This movie is both.
  • It's the most lauded film of the year, with a whopping 75 awards to its credit.

Why It Might Not Win

  • As I noted in my Juno breakdown, there's speculation that it and There Will Be Blood could split the vote, letting another film in.
  • There have been mixed reactions — among both critics and viewers at large — to the film's ambiguous ending, as well as its decision to skip over what could have been a major dramatic climax. While I thought both things largely worked, I'd understand if others consider them fatal flaws.
  • The Academy might want to be contrarian. Voters might feel that No Country has already gotten its due and turn its attention elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of Miramax

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