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No Country for Old Men

Miramax
Movie A+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 9 (out of 10)

And the Oscar finally goes to the Coen brothers.

They've won for writing before (for the Fargo screenplay), but 2007 was the year when these guys were at long last recognized as the best in their field. Joel and Ethan Coen (who recently started sharing directorial credit) adapted Cormac McCarthy's novel about a drug deal gone bad in a way that is unmistakably "them." These guys have been making near-perfect movies for years--my favorite remains Barton Fink--and this film is no exception.

Javier Bardem took home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of psychopath Anton Chigurh, and what he does here is beyond noteworthy. What stands out most, besides the haircut, are his confrontations with potential victims: psychological showdowns involving coin tosses and unreasonable logic. His final conversation with Woody Harrelson's character is one of last year's more tense moments, as is the coin toss with the sad gas-station owner (a terrific actor named Gene Jones).

Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are terrific as, respectively, the man who finds the drug money and the man who must find Brolin's character before Anton does. If you had told me Kelly Macdonald, who plays sweet Carla Jean Moss in the movie, had a Scottish accent in real life, I would've emitted a mocking laugh and demanded you leave the room. (I can be rude that way.)

My pick for best picture last year was There Will Be Blood, and I stand by that choice. That film is only the slightest fraction better than No Country for Old Men--and both are modern masterpieces.

Special Features: This is better than the usual Coen DVD. The private writer-directors will have nothing to do with audio commentaries, but they do sit down for an interview, as do many of the stars and crewmembers. The features provide a decent peek behind the making of the movie, something rare for a Coen production.


Into the Wild: 2-Disc Collector's Edition

Paramount
Movie A
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 9 (out of 10)

There were quite a few masterpieces in 2007, and this work from director Sean Penn qualifies as one of them. The true story of Christopher McCandless is a sad one, but Penn and actor Emile Hirsch as McCandless find a sort of sweet triumph in his life. As somebody who read and enjoyed the book, I thought the feel of this movie was something completely unexpected.

McCandless had an obsession with the Alaskan wilderness, which wound up being his final resting place. He took off with nothing but a bag of rice and some books, and found an abandoned bus to camp in. Hirsch winds up offering the perfect combination of enthusiasm and naiveté that would lead somebody to do something like that. We regard his actions as foolhardy, but never really regard him as a fool.

Hal Holbrook got a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his turn as a sad, lonely man who sees McCandless as a son. Catherine Keener, William Hurt and Vince Vaughn all provide nice work as well. The cinematography--not just of Alaska, but of McCandless' cross-country trek--is some of last year's best. Eddie Vedder provided music that deserved an Oscar nomination, but was disqualified due to some strange rules.

Penn has made some good movies in the past, but this is the first film that had me thinking he could have a bigger future behind the camera than in front of it.

Special Features: There's no Penn commentary, which is unfortunate, but this two-disc set makes up for it. Penn, book author Jon Krakauer, Hirsch and many others participate in two meaty documentaries about the making of the movie, the story and the filming experience. This is a collection worthy of the film.


Dan in Real Life

Touchstone
Movie C+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 5 (out of 10)

As much as I like Steve Carell, I had some problems with this movie.

Carell plays Dan, a single father to three daughters who takes a vacation with his family and learns "how to live." I found it cloying and predictable in a lot of ways, especially the love story between Carell and Juliette Binoche, who plays a rather lousy character. The girls playing the daughters are great, and they made me wish more of the movie was about them, and not just your typical Hollywood romance garbage.

Carell does some good work, but his sad puppy-dog act gets a little tired after a while. Right now, I prefer him in straight comic roles. Dane Cook is almost tolerable--but not quite--as Dan's goofy brother. The two manage to butcher a good Pete Townshend song in a karaoke moment.

Special Features: There's plenty of stuff, including commentaries, deleted scenes and outtakes, and making-of documentaries. The special features are actually better than the film.

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