Overview: Four nominations: best picture, director (Jason Reitman), lead actress (Ellen Page), original screenplay (Diablo Cody). Comments after the jump.
Going into "Juno," I was suspecting it was this year's "Little Miss Sunshine" (which I liked a lot), a seemingly modest little indie with a capable but hardly star-laden ensemble cast, some laughs and some smarts.
And "Juno" proved to be all those things and much, much more.
We can start, of course, with the cast, which demonstrates (as if we had to be reminded) that a lot of people with healthy TV careers are still effective on the big screen -- even if Hollywood snobbery looks down on them. J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Michael Cera -- all game on, and Simmons, Bateman and Garner all would have made reasonable choices for Oscar nominations.
(OK, you're asking, how do I make room for them. Well, in supporting actor, I dump Tom Wilkinson from "Michael Clayton" ... and then it gets tough. Seeming favorite Javier Bardem, Hal Holbrook, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Casey Affleck, all really good, too. But let's say Affleck should have been in the lead-actor category given how much he's the focus of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and, since the academy thinks this way, too, Hoffman already has an Oscar. So I could elbow them aside for Simmons and Bateman.
(As for supporting actress, I dump Tilda Swinton from "Michael Clayton." But I have this other problem: I have been thinking a lot about how very good Taraji P. Henson was in "Talk to Me" (shown below with the also-overlooked Don Cheadle) and would have put her ahead of Swinton and probably Ruby Dee. Amy Ryan and Cate Blanchett stay in the pack, and I haven't seen "Atonement" yet. Maybe tomorrow. So I might move Dee along with Swinton to make room for Henson and Garner. Not that this makes any difference in anything other than my version of Fantasy Oscars. This is just my way of indicating preferences.)
Getting back to "Juno" where it is actually nominated, as much as I like "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men," "Juno" has now elbowed into my top three and -- depending on my mood -- top one or two. It was that good.
Not to everyone's taste, to be sure. I laughed quite often, and got some heart tugs to boot. On the other hand, a reader called me a couple of weeks ago to discuss how much she disliked the movie, how unfunny she thought it was, how (according to her) no one in the theater was laughing. There were laughs at the daytime screening the bride and I attended, but they were a little scattershot.
Still, I'm on board with it. Downloaded the soundtrack after seeing it, too, and am considering downloading "If I Were a Carpenter," the weird Carpenters tribute that the Sonic Youth song in "Juno" came from. (Also Cranberries, others.)
OK, best actress: Cate Blanchett is fine in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (as she is fine in so many things), but if I'm giving her an Oscar this year, it's for "I'm Not There." Also, this "Elizabeth" isn't that good a movie, and "Juno" overall is very good, so Page gets the nod over Blanchett. Julie Christie is fine in "Away From Her," but Page is better. Haven't seen Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose" or Laura Linney in "The Savages," so I can't say how they match up. (My one qualifier about Page is that I don't remember seeing her in anything else, so I can't say if this was a big stretch for her. But I'm not sure that's necessary to win an acting Oscar; I didn't feel that Jennifer Hudson was stepping way out of character in "Dreamgirls," but she was a dominating screen presence.)
Best director: Much tougher, since I have already indicated that I have three best pictures closely matched, and I love the work of the Coen brothers generally, and a lot of what Paul Thomas Anderson has done. And I haven't seen "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Stiil, Jason Reitman is definitely ahead of "Michael Clayton's" Tony Gilroy. So this one is a head-scratcher.
Original screenplay: Again, haven't seen "The Savages," or "Lars and the Real Girl." Am working my way through "Ratatouille," and based on what I have seen, "Juno" gets the nod. And I have made my lack of enthusiasm for "Michael Clayton" quite clear. So "Juno" is ahead of it, too.
I know, I need to see more movies. Working on it. In any case, right now I feel very happy about "Juno" and want it to get some kind of Oscar love.