No Country for Old Men (film and book)

This is the first in my series of posts about Oscar-winning films since I switched this blog to its new home; so an awful l0t of faffing with internal linked to make it all work a bit more nicely.

No Country for Old Men won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2007 and three others, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, which both went to the Coen brothers, and Best Supporting Actor which went to Javier Bardem. The other films up for Best Picture were Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton and There Will Be Blood, none of which I have seen. The Hugo that year went to Stardust (the Nebula effectively skipped that year due to their weird nominations cycle).

No Country for Old Men is the top 2007 film on one IMDB ranking and second to Cleaner on the other. I saw very few films from that year, which was at the time that we were having the worst difficulties with our oldest daughter. The ones I have seen are Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Stardust, Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Zemeckis Beowulf, and 2 Days in Paris; we have Persepolis on the shelf but haven’t watched it yet (I love the books though). Here’s a trailer.

I usually start these reviews by looking at the cast’s other roles in previous Oscar, Hugo or Nebula winners, or in Doctor Who, but despite the big names on the list I didn’t find any. I have, however, had a close personal encounter with Javier Bardem, when I helped him set up the showing of his film “Sons of the Clouds” in the European Parliament; for a fleeting moment I appear in the crowd welcoming him.

It’s a film about an opportunist chap in Texas who tries to get away with a vast amount of stolen cash from a drugs shoot-out, and the nasty guy who comes after him, and the sheriff trying to catch up with them both. Frankly, it did not appeal to me; I think I admired it a bit without really liking it much. To go through my usual list:

Almost all the speaking characters are white men. Lots of Mexicans get killed without a chance to do anything much. Chigurh, Bardem’s character, is the epitome of evil and is coded as definitely foreign and probably not-quite-white. The law enforcers never do anything wrong. I found it quite shockingly racist. A separate but related issue: I was also left very unclear about Chigurh’s means and motivation.

I also did not care for the fetishisation of violence in the movie, the camera lingering over mutilated bodies and emphasising the brutal effects of the gunfire. For people who like that sort if thing it must be almost pornographic. It does not work for me.

A couple of women come into the story as spouses but have zero agency, though I always like seeing Kelly McDonald, a very long way from Edinburgh here.

I will say that the music is good, that all of the cast (especially Bardem) deliver good performances of their unpleasant and unconvincing characters, and that the landscape and atmosphere of Texas are very effectively evoked (which is impressive given that most of the film was made in New Mexico and Nevada).

But I’m afraid I’m putting this way down my list, just outside my bottom ten, between two flawed winners from a few years before, American Beauty (which is just that bit skeevier) and A Beautiful Mind (which is trying just a little harder to be pleasant).

As usual I tracked down the book and read it. The second paragraph of third chapter (in italics in the original, not sure how it will come through here) is:

This other thing I dont know. People will ask me about it ever so often. I cant say as I would rule it out altogether. It aint somethin I would like to have to see again. To witness. The ones that really ought to be on death row will never make it. I believe that. You remember certain things about a thing like that. People didnt know what to wear. There was one or two come dressed in black, which I suppose was all right. Some of the men come just in their shirtsleeves and that kindly bothered me. I aint sure I could tell you why.

This is one of the most faithful adaptations of book to screen that I have come across, and given that the book was originally written as a screenplay, it’s not very surprising. There are a few minimal changes, of which the most drastic is that a cute teenage hitch-hiker in the book (a female character with potential) disappears from the film. However the racism of the viewpoint characters is even less leavened in the book. You can get it here.

So, that’s another ten years of Oscars in the bag; only fifteen more to go. Since this time last year I was writing about the 1992 winner, and I’ve just covered the 2007 winner, I should wind this project up around this time next year, a bit more than five and a half years after I started in September 2017. I will skip Hugo and Nebula winners which I have written up in the last few years.

My totally definitive, authoritative and final ranking of the first 80 winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture (or equivalent) is as follows:

80) Platoon (Oscar for 1986)
79) The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
78) Cimarron (1930-31)
77) Cavalcade (1932-33)
76) Wings (1927-28)
75) The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
74) All the King’s Men (1949)
73) Forrest Gump (1994)
72) Patton (1970)
71) Braveheart (1995)
70) American Beauty (1999)
69) No Country for Old Men (2007)
68) A Beautiful Mind (2001)

67) Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
66) The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
65) Crash (2005)
64) Tom Jones (1963)
63) Gone with the Wind (1939)
62) The Departed (2006)
61) Ordinary People (1980)
60) Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
59) Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
58) Annie Hall (1977)
57) Going My Way (1944)
56) The French Connection (1971)
55) My Fair Lady (1964)
54) Gladiator (2000)
53) How Green Was My Valley (1941)
52) Mrs. Miniver (1942)
51) On The Waterfront (1954)
50) The Godfather, Part II (1974)
49) In the Heat of the Night (1967)
48) Grand Hotel (1931-32)
47) The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
46) Marty (1955)
45) The Deer Hunter (1978)
44) Rocky (1976)
43) Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
42) The Last Emperor (1987)
41) Titanic (1997)

40) Out of Africa (1985)
39) Dances With Wolves (1990)
38) Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
37) Gigi (1958)
36) It Happened One Night (1934)
35) You Can’t Take It with You (1938)
34) The Lost Weekend (1945)
33) Hamlet (1948)
32) From Here to Eternity (1953)
31) Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
30) Ben-Hur (1959)
29) The English Patient (1996)
28) Chicago (2002)
27) The Sting (1973)
26) The Godfather (1972)
25) Unforgiven (1992)
24) Oliver! (1968)
23) The Apartment (1960)
22) All About Eve (1950)
21) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
20) Amadeus (1984)
19) Gandhi (1982)
18) West Side Story (1961)
17) A Man for All Seasons (1966)
16) Midnight Cowboy (1969)
15) Terms of Endearment (1983)
14) Shakespeare in Love (1998)
13) Rain Man (1988)
12) The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
11) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
10) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
9) Million Dollar Baby (2004)

8) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
7) All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30)
6) Rebecca (1940)
5) Schindler’s List (1993)
4) Chariots of Fire (1981)
3) An American in Paris (1951)
2) The Sound of Music (1965)
1) Casablanca (1943)

This has not been the best decade, with half of the last ten winners in my bottom quartile, though I did like three of them enough to put them in my top 20%.

Seven of the most recent ten were set in the United States of America, two of them in Los Angeles (Crash and much of Million Dollar Baby) and a third elsewhere in California (American Beauty), with none in New York, which had traditionally been the main setting for US-based plots in Oscar-winning films – the closest we get is Princeton, in A Beautiful Mind. The other three were set in Tudor England, Ancient Rome and Middle-Earth.

No Country for Old Men is the only one of the last ten based on a novel. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is based on a third of a novel, Million Dollar Baby on a short story, The Departed is a remake of an earlier film, Chicago is based on a musical, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind on factual books, and the other four were original screenplays. Again this is very different from the previous seven decades, in which novels predominated as source material, bolstered by written fiction, apart from the outbreak of musicals in the 1960s (and one of those was based on a novel).

Next up is Slumdog Millionaire, but before that, Stardust and WALL-E. And it’s Hugo season so I am taking the past winners more slowly.

Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

One thought on “No Country for Old Men (film and book)

  1. “I think I admired it a bit without really liking it much. ”

    Very much the same here. I wasn’t at all sure what I was supposed to get out of it.

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