Oscar picture nominees made by and about outsiders

Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:55am EST
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By Stephen Galloway

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Rarely has a slate of best picture Oscar contenders centered on characters so much at odds with society.

That is true of the driven oilman played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," who seems to veer further and further from society's mores as he climbs higher up its ladder. And it is true of George Clooney's conflicted law firm "fixer," who finds himself increasingly alienated from the corporate world he is supposed to fix in Tony Gilroy's "Michael Clayton."

It is also true of the teenage girl played by Saoirse Ronan in Joe Wright's "Atonement," an outsider to the adult world she doesn't understand, whose lies push the adults themselves out of their cocoon. And it is equally true of a more contemporary teenager, the eponymous lead in Jason Reitman's "Juno," played by Ellen Page, who discovers that the perfect insiders, the prospective parents for her baby, are hardly more comfortable in their world than she is.

The outsider stamp is branded on not one but all three leads in Joel and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men." The down-and-out welder (Josh Brolin) whose discovery of a briefcase full of drug money sets him on a journey of violence and terror; the veteran cop (Tommy Lee Jones) whose moral ruminations have little place in this amoral universe; and the implacable assassin (Javier Bardem) whose indefinable accent and indescribable haircut make him even more of an outsider than the blue-collar guy he's pursuing.

"All these movies seem to have this individual who is an outsider," notes Russell Smith, one of the producers of "Juno," which will compete for four awards at the Oscars on Sunday.

"They are real studies about outsiders trying to deal with the complicated life that we have -- whether they're driven by greed, like the (Brolin) character in 'No Country for Old Men,' or whether they're like this young girl, Juno, just trying to make her way through her problems."

If these pictures place outsiders at the heart of their stories, that is hardly surprising, given that outsiders themselves have made the films.

There are no veterans of the Hollywood establishment behind this year's best picture or best director lineup: no Clint Eastwoods or Steven Spielbergs or Martin Scorseses. Instead, we have a group of filmmakers tilting at the system, who could represent the next wave of Hollywood filmmaking.   Continued...

<p>Daniel Day-Lewis listens to reporters' questions during a news conference in Athens February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis</p>