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Originally published February 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 24, 2008 at 10:22 PM

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Oh, brothers! Coens' "No Country for Old Men" earns big Oscars

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, dominated the Academy Awards Sunday night, making three trips to the podium for their searing Western based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, "No Country for Old Men."

Seattle Times movie critic

Once and for all: Joel is the taller one.

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, dominated the Academy Awards Sunday night, making three trips to the podium for their searing Western based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, "No Country for Old Men." The film won best picture, director and adapted screenplay for the duo, along with a supporting actor win for Javier Bardem.

Pity the brothers' speechmaking isn't as dynamic as their filmmaking; Ethan Coen, in particular, was so laconic he barely said a word. Joel, accepting the director trophy, noted that the two of them have been making movies since they were kids, and that "what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then."

It was an evening filled with international winners, red gowns, and — except for the Coens — tearful speechmakers. Diablo Cody, heavily favored to win original screenplay for "Juno" (the film's only award), seemed utterly astonished at her win, weeping at the end of her speech as she thanked her family.

The acting awards were won by two Brits, a Frenchwoman and a Spaniard. Daniel Day-Lewis, the overwhelming favorite to win best actor for "There Will Be Blood," demonstrated once again that Brits give the best acceptance speeches (do they study them in school?), noting that the idea of the film "sprang like a golden sapling out of the mad, beautiful head of [writer/director] Paul Thomas Anderson."

Marion Cotillard, winning best actress for her tour de force transformation into Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," appeared shocked at her victory (over Julie Christie in "Away from Her"). Her brief speech, between gasps, was nonetheless charming: "It's true, there is some angels in this city," she concluded.

Supporting actor winner Bardem graciously thanked his directors, the ubiquitous Coens, for his villainous role in "No Country for Old Men" and for "putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history on my head." He addressed part of his speech, in Spanish, to his mother, Pilar, who beamed from her front-row seat.

Tilda Swinton achieved the double whammy of the evening's worst dress (did she tear off one sleeve in the limo, on a whim?) and the funniest speech. Accepting best supporting actress for "Michael Clayton," she dedicated the award to her American agent, Brian Swardstrom, whom she said looked exactly like Oscar, "really truly, the same shape head and, it has to be said, the buttocks." She also acknowledged her director Tony Gilroy, and co-star George Clooney — though not without tweaking Clooney about his "Batman & Robin" rubber suit.

The year's sweetest movie about a very sanitary rodent, "Ratatouille" won for best animated feature. Writer/director Brad Bird, a native of Corvallis, Ore., in his acceptance speech thanked "all the dreamers who are supporting a rat who dreams."

The Northwest was also represented by Kirk Francis, of Whidbey Island, a winner for sound mixing for "The Bourne Ultimatum" along with Scott Millan and David Parker. (Alas, Francis was last to the microphone and didn't get to speak.) Seattleite James Longley was nominated for directing the short documentary "Sari's Mother," but lost to "Freeheld."

Though Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's performance of the romantic ballad "Falling Slowly," from the Irish musical "Once," might have been better suited to a more intimate setting, it won best song, upsetting three nominated tunes from Disney's "Enchanted." Hansard, acknowledging the film's modest beginnings ("This is amazin'; what are we doing here?") ended his speech with a soft rallying cry: "Make art, make art, yeah, thanks."

In an evening as frothy as Nicole Kidman's necklace, host Jon Stewart was relaxed but neither spectacularly good nor interestingly bad. His opening monologue contained plenty of political fodder, but the best line was a Hollywood joke: Observing that "Norbit" got a nomination for makeup, he observed wryly, "Too often the Academy ignores movies that aren't good."

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In observation of the awards' 80th anniversary, the ceremony featured montages of acting winners and a look at 80 years of best pictures (which, alas, seemed to last about 80 years).

Presenters, working with the usual dull Oscar banter (really, writers, couldn't you have come up with something snappier for this post-strike edition?), were mostly forgettable.

George "The Last Movie Star" Clooney, opening with a casual "Hi, you guys," was so suave he's almost becoming a caricature of himself. Owen Wilson was so subdued he barely seemed awake, and Katherine Heigl seemed awfully nervous for someone who only needed to read a few names. (Was she worried she'd have to give a speech?)

Next time, let's have Swinton, Cotillard and Helen Mirren (who rather deliciously pronounced the word "cojones" in introducing the best actor nominees) host the event. Admit it; you'd watch.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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