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Best Picture Breakdown: Atonement

From now until the 2008 Oscars air on Sunday night, I'll be breaking down the five contenders for Best Picture, giving you the scoop on why each film could win and why it might not stand a chance. So far, I've taken a look at There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton. Today's Best Picture nominee is Atonement.


Pride and Prejudice director Joe Wright works his magic with another desperately romantic drama, this one taking place in England before and during WWII. At the age of 13, imaginative aspiring writer Briony misconstrues a situation she witnesses and brings grave charges against her sister Cecilia's (Keira Knightley) lover, Robbie (James McAvoy). The terrible repercussions of this false accusation haunt Briony for the rest of her life, causing her to seek redemption for her mistake through her writing.

To see what I think about this Best Picture nominee's chances, read more.

Why It Might Win

  • Along with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, Atonement has been a darling of the critics' circles thus far. Most importantly, BAFTA soundly rewarded the film and it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture — Drama.
  • The film is an all-around success. It's equally impressive on all counts: acting, art direction, costumes, not to mention — most notably, in my opinion — the magnificent score by Dario Marianelli. At the base of it all is Ian McEwan's novel, concisely adapted for screen by Christopher Hampton. Atonement is satisfying to watch because it gets high marks in all regards.
  • At the most basic level, the story in Atonement is greatly appealing. It's just a good old-fashioned love story, full of war and romance, intrigue and betrayal. All the visual and musical trappings aside, it's an easy tale for people to fall in love with.

Why it Might Not Win

  • As far as American audiences and critics go, Atonement may be trumped by, well, American stories. The meaty, masculine, violent story told in No Country or the cautionary tale of greed woven by There Will Be Blood may prove more palatable to the Academy.
  • Along similar lines, Atonement has already been honored many times, specifically with the BAFTA for Best Film. It's hard to say whether the Academy will want to reward the movie on top of that.

Photo courtesy of Focus Features

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