Best Picture Breakdown: Michael Clayton

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. I started off with There Will Be Blood, and today I'm turning my sights to Michael Clayton.


The plot description on IMDB is most succinct: "An attorney known as the Fixer in his law firm comes across the biggest case of his career that could produce disastrous results for those involved." It's screenwriter Tony Gilroy's first attempt at directing and he lucked out with some phenomenal talent: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson — all of whom nabbed acting nominations as well. To see what I think Michael Clayton has going for and against it in this year's race, read more.

Why It Might Win

  • The Academy seems to be smitten with this film. Other movies in this category have already won many awards in other circles, but this is the first awards committee to seem truly besotted with Clayton.
  • Director Tony Gilroy delivers some of the best direction I've seen in any of the movies from 2007. The quick edits and artful alternating between storylines makes for a visually interesting story. I was particularly struck by the ending in which the credits roll and the camera stays on Clayton's face as he sits in a cab, his destination unknown. The attention to detail on Gilroy's part is impressive.
  • That George Clooney . . . he's just so darn watchable. Playing the titular character, he struggles through this turning point in his life and we know that though he was once less of an upstanding person, there's no doubt that he's the ragged hero of this story. You just gotta love Clooney.

Why it Might Not Win

  • Though beloved by many critics and, clearly, the Academy, this movie isn't particularly appealing in the general sense. Many people found it to be boring, confusing and simply not enjoyable. Every one of the other movies nominated for Best Picture this year was a bigger hit with audiences.
  • While the larger message in this movie has to do with moving from moral emptiness to a place of redemption, in general, the subject matter isn't particularly grand. Lacking a sweeping universal subject as well as much interesting action, it may not grab that Best Picture award.
  • The same reason that it might win also works against Michael Clayton: it's been nominated for several awards. The Academy might reward the film in other categories and hand the statue for Best Picture to another movie.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

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