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'Sweeney Todd' is the best pic of 2007, but can it win best pic?

November 29, 2007 |  9:55 pm

You know that a movie wows an audience when nobody stirs during the closing credits. That's what happened at the end of "Sweeney Todd" tonight at the first critics' screening in Manhattan. Finally, three-fourths of the way through the credits, I stood to exit, but my neighbors in the dark did not and I had to climb over them.

Viewers were either utterly spellbound by this film or else struck dumb and numb in shock. A movie that begins with small riverlets of blood flowing during the opening shots ends with red showers so intense that New York Times Carpetbagger David Carr said to me afterward, "I felt like I should've watched that movie wearing a raincoat."

An embargo surrounding this film prohibits us journos from reviewing it, but we're permitted to discuss it in general terms, so let's try to tread that fine line so I can inform you about the most important movie of 2007. Certainly, it's the best I've seen all year, although, of course, I'm a bit biased as a diehard fan of the Broadway show.

Sweeney_screening_2

Everybody whose opinion I pooled after the screening tonight said they thought the movie and Johnny Depp were brilliant. And everybody thought it was outrageously bloody and grisly. Many said they didn't think it could win best picture because of that. Yes, there was widespread belief that it'll be nommed for best pic, director and actor — maybe even best actress (Helena Bonham Carter), too — and that MAYBE Johnny could win, but not the film. Not because it doesn't deserve it. But because of all the blood, they say.

But is that true? Hold your derby horses, naysayers! Didn't lots of Oscarologists say "The Departed" was too violent to win last year? Didn't "Silence of the Lambs" break the taboo against horror flicks winning? Hey, are we all such a nation of wimps that we'll let a little blood — OK, a lot of it — get in the way of the year's best picture winning best picture?

After tonight's screening, I asked a number of journos the same questions: Do you think "Sweeney Todd" is going to have huge megabuzz and a high Cool Factor when it comes out? Yes, they all agreed. Is it going to be one of those Gotta-See Pix? Unanimous answer: yes.

If that's true — and it clearly is — then those factors may be enough to help it float the blood biz. And, frankly, the red stuff is handled in such an outlandish, cartoonish way that it often doesn't feel real.

But the movie does. In fact, it makes viewers feel so deeply in profound emotional and psychological ways, that it will haunt you, on many levels, long afterward. Director Tim Burton has created a masterpiece for the ages. If namby-pamby Oscar voters are too squeamish to give it the best picture award it deserves, Sweeney Todd would be entirely justified to give them all a close shave.

But many of them are definitely going to be squeamish and this question of whether or not it's too violent is going to be — get ready right now — discussed over and over and over again all Oscar season.

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If "Sweeney" becomes a box-office hit — which I think is inevitable — all could be forgiven, of course. If it just succeeds modestly, its Oscar hopes may drown in the red stuff.

I think it'll be nominated for best picture and it's going to have a large percentage of the largest voting bloc behind it: those chaps who Harvey Weinstein calls "the steak eaters." As Harvey sees it, they really decide who wins Oscars — the cinematographers, sound mixers, visual effects guys — not the actors' branch. The tech guys far outnumber everyone else and they're a testosterone-driven gang who, I suspect, might really delight in Burton's gorefest because he so artfully adapts a revered classic. And because Johnny Depp is so damn cool.

Now let's look around at the other movies that might be able to beat it for best picture. "Atonement"? Maybe. People do love it, but, to get catty for a sec, it's really just "The English Patient" with a trick ending. "No Country for Old Men"? Talk about bloody violence! Yikes! And its depiction is not cartoonish at all. Furthermore, to get catty here, too, it's really just an art-house twist on Freddy Krueger.

"The Kite Runner"? Great, yeah, but it has no Hollywood celebs, so forget it. "Juno"? It might be nommed for best pic, but it skews too female for the dude-heavy academy.

"Diving Bell and the Butterfly"? Too foreign. "Charlie Wilson's War"? Forget it. Now that we've seen it, "Charlie" just fell off most pundits' top five. "There Will Be Blood"? People admire it, especially Daniel Day-Lewis' performance, but they're not passionate about it. "American Gangster"? Might get nominated, but it doesn't seem like a winner. "Into the Wild"? Excitement seems to have ebbed a bit.

Hmmmm. So what can beat "Sweeney"?

There's one movie in this year's derby that I should probably take more seriously. Frankly, I didn't buy the initial hype behind "Michael Clayton" in the best-pic race — but it keeps popping up in conversations while early frontrunners like "Charlie Wilson's War" stumble. I promise to stop pooh-poohing it because it's so ridiculously over-rated. But, oh, come on -- do you think it could actually beat that masterwork "Sweeney"? Hmmmmm again . . .

Basically, I see all of the obstacles facing "Sweeney," but I don't see what can beat it. Being a fan, am I just blinded?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Comments

I watch a LOT of movies,and honestly? Sweeney Todd probably my absolute favorite movie ever. I can watch it a million times. It's just.Perfect.

...and I can't even /begin/ to tell you how happy this review makes me. Just.eeeeeeeee. <3

Hit the nail on the head here. I tip my hat to you,sir~!

Well, here goes.

To my absolute surprise (because in the stage show I find it to be a
bit of a bore), the best sequence in the film was "By the Sea" - it's
the only time we have humor and a sense of musical staging. It was
truly great in my book and went to a wonderful place of fantasy. A
VERY good transition to film and it makes a hell of a lot more sense in
this guise than I've ever seen it onstage. If only the rest of the
movie were like that.

The camera work and editing is not musical. The physical staging is
not very musical. The singers, about half the time, are not musical.
Helena Bonham Carter can barely be understood most of the time and is
utterly underwhelming, both vocally and dramatically. The songs really
are pretty boring, generally speaking. Strange that Sondheim said
since it was a movie it needed more action and more trimmed-down songs
than a stage production, because film doesn't have of the conventions
of theatre where someone can just sing a song to someone else and we
accept it. I felt like this is exactly the opposite of what happened.
There was very little sense made out of the musical details - many
times people just sat around and sang to each other without any sense
that they were performing music. I'm sure I'm biased as a
musical-based director who sees action and music to be intertwined.
But my wife even mentioned this when we watched a clip last night of the
Sasha Baron Cohen number. She said, "Hell, I'm not even slightly musical and I can tell you things should be happening on those musical punctuations. Why doesn't Pirelli do little shaving things on those musical bits between his vocal phrases?" My question exactly. And I asked it
throughout the 2 hours.

The show is much darker than before and more static. Funny that during
the last Broadway revival I felt the same way. More dark. More
static. Is everything moving in this direction in the arts? To me,
it's the comedy that makes the tragedy so wonderfully full. Without
the tongue in the cheek, eating people in meat pies seems simply gross instead of ironic. That's the sense I get here throughout. "Let's go
for gross. Forget the wit and irony."

As to the blood, yes, there's a ton. But it is a distinctive cosmetic
red which is not real at all. In fact, I think it would have been
better had it seemed more real, only because it came off as
"theatrical" and therefore totally out of place in the context of this
attempting to be "down and gritty" show. But boy howdy, does it spurt.
Each time is rather obvious though, so you can easily close your eyes
for the 10 seconds of bloodiness each time (there's about 30 or so
times in the film).

Johnny. Well, he actually sounds okay if you forget what the role
could sound like. I think he sang with his own style and for him, I
think it actually works pretty well. His characterization fit the way
the movie was done (again, no wit nor irony). His physical obsession
with the razors became totally overwrought though. I wish someone
would have told him to stop making love to them because it became VERY
distracting as the film wore on. All in all, pretty well performed
overall. An Oscar though? Maybe just because it's so different from
what you see any other "star" being able to do. But on the merits
alone, I just don't think so. I love him and appreciate his doing this
role so well, but...

The visual elements were quite good. Great production design and the
costumes were very nice as well. I really really really wish someone
had decided to cut that white streak from Sweeney's hair. A bad
choice. It made his whole appearance too "finished" and "coiffed" to
me. Remove that, and you wouldn't have even noticed his hair. And so
I ask, why should we constantly be aware of Sweeney's hair? Is it that
symbolic? Is he known for hair-styling as well as giving a darn close
shave? The only bad visual in the film to me.

Burton should not have been the director on this film. Good for
him for his tenacity to get it done and we all can appreciate his love
of the piece, but he's not skilled in doing musicals. And it shows too
much. The shots and editing were without musical basis (except the
opening "through the streets of London" shot --- fantastic).

Which leads us to the title-sequence. Piss-poor. Computer generated blood
seeping through everything. Totally cartoon-ish and feeling very much
like an amateur, film student piece. I loved the sinister organ and
the fog in the tippy-top opening moment though when "Dreamworks" gets completely enveloped. Quite a nice touch.

So there you go. I'm pretty sad about it, but I remain convinced that
it's (the Sondheim musical) a top-five masterpiece of the Lyric Theatre
of the 20th century. But I think in the theatre it should stay.

My comment was crossed with the one from Sthephen Holt or any one else. I'd written that I'm sure that "Sweeney Todd" is a great film and Johnny Depp is perfect as "the demon barber", but...what happen with Alan Rickman? He deserves to be nominated too! Why not as the Best Second Actor in a movie? HE'S A WONDERFUL ACTOR! I think it should be the opportunity for him to win an Oscar...

You made a mistake uploading my comment

So when NCFOM wins BP, TO'Neill will go on and on about how old crusty men dominate the voting. Just like last year.

But how can you deny that a) rottentomatoes and metactritic finish the year with NCFOM at #1(alongside Ratatouille) and after only week in wide release the imdb.com reader poll places the film at #22 of all time.

But no, some ridicoulous musical about a psycopath out for revenge is misunderstood and being robbed.

Talk about a meaningless film. This is it.

I'm going to vomit after reading this.

I will NOT see ST because of Tom O'Neill and his repulsive pandering of this and his bigotry.

I am by no means a hater or a troll, but the comparisons to "Dreamgirls" are apt only in the sense that this very same space last year at this time called "Dreamgirls" "a perfect movie." That needs to be kept in mind when reading this effusive hysteria over "Sweeney." No one is doubting the potential for greatness here, but past comments from the source need to be kept in mind.

Your um review was a very interesting read and i think this movie wil ldefinately win some awards the choice of actors for the film i brilliant and tim burton is a geat director i just cant wait for this movie looks fanatstic of what ive seen of the clips

Er, Best Picture that EVERYBODY loves and has no violence in it whatsoever..."ONCE"!

I'm sure that "Sweeney Todd" is a great film and Johnny Depp is perfect as "the demon barber", but...what happen with Alan Rickman? He deserves to be nominated too! Why not as the Best Second Actor in a movie? HE'S A WONDERFUL ACTOR! I think it should be the opportunity for him to win an Oscar...

Ummmm....Hello? Those of you who said he "forgot" about "No Country for Old Men" obviously did not read the article! He did mention it.....just so you don't have to read the whole article again to find it, Tom said, ""No Country for Old Men"? Talk about bloody violence! Yikes! And its depiction is not cartoonish at all. Furthermore, to get catty here, too, it's really just an art-house twist on Freddy Krueger."

I am so hyped for this movie. The previews and youtubes being passed around only add to that excitement! Johnny CAN sing! Of course, I had no doubt that he could! I agree with Tom....if he and the movie do not win, the academy needs a close shave!!

Can we all PLEASE end the Dreamgirls references because I think we're all highly aware that there is a vast difference between bloated melodrama in Dreamgirls and stylized dramatic Sweeney Todd. Or does everyone want to continue being stupid and actually compare the two when there is nothing to compare except - oh my God - the same reviewer likes both films. What a novelty! That must mean that every other film he's ever praised is just ... worth as much as Dreamgirls? Because think about your logic - that's what you're saying.

Can 'Sweeney Todd' win? It will all depend on the Oscar campaigns which seem to have more importance and impact with the Academy than the films themselves - the dubious and very questionable Crash victory over Ang Lee's groundbreaking and unforgettable masterpiece Brokeback Mountain proved it two years ago. Once again, it will depend if a 'Sweeney Todd' victory can serve Hollywood’s “image” and interests at that specific time.

Why are you doubting yourself Tom O'Neil? Isn't there always that moment when you see a pic that you say--this is it--it's the one.
I can recall having that feeling after seeing three films, Silence of the Lambs, Chicago and, yes, Crash. It's that certain something that pops off the screen and into film history. As far as the violence goes, let's not forget Chicago was no fairy tale and furthermore, voters are not going to give it to Michael Clayton after giving it another excellent but not-quite-groundbreaking drama last year, The Departed.

Let's be real...does the BEST ever really win at the Oscars? Just look back at the last few years to see that the answer is "NO!"

Who cares if a movie has blood (and lots of it)? Who cares if a movie is more of a so-called "chick flick"? Who cares if a movie pulls at your heartstrings?

As a young child I was obsessed with everything Oscar. I thought it was the coolest thing. Today I am just amused by the whole process. It isn't about the BEST anything. Maybe I shouldn't say that. It IS about the best campaigning and favoritism. In the end, the BEST hardly ever wins.

You say you can't really review it but aside from the blood what about staging of the musical numbers?

Why everybody has forgotten "hairspray"?
What's happening with those incredibles Travolta and Pffeifer?

Leave it to Tim Burton to make "Sweeney Todd" even more violent on screen than it was on stage.

Hate to see a movie get hyped up and end up being a disappointment..because some critic jumped the gun and went orgasmic over it a la Little Miss Sunshine...Let's hope ST isn't a disappointment. I hate movies that get hyped up and then let us down...

Early in 1979, while Sweeney Todd was in previews, I was in the audience at 3 preview performances. The reception was absolutely AMAZING. I was hooked, as many people will be by this amazing story. I believe the movie will be a MAJOR hit and will will an Oscar for BEST PICTURE hands down.

No country for old men is "really just an art house twist on Freddy Krueger" I hope you're career doesn't go beyond the "oscar buzz" column because that is by far the dumbest comment i've read all year. Bravo!

THANKS! Your non-review, so to speak, brought tears of joy. I've tried to get the word out via some things I write, because this looks like a fantastic effort by all involved. Johnny Depp is an amazing inspiration on all levels of being.

Whoever mentioned that you left off "No Country for Old Men" is right because it's going to do well, I believe.

And I hope, sincerely hope, that "Sweeney Todd" gets all the nods you want because this is like the 5th or 6th post about its greatness. You remember what happened to "Snakes on a Plane" right?

Hey Tom, I can't wait for this film after reading your article. As for its Best Picture chances I don't know... I think Moulin Rouge and Dreamgirls were your favorite films in their respective years, so maybe you just love those big musicals. But I will have to see Sweeney though.

Please stop talking about Sweeney Todd all of the time. If there's any way to jinx it, it's by talking about it too much - like they did with Dreamgirls.

A lot of people read you - probably more than you realize - and you might be doing this great movie a disservice by praising it ALL THE TIME

Nonetheless, your column rules.

Best

ER

Tom: Wasn't this precisely the same e-mail you posted last year at this time, except that you have changed the name "Dreamgirls" with "Sweeney Todd"??? I'm glad, however, that you are becoming adept at using your computer's "Find" and "Replace" functions.

And then we all saw "Dreamgirls" and yawned through 2/3 of it, basically whenever Jennifer Hudson wasn't on screen.

Having said that, I truly hope "Sweeney" is great. I have seen five stage productions and have several cast recordings. And Johnny Depp deserves an Oscar even if he is lousy in it.

I'm hopeful for Depp because he is loved and admired, and the competition for Best Actor this year is wide open, with no shoo-in to keep all others at bay. The other front runners for nominations have all won Oscars already -- Daniel Day-Lewis, George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Philip Seymour Hoffman -- so it is not their turn to win (Hilary Swank heard snickering...). We all know that winning an Oscar is 50% luck and depends on what else is out there in the year, and Depp has this luck on his side this year because there is no one else who seems an obvious winner.

 

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