Douglas Avenue changed overnight. The Coen Brothers’ film crew fixed simple red and white plastic lettering to a vacant office building, adding geriatric walkers, tightly wound ACE bandages, and the promise of pharmacological discount in a carefully orchestrated window display.
Las Vegas residents stood behind a cadre of beefy security guards, jockeying for position. A painful heat rose from the sun-shattered sidewalk, the perpetual dull ache that summer’s drought beat into every resting object. Director Joel Coen bent over a vintage sky-blue sedan as actor Javier Bardem looked over his shoulder, his known perfectionism fiddling with minute detail. A hush fell over the crowd, as if each watcher understood this moment would become a part of celebrated film history.
“No Country for Old Men” took top honors during Sunday’s 80th annual Academy Awards with Joel and Ethan Coen’s meditative thriller about violence in the modern West claiming best picture, best directors, and best adapted screenplay. Javier Bardem won for his supporting role as evil assassin Anton Chigurh. Prior to the Oscars, the film triumphed in an impressive array of other contests, including those held by the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America as well as an assortment of critics groups in New York, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas , Phoenix San Diego, Toronto and Washington, D.C.
“I think there should be a new Oscar category. Best location!” exclaimed NMHU student Rob Chavez. “This film wouldn’t have been such a success without the backdrop of this city.” Chavez paused, pointing toward the intersection of I-25 and University Avenue where the Coens’ realistic Border Patrol station once stood. “I was an extra in the border crossing scene. I’ve been telling my mom that I feel like I won an Oscar Sunday night, too.”
Another local, Lynn Salazar, recalls her “Oscar-winning performance.”
“My job was to walk up and down Grand Ave. for hours and hours,” Salazar laughs. “I was in the State Street Cafe scene. At least my shadow was. I had to hold hands with a man dressed in overalls and walk up and down the sidewalk. It sure was a hot day. The film crew sprayed us down with water spritzers every now and then. The amount of detail that it takes to make a film like this just blew me away.”
In accepting the best picture prize, “No Country” producer Scott Rudin credited renowned filmmaker Sydney Pollack for teaching him that “with the opportunity to make movies comes the responsibility of making them good.” He saluted the Coens, saying, “I can’t think of anybody I would rather be standing here with than the two of you.”
The usually quiet Coens proved relatively garrulous in their three trips to the podium. Older brother Joel spoke for both of them as he described making their first films - including one at the Minneapolis airport called “Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go” - as young kids. “And honestly, what we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then,” he ruminated. “We’re very thankful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox.”
Referring to both “No Country” and the other big winner of the evening - another work filled with realistic violence - “There Will Be Blood,” Jon Stewart, the evening’s emcee, joked that both films were “this year’s slate of Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies.”
Chavez grins as he describes the way he and his girlfriend waited in the hours before dusk for their fifteen minutes of fame.
“I watched everything that film crew did. They really took their time. You could see that the directors were particular. When the sun finally set and we got to work, I just knew something big was going to come of this.”