Two or three days ago I passed along that comment about Sean Penn being “so great” in Gus Van Sant‘s Milk (i.e., from an actor-director friend with reliable early-buzz connections),and thereafter concluded that Milk could be regarded, if you’re into mindless spitballing, as the #2 contender for the ’08 Best Picture Oscar, right behind David Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

The only thing that scares me about Milk is Van Sant himself, which is to say my uncertainty about who he is or wants to be right now. The c.w. is that there have been three significant Van Sant phases thus far — (a) the assured street-poet chapter that included Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For and Good Will Hunting, (b) the misguided, bordering-on-deranged ’98 to ’00 period when he made the Hitchcock-aping Psycho and the repulsive Finding Forrester, which led to a kind of spiritual withdrawal-or-collapse, and (c) the verite rebirth period, lasting five years so far, consisting of raw, deconstructed extended-take art films — Gerry, Elephant, Last Days and Paranoid Park.
If Van Sant who made Drugstore Cowboy is making Milk, terrific. If a blend of that Van Sant along with the guy who made Elephant is directing Milk, beautiful. But if the Finding Forrester Van Sant is anywhere near the Milk set, watch out.