Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Year in Review

THE BEST FILMS OF 2007*
Fall is my favorite season for a number of reasons, a big one being that most of the year's finest movies are held for release until the arrival of the colder months. 2007 was a rarity, in that half of the films that made my list of favorites saw theatrical distribution before September. It was refreshing to have a cinematic year that was evenly sprinkled with great things to see, and even more refreshing to compile a final group this diverse.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm some high profile movie expert (hell, I'm not even getting paid for this), nor was I able to see everything that established critics have already taken in at snowy hill-top festivals with free swag. I'm just an aspiring entertainment writer with good taste and lots of opinions, seeking an outlet to share them with others. Read on and check out what was great, okay and loathsome in '07, so that the next time you hit the multiplex, Blockbuster, or your Netflix queue, you won't be wasting precious money and time. 'Cause after all, I'm Your Buddy.
*As in previous years, this list is subject to change over time and with subsequent viewings.


10. KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD
Thanks to this one-two summer punch, courtesy of new King of Funny Judd Apatow, 2007 saw the emergence of brilliant, hilarious comedy that needn’t resort to senseless folly or unimaginative parody to elicit laughs. Knocked Up sported the bigger heart - with growing up as much a theme as goofing off, while Superbad became the Dazed and Confused for a new generation. Comedy is perhaps the hardest genre to successfully pull off, and Apatow and co. have officially made going to the movies to laugh ‘til you cry cool again.

9. PARIS JE T'AIME
In the year’s most romantic offering, directors from around the world and an array of recognizable and unrecognizable stars take part in a series of short vignettes celebrating love in the City of Lights. Whether between a couple, a father and a daughter, a mother and a son, an addict and a drug, or a lone woman and Paris itself, that love takes many forms, each expressed in an individual vision and style. Widely unseen and grossly underrated, Paris Je T’aime creatively and collaboratively shows slices of vibrant life, with one of the world’s most beautiful locations as their stage.

8. I'M NOT THERE
American auteur Todd Haynes pays tribute to legendary American poet Bob Dylan by shattering all conventions of the bio-pic and presenting a picture that suggests, of all his adoring and bewildered public, Dylan himself may have known the man behind the music least of all. Six actors play the enigmatic musician in six "phases" of his life, led by Cate Blanchett who falls so comfortably into Dylan’s skin (circa his 1960's transition to electric sound) that it inspires giddy, awestruck laughter. It’s one of the finest performances of the year, and the centerpiece to one of the year’s most original movies.

7. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
With an average shot duration of 2.5 seconds, this hyper-kinetic trip around the world is the best of the Bourne franchise and the best, most intelligent action movie of the year. Rather than induce headaches and confusion, the lightning-pace editing - along with director Paul Greengrass' masterful handheld style - allows you to run with Bourne. Matt Damon returns to play him as a ceaseless machine who has no soul because he is constantly, desperately searching for it. The character’s every action is executed with a bravura finesse that mirrors the quality of the film.

6. AMERICAN GANGSTER
More of a world-creator than a filmmaker, the legendary Ridley Scott brings the same meticulously designed life he instilled in classics like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down to his depiction of the ‘70's Harlem drug trade. You don’t just watch this man’s movies, you feel them through and through, and this classic cop versus crook saga has him joining the titan-like talents of Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe as real-life warriors at odds. The storytelling is first-rate, with the audience often torn with which side to root for, and the film is an engrossing rush from its start to its (albeit shaky) finish.

5. MICHAEL CLAYTON

Rolling out gradually and revealing key plot elements only when necessary, this breakout hit from director Tony Gilroy (who also penned the Bourne films) is an involving thriller of the best kind - in which every moment demands every inch of your attention. In a career-best role as the title character, George Clooney continues to cement himself as one of the most reputable pretty faces in the business; while Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton both turn in tour-de-force supporting work. Brimming with intrigue and stellar performances, this is the year’s smartest film.

4. ZODIAC

Despite its overly long running time, David Fincher’s account of the infamous (and still unsolved) case of the titular killer who terrorized San Francisco in the ‘60's and ‘70's is a head-to-toe atmospheric masterpiece. Crafted in the cinematic style of the era it depicts, and told from the perspective of the journalists and policemen engaged in a decade-spanning hunt, the film plays like All the President’s Men with blood. This is indeed Fincher’s finest work to date (he being the man behind Seven, Fight Club, and Panic Room), infused with a detail as obsessive as its subject matter. Smart and uncompromising, Zodiac may just join the ranks of The Silence of the Lambs in the lineage of great serial killer movies.

3. AWAY FROM HER
With this debut feature, indie fave Sarah Polley makes one of the more dignified actor-to-director transitions of recent memory, putting her in the company of Sofia Coppola as an exciting female filmmaker of her generation. Her film glows, thanks to the luminous Julie Christie (still stunning at 66) and the soft, white light of winter that spills into every frame. Gracefully adapted by Polley from the short story "The Bear Came over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, Away From Her is a testament to selfless love, which can sometimes only come from the weather-worn wisdom of age. This movie breaks your heart in all the right ways.

2. ATONEMENT
Sweeping and utterly gorgeous, this period drama is 2007’s sweetest gift to the senses, with a first act alone to which nearly all of the year’s other films pale in comparison. Every field of cinematic artistry is engaged to its fullest and most beautiful potential, notably Dario Marianelli’s unforgettable score and Seamus McGarvey’s lush cinematography. Director Joe Wright re-teams with his Pride & Prejudice star Keira Knightley to even greater effect, but the standouts are the actresses tapped to play the girl whose wrongful actions set the plot in motion. More epic than anything else offered in the past twelve months, Atonement is a monumental achievement.


1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Structured atop the skeleton of a classic story of the evil that men do, Joel and Ethan Coen’s miraculous No Country for Old Men will likely last the ages as a veritable work of genius. The brothers capture the desolate beauty of the vistas of West Texas with immaculate composition, and fill them with riveting drama but no musical soundtrack. In its place is the click-click-boom of guns, locks, trucks and broken bones, the ominous blow of a desert wind, and the weighty dialogue and breath of well-drawn characters. No other film in 2007 inspired such an immediate need for a second viewing at its close, and no other stood so flawless a model of literary adaptation and craft.
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RUNNERS-UP
(alphabetically)

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Featuring fiery turns from Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and especially the uber-intense Philip Seymour Hoffman (who was everywhere this year), this air-tight heist drama is constructed by veteran director Sidney Lumet with the zeal of a fresh up-and-comer.

BLACK SNAKE MOAN
Imbued with the soulful music and sticky heat of the South, Craig Brewer’s follow-up to Hustle and Flow is sexy and daringly unique, taking an idea that looks poisonous on paper and executing it with killer style.

INTO THE WILD
Feeling as American as the true story it depicts and as director Sean Penn himself, this project is bursting with passion and heart. As the doomed Christopher McCandless, Emile Hirsch gives one of the year's most moving performances.

JUNO
Bearing a whip-smart script, the language of which may have a lasting effect similar to Clueless, this very right-now heart warmer is being compared to last year’s Little Miss Sunshine. It’s better, and it’s impossible not to love.

ONCE
Technically not a musical, yet entirely musically driven, this little Irish import sweeps you up in its beautiful love story and even more beautiful soundtrack, which are in many ways one and the same.

PLANET TERROR
Robert Rodriguez’s first and far superior half of the GrindHouse flicks is a bloody, wonderfully over-the-top valentine to the medium itself and one of the most fun times to be had at the movies this year.

RATATOUILLE
The year’s best animated feature is also arguably one of the most sophisticated ever, made for those who appreciate the finer things in life and the children who love them.
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HONORABLE MENTION
(alphabetically)

3:10 TO YUMA, BEOWULF, THE BUBBLE, BUG, EASTERN PROMISES, ENCHANTED, GONE BABY GONE, HAIRSPRAY, THE HOST, LA VIE EN ROSE, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, THE LOOKOUT, A MIGHTY HEART, PORTRAITS OF SARI, SWEENEY TODD, TRANSFORMERS, WAITRESS
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THE WORST

EVENING
Any film that assembles a cast boasting Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Vanessa Redgrave, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close and Eileen Atkins had better give such a remarkable lineup of actresses some rich material with which to work. Evening doesn’t, and seeing that much talent stuck in a film this flat is remarkably depressing.

DEATH PROOF
Whereas Rodriguez’s Planet Terror embraces the cigarette-burn-filled, missing-reel-highlighted, throwback allure of the GrindHouse project, Quentin Tarantino’s comparatively lackluster contribution is little more than an outlet for the director to plug his past work. Entirely too self-aware and existing on some real planet of terror where everyone talks and thinks like QT, this disappointment should be permanently erased from the otherwise brilliant artist’s filmography.

SOUTHLAND TALES
Studded with one of the most beautifully ridiculous casts ever put together, this awkward apocalyptic satire is the visual definition of when the child at play within a filmmaker bests the artist at work. Intermittent moments make evident director Richard Kelly’s inherent talent and stylish eye, but the collective result plays like the fever dream of a scatter-brained fanboy. When the most entertaining part of your movie is Buffy as a philosophical, bone-headed porn star, you’ve got trouble.

SPIDER-MAN 3
In one of the biggest cinematic let-downs in years, director Sam Raimi closes the best superhero franchise in movie history not with a bang, but with a loud, messy, over-stuffed thunderclap. Even in the world of comic book adaptations, less is still more, and with three villains, two love interests, way too many special effects and way too long a running time, anything less would have been appreciated.

THE NUMBER 23
A must to avoid for Jim Carrey fans especially, this beyond-ludicrous exercise in the terror of numerical coincidences places the once-funny man in situations in which he was never meant to be seen (note: body-length vine tattoos and rough, carnal sex). The criminally misplaced Virginia Madsen phones in her scenes, and box-office poison Joel Schumacher is so busy trying to be smarter than his audience that he misses the fact he’s insulted them.
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FIN

2 comments:

timart9 said...

Great list that refuses to be either totally predictable or way in the outfield. I especially like the thoughtful honorable mentions. Way to go Movie Buddy!

Criss Cross said...

Yes, good list, but really i think that "Planet Terror" was the best of the year and ... "Knocked Up", yes but "Superbad" ...hmmm,i dont think so.

Very interesting blog.

Greetings

Criss Cross