Thursday, January 17, 2008

That's A Wrap! Films of 2007

If there was ever a thing for me to kick myself about in 2007, it's the movies that I didn't get to see. Over the past few years, I'd been developing an almost natural ability to see somewhere in the area of 50-75 of the movies that came out that year. For those who don't know, that's really saying something. The average film critic will review 175-250 movies a year, not including blurbs they write at film festivals. However, not the case this time around.

After scouring through various sources on the films of 2007, I topped out at just over 20 films. So, basically, I could do 2 lists: The 10 that I saw and 10 that I most wanted to see. So, without further ado, here's the best half of the films that I saw.

10. The Simpsons
Directed by David Silverman
Written by Matt Groening and others

Well, it happened. It actually happened. The oft-fabled movie project came out and, in my mind, turned out to be the best movie to come directly from a TV show that I can remember at the time of this writing. There's enough focus on Springfield's first family, the massive cast of secondary characters as well as enough attention paid to the idea that it exists totally outside the show. Granted, that's not to say it could be as good without it.

9. Ratatouille
Written and Directed by Brad Bird

This film along with Monster House, is as close as big studio animation companies can get to B-movie material before their bottom line is in danger. I mean that as an honest complement. Look at the concept; A rat that's a top drawer chef in Paris and running a restaurant. From the outset this film is on thin ice in terms of suspending disbelief. The fact that Bird deals with this content so honestly and without deluding the characters to stupidity is why it succeeds. That Patton Oswalt delivered a sincere, human performance as the voice of Remy makes it all the better.

8. Superbad
Directed by Greg Mottola

Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

What seemed in previews to be somewhere between American Pie and PCU ended up being a smart, human tribute to friends that ultimately grow up and apart. Though the novelty of McLovin and various one-liners spewed out by slack police officers will eventually wear thin and go out of style, the heart of this movie lies in the performances of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill that gently display a wealth of talent below the obvious molds their characters create.

7. I'm Not There
Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Todd Haynes and Oren Moverman

Hearing about this film was simultaneously sickening and intriguing. It has art-house gimmickry written all over it with multiple actors in the lead, color and black and white usage and Todd Haynes at the helm. That this film is about Bob Dylan set it up for failure. Surprisingly, instead of exposing all that is behind Dylan, this film shows the Dylan that most of his fans already know and puts the mythology of his career on display in all of its contradictory glory. Sure, the names of all involved have been changed except for Allen Ginsberg, but if attempted in different fashion, the need for absolute fact trumps all and all of the myths don't work in thrilling fashion like they do here.

6. Zodiac
Directed by David Fincher
Written by James Vanderbilt

This is a police procedural in the vein of JFK. This mystery won't be solved and I'm not ruining anything by saying so. This film is about passion for the work. Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr. reminded me of Hoffman and Redford in All the President's Men in their display of relentless drive to find the answers and possibly impending doom from the publicity surrounding them. Apart from the content here, Fincher is displaying his directorial prowess with digital photography. This is one of his best films.

5. The Golden Compass
Written and Directed by Chris Weitz

I did not see this one coming but am I glad I tried it. In my opinion, Chronicles of Narnia fell on its face and The Lord of the Rings just became a bloated leviathan of a trilogy. I didn't even know about the His Dark Materials books, but I wish I did and I plan on familiarizing myself with these before the next movie comes out. This film, like Pan's Labyrinth is perfect for CG and vice verse. This is a film for everyone as well as a nice idea for the science vs. religion debate. Could the ideas that give us supposed salvation be the very things holding us back? Discuss.

4. Juno
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody

Massive acclaim from critics and audiences can often be smoke and mirrors, but every so-often, everyone really gets it right. Expect to see this earn some awards. I doubt it'll take the biggies, but Ellen Page and Michael Cera deserve noms as does J.K. Simmons and Diablo Cody produced the best dialogue of the year without a doubt. This is the film where Jason Reitman steps out of his father's shadow, though it may not mean much. This film is full of humanity and wit rather than just being funny.

3. There Will Be Blood
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

There's a shot in There Will Be Blood that says it all. It's composed of Daniel Day-Lewis' oil-covered face staring in wide-eyed, with flames lighting it up against the night sky. This shot personifies the monster that we know he is with an insatiable thirst for money from oil. There's a poignancy in this film about certain peoples' values that have come to the fore in recent years. I'm not going to go into it, but no actor could embody that soulless juggernaut better than Daniel Day-Lewis. If his masterstroke of a villainous portrayal deserved an Oscar for Gangs of New York, then he should be a shoe-in here. This is a brutal, meditative epic of coruption, deceit and greed that stretches for almost 3 hours. And it's a masterpiece.

2. No Country For Old Men
Written and Directed by Ethan and Joel Cohen

The Cohen brothers fell pretty far from grace there for a while. What a righteous return to form this film is. Javier Bardem will be there come award time due to his performance of pure, merciless evil in this crime film turned character study. His narrative is played against Tommy Lee Jones' aging state patrolmen who relentlessly presses on to do the right thing while slowly building to the realization that he may be well in over his head. Josh Brolin is caught in the middle as n'er do well who's unafraid of adversity and all are on a collision course towards each other. The result is an austere, beautiful film that is in every sense perfect.

1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Written and Directed by Andrew Dominik

Here's a film that marks a high point in the modern western. Easily the most beautifully photographed film of the year, it's subject matter encompasses the spirit of the old and the intelligence of the new in equal parts. Where The Proposition saw the outlaws have to pay for their crimes and law's fallibility exposed in the land of lawlessness that is, for lack of a better word, hell, this film harkens back to heroes and villains and how they were often on the same side. However, their interaction was often deeper than suggested. Casey turns out to be far and away the better Affleck as Robert Ford. He so blindly worships Brad Pitt's Jesse James to the point that it shades into lust. Jesse James is aware and understanding of the threat he poses while indulging in his fame as Ford follows his every command. The scene mentioned in the title is almost Bresson-like in its beautiful depiction of what both characters saw coming since they got to know one-another. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck reminded me of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in their camaraderie, the idolism and the inherent sexual undertones that come along with the worship. Andrew Dominik struck gold with Chopper, but catapulted himself into a pantheon of greats with this, the best of 3 perfect films I saw in 2007.

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