Monday, December 31, 2007

THE BEST OF 2007 - Part 3 - The Year's Best FILMS

- Wow, it's December 31st and 2007 is about to wrap. Pretty amazing. If you haven't already, check out my Best Of lists for music, comics, and TV, and check back soon for a general 2007 wrap-up and a look ahead to '08.

But for now, let's talk movies.

I've said it many times lately, as recently as in my last post, a review of PT Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD - 2007 was a spectacular year for movies. And it's funny, because earlier in the year that might not have been the popular projection. Sure, there were some great flicks in the early part of 2007 - BLACK SNAKE MOAN was one of Samuel L. Jackson's best turns to date, GRINDHOUSE was a hell of a good time at the movies, and 300 took many by surprise to become a huge blockbuster hit. But with summer came some high profile disappointments ... Spiderman 3 - Peter Parker gone emo ... need I say more? Still, there was plenty of great stuff throughout the summer, you just had to know where to look. Few have seen THE KING OF KONG as of yet, but I think it has all-time cult-favorite written all over it. RESCUE DAWN was a riveting drama from Werner Herzog, and one of a few great Christian Bale roles this year. RATATOUILLE was another great animated feature from Pixar, and sure, it had its haters, but for me Pirates of the Carribean 3 was THE big-event movie of the summer - a great close-out to a supremely fun trilogy. But comedies were great this summer as well - the one-two Judd Apatow-led punch of KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD, and a slew of other hilarious movies, from HOT FUZZ to THE TEN to EAGLE VS. SHARK.

So all in all it was a good summer for films, but then, in the fall and winter, business really picked up. From September to December, it felt like I was just seeing one great movie after another. There were so many films that fell into the "A" range for me that it was almost hard to keep track. While mulling over my Best Of list, I would think I had a ranking order finalized only to remember yet another top-shelf film that I had inexplicably left out. From THE DARJEELING LIMITED to SWEENEY TODD, from JUNO to AMERICAN GANGSTER, from ENCHANTED to WALK HARD, there was simply an overabundance of memorable films in the latter half of '07. Not to mention ... I think there were two bonafide classics, two movies that would likely rest atop many people's Top 10 lists not only from this year, but for any number of years - and those were NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Choosing between the two for the #1 spot might just boil down to a matter of taste. Are you more a fan of the crackling dialogue and black humor of the Coen Bros., or of the epic grandeur and over the top theatrics that PT Anderson brought to Blood?

So here are my top movies of 2007 ... as always, a few disclaimers:

- I realize things may not match up perfectly with my Best of Summer list - in some cases, opinions shift slightly after the passing of a little time, or else putting things in a larger context simply gives a bit of a different perspective.

- As I said in my TV list, I am but one man and can't see every movie that's released (though I do tend to see a lot ...). But there were some big ones I didn't get the chance to see this year, so far, and those titles include: Sunshine, Zodiac, The Savages, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Margot and the Wedding, Lars and the Real Girl, Atonement, Die Hard 4, No End in Sight, Once, Persephopolis, I'm Not There, and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (the one in particular I've been meaning to catch ...).

- And just one final note: this year's list was probably the hardest I've yet tried to put together. Too many good to great movies, and ranking one above the other is a pretty difficult task. In a few weeks, I may look at things a bit differently. But what's truly amazing is that I'm going to list 30 movies - I'd say the first 20 to 25 fall under the category of "great," and if you look at my individual reviews from throughout the course of the year, more than 25 of the 30 movies listed received a grade of A - or better, and 7 of the Top 10 received a flat-out A from me, which is pretty amazing considering that I don't usually score so many movies that well. Then again, I guess I've been more in-the-loop than ever of late when it comes to seeking out the good stuff, so I've been making much more of a point to see the great ones and avoid the clunkers (though I do have a weakness for checking out comic book adaptations and seeing how my favorite characters were brought to life - hence why I sat through such crap as Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider ...).

Anyways, on with the show:



- To me, when the Coen Brothers are on top of their game, it is pretty difficult for anyone else to surpass them. And with No Country, the Coens made yet another classic, a movie that can sit comfortably in the cannon of Coen gems, alongside the likes of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Miller's Crossing. But with this one, the Coens have returned to the dark side, so to speak, after an output of mostly comedies over the last few years. No Country is a tale of the evil that men are capable of, an American story of the West, and a darkly humorous look at the "ultimate badass", a man named Anton Sigurh, a man so black-hearted that he makes you question what human beings are capable of. This is everything I love about the Coens - dialogue that flows like music, characters that come alive, stories with layers of depth and twists and turns and unconventional narrative choices that make you think. All this, and then there's the fact that the movie is simply intense as hell, filled with edge-of-your seat action, one of the best villains we've seen in a long while at the movies, and performances from Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Tommy Lee Jones that each rank among the year's best. I can't wait to see what the Coens do next, and I'm thankful that they remain such creative visionaries, the preeminent American filmmakers of our era.


- Check my last post for the full review, but what I'll add here is simply that THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a movie with a lot to say, and that's always appreciated. It's a movie I want to talk about, to discuss, to analyze. It's a film that I'll likely need to see again to fully absorb. And yet, it's been temporatily burned into my brain - Daniel Day Lewis' monumental perfromance as Daniel Plainview - the tragedy, the meaning, the symbolism of that character has been turning over and over in my mind. Kudos to PT Anderson, Day Lewis, and everyone else involved in the film - it's one of those timeless movies whose message, I think, will be just as powerful ten or twenty years from now as it is today.


- It's funny, my Top 3 movies this year are all Westerns, in a sense. All 3 deal with the American West and its history as a place of lawlessness, of corruptionm, but also as a place where dreams and legends were born, and where they died. JESSE JAMES is a true Western in the classical film-genre sense of the word however, but it's a Western with a twist, in that it seemed to be as much about the America of 2007, in its own way. It's about realizing that one's heroes aren't all they're cracked up to be, it's about the drive to make a name for oneself, the cult of celebrity, and it's about a loss of innocence - a country where myth and legend don't always match up to the harsher reality and truth. Jesse James is a great film, beautifully shot, and with a breakout performance by Casey Aflleck and one of Bradd Pitt's best-ever turns as the title character.

4.) JUNO

- Juno took me by surprise, in that it was kind of sold as the female response to Superbad while in reality it was a comedy with a much deeper emotional core. That's not to diss on Superbad, it's just to say that Juno really wowed me with how deeply it made you care about its title characters and the other players in its quirky, stylized world, in addition to being smart and funny and cool. That's why I don't support the criticisms of the film being overly-stylized, etc - the dialogue is fun, and the little, Wes-Anderson-esque visual motifs are cool, but the movie is full of heart and that's what to me made it so endearing. Ellen Page was awesome as Juno, and Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, JK Simmons and Allison Janney help to give the film perhaps the year's best ensemble cast.


- When this one comes out on DVD, trust me, it is a must-watch. I don't think there was any underdog hero in movies this year easier to root for than STEVE WIEBE, a real-life Rocky for the videogame generation. I know, it sounds strange - can a guy who's really good at playing Donkey Kong really be that inspirational? Well, yes. Yes he can. Of all the movies I saw this year, this was the one - and it was a documentary no less! - where I thought I might actually stand up in the theater and cheer in the middle of the movie. But it wasn't just me, everyone was on the edge of their seats and watching as we raced towards the big showdown between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, Steve's mullet-topped, patriotic tie-sportin' nemesis. The King of Kong is a wonderful character study, an inspirational underdog story, and an utterly fascinating look at the world of competetive arcade gaming. Trust me, even if you've never had an interest in Donkey Kong, after watching this one, you'll be itching to jump a barrel or two.


- Sweeney Todd is Tim Burton on top of his game, and the result is a dark and gory musical that is bloody good fun from start to finish. Nobody does goth and dreary like Burton, but the mix of the Victorian London blues with the pitch-black humor and tragic horror of Sweeney Todd is a potent combination made in movie-making heaven. Or is that hell? The whole bloody affair is brought to ghoulish life thanks to yet another great turn from Johnny Depp, who doesn't just sing, but acts with as much flourish and fun as he does with Cap'n Jack but does so through any number of memorable songs. Helena Bonham Carter is great as his gothed-out partner in crime, and Sascha Baron-Cohen and Alan Rickman are similarly killer. A visual and aural delight, Sweeney Todd is a close shave with brilliance.


- If you're in the mood to go old-school, you can't do much better than this surprisingly deep thriller. I thought this one might be a by the numbers George Clooney drama, so I was fairly blown away at what I got - a smart, riveting, and unexpectedly poignant look at corporate America, and what happens when things go too far in the name of the almighty dollar. It's a harsh and biting look at the moral grey areas of big business, and it's also a movie filled with some of the year's best performances. Tilda Swindon is superb as a woman who has sacrificed her own values in the name of doing business, and Tom Wilkinson is awesome as a guy who's done the oppositte - forsaken his comfortable life to take a walk on the wild side, to embrace his inner insanity and blow the whistle on the evils of the corporation he once defended. It's a slick, powerful movie, bland title and all.


- Every year, it seems, as the crappy kid-friendly movies begin to pile up, it only makes me appreciate the magic in a bottle that is Pixar that much more. Because while some movies pillage beloved material to make half-assed, lackluster adaptations (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), and others recycle old kid-favorites for a quick cash-in (Alvin and the Chipmunks, anyone?), Pixar is out there constantly doing things that are straight from the IMAGINATION. Original stories, new characters, fresh ideas - and Ratatouille is one of their best yet - a movie that kids will love and everyone else can appreciate as much if not more. Because aside from the kickass animation, there's great writing at work here, and great performances too. How perfect was Peter O'Toole, for example, as an embittered food critic? A feast for the eyes, yes, but make no mistake, Pixar movies liek this one are a fine delicacy.


- A few years ago, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE was my choice for movie of the year. So I had big expectations for the followup film from David Cronenberg and lead Viggo Mortenson, and while I didn't get quite the tour de force that was AHOV, I did get yet another stark and violent mind-bender that left me reeling. Viggo is terrific here - whether he's brooding around Niaomi Watts or taking on an entire hit squad in a deadly brawl while in nothing but his birthday suit, this is one of the craziest acting performances I've ever seen, in that you can tell Viggo gave this one everything he had and more. As for Cronenberg, he maintains his unique voice, creating a stange vision of Russian gang violence where few characters are as they seem. What I love about this one is that, as is the norm for Cronenberg, the movie is anything but normal. It makes you think, makes you wonder about what you've just seen, makes you look below the surface - a thinking man's pulp fiction, if you will.


- I hate when great comedies are overlooked by critics, so I wanted to make sure I gave props to the year's best pure comedy. Sure, some comedies in '07 had bigger laughs (Walk Hard, The Ten), and some were more spot-on satires (The TV Set, Hot Fuzz), but no comedy really captured the cultural zeitgeist more than Superbad, which just worked perfectly as an instant-classic entry in the beloved "teens trying to get laid" genre for the Facebook generation. With a script that contained a great mix of banter and big laughs, Superbad was just an awesome and hilarious journey that really clicked. Michael Cera is now certifiably one of the funniest kids in Hollywood, and who didn't come away from this one wanting a little bit mo' McLovin?


11.) 300 - This. Is. Sparta! Kickass action and impressive visuals made this the king of action movies in '07. Zach Snyder brought it (Can't wait for Watchmen), Gerard Butler bled gravitas, and the movie made me feel like I was watching the most badass Playstation game never made.

12.) GRINDHOUSE - As a complete theatrical experience, few films were more fun to see with a pumped-up crowd than a double bill of B-movie goodness in the form of Planet Terror and Death Proof. Tarantino and Rodriguez paying tribute to their faves, along with an assortment of utterly awesome fake trailers (The Mexican! Thanksgiving!), Kurt f'n Russel, and Rose McGowan with a machine-gun leg made for one hardcore package.

13.) RESCUE DAWN - Christian Bale is excellent in this thrilling drama about a group of Vietnam vets stranded in the jungle. Immersive direction by Werner Herzog, and outstanding supporting turns from Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies.

14.) THE DARJEELING LIMITED - Wes Anderson does it again with a movie showcasing his unique visual style and penchant for telling quirky yet involving stories about family. Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, and Jason Schwartzman make for a great trio of brothers, and also be sure to check out Hotel Chevalier - the beautifully directed prelude to the film that was available free on iTunes.

15.) BLACK SNAKE MOAN - From the guy who brought us Hustle & Flow comes another down n' dirty piece of pulp fiction, this one a tale of the sweaty south - of a woman with a compulsive need for sex and of the aging blues-man who chains her up to his radiator. Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci are both dynamite in this love letter to all things blues.

16.) ENCHANTED - With one fell swoop, the Disney of old is back! Amy Adams light up the screen as a Disney princess trasnported to the real world, and what could have been cheesy turns out to be, well, enchanting - a great tribute to that old-time Disney magic.

17.) WALK HARD - To me, one of the funniest movies of the year, and a dead-on parody of rock n' roll flicks, with some hilarious spoof songs mixed with great over-the-top humor. Gags that clicked, a great cast led by John C. Reilly, and a sountrack of legit catchy songs.

18.) PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN 3: AT WORLD'S END - This one had a lot of haters, but I loved almsot every minute of this conclusion to the sea-faring trilogy. Spectacular and imaginative visuals, great action, and a cast that reminded us why pirates rock our socks, led by the always-awesome Johnny Depp.

19.) THE TEN - A new movie by the hilarious folks behind THE STATE and WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER? Reason to celebrate, indeed. Here's another one that will likely find a cult audience on DVD - not quite as awesome as Wet Hot, but a ton of drop-dead funny absurdist humor, loads of great actors being hilarious (Paul Rudd, Wynona Rider, Liev Schreiber), and some of the best and most quotable lines of any comedy this year.

20.) CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR - With a smart script by Aaron Sorkin and one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's best-ever turns, as a jaded CIA official, this movie stood out in a year filled with political dramas that were too bleak to hold much appeal. However, with a mix of humor and affecting political commentary, this one was informative yet entertaining - always a good combo.

21.) KNOCKED UP - The other big Judd Apatow comedy this year, it was awesome to see Seth Rogan become a star and continue shining the spotlight on the talented alumni of Freaks and Geeks. A number of hilarious and memorable moments, and a movie that, like The 40 Year Old Virgin, somehow mixed vulgar humor, random banter, and genuine heart together to make a movie that appealed to all types of comedy fans.

22.) BLACK BOOK - What happens when the director of ROBOCOP makes a World War II thriller? You get Black Book - a crazy but undoubtedly entertaining movie from Paul Verhoeden that mixes comic book violence with classical themes of romance, deception, and poltical intrigue, in a tale about a Jewish woman who sleeps with the enemy (yep, she sleeps with a Nazi) in order to spy on the Germans during the war.

23.) HOT FUZZ - Another brilliant satire from the guys behind Shawn of the Dead, Hott Fuzz works so well because it's a hilarious send-up of cop movies but also a pretty cool cop movie in and of itself. There's a bit of a slow build, but the last third of the film is out and out hilarious, and Timothy Dalton makes for an awesome villain.

24.) STARDUST - One of the summer's most overlooked movies, Stardust is a bit rough around the edges, but comes together to be a great fairy-tale fantasy movie in the tradition of films like The Princess Bride. Great and unusual turns from vets like Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeifer, in a story brimming with imagination thanks to the mind of Neil Gaiman.

25.) AMERICAN GANGSTER - Not quite as great as it should have been, given its all-star pedigree, but still, this was an extremely well-done movie with typically strong performances from Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and a scene-stealing turn from Josh Brolin. Visually, it's another amazingly-shot film from Ridley Scott, and it's a movie that deserves its place in the cannon of great gangster films.

26.) EAGLE VS. SHARK - If you like weird, Napoleon Dynamite-style comedies, you shoudl definitely give this one a look. It stars Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, and he's hilarious here, turning up his usual personality to the extreme - a guy whose single goal in life is to train so that when he encounters his old high school bully, he can kick the guy's ass.

27.) THE TV SET - From Jake Kasdan, this look at the TV industry is such a dead-on satire it's almost depressing. But David Duchovny is in top form, as is Sigourney Weaver, who is just completely vile as an emotionless TV exec. Not quite Network, but a funny and insightful look into the ongoing battle between art and commerce in Hollywood.

28.) INTO THE WILD - Some have raved about this one, and there were many things I did find worthy of the highest praise, even if the film didn't 100% click with me. I can't deny the star-making turn from Emile Hirsch, the amazing supporting performances from Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, etc., the great Eddie Vedder soundtrack, or the sweeping direction of Sean Penn.

29.) BEOWULF - While the plot here was a bit muddled, there's no denying that Beowulf was one of the most incredible-looking movies ever made. I've never seen anything like it before, and it is a giant leap forward in terms of 3-D filmmaking technology. Still, there's more to like than jsut the visuals - there are a lot of fun moments in the script, and some of the most harrowing action sequences in any movie this year.

30.) 3:10 TO YUMA - Ultimately, this one was hurt by a plot and characterization that didn't quite come together by film's end. But, there are two remarkable performances here from leads Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and a great turn from Ben Foster as the ultimate cowboy lackey. 3:10, despite its faults, was one hell of an entertaining Western.




- BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT - While it isn't a new movie, seeing Blade Runner, restored and recut, on the bigscreen, may have been my favorite movie-going experience of 2007. I was lucky enough to be in one of the few cities to get a theatrical run of the film's new edition, and I sat in awe as I watched all of my favorite scenes as they were meant to be seen - bigger than life and crystal clear. Seeing the movie, it was amazing how much it held up - from the landmark performances from Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, to the groundbreaking visuals and art direction - Ridley Scott's dreamlike masterpiece of science fiction was better than ever in 2007.


- GHOST RIDER - There may have been worse films in 2007 (Norbit?), but the worst I personally saw was this piece of garbage, an insult to a cool character and to the fans who paid money to see this. It shouldn't be that hard to make a cool Ghost Rider flick, but somehow Mark Steven Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Peter Fonda, and everyone else associated with this craptacular mess made an almost unwatchable movie (they even made Eva Mendez look pretty plain - what?!?!). Please lord, no sequel.


- SPIDERMAN 3 - Sam Raimi is an amazing director, and thus far the Spiderman films, particularly part 2, have been some of the best comic book adaptations to date. But man did things go wrong here. Sure, there were moments of that old Sam Raimi greatness (such as the transformation of The Sandman into his monstrous form), but the entire Venom storyline seemed tacked-on, not given any of the love that other villains in the series have received. The film felt way too light for such dark subject matter, and the script was just not good. It was truly a shame to see such a once-great franchise take such a tumble.


- SOUTHLAND TALES - I was eagerly anticipating the followup to Donnie Darko from director Richard Kelly. Years in the making, Southland Tales turned out to be an at-times brilliant, at-times incomprehensible cluster#%$* of a movie, one of the strangest films I've ever seen, without a doubt. From the head-scratching casting (John Lovitz, The Rock, Sean William Scott, Sarah Michelle-Geller, Cheri O'Teri, and on and on and on ...) to the out-there plot, which felt like Kelly took every idea he's ever had and put in into a giant soup of a script, Southland Tales was a movie I wanted to like, hoped to love, but in the end, moreso than anything else, it's a movie that elicited one giant exclamation of W.T.F.



1. Daniel Day Lewis - There Will Be Blood

2. Viggo Mortenson - Eastern Promises
3. Bradd Pitt - The Assassination of Jesse James
4. Christian Bale - Rescue Dawn
5. Josh Brolin - No Country For Old Men


1. Ellen Page - Juno

2. Carice Van Houten - Black Book
3. Christina Ricci - Black Snake Moan
4. Amy Adams - Enchanted
5. Helena Bonham Carter - Sweeney Todd


1. Javier Bardem - No Country For Old Men

2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Charlie Wilson's War
3. Casey Affleck - The Assassination of Jesse James
4. Tom Wilkinson - Michael Clayton
5. Hal Holbrook - Into the Wild


1. Tilda Swindon - Michael Clayton

2. Sigourney Weaver - The TV Set
3. Michelle Pfeiffer - Stardust
4. Jennifer Garner - Juno
5. Alison Janney - Juno


1. No Country For Old Men

2. There Will Be Blood
3. Juno
4. Superbad
5. Charlie Wilson's War


1. Joel and Ethan Coen - No Country For Old Men

2. Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood
3. Tim Burton - Sweeney Todd
4. Andrew Dominik - The Assassination of Jesse James
5. Werner Herzog - Rescue Dawn

- And there you have it - the year in movies 2007. Will 2008 be as great of a year? The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, Watchmen, and a host of others say it might. But this was certainly a pretty amazing year for film, and I can't wait to go back and rewatch some of the year's best. As always, would love to hear your comments and opinions. And stay tuned for one more Best Of entry that will come slightly after the end of '07.

But until then ...


Sunday, December 30, 2007

There Will Be Blog: THERE WILL BE BLOOD - the review!


- I've reitereated this many times here over the last few months, but I'll say it again: 2007 has been one hell of a year for the movies. And what a way to close out the year - because THERE WILL BE BLOOD is yet another '07 movie that isn't just good, isn't just great, but is an instant-classic that will be discussed, re-watched, and analyzed for years and years to come.

In PT Anderson's latest, we are presented with the story of Daniel Plainview, a man who, when we first meet him, is already well on his way to making a name for himself in the emerging business of oil. As played by Daniel Day Lewis, in a true performance for the ages, Daniel is driven, single-minded, and cold-blooded in his pursuit of success. Going from town to town in the American West, Daniel puts on his best political face and tries to sell the citizens on the great benefits that his oil company setting up shop would bring. Laying the charm on thick, Daniel even uses his admiring nine-year old adopted son, H.W., as yet another weapon in his arsenal - a means of winning over the townsfolk and selling himself as a family man. As the film progresses, however, the facade of Mr. Plainview becomes increasingly exposed - not only is he anything BUT a family man, but Plainview is a man who has become almsot completely detached from the rest of humanity. He's a man nearly incapable of trust, of compassion, of warmth. Slowly but alarmingly, this great entrepeneur of the industrial revolution is becoming a true monster.

And monstrous is exactly what comes to mind when speaking of Daniel Day Lewis in this film. He owns this movie with an iron-clad grip, putting on a performance so powerful, so strong, that it will shake you to your core. This isn't the kind of acting that modern filmgoers are used to - this isn't realism, isn't naturalism. What Lewis does here is instead a complete 180 from most modern film performances - for this is, in all senses of the word, a performance. This is the stuff of Orson Welles and Marlon Brando, of George C. Scott and Charlton Heston and DeNiro and Pacino and Nicholson in their primes. Here, Daniel Day Lewis BECOMES Daniel Plainview, and it is a remarkable and terrifying sight to behold, a true iconic film creation for our time. I don't think there's really any question - hand the man his Best Actor Oscar now, he deserves it. Daniel Day Lewis here reaffirms why he's one of the best.

There are some other very strong performances here as well, but to be honest all are overshadowed by the character of Daniel Plainview and the intensity of Day Lewis. Still, there are several other memorable and striking turns here. Dillon Freasier is pretty haunting as Plainview's doting son, H.W. - perhaps Daniel's one link to humanity, and even this is a fragile link at best, as the movie ultimately reveals. Meanwhile, the part that Paul Dano plays here is certainly one of the film's most controversial aspects, and also one of its most memorable. Dano plays a frontier preacher who in some ways is Plainview's opposite number, yet in some ways his twin. A theatrical prophet who enthralls his congregation with screeching sermons, the character of Eli Sunday is in some ways to the institution of religion as Plainview is to that of industry. Both characters represent the dark side of their respective institutions - they operate under false pretenses, one leading a life of lies and the other a life of greed, both preying on the people who look to them for support. Dano deserves credit for standing out here as he does, but some might say that, even in a movie with such a heightened sense of reality as this one, Dano plays things too over the top. I'm still kind of pondering what I think of the character and of Dano's performance, but I can see how he might have his detractors. Still, without giving away anything ... to me, the film's final confrontation between Eli Sunday and Daniel Plainview - well, it's an epic, hilarious, and terrifying encounter for the ages.

As for Paul Thomas Anderson - he does a masterful job here. What's so interesting is that with There Will Be Blood, PTA has seemingly reinvented himself. Visually, this didn't look anything like Punch Drunk Love or Magnolia. Stylistically, I felt like it had little in common with any of his previous films. And yet, it was the director's best yet, and confirmation that he is up there with the best and brightest filmmakers of this, and maybe of any generation. Here, the direction is sure and confident, mixing iconic closeups of Plainview with picturesque Western landscapes, continuing a visual motif we've seen elsewhere in '07 in the likes of No Country For Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James. But I think what stands out the most is simply the storytelling at play here. The script is simple and yet memorable, and the act structure paints a vivid picture of the life and times of a distictly American monster - the self made man who's made his great fortune at the expense of all else. There is something that's just pretty brilliant about the pacing of this movie - it doesn't load up on unnecessary details - in fact, much is left quite open for interpretation. But you are given what you need to know to paint a portrait of Plainview, and the moments of his life that are presented to us form a fascinating tapestry. And just one more word about the script ... like I said, it can be understated, but man, some of the dialogue here is absolutely brilliant. This is a movie that will be quoted for a long, long time to come ("I drink your milkshake!" "Why don't I own this?" "I hate most people ...").

I also need to make mention of the film's amazing score, by Jonny Greenwood. The sharp tones and constant intensity of the movie's music create an atmosphere of total tension - even moments that might otherwise seem serene end up brimming with intensity thanks to the score, and it's not only a unique approach but a perfect fit. The music isn't just reinforcing what we ARE seeing at a given moment - it's reflecting on what's happened and hinting at what's to come.

This isn't an easy movie to review. I think there's a lot of depth to this story that I'm only beginning to process, and Daniel Day Lewis' performance can be so overpowering that it's at times difficult to focus on the nuances of the plot or of individual scenes. But in terms of nuances, there are many - from the way that Daniel always walks a step ahead of his young son, despite a bad leg, the way that the stories of Daniel and Eli run in parallel, the transformation of H.W. Plainview from innocent young boy to hardened and resentful adult. There Will Be Blood is an epic of great proportions, a great American story to be sure, but the devil is in the details. I'm still digesting it all, but I'm pretty confiedent in saying that this is a monumental film, highlighted by a timeless performance from Daniel Day Lewis, and a true achievement from PT Anderson. This is one to see, drink in, see again, and appreciate.

My Grade: A

Thursday, December 27, 2007

THE BEST OF 2007 - PART 2 - The Year's Best TV

- Looking back, it's quite possible that 2007 will be viewed as a landmark year in the history of television. However, it may be remembered as the year that people finally decided to tune out. The big news, of course, was and still is the Writers' Strike - the full effects of which most likely won't be felt until early '08. There are so many reprecussions here that 2007 may very well end up as the last year that things were, mostly, business as usual in the world of television. Let's examine some possible after-effects of the strike:

- Americans will shut off their TV's and won't come back. The TV industry is kidding itself if it doesn't realize how many other entertainment options there are, right now, for the average person. Sure, may people, older folks in particular, still like to just turn on the tube and go with whatever's on, whether its a football game or a Golden Girls rerun. But for most of us, TV is but one option in a world of media. Videogames are now more mainstream than ever - who cares if there's no new Heroes to watch when you can be a hero while playing 20+ hours worth of Mario Galaxy or Mass Effect?

- The good stuff will still get watched, just not on schedule. More and more, people are filtering out the crap, and finding the shows they really like via TIVO, iTunes, Amazon, online streaming, etc.

- Writers and other creative types will flock to alternative venues. Already, we're seeing some great web shows like Clark and Michael. We're seeing guys like Joss Whedon continue the stories of their TV characters in comic books. We're seeing writers from shows like The Office produce some funny content for YouTube in lieu of creating new TV episodes.

But these are only short-term effects. This strike could lead to the end of the fall premiere season as we know it, a shift in how entertainment corporations program networks vs. cable channels, and a myriad of other changes that are slowly beginning to materialize.

As far as what is going on right NOW in TV ... this past development season was decent, with a few quality new shows coming out, but also a lot of high-profile bombs. As always, the networks saw certain trends and sought to capitalize. The success of HEROES led to a number of shows that I'd put into the category of "extraordinary things happening to ordinary people." - not strictly sci-fi shows, because the new crop of Heroes offshoots were more character driven and looking for a mass audience. After Lost debuted, everyone wanted complex shows with intricate mythologies - this year, it was sci-fi-lite, with lots of shows that had comic book-ish premises but that focused more on romance, soap opera, and character dynamics. It was also the year of the Geek, as a ton of shows focused on longtime losers trying to move on up in the world - from Reaper to Chuck to The Big Bang Theory, there were a ton of geek-centric shows on the air this year, many trying to capture the fun of Hiro of Heroes fame. Finally, we got a lot of rich people behaving badly. I think a show that deals with unlikable characters has to be very savvy in order to remain appealing - whether its having a great sense of self-mocking humor a la Arrested Development, or having a solid entry-point character like Dirty Sexy Money. But - what happens when you take unlikable jerks and just expect us to find them utterly endearing? Well, you get Big Shots - one of the most easy-to-hate shows I've seen in a long while.

Finally - this was a year that a number of beloved fan favorites said their final goodbyes. Early in the year, THE OC capped off a run that had its ups and downs, but gave us some of the most memorable TV characters of the last few years. It was a show that was genuinely buzz-worthy in its first few seasons. As summer approached, two shows with huge fan followings concluded, both on The CW, which has continually struggled to market most of its programming. Yep, it was a sad day when GILMORE GIRLS closed up shop, and an even sadder one when one of my all-time favorites of the last few years, and the show that I've probably endorsed more than any other on the blog - VERONICA MARS - presented its last-ever mystery. As much fun as new shows like CHUCK and PUSHING DAISIES have been thus far, I am still missing that weekly dose of Ms. Mars, and am still a little bit bitter, I'll admit, at the CW for giving it such an unceremonious cancellation.

It was definitely a year of mixed quality, with a few favorites really suffering through creative slumps. Normally, the mighty 24 sits perched atop my year-end list with few other shows to challenge its GRAVITAS-infused dominance. But this year, I can't in good conscience even include the once-untouchable TV titan on my Top 10 list. Sure, a weak season of 24 is still better than most of what else is on TV, but it feels wrong to rank such a flawed year of such a typically great show above other, scrappier shows that came out in '07 and made an impact and brought their A-game.

HEROES was another one that had a much-talked-about slump. Personally, I never thought the show reached the creative heights to have that big a fall, with one or two exceptions. But I admit, I thought the show had drastically improved in the latter half of Season 1, and had high hopes for Season 2. So yeah, like most people, I have been pretty underwhelmed with the season so far. And really, there were only a handful of S1 eps that I considered truly A-level, so it was hard to justify the show making my list. With SMALLVILLE, I was hoping for a bit better quality than the last season or three, and I'll admit I've been pleasantly surprised that the show has raised its game a bit so far this season. But, it's still a far cry from the show that really hit its stride about five years ago now, and while it remains enjoyable, at this point I think only the hardcore fans find it worth watching each week for those little bits of brilliance every now and then.

Also, I definitely was a bit let-down by some shows this year that I had hoped might rebound and find new life. There was no better time to get excited again about THE SIMPSONS than this year, with a new, pretty well-received movie that I thought just might light a spark on this long-dormant sleeping giant of comedy. This season, there've been one or two bright spots (the most recent episode, in which Homer seeks to regain lost memories, was surprisingly well-done), but, for the most part, the Greatest Comedy of All Time has been depressingly mediocre, as has been typical the last, um, several years ... FAMILY GUY did have a bit of a resurgance late this fall, with a string of hilarious episodes (Stewie Kills Lois / Lois kills Stewie being the highlight) after several that were nothing special. It's a shame that the Strike may have derailed what was looking like a true return to form for this show after a few seasons of being merely sub-par. But man, I have nothing but respect for the still-ticking KING OF THE HILL. The show is as good now as it's ever been, and it's just a joy to see the show still going strong and delivering funny episode after funny episode. With this season's death of Cotton Hill, KOTH proved once again why it is one of the greatly underrated comedies on TV, one of the few shows that could handle the touchy subject of death in the family with so much humor and sweetness.

Even as shows like Heroes, 24, and even The Office went through slumps (those hour-long eps that opened S4 were a letdown for sure), some other shows regained their footing, or even improved by leaps and bounds. To me, PRISON BREAK was never more riveting than in the latter half of Season 2, thanks to the infusion of awesomeness that William Fichtner brought to the table. Similarly, many had counted out LOST, and I myself was totally frustrated with the show by the end of Season 2. But to me, S3 of LOST was, largely, a creative triumph, and the season was capped off by a string of classic episodes and one hell of a finale - one of the best, coolest episodes of a drama I've EVER witnessed. And finally, 30 ROCK kicked all kinds of ass in '07. I had a great feeling about the show from the start, but it continually surprises me in that it just keeps getting better and better. Season 2 has simply been phenomenal thus far - each episode has been gut-bustingly hilarious, and each of the leads, from Baldwin to Morgan, have been great. As great as The Office can be, 30 Rock has stepped it up and become the new undisputed king of TV comedy.

As far as new shows go, a few really stand out to me. I'll start with an HBO gem, FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. Watching this hilarious comedy, it's like the first time I saw Ali G or the British Office - it feels completely new and fresh, like nothing I've seen before. Sure, there are elements of everything from The Office to Beavis and Butthead to Tenacious D ... but there's no denying that the deadpan humor and hilarious songs of the Conchords are a brand of comedy that is pretty wholly unique. A bit more traditional is The CW's ALIENS IN AMERICA. But to me, the show blends the quirky-yet-realistic POV of a Malcolm in the Middle with some pretty astute social commentary. PUSHING DAISIES, on the other hand, is like nothing I've seen before, exactly. A Tim Burton movie meets, well, I don't know ... the show is just that unique, and fills my post-Gilmore Girls need for quirky characters and mile-a-minute, lovingly-crafted dialogue. CHUCK started off strong but has since only grown on me - it's a great blend of THE OC's style and humor with more traditional spy shows. And yeah, speaking of The OC, Josh Schwartz's other new show, GOSSIP GIRL, is already as addictive as that show was in its prime, with a similarly intriguing cast of teens who manage to getinto all sorts of entertaining trouble.

- A few quick notes about my Top 10 list: As always, I am only one man, and therefore can't watch everything on TV (though I sometimes feel like I do). I haven't really checked out some of the big cable buzz shows like Mad Men, and I still don't get HBO. So while I have already poured over the Flight of the Conchords Season 1 DVD and swept through all of Extras, I am anxiously awaiting the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm's DVD release in January. And, I haven't been following shows like The Sopranos or Dexter, which are obviously critical and fan favorites. Some day I'll catch up ...

So without further ado, Danny's TOP 10 TV SHOWS OF 2007:

1.) 30 ROCK

- Last year at this time, I would surely not have predicted that 30 Rock would be my top show of 2007. But here we are, and this actually turned out to be a fairly easy choice for me. 30 Rock has just been firing on all cylinders in its sophomore season. Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Tina Fey, and the rest of the superb cast just nails it, and the jokes fly a mile a minute, barely allowing time to recover from laughing at one thing to pay attention to what comes next. But hey, I guess it's only fitting that the best show on TV should so prominently feature an NBC Page! If you need further proof of 30 Rock's greatness, simply find and watch the recent episode "Greenzo" - one of the finest, funniest episodes of TV in recent memory.

2.) LOST

- What really struck me about Lost in '07 was just how focused the show was. It finally felt like we were getting tightly-plotted storyarcs alongside some great one-and-done, standalone episodes, and it felt like said storyarcs had a predetermined and well-thought out beginning, middle, and end. But put all that aside for a moment - Lost in '07 simply kicked ass in so many ways. Crazy eye-patched villains, Desmond becoming unstuck in time (brother), the final fate of Charlie, Locke going rogue, great chemistry between Kate and Sawyer, strong performance all around ... and yeah, the finale was all kinds of awesome, ending on one of the biggest twists ever seen on TV. Rarely, if ever, did a show leave me so primed and ready for the next season to commence.


- This one gets such a high ranking with me because not only is it flat-out hilarious, and endlessly quotable, but like I said above, it is so fresh and different from anything else out there, that's it's been great to simply watch each new episode and delve deeper into the show's wondefully wacky sense of humor. Jermaine and Brett - the next great comedy duo? As soon as I heard "If You're Into It" I knew that these guys were legit - who else could dream up such innocently perverted song lyrics? Flight was surely the best new TV discovery of the year.


- As I've said over the last few years: for sheer pulpy pleasure, nothing matches up to Prison Break. Season 2 spiraled into a chaotic burst of energetic entertainment, as Mahone's insane streak brought him ever closer to tracking down Lincoln and Michael. As Season 2 ramped up the action and intensity with each episode, I found that there was no show I anticipated each week moreso than this one. With Season 3, there's been a lot to like, but the escape from Sona prison has yet to grab me as much as S2's international fugitive plotline. Still, with the craziest cast of characters on TV (T-Bag is surely television's most entertainingly vile villain), Prison Break is still a show that brings it each and every weak.


- I think I may be going against the grain with this pick, but to me, the final season of Gilmore was pretty much great TV from start to finish. Call me a softie, but that final string of episodes were enough to make even this hardened soul feel a bit tingly inside, and it was truly heart-breaking to say goodbye to one of the all-time great shows on television, with one of the most memorable cast of characters ever. Sure, people think of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore when they think of the show, but what I already miss most are all of the zany residents of Stars Hollow and the world of Gilmore - from Paris Geller to Lane and Zack to Kirk - I loved 'em all, and seeing Stars Hollow come together to give their beloved Rory a send-off worthy of their favorite daughter -- well, I don't know if there's ever been a more perfect series finale than this one.


- Seeing the great Kristen Bell on Heroes, well, it almost makes me sad, because it just makes me miss Veronica Mars that much more, and realize that most shows on the air could never hope to match its trademark blend of witty dialogue, film-noir stylings, teen angst, and intricate mysteries. Now it's true, VM did falter a bit throughout Season 3 ... but more often than not, this show was week in and week out one of TV's best, even if that remixed theme song was a pale shadow of the original version ... But I digress, Veronica Mars is one of those shows that people will talk about and remember for a LONG time to come. The truth is, it may have been too smart, too cool, too good for TV, and that is what's truly a shame. The fact that starry-eyed fanboys will forever dream of the Veronica-as-FBI-trainee Season 4 that never was speaks volumes about how damn endearing this show was.


- The best new network show of the year, it felt like everyone loved the show's pilot, yet still doubted its ability to sustain itself over the course of a season. Well, I think the show has done a fabulous job of defying the skeptics. Week in and week out, Daisies has been of the utmost quality, with the same kind of witty writing, fantastical style, and storybook appeal that made the pilot such a standout. Lee Pace and Anna Friel are magic as the two leads, and Chi McBride and Kristen Chenoweth have only gotten better each week. I can only hope that we have many more years of Pushing Daisies to look forward to.


- Yes, The Office stumbled early this season with its string of hour-long episodes that felt dragged out and bloated. But those episodes were the exception to the rule - for most of '07, The Office was aces, building on its own momentum and doing a great job of fleshing out its large supporting cast. Ed Helms as Andy, for example? Just one more go-to source for hilarity that the show can take advantage of. The show had really handled the burgeoning Pam and Jim romance well, and done hilarious things with Dwight-Angela and Michael-Jan. And there's no denying that the last several episodes have all been near-classic. The last new ep so far this season - The Deposition - was a pretty brilliant deconstruction of Michael Scott, for example. 30 Rock may be king right now, but I don't think The Office will relinquish its crown without a fight.


- As always, KOTH is the one true bedrock in FOX's Sunday night lineup. While Family Guy and The Simpsons vary wildly in quality from week to week, you always know what you're going to get from KOTH - just the way Hank Hill would like it. That's not to say that the show is in a rut, far from it. In its own understated way, KOTH manages to be one of the msot subtley funny and yet genuinely affecting comedies in TV history. I loved last season's wedding of Luanne and Lucky, and I was equally in admiration of this season's death of Cotton episode. I don't know if any other show is so consistent with its characters or themes - they may be cartoons, but I feel like I know Hank, Bobby, Dale, and the rest as people, and it's always a great pleasure to drop in on their lives. Here's to more great King of the Hill to come.

10.) CHUCK

- My other favorite new network show of the season, I've really come to have a soft spot for Chuck. The show has a great comedic voice, and more so than a Reaper or Big Bang Theory, I watch Chuck and really feel like I'm watching a love letter to all things geek. What other show could so seamlessly mix in references to Zork, Dune, or Call of Duty? And what other show features Adam Baldwin kicking ass and delivering self-referential one-liners in the way that only Adam Baldwin can? Chuck is a lot of fun, and I love how it is so genre-bending - it's not afraid to do slapstick comedy, have an intricately-choreographed fight scene, or get a little soapy, OC-style. This is another show that I really want to see thrive and prosper - so watch Chuck and ensure that we have many more adventures featuring Chuck, Morgan, Sarah, Casey, and yes ... Captain Awesome, for many more seasons.

Honorable Mention #1 - ALIENS IN AMERICA

- The next two picks didn't quite make the cut for the Top 10, but I felt they were worthy of special mention. Aliens in America is the best new sitcom of the year - it features some great characters and some genuinely smart episodes that often have really funny premises. I love the character of Raja - he's goofy and funny, but not a total cartoon either. And Justin is a great TV teen - with an outsider's sensibility that makes me think he'd get along well with the kids on Freaks And Geeks. If you like good comedy, you need to check this one out.

Honorable Mention #2 - GOSSIP GIRL

- Gossip Girl could have been a typically lame WB-style teen soap, but it really is a great show thansk to smart writing that produces a number of quotable lines each week, and makes its great-to-be-bad characters like Blair and Chuck that much more fun to watch. It's too early to tell exactly how good this show will or can be, but it has that rare quality that makes it a must-see - with storylines that generate buzz and characters that make you appreciate the fact that you're NOT a spoiled upper East side rich kid - because man, it ain't, apparently, as fun as you thought.

Special Mention #1 - EXTRAS

- Because Extras is a British import, and timing-wise it's a bit nebulous as to when, "officially," some of the episodes / season actually aired, I wasn't quite sure where to put it on my list. Adding to my uncertainty is the face that I feel like so much of my ultimate opinion of the show may end up being affected by the concluding Special, which I have yet to see. With THE OFFICE (UK), the Christmas Special helped, in my view, solidify the show as an all-time classic, and I could see something similar happening with Ricky Gervais' latest. As it stands, Extras was one of the best things I watched in 2007 - Gervais as always has a brilliant ability to meld comedy and satire with a surprising sense of dramatic weight. More than anyone else, Gervais somehow imbues his small little comedies with this epic sense of importance and scale. In Extras, the story of Andy Millman takes on an almost mythic importance, and that's partly why its conclusion will mean so much to the series. But in terms of sheer comedy, Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and the great Ashley Jensen are pure gold. I was very happy to see Gervais take home an Emmy for his work here, and, while I can't quite put it at the same level of The Office, Extras to me is a worthy followup, and another bloody good bit of comedic goodness from Ricky Gervais.


- Yikes, it's hard to say if there will even BE any new episodes of most of our favorite shows in the new year. Already, it looks like 24 may be delayed until '09, which is a true shame as I was chomping at the bit to see a hopefully-revitalized 24 featuring a back-from-the-dead Tony Almeda wreaking unholy vengeance on Jack f'n Bauer. At least we know LOST is back in only a matter of weeks, but unless the strike gets resolves soon, it will be a woefully cut-short season. In a way, it's liberating to know that the new year will have less TV with which to get caught up in, but at the same time, it's frustrating to think how much quality stuff is now not going to make it to our living rooms anytime soon.

- LOST: Like everyone else, I'm still reeling from last season's killer cliffhanger, and dyin' to know what happens next. With only a finite number of eps left before all is said and done, I can't wait to see the buildup to the endgame.

- 24: Man, it may not come until '09, but who among us 24 faithful is not pumped to see the Soul-Patched one return, and as a potential villain no less? I have a good feeling about this season - Jack Bauer, Tony Almeda, Kurtwood Smith? Hells yeah, it's on like Donkey Kong. Please let us get some much-needed gravitas in '08!

- FAMILY GUY: Right before the strike, the once-great show seemed to be returning to its Season 1 form. Could it be so? Let's hope we get a chance to find out ...

- FUTURAMA: I haven't gotten a chance to watch Bender's Big Score on DVD yet, but I've heard excellent things, and I cannot wait for more Futurama in '08, whether it's on DVD, Comedy Central, whatever. One of the most underrated shows on the air in its day, more of this modern day classic can never be a bad thing.

- FRINGE: Little is known about this new project from JJ Abrams, except that it supposedly takes a few cues from one of my all-time favorite shows, The X-Files. From the buzz I've heard, this will definitely be one to watch for. And seeing as how it's one of the few high-profile drama scripts already completed, it may be one of the ONLY new TV blockbusters in '08.

- THE MIGHTY BOOSH: I loved what little I saw of this ridiculously quirky British show whilst in London in November, and it's my left-field pick to become a cult-fave in The States. I mean - surrealist tales of rock-star adventures, shamans, and giant apes? What's not to like? Could Boosh-mania hit the US in '08?

- THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES: I was pretty keen on the show's pilot, which I saw over the summer. It had some great action, and seemed to really tie-in well to the already established Terminator mythology. Summer Glau could be a real breakout as the teen-girl Terminator starting to discover her human side. This one definitely has potential, and could be the go-to source for slam-bang action in the absence of 24 or Prison Break come January.

- MISS/GUIDED - I don't know if this one will even make it to air, but in the absence of other new material, I can see ABC giving it a shot. It's a comedy starring Judy Greer (Arrested Development), who is really funny and made the pilot a lot of fun when I saw it originally. I thought the premise, about a once-nerdy girl going back to her old high school to be a guidance counsellor, might prove tiresome, but there seemed to be a ton of potential here.

- THE STATE ...? - Rumor is there may be a STATE special of some kind in the works for Comedy Central. If that's the case, well, I STILL demand that THE STATE be released on DVD, but, it would be awesome to have all-new State material on the tube as well.

So that's what I thought of '07 and what I'm looking out for in '08. Of course, the reality is that there will be a lot, of, well, reality. Ahhhh ... well, bring on American Gladiators, brother, because it's going to be a lot of top models and fat losers and eligible bachelors from here on out. So will people tune out en masse? Will we all be watching TV on the internet? Or will we all decide that playing some movie quiz on Facebook is way better than some stupid TV show anyways? Hmm, maybe someone should make a TV show about people who make quizzes on Facebook - then we could start a Facebook group about how much we hate it! Yes folks, it's a brave new world out there. See you on the flipside.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

THE BEST OF 2007 - Part 1 - The Year in MUSIC and COMICS.

Ahhhhh ... back at work. Well, that 4-day weekend sure came and went quickly, but at least I was able to have a few days of quality R & R time. I saw some good flicks (reviewed here on the blog in my previous post - WALK HARD and SWEENEY TODD), played ROCK BAND for the first time thanks to gaming guru Dan K (I even sang a few bars of ENTER SANDMAN in my best James Hetfield voice), cleaned up the apartment a bit, caught some NBA games, etc. Nothing too crazy, but some much needed down-time to be sure.

In any case, it's about that time of year when things are really winding down, and the list-makers unveil all of their top picks in the worlds of movies, TV, etc. Personally, I love year-end lists, though there's no question they've become a bit too prevalent of late. Everyone has their own these days, and it's hard to find many good ones that truly seem definitive. Inevitably, you get lists, like the ones from EW critics Owen Glieberman and Lisa Schwartzbaum, that highlight films that were only ever even seen at festivals this year ... and it begs the question - if these movies were so great, then why didn't the magazine cover them in the first place until now? That's the beauty of a blog; if I see a limited-release movie that I think is worthy of a ton of praise, then I will do what I can to spread the word, then and there, via the blog. I mean, I think I've raved about THE KING OF KONG enough times here that, when it inevitably charts high on my Best of '07 list, it should come as no big surprise to regular readers.

Now, I am going to hold off for a few days on my MOVIES Best Of list, mainly because I want to see THERE WILL BE BLOOD before putting out my definitive list. There are a few others I want to check out as well, like Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, but I realize I'm but one man and can only see so many movies in a year ... Still, the huge buzz for Blood makes me realize that if it turns out as good as some others have said, my end-of-year list might be very incomplete without it.

As far as TV goes ... my Best of '07 list is pretty set in my mind. The main twist is that I've finally gotten around to finishing up my FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS Season 1 DVD, and I'm realizing more and more just how hilarious that show is ... don't be surprised to see it turn up pretty high up on my list.

But anyways, on to the subject at hand ...

THE BEST in MUSIC - 2007:

- As has been the case these last few years, it's getting harder and harder to stay on top of the music scene because the whole thing is just so fragmented. Unless you are constantly and proactively seeking out the latest and greatest, it's not easy to find out what's up and comin' on TV (flipping over to MTV to catch the latest cool videos is now a total thing of the past, sadly), on the radio (I'm lucky to live in one of the few major markets that still has a modern rock station - but even KROQ here in LA tends to get pretty repetitive), etc. It's funny though - music finds a way to push through to the mainstream. Look at video games like GUITAR HERO and ROCK BAND - a few years ago, the game makers were practically begging record labels to use their songs in the game, and early versions of GH were heavy on poor-man's cover versions of popular songs. Now though, the tables have turned -- the record labels are coming around and realizing that in this day and age, there is practically NO BETTER way to get exposure for new bands or old favorites than to have a song playable on Guitar Hero or Rock Band. As a classic rock afficianado, I needed no introduction to the likes of Metallica, Rush, Cheap Trick, Kiss, etc. But I know that I've come to know and love several cool songs via Guitar Hero - bands like Wolfmother, for example, that I only had a passing familiarity with before, I'm now a bonafide fan of after having so much fun strumming along to "Woman" on GH2.

But while the fact that a new generation of kids is being turned on to rock thanks to games like GH is a bright spot for music, let's not kid ourselves - the industry is still hurting, and hurting bad. The MTV Video Music Awards this year were a sign of things truly hitting rock bottom. The fact that a freakshow like Britney Spears got to stumble her way around the stage at the expense of up and coming hungry bands was just tragic, and the awards themeselves were like a giant ad for everything wrong with music today. When even MTV posterchild Justin Timberlake is telling you to play more music, well, you might have a problem. Compound this with plummeting album sales, and it's looking more and more like the music industry is dead in the water.

So what's the solution? Personally, I think the record labels and vendors need to reexamine the good ol' CD. Wasn't the whole problem that CDs were deemed too expensive as compared to the attractiveness of a la carte, 99 cent downloads? So why am I still going to Best Buy and seeing CD's upwards of $15? CD's should be between $5 and $10, period. If that were the case, I think there could be a resurgance of sales. But of course, that's only one problem among many. Artists are simply lacking promotion - for all we know the next Led Zeppelin might be out there, with their own MySpace page, but no real means to get to that next level. Remember the 90's when great musicians were ALSO mainstream musicians? Bands like Nirvana, REM, Pearl Jam, and STP? We need to get back to that era of great bands getting great promotion and mainstream exposure - if it's not through MTV or rock radio, it has to come from somewhere ... maybe it's time for record labels to finally and fully embrace forums like MySpace and Facebook, and let users stream full albums or at least selected tracks.

As far as new music of '07 goes, this was definitely a big year for reunions. The one big one that actually resulted in a new album was THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, who had some pretty solid stuff with their latest songs, even if it didn't quite match up to the classic Pumpkins that we know and love. In the meantime, there's no new material from these guys as of yet, but it was still pretty cool that in a number of cases, the band got back together. Phil Collins and Genesis, David Lee Roth and Van Halen, Sting and the Police, and the mothership of all reunions, which please lord was not a one-time only event, LED ZEPPELLIN, who reunited for one show in London that was, reportedly, pretty freaking awesome.

But back to new music, I heard a lot of cool stuff this year in terms of modern rock. Some random favorites:

- An abundance of cool new bands featuring kickass female vocalists. My favorite of the bunch was probably FLYLEAF, who had a great single in "All Around Me."

- A great new album from one of the best bands of the 00's - THE WHITE STRIPES. These guys continue to impress, and "Icky Thump" was another rock n' roll beast.

- I know a lot of people don't like them, and at times they haven't been my favorite, but I have to admit that few bands do unfiltered aggression like LINKIN PARK. Their latest batch of tunes had some great pump-up songs, so call it a guilty pleasure, but I continue to enjoy the band (and btw, I noticed that even Rolling Stone listed the latest from LP amongst their year's best, so I guess I'm not alone on this one ...).

- Speaking of guilty pleasures - don't deny it - at some point this summer, you probably rocked out a little to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend." Yeah yeah, I get a lot of flack for it, but who can resist the sugar-coated pop-punk catchiness of Ms. Lavigne's musical stylings? Speaking of which, some other favorite candy-coated pop treats this year included the ubiquitous "Umbrella" by Rihanna, "The Way I Are" by Timbaland, and some great, catchy tunes from one of the year's standout debuts, Lilly Allen.

-On the comedy front, this was a great year for music that brought the funny. In large part, that was thanks to the brilliant guys of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS, who pepper each episode of their HBO series with original songs that are typically flat-out hilarious. Few things made me laugh harder this year than the Conchords tune "If You're Into It." Or what about "Most Beautiful Girl in the Room." Classic. Also, we just this week were treated to a movie, WALK HARD, that was rife with spot-on musical parodies, from a hilarious riff on Dylan to a legit catchy, Johnny Cash-esque song in "Walk Hard." Finally, one of the best TV shows of the year, 30 ROCK, has been great at coming up with some classic spoof songs. Listen to the hilarity of "Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah" and see for yourself.

- Okay, so now let me talk briefly about what, to me, was far and way the ALBUM OF THE YEAR of 2007. To preface - this is a time when, politically, well, it's a time like the 60's where you almost want and expect the music to reflect that the times they are a-changin'. And no, I'm not sure if Pink's subtle-as-brick-to-the-head "Dear Mr. President" falls into the category of good, politically-charged music. But one band this year stepped up and made an album that subtley and beautifully captured a certain zeitgeist. Lyrically, I haven't been able to stop thinking about songs like "No Cars Go" or "Intervention." Musically, I don't know if I've ever heard anything that combines such an eclectic mix of instruments and vocals to produce such an interesting and haunting sound. The band I'm talking about, of course, is ARCADE FIRE, and the album is Neon Bible - which takes my award for Album of the Year 2007, far and away. Now, strictly speaking this isn't the kind of rock n' roll I tend to favor, but to me true rock is anything that is powerful and aggressive enough to really move ya', and in that respect NEON BIBLE fits the bill, 100%. As they say in "No Cars Go," this is one of those rare albums and collections of music that manifests "between the click of the light and the start of the dream." Check it out if you haven't already.

- On another note, it was a great year for me in terms of seeing a bunch of awesome concerts here in LA. You can find more detailed recaps elsewhere on the blog, but some of the highlights included: seeing POISON at Gibson Ampitheater (Ratt was also there, but whatever ...), the SCORPIONS, also at Universal, checking out a rocktacular triple bill of STYX, FOREIGNER, and DEF LEPPARD in the OC, and finally, seeing VAN HALEN return to their rock n' roll glory at Staples. From seeing an entire ampitheater pumping their fists in time to the beat of "Jukebox Hero," to hearing "Come Sail Away" live and in person, to rockin' out to the "Unskinny Bop," to getting ROCKED LIKE A HURRICANE, to seeing the real-life guitar hero that is Eddie Van Halen kick seven kinds of ass whilst channeling the thunder of the gods into his axe ... well, it was a great year for concerts! On my wish-list for '08 -- AC/DC, Metallica, and man, wouldn't it be great if I could GET THE LED OUT up close and personal, just one time?

So that about wraps things up in terms of music in '07. All I can hope for is that '08 is a year that rocks harder than any to date.

THE BEST in COMICS - 2007:

- In the mighty world of comics, this was definitely what one might call a bit of a rough year in some respects. As a DC fan to the core, it was tough to see so many key books struggle with lateness and just overall poor quality following the conclusion of last year's big event in the world of DC - 52. Across the line, DC was forced to delay storylines, use fill-in writers and artists, and even had to resort to using Annuals to publish the conclusions to long-delayed and much hyped runs on a number of big-name books. Meanwhile, after the critical and commercial success of 52, DC has followed it up with the completely underwhelming Countdown, a new weekly series that was supposed to have been the spine of the DC Universe. Countdown carried with it the big-name hype of Paul Dini, who has earned fans' respect for his groundbreaking work on Batman: The Animated Series and a number of highly-regarded comic projects, like Batman: Mad Love. But from the get-go, Countdown has been mediocre at best, flat-out awful at worst. The pacing quickly slowed to a total crawl, and most of the characters started out as unlikable, and have since done little to win the hearts of fans.

Worse, DC has gone completely overboard on the tie-ins, with comic shop stands littered with all manner of Countdown-labeled books. While some, like Countdown to Adventure and Countdown to Mystery, have been pretty good reads, they would certainly have benefitted from not being saddled with lame backup stories that try to tie the books more directly into the Countdown storyline. But even with the bright spots, it saddens me to say that most of the books tying into Countdown have been either nothing special or just out and out disappointments, and many reek of desperate attempts to suck away consumers' cash.

On another sour note, a number of books that were once dependable monthly reads have lost key creative team members and have yet to find their footing. While I have nothing against guys like Sean McKeever and Tony Bedard and Adam Beechen, their names simply cropped up wayyy too many times this year on random DC books, and it's hard to believe that each is doing their best work when they're seemingly handling 8 books a month each. It doesn't help that all 3 guys are part of the mess that is Countdown - a book that's been plagued by sloppy writing and pacing. But man, books like TEEN TITANS and BIRDS OF PREY, which were always great reads under the guidance of Geoff Johns and Gail Simone respectively, soon became very uneven after their longtime creators departed, both suffering from long delays between one regular writer's departure and the start of another's tenure.

Bottom line: there were too many random fill-ins this year on come of comicdom's biggest books, and not enough great, consistent runs.

And with so many DC books falling under the umbrella of Countdown, it was hard to find those little gems that make for great reading each and every month. One such book from DC was Will Pfeifer and David Lopez on CATWOMAN. Forget what you know of the character and forget that godawful Hallie Berry movie - Pfeifer is doing an awesome job making this a sweet character driven book with a ton of great twists and turns. The writing team of Palmiotti and Gray continues to make JONAH HEX into a consistently fun read, turning out slick, one-and-done pulp Western adventures each and every month. And Peter David still impresses me every month with his work on FALLEN ANGEL from IDW Press - a solidly atmospheric book that is always one of those great read-before-going-to-sleep titles.

While some big name creators failed to live up to the hype this year, others had some of their best years ever. Grant Morrison's run on BATMAN thus far has been a mixed bag, with some great standalone stories, but a semi-lame attempt at a big-event storyline in "the Return of Ra's Al Ghul," which overlapped with Detective, Robin, and Nightwing. (On the other hand, Morrison's stuff on ALL-STAR SUPERMAN is absolutely phenomenal). Now, Paul Dini's run on DETECTIVE COMICS has been spectacular at times ... when it actually comes out. It's too bad that Dini's stories only come out sporadically, because he and artist Don Kramer have done some awesome Batman stories so far. Over on SUPERMAN, Kurt Busiek had moments of greatness, but his work has been plagued by forced Countdown tie-ins and artistic delays by the likes of Carlos Pacheco - and his big storynes (Camelot Falls, anyone?) seemed to drag and drag and drag. But, over on ACTION COMICS, Geoff Johns seems to finally be hitting his stride after a few so-so initial storyarcs (including his much-hyped run with Richard Donner) - his latest pairing with artist Gary Frank seems to be just what the doctor ordered, and Action looks to be huge in 2008.

In sum, this was a year in comics where a lot of crap took up shelf space, but there were some really bright spots, some material that may eventually rank amongst some of the greatest comics stories ever told.

I think any fanboy worth his salt will tell you that the Geoff Johns-penned GREEN LANTERN: SINESTRO CORPS WAR was not only the best superhero storyline of the year, but one of the coolest, most exciting storylines we've seen in mainstream comics in YEARS. It didn't hurt that the artwork, from Ethan Van Sciver and Ivan Reiss, was holy $#%#, off-the-chain awesome. And it's already a well-worn cliche how the relatively underhyped-at-the-time Sinestro Corps went on to become the smash hit of '07, while another big event, the godawful AMAZONS ATTACK, totally bombed. Man, I don't know what happened on that one, but it was hard to believe it was written by the same Will Pfeifer who's been so great on books like HERO and CATWOMAN. In any case, Johns has been on a real roll this year. Sinestro Corps was awesome, as was the finale of 52, but the guy has also done bang-up work on JSA (though I'm still kind of waiting for the new series to recapture some of the magic of Johns' first run), BOOSTER GOLD, and it looks like he's finally starting to hit his stride on ACTION COMICS as well. This was definitely one of Geoff Johns' most creatively successful years to date.

Gail Simone is sometimes hit or miss with me, but I thoroughly enjoyed her long and celebrated run on BIRDS OF PREY, and she went out in style, with some great final storyarcs and one hell of a last issue - very sad to see her leave a book she helped make one of DC's best for years on end, keeping the momentum going following Chuck Dixon's long run. One other guy who just continues to impress as a writer is BRIAN K. VAUGHAN. It's been sad to see one of the best comics ever, Y: THE LAST MAN, wind down, but it helps to know that Vaughan is still kicking ass monthly with the amazing EX MACHINA. Another of my all-time faves, FABLES, is still going strong as well, and its spinoff book, JACK OF FABLES, has quietly emerged as a superb read in in its own right. And man ... I've been scooping up every collection I can find of the gloriously gory THE WALKING DEAD - one of the most riveting reads in comics.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the BEST COMICS OF 'O7:


- ALL STAR SUPERMAN - With each new issue of All Star, writer Grant Morrison is not just penning a *great* issue of a comic book, he's delivering an instant-classic. All Star continually amazes me with its mix of Silver Age style and quirkiness with modern depth. Morrison is simply telling stories that represent all of the awe, mystery, wonder, and fun that a character like Superman should be about. The art by Frank Quietly is astounding - the amount of detail and character in each panel, the way the art flows along the page - well, it doesn't feel like any comic I've ever read before. In '07, All Star really, I believe, hit its stride, and each new issue was a total treasure to be read and savored.

Runners Up:

- GREEN LANTERN - Geoff Johns and Ivan Reiss did a spectacular job bringing a sense of true epic storytelling to this title, crafting a blockbuster for the ages in the Sinestro Corps War, and giving the GL mythos its own Star Wars trilogy of sorts, in terms of scope and sheer fun-factor. The art from Reiss was consistently spectacular.

- FABLES - Bill Willingham is just a machine on Fables, churning out one great story after another, each building on the last and yet standing on its own as a captivating tale. This year, "The Good Prince" was Fables at its best - a sprawling story both whimsical and epic, with always-awesome artwork by the great Mark Buckingham.

- EX MACHINA - Brian K. Vaughan delivered a ton of great politically-charged tales this year, in his ongoing series about a superpowered Mayor of New York City. BKV's wit, combined with the superb art of Tony Harris, makes Ex Machina one of the best books out there month in and month out.


- JLA / HITMAN - There's a reason why Garth Ennis is one of the best writers that the comics biz has ever seen, and he reminded everyone of his storytelling skills and gift for black humor with this blast-from-the-past mini, that saw the return of one of Ennis' cult-fave creations - the tough-as-nails vigilante known as Hitman. In this lost tale, that told of Hitman's brief time as a member of the straight-and-narrow Justice League, we got a hilarious, but oddly moving tale of mixed-up, real-world morality and how it contrasts with the black and white worlds of Superman and Batman. To me, JLA / Hitman was a classic, full of the kind of crackling dialogue that Ennis is known for, a ton of memorable moments, and some truly hilarious humor. Overall, one of the best stories DC has published in a long while.


- BLACK ADAM: THE DARK AGE - One of the best minis to spin out of 52, Black Adam has been an awesome read thus far, thanks to writer Peter Tomasi, who makes Teth Adam into one evil badass, all the while making us root for him on his quest ot ressurect his slain wife Isis. The gritty art from Doug Mahnke perfectly suits the book's grizzly tone, and I can't wait to read next month's conclusion.


- BOOSTER GOLD - Geoff Johns showed that Infinite Crisis and 52 weren't simply about systematically killing all of DC's most beloved characters, as one of the fan-favorites from the JLI days got his own series in '07, and it's been, to me, the best and most refreshing new book of the year. It's got action, adventure, and humor - and one of the most appealing lead characters in Booster, a hero who would once do anything for a buck, but is now the greatest hero the world will never know, turning over a new altruistic leaf as he helps prevent trouble in the timestream. With the latest ish of BG, Johns and co. took a turn for the dramatic, in a moving tale of how certain tragedies cannot be magically repaired by tampering with time. Great stuff, and it's also really cool to see Dan Jurgens, the creator of BG, doing great stuff on pencils.


- GREEN LANTERN: THE SINESTRO CORPS WAR - High adventure, vile villains, a legion of intergalactic heroes facing insurmountable odds, and more eye-bugging cliffhangers than you could shake a stick at (the ending of the kickoff special, with an alliance of ultimate badasses - Sinestro! Suberboy Prime! Cyborg Superman! The Anti-Monitor! - poised to destroy the GL Corps, was truly one of the year's most memorable comic book moments). These were just some of the elements that made this one of the coolest storylines in years, one of those rare blockbuster tales where you simply can't wait to tear into the next chapter. Geoff Johns tossed so many crazy ideas into this one, and his team of artists blew me away with their insane pencils. This is the kind of kickass epic that makes people in Hollywood jealous, because no movie, no matter how big the budget, could ever hope to tell an action epic on this grand of a scale.


- GREEN LANTERN #25 - An amazing, climactic ending to the Sinestro Corps war, this extra-sized ish blew fandom's collective minds, not only with the way it wrapped up the ongoing story in epic fashion, but with the tantalizing clues towards future GL plotlines that it teased, promising even more GL goodness to come in '08 and '09. Almost too much to take-in in a single read, this issue was what great comics are all about.


- 52 #52


- THE WALKING DEAD - When I get a new collection of The Walking Dead, I tend to blow through it cover to cover as quickly as I can. You just can't put 'em down, because each page of this post-apocalyptic zombie epic might contain the next shocking cliffhanger or huge holy $#$@ moment. The genious of writer Robert Kirkman is that he creates characters you care about, and when one of them does ineveitably bite it (or get bitten by it, more accurately), it's truly heart-wrenching. Great, great series and highly recommended, even if you're not a zombie or horror fan - I know I wasn't, really, but now I'm totally hooked on The Walking Dead - it's just that good!.


- CATWOMAN - Will Pfeifer has done a great job bringing Selina Kyle to life. This book really COULD have taken some disasterous turns in the wrong hands, too, as the decision to have Selina give birth following last year's One Year Later jump was a storyline questioned by many fans. But Will did a great job of using the story to have Selina evolve as a character, and it all culminated in the heartwrenching #72, where things took yet another unexpected twist. Check this one out if you haven't - a great read.


- JACK OF FABLES - At first, I didn't quite warm to this FABLES spin-off - it seemed a bit extraneous and took a while to find its groove,after an opening arc that didn't quite grab me. But I'm glad I stuck with it, because Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges have really found their footing of late, and now I eagerly await each new issue of JACK - it's funny, full of adventure, and features cool stories that feel a bit more subversive and darkly humorous than the typical Fables yarn (one of my favorites - the one-shot tale of how Jack briefly became Jack Pumpkinhead).


- GEOFF JOHNS - You get the hint by now - this was the year of Johns. The man was everywhere, revitalizing old heroes and villains, delivering stories that lived up to the hype (mostly - can anyone say Christopher Kent?!?!), and creating genuine buzz amongst comic fans. Johns was a key part of 52, which finished in exciting fashion last summer. The maestro behind the storyline of the year in Sinestro Corps. The guy who made JSA consistently great, and who launched the best new book of the year in Booster Gold. Johns has a sense for the epic like few others do, but he still places a premium on character, which is what makes those epics so memorable. Johns is one of those guys who sometimes seems to be trying to do too much with one storyline, or overexerting himself by tackling too many projects at once. But when he's on his game, as he's been on Flash, on JSA, and was this year on GL ... he's the best in the biz.


- BRIAN K. VAUGHAN - Vaughan continued to solidify Y: The Last Man as one of the all-time great comics, with a number of iconic moments in '07, as the series headed towards its soon-to-be-released final issue. Meanwhile, Ex Machina is written with a sophistication and flair that outdoes most big name TV series, mixing politics, social commentary, and intrigue in a brilliant montly read. Plus, he was a staff writer on LOST, which churned out a number of uber-cool eps this season. The guy can do it all.

- ED BRUBAKER - I only occasionally venture into the world of Marvel, but I couldn't ignore the sheer quality that one of my favorite writers was bringing each and every month to Capatain America. I mean, the guy killed Cap, for god's sake, but he did so with style and grace, and the buildup and followup was superb, and the book is still going strong months after the title's titular hero was offed. Once again, Bru proved to be amongst the best in the biz - bringing a maturity and depth to seemingly cartoony characters like few others can.


- IVAN REISS and ETHAN VAN SCIVER - What these two did on Green Lantern this year was truly remarkable, and I think they raised the bar for comic book art to some degree. In the course of Sinestro Corps War, these two delivered full-size, double page spreads that sent chills up and down my spine as I gazed at them. They delivered action scenes consisting of hundreds of Corps members duking it out on alien planets. they made every hero as heroic as possible, every villain as evil and menacing as can be, and yet, the little character moments were never overlooked either. Without the spectacular art, there's no way GL would have been as great as it was this year. And I give a ton of credit to Reiss - he stepped up his game and was churning out some of the most kickass pages imaginable on a monthly basis, which few artists of that caliber can claim.


- DALE EAGLESHAM - Dale's classical style was a perfect fit for JSA, where he's now getting a lot of mainstream accolades, and rightly so. The guy can flat out draw, and he has a dynamism that's awesome to behold, mixed with a smoothness and clarity that makes his art quite easy on the eyes. I've been a fan for a long while now, but Eaglesham simply continues to impress.

- FRANK QUIETLY - With each issue of All Star Superman, Quietly just impresses more and more. His somewhat oddball style is a perfect fit for Grant Morrison's far-out storylines, but the sheer flow and motion inherent in each page of All Star is really amazing to just study and stare at. Quietly again proves why he's among the best out there, with his work on Superman making him a true all-star of the biz.


- GREG PAK - The other big event that got me to jump over to the Marvel side of things this year was the mostly well-done WORLD WAR HULK, and a lot of my enthusiasm for the story was because of the way writer Greg Pak crafted a balls-to-the-wall action epic filled with great one-liners and fun set-pieces that would make Spielberg jealous. I wasn't crazy about the ending of the mini, but still, Pak is now definitely on my radar, and it was cool to see him step up and deliver on WWH, making it one of the year's coolest events.


- SHANE DAVIS - I was so-so on the Jim Starlin-penned MYSTERY IN SPACE, but I stuck with it to the end in large part because of the awesome pencils of Shane Davis, who seemed to be channeling Jim Lee with the sheer cool-factor of his art. Everything I've seen from this guy has looked great, and the arc that he just began on Superman / Batman looks to feature even more killer art from Davis.


- 300 - No question on this one, 300 owned '07 when it came to comics at the movies. Not that the competition was especially strong (Fantastic 4 and Ghost Rider and Spiderman 3 and 30 Days of Night - need I say more ...? Okay, well there was STARDUST, but still ...). But 300 showed again that when you get a guy like Zack Snyder, who treats the source material with respect and actively seeks the input of creators like Frank Miller, you're going to get a film that lives up to comics fans' expectations and then some. 300 had great action, over-the-top drama, a cool and highly stylized look that evoked the art of Frank Miller ... what more do you want? THIS. IS. SPARRRRTA.


- ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN - Some love it, some hate it. Me, well, as crazy as this book is, I have been enjoying the hell out of it, as it's gotta be one of the craziest, dirtiest, and most insane superhero books ever written. It's like Frank Miller wasn't quite sure what he wanted this book to be. So he wrote issue #1 and realized it was pretty over the top, with the now infamous scene where Batman refers to himself as "the god-damned Batman!". So basically, Miller just went with it - and now it's like he feels the need to outdo himself with each new issue, with each month's story and dialogue more outrageous than the last. Oh, where to begin ... how about Batman and Black Canary getting down n' dirty after fighting the crime, with Batman insisting that they "leave the masks on." How about the sadomasochistic relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman, or the fact that Batman apparently hates the crap out of Green Lantern? As crazy as Miller's latest take on the Dark Knight is, the art by the legendary Jim Lee is as badass as you could hope for. So all in all, one of 07's most controversial books is, luckily, also one of its most entertaining - I mean, who ever thought that a Batman comic in 2007 could be laugh-out loud funny?

Anyways, that's the year in comics for ya'. The great news is that '08 looks to be amazing for geeks everywhere. At the movies we've got surefire blockbusters like THE DARK KNIGHT and IRON MAN, and in the comics world there are some huge events brewing, like DC's much-hyped FINAL CRISIS, for one, plus more Johns on GL and Booster and Action, more Fables and Walking Dead and Ex Machina, Chuck Dixon back on Robin, Tomasi on Nightwing, the grand finale of Y: The Last Man, maybe that long-rumored PREACHER TV show, and plenty of other crazy stuff that I haven't even imagined yet! There's more than enough good stuff, however, to rest assured that '07 was the year that the geek did inherit the earth. Don't fight it, cuz you know it's true.

Whew! I'm tapped. Leave a comment and let me know what you think, and I'll be back at ya' soon for year's the best in TV. Until then, rock on.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gettin' Musical with WALK HARD and SWEENEY TODD~! A grand guignol of bloody good blogging!

Oh man, the great movies just keep a-comin'. Like I said in my last post, '07 really has been an embarrassment of riches for film fans. In terms of comedies alone, it's been a standout year. Even if you limit yourself to Judd Apatow comedies, there've been two great ones in Knocked Up and Superbad. Well ... add a third to the list -- Walk Hard might just be better (and funnier) than both of 'em. And, 2007 is now notable for another reas0n - it's the year that Tim Burton got hsi groove back, with a total return to form in the form of Sweeney Todd - which may be one of the goth director's all-time best, reestablishing Burton and co as the reigning cinematic masters of the macabre. Anyways, on with the reviews ...


- So, as I write this, Walk Hard is in the process of bombing at the box office, which is truly a shame. I think that the marketing was probably a little off on this one, maybe not 100% conveying the tone and humor of the movie. And also, well, it was just a packed weekend at the movies, with I Am Legend still going strong and Nicholas Cage hamming it up in National Treasure 2. It really is too bad that more people aren't seeing this one, but I suspect that Walk Hard is pretty much guaranteed to find eventual popularity on DVD for a long time to come - it's friggin' hilarious, and maybe the funniest movie of 2007. I was laughing my ass off for a good portion of the film, and our car-ride home saw my friends and I repeating the movie's best lines over and over -- it's the kind of comedy that just makes a comedy-lover giddy like that.

Basically, Walk Hard is a parody of the whole genre of rock n' roll biopics, though it owes a particular debt to Walk the Line and also a bit of Ray. Certainly, a lot of Walk Hard mirrors the story of Johnny Cash, following Dewey Cox from his tragic childhood (he accidentally kills his brother by chopping him in half with a machete ...) to his rise to rock n' roll stardom, through the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, and the present day. Along the way, he meets such luminaries as Buddy Holly, Elvis, The Beatles, and more, breaks up with his bandmates, marries, marries again, fathers dozens of children, and experiements with every drug known to man leading to multiple stints in rehab. Pretty typical - sex, drugs, and rock n' roll.

Where Walk Hard really excels is in how it effortlessly combines random, absurdist humor with spot-on satire of movies like Walk the Line. Some of the jokes are just flat-out crazy (like how, in the beginning, after Dewey accidentally cuts his brother in half, the top half, still alive, looks big-eyed at Dewey and exclaims "you've halved me!"). But it's in the songs where the movie shifts into more subtle parody, getting away from over-the-top humor in favor of sly lyrics that are often brilliant takes on people like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. The Dylan parody, a jumble of random non-sequiturs that are supposed to add up to deep message-music, is particularly memorable. John C. Reilly, as Dewey, really needs to be commended for his work here. He sings all of the music to perfection, yet nails the crazier humor as well. And he has just the right dose of seriousness to give a sense of character and depth to the movie as well.

The rest of the cast is a veritable who's who of comedy. Jenna Fischer is really great and surprisingly scandalous as the June Carter-esque singer who steals Dewey's heart, and who steals him away from his first wife, playesd by SNL's Kristin Wiig. Tim Meadows gets some of th movie's funniest moments as a member of Dewey's band, who Dewey constantly finds doing some new drug. "You don't want any part of this!" urges Meadows, to hilarious effect. Seeing Meadows drug of choice evolve from reefer ("reefer?!?!") to LSD to Viagra is pretty amusing. There are a TON of great cameos here as well ... Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long, and Jason Schwartzman as The Beatles are simply hilarious - Paul Rudd's John Lennon impersonation in particualr is side-splitting. Jack White (yep, Jack Black and Jack White ... in the same movie!) does an awesome Elvis, and Frankie Muniz even shows up as Buddy Holly! Classic. Ed Helms, Jonah Hill, Harold Ramis, the guy who plays Daryl on The Office, Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock, and a bunch of others do some great cameos as well. And look out for Eddie Vedder as himself (he gives a hilarious speech in tribute to Dewey), The Temptations, Jewel, and a few other real-life musicians to boot.

WALK HARD just works on so many levels. The songs are uniformly hilarious and clever - I was reminded of the songs in A MIGHTY WIND in that they are legitimately catchy, well done songs but also undeniably funny and brilliantly satirical. Likewise, the general humor works both for its random craziness and the way it cleverly parodies the history of rock n' roll as well as the movies like Walk the Line that have tried to document it. John C. Reilly and the rest of the cast are great throughout. As always though, for me any comedy can ultimately only really be judged by how funny it is, and Walk Hard may be the out-and-out funniest I've seen this year. Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan did a great job here, and the jokes really hit most of the time. There are a few lulls, especially towards the end of the movie, but the final few scenes were so hilarious that any slow or flat scenes preceding them were quickly forgotten. Like I said, it's too bad this one is getting overlooked at the box office. I'd say run, don't walk to see it. Or at the least, walk hard.

My Grade: A -


- Sweeney Todd - a movie that Tim Burton was born to make. When he's on his game, Burton is one of the great voices in film - no one lese can match his innate sense of the fantastical and the horrific, the grotesque and the romantic. With Sweeney Todd, Burton has a story with which he can indulge all of his favorite things, and the result is a movie that oozes love with each and every moment of blood and gore. What we get is one of the year's best (and this, as I've said, in a year absolutely flooded with great films) - a film that's visually stunning, told to near-perfection, and filled with a superb cast that fits the tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street like a bloody glove.

Burton relies on a mostly familiar set of hands to carry his adaptation of the dark musical, and the principles to a great job. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton always mesh well when they collaborate, and this is one of the duo's best pairings yet. After taking on the pale visages of Edward Scissorhands and Ichabod Crane, Depp is a natural to play the grim n' ghostly Sweeney Todd - a barber with a blood lust, who gives his victims a clean shave before using his razor to slit their throats. Depp's Todd is cold and unfeeling - scarred after being banished from his home in London after crossing the path of a judge who had eyes on his wife (the great Alan Rickman). Now returned to London ("There's a whole in the world like a great black pit, and the vermin of the world inhabit it, and its morals aren't worth what a pin can spit, and it goes by the name of London."), Sweeney Todd sets up shop, with the intent on luring the conniving Judge Turpin into his barber's chair, so that Todd can have his bloody revenge.

Our other main lead is the goth-tacular Mrs. Lovett, played by Helena Bonham Carter. The always-great Mrs. Burton is wonderful as always, and like Depp, she was seemingly born to play these types of offbeat roles - a true queen of goth and gore, reuniting her and Depp after their similarly-spooky pairing in Corpse Bride was a stroke of casting genius, all accusations of family-favoritism aside. Now, the question on the minds of many was: sure, Depp and Bonham Carter can act goth and depraved in their sleep, but can they sing? Well, I think both do a fine job with the songs. Really, the singing here, mostly, isn't about performing vocal gymnastics or hitting complicated notes. It's more just about telling a story through song - more opera than broadway musical in that respect - and both Depp and Bonham Carter do a great job in that regard. Depp in particular makes his lyrics pop when combined with his brooding and dramatic line delivery. Bonham Carter does occasionally sound a little flat, but in some ways that's a part of her character. And man, I love her character of Mrs. Lovett, maker of the worst meat pies in London, who finds her business booming when she uses Todd's victims as the secret ingredient in her pies. Like I said, a goth girl to the core.

There are some other really great turns here as well. Sascha Baron Cohen, Ali G and Borat himself, totally steals every scene he's in, as a not-what-he seems rival barber with an over-the-top Italian accent. I absolutely loved the scene that introduces us to Cohen's Adolfo Pirelli, playing the part of carnival ringmaster as he boasts of his barbering skills at an outdoor London market. In this scene we get a hilarious sing-off / shave-off between Depp and Cohen, and we also meet another standout cast member, young Ed Sanders as Toby, a much-abused apprentice to Pirelli, who eventually is taken in by Todd and Mrs. Lovett. Toby is such a great character, and I agree with Harry Knowles over on Ain't It Cool, that this is one of the best performances by a kid we've seen in a logn while in a film. It's Toby who has some of the film's best and funniest scenes, some of it's best musical moments, and who makes the film's ending as great and powerful as it is.

Alan Rickman is awesome here as Judge Turpin. With a "hero" as evil as Sweeney Todd, you'd better have one hell of a villain to make us root for the Demon Barber. And Rickman fits the bill to a "T." With the same dark and droll delivery we've come to know and love from the Harry Potter movies, Rickman here is one vile, perverted, despicable bastard. The song he and Depp share, "Pretty Women," sung while Turpin sits in Todd's barber chair, unknowingly moments away from a razor blade to the jugular, is a deliciously dark tune that is gallows humor personified. Also a lot of fun is Timothy Spall as a skeezy henchman to Rickman. Having just seen him play a similar role in ENCHANTED, there can be no doubt that Spall is simply THE guy when you need an evil henchman for your movie. As Sam Elliot is to cowboys, Timothy Spall is to evil henchman - and that is a huge compliment.

Overall, Burton is totally on his game here. The film is a visual feast, but never goes into ultra-choreographed broadway musical territory. Instead, the movie is surprisingly insular and claustrophobic, immersing you in the dank streets of Victorian London, with only the faint glow of gaslamps to provide light in the darkened night sky (although, when the film does briefly venture into the light, courtesy of Mrs. Lovett's fantasies of domestic bliss with Sweeney Todd, it's a hilarious sequence of contrasting dark and light visuals). The art direction, costuming, etc., are all brilliant - on par with other Burton-directed films like Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish.

Not having been familair with the story of Sweeney Todd, I loved how dark this tale dared to go, how its twists and turns spiraled into a grim epic that only got blacker and more tragic as it went. I loved the delight the film, and Todd, seemed to take with each act of bloody barbering, each seemingly more grizzly than the last. I don't think a more gloriously gory musical has ever or will ever exist. I loved the opening, with a young boy's love for London giving way to Sweeney Todd's venom-filled view of a city - and a human race - that he considers beneath all contempt. And I don't know if another movie this year came together in such perfect fashion with such a pleasingly grim and sadistically satisfying ending, a true turn of the screw if ever there was one.

My Grade: A

- Alright, back later with more. What a year for movies!