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 ...


1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year Danny Basketball! (not to be confused with the popular RHCP tune "Dani California")