Behold! My favorite films from 2007 (in no particular order, save for the last two):
Juno - This was an exceptional year for hilarity. 2007 saw a veritable cornucopia of comedy unleashed on a world in desperate need of cheer: Hot Fuzz, Knocked Up (I can't deny how great the initial experience was for me), Superbad, Walk Hard (saw 1/3 of it but would definitely go back to see the rest), Gone with the Woman (Norwegian film I saw at the Toronto Film Festival), Ratatouille, Shoot'em Up (not exactly a comedy, but funny as hell--yes, intentionally), 300 (what do you mean it's not a comedy? Pfft.) and of course Juno.
I reviewed Juno way back in September. Loved it then and loved it when I saw it again this month here in NYC.
I honestly don't get some of the criticisms leveled at Juno. It's been repeatedly pointed out that the characters are too quirky and the dialogue too quip-smart. Well couldn't the same be said about almost any film Woody Allen has ever made or David Mamet? It's a style, first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody's style to be precise. And besides, Ellen Page in the lead role of Juno pulls it off with aplomb. The supporting cast (which includes: J.K. Simmons, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner and Michael Cera) is uniformly excellent, but the movie first and foremost belongs to Page. Her acerbic future-Williamsburg-resident Juno manages to endear herself to the audience and make us laugh at her barbed insights and observations about high school and suburban life. Sure she's way too clever for a sixteen-year old, but the bottom line is that she's funny.
There really seems to be a dearth of good young female comedic actresses right now (discounting television, I can only think of one: Anna Faris). XY has always dominated comedy, but at least in the past, there have been actresses who could match their male counterparts note for note (e.g. Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep). It's ironic that the highest paid actresses usually make their fortunes in romantic comedies, but none of them are really what you'd consider funny (I'm looking at you Reese Witherspoon, Meg Ryan, Cameron Diaz and Renee Zellwegger). I'm hoping more 'Ellen Page'-type actresses emerge in the near future. Also can't wait to see what Diablo Cody has next up her sleeve. Should also note that with this film, Jason Reitman makes a clean exit from the "I-got-here-cuz-my-daddy"-box. Round of of applause for everyone involved.
Superbad - I believe my unabashed love of this film is well documented.
Ratatouille - Brad Bird. 'Nuff said.
Once - It's a musical in a new-fandangled way that I heartily approve. Best romance film of the year. The songs are great and the leads have real chemistry (as proven by their real-life coupling). The accents take a bit of adjusting to (set in Ireland), but after that you're good to go. Original review here.
Gone Baby Gone - Perhaps the most solid genre exercise of the year (I haven't seen The Orphanage which I hear is fairly keen) and nothing less than total redemption for its actor-turned-director, Ben Affleck.
Persepolis - Retrospective of an Iranian childhood based off an award-winning graphic novel. This movie really stuck with me for a while after seeing it. Here's what I said back in September. Highly rec'd.
American Gangster - Best big-name, big-budget Hollywood movie of the year(I don't mean this as feint praise, seriously!). Denzel gives a performance that at first seems like his usual fare, but then I noticed some wonderful subtleties and nuances to his portrayal of Frank Lucas, the most respectable on-screen sociopath since Walken's Frank White.
And my favoritest (that's the supreme superlative declension btw) two films of the year are:
No Country for Old Men - The Coens' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's eponymous novel delivers its themes with the same frankness as its title. I had no issue with the much derided ending or anything else in the film. In Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem inhabits one of the two entirely indelible characters conceived on celluloid this year (the other is in the next film on the list). This was my favorite movie of TIFF '07 and it's held on to be my co-favorite for the whole year. Here's my earlier review. Nothing really to add, except I saw it a second time and it held up even better.
There Will Be Blood - Its title evocative of Old Testament retribution gives you an inkling of what to expect in this film. Still it doesn't prepare you for the advent of Daniel Plainview, a self-made man in the most primordial sense. Plainview's natural habitat seems to be the belly of the earth. In the early scenes this is where we see him most frequently, picking and probing, searching for whatever precious materials he can violently extract. He starts with silver and progresses to crude oil. When we finally get his formal introduction we find out that he's been moderately successful at it, but we also see the toll it's taken on his body and perhaps his mind. Prospecting is depicted as an endeavor rife with peril. There is a sense of foreboding in almost every scene that takes place in or around a shaft or oil derrick. The film does a spectacular job of conveying the constant dangers of the profession. These scenes also inform us further as to the nature of Plainview.
The peerless Daniel Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainview (that's right, without peer--not Depp, not Crowe, not Denzel, not Cheadle; he occupies his own weight-class--DDL is to other actors as Mario is to other gaming mascots; go wikipedia 'actor' right now--see? did you know he took a three-year hiatus from acting to become a shoemaker? A freaking shoemaker?? You're not ready!). DDL is never less than mesmerizing. He sears himself onto your brain. He's in almost every scene and you can't take your eyes off him. It's a bravura performance made all the more impressive because this is a character you don't like; a character you barely recognize as human, yet you empathize with him on a certain level.
A tempest brews beneath Plainview's almost preternaturally sharp eyes and as we come to find out what's at the heart of it all, what drives this man, the more we come to fear him and fear what he says about us. His connection to humanity is tenuous to start with and as we slowly see those tethers cut away, we begin to see how truly monstrous Plainview is. TWBB is not a tragedy. It's an honest-to-goodness epic. It is about the forces that created this country, the vestiges of which still form the core of our society. The themes are no less than the struggle for material and spiritual wealth and the internecine conflict this struggle engenders. And of course Plainview is a physical manifestation of the former.
There are three other crucial characters to the story outside of Plainview. Paul Sunday, his nemesis, a pale wisp of a boy given to histrionic evangelism acts as a counterweight to Plainview. Their gamesmanship dominates the plot of the film. Their disdain for each other can be summed up in the saying: "Game recognizes game." Plainview's ward, H.W. is also a pivotal player in the story. Much of the story hinges on the evolution of their relationship. The kid who plays H.W. manages to express volumes mostly just standing around observing in silence as everything unfolds. The third character arrives in the second act and although he remains for only a brief period of time, he has a profound impact on not only Plainview but our understanding of the man as well.
The score deserves special mention (actually, the music in any Anderson film bears mention). Jonny Greenwood's score doesn't work in the traditional way to give the audience emotional cues. Instead it communicates the mood of what's happening on-screen. It makes the tension all the more palpable in many scenes, ramping it up to near unbearable. The often discordant sounds are the perfect complement to Robert Elswit's starkly beautiful visuals. Greenwood's score reminds me of something Philip Glass might concoct. It's pitch perfect for the film. It'll be interesting to see if he makes any future forays into making film scores.
I've always admired P.T. Anderson, even if I haven't loved everything he's made. I thought Sydney/Hard Eight was solid. Boogie Nights was expertly executed drama full of humor and pathos. Magnolia felt overwrought (although he coaxed from Tom Cruise the best performance he has ever given). Punch Drunk Love might very well be my favorite romance movie ever. Of this generations most visible directors, P.T. felt the most enigmatic. After a few movies, it was easy to figure out what Wes Anderson was about and what to expect. Nothing wrong with that. P.T. on the other hand sort of confounded with his choices. His prior films all felt experimental in a way, an artist trying out different palettes. There Will Be Blood feels like his most focused effort yet and there is no doubt that there is a self-assured auteur behind it. In making it, he's passed all of his contemporaries: Tarantino, Fincher, Wes Anderson, Jonze, etc. He's distanced himself from the pack the way Coppola did with The Godfather and Spielberg did with Raiders of the Lost Ark. This isn't a knock against the other directors who've turned out some fine work the last few years (including Zodiac this year), but Anderson is just working on a completely different plane.
I'll have to watch this again. Soon.
(Interesting note: Both NCFOM and TWBB were filmed in Marfa, Texas--as was Giant (last James Dean film performance; Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, good film if you haven't seen it...))
Here's hoping 2008 has more in store than just sequels (no offense Mr. Nolan; still can't wait for Dark Knight, but I'm just saying...).
Good luck out there.
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