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The Best Films of 2007 - So Far, Anyway...

Grindhouse - Best of 2007 So Far!
by Jason Whyte

In memory, the early half of 2007 has been one of the best early film years in memory. Even as early as February, there were already four-star films to be seen, both in limited and in wide release. Normally, this is where most of the films are dumped to be forgotten (which is not to say that isn’t true either, there were a lot of bad films this year as well. See the “Bottom Five” below), but I was genuinely surprised at the amount of great films that even the major studios put out so early in the year, even if they might be forgotten for awards consideration.

Sure, you can try to convince me of the abundant garbage that has been gobbling up all the megaplex screens as of late, and you’re right in a way, but if you did a bit more work and found yourself outside the multiplex zone, you’d be seeing more films like this. Many of the listed films here are either still in theatrical release or coming out on DVD, so you still have a chance to check them out. So here we go…

(To be fair, the following list is for films released up until the June 15th, 2007 weekend.)

#1. Grindhouse – I can’t get enough. I have returned to this film on more than several occasions just to bask in the glow of the experience, the feeling of sitting in a cinema watching two wonderfully entertaining features all rolled into a three hour opus. This will never have the same impact on DVD. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez pay homage to the dingy theatres of yesterday that played cheesy B-movies with battered, beat-up prints and their cinematic stamp is on their respective send-ups. Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror”, a sendup of zombie/military pictures starts out the show and is witty, gory and a whole lot of fun. That film sets us up for the more superior of the two, “Death Proof”, Tarantino’s new gem featuring Kurt Russell and a group of women who get revenge on an evil man who likes to kill with his car. While the entire scratchy experience is an event like no other, the final 20 minutes of “Death Proof” -- featuring an already classic car chase with the radiant stuntwoman Zoe Bell as she kicks an insane amount of ass -- are among the most joyous and energetic moments of any motion picture this decade.

#2. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) – A complex and subtly horrifying look at the German Stasi police that patrolled its citizens in East Germany, 1984. This was the winner for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film and a much deserved one. Combining politics that aren’t seen around these parts in this day and age, a powerful story of love and the connections a Stasi officer makes with his subjects, the film puts new meaning into the term “multi-layered” as it balances politics and the people it impacts. Here is a film that has won its awards and its universal acclaim for a reason.

#3. Paris, Je T’aime – This film is beyond a love letter to the city of love. It is 19 of them, all of which interesting and fascinating in their own unique way. This is a short film compilation of many world-class directors who do a 5-10 minute segment in their own, imitable style, all depicting an aspect of the city from their own perspective. From Gus van Sant to Tom Tykwer, from Gerard Depardieu to Alexander Payne, the film features an endless array of famous and not-so-famous actors, and the short pieces are brilliant when brought together in this two hour joy.

#4. The Wind That Shakes the Barley -- Any film that can end on a moment as powerful as what happens in the last ten minutes of “The Godfather II” can belong on any best of the year list. Winner of the 2006 Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach does some of his best work here with the story of two brothers in early 20th century Republican Ireland who are at wits with the Black and Tan militia from the UK that have come to patrol and take over Irish citizens. Features a fearless performance from Cillian Murphy (“Breakfast on Pluto”, “Batman Begins”) and a brilliant and honest direction from Mr. Loach.

#5. Knocked Up – Okay, enough seriousness. The year’s funniest film is Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s brilliant followup to “The 40 Year Old Virgin”. As much as I loved Apatow’s first film with the virginal Steve Carell, I enjoyed “Knocked Up” just a little bit more, mostly because Seth Rogen makes a star-worthy turn here as Ben, who impregnates a beautiful newswoman named Allison (Katherine Heigl) after a one night stand. The resulting film not only brings the two of them together, but also all of Ben and Allison’s friends, comic creations that range from Apatow regulars Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, the latter of which has a scene so perfectly timed outside a nightclub that I would nominate her for Best Supporting Actress if I could.

#6. Bridge to Terabithia – At last, this generation has their own “E.T.” Here is a film that I walked into with only a lousy theatrical trailer to guide my way (I was assuming something along the lines of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, only cheaper), and was rewarded with a complex and beautiful story of two best friends who battle the hardships of school and family by creating a world all of their own, and the imagination that these two bring to the table solidify their relationship forever. “Terabithia” refuses to be timid and hits hard on school bullying (which, believe me, I was a victim of), family dysfunction and dealing with a loss that shakes one of the lead characters deeply. The film also ends on a note of amazing power that brought tears to my eyes.

#7. Vitus – Just starting to find its way into American cinemas is the outstanding Swiss film dealing with a child prodigy who has a gift for knowledge and the piano. He learns quickly, adapts to his knowledge and yet still rejects the plans that his attention-hungry parents have for him and would rather live with his grandfather (Bruno Ganz from “Downfall”) building boats. “Vitus” manages to be somehow equally touching, hilarious and satirical without going overboard, as we follow this young boy as he grows into adulthood much faster than we all do.

#8. The Lookout – Screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Get Shorty) has not only delivered a solid directorial debut, but has also crafted a very entertaining film noir that reminds me of the films of Carl Franklin (in particular his classic 1992 film “One False Move.”). Where I was the most impressed was how the film takes its time developing the character of Chris Pratt (another terrific turn by Joseph Gordon Levitt) and his back story while also depicting a clever heist of a small bank that Pratt works at. The film is more about Chris and his inner demons, which makes the resulting story much more personal and engaging.

#9. Breach -- Director Billy Ray's excellent, true-story follow-up to his 2003 film Shattered Glass which featured a whip-smart yet seriously flawed character in Stephen Glass, who outwitted everyone with his fake articles at The New Republic. Here, he follows FBI boss Robert Hansen (Chris Cooper, who still has Oscar possibilities with his amazing performance), who sold secrets to the Soviet Union, unbeknownst to nearly everyone at the bureau. Tracking him is new agent Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillipe, excellent here) who forges an interesting relationship with Hansen. Not simply just a cat-and-mouse game, “Breach” is an interesting study on the ethics and personalities of two men, one of which is a seasoned professional who is tired and weary after years of experience, and the other who is young, vulnerable and still has his heart in all of it. The film unfolds slowly and calmly, but it must to keep with the emotional weight of these characters.

#10. Away From Her – Since I saw this film at the Vancouver International Film Festival last fall, the Canadian Sarah Polley has quickly arisen into one of the top filmmakers in the country. She’s earned it, as she has somehow told a mature and deeply touching story of a woman (Julie Christie) who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The film then takes a turn and follows the effect it has on her husband (Gordon Pinsent) who must deal with the fact her mind is leaving. At 28 years old, Ms. Polley has created a directorial debut many dream of, and I look forward to seeing her next work, before or behind the camera.

Also worthy of mention this year: Mira Nair’s deeply personal human story The Namesake featuring award-worthy work all around; the surprisingly excellent Disney animated film Meet The Robinsons which features a futuristic city as if it was imagined in 1954; David Fincher’s meticulous and procedural Zodiac which falters a bit in the third act in its serial killer story but is nevertheless an engaging work overall; the delightful Ocean’s Thirteen which is hip and smart right along with the first film; William Friedkin’s horrifying Bug which is his best (and creepiest) work since “The Exorcist”; Gary Burns’ outstanding urban sprawl documentary Radiant City that owes a lot to Orson Welles’ “F For Fake”, and Andrea Arnold’s brilliant drama Red Road.

Worst Films of 2007 So Far:

#1. Because I Said So – A deeply offensive, shallow experience of a motion picture that has its ideals all out of whack; hey, women, all you need is a rich man to sweep you off your feet and make your life complete. The scheming and screaming Diane Keaton character seems to think this ethic is normal, so she spends the majority of the film yelling at her daughter (Mandy Moore) to conform to her standards and setting her up with dates. Hey, this is pretty realistic when you think about it; Mandy Moore is so butt ugly that she can’t get one on her own. There are so many things wrong with this garbage that I don’t know where to go from here, except shame on you for deciding to watch this.

#2. Love and Other Dilemmas – I try not to be hard on independent films from Canadian filmmakers, but this bizarre comedy (which stars half the cast from “Corner Gas” and several other burnout Vancouver actors) about a mob wedding is free of charm, laughs or even suspense; and by that, I mean I didn’t care about where any of this film was going in any shape or form, unless it fell out of the projector.

#3. Wild Hogs – A movie tailor made for idiots. And there were $175 million worth of them this spring, many of which chose to see this instead of “Grindhouse”. Instead of getting angry again, please read my review on this site.

#4. The Reaping – I really don’t have much to say on this much-delayed horror picture -- which pits Hilary Swank against all evil and a digitally color-corrected red river -- except for the fact this is the only film where one of its actors has a spot on this Top and Bottom list: young actress Annasophia Robb, who wonderfully plays Leslie in “Terabithia” and is reduced to standing around looking evil into the camera in this film.

#5. The Ex – Zach Braff is funny. Amanda Peet has been hilarious. And I found Jason Bateman a delight on Arrested Development. And yet none of them, nor the rest of the ensemble cast, deliver a single line of dialog or performed an action that made me laugh whatsoever. This is a film that blipped at the cinemas, carefully hidden by its distributor to not humiliate any actors that were dumb enough to show up in this lifeless “comedy”.

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 06/25/07 02:17:26
last updated: 06/25/07 02:42:59
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