|The Films of 2007: Please Remain Seated
|by William Goss
What a year this has been for us, the collective moviegoing body. We went baby went, we smoked Aces, we stomped the yard and felt the noise. We thought we loved our wife, and our kid could paint that, we burned slow and reigned over you, we colored you Kubrick, we resurrected the champ and shot ‘em up. We finished the game and owned the night, we met the Robinsons and introduced the Dwights, we walked hard and died hard. We didn’t want to sleep alone and did want someone to eat cheese with, we were legend and weren’t there. We now pronounced you Chuck and Larry, and we kicked it old skool [sic]. We started out in the evening and lost things in the fire. We know who killed you, but just who was our caddy? And are we really done yet? (Yes. We are. That’s quite enough.) (P.S. We loved you.)
What it all boils down to: out of roughly 350 films I saw this year and about fifty others I missed (shucks over Grace is Gone, Into Great Silence, The Nines, Rocket Science, and Romance and Cigarettes above all else), the titles listed below were the ones that lingered the longest and meant the most, both in the past 365 days and for many years to come.
The Best of 2007
1) Most any other year, I'd find myself making the distinction between my favorite film of the year and the best one. In 2005, A History of Violence was #1, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was my favorite. Last year, I topped my list with Children of Men, but probably popped The Fountain into the DVD player more often. This year, I find myself making no such distinction, as no film offered to me as much effortless conviction as Once, in which a Guy (Glen Hansard) meets a Girl (Markéta Irglová) and they make some beautiful music together. Shot quick and cheap, it epitomizes the barest bones of cinema, yet not only did it send me out of the theatre with a spring in my step and a song in my heart, it did so quite unabashedly, and if that doesn’t cut it for you, then that’s too damn bad.
2) With the greatest of ease, the Coen brothers faithfully translated to Cormac McCarthy’s mythic modern Western, No Country for Old Men, to the screen, and in the process, they made a film that doubles as both a crackerjack crime thriller and a lingering lament for the ways of the world, not to mention a return to form for the pair (said this admitted fan of The Ladykillers). There’s neither a frame out of place nor a role miscast, and precious few other films this year can claim such frequent and flawless demonstrations of bravura filmmaking as are on display here. Save, perhaps, for my next pick…
3) With There Will Be Blood, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson manages to make not only a film that’s like nothing he’s ever done before, but one that arguably makes the most of cinema as a medium, regardless of time and genre. It’s a wholly staggering accomplishment in its every aspect, from Jonny Greenwood’s feverish score to Robert Elswit’s unblemished cinematography and Jack Fisk’s impeccable production design; thanks in no small part, of course, go to Daniel Day-Lewis, who hurtles it out of the park as the misanthropic oil man out for all he can get, from the film’s first wordless stretch to its final frenzied confrontation.
4) More prominent critics than I have already deemed Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up to be this generation’s The Graduate, and they’re not wrong. It accurately captures today’s societal values and cultural conditions, more fitting a time capsule than the über-hip unexpected-pregnancy time bomb that is Juno, and the humor springs constantly – and resonates deeply – from the uniformly strong writing and performances (God bless Leslie Mann and then some). Come to think of it, this isn’t our generation’s The Graduate; this is our generation.
5) Reclaiming the reins following his work on Supremacy (and even enhancing it in hindsight), director Paul Greengrass took both the Bourne series and the action genre to new visceral heights with the kick-ass capper, The Bourne Ultimatum, in which amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, as good as ever) finally gets to the bottom of the bureaucracy responsible for making him a killing machine. Here it is, ladies and gents: proof that millions of pixels and a bloated running time aren’t necessary to make a blockbuster for the ages.
6) Sidney Lumet made a wondrous comeback with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, one fierce morality tale in which happiness and greed inadvertently send an entire family on one hell of a downward spiral. Kelly Masterson’s first produced screenplay stands as one of the year’s tightest, Philip Seymour Hoffman gives the arguable best of his three performances this year, and Ethan Hawke reminds us why we keep him around after all.
7) Director David Fincher’s obsessive film about obsession, Zodiac wasn’t to everyone’s liking (domestic gross: $33 million), but it’s more thrilling as a procedural in which driven men can’t simply Google away the case and catch their baddie in due time. The frustrations of real life and the need for knowledge never are that simple, a fact of which Fincher seems to be well aware. Of all of the killer’s walking, talking victims, Robert Downey Jr. vividly stands out as perhaps his most severe casualty.
8) In a million years, who knew that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) had something like The Mist in him? A grim and gripping Hitchcock-meets-Lovecraft epic – with the bleakest ending of any film from any studio in years – Darabont and company helped make the horror genre genuinely horrifying once again with a pitch-perfect blend of nightmarish creatures and even worse characters.
9) Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright’s loving ode to action flicks, Hot Fuzz is easily the densest comedy of the year, but more importantly, its hit-to-miss ratio is truly something to behold, especially in the age of name-dropping ‘parodies’ Epic Movie and The Comebacks. Potential authorial wish fulfillment aside, I can think of no more singularly joyous a moment in any film this year than the climactic car chase, in which film fanatic Danny Butterman (Frost) accompanies every other gunshot he fires off at the perps with a gleefully audible “Bang-bang!”
10) Wes Anderson’s latest effort, The Darjeeling Limited, is by no means a perfect film, but certainly a warm and welcome return to form at the least. The especially aligned comedic and dramatic sensibilities of the writer-director with actors Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwarzbaum are pervasively sublime, and the movie itself has clung to me in repeat viewings like few other recent movies can claim (that, and the man can still arrange a swell soundtrack).
11) Put a man in front of a camera, and you might grow fed up with his mere presence as his feeble work piles up. Give that man a camera, and he might just point it at his brother and prove himself surprisingly re-deserving of attention as a contributor to society as a whole. And so it goes for Ben Affleck, whose directorial debut Gone Baby Gone displayed a preternatural knack for filmmaking unbeknownst to the outside world. While Ben may have also co-adapted Dennis Lehane’s detective drama, his younger brother Casey brought home the crucial ramifications of its central moral conflict, just as Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Madigan, and especially Amy Ryan incorporate the hometown flavor and blue-collar desperation that makes matters so very compelling.
12) Regardless of its woeful box office tally, both halves of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse will live long as a gloriously geeky gag preserved by its deep-rooted love for even the worst celluloid has to offer. So very rarely has a cast and crew displayed so much passion in their work, out not for a mere paycheck but a wholly recreated experience, but for the colossal effort that all parties must’ve put in, it paid off from viewing one in dividends beyond dollars.
13) Most documentaries are essays of varying adequacies, to be regarded by their topics as much as their actual quality. Sicko, health care. Lake of Fire, abortion. No End in Sight, the war in Iraq. Above them all has towered David Sington’s In the Shadow of the Moon, a chronicle of the Apollo missions compiled from interviews from its living participants (the sole exception: Armstrong, Neil) and fascinating archival footage. What’s all the more impressive is how the British filmmaker comes to evoke not only an immense and immediate sense of nostalgia, but the seemingly extinct sense of collective hope that expanded from an all-American aspiration to a global goal.
14) Caring for loved ones as they make their way off the mortal coil isn’t a topic readily accepted as satisfying fodder for entertainment, but in The Savages, writer-director Tamara Jenkins employs the achingly genuine performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, and Philip Bosco to find the humor and heart in her own bittersweet screenplay, always bearing in mind that there’s growing up to be found in breaking down.
15) Despite my skepticism to the claims of the trailer, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly really is based on a truly remarkable true story, in which Jean-Dominique Bauby (Munich’s Mathieu Amalric) had a stroke at the age of 43 while remaining in full mental awareness and able to communicate only with his left eyelid. Once past the intentionally frustrating first-person perspective of the first fifteen minutes (which director Julian Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski recreate masterfully), Butterfly grows just as Bauby had, through his embrace of his imagination and sense of humor, and comes to inspire without resulting to the mawkish tendencies that plague so very many other allegedly remarkable true stories.
16) Admittedly, I felt oddly askew upon my first viewing of Ratatouille, but it took me time (and other viewings since) to appreciate that all this gorgeous animation had gone to serve the first Pixar film that appealed not as much to the heart as it does to the soul. As if that weren’t enough, writer-director Brad Bird and supporting actor Peter O’Toole pull off a climactic moment and monologue that are both for the ages, and perhaps all the more so because those pixels have all but vanished upon their arrival.
17) Valuing creativity and community in equal measure, Lars and the Real Girl manages to take a superficially bizarre premise – a recluse (Ryan Gosling) comes out of his shell thanks to his newfound companion, a sex doll he uses for everything but – and crafts out of it a sincerely touching and surprisingly wholesome tale of growth and those who help each other achieve it. While it wouldn’t be fair to overshadow the critical supporting work of Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider, it really is Gosling who single-handedly keep the proceedings from slipping into something less affective, not to mention potentially icky.
18) Leave it to Werner Herzog to take one of his own fairly fascinating documentaries (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) and transform it into an equally straight-forward and no less compelling tale of survival. With Rescue Dawn, he did just that, with Christian Bale as ragged and determined as ever and Steve Zahn displaying a previously unfathomable capacity for drama, and without any grand embellishments or exaggerations – it’s more raw than rah-rah, and all the better for it.
19) On the surface, The King of Kong seems like a superficially eccentric account of those men who aggressively compete for the Donkey Kong world record, of all things, but Seth Gordon’s doc comes to show the dedication that comes to anyone who manage to make any one thing their everything, no matter how trivial.
20) Although its lead could benefit from humor more manic than deadpan, it’s still difficult to deny the demented appeal of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, as Johnny Depp slits his way towards vengeance and Helena Bonham Carter helps dispose of the corpses he leaves behind, and Tim Burton steadily shifts gears from revenge drama (with songs) to Grand Guignol horror (with songs) to macabre tragedy (with songs).
21) The Orphanage
22) The Host
23) Deep Water
25) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
26) 3:10 to Yuma
28) 28 Weeks Later
The Worst of 2007
There really isn’t much about the following films that I can’t sum up here in total. These are the duds that caused me to slouch in my seat the lowest and longest (not to mention fastest), the alleged comedies and other disasters that actively prompted anger and distress in place of laughter or thrills, the kind of stuff Frank Costello was talking about when he said “Don’t get up ‘til you’re numb,” the titles that had me questioning my faith in Hollywood and maybe even humanity. In a year plagued with some pretty putrid lows, these scoundrels somehow took the cake.
1) Wild Hogs – If memory serves, it took me a record thirty seconds to let out my first long, deep, crowd-hating sigh. That doesn’t make me an elitist so much as a holocaust victim of sorts (and that might still be an insult to genocide).
2) License to Wed – The only thing worse than watching unfunny people wallow in shit is watching multiple individuals who have repeatedly proven their comedic worth on several seasons of 'The Office' wallow in this.
3) Because I Said So – Cakes being tossed upon individuals! People accidentally opening porn on their computer that magically causes them to lose all technical facilities! The meddling shenanigans of Diane Keaton! Canine reaction shots to said follies! It all adds up to a surefire comedy, if only in that Russian roulette sense.
4) Delta Farce – Sigh.
5) Epic Movie – You try proving there’s a God when all the strikes and natural disasters in the world somehow can’t stop two certain Scary Movie writers for constantly regurgitating pop culture to most wearying effect.
6) Norbit – I must confess: I chuckle every time Eddie Griffin says “It’s rainin' little white women!” I couldn’t even begin to defend the other 101 minutes of this gleefully base slog, and I can’t imagine circumstances under which I would have to try. Let’s keep it that way.
7) Good Luck Chuck – Well, I can now cross ‘Dane Cook going down on a stuffed penguin’ off my list of Shit I Never Thought I’d See Before I Died.
8) Perfect Stranger – And here I’d been under the impression that you couldn’t get a twist this staggeringly moronic onto a screen of any size. Most sorely mistaken was I.
9) Redline – Yes, Virginia, there is a man in this world so rich that he’d make an entire feature film showcasing his snazziest cars speeding and smashing and expect you to pay to see it.
10) Happily N’ever After – This is the first time I can ever recall actively willing myself to sleep in the midst of a movie, and it wouldn’t even allow me that luxury.
11) (tie) Are We Done Yet? / Daddy Day Camp – Unnecessary sequels + different actors + grating children = box office duds and a weeping critic or two. (Trivia time! After a great deal of reluctance, I actually endured Camp a second time the week of opening at the request of a pal who didn’t want to go alone. As it turns out, the film does not improve with repeat viewings, and said friend and I no longer speak.)
12) (tie) Bratz / September Dawn – Oh, Jon Voight, you magic, magic man…
13) (tie) Asylum / Captivity – One’s a torturous horror flick that was barely released, the other’s a torturous horror flick that was barely seen, and both somehow managed to give ‘torture porn’ a worse name than ever before.
14) (tie) Christmas in Wonderland / Fred Claus – Wonderland was a stupendously shoddy holiday flick that was barely released the same weekend as the latter, and it seems that that was only the case to make Claus tinsel-adorned debacle look just a wee bit better, at least in the most select of markets.
15) (tie) Ira & Abby / In the Land of Women – What’s the use of navel-gazing rom-coms that are utterly allergic to any modicum of chemistry or charm?
Most Unsung Performances
-Kristen Wiig’s droll colleague in Knocked Up
-Steve Zahn’s prisoner of war in Rescue Dawn
-Belén Rueda’s haunted matriarch in The Orphanage
-Sigourney Weaver’s zealous producer in The TV Set
-Emily Mortimer’s saint of a sis in Lars and the Real Girl
Best Foreign Film: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (runners-up: The Host, The Orphanage, Persepolis, Black Book, The Bothersome Man)
Best Documentary: In the Shadow of the Moon (runners-up: The King of Kong, Deep Water, Audience of One, Sicko, No End in Sight, Lake of Fire, My Kid Could Paint That)
Most Pleasant Surprise: Hot Rod (runners-up: August Rush, Blades of Glory, Colma: The Musical, Music and Lyrics, Stardust)
Biggest Guilty Pleasure: Shoot ‘Em Up (runners-up: Death Sentence, Vacancy, Dragon Wars)
Best Direct-To-Video Release: Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
Worst Direct-To-Video Release: American Pie Presents Beta House
Best Prologue of This Year: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theatres (runner-up: Hotel Chevalier)
Best Prologue of Next Year: The Dark Knight
Best Car Chase: The Bourne Ultimatum (runners-up: Live Free or Die Hard, Shoot ‘Em Up, The Kingdom, Shooter)
Worst Release: Sunshine (runners-up: Grindhouse, Zodiac, Seraphim Falls, Southland Tales)
Biggest Unintentional Laughs: Shooter – defiantly declares Ned Beatty as he arrives for a mountaintop showdown: “Well, I’m here”; Beowulf – “Many men have tasted my lord’s mead”; 28 Weeks Later – a wee lad informs his new neighbors that he hails from Sandford (see: Fuzz, Hot); Perfect Stranger – oh, just pick a scene
^ Best/Worst Posters: The Savages (runners-up: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theatres, Grindhouse) / Captivity (runners-up: A Mighty Heart, 3:10 to Yuma)
Match Made in Hell: The Mist's Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) and There Will Be Blood's Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)
2008 Films I Can’t Wait To See
-All the Boys Love Mandy Lane: the fates have barely prevented me on two separate occasions from seeing this acclaimed slasher; let’s hope that changes in the months to come
-The Brothers Bloom: the director of last year’s superb Brick tries his hand at the con side of life – not to mention the mere prospect of Rachel Weisz simply being there
-The Dark Knight: even sans trailer and IMAX prologue, they had me at Batman Begins
-Doomsday: the director of The Descent (!) tries his hand at post-apocalyptic action
-Vantage Point: against my better instincts, that trailer gets me pumped every time
2008 Films I Can’t Wait To See Again
-The Signal: after two viewings, this three-pronged low-budget horror effort by writer-directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry still gives me the willies
-Son of Rambow: Garth Jennings’ wonderfully imaginative coming-of-age follow-up to that Hitchhiker’s Guide adaptation from ‘05
2007 Films I Still Can’t Wait To See
-Funny Games: per my list last year – “Michael Haneke’s (oft-delayed) English-language remake of his own agonizing thriller”
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2348
originally posted: 01/12/08 15:02:15
last updated: 01/13/08 05:06:00