Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top Ten Films of 2007

Well, actually, it's just MY FAVORITE films of 2007.

And it was a good year!

This list will obviously have to exclude the films I didn't get to see - and there were several I wanted to see and never did, like Michael Clayton, Juno, Into The Wild, Charlie Wilson's War, American Gangster and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

I should also mention that some films I did see regrettably didn't fit into the Top Ten, so... Honorable Mention goes to I Am Legend, Superbad and Knocked Up.

But there was a Top Ten.

So here we go.

#10 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
(dir. Tim Burton; Star. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sasha Baron Cohen)

The only musical to make the list - and the only one I saw all year - this was one of Tim Burton's best, most brutally stark films. A remake of the Broadway Musical by Stephen Sondheim, this film proved once and for all the vocal abilities of Depp and (especially) Baron Cohen. The sights and sounds in this film are striking and powerful, the story is timeless and the tunes are classic.

(Favorite scene: "Try Pirelli's Miracle Elixir! That'll do the trick, sir! True, sir, true!")

#9 - Gone Baby Gone
(dir. Ben Affleck; star. Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan)

Holy Appleboxes, Batman! The kid can DIRECT! And the younger kid can ACT!

That's right, the Brothers Affleck turn out to be a powerhouse in this amazing crime drama with an ending you truly don't see coming. Michelle Monaghan goes from her role as the hot High School girl in Superbad to this mature, loyal wife/partner of Casey Affleck - a young private eye team asked to supplement the police investigation of the suspected kidnapping of a local little girl in the projects of Boston.

Ed Harris steals the show in one of his several scenes and makes for an unforgettable performance, and Morgan Freeman is his usual awesome self. But opening eyes was the performance of newcomer Amy Ryan, who's role as the deadbeat mother of the missing child brought on critical acclaim.

(Favorite Scene: Ed Harris' angry rant at Affleck about an old case becomes a lesson on his philosophy on life.)

#8 - The Simpsons Movie
(dir. David Silverman; Star. everybody)

If you didn't see this film on opening night, you missed out on a piece of history. The crowd was IN to it!

This film was 10 years in the making and underwent over 140 re-writes, a number that is virtually unheard of in the world of professional screenwriting. But when you have 10 of the best writers of television's biggest phenomenon ever working together, that's what you get.

Starring all the usual suspects, the story puts Springfield in epic peril and - wouldn't you know it? - The Family Simpson is the only squad who can save it. In a brilliant move by the producers, the main villain, Russ Cargill, wasn't voiced by a major Hollywood action star or other A-list celebrity (as the show seems to do every week on TV these days), but by the man who has voiced some of the absolute BEST characters since the show's inception - Albert Brooks.

(Favorite scene: Bart's naked skateboard stunts.)

#7 - Beowulf
(dir. Robert Zemeckis, Star. Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, and Crispin Glover)

A marvel of cinematic 3-D animation technology, this film was an experience! Great performances in the classic style of the ancient epic Norse mythology (Talk about a super hero movie!) played well in Zemeckis' grandiose visual style. I also loved be able to choose where I wanted to focus my attention, as (only in 3-D) all depths on-screen were in focus, but once you looked at one plane, others went blurry, just as in 3-dimensional reality. The gift here is the choice of which story to watch. (Favorite Scene: an aging Beowulf dislocates his shoulder to be able to rip the heart out of a dragon. Now THAT'S cinema!)

#6 - Hot Fuzz
(dir. Edgar Wright; star. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Roger Moore)

In a vaccuum, it's hard to tell what exactly was so special about the break-out film from the writing/producing team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, Shawn of the Dead. But with the addition of Hot Fuzz to the list, we're able to draw a lot of comparisons and see exactly what these guys are so great at doing.

No film this year cracked the comedy code like this British dream team. Set-ups and pay-offs so perfectly executed, gags that you never knew were gags until they slapped you in the face, and all while paying homage to their favorite action flicks from across the pond.
(Favorite scene: "Yarp.")

#5 - Grindhouse
(dir. Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino; star. Rose McGowen, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Quentin Tarantino, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Poitier, Michael Parks, Zoë Bell)

Okay, I know this is two films, but it was screened as a double feature in an age where the whole concept is extinct. And that's just the idea.

Every time Tarantino or Rodriguez makes a movie, it's a big deal. (I even caught The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D!) So when they get together, you know it's gonna be something amazing, and Grindhouse didn't disappoint.

Rodriguez's Planet Terror makes the most of the long gone "exploitation" genre while still telling a great action/horror story. The characters and dialogue are amazingly unique, the twists and plot points are solid (for this kind of flick), and everything is way over the top - just as it should be. Toss in Rodriguez's money-saving skills with a green-screen and BOOM! McGowen's sportin' wood! (And later, a rocket-launching machine gun.)

After a few faux-prevues (Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the S.S., Edgar Wright's hilarious Don't, and Eli Roth's disgustingly disturbing Thanksgiving), Quentin busts in with his ode to the car-flick genre, Death Proof, about the now-legendary Kurt Russell as the marauding "Stuntman Mike" (who uses his stunt car as a deadly weapon) and his run-in with the wrong group of gals.

The fact that a guy my age was being treated to purposely-damaged film reels and honorably imitated exploitation in an era where guys my age (I say "guys" as most women probably aren't into this film) have almost no memory of such ancient traditions made this an unforgettable theater-going experience. (Favorite scene: Zoë Bell clings for dear life on the hood of the 1971 Dodge Charger - the "Vanishing Point Car" - while Stuntman Mike attempts to shorten her ride.)

#4 - Atonement
(dir. Joe Wright; star. James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai)

With such an ambiguous title, it was hard for this film to gain momentum among the populous, but time - and possibly the 2008 Oscars - will elevate it to it's proper status.

Not only is Atonement the best love story of the year, but the drama of rich people is rarely more interesting. The structure and editing (as well as the musical score) of the first act of this film is incredibly engaging and keeps us hooked as the characters are swept away into World War II, and on through their ultimate fates. The final act gives us a very odd sense of closure and was the biggest upset of the show, but in no way detracted from the amazing film as a whole.

(Favorite scene: The long take of McAvoy's arrival at the beach during WW2. Incredible!)

#3 - 3:10 To Yuma
(dir. James Mangold; star. Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Logan Lerman, Ben Foster, Vinessa Shaw, Luke Wilson)

The Western is back! But it's got a train to catch...

This remake of the 50-year old film of the same name is unanimously superior to its predecessor. Ben Wade (Crowe) is the leader of a gang of bad dudes, and the town needs a hero to get him to the 3:10 train to Yuma so he can keep his appointment with the hangman. The adventure, of course, is in the journey - and our modest, reluctant but brave hero Dan Evans (Bale) is forced to take the job. Getting Wade to the train station proves to be a deadly feat, and Evans' son (Lerman) learns a lesson about the Good and the Evil within Man.

The pacing, direction and dialogue of this film - as well as the spot-on production design - make this an instant classic in the now-all-but-deceased Western genre. And Ben Wade ranks up there with the baddest of the baddies, next to all the "Frank"s of the old days.

(Favorite scene: Don't insult Ben Wade and then fall asleep near him - even if he is shackled.)

#2 - There Will Be Blood
(dir. Paul Thomas Anderson; star. Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano)

As I stated in my review in an older post, this film has the ability to leave the viewer with a strange aftertaste. But, the mark of a great story, this film is unforgettable.

The Citizen Kane-story of the oil industry, Blood clashes multi-dimensional, mysterious characters against a barren landscape and a people emaciated with the harsh lifestyle of the homesteaders of the early 20th Century. Even when you can't tell where the story is going, you never want the ride to end. That's when you know your author, Cinema-wunderkind Paul Thomas Anderson, is a true artist. I simply can't explain or identify the source of this film's power.

(Favorite scene: "I... drink.... your... MILKSHAKE!")


#1 - No Country For Old Men
(dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, star. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin)

This is the kind of film every filmmaker - secretly or openly - wants to make. It's the kind of film that reminds us why we treasure the art of cinema above almost all others.

After a few recent duds, the brilliant Coen Brothers out-do themselves and top off a would-be bloody trilogy (with Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996)) with a film whose tag lines include "You Can't Stop What's Coming" and "There Are No Clean Getaways" - which barely alludes to the powerful undertones of this narrative.

With an almost inaudible score, and intense performances from some of the best actors out there today, The Coens have created a little immortal piece of cinematic mythos. No Country ends on an ambiguous note and seems to subversively suggest the inevitability of death and evil. There are no heroes, but a clear villain prevails, and in a post-9/11 world, we feel right at home here.

My relationship with this film has only just begun, so trying to explain why it's brilliant is moot as it may take years to fully appreciate a film which I have, to date, only seen once.

(Favorite scene: Brolin waits in a hotel room for danger to find him. And it does.)

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