Top 10 Films of 2007

I’ll be mentioning more Top 10 accolades in a series of future posts and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. (The following 10 films make over 65 appearances in 16 categories.) I tried to focus my comments here on the overall elements that shaped my decisions. So, if I don’t name an actor or (say) a score that you feel deserves mention, I’m probably getting to it later.

Perhaps the years’ biggest surprise. I’ve never been bowled over by Sean Penn’s directing and the story sounded dull and preachy. INTO THE WILD is not the type of story I’m drawn too, and I resisted it for a really long time. I ended up liking it so much it made my Top 10 during a very tough year.

This wisely isn’t about shaking off the shackles of responsibility, and it doesn’t fully support Chris McCandless’ desire to drop out of society and get back to nature. (His goals are constantly questioned.) Penn focuses on the journey, and he presents a fascinating odyssey full of adventure, both dangerous and exhilarating. The camera technique is edgy and daring, and the performances have a wonderful spontaneous quality. The film is long and slow, but I don’t think it would have been successful any other way.

People quickly mention Ellen Page is great, then move on because they anxiously want to discuss the characters played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. The dynamic between the two are like two pitchers who throw intersecting fastballs and then simultaneously knock it out of the park.

After Bateman and Garner, praise usually spreads out to the rich supporting cast, followed by the unique script. (Some feel the dialogue is too mannered and it is, but it’s also rich and highly quotable.) Finally it all comes back to Page, lovable without ever asking to be liked. The battle between her and Julie Christie for Best Actress is going to be one of the toughest to decide.

People tend to either love or hate Michael Moore. His documentaries bare such a forceful agenda that the truths of his talking points are always called into question. I love him mostly because he’s a great entertainer, and while some of his stunts are just hot air, he gets you to think and he does effect a small amount of change.

If the film had been nothing but him throwing his weight around to help people get medical attention, that would be enough for me. (Those scenes are the emotional high points of the movie). Moore also wisely played down the finger pointing, simply asking over and over, “Why is it like this?”

I am reminded of films by the great Billy Wilder. On one hand, THE LIVES OF OTHERS is a taut thriller about surveillance and betrayal. However, the stakes immediately become personal and the twists flow out of character instead of the gears of the plot.

Everything is carefully constructed and some unexpected encounters took my breath away. This is one of those thrillers that build slowly, surely to an emotionally epic climax. Many acclaimed films this year make strange detours at the finish. The final scenes in this one improve the already high quality.

I think POTTER films don’t get more ‘end of the year’ respect, because by now you’re not surprised by how good they are. You expect a certain level of quality. Yet this one was based on the worst book, with a new screenwriter and a mostly unproven director. While a bit rushed in the middle, the film is a remarkable accomplishment with some of the best moments of any film this year.

I have to start by mentioning the battle at the Ministry of Magic, a spectacular match that only hints at some great magical duels to come. The training of Dumbledore’s Army was also skillfully constructed, and marked an important turning point in the overall arc. PHOENIX also featured Dolores Umbridge, one of the most hated characters in the series. Imelda Staunton’s performance rightly garnered early Oscar buzz.

Want to know the difference between a film critic and a film geek? Look at their Top 10 list and see if they mention GRINDHOUSE. I’m a geek, so I’ll repeat what my fellow ilk all said…GRINDHOUSE, for all its faults, was the most enjoyable movie going experience all year. This double shot of self-conscious cool exhibited a pure love of filmmaking and style, with inside jokes galore and many over the top thrills.

First up was Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR, which I thought was critic proof since it was homage to movies that were so bad you couldn’t look away. It wasn’t as artistic as Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, but it was a hell of a lot more fun. PROOF, while overly talky, featured one of Kurt Russell’s best performances, an unforgettable car crash, and a dangerous chase featuring stunt woman Zoe Bell hanging on for life OUTSIDE the car.

Then there are the trailers. I own both DVD’s, but the wonderful, hilarious trailers are what really tied the whole experience up with a big bloody bow. It was a wonderful night at the movies. Too bad, it’ll never happen again in my lifetime.

The film was absolutely perfect for so long, and the Coen Brothers were making perfection look so easy. Then it makes a sudden left turn at the end, going mythic and leaving many a dissatisfied audience in its wake. I complained too. I get what they’re going for and I really like what the film has to say, but I can’t help wondering if there was a better way to get there.

Setting that aside, I reflect back on moments like the scuff marks of the struggling policeman, keys jingling in a truck ignition, an uncrimping wrapper (“Call it…Frend-o”), many great hotel confrontations, and that damn persistent dog. To think, this modern classic involves little more than two men and a bag of money. Yet within that framework much is said about the desperate and harsh world we live in. FARGO with a pitch-black heart.

Unlike most modern movies, the style isn’t a tribute to films of a bygone era. Writer/Director PT Anderson has crafted a bold, grand epic that’s right in line with similar classics. His partnership with Daniel Day-Lewis is a grand tango, with partners free to exhibit their full potential. The gonzo finale redefines swinging for the fences, but while it clashes with the rest of the film, it’s marvelous by itself.

Since BOOGIE NIGHTS, Anderson’s originality has been an uncomfortable fit with me. MAGNOLIA is 2 parts Masterpiece, 1 part overcooked ham, and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE annoyed the hell out of me. While not as warmly embraceable as BOOGIE NIGHTS, this is definitely his best film. Like the classics of Stanley Kubrick, the film is slow, but mesmerizing and tense from the first frame to the final line.

Having finished THE INCREDIBLES, Brad Bird was on his way out the Pixar door for a long overdue vacation. John Lasseter, however, was in trouble. Their film RATS was set to come out in only 18 months (computer animation takes 4-5 years), and they haven’t been able to solve numerous story problems. Lasseter convinced Bird to take over. He rewrote the script and crafted this wonderful, wonderful film that’s both popular entertainment and an artistic triumph.

Brad Bird is a creative genius.

On the list of classic Pixar characters, Remy the Rat (wonderfully voiced by Patton Oswalt) is the most expressive to date, and one of the films greatest strengths is the looks given by the characters both rat and human. Like previous Pixar films, RATATOUILLE selects voices over stars, and artistry over jokes. There are some tough sells in the story, but it’s handled with grace and the proper care. Everything looks dreamy, from the food to the wide views of Paris at night, and while there’s an abundance of cartoon humor (“Stop that health inspector!”), this is a film adults will probably enjoy even more. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more sophisticated animated film made in this country. Special mention to that first bite of ratatouille, a great moment in cinema history.

I was all ready to move HOT FUZZ out of my #1 slot. I thought there just had to be a more respectable selection. Then I watched it again and decided I had to go with what felt right. HOT FUZZ isn’t as well directed or acted or written as other films in my Top 10, but it is the most satisfying. Other films this year hit the bulls eye, but HOT FUZZ pulls a Robin Hood and splits the arrow.

As a film watcher, HOT FUZZ is both a very entertaining take on American action movies as well as a terrific action movie of its own with a solid plot and some great twists. The revelation of the killer took me completely by surprise (along with a slight giggle over what was going to happen next). As a film geek, I love the skill at work. The editing and sound are some of the best this year, and the film moves effortlessly between genres, incorporating humor both silly and sophisticated and horror, both scary and grandly grotesque.
Everything this film set out to do just worked, and the cast masterfully bounced with glee from jokey scenes to moments of real menace. They’re obviously having a ball making a kind of balls out American action film, while still maintaining their British reserve. So while other films this year are more important or more ambitious, HOT FUZZ is a cinematic multi-vitamin, delivering all the essentials. The Best Film of 2007.


Anonymous free movies said...

I just saw "Ratatouille" tonight.
It's a first class movie. Several thoughts come to mind. The character performances are so good, I think there's no sort of movie they couldn't make. I've heard Pixar's John Carter of Mars is going to be live action? No! I want them to do it all animated.

1:39 AM  

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