Thursday, January 10, 2008

List: The Top 15 Films of 2007

Most years, when I am reflecting upon the countless cinematic experiences I have taken part in during the year, it is often difficult to find a group of films that can necessitate a top 10 list that I truly "loved". A few I adore, and then the rest, were movies I simply liked. 2007, however, was a different story. This was a great year for film, and so many of the films I saw this year were genuinely great. Though there are still a number of films I haven't seen yet that I yearn to see (There Will Be Blood, Juno, Michael Clayton, and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead top that list), I still found myself loving many more that I did have the pleasure of viewing. The following films listed are my top 15 of 2007 in order of appeal:

Top 15 Films of 2007

15) Rescue Dawn- Director Warner Herzog has made a name for himself for many years with his excellent documentary films, his most recent effort having been the fascinating Grizzly Man. With this film, Herzog decided to try his hand at feature filmmaking, adapting his own Vietnam POW documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. This tale of a POW camp escape orchestrated by German-American pilot Dieter Dengler (portrayed by the always thrilling Christian Bale) brought a fresh take to this familiar genre, and also kept a strong current of suspense throughout the film. Also, look for an exceptionally strong serious performance by perennial comic actor Steve Zahn as a fellow prisoner.

14) The Mist- Frank Darabont has built a very respectable career out of film adaptations of horror writer Stephen King's dramatic works, such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. With this film, Darabont attempted one of King's horror tales, this one pulled from the short story anthology Skeleton Crew. The result was a thrilling yet original take on the "monster in the shadows" genre (with a thick cloud of mist replacing the said shadows in this instance). The film's monsters are thrilling, but the real nightmare of this film, is the chilling performance by Marcia Gay Harden as a manipulative religious fanatic. The horror film-as-social commentary is still alive and well, and this comment on the maddening effects of mass hysteria shined brightly this year.

13) Away from Her- After viewing The Notebook, I was under the impression that the horrors of Alzheimer's had pretty much been thoroughly covered through the medium of film. I was pleasantly surprised to see I was mistaken, and even more surprised that the masterful acting of the legendary Julie Christie showed me otherwise. As an elderly woman succumbing to the crippling disease and not recognizing her once adulterous but now firmly devoted husband, Christie gives what I considered the best female performance this year. First-time director Sarah Polley (better known as the resourceful blonde in the Dawn of the Dead remake) set the bar remarkably high in her first effort.

12) Knocked Up- If Judd Apatow ruled as the King of Comedy this year, Seth Rogen also was found strong success as his Clown Prince. This story of a one-night stand-turned-transition into parenthood could have been another dull adult comedy with a weak script and bad dick jokes. Instead, it shined as a witty, intelligent coming-of-age tale (complete with GREAT dick jokes). It seems that the days of mind-numbing comedies with little substance are in their dying days, making way for funnier movies with much more heart.

11) Across the Universe- Often times, the accessibility levels of a musical tend to be injured by the music itself, and the unfamiliarity with it. With Across the Universe, this is not an issue; the entire soundtrack is revised versions of classic Beatles songs. And this fact adds an element that most musicals cannot claim; an adoration for the music before one even steps in the theater. Julie Taymor succeeds in making a striking visual poem to the sounds of history's most iconic rock band.

10) Zodiac- Though this film is dedicated to the actions of a notorious unsolved serial murder case, this film is more of a drama than a horror film. Rather than focus on the exploits of the murderer (though they are presented in a graphic and starkly realistic way), the film instead focuses on how the search for the identity of the Zodiac killer consumed the lives of all that were involved. Jake Gyllenhall does well as a newspaper cartoonist who neglects everything else in his life in pursuit of the truth, and Robert Downey Jr. steals the film as the sarcastic alcoholic journalist Paul Avery.

09) 300- Some may claim that this film is nothing more than an over-the-top, overblown action film depicting the last stand of the Spartans against the Persians at Thermopylae. And the observation would be correct. But as ridiculously grandiose as it may seem, it is a film that wildly entertains from start to conclusion.

08) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street- I always look forward to Tim Burton's latest foray into the bizarre gothic world that is his body of work, but Burton went in a different direction with this film, while still staying true to his unique and beloved style. In his adaptation of Steven Sondheim's popular horror-musical, Burton created a bloody great film that revealed to the world that yes, Johnny Depp can sing. It also revealed to the world that Sacha Baron Cohen is not only adept at terrorizing unwitting bystanders with acts of comic genius, but is one hell of a great singer.

07) The Bourne Ultimatum- With the creation of the Bourne trilogy, fans of spy films have the official thinking man's Bond. Carrying an everyman quality while still seeming convincing as an unstoppable badass, Matt Damon's Jason Bourne has proudly seized the title of Action Hero of the New Millenium. This third film did not succumb to the dreaded sequel curse, and in actuality may have surpassed the two previous efforts. I still cannot watch the insane car chase sequence without feeling a rush of adrenaline.

06) Grindhouse- This pair of short films placed together with fictional exploitation trailers did not fare well at the box office, which is a shame. After all, how can you not enjoy the absurdity of a four-perspective car crash, a peg leg sex scene, and enough camp glory to keep you laughing and cheering for days? In both embodying and satirizing the most prominent qualities of trash cinema, Tarantino and Rodriguez created something fresh and original that succeeded in being a true cinema experience. For those who were not able to view it in theaters, the way it was meant to be watched, watching it on DVD just isn't the same as viewing this sexy, sleazy masterpiece on a giant screen.

05) Shoot 'Em Up- There is nothing more nauseating than watching an action film that insults the audience by attempting to pass off completely inplausible gunfights and fight sequences as "realistic". That is the beauty of Shoot 'Em Up: it does not even attempt to portray realistic action and is filmed in a way that states to the audience "don't take this too seriously". Clive Owen is great as the stereotypical badass British nanny (if there is such a thing), and Paul Giamatti is very funny as Owen's arch-enemy who has to balance his own evil plots with the nagging needs of his wife.

04) Superbad- Though this film proved to be a great year for comedy movies, no film made me laugh nearly as hard as this rauncy but somewhat sweet teen comedy. The film managed to have the charm of the 80's John Hughes film, with characters that both teens and adults alike could identify with and view as very real characters. However, it also managed to be uproariously funny, especially the antics of geek god McLovin (played to perfection by newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and two slacker cops (Seth Rogen, who co-wrote the film, and SNL's Bill Hader).

03) I'm Not There- Chronicling the illustrious life of rock legend Bob Dylan is no easy task as he has represented so many things over a very rich career. How to solve this dilemma? Simple: have 5 talented actors and one exceptional actress portray the classic rock Bard in Todd Hayne's amazing art film-as-biopic. Everyone here puts in a strong performance, but the standouts are Christian Bale as the protest singer and Christian artist Dylan, and Cate Blanchett in a performance as an outcast Dylan that is so dead-on it borders on disturbing.

02) Lars and the Real Girl- When one of the sweetest, most wholesome films of the year is the story of a man who falls in love with a sex doll, you know you have witnessed an odd year in film. Ryan Gosling matches his tour-de-force performance in last years Half-Nelson with this touching story of searching for something to love, and how that love may be real and pure, even if the thing you love is not. A truly heartwarming film and further proof that Gosling is one of the most talented young actors of the new independent generation.

01) No Country for Old Men- Is it a modern nightmare, a morbid morality tale, or just a simple thriller? It may have been all three, but nevertheless it made for a masterpiece of a film. The Coen Brothers, having seemed to lost their madness and their greatness after Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, The Coen Brothers returned with a vengeance with this tale of greed and the ever-darker reality of the changing world. Tommy Lee Jones put in one of the best performances of his acting career as a sheriff disturbed by the horrors he is watching unfold before him, and Josh Brolin finally found a role that will elevate him to the A-list. Yet no one in the film can compete with the chilling tour-de-force role of Anton Chigurt, played without remorse by Javier Bardem. The Hannibal Lector of the 2000's was created in Chigurt, and his relentless quest to take what was his and destroy all in his path made for the most entertaining film of the year.

List: The Worst Films of 2007

(NOTE: I had at one other point in time attempted a blog, and found that I was less than thrilled with the end result; so to avoid sounding as if I have yet to live in the present, I must inform any humble reader that this blog was composed at the beginning of January) For film enthusiasts, 2007 was a very exciting year. Whether you interests gravitate towards fascinating art films or larger-than-life popcorn movie affairs, there was a smorgasboard of entertaining films to experience. However, the year also produced it's share of awful films as well. For that very reason, I have decided to list the 7 films that I unwittingly suffered through the past year. Hopefully my personal sacrifice may encourage others to avoid the pain of experiencing these films for themselves.

The 7 Worst Films of 2007

7) Blades of Glory- I intentionally placed this film at the bottom of the list because there were some moments in the film that were mildly amusing, and most of them belonged to Will Ferrell. However, this film's substandard quality can be attributed to one man: Jon Heder. Now, this may seem like a controversial comment to make concerning the beloved "Napoleon Dynamite". Do not fret, Dynamite devotees, for I enjoyed that film as much as everyone else. However, I have not enjoyed anything else Jon Heder has been involved in. I thought he wasn't very good in Just Like Heaven (honestly, there wasn't much I considered good in that film), and I felt his character in The Benchwarmers was a pale Diet Coke version of Napoleon Dynamite. In this film, his chemistry with Will Ferrell is nothing short of appalling. Here's hoping he soon learns to play more than one role in every film he's involved with.

6) Ghost Rider/Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer- With the recent critical and commercial success of the comic book movie genre (with the Spider-man series and Batman Begin reigning supreme), almost immediately every comic book license has been greenlight for a motion picture. While many of them are good films, or at the very least, decent, there are still plenty that have been truly terrible. But none can truly challenge the complete failure of these two films. The first, a Faustian tale about an undead hero biker born out of the flames of hell, finally provided avid comic fan Nicholas Cage to enter in the genre; it probably would have been better for everyone involved if he had declined. After the 23rd bad "fire" pun or wooden performance (with Eva Mendes being the main source of contention), I almost longed for Son of the Mask. A few months later, the second Fantastic Four movie further exposed me further to the horrors of bad comic book adaptation. I didn't even think they could do much worse than the first Fantastic Four, but apparently I hadn't counted on a Silver Surfer character who had a television in his stomach like a cosmic Teletubby, an even more metrosexual Dr. Doom, and a final major enemy Galactus that turned out to be.......a giant cloud.

5) Norbit- Attention to all filmmakers: a black male comedian wearing a fat suit and playing a woman IS NOT FUNNY ANYMORE. It was barely funny in The Nutty Professor. It wasn't funny in Nutty Professor 2. Or Big Momma's House. Or Big Momma's House 2. Or Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Or Medea's family Reunion. Or the next 5 movies that I am sure will use the same plot device. We all know the drill: at some point they are gonna sit on a chair that will break, they will randomly break other items because of their girth, they will smother any lover or potential mate during an intimate moment, and they will eat, and eat, and eat throughout the entire movie. Please let this crappy Eddie Murphy vehicle be the death nail in this irritating trend.

4) Epic Movie- This film is a parody film from the people who brought you Date Movie. And it was much, much worse than Date Movie, and that is saying a LOT. Look for the follow-up, Meet the Spartans, to be on this list next year.

3) Pirates of the Carribbean: At World's End- With the exception of The Bourne Ultimatum, most of the "threequels" released this past year were disappointing to most people (though admittedly I enjoyed the Shrek and Spider-man entries). But the one that stood head and shoulder's as the largest failure was the closing chapter of the Pirates trilogy. With a plot so convoluted few could understand it fully (and the ones that did really didn't care anyway), the story alone should have been enough to sink this ship. However, in addition to the plot issues, the audience was subjected to a secret pirate weapon that was nothing more than a 50-foot black woman, a mindless ending that cheapened the two previous films, Keira Knightley seemingly channeling Kill Bill fight tactics all of a sudden, and the always brilliant Johnny Depp seeming to phone it in for this film. And most of all, after so many double-crosses and backstabs the audience is left with no character to truly care about.

02) Hannibal Rising- An interesting premise (How did Hannibal Lecter become the monster he is now) made for a truly boring film. This vapid prequel was so bad it may have actually lowered the quality of the original films by a small margin. The one quality that made Hannibal Lecter so terrifying was his ability to seem charming and likeable will still remaining positively chilling. In this film there is nothing chilling about him, and he manages to have absolutely no charisma whatsoever. Sadly, it seems this year Hannibal Lecter finally passed on, only to be reincarnated properly in the Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurt in No Country for Old Men.

01) Happily Never After- There is no simpler way to state this: Happily Never After is the worst film that I have ever seen. I decided to take a chance on the film because the producers of Shrek were involved and the concept sounded interesting (all of the fairy tales don't have a bad ending rather than the conventional happy one). But the film failed miserably by trying to seem trendy and hip but also maintain a kid-friendly sweetness. This film could have been great if it was done as an animated dark comedy, but instead it was done as a truly dumbfounding film that not only was a disgrace for every actor involved (George Carlin, a man I have always admired, is a part of the debacle), but it has also visually scarred the audience for all eternity.