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.

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