Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Top Ten Films of 2007

In making a list, I look back and try to remember how I felt the day I saw them, the week I saw them, and how I think of them now. I've seen movies I loved at the time that fade quickly, or ones I liked but had a respect increase and grow the further I got away from it.

I have not seen these other movies making top-ten lists everywhere, (some due to them only being released on a handful of screens on the West or East Coast), so in three or four months, when they've hit DVD, then I feel my list could be redone and considered complete:

There Will Be Blood
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
Into the Wild
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
4 Months 3 Weeks & 2 Days
Sweeney Todd
I'm Not There
Michael Clayton
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The Savages
Gone Baby Gone

But of the 139 films I've seen in 2007, these were the best:

Honorable mentions:

1408, Away From Her, Breach, Bridge to Terabithia, Catch & Release, Disturbia, Eastern Promises, The Hoax, The Host, Hot Fuzz, Interview, Knocked Up, Meet the Robinsons, Music & Lyrics, Ocean's 13, Once, Paris Je T'Aime, Red Road, Rescue Dawn, Shoot Em Up, The Simpsons Movie, Stephanie Daley, Sunshine, Surf's Up, Talk to Me, Transformers, Waitress, Zodiac

The best 11-20:

3:10 TO YUMA - James Mangold gives his own touch to the Western, and this is the best one we've had since Open Range. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale give very different, but both very interesting performances as a killer and the lawman who caught him, respectively. This might have made my top ten if Ben Foster would have dialed it back a notch as Crowe's scene-chawing right-hand man, and had the ending been more believable.

AMAZING GRACE - The first time I thought it was okay. Then I watched it again and really appreciated what the makers were doing. They were able to convey the atrocities of slavery while keeping it in PG confines so all ages could watch and learn how slavery ended in the United Kingdom. Ioan Gruffudd demonstrates charisma he lacks in the Fantastic Four series, and there's great supporting work from Albert Finney, Ciaran Hinds and Michael Gambon.

BEOWULF IN 3D - I don't think DVD will do justice to what this was like on the big screen. Robert Zemeckis has improved the stop-motion animation technique he started in Polar Express, and while not flawless, it had great action and dizzying visuals. This should have got the third slot for Best Animated Picture above Surf's Up, although it wasn't the best of the year. Keep reading...

BLACK BOOK - I dig me World War II movies, and this is an interesting spy story about a Jewish woman who is able to get an SS officer to fall for her. Even after he learns the truth he wants to stay with her, and then we get genuine suspense as the war ramps up how these two are ever going to stay alive. Great performance from Carice Van Houten.

CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR - This movie had all the exuberance of 1980's patriotism, with only the slightest dark wink to the unintended consequences. Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman make a great team as the Zelig-like congressman and the cynical CIA agent, respectively. One of the funnier movies of the year.

FRACTURE - The plot has faded on me (I remember it; it was just fairly routine) but the real treat is watching a great actor from one generation (Ryan Gosling) go toe-to-toe with a great actor from another (Anthony Hopkins).

FREEDOM WRITERS - This was not just another Dangerous Minds. Hilary Swank's teacher is someone you can believe actually changes lives for the good, and there are several dimensions given to her students.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX - They took my least favorite book from the series and made it one of the better movies. Daniel, Rupert and Emma improve with each film, and Imelda Staunton is a memorable villain. The parallels to national security paranoia are unmistakable.

THE KINGDOM - Solid, solid action picture only enhanced by being located in Saudi Arabia. I'm really enjoying the career trajectory Peter Berg has taken as director.

STARDUST - It's downright relieving to have an original fantasy-comedy come along that's good. It won't be quite as timeless as The Princess Bride, but it has a fun, constantly-moving plot, and Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show as the wickedest of witches.

And now...

... The Top Ten

10. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM - This franchise forced James Bond to reinvent himself. Matt Damon is a thinking man's action hero, perfectly believable as a lethal weapon. Whodu thunk that when Good Will Hunting came out? I would be there ina heartbeat for a fourth, even though Damon has said he's done. Maybe that's best; leave us wanting more.

9. HAIRSPRAY - The most fun musical of the year, this is a vibrant celebration (I haven't seen it but does anyone think Sweeney Todd was more fun?). I don't want my 10-year-old daughter's constant playing of the soundtrack to subtract from me how much I enjoyed when I first saw it. Nikki Blonsky has a dream film debut.

8. PAPRIKA - There must have been some technicality that prevented this from being nominated for Best Animated Film, or maybe not enough voters actually saw it. This Japanese import reminds us how limitless a visual medium animation can be, held back only by imagination and focus groups. I don't want to overhype it, as it has many similar qualities to other anime movies, but it served as a great reminder to me what a cool genre this can be.

7. THE LOOKOUT - Joseph Gordon-Levitt, slavishly dedicated to the indie route right now, is turning into one of my favorite young actors. (He also headlined last year's underrated Brick.) Here he's a brain-damaged young man who's talked into helping with a bank robbery, at the very bank he works. it's a thoughtful drama that builds its suspense nicely.

6. NO END IN SIGHT - The definitive Iraq War documentary, this one really demonstrates that even after we invaded Iraq, there was a real chance to do things right and make it work, but inept leadership and poor planning led instead to quagmire. Everyone in the Bush Administration will admit "mistakes were made." This movie clearly lays out what they were and when, in an objective tone rather than a populist one. Four of the five nominated Best Documentary features are ones that make America look bad, but this one doesn't feel like it has an axe to grind. It feels more like it's saying, "Let's please, please learn from our mistakes."

5. AMERICAN GANGSTER - We watch Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in movies to see them do their thing, and they're two of the best. Denzel relishes the rare chance to play the villain as Frank Lucas, the true-life drug kingpin of the 1970's, and equal time goes to Russell as the Serpico-like cop who brought him down. Denzel's half plays like a black Godfather, with family relations and business prospectives guiding him, and the occasional murder out of spite. Russell's half has the gritty feel of a French Connection cop-shop, where the only honest law enforcer pays for it. Solid supporting work from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin and Ruby Dee only enhance what two stars could carry themselves.

4. THE LIVES OF OTHERS - This won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2006, but it didn't open in the US until February 2007. It's a great depiction of the banality of thought-control Communism in East Germany in the 1980's. There was an entire police force dedicated to spying on its citizens for anti-Communist sentiments. Ulrich Mare, who died last year, is the heart of the film, as a spy who leanrs to admire his subject, and must figure out how to keep him safe when he's recording everything he does. Some felt it was an upset when this beat Pan's Labyrinth, but as visually imaginative as that film was, this would have received my vote.

3. JUNO - Cynical wisecracks notwithstanding, this is the warmest and maybe funniest movie of the year. Ellen Page is peerlessly charming as the prego teen, and screenwriter Diablo Cody's debut has announced herself as a future voice to be recknoned with. I'm glad audiences are finding this.

2. RATATOUILLE - Pixar has a magic way with movies, churning out some of the most satisfying big-screen entertainment of the past 15 years. This cartoon rat is no exception. I admire Pixar for taking a not very marketable idea (who wants to see a rat cook?) and making it work beautifully. The voice work is fun, the animation is deep and rich, and it's another example of how family entertainment can have something for everyone.

1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - The Coens' best movie in years. It took me a while to figure out what the ending meant to me, but it stuck to me longer than any other movie this year. It's not often a movie will dare to deviate in its third act this much from what we expect. Shot after shot is like a framed picture. It's full of what I call "Coen moments" and keeps the suspense high even when no dialogue is spoken. I know the ending will frustrate some people, but its unexpected turns at the end are what will keep it relevant for decades in the crime/western genres.

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