THE EDGE OF TOWN
Year-end film lists for 2007
from our regular contributors:
Shari L. Rosenblum
and other friends
CineScene's Top Ten
And thanks to everyone who participated! -- The Editor.
This was a year for powerful movies about extremes and extremists. Zodiac is the police procedural carried to the extreme of endless obsession. Into the Wild, by far Sean Penn’s best work to date, is about idealism and adventure pushed to tragic excess; Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There is a wildly experimental depiction of the extremes of Bob Dylan’s personality. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly depicts an extreme experience and is a tribute to the enormous courage of a paralyzed man—and also to the daring of the Brooklyn-born, Texas-raised painter Julian Schnabel, ready to make a movie all in French. If genius is 99% perspiration, directing is often 99% chutzpah. I think those six films are going to be remembered; and they’re all from American directors, so that’s pretty good. (The rest are also fine, but fall under various and different headings.)
Likewise to be long remembered, it’s my bet, are some of the foreign ones. Once, from Ireland, is a simple, minimal, and perfect little film. Philippe Garrel’s Regular Lovers is a sublime long mournful poem about 1968 in Paris and its aftermath. Pascale Ferran’s Lady Chatterley is bold, beautiful, and strange. Dumont’s Flanders is harsh and yet sweet. Marion Cotillard’s over-the-top Edith Piaf impersonation in La Vie en Rose is the performance of a lifetime. I don’t know if all the others I have listed will be long remembered but they are wonderfully made, and moved me.
There continue to be more and more important new documentaries. We surely remember, from last year, An Inconvenient Truth, which helped get Al Gore a Nobel Prize. Personal favorites from this year are Nanking, Billy the Kid, and Kurt Cobain About a Son. Many more seem obligatory, if sometimes rough viewing.
I’ve indicated where DVDs are already available and also where the original releases were earlier; all others were 2007. Some additional titles and categories are listed on my website.
Early 2008 has brought the tragic loss of Heath Ledger—an event
that has made even Daniel Day-Lewis weep. The young Ledger was only just
beginning to become clearly an important actor. His unforgettable and
deeply moving performance in Brokeback
Mountain will be his lasting monument.
Shari L. Rosenblum
Top Ten Films of 2007
Knocked Up and Superbad have their place (though it isn’t on my shelf), and I’ll always have a soft spot for the moving on/all’s well that ends well optimism of such as Catch and Release and P.S. I Love You (even if it takes me no further than booking the next flight to Ireland or the Pacific Coast), but the films that top my list this year seem to speak with a certain maturity, and brim with an honest intelligence that never condescends. They moved me, they scared me, they made me think. 1. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck).
The build up is slow; but the film surprises. The acting is sublime, the writing provocative, the direction dead on. The year is 1984, and from the lost and unlamented Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the heartland of Kennedy’s betrayed Berliners and the prison guards within their Wall—the Stasi, or East German secret police—an Orwellian dystopia unfolds upon the screen. Paranoia takes center stage from the opening reel, in which a non-descript little man—movements static, balding pate closely cropped, and expression dour— stands at the base of a stark lecture hall beside an antiquated reel-to-reel tape recorder and demonstrates for his students from the flickering images the art of interrogation. Airiness on the suspect’s part is taken for arrogance, a lack of awkwardness an antagonism to the state, and lightly tousled hair a sign of certain sedition. Power is exercised in surveillance and tested in performance. The symbiosis of audience and actor is mined for all that it can bear. Dramas of fact and fiction overlay one another—romance, jealousy, betrayal, collusion—and the interplay of the theatrical and political stuns in its starkness. The film is quietly observant, incisive, and insistent. The rewards are unforeseen and unforgettable.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian
4. The Savages
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona).
in Real Life (Peter
Hedges) / Lars
and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie).
9. Into the Wild
10. 4 Months, 3 Weeks
and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu).
20 Favorites of 2007
Science (Jeffrey Blitz).
Rocket Science, the second feature by Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound), who overcame his own stuttering disability, is a teen comedy about a 15-year old stutterer that poignantly captures the painful loneliness of adolescence. While Rocket Science sounds like other coming of age films, it offers a unique and very special look at the pitfalls of growing up without having to rely on grossness, stereotypes, or implausible situations. Brilliantly played by Vancouver actor Reece Thompson, Hal’s sweetness and innocence as a would-be debater is totally captivating and we identify with his pain and root for him to succeed. While there are some predictably oddball characters, Rocket Science is wise, honest, funny, touching, and painfully sad, and loaded with Oscar-caliber performances.
the Wild (Sean Penn).
on Jon Krakauer’s book about the life of Chris McCandless, Into
the Wild is a celebration of youth with its idealism, desire for
adventure, and also its arrogance and short-sightedness. Director Sean
Penn, who seems deeply connected to his subject, consulted with Chris’
parents after waiting ten years for their approval to undertake the project.
The result is a sweet, thoughtful, and deeply moving film about a young
man who traveled to Alaska to seek a life unfettered by commercialism
and greed. It is not a message film but a voyage of discovery, a search
for authenticity in a world that has forgotten what truth looks and feels
Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von
The Lives of Others is a haunting look at the paranoia of the East German security apparatus in the year 1984, a paranoia that ended only with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Director von Donnersmarck shows the intimidation and disorientation the Stasi used as tools in operating a ruthless system of control and surveillance directed at artists and intellectuals. As the surveillance proceeds, the gradual exposure of Stasi Captain Gerd Weisler (Ulrich Mühe) to a playwright with a different lifestyle that includes music, literature, and freedom of expression leads him to begin to look at his life in a different way. It is the catalyst for a plot that ends up as a powerful depiction of what it means to be human.
4. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen).
No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers’ brilliant adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s bloody lament for a vanished America, is a powerful and uncompromising film, an elegy for what America has lost and an outcry against what it has become, a society inured to violence where murder and rape is a coin toss and war is an event that is woven into the fabric of our life. In a film in which all the performances are universally excellent, Javier Bardem stands out as the screen’s most implacable villain in many years, conveying an unrelenting sense of menace, and Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as the discouraged Sheriff Bell, struggling against what he calls “the dismal tide”. Relentless in its heartbreaking sadness, No Country is a dark and brutal saga that is without any sympathetic characters, just the hunter and the hunted, each, however, with a kind of integrity that hints at redemption beyond the apocalypse.
5. Across the Universe (Julie Taymor).
Across the Universe offers a new generation an experience of the vitality and sheer exuberance of the Beatles musical portfolio. Julie Taymor’s ambitious salute to Beatlemania is a celebration of thirty-three of the Beatles' most famous songs and how they reflected the idealism of the 1960s. Utilizing her background in puppetry, folklore, mythology, and mime, Taymor brings imagination and creativity to the table with mostly wonderful results. The film not only integrates the Beatles songs into a heartfelt love story, it also provides a mirror into the political and social turmoil of the decade. For fans of The Beatles and for a new generation that is eager to learn about the nature of their appeal, Across the Universe is a joyous and at times transcendent ride.
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel).
Schnabel’s masterful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
dramatizes the debilitating trauma faced by 43-year old French fashion
magazine editor, Jean-Dominque Bauby. Bauby suffered a massive stroke
that left him unable to speak or to move his head and whose only means
of communication was to blink one eye – one blink for yes, two blinks
for no. With the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josée Croze),
and a very patient transcriber, a code is developed that allowed Bauby
(Mathieu Amalric), called Jean-Do by his friends and family, to compose
a book based on his experience which was published shortly after his death.
Full of humor, irony, and a great deal of eloquence and imagination, The
Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film of enormous power that shakes
us and enables us to get in touch with the miracle of each moment.
on a 1996 memoir by the widow of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis,
Control follows Curtis’ life from his teenage years to
his tragic death at age twenty-three. Unlike conventional bio-pics, it
delivers a three-dimensional portrait of a real human being and how his
troubles affected the people closest to him. Sam Riley eerily recreates
Curtis in appearance and voice, performing all of the band’s iconic
songs using Curtis’ robotic hand motions on stage to great effect.
Riley plays him simply as a very innocent, down to earth young man whose
talent was much greater than his ability to handle it. An extremely moving
experience whether or not you have foreknowledge of the events of Curtis’
life, Control is a film that has the power to touch and leave
memories that are indelible.
In his latest documentary, Sicko, controversial director Michael Moore is up to his old tricks: use of rapier comic thrusts to make a point, anecdotal support rather than statistical, feigned innocence, and good old fashioned showmanship to point out the deficiencies of the American health care system. The main premise of Sicko, however, is dead-on accurate – the system and the profit mentality it reflects are flawed, tragically flawed, and in need, not only of stop-gap repairs but of major overhaul. Moore’s films are not always balanced but they are passionate muckraking for worthwhile causes, in this case a simple one – a society based on compassion.
Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
11. Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita).
If you are ready to be uplifted, the perfect vehicle is Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda. It is not only a feel-good movie, it is a feel-great movie that had the audience I saw it with dancing in the aisles (figuratively if not literally). Yamashita has managed to put together not only one of the best rock films but also one of the most truly honest films I have seen about teenagers. It also has a very infectious song, "Linda Linda Linda," that will roll around forever inside your brain. The songs are not lip-synched but actually performed by the talented actress musicians. The ending of the film is so perfect that I dare not give it away except to say that the feeling it leaves you with is one of pure and simple joy.
12. The First Saturday in May (John and Brad Hennegan).
For two years, brothers John and Brad Hennegan followed the daily activities of those horses that they thought had a chance to make it to the 2006 Kentucky Derby. The result is The First Saturday in May, a buoyant and energizing film experience that may just be the best documentary of the year. First Saturday is primarily a film about horses, but is also about the trainers and their families, and especially their children who provide some of the film’s most entertaining moments. The most emotionally compelling parts of the film are those showing the rise and fall of the horse Barbaro from his astonishing 6 ½-length win in the 2006 Kentucky Derby to his breakdown in Pimlico and his subsequent fight for survival.
Search of Mozart (Phil Grabsky).
Phil Grabsky’s In Search of Mozart traces Mozart’s life from his childhood in Salzburg to his death in Vienna in 1791 at the age of thirty-five from rheumatic fever and kidney failure. The film has gorgeous color, valuable commentary, visits to ten European capitals, and Mozart’s glorious and inspired music. Narrated by British actress Juliet Stevenson, the film includes interviews with musicologists and artists, the revelation of Mozart’s personal letters, and performances of eighty of his works, played with rare passion by some of the world’s greatest orchestras and singers. The first major feature-length documentary on Mozart’s life, it is a stunning celebration filled with the unyielding mystery of genius. Picking up the pieces from the wreck left by Amadeus, In Search of Mozart does justice to the man and his music.
When the facts are not readily available, Moliére uses guesswork, imagination, and creativity to fill in the blanks of the French playwright’s life. Director Laurent Tirard allows us to imagine characters and situations that might have led to such great works as Tartuffe, Le Bourgeois Gentlhomme and 28 other plays which roast the upper classes as affected hypocrites and worse. With the title role soulfully and convincingly performed by Romain Duris, Moliére may not fully capture the true essence of the French author, but it does suggest a writer of depth, wit, and inspiration. The film is speculation, not biography, but it is art and the payoff is a romantic and richly entertaining tribute to one of the greatest playwrights in history.
|Most disappointing films of 2007:||15. No End in Sight (Charles
16. God Grew Tired of Us
(Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker)
17. Red Road (Andrea Arnold).
18. Flight of the Red Balloon
19. Zodiac (David Fincher).
20. Amazing Grace (Michael Apted).
My best of '07
I watch a lot of movies - many, many more than once. And every year, I keep track of the new (to me) movies that I see. This past year I watched 114 new movies. That's an average of 2 per week. So when I went to compile my list of the best movies of 2007, I was a little surprised to find that I couldn't come up with 10 "best" movies. I have 5 that I think will stand the test of time. And a few that I thought worth noting. I must preface this by saying that I have not seen what many consider to be the best film of the year - No Country for Old Men. Nor have I seen Juno - which is getting praise from many different circles of friends. So without further ado, here is my list of the best movies of 2007:
5. Zodiac (David Fincher) Based on Robert Graysmith's books about the Zodiac killer, this is a fine thriller. Fine performances all around, especially from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. The film is well paced, taut, tense, and everything a thriller should be.
4. Sweeney Todd (Tim Burton). I loved this film version of the finest Stephen Sondheim musical. There were elements from the stage that I missed, but overall, a fine job from beginning to end.
3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik). I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is a beautiful movie from start to finish. Loved the look, the sound, the feel, the maturity of this movie. Don't miss it.
2. Ratatouille (Brad Bird). Pixar just gets better and better. And this is IMHO one of the best. The story is great, the rats are wonderful and the Proustian moment when Anton Ego tastes the simple Rattatoille meal - classic.
1. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck). Technically, this film is from 2006, but I saw it in Feb '07, just before the Oscars. It was the best film I saw all year and the only one I think will truly stand the test of time. Ulrich Mühe's performance is among the great film performances of all time. So sad that we in the West discovered him only to lose him too soon.
Honorable mentions - for first time efforts and swan songs.
Once (John Carney). The musical that took the movie world by storm. It's still playing around Portland in small houses. When it opened, it was only on one screen in the whole city.
Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck). Affleck's directorial debut shows his strengths and weaknesses. I look forward to more from him.
Into the Wild (Sean Penn). Penn obviously loved his subject and his scenery, but I just couldn't get behind the young man at the center of the story.
Waitress (Adrienne Shelly). Shelly's sweet love story was everything you want a good pie to be. Sweet but not too sweet. Light and fluffy - not too filling. With a perfect crust to hold it all together.
What I Thought About What I Saw 2007
Since I rarely see movies in the theater, I haven't had a chance to catch up on the year-end Oscar bait. That said, here are my top ten for 2007.
In a year as good for movies as any I can remember, Ratatouille shines as a lovely, multilayered story, a compelling argument for criticism, and a remarkable technical achievement. I thought this film was doomed from the first promo reel – who cares about a rat that cooks? Boy, was I wrong. Ratatouille does everything right, and it's a film with genuine, earnest appeal for every member of its audience. In short, it's a masterpiece.
In a genre filled with slashers who are no more terrifying than anything else we might read about on the front page of the Washington Post, what a pleasure to find a well-executed ghost story. Not only did 1408 genuinely scare me, but it delivered delicious residual scares on my next hotel stay. I went into this movie with zero expectations. What a pleasant surprise.
4. Black Book
Up (Ash Brannon and Chris Buck).
7. Seraphim Falls
(David Von Ancken).
8. Black Snake Moan
There Will Be Blood
(Paul Thomas Anderson).
3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold).
The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
No Country For Old Men
(Joel and Ethan Coen).
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass).
Juno (Jason Reitman).
Knocked Up (Judd Apatow).
No End In Sight (Charles Ferguson).
Superbad (Greg Mottola).
Zodiac (David Fincher).
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett).
Once (John Carney).
The King of Kong (Seth Gordon).
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney