Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best and Worst Movies of 2007

“The Best and Worst Movies of 2007”

Best Movies of 2007

Though the tiny overlap between cinematic greatness and box office success has remained more or less the same, 2007 has been a year filled with surprising cinematic riches. While the big studios often produced sequels that merely mooched off the glory of past franchises with many disappointing results, those who sought more originality in their films found a wide variety of daring subject matter to pick from, particularly in the fall season. It was such a good year that I have also listed more than a dozen runner-ups that I grappled with before finally deciding on my top 10. The best films of the year are:

  1. Lars and the Real Girl – It must be said: to make a movie this sweet, innocent and moving about a man who carries on a “real” relationship with a life-size love doll in order to connect with the world is some kind of a daring wonder. No other movie, not even the more unanimously praised Juno, successfully utilized the tools of eccentric comedy to get at a pure and sincere heart and much of it is thanks to the tightly controlled performance by the consistently impressive Ryan Gosling. Most other great films this year treated the everyday world with admirable austerity but this movie stayed with me because this vision of unconditionally accepting those who are different challenged me to believe in another level beyond it. And if you think that sounds too gooey, howl like a true cynic.
  2. Ratatouille – In a distant way, this film goes hand in hand with my number one pick because it is about a rat who wants to rise above others’ perception as a kitchen pest to a kitchen chef. Pixar has created fishes and insects into lovable characters and the genius here is in tapping on the sense of taste to make Remy the rat even more lovable. As with all of their films, their delightful innovation is all around, from their animation to this most mature storytelling that backs it up.
  3. No Country for Old Men – The Coen brothers have built an impressive career of creating patently, absurdly creative worlds and characters but they really hit one out of the park every 11 or 12 years with a transcendent crime movie. They did it in 1984 with their debut, Blood Simple and in 1996 with Fargo and with the source of Cormac McCarthy’s novel they have made the most purely cinematic film of the year. This is the kind of movie that whets one’s appetite for the meticulous detail in pure filmmaking and vivid characters invisibly enhancing each other while leaving us with the philosophical implications of how ordinary men grapple with the concept of implacable evil.
  4. La Vie en Rose – I knew I would not see a better performance than the one given by Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in this movie and I didn’t. Director Oliver Dahan relies on it as the central emotional core to create a character portrait unlike any other, adhering to an overarching thematic fluidity over chronology. Some may look at Piaf with admiration and others with revulsion but there is no denying that few biopics have so lucidly captured the essence of their subjects as this one.
  5. Eastern Promises – Some people missed the bigger picture when they saw the big revelation as just another concluding plot explanation but it is really its transcendence. It also shows the leanness of David Cronenberg’s direction that he can compactly pack a cold but sensitive character study about a dedicated doctor and a conflicted mobster who seek to protect a baby born by a sin of the Mafia and cause us to reevaluate in another human dimension in the last frame.
  6. Away From Her – Featuring a great autumnal performance from Julie Christie and an equally powerful and underrated one from Gordon Pinsent, Sarah Polley's directorial debut is the rare kind of tearjerker that leaves not just one emotional note but a complex set of feelings. Within its tale of how a marriage is reflected upon in the face of the woman’s mental decline, the movie leaves an emotional puzzle where the pieces of unspoken truths and implications from the past and present are left for us to determine.
  7. Atonement – An old-fashioned romance epic flourished with fresh artistic dimensions, this tale of a blossoming romance destroyed by callous deception, along with No Country for Old Men, is a master class in translating literary poetry to sweeping images. The actors are so immersed in the material that it is easy to overlook how good they really are and the story builds to a conclusion that questions the very nature of art.
  8. Once – The most effortless charmer of the year, this Irish musical is as old-fashioned as David Lean’s Brief Encounter and as realistically modern as musicals get. Free of the contrived constraints of showstoppers that break the fabric of reality, the music and the characters flow so naturally because it is straight out of unadorned, real life.
  9. 3:10 to Yuma – A Western updated with elegant complexity, James Mangold's modern retelling of a story of a family man who tries to prove his worth by delivering an outlaw to justice shows how the genre is a durable one to analyze the dichotomous mechanisms of violence. At the center are great actors like Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster, who deliver dialogue so crisply that they implicitly make the point that a man can be saved more by words than by guns.
  10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – A staggering real-life portrait of a paralyzed man whose only window to the outside world is his one blinking eye, this French movie by American painter Julian Schnabel is inspiring precisely because its flawed hero doesn’t want to be singled out as noble. He remains the same man who relies on his own imaginations to set him free in his own mind and that his condition does not render him any different plays as a tribute to the indomitable human spirit.
The close runners-up (in alphabetical order): Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, The Bourne Ultimatum, Enchanted, The Great Debaters, Hot Fuzz, I’m Not There, Juno, The Lookout, Michael Clayton, A Mighty Heart, No End in Sight, Paris, Je t'aime, Sicko, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac.

Special mention also goes to Killer of Sheep, a previously lost gem by Charles Burnett from 1977 that was finally released in March this year after the rights of the eclectic soundtrack were finally paid for.

Worst Movies of 2007

I prefer to measure the strength of a year in movies by the number of great movies that are released and thankfully there were a lot of them in 2007. But as much as we would not like to do, it is important to sniff out the underachieving garbage that stunk up the theaters in between so that we can avoid it or learn to be grateful for the jewels we see. Here are some unambitious stinkers I have seen from 2007:

  1. Hostel: Part II – I would like to make a personal plea for Eli Roth to have his DGA and WGA licenses revoked for polluting our minds with putrid depravity like these Hostel movies offer. Other effective horror films have used gore but without scares, all we are left with is a sick, vomit fest for the morally and sensibly handicapped. (Of special note, I did not see Saw IV, which would also likely deserve to be on this list.)
  2. Norbit – Eddie Murphy had made a lot of disasters in past years but this one shamed them all. There is nothing wrong with playing off of fat jokes, as Murphy did so successfully in The Nutty Professor. The gaping problem is that it is done here with zero heart and all wretched excess.
  3. Black Sheep – A mildly amusing joke stretched out to a maddeningly boring feature length (even at 90 minutes), this is a horror spoof done with a lobotomy of creativity. It is like a comedian who does not know when to stop repeating the same old joke over and over again and the best thing to do is to walk away.
  4. The Hitcher – Another horror remake with none of the scares and all of the gore. The original film from 1986 (only 21 years have to pass for a remake?) about a pathological relationship between victim and killer was a sick movie to begin with and this remake is another sign of the decay of ingenuity in Hollywood.
  5. Because I Said So – Here is a romantic comedy that does not know anything about romantic or maternal love. I would like to think that sitcom producers, no less feature producers, would reject this stinker but one can only dream that they and actresses like Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore can be prudent enough to trash scripts like this.

Biggest disappointments of 2007

Lastly, there are the movies that I had higher hopes for and ended up being painfully mediocre. None of these would certainly qualify as the worst movies ever made but seeing them flop is all too disheartening to watch. Here were some disappointments:

  1. Sunshine – Danny Boyle is always an ambitious director so even his failures are somewhat interesting. Unfortunately, Boyle aimed lower than usual this time with this movie that seemed to start with grandeur but descended into a retread of familiar sci-fi elements. The worst part is that he and writer Alex Garland also aped from one of the most uninspired genres, too – the slasher genre.
  2. Shrek the Third – I was starting to think that the Shrek franchise was getting a little old in the tooth but I expected it to do more than ape the franchise with lame, knock-off jokes. Even Donkey and Puss in Boots seem bored and uninspired in this movie. That’s a sure sign that this franchise should be put to rest now.
  3. Spider-Man 3 – This is perhaps one of the biggest dips from sequel to sequel. I thought Sam Raimi and crew could do no wrong with the Spider-Man series but they got a little overzealous here to cram in as much as they could. The result is a movie with no sure identity or heart, despite the story’s attempt to explore both.
  4. El Cantante – It is crushing to see the originator of salsa be the subject of this biopic that merely checks off the old singer cliches of broken marriages and drug overdose. The concert scenes are decently choreographed but there is a reason that biopics need to be more than mere impersonation and in a year that had innovative biopics like La Vie en Rose and I’m Not There, this one was a dud.
  5. Lady Chatterley – I know this movie won numerous awards in France and other festival circuits but even admirers of this film have to admit that this one is really dull in parts, if not in whole. I know that the film is trying to tread the theme of unbridled lust and infatuation but that does not provide enough deeper meaning or purpose to warrant being three hours.

Overall, however, I think 2007 was one of the best years in movies in quite some time. We had to wait for most of them to come in the autumn but they were well worth the wait.

10 comments:

CresceNet said...

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Fletch said...

I love your reviews and agree with 99% of your top movies, but couldn't disagree much more about Lars. I listed it as one of my worst. I love Ryan Gosling, but think he made a grave error starring here, and he'll regret it soon enough. And yes, I am a cynic - there's no way the whole syrupy town would get behind him. It rang false.

Otherwise, great post!

a.i. editor said...

Top movie 2007 for me is Transformers.

CGI rocks!

Worst movie: hostel 2, I agree with you.

Disappointment: Spot in Sunshine!

I was wondering whether you would be interested in exchanging links with relevant blogs of mine.

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http://voyage.aimvotal.com

http://aispecial.blogspot.com

http://money.aimvotal.com


One is a PR3 & the rest are PR2 blogs.

I believe that a link exchange can do our blogs some good.

Thanks for your consideration.

joen05 said...

I agree with Fletch, you have some of the most incredible reviews I've ever read. I only wish I saw as many movies as you and had time to review them. I write terrible reviews though...

RocketDave said...

John,

I have to disagree with you about "No Country for Old Men". The movie was so overrated. And watching wooden Tommy Lee Jones was painful. The movie was oftentimes implausible.

Nayana Anthony said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! for giving Lars and the Real Girl its due. It was so underappreciated this year, and it's nice to read the thoughts of someone who enjoyed it as much as I did.

Random said...

I'm pretty much in agreement with your lists except for Sunshine. I thought it was an adult sci-fi film with a mature approach to the genre. All to often, sci-fi films are about the ship or the science. This one was about the people.

I do agree that Spidey-3 was a let down. Keep on goin' to the movies and telling us about them.

Thanks,
Random
generationxmovies.blogspot.com

Haven said...

Was a little dissapointed with Sunshine due mainly because of the ending. Transfomers was fun though, that was probably the best for 2007.

rusty james said...

I've got bad news for you. Lars and The Real Girl is actually a really bad movie.

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