Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Film Year In Review--2007

Monday, January 14, 2008

Welcome to my annual film roundup. You can read it straight through or browse. I end with my top ten, but what's the rush?

2007 was a decent year. Perhaps not as great as what some of the critics are claiming, but better than the average. (Admittedly, while I see a fair amount of film, no one's paying me to do it, so I see a lot less than professional critics do.)

As always, let me note I will only discuss 2007 theatrical feature films. Not shorts, not TV movies (nor TV shows--no Sopranos here), not re-releases, not classics on TCM. The films had to first be released in 2007 (or perhaps released in 2006 and made widely available in 2007).

Here's the order: 1) Awards, 2) Rankings and 3) The Top Ten

One more thing. Occasionally I'll see a film written by, directed by or starring a friend. In such cases, it's hard to judge it objectively and I usually leave it out. But let me put in a plug for a film a friend directed, The Man From Earth. With a sci-fi script by the famous (and no longer with us) writer Jerome Bixby, though it's a small in scale, it's got a lot of power. Available on DVD.


Man Of The Year: Second runner-up, Josh Brolin, who gave two breakout performances in two major films, No Country For Old Men and American Gangster. First runner up, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who acquitted himself well in three films, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, The Savages and Charlie Wilson's War. Winner: Michael Cera. I wouldn't have guessed his soft-spoken act in Arrested Development would lead to anything, yet here he is, starring in two of the year's biggest comedies, Superbad and Juno. I still wonder if he can go much further, but he'll always have 2007.

Biggest Disappointment: Runner up, Hot Fuzz. I loved Shaun Of The Dead, which mixed horror and comedy so well. This follow-up tried to mix action and comedy and served neither. Winner: The Heartbreak Kid. The remake had a few moments, but this reunion of the Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller, who made one of my favorites, There's Something About Mary, just didn't work. Must be something about lightning striking.

Buy The Premise, Buy The Movie: Knocked Up was one of the biggest hits of the year, and helped make Judd Apatow king of comedy, but I didn't buy it. That a beautiful, accomplished, successful woman like Katherine Heigl would be with, and then stay with, a loser like Seth Rogen prevented me from enjoying much of the film.

Knock Me Over With A Feather Award: Across the Universe. Did I really want to see a whole film of Beatles covers? (It's been done before, and I'm still shuddering.) Okay, the first half was better than the second, and they could have cut a half hour, but I was surprised to find I enjoyed a lot of it.

Mickey Mouse Award: Last year, Flushed Away. This year, Ratatouille. Must we continue to feature animated vermin?

As Good As Three Episodes Strung Together: The Simpsons Movie

Borat Award for Creepiest Film: The Great World Of Sound. It's about two guys who fronted a scam where they'd audition bands in their hotel room and offer to sign each one, IF the band would put up some earnest money to help make a recording. Fine, except the film's selling point is many of the acts were real and thought this was a real audition. Watching the scam operate (though I'm sure the bands signed waivers after and were probably happy for the exposure) made me cringe.

Pity The Poor Showrunner Award: Two films satirized the process of getting a series on the air, The TV Set and The Nines. (What, you didn't see them? You never heard of them?) It showed what a miserable process it is, though most people I know who try to work in TV wish they were failing at this level.

Best 1/6 Of A Movie Award: Cate Blanchett as Dylan in I'm Not There. (The worst 1/6 is Richard Gere).

Just What We Need, Another Arty Western Award: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. This Brad Pitt film flopped everywhere. Brad Pitt films do not flop everywhere.

Crazy People Are Funny: Lars And The Real Girl, King Of California

High People Are Funny: Smiley Face, Weirdsville

Dead People Are Funny: Wristcutters, Death At A Funeral

Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time Award: Grindhouse. Two moves from two hot directors for the price of one. How could it fail? It did.

Best Shot Of The Year: Dunkirk in Atonement. Showy, sure, but impressive. It lasts for several minutes as we cover a lot of ground, with plenty of action and dialogue.

House Of Sand And Fog Award For The Most Miserable People Doing The Most Miserable Things Until It All Ends In Misery: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

Worst Trend: Anti-war films. Not the idea of anti-war films, but the ones I saw. Okay, you don't like the war in Iraq, we get it. But even if you want to get out this message (because it's so hard to hear otherwise), try to wrap it up in a decent story.

Most Pro-American Military Film: 28 Weeks Later, and I'm surprised no one caught this. In fact, most saw it as a metaphor for Iraq, but watch the film closely. Note that the Americans are incrediby efficient at dealing with a crisis, and their tough rules are absolutely necessary. The one time someone breaks the rules, even for what seems like a noble motive, the entire world is doomed.

Most Paranoid Film: Shooter, with politics straight out of the mid-70s. The world is run by conspiracy. Near the end I swear there's a scene where rich guys smoke cigars, laugh diabolically and then raise their brandies in a toast to Evil.

Most Annoying Score: A tie--There Will Be Blood and Atonement. Both took me out of the film.

Most Storied City: Vegas, where Lucky You, Next and Smokin' Aces are set. (Or was the last one in Lake Tahoe--oh well, same difference.)

Worst Sequel: As always, plenty to choose from, Shrek 3, Ocean's 13, Spider-Man 3, etc. Guess I'll go with Pirates Of The Caribbean 3, which had me longing for the brilliance of 2.

Worst First Film In What Will Be A Series: Wild Hogs

Film That Will Not Be Part Of A Series: The Golden Compass (though I hear it's doing well overseas).

Farce Is Hard To Pull Off Award: Death At A Funeral

Whimsy Is Hard To Pull Off Award: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Jerks On The Road: The Darjeeling Limited and Margot At The Wedding. Why should I care about these people?

Most Dramatic Story After The Credits: It's New Year's Eve and cops are out in force looking for drunk drivers. I was pulled over for a rolling stop. The officer asked if I'd been drinking. I said no, I just came from Santa Monica where I saw a movie (true, by the way). He wanted to check out my story so he asked what movie. Atonement, I said. He asked what was the movie about. I said it's about someone who makes a mistake and asks for forgiveness. He let me go.

Bad Acts: The three films on the most top ten lists are No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac. While my reactions varied, they all seemed to me to have serious story problems. ("But this is art, there are no rules.") I hear No Country follows the novel quite faithfully, but you just can't have 90 minutes of cat and mouse and not show the payoff. There Will Be Blood already had a strange enough story, but I'm not sure what the point of the final act is. And Zodiac, like the actual case, starts with some dramatic murders and then simply peters out.

Where's The Arc? Award: In Rocket Science, we start with a confused, troubled teen, and we end with a confused, troubled, teen. In Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, we start with Natalie Portman believing in the magic of the emporium, and the plot turns out to be about how Mr. Magorium has to teach her to believe in the magic of the emporium.

Double Dose Of Stephen King: 1408 and The Mist

Biggest Waste Of Talent: The Bucket List.

Smart And Dumb: Michael Clayton is a smartly done film, and I salute it, which is why I'm disappointed that it relies so much on cliches--the evil corporation, the hidden microphone, the holy fool who's gone crazy because he speaks the truth. The whole plot turns on a secret incriminating memo--the sort of plot device that was old-fashioned in the 1800s. Is it impossible to make a smart film without falling into these traps? The film wants to show us the moral gray areas, but when it comes to the big bad company, suddenly everything is in black and white.

They Looked The Same To Me Award: I actually enjoyed two major motion capture films, 300 and Beowulf, about the same, so why was the former a much bigger hit?

Most Tired Example Of A Tired Genre: American Gangster


Better than Expected: 300, Next, Blades Of Glory, Breach, Live Free Or Die Hard, Transformers (Very low expectations--what surprised me is I liked the humans--it was the Transformers that bored me), King Of California, Michael Clayton, Across The Universe, Weirdsville, Dan In Real Life, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Beowulf (in 3D)

Worse Than Expected: Zodiac, The Lookout, Hot Fuzz, 28 Weeks Later, Shrek 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 (not easy to be lower than my expectations), Shooter, Rocket Science (though Anna Kendrick is fine once again as the bad girl), I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With (I hoped for so much more), The Heartbreak Kid, Rush Hour 3, Margot At The Wedding, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Darjeeling Limited (Wes is less), Hitman, The Great Debaters, The Kite Runner, The Bucket List

About What I Expected: Smokin’ Aces, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Last Mimzy, The TV Set, Grindhouse, Fracture, Lucky You, Waitress (liked the pies), Reign Over Me, Death At A Funeral, Knocked Up, 1408, The Bourne Ultimatum, Delirious, Harry Potter And The Order Of the Phoenix, Hairspray, 3:10 To Yuma, The Great World Of Sound, Lars And The Real Girl, Gone Baby Gone, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Smiley Face, The Mist, The Golden Compass, August Rush, I Am Legend, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, There Will Be Blood, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, The Savages, Atonement

Better, Worse And About What I Expected: I'm Not There

I Don't Care What the Critics Say, It Was Boring: Once, La Vie En Rose

Fun: The Hoax (though unrelated to reality, I've been told), Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, Eastern Promises (fun in that I enjoyed the movie--plenty violent, of course), Enchanted, The Band’s Visit, Charlie Wilson’s War

No Fun: Epic Movie, Norbit, Wild Hogs, Spider-Man 3, Ocean’s 13, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, American Gangster, Control (but then, the point of a film about Joy Division is it's no fun), Alvin And The Chipmunks


Bubbling under the top ten:

Helvetica: A bit dry, even for a film about a typeface, but it makes you take a second look at something you hardly took a first look at.

The Life Of Reilly: A fairly straightforward taping of Charles Nelson Reilly's autobiographical one-man show.

Into The Wild: I haven't read the book, and I don't know how insane this guy was (I'm guessing the film is more sympathetic to him), but an intriguing story well told, shot and acted.

No Country For Old Men: The critics' favorite, and it is pretty good. It just has that missing third act, not to mention Tommy Lee Jones, who never really fits into the story. This stuff may work in a novel, but movies have different rules.

In The Shadow Of The Moon: Best to see all the space footage on the big screen, but that's probably not possible any more.

The Top Ten in alphabetical order:

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly: AKA My Left Eye. "Inspirational" films usually leave me cold, but Julian Schnabel (who's now three for three) does a good job getting inside the head of a stroke victim (because that's where all the action is).

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days: Tough to take, but then, so was life under Ceausescu, whether or not you wanted an abortion. Some powerful acting, and, considering the low budget, fairly accomplished filmmaking.

Juno: Delightful. Such a surprise smash that the backlash is already in full swing. Smart, with sweet yet realistic characters, and a plot that isn't telegraphed.

The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters: Boy did I love this one. Obsession in general fascinates me, but when it's about something as seemingly trivial (yet fun) as video games, it hits kill screen level. And this documentary had probably the greatest characters in any movie of 2007 (even if they were tweaked a bit for public consumption, as I've read).

The Lives Of Others: Okay, it won an Oscar for 2006, but wasn't released wide in the U.S. until 2007. Another great film about life under communism, this time East Germany. (In case you think I just like these films because of their politics, note I didn't much go for The Kite Runner, even though it has a worthy message).

The Nines: By writer John August, this came and went so fast most never heard of it, but it really got to me. Not unlike Go, the film that got August noticed, The Nines features three intertwining stories, but each is a different genre and told in a different style. It's somewhat surrealist--imagine a David Lynch film where everything is explained at the end.

Persepolis: Based on the graphic novel, it's one girl's journey from pre- and post-revolution Iran to Europe and back. Ratatouille (a good film) was more technically accomplished, but this simple, mostly black and white animated feature showed that story still counts the most.

Show Business: The Road To Broadway: Maybe not a brilliantly shot documentary, but the behind-the-scenes development of a handful of Broadway musicals (even when I knew how they'd turn out) was compelling. (At least to me, who finds the subject of great interest.)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street: I heard a lot of people got angry when they paid to see Johnny Depp's latest and he started singing. Some were also shocked by all the blood. Where have they been? Anyway, it's fine source material and director Tim Burton doesn't screw it up. (It wouldn't be the first time that happened to Sondheim). They cut a fair amount, even some good stuff, but it was necessary. (Though the already threadbare romance between the juvenile and the ingenue became gossamer). Also on the negative side, the mix of melodrama and high-flown music seemed more at odds onscreen than onstage, and I thought Depp played the character a bit too depressed (though it paid off in one of my favorite songs--"By The Sea"). My main fear was the two leads couldn't sing, but they could, well enough anyway, and as Sondheim has noted, he doesn't write opera, where it's all about the voices--he writes for character and plot.

Superbad: Probably the funniest film of the year. Comedies don't have to be R-rated, except when they do.


Blogger Irene Done said...

I'm glad you're reposting past reviews because it takes me that long to catch up with society. I saw Knocked Up for the first time a few weeks ago on TV and I have to say: I bought the premise. Seth Rogen's character does change and mature. In fact, Knocked Up might be the most pro-woman movie I've ever seen.

4:16 AM, November 26, 2008  
Blogger QueensGuy said...

Wait, pro-woman? How so? I feel like I've spent half my life convincing female friends that if they get into relationships with immature guys based on the hope that they'll be able to mold them into the guy they really want, they're doomed for failure.

8:14 AM, November 26, 2008  
Blogger New England Guy said...

The concept of "pro-woman' is outdated

11:01 AM, November 26, 2008  
Blogger Irene Done said...

Wait. I didn't mean to start something there and I couldn't think of a better term than "pro-woman." All I meant is that there are some awfully sweet scenes that present the women characters in a more sympathetic light. "You think because you don't yell, you're not mean" and "I can't let you in because you're old as f---" makes the wife into something more than a constipated nag. The turning points -- the Vegas epiphany and when Rogen's character stands up to the doctor -- are not a matter of the women changing, but the men. I'm not saying "yay! women!" Not saying it's real. It just surprised me how favorably the women characters are portrayed.

And QueensGuy: yeah, well.

6:41 AM, November 27, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is from Bye Bye Birdie.

How lovely to be a woman
And have one job to do;
To pick out a boy and train him
And then when you are through,
You've made him the man you want him to be!
Life's lovely when you're a woman like me!

10:12 AM, November 27, 2008  
Blogger Irene Done said...

This is from Guys & Dolls:

Marry the man today.
Trouble though he may be
Much as he likes to play
Crazy and wild and free
Marry the man today
Rather than sigh in sorrow
Marry the man today
And change his ways tomorrow.

5:18 AM, November 28, 2008  

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