Faithful Pop Theology reader and movie guru, Ernest Myers, recently created his top 20 (well Top 20 1/2) movie list for 2007. I love how awards season sparks these conversations! I may not necessarily agree with his order, but he certainly has great things to say about each of these films. From 20 (and 1/2) to 1, here they are…
Note: There were plenty of films I didn’t see this year (Gone Baby Gone, Once, I’m Not There, Margot at the Wedding, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, The Savages, Into the Wild, and Rescue Dawn just to name a few) So if there’s something glaringly missing once I post the full list, feel free to recommend one to me. I’ll post 20 – 11 now and the rest later in the week.
20 ½ – The Movie I Wanted to Like More Than I Did
The Darjeeling Limited – It’s a cliche at this point to say the short 10 minute “Hotel Chevalier” prequel is superior to the film that follows it, but I’m going to say it again anyway, cause it’s true. There is so much to like in Darjeeling that makes it worthwhile viewing, the Bill Murray opening is great, the country of India is beautiful and Owen Wilson gives a stand-out performance. Still it seems like ever since making his masterpiece “Rushmore,” every film from Wes Anderson disappoints just a little bit more than the last. They become more and more elaborate and ornate and self indulgent and less and less exciting and interesting and rewatchable.
20. Music & Lyrics – I need at least one movie on the list I can recommend to my mom and grandmother, don’t I? The plot is pretty ridiculous even by romantic comedy standards, I don’t really buy the chemistry between the leads for one moment, and when the tall guy from “Everyone Loves Raymond” and the even taller girl from “3rd Rock from the Sun” are the comic sidekicks, the odds are this isn’t going to be a comedic masterpiece. But after seeing the first 10 minutes on HBO a half dozen times during the holiday, I finally got through the whole thing, and somehow between Hugh Grant (always good) and Drew Barrymore (rarely good) having what seems to be a genuinely good time and singing “Pop Goes My Heart” in my head for about a week afterwards, I have to admit, I enjoyed more of it than I care to admit. On the Hugh Grant movie scale this is far superior to “American Dreamz,” above “Notting Hill” and falls quite short of “About a Boy.”
19. The Bourne Ultimatum – You know, I’ve never watched a Bourne film more than once. I always enjoy them but never feel compelled to revisit them, confident in the fact I got everything out of it on the first viewing. Ultimatum is the one I recall enjoying the most though I don’t remember much about it, except people were chasing Matt Damon and he ended up kicking all of their tails. So, a lot like the other ones I guess.
18. Eastern Promises – A nice companion piece/counterpoint to Cronenberg’s earlier “History of Violence” (which I prefer). A great brooding performance by Viggo is almost overshadowed by all his tattoos. Literally the guy must have over 200 of those suckers. An engrossing and disturbing film but I’m continually perplexed as to why Naomi Watts is continually cast in films, for some reason the only word that I can think to describe her and her performances is ‘vanilla.’
17. Atonement – After the end credits started to roll on this one, I remarked to my friend “Well that’s going to win the Oscar.” And unlike some of the winners of the past few years, I rather enjoyed this one. An engaging story, a complicated romance, some fine acting (especially from the kids), some good twists and turns, beautifully photographed, a lot of proper English accents and, of course, plenty of war scenes (even though the 5 minute beach scene took me out of the film – by the time it wraps around the military choir I was thinking “okay, now your just showing off”). Something for everyone.
16. Persepolis – A beautifully animated film about a fiercely independent girl growing up in Iran during a time of political and cultural upheaval. Aside with being a great history on modern Iran, it’s a honest, funny and poignant story about the universal difficulties of transitioning from the fantasy world of children to the sometimes heartbreaking realities of being an adult.
15. Grindhouse – “Planet Terror” was excessive gory fun at its best, and while I heard a lot of complaints (some of them during the movie) about Tarantino’s “Deathproof” I thought it was easily the best of the double feature, lots of hot girls, having classic Tarantino conversation while he builds the tension slowly and deliberately till all of a sudden your witnessing one of the most spectacularly awesome climactic car chases of all time. It’s a shame more people didn’t see the double feature and the great fake trailers, especially the British horror film “Don’t!” by “Hot Fuzz” director Edgar Wright.
14. Hot Fuzz – Speaking of which, it’s not everyday that a movie starts out as a comedic homage to action films like Point Break and Bad Boys II and ends up eclipsing them both (well at least Bad Boys II – that movie was terrible).
13. Venus – I’m cheating a bit cause this came out in 2006, but I don’t know anyone who saw it before this year. Some movies are just carried completely by a performance that is just wonderful to watch. Venus is one of those films. Peter O’Toole plays the most charming dirty old man of all time.
12. Michael Clayton – Just an old fashioned, well produced, well written, well acted, suspenseful, intelligent and satisfying piece of film making starring an honest to goodness movie star. Or maybe I just like it cause a lot of exterior scenes are set in the neighborhood I used to work in and the main character has an affinity for underground poker rooms. Anyway, I just wish all movies could be this satisfying.
11. 3:10 to Yuma – To my mind, this was the best pure action film of the year. This had everything that makes a western good, two conflicted heroes (Christian Bale and Russell Crowe) going toe-to-toe, lots of shooting, and fighting and horse riding and a whole gaggle of great character actors including a barely recognizable Peter Fonda, the great Alan Tudyk of Plano, Texas and the new king of bat sh*t crazy acting Ben Foster.
10.Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford – I ended the last list off with a western and I’ll start this one off with a completely different type of western. An eerily meditative film about the trappings of fame and notoriety and the dangers of obsession. Brad Pitt, not surprisingly, plays the role of media fascination with authority and the supporting cast is a who’s who of impressive character actors (though I’m still wondering who let James Carville into the film). While Casey Affleck has racked up deserved praise for his portrayal of Robert Ford, I wish more was mentioned of the subtle performance by Sam Rockwell as Ford’s seemingly more level headed brother and member of the James gang.
9. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead – A couple of years ago, Crash and Babel garnered a lot of critical acclaim and awards much to my disdain. I referred to these two films as movies belonging to the genre of “Stupid F*cking People Doing Stupid F*cking Things for Two Hours and Then Crying About How F*cking Stupid They Are.” I wouldn’t of imagined that I’d one day be praising a film that nicely fits into that category but Before The Devil Knows Your Dead is a smartly put-together, tense, and impeccably acted family drama/crime film that took me completely by surprise. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, freed of heavy makeup and accents, is at his slimy best as the older brother who comes up with a simple but unique plan to pull off a heist. And I was rooting for Marisa Tomei to get another Oscar nod for her memorable performance as a wife caught in the middle between two hapless brothers.
8. Sweeney Todd – If it had to be done, I’m glad Tim Burton was the guy to do it. Is it the Sweeney I always imagined? Surprisingly close actually. Burton took one of my top three favorite musicals of all time and turned in an enjoyable and exquisitely bloody adaption. Depp’s Sweeney is wholly original and while it’s not how I always imagined Sweeney to be, he, as always, rises to the occasion. Bonham-Carter’s Mrs. Lovett might lack some of the comic flair other actresses have brought to the part, but her “Not While I’m Around” is heartbreaking. While I miss some of the cuts to the score and am a little confused by why the two young romantic leads were cast (there both odd looking and dull), the casting of Sasha Baron-Jones (Borat) was inspired, Alan Rickman playing a wholly evil character once again is genius, as is his and Depp’s rendition of “Pretty Woman,” and the casting director who found Toby deserves a healthy bonus. Now if only they’d get around to making that adaptation of Into the Woods.
7. Knocked Up – The Apatow version of a romantic comedy was less about the romance and ultimately more about the almost universal male fear of growing up and the women who love them being driven to the edge by their resistance to be responsible adults. Hilarious and quotable, Seth Rogan proved himself as a leading man and even I could sympathize with Katherine Heigl as she tried to tolerate the lack of ambition and compassion she finds herself surrounded with. Great supporting performances, especially a heartfelt cameo by Harold Ramis and the movie is almost stolen by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as the dysfunctional married couple still trying to understand each other 7+ years in.
6. No Country For Old Men – This is a tough one to write about. The Coen’s play a dirty trick on the audience if they weren’t familiar with the source novel. They emphasize the heist, chase, shoot’em up aspect of the film and then at the end pull the rug away and say “Wait, weren’t you paying attention, that’s not what this was about.” What doesn’t become clear until later in the film is something that is more apparent in the book, the key to the story is the Sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones and if you were put off by the ending, give it another go with that in mind or maybe read the excellent Cormac McCarthy novel for which it’s based. In adapting the book the Coens stayed slavishly true to the text, while adding their own trademark flourishes along the way (the inspired dog chase) and cast perfectly with Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly McDonald, Woody Harrelson, and the walking angel of death that is Javier Bardem. While I won’t lavish the praise on it that some have (it’s by no means the best Coen Bros. Film – we’ll put Lebowski, Fargo, and Miller’s Crossing ahead and then we’ll talk) it’s an excellent film and a welcome return to form for the brothers.
5. Ratatouille – I’m not predisposed to liking rodents. Just ask the four I’ve caught in my apartment over the last month (well there all gone now so I guess you can’t) but for some reason animated rodents are much more tolerable. The Secret of Nimh is still one of my favorite animated films of all time and now Ratatouille comes along and is the best Pixar film since Toy Story.
We’ve all seen the story about the underdog (or in this instance, rat) who dares to dream the impossible. Rarely, though, do you see a story that takes so much care to appreciate all the hard work that achieving a dream entails. In Ratatouille the joy comes not from the accolades of success but from the creative process. On top of having such a refreshing message, it is an engaging story told perfectly with a winning vocal performance coming from the most unexpected of places, Bush-bashing, supergeek comic Patton Oswalt. If that wasn’t enough, Peter O’Toole comes into at the end with such a magnificent performance I rewatched the last 30 minutes after my first viewing just so I could appreciate his voice all over again.
4. Juno – You know, there’s been a little bit of a backlash against this movie in the last few weeks. “The new Little Miss Sunshine, the new Napoleon Dynamite, the new Garden State, etc.” And I can understand it. (For the record one of those movies I hate, one bored me and one is only partially good). Everyone likes an underdog till they realize their no longer the underdog and then it’s “Hey, hold on you weren’t THAT good…” Look, I have a few reservations myself. The dialog in the movie, especially the first 30 minutes or so, can be bad. I’m talking “Clueless” bad. “Honest-to-blog!” Really? Seriously how many highschoolers before this movie practiced singing Moldy Peaches songs on the guitar? But you know what, eventually I’m going to get over my disappointment in everyone now knowing “Anyone Else But You” as the song from Juno and having to delete the Sonic Youth’s version of Superstar from my iTunes playlist, and Juno will still be here as one of the great teenage comedies.
The script may have some cringe-worthy one liners but the story is heartfelt and thoughtful and the jokes more often than not hit the mark, visually the art direction is vibrant and the colors really pop forth out from the screen. Jason Reitman’s direction continues to impress, when the film takes the turn from being light hearted to a little bit weightier (pun wasn’t originally intended), the emotional moments really feel earned.
And the cast, well, what a cast. JK Simmons and Alison Janney are wonderful as the authority figures/voices of reason, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner reveal their seemingly cliché characters to be more complicated than anticipated and Michael Cera continues to deliver a line like no other and sheds some of the George Michael Bluth stigma with some revealingly emotional moments.
There’s never any doubt though that this is Ellen Page’s movie. It’s one of those performances that is so good you leave the theater wanting to see everything she’s ever done and can’t wait to see whatever she does next. I don’t know if any actor can transcend such a defining performance, but I think I’ll put my money on that she’ll be up for the challenge.
(Plus I’m just glad I finally recommended a movie to this guyand his roommate where afterwards they didn’t want to punch me in the stomach.)
3. Superbad – I’ve now seen at least parts of this film almost a dozen times and still laugh just as hard as I did the first time. I don’t have much doubt that Superbad is going to end up in a very select group of comedies such as Young Frankenstein, Wet Hot American Summer, 40 Year Old Virgin and the Big Lebowski; solid gold comedies that never lose the ability to make me laugh and I find myself inadvertently quoting in all aspect of my everyday life.
It somehow feels wrong to deconstuct why a movie like this works, other than to say, these three guys sound like my friends in highschool and college, their crude, they insult each other, they worry about how they look, what they are supposed to do to in certain social situations, how they’re supposed to attract the girl they like… Superbad is just the best portrayal of close hetro-male friendship I’ve ever seen and balances the genuine and real with the completely ridiculous (McLovin and the Cops). But look if you don’t like movies with tons of hilariously vulgar jokes and multiple graphic drawing of the male member, nothing I’m going to say is going to convince you. So I’m just not going to try.
2. Zodiac – In danger of being the great forgotten film of the last year, I was so transfixed by this story I saw it twice in it’s very brief run in the theaters and twice already on DVD. The film that keeps popping into my mind when thinking about it is Oliver Stone’s JFK. Like JFK it’s a sprawling 2 ½+ hour story based on recent history that captured the nation’s attention, it has several top notch actors (though thankfully not Kevin Costner) and has a director at the top of his game. I always got the sense while watching JFK that I was being privy to information I shouldn’t be allowed to see; that I may even be assassinated for just watching the movie. Zodiac invokes some of those same feelings, but while JFK was strung together based on wild rumors, conjecture and elaborate conspiracy theories, Zodiac is a painfully accurate dramatic retelling of a dark chapter in Northern California history based on actual police records, eye witness accounts, and journalist’s investigation into the unsolved mystery.
This is the furthest thing from a normal serial killer movie or police thriller one can imagine, although it has elements of suspense and tension that put most of those movies to shame. Instead it’s about a different sort of horror, the horror of obsession, of not knowing, of never knowing for sure no matter how hard you try.
Beautifully photographed, amazingly directed by David Fincher, who seems to becoming the new Kubrick in more ways than one, the film mines some unexpected performances from unlikely places, including a great turns by Brian Cox (Super Troopers) and Anthony Edwards (ER) and a creepy cameo by Charles Fleischer (the voice of Roger Rabbit). But it’s the big three stars that shine. Gyllenhaal, an actor I’m usually not predisposed to like, carries the weight of the movie with an wide eyed earnestness that slowly turns into blurry eyed obsessiveness. Downey Jr. is at his droll kooky best and Mark Ruffalo is the quiet scene stealer of the movie, present and alive in every scene. One of the best American crime films of the decade. Highly recommended if you missed it.
1. There Will Be Blood – When I started making this list I must of put the last three films at one point or the other at the number one spot -any other year they would of been number one – but I was kidding myself, nothing else belonged here.
“Ladies and Gentleman, I’ve traveled over half our state to be here tonight….” With those words Daniel Day Lewis ends an amazing opening sequence of about 15 or so minutes that starts this completely original and epic piece of cinema.
As we see him and his coworkers mine for silver and eventually oil, all that is heard is the guttural sounds of men partaking in hard labor, the creaking of machinery and wood, the crying of a baby in a basket and the brilliantly unnerving musical score of Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, which sways back and forth throughout the film from classical to otherworldly, ratcheted up to a volume that won’t allow you to ignore it. There Will Be Blood is a movie that needs to be experienced. A harrowing ride with a psychotically driven individual through turn of last century California oil fields The movie constantly surprises and delights just as it shocks and stirs.
Daniel Day-Lewis is so powerful as Daniel Plainview, so alive and grand and over-the-top he needed a movie just as large and ambitious to contain him or else he’d shallow it right up. There are moment his eyes look inhuman, like a pitbull ready to attack. He can barely contain his impatience, his intolerance, his hatred of those around him, it bubbles to the surface like the oil that is seeping up onto the ground. In one memorable scene he tries to open up to someone, tries in his own way to explain who he is, but then pulls back, the fire and ambition that rages in him doesn’t allow for that sort of introspection.
Director P.T. Anderson is smart to surround Day-Lewis with actors such as Ciaran Hinds who compliment but don’t dare to challenge Day-Lewis command of the screen. I was excited to notice the legendary SNL writer James Downey, in from what I can tell, his first dramatic role, playing New Boston’s real estate agent (Downey was last seen in Norm McDonald’s Dirty Work and perhaps most memorably in Billy Madison, one of my friend David’s favorite films, as the Principal “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.” Anderson apparently has an affinity for SNL writer – Robert Smeigal played the dentist brother-in-law in Punch Drunk Love).
Only one character dares to try and match wits with Plainview, the young ambitious preacher played by Paul Dano. Some critics have said Dano doesn’t quite meet the challenge of matching up with Day-Lewis, but I think that’s the point. His character is out of his league when confronted with the force of nature that is Plainview. I wish I could speak more about what happens, especially the tour de force that is the final scene, but it’s best to just go right now and see this movie for yourself. The finest American film of the decade.