Thursday, February 14, 2008

Top ten favorite films of 2007

With the Academy Awards approaching now seems as good a time as any to list my favorite movies from last year. I choose the word favorite over best because I haven’t seen every film of 2007 and I am not presumptuous enough to assume I have seen the best. I have seen more than most people though, averaging about a movie a week theatrically. It was a tough call, but here are my ten favorite.

“No Country for Old Men”
The Coen Brothers are among the most, quirky, daring and skillful filmmakers working in America. After a few duds, they are back on form, with their best film since “Fargo.” The plot is simple: a man (Josh Brolin) finds a satchel of money and he’s pursued by a relentless killer (Javier Bardem). Bardem creates one of the best cinematic villains in recent memory and the acting by a cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones and Woody Harrelson is stellar cross the boards. The ending has frustrated some, but in its way it is absolutely perfect.

In this funny, fresh and endearing comedy, a smart, sardonic 16-year-old (Ellen Page) becomes pregnant and decides to give the baby up for a adoption to a seemingly perfect couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). Although highly praised, some have claimed the film’s dialogue is too clever for its own good and that no teen actually talks like Juno, but it is all about the deliver and the fantastic Page, nails the tone. The film inches up on the predictable and formulaic and then takes a sharp left into an ending that feels genuine and completely satisfying.

An Irish busker (Glen Hansard) meets a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) on the streets of Dublin and they connect through music. Over a week they play, write and eventually record music together. At times romantic, this is more than just a romance. It is one of those rare films to capture the allusive feeling of sharing a deep, if only brief, bond with someone. Hansard and Irglová are musicians in real life and wrote the songs featured in the film. The dialogue is sparse, but feels real and the music is beautiful and emotional. This is a movie to treasure.

“Sweeney Todd”
Tim Burton’s brooding, bloody adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s darkest musical is a wholly original blend of horror, tragedy, satire and the blackest comedy around. A barber (Johnny Depp) whose life was destroyed by a corrupt judge (Alan Rickman) decides to take his vengeance on all of humanity. That the whole film is set to song makes the proceeding all the more unsettling. Depp, who has a surprisingly good singing voice, is brilliant as the title character and Burton’s visuals are extraordinary. An acquired taste for sure, but this is a film to savor for those who take their film’s black.

Coming out of the Pixar studio, this is a great movie. Not a great kids’ movie, not a great animated movie, simple a great movie. Too often animated features go for bright colors and slapstick humor and nothing more. Pixar’s films are colorful and have their share of slapstick, but their films are filled with a lot of heart and know that you don’t need to condescend to children. The story of a rat with natural cooking abilities that guides a hapless kitchen hand to culinary greatness is basic enough, but the film is full of wit, intellect and surprising emotion.

“Hot Fuzz”
Writer/director Edgar Wright, co-writer/star Simon Pegg and co-lead Nick Frost followed up their hilarious zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” with this equally assured parody of the buddy cop genre and British paranoia horror movies like “The Wicker Man.” Although not as slickly paced as its predecessor, the film pays off in a big way with a spectacularly over-the-top gun fight that perfectly satirizes overblown action films. The jokes are layered thick from subtle to outrageous, so it is a comedy that gets better with repeat viewings. Thoroughly English, but for those who like Brit comedy, it is hard to beat.

“Across the Universe”
A musical comprised entirely of Beatles songs is a dangerous endeavor to undertake, but luckily this isn’t a re-tread of 1978’s atrocious “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Cynics have dismissed Julie Taymor’s film as pretentious, and although it is flawed, it is a movie with ambitions, stunning visuals and moments of brilliance. The plot weaves the songs into a Vietnam era drama that, while not entirely original, features characters we care about. Well sung by a largely unknown cast with a few surprise cameos, the film is a joy for Beatles fan, with re-interpretations of classic songs that are at times thrilling.

Critically acclaimed upon its release, this film has been ignored during the award season, which is a shame. Based on the true story of the Zodiac killer this is more than just another gory serial killer movie. This is less about the killer and more about the obsession to know his identity that grips a journalist (Robert Downey, Jr.), a cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a detective (Mark Ruffalo). Director David Fincher adopts the tone of gritty 1970s films like “All the President’s Men” and “Serpico” and the film plays as well as the best films from that era.

“Gone Baby Gone”
This is the surprisingly effective directorial debut of Ben Affleck. Working from a novel by Dennis Lehane, the author of 2003’s “Mystic River,” Affleck creates a crime drama about the search for a missing girl in Boston that sounds and looks authentic. In a case of nepotism gone right, Affleck’s brother Casey gives his best performance to date as a private detective working with the police and the rest of the cast, which includes Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris, is uniformly good. The film takes the time to ask complex moral and ethical questions and doesn’t cheat the audience by giving easy answers.

On the eve of World War II, two lovers (Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy) from different social classes are torn apart by a girl’s lie, but this is neither a love story or war movie, although it is effective as both. This is really about the lifetime of guilt the girl lives with. The girl is played brilliantly, and seamlessly, by Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave. Everything from the acting to the score to the cinematography is exquisite. There’s also a stunning unbroken shot at the solider filled beach at Dunkirk that is a masterpiece in itself.

Honorable mentions: “There Will Be Blood” for Daniel Day Lewis’ screen commanding performance, “Michael Clayton” for its intricately told and acted plot, “The Bourne Ultimatium” for being the best and most satisfying sequel in a year flooded with them, “Reign Over Me” for showcasing a fine dramatic performance by Adam Sandler, “1408” for being a horror movie with a heart, “Grindhouse” for being a gloriously over-the-top, intentionally trashy filmgoing experience, and “Disturbia” and “Transformers” for making Shia LaBeouf a star.

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