Sunday, February 24, 2008

Best of 07

Mike here with the best of 2007. Timely, this is not. But because of the Oscars aiding us in what's interesting if not the best, and because I'm not paid to do this, this is as fast as I can do it. I feel the quality is much improved from last year. For one thing, I don't have to put a film from over thirty years ago into this top 10, like I did last year with Army of Shadows. Being pretty good wasn't good enough; too much quality this year. Probably the highest quality of any year this decade.

And I had a difficult time putting a list together. Any film 5 through 10 here would have made major headway in the 06 list, but lucky to get noticed this year. With more independent films coming down the pipeline every year mixing with major studio product, it will only get more difficult to catch everything. Some films like Lust, Caution, The Kite Runner, It Started In The Evening, Superbad, and In The Valley of Elah were just impossible to get around to. But I feel good about this list. That said, 1 through 4 had been settled for me for over seven weeks now.

Note that I reserve the right to change my mind years down the line. I gave an example in the top 10 list of 06. Too lengthy to go into now, but suffice to say, I reserve the right, especially when dropping a film in favor of another. Or in the case of this list, changing the order of 1 and 2.

One runner-up of note out of TV. Something that despite it's length, would have been in my top 10 if it were a theatrical release: Ken Burns' The War from PBS. Impossible to capture all of it, but by focusing through people from 4 small American towns, and what they went through on the home front, in the European theater and in the Pacific. Perhaps not as great as Burns' The Civil War, but pretty close. Now on with the ten:

10) I'M NOT THERE- As much as the documentary Nanking effected me emotionally, I'm Not There got me interested in Bob Dylan, something I thought would never happen. Using the split personality idea, as well as the idea that no one knows anyone completely, this blows right by other music bio-pics. It kept me visually stimulated, even in some of it's rough patches, mostly with Richard Gere. If the stunt casting of Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett doesn't cut it, the film is crushed. Blanchett's sequences appealed visually for me the most; 8 1/2 mixed with A Hard Day's Night.

I believe even more could have been explored, say with Christian Bale's 2 different time periods, or even a sixth Dylan after his religious stint. But it would still be leading to the same conclusion about identity and his music, so there's no need. Todd Haynes' best film.

9) LA VIE EN ROSE- The film is not problem free. When it comes to Edith Piaf's life, it seems to drop numerous loves, her bi-sexuality is so lightly hinted at it might go completely unnoticed, it seems at least one miscarriage is left out, the years in Nazi-occupied France don't exist, and oh yeah, we see that she had uh, whatchamacallit, A KID, at some point. But if the story was told in chronological order, then it would be as weak as those VH1 Behind The Music bio-pics, like Ray and Walk The Line.

By bouncing back and forth in time, Olivier Dahan's film sneaks up on you. The story being told in fragments that are not always linear, takes a little getting used to, but pays off for the viewer at the end.

None of this works without Piaf's songs, the excellent make-up department, and especially Marion Cotillard as Piaf. She nails the physicality to a T. Her lip synching and concert gesturing is excellent. She handles aging from 20 to 47. Though the last few years, thanks to alcoholism, some kind of rheumatism or arthritis, and morphine addiction, and cancer, Cotillard has to play Piaf more like a 65-70 year old than late forties. And the makeup is good, extreme closeups can be done and we don't see the seams. God, I hope this doesn't lose Best Makeup to Norbit.

8) RATATOUILLE- As close as I can come this year to representing comedy on this list. I was never not dazzled by the visuals. Just picking one is hard, but I'll settle for any Dracula connections with Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego's character. The vocal cast was terrific, but if you told me I would really like Janeane Garofalo again, I'd never have believed you. My new favorite Pixar. Nuff said.

7) THE NAMESAKE- Mira Nair's film was unjustly ignored at awards and most end of year critics time. That's what you get for outgrossing Diving Bell, every indie Parker Posey film from 07 and Before The Devil Knows You're Dead combined, and doing most of that business in March and April. I won't pound on the table and say it captures the feeling of the modern immigrant experience, but it feels authentic. The same goes for the feeling of family depicted; from being embarrassed and annoyed by your parents, to having a better understanding for them as adults. Kal Penn runs with the lead. He projects a strong leading man presence that hopefully leads to more than another Harold & Kumar flick. But the acting kudos go to Irfan Khan as the father, and Tabu as the mother. Both in what I believe is their first American film, having to depict 2-3 decades of time, and do it well.

6) THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY- All praise for director Julian Schnabel and screenwriter Ronald Harwood for making the unwatchable cinematically watchable. Starting off for the most part from the vantage point of Jean-Dominique Bauby's eye, and expanding from that only when his perspective and imagination expands. We feel for him, but never does the picture collapse into a pity party. Hard not to feel a little choked up over the flashback sequence between Bauby and his 92 year old father played by Max von Sydow, or over the scene where Bauby's loyal ex and mother of his kids, must translate the feelings of love and longing to his mistress who refuses to visit. Wonderful picture, and one I'd never see if it wasn't for the nominations.

5) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD- A film that Warners Bros dumped as an autumn write-off, deserves better treatment. But as Westerns continue to be less in vogue, and the chance to see this on the big screen is already non-existent, I'm afraid history will go on and pretend this doesn't exist. Or it would have if this wasn't Casey Affleck's coming out party. Yes, more people saw Gone Baby Gone, but this is a showcase for the younger Affleck's full talents. Now if there's another Ocean's film, Scott Caan can be the lesser known guy with a famous relative. Kind of like The King of Comedy, where we see the sycophant pay for the crime of getting rid of his idol, and we see the regret as well. Sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins, and Brad Pitt's pretty good too. Despite it's length, it feels like a lot was left out; I can't imagine Mary-Louise Parker committing to what's turned out to be an extended cameo. Something tells me there's a director's cut waiting to come out. I hope you have the patience to give this a chance.

4) ZODIAC- $33,080,084. If a film studio wants to back a top director's idea of making a quality, 70s style suspense drama, this is all the money they can hope to make in the U.S. Apparently we have to thank the West Coast for making Michael Clayton slightly more popular. Anyway, if the fanatics who suck from the teat of Fight Club, don't support David Fincher's best film with similar feeling, then they're even more useless then I think they are. Also proof who to those who over inflate No Country For Old Men's qualities that you can have a downer ending and yet still make it a satisfying fit.

3) ONCE- The best musical of the year sure as hell isn't Hairspray, it's Once. The sleeper of last summer. A pleasant surprise. What seems like a working class variation of an Andy Hardy musical, soars when Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova start singing the Oscar nominated Falling Slowly in the music store, and it never falls down to earth. If someone knows a better film of unrequited love in the past 17-25 years, tell me. This is what happens when you have performers who act fine but sing really well, as opposed to Sweeney Todd, where they had very good actors who can barely sing. And unlike No Country, this film pulled off it's ending.

2) THE LIVES OF OTHERS- Last year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. It might have received a minor release elsewhere in 06, but I don't think it was in L.A., and it didn't open in NYC until last Feb., so I use this technicality to get it on the list. Well crafted, never very warm, never very cold. Just right. Sorry if this makes this flick seem like Goldilock's porridge. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck gives us an Eastern Germany where the Communist secret police or Stasi managed by threat or blackmail to turn 1-3 percent of the population (who knows how many exactly) into unofficial spies of the friends and neighbors. Set against the backdrop of a popular playwright who has now been targeted, and the Stasi policeman sent to spy, but who undergoes a gradual change of heart. This isn't a textbook, it's a film that stays with you. Especially if you don't know the history, the film doesn't stray, doesn't preach and doesn't bore. It's found a decent audience for an art house film, but if you're reading this and you haven't seen this, then what the hell are you waiting for? Also, unlike No Country, this film pulled off it's ending.

This might be a film that enters my personal top 35 in about 5 years or so. But even that isn't enough to be number one for me this year. That goes to:

1) THERE WILL BE BLOOD- Some of you complain that the story doesn't hold. Well ok, Michael Clayton is better in telling stories with words. The Roger Deakins Cinematography from both No Country and Jesse James is somewhat superior. But for combination of script, sight and sound, Paul Thomas Anderson has them all beat this year, Oscar results be damned. I forgive him for annoying me with Magnolia. Ok, I'll give that film a fairer shake when I'm more relaxed, but anyway . . .

Starting with a beginning that's 2001-esque with no dialogue and only a little music and doesn't stop. And no, I find the ending satisfactory, which is why this film is number one for me, and No Country can't get into the top 10. That and I don't buy Josh Brolin's bit of going back with water, the fact that I've seen the unstoppable killer bit in both The Terminator and Westworld and oh yeah, the weak ending, but anyway . . .

A completion of its themes. I'm fine with the depiction of Big Oil being bigger and more important in America than family and religion (false prophet or otherwise), though not good for the individuals per se. A more engrossing American film than any other in quite a while. L.A. Confidential might be the last one? And oh yeah, that Daniel Day-Lewis guy? Looks like he has a future. And carries this film through rough patches like Marion Cotillard did for La Vie En Rose. Carries it enough to be number one for me. That's all for now. Later folks.

1 comment:

JC said...

To be fair, I feel I may need to watch THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY AGAIN because I feel some of it may have gone over my head upon first viewing. As great and daring as I thought it was, one thing that I completely didn't connect for example was the parallel between the expansion of the film's scope to that of Bauby's mind. I'm sure being more attuned to these stylistic details would raise the film's stock in some way. What can I say... I saw it right after seeing THE SAVAGES, a film I felt was overrated, so maybe that experience put me in the wrong mood.

On the other hand, ditto about ONCE with regards to the ending. And ZODIAC for that matter (You already know how I feel about the finale in THE LIVES OF OTHERS). I find it very plausible for me to elevate ONCE to number 2 status over MICHAEL CLAYTON upon more viewings of it. It certainly feels timeless and I can almost certainly see it aging very well.

But just to re-state an earlier point about THERE WILL BE BLOOD, just as you did yourself with that and your #2, I feel this movie as at a completely different level than all the others on the list. For me, it's in it's own stratosphere, as is Day-Lewis. You know, very often you and I talk about films that are "good," films that we like. Here and there we talk about "great" films, certainly the rest of the list qualifies for me. But rarely can we truly label something a bona-fide "masterpiece." It's so extraordinary the seldom times when that happens. But for me, it applies to this occasion. It makes me feel like I've seen something I won't see for another ten years or so.

Oh and by the way, I'm glad I'm not the only one crazy enough to draw parallels to Kubrick in this. Besides the 2001-like opening, the score itself reminded me a bit of THE SHINING, and the satire has flavors of both CLOCKWORK and STRANGELOVE. Stanley would've been a fan.