A year to remember
Somehow, months of dreck at the theater made a big turnaround and made 2007 a great year for cinema
There was a stretch this past movie year when I thought the annual wrap up story would be full of darkness and despair. I was crushing lots of popcorn cartons, bestowing many poor ratings and lobbing various obscene phrases toward the movie gods. To put it mildly, I wasn’t having a good time.
And then, without much warning, the movie year exploded.
2007 ended up being one of the best times I’ve had reviewing movies since I started this gig some 50-odd years ago (actually, more like 12). Come November, my brow stopped furrowing (a good thing because I’m getting a big, permanent crease between my eyebrows), and a smile returned to my face. (Kind of bad because that amplifies those pesky smile-line wrinkles. Anybody know of a good lotion?)
Let me just say this now: I’m a psycho fan of the new 3-D technology. I witnessed it twice this past year with A Nightmare Before Christmas and the amazing Beowulf experience. I will not miss any future ventures into the 3-D cinematic realm if I can help it.
I will drive to Carson City in a snowstorm to see whatever the next 3-D feature is, and if I should skid off the highway upon my return, meeting my death as the car crashes into some sorry-assed cow, I shall die with a smile on my face. Actually, I’ll probably be screaming my ass off and cursing Jesus, but rest assured, I would’ve been a happy, happy guy about a half hour before. Though, it looks like Reno-Sparks will be getting 3-D capacity in 2009 with the proposed arrival of Dickinson Theatres in Legends at the Sparks Marina.
As you will notice with this year’s list, big-budget blockbuster blowouts are once again absent from the best-film corral. Spider-Man 3, while not an entirely bad film, was one of the year’s biggest disappointments. (Although it is currently rocking my Blu-ray player. Jesus, anything’s good on that thing!)
This year, there was an ultimate cage match for the title of best film. I gave out a whopping 17 “Excellent” ratings, and I think that’s a record for me. I only gave 6 last year. As is usually the case, some of the films haven’t come here yet and will never grace the fabric of a Northern Nevada movie screen. Quick, everybody, tell all your friends to move here, thus increasing our market size and enabling us to get movies faster.
Without further adieu, here are the best movies of 2007:
1. There Will Be Blood: A modern American classic. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has been quiet for a while. His last film, the quirky Punch-Drunk Love, came out five years ago, and I was wondering what happened to the brilliant bastard. He came back this year with a vengeance. The man who made Magnolia, which will always stand as one of my very favorite films, more than equals the greatness of that movie with this unorthodox look at the rise of a Texas oil baron, played in an unbelievably strong performance by Daniel Day Lewis. Paul Dano, so quiet in Little Miss Sunshine, screams up a tempest as a crazy preacher boy with big financial aspirations. The moments when Lewis and Dano face off are as unnerving as cinema gets. Lewis deserves an Oscar, Dano deserves big roles in the future, and Anderson just keeps getting better.
2. No Country For Old Men: If you came up to me and said something like, “Hey Bob, the Coen brothers are going to top themselves this year!” I would’ve probably run away because strangers make me anxious. As I was sprinting at top speed toward what would be safety in my own sad mind, I would be pondering the very thing you said, and the near impossibility of the statement. After all, these are the guys who made Barton Fink, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski, to name a few. How could they possibly top that pile?
I won’t go on record and say this is the best the brothers have done, but I will put it in their Top 5. Their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Western thriller is a return to total greatness for the creative duo, a monster achievement. Javier Bardem instantly goes into the pantheon of all-time-great screen villains, Tommy Lee Jones reminds us that he is a certified badass actor, and Roger Deakins’s cinematography robs breath from the air sacs.
3. Into the Wild: With this film, Sean Penn went from really good director to masterpiece filmmaker. He took Jon Krakauer’s haunting account of the death of Christopher McCandless and made it a triumphant story. Some critics think the film was the glorification of a reckless young man. (McCandless died in the Alaskan wilderness, starving in an abandoned bus.) I think when this film is viewed from the perspective of McCandless, who clearly loved what he was doing, Penn’s interpretation makes sense. Reckless or not, he went out living his dream.
Emile Hirsch confirms his immense talent with his work as McCandless. Hal Holbrook, as a lonely man who befriends McCandless, delivers one of the year’s great supporting performances. Big props go out to the Eddie Vedder soundtrack.[page]
4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Director Tim Burton’s best film fails to net the top spot, a testament to how great a film year this was. Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical is perfectly tailored to Burton’s sensibilities, and Mr. Burton proves he knows his way around a musical. Johnny Depp takes it to otherworldly levels as the murderous barber, with Helena Bonham Carter an Oscar contender as the meat pie-making Mrs. Lovett.
5. Superbad: You bet this is in my Top 5. I’ve watched this movie no fewer than eight times already, and it gets funnier with each visit. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill were the year’s best comic duo in this film that transcended the teen-sex-comedy genre. Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the film) and Bill Hader play the two funniest cops I’ve ever seen in a movie, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse makes one of the year’s best debuts as Fogell/McLovin. Critics praised it when it was released but have remained quiet about the film at year’s end. I don’t care what anybody says, this one’s better than Atonement!
6. Grindhouse: This sick teaming of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez was an absolute blast and deserved a better box office fate. Because of its quasi-bomb status, the Weinstein brothers released Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof separately on DVD. Lucky for me, the studio sent a screener that has the whole thing as it ran in theaters, fake trailers and all. Sometimes, it’s good to be a critic.
7. Atonement: OK, I know I mocked this movie a couple of paragraphs ago. I really like it, just not as much as Superbad. This is a dark love story, far from stuffy, that leaves a mark. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley are superb as a couple denied the life of love they deserve.
8. Control: This one never made it to Reno, and that’s a shame. Sam Riley plays Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in a performance that qualifies as one of the year’s best. Riley absolutely channels Curtis in this, one of the great 2007 films that nobody saw.
9. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: Oh, just another film where Philip Seymour Hoffman blows your brain right out of your skull. Ethan Hawke does a good job looking scared of Philip in Sidney Lumet’s emotionally wrenching return to greatness.
10. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford: Every time Casey Affleck spoke in this film, something amazing was going on. As the weirdo who killed Jesse James (Brad Pitt), Affleck managed to be both skin crawlingly sleazy and sympathetic. I still don’t know how he did it. Roger Deakins awe-inspiring cinematography strikes again.
It’s become a tradition that refuses to die. Screw Top 10s … we’re going to 20!
11. I’m Not There: This certainly finds itself in the running for the year’s most bizarre picture. A host of different actors (one of them an amazing Cate Blanchett) play “the essence” of Bob Dylan at different stages in his career. Somehow, this works.
12. The Savages: Philip Seymour Hoffman had a great year. In this one, he and Laura Linney are siblings looking to find a nursing home for their dying father. Funny, in a very sad, disturbing sort of way.
13. Knocked Up: The second best comedy to emerge from the Judd Apatow factory this past year. Seth Rogen becomes a star, and Paul Rudd proves yet again that he is the MVP of supporting comic actors.
14. Sunshine: Danny Boyle channeled Kubrick with this excellent journey to reignite a dying sun. Fine performances from Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans and a stellar soundtrack from Underworld help propel one of the best sci-fi films in ages. Looks great and not hugely expensive.
15. Ratatouille: Brad Bird, maker of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, continues to pad his resume as “World’s Greatest Animation Director” with this fun tale of a rat with a delicate palette.
16. Across the Universe: Director Julie Taymor puts her visual genius to work, weaving Beatles songs into this story of young adulthood during the Vietnam War. The concept for this musical could’ve resulted in atrocity, yet Taymor makes it magical. A few of my friends ridiculed me for loving this one. It’s just one of those films.[page]
17. Away From Her: Julie Christie has a legitimate shot at Oscar as an Alzheimer’s patient who volunteers herself for a nursing home. There’s nothing showy or melodramatic about this movie from director Sarah Polley (Yes, the actress from Dawn of the Dead). It’s already on DVD.
18. Zodiac: David Fincher’s examination of the Zodiac killer contained one of the most frightening scenes of the year. It also has Robert Downey Jr. in top form.
19. Once: Beautiful movie filmed for next to nothing featuring some of the finest music to hit the ears in 2007.
20. Juno: Ellen Page, so good in last year’s Hard Candy, gets to do something a little sweeter in the year’s second happy film about deciding to keep the baby.
So, on the down side, there were a lot of bad movies, for sure. In fact, I will go on record and say that the film topping my year’s worst list is one of the most dreadful films I’ve ever seen. The movie caused me physical and emotional pain. I think it weakened my immune system, making me susceptible to colds and diseases I might not even be aware of yet. Pray for me, and anybody else who witnessed it. There could be bad times ahead for us, involving all sorts of noxious antibiotics and intravenous drips.
1. Kickin it Old Skool: I remember watching the first Scream movie and thinking, “Say, that Jamie Kennedy looks like a talent to be reckoned with!” I should’ve had my movie critic’s license revoked, but since movie critic licenses don’t exist, that would be silly. Perhaps 10 lashes and a brain enema would suffice.
2. Good Luck Chuck and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry: The name Chuck was not good for comedy this year. It’s homophobia and sexism galore in this abysmal duo of dreck. Dane Cook is an ass-hat.
3. Redacted: Brian De Palma’s film about soldiers doing bad things in Iraq got Bill O’Reilly all worked up on his stupid TV show due to its unflattering portrayal of the military. He would’ve done himself better to actually see the film first, so he could realize he was working himself up to a boil over a total piece of shit. O’Reilly is a dick, but you best heed his words on this one. Stay away. It’s awful.
4. Norbit: Eddie Murphy follows up his Oscar-nominated performance in Dreamgirls with a prosthetic-laden performance that may’ve very well cost him any Oscar credentials. Voters probably had a chance to see this thing before casting their ballots and got their revenge.
5. Hitman: Timothy Olyphant had to shave his head for this shit. That’s the saddest case of shaving one’s head for a film since Sigourney Weaver did it for Alien 3. (The movie wasn’t bad, she just looked funny bald).
6. August Rush: Freddie Highmore, who moved me to tears at the end of Finding Neverland, made me wretch in this schmaltzy, ridiculous, bombastic swill. It also featured Robin Williams doing a bad Bono impersonation.
7. The Brave One: Jodie Foster does Charles Bronson, and the results are ugly. Warner Brothers is pushing for an Oscar nomination here, and that would be a travesty.
8. The Golden Compass: Nicole Kidman in a kid’s movie featuring whiskey swilling polar bears kicking the shit out of each other. The year’s worst blockbuster wannabe got New Line Cinema to panic and make nice with Peter Jackson. He will produce two Hobbit films in the near future.
9. License to Wed and The Ex: Two foul relationship comedies, each as disgustingly bad as the other. One of them has Robin Williams slumming and thinking he’s funny, so it gets the slight edge as worst of the two.
10. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Jessica Alba, I salute you! You’ve made it to the year’s worst list twice (Good Luck Chuck being the other qualifier)! Funny thing is, you’re not that bad an actress. Were I like 90 percent of other critics, I would’ve hated Awake, too, and you would’ve had a shot at a hat trick.
That’s it for 2007. This year promises a fourth Indiana Jones and Rambo, a new Batman, and more Coen brothers—this time with George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the comedy Burn After Reading. 2007 was a good year. Let’s hope it was just a warm up for a great cinematic closeout to the decade. And let’s also hope for a 3-D theater in Reno. It’s time for Cinemark to get cracking with the new technology.