Thursday, January 31, 2008
To recap, these awards are based on what Sean and I actually reviewed on the site in the past six months, so my apologies to Casey Affleck for Gone Baby Gone, Javier Bardem for No Country, and Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson for not reviewing your excellent work...maybe next year.
Best Actor in a Leading Role - Nominations
Russell Crowe - 3:10 to Yuma
Crowe was also quite good in American Gangster, though it was a crime that he and Denzel only appeared on screen together for a few minutes. Crowe, unlike a lot of Academy-favored actors who experience a peak few years followed by dreck (Hanks), Crowe has continued to craft fine characters in smart movies that fly beneath the radar (even Cinderella Man had it's moments.) 3:10 to Yuma is a perfect example; ostensibly a western shoot-em-up, Crowe turns what could be a one note bad guy with a heart (basically the character in the original) into a eccentric and aloof killer. I think Pitt was trying to do something similar as Jesse James (indeed, James and Crowe's Ben Wade share similar opinions of their gangs), but the effort was a little strained. Crowe's, as usual, seemed effortless.
Jack Nicholson - The Passenger
Ok, probably the first WTF? Yes, Jack's turn as the existentialist reporter on the run was made several decades back, but since Sean and I reviewed it this year, it counts. This was the first Antonioni film I've seen, and I wish more directors had forced Nicholson to hold back the personality a little. So many of the great scenes from this film work because we get to see what a great physical actor Nicholson is; bumming smokes to the natives on the outskirts of the Sahara, delicately switching out passports photos; a car chase even! To make things even better, Sean tells me the Nicholson commentary is great as well.
Justin Rice - Mutual Appreciation
Now, if you put these first three guys in a room, one would look kinda different. Yes, Justin Rice's turn as inchoate rocker Alan is not the stuff of award consideration, but if you only measure the vividness of the character and screen presence, Rice is up there with the big guys. Even in Andrew Bujalski's first film, Funny Ha Ha, Rice is only on screen for a few minutes but has a lasting presence. Rice's ability to convey the (unjustified?) optimism of Alan is impressive enough, but when you add the ability to sing and play all his own guitar parts, Rice creates an indelible portrait of the guy that all of us have known at some time.
Lino Ventura - Army of Shadows
And now for something completely different...To get an indication of how historical context can determine the experiences of a generation, look no further than the contrast between Bujalksi's disaffected hispters of the 21st century and the young men and women of the French resistance movement during the German occupation. While the former struggles to find a drummer for their new band, the latter are questioning how many of their friends are worth sacrificing in order to rescue another friend from a Nazi prison. Like most Melville films, Shadows is coldly intense, and Ventura's single minded Phillipe Gerbier is relentless. You know instantly that Ventura is all utilitarian, with no means unnecessary if it leads to eventual freedom. There are two scenes at least where Ventura's characterization enhances what was already a startling scene: 1) when he must kill a spy but realizes the gun will be too loud and 2) his set-up of a fellow prisoner in order to facilitate his own escape. Somehow, I can't see anyone else in this category pulling off these scenes.
And the Winner is...
Lars Rudolph - Werkmeister Harmonies
While some say the whale was behind the whole thing, and others say the whale has nothing to do with it at all, I say that Lars Rudolph was the real star of Bela Tarr's supremely odd tale of a crumbling city. While actors tend to be undervalued when a director has such an idiomatic style, in the case of Tarr, his marathon shots require commited actors. After all, if the camera is going to be focused on you for ten minutes at a time, you have to really subsume yourself to the character. Rudolph not only captures silent scenes like heating a can of soup, or doing his daily paper route, but he also embodies the hopes and fears of a generation in his wide, sympathetic eyes.
Sean and I spent time on the opening scene of Harmonies, but I just can't see a mainstream Hollywood actor pulling off this role. I envision a Hollywood version of the "Dance of the Sun, Moon, and Earth" as officially "touching" and the actor going overboard on how "different" and "odd" this scene would be, how "tender" the role. But for Rudolph, it seems the most natural thing in the world for a young paper boy to organize a dance of the town drunks at last call. As the stand-in witness for the audience in haunting scene after haunting scene, Rudolph brings home the frightening vision of Tarr and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai. I had a hard enough time watching some of these scenes, I can't imagine what it does to inhabit these characters as fully as Rudolph does.
Next up...Supporting Actress
Monday, January 28, 2008
Dir. - Michael Davis (check out his awesome work on Prehysteria! 3)
This is one of those movies that I'd rather not spend time dwelling upon, but since I'd mentioned that I'd bring it up later in my Smokin' Aces review I guess I should keep my word. Not that anyone but me cares... Anyway, there are some somewhat interesting contrasts to bring up regarding Smokin' Aces, a somewhat admirable venture gone sour, and Shoot 'Em Up, a ridiculous, steaming pile of headache.
I can't pinpoint what drives me to watch movies like Shoot 'Em Up. I try to tell myself that any movie featuring Paul Giamatti chasing around Clive Owen a la Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny should be worth a gander. And yes, there are many references to that Looney Tunes duo in this movie. I also tend to string my Netflix queue together with double features and themes and the like. So naturally Ace's and Shoot were right next to each other the whole time. But truth be told I'll always have a soft spot for some well done violence. But I fear that the craftsmanship behind a good action picture died sometime ago. Probably around the time John Woo took his first lunch at Spago's. This is what makes Tarantino and movies like The Departed seem so amazing -- wow, someone still cares about making a gun fight an exhilarating thing to watch.
You can tell Smokin' Aces cares by how it trots out its pretentious finale and how it manages to give you one or two characters that you actually end up caring about even against your better judgment. Carnahan has a good head on his shoulders and he knows how to shoot a movie, he just trips over himself way too many times before shooting himself in the foot at the end. The team behind Shoot 'Em Up (I'll call them Team Migraine) doesn't care a lick about creating drama, tension, suspense, or any reason to watch their movie besides the fact that you're guaranteed to see another 50 bullets fired in a few minutes if you stick around. This might be something to look forward to if this wasn't one of the most poorly shot action movies I've ever disdainfully sat through.
Does this sound interesting -- Clive Owen plays a badass with a gun, newborn baby and lactating hooker by his side, trying to avoid a relentless army of thugs led by a maniacal Paul Giamatti. I dunno, I could watch that. But try as our master thespians might, this movie never lifts itself above direct to DVD material. The imagination that might be floating around in the script (midair gunfight, gunfight while having sex, all the Bugs/Fudd shit, cutting the umbilical cord off your newborn by, yes, shooting it) are handled with ape-like sensibilities and come to life on the screen with all the pizazz and visual flair of a Kevin Smith movie. The action scenes (pretty much the whole movie) are shot and staged so poorly it's confounding. It's laughable at the beginning, which could be taken as a sign of enjoyment, but by the time they jump from an airplane and start shooting at each other as they free fall towards earth's crust (defying all science and logic, but shit, what the hell), the fact that they make hardly any effort to seem like what's in front of you is not just a bunch of guys on wires in front of a green screen drains any enjoyment you might get from watching something as ridiculous as a mid-air gun battle. Same goes for the mid-intercourse gun battle, a version of which was done much better in Desperado. Not to mention the painful dialog throughout. Even if you're trying to be tongue-in-cheek, satirical or in some way skewer the genre you're at the same time trying to glorify, lame ass one liners the good guys says after shooting a bad guy circa 1985 are still lame ass one liners.
A much better version of what this movie is trying to do can be found in the move Crank. I cannot with a clear conscious recommend Crank to any discerning film goer, but it's inventiveness translates to the screen in a mesmerizing way due to mind-boggling set pieces shot in a fairly unique fashion. You can tell a whole lot of effort went into making Crank a fucked-up crazy-ass movie. Shoot 'Em Up would love to be considered fucked-up crazy-ass but falls squarely in annoying bullshit.
There really isn't any problem with the idea of stringing together a bunch of action scenes around a thin plot. I talked about this in our review of 3:10 to Yuma -- westerns are usually hung around some pretty thin plots. Both of these movies try to tack on hilariously (not good hilarious) lame, convoluted conspiracy plots onto the whole affair and it really stinks the movies up. It isn't necessary in either movie. With Aces you're piling on plot from the get go and then try to change it all around at the end for no good reason -- it was more than enough to try and wrap our head around it all at the beginning! In Shoot -- okay, you're movie's fucking called Shoot 'Em Up -- what the hell's with trying to make a conspiracy involving senators and shit? Yeah, you're trying to be cute by making the whole thing involve a gun control bill... I'm telling you, nobody watching a fucking movie called fuckin' Shoot 'Em Up is interested in some lame attempts at irony or sarcasm. Be true to yourself! Revenge, money, a dame or a broad, one of these things is all a good action movie needs. Remember when, in Die Hard, everyone thought there was some big conspiracy Hans was involved in and it turned out he was just robing the place for the money. That was awesome.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
So, instead, I present the best of...well, the best of what Sean and I reviewed over the course of 2007. By my count, I reviewed 26 movies since June, most of which Sean and I did our dual reviews. By doing it this way, I can count on two things: 1) That the movies under consideration I have seen and spent at least a few hours thinking hard about and 2) the list will look like nothing else out there.
As you will see in the next few weeks (I'll try to post two categories a week), there are some odd juxtapositions (Nicholson vs. Crowe, Melville vs. Fincher, etc.) but I think this makes it pretty interesting. Unfortunately, this means that some great movies that I did see this past year (Inland Empire, Old Joy, No Country for Old Men, Gone Baby Gone) half to be left off the list because I never got around to reviewing them. But, the good news is that if I review them in the next year, they will be eligible for the 2008 Couchies (meaning expect to see Laura Dern in a runaway for Lead Actress in one year!).
Before presenting this list (which, yes, does follow the Oscar categories) I should take a second to thank Sean for introducing me to half this stuff. A lot of it (see: Edmond, The Illusionist, The Fountain, Tears of the Black Tiger) sucked, but it introduced me to some things I never would have seen otherwise.
And now, sans podium...The Couchies (Part I)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Nominations
Christian Bale - The Prestige
3:10 to Yuma might have allowed Bale to play against his charm in the down-and-out Van Heflin role, and Rescue Dawn may have been an incredible physical challenge, but the best performance I saw him in this year was as the tortured and charismatic Alfred Borden. Not only obsessive, Bale also pulled of charming, manipulative, good and evil...it almost as if he was playing...oh wait, that's a spoiler.
Adrien Brody - Darjeeling Limited
I was initially concerned that Brody would have a difficult time inhabiting the alternative universe of Wes Andersen, but he managed to be as conceited, aloof, and confused as any Tannenbaum. With his ridiculous wide eyes, Brody went from sympathetic to loathsome in a flash. As the eldest Whitman, he genuinely seemed to annoy Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman and his delivery of one of the most heart-wrenching lines of the year - "I didn't save mine" - was perfect.
Peter Fitz - Werkmeister Harmonies
There is a scene in Harmonies where Fitz's György Eszter delivers his theory of music into a Dictaphone. I have no idea, really, what he was talking about, but for about 5 minutes I sat still, staring at his beaten face speak into the microphone. As a man who commands respect throughout the city but who is afraid of his own wife, Fitz is the closest thing to a role model that the young Janos finds in a decaying city.
Peter Fonda - 3:10 to Yuma
Maybe it was because he wasn't wearing sunglasses. Not until the end credits did I realize that the bible thumping Pinkerton was played by Peter Fonda. In a movie all about dualities and hypocrisies, Fonda steals the show for the first half of the movie as the gritty mercenary who survives a gunshot to help escort Ben Wade to the train. In a movie full of people "playing" cowboys (I'm looking at you Ben Foster), Fonda seems like he could have really been there. It was so good, it was almost enough to make up for his shameless cameo in Wild Hogs. Almost.
And the Winner is...
Casey Affleck - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Not a surprise, and likely the only place where the couchies will agree with the Oscars. I wrote a lot about Affleck in the review of Jesse James, but let me repeat that he is scary in this movie. He just seems to inhabit a different universe then the rest of the cast, much like Ford seemed incomprehensible to his peers.
The movie itself is baffling, and is driven mostly by the two leads (James and Ford) who have completely different outlooks on the world from one another, but from everyone else as well. While James seems to see the grime and misery in life, and people's attempts to hide it a joke, Affleck's Ford looks onto the world like an angel seeing the Garden of Eden after the fall. He seems to expect so much more of the world than it can possibly offer, and is crushed each time it fails to produce. Looking back on Lonesome Jim, a dreadfully written movie in which Affleck stood out it, you can see hints of this kind of hopelessness. But with The Assassination, Affleck shows an astonishing vulnerability that should lead to serious roles for a long time.
Next up...Best Actors
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Dir. - Matt Reeves
I'll admit it, I've never seen The Blair Witch Project. But even during that one or two weeks when I couldn't get on the T without overhearing some annoying BU kid talking about the movie, I've never really felt like I was missing out on anything. That was not the case leading up to Cloverfield. The hype machine worked on me for this one. I loved that first trailer and had fun reading every ones theories and spending a couple hours that one day looking for clues on the various websites they'd set up for the film. So expectations were notched up on one of the high rungs when I went into an early afternoon showing this weekend.
Short story, it didn't disappoint me. I was highly entertained and kept guessing as to how it was going to end. I liked the monster, the effects and felt that the gimmick payed off. I wasn't annoyed by the central characters and even though there is liberties taken with technology and motivations -- I'm sorry, that's par for this course and it's not something that bothered me a bit. We're watching a monster movie here, and even though it's presented to us in a way that's meant to heighten the realism, yeah, it's still a monster movie. People are going to do things you know they shouldn't, people are going to get out of situations in ways that defy certain laws and yeah, technology will invariable bend to someones will. So be it.
I'm sure you know the story -- bff's have a falling out at a going away party before big monster descends (or is it rises) upon NYC which results in a band of four, one who had been given the duty to document the evening, coming together to rescue the injured bff across town before the city is either destroyed by the monster or by the military in an effort to destroy the monster. This will be the last time I use the term bff.
The movie is bookended by these titles that tell you you're watching unedited material the military found in Central Park. I think it might have been better served by having the movie start out with a shot of the YouTube home page and someone clicking on "Cloverfield" because that's what this movie epitomizes for me. In a world... obsessed with YouTube videos... Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing sloppy going on with this movie. It is extremely well produced and some of the shots and long takes that are on display are quite impressive. For a movie that from what I understand was shot for the most part on sets in LA -- I never once doubted that I was in NYC.
I can understand why some might be put off by the characters. Manhola Dargis compared them to Dawson's Creek people and said she never rooted for a monster more than with this movie. Be that as it may (she didn't like Oldboy, btw), while these certainly aren't the deepest characters captured for a movie, they do strike me as familiar and I wouldn't say they were as direct from the factory as a lot of other movies from this genre. Dare I say people at that age from that part of town don't show a whole lot of depth anyway? Either way, the performances are good. So what if a whole lot of range isn't demanded of them. Should I say it again? It's a monster movie that clocks in at under 90 minutes.
There's a series of scenes that take place in the subway that do a good job of covering every base you can hit in this kind of movie. It goes from morose as one of them tries his best to handle a badly timed phone call from his mother, to funny as they try to keep small talk going while walking through the dark of the tunnels, to frightening as one friend tries to kick some alien beastie who's chomping on another friend like a spare rib.
It's not a perfect movie by any means. It knows it' not going to win any awards and it's comfortable in it's genre. The distributor chose the perfect time to release this film long ago. But it's a well made high-concept horror film that's light on the horror and more interested in the personal drama -- it's trying to take the high road but is well aware of its limitations. Drew Goddard is one of my favorite television writers and I'd love to see him get some more chances to do film work but I have a feeling he was just trying to get the job done and in on time. There's a good amount of laughs and honest moments in the movie but I will admit there's a few groaners too. But just a few.
I had said earlier that The Host had set the bar high for any new monster movies to come around and try to act tough and Cloverfield is an excellent challenger but it doesn't quite hit all those bases again and again as The Host does. But The Host is one of the best monster movies ever made period. So Cloverfield is a pretty damn good one. The gimmick works. And from what I've heard it works a lot better than Blair Witch.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Dir. - Joe Carnahan
Viewed: From the Couch
The ad campaign for Smokin' Aces did something I found to be pretty hilarious. It took a negative review that A.O. Scott had run in the NY Times and spun it around to try and lure audiences with the promise of ultra-violence and cheap thrills. They added a voice to their bullet filled trailer that had a guy with the moviephone voice summarizing the beginning of Scott's review -- "'F.B.I.! F.B.I.!' Blam blam blam blam. '[Expletive]. [Expletive].' Blam blam blam. Spurt of blood. '[Expletive]. [Expletive].' Plot twist... Roll credits." I had read his review prior to seeing the new trailer and was highly amused by this tactic. Personally, I prefer the line in his review where Scott compares watching the movie to being hit repeatedly in the face with a raw sirloin steak. I guess that line wasn't as malleable. At any rate, it didn't work on most people and the movie was quickly moved off the screens (its vacancy soon to be filled by Shoot 'Em Up which I'll get to shortly).
For one reason or another I couldn't shake my interest. I'd been following Carnahan's career for a couple years at this point since my belated viewing of Narc, a low budget, tough-guy, under-cover cop movie with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. Tom Cruise helped get Narc into theaters and then tried to get him on board to direct M:I3, which didn't work out but resulted in a four year hiatus until his next movie came out. Spend that amount of time following up a movie with the amount of promise Narc showed and you're going to generate some high expectations -- at least with indie-film nerds. In some ways Smokin' Aces and Southland Tales can both be looked at as the results of filmmakers who tried to come back with a vengeance and left their audiences scratching their heads. Both movies have a throw-everything-we-got-at-them-and-enough-should-stick-to-leave-them-happy. Except Southland is shooting for the moon while Aces is just shooting. This leaves Southland infinitely more interesting and rewarding and Aces a bit of a slough to get through.
The performances in Smokin' Aces is what saves it from being an utter and complete failure. It still is an unrewarding mess, but for the people involved they come away unscathed as tey do their best to shine in the few moments each one is given and elevate the movie from the doldrums of a witless action flick. Jeremy Piven plays Aces. He's not a pleasant character. He treats women like used condoms, is constantly shoving cocaine up his nose and even treats his, um, entourage like punching bags for verbal assaults. He's got a price on his head and there are those who want to protect Aces (Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Afflleck, Peter Berg, Martin Henderson) so that he can testify against the mob and those who want Aces dead (everyone else in the movie). Piven does an excellent job. He starts out as the most vile human being and through one or two scenes he's able to become the most pathetic human being. Unfortunately this is what 90 percent of the cast is asked to do -- take a stock character and in your second or third scene turn it into magic right before you get shot ten times.
The ones who pull it off are great fun to watch. Early on we meet seven or eight characters who either get hired or hear about the price on Aces head (or heart, rather). The most notable are Alicia Keys and Davenia McFadden as a pair of feminist assassins and the Tremor Brothers, three guys who just came in from the apocalypse ready to shed blood. The Brothers are very much comic relief of the grimmest sort. They dress from the Road Warrior catalog and dispatch their victims with all sorts of interesting handy items you'd find laying around the tool shed. When you first see them donning goggles you wonder, that's a bit over the top ans silly isn't it -- which not only is a dumb thing to wonder about something in this movie, but you quickly learn that no, those goggles are quite essential to how they go about their work. And as small a part as they play in the big picture the Feminist Assassins are clearly the soul of the movie. The quasi-sexual relationship between Keys and McFadden as they prepare for their hit really works better than it should. Think of Vincent and Jules preparing to bust in on those kids in Pulp Fiction but instead of talking about foot massages they were flirting with each other like a couple of butch feminists. But like everything else in the film it doesn't pay off at all.I appreciated the fact that this movie keeps you off balance. Any one of the characters you meet in this movie could get a bullet or seven in him or her at any moment. You don't know who, if anyone, is going to make it to the credits. I like that. The only movie that I can think of right now that pulled that off well was the first Alien. I give Smokin' Aces a little bit of respect for trying it and coming up with interesting characters but when all is said and done you really have to come up with some sort of ending that pays off. The most obvious comparison for this movie is True Romance, a movie that looks like Touch of Evil compared to Aces. Both movies take their time setting up a big shoot out in a hotel but where True Romance spends time doing things like developing characters Aces puts all its money on its big reveal at the end. And this twist is so shitty that it nullifies any enjoyment you might of squeezed out of the first two thirds of the movie.
And so here's the question -- how important is a movie's final 10 or 15 minutes? Certainly that last act is the feeling that you are leaving the movie with. You can be entertained to the tits by 75% of the movie but if it shits the bed at the end you're leaving with that stink on your mind. Smokin' Aces betrays the viewer with its ending. That's my opinion but that's what will ruin a movie for me. Some people get pissed by open ended movies. I've heard a lot of complaints about No Country For Old Men's ending. I like that ending because it jibes perfectly with what we were presented with and strikes at what the title of the movie represents. If I were watching The Babysitter is Dead and at the end of the movie the babysitter was just a heavy sleeper -- I'm pissed -- it doesn't matter how much fun I had with the hi jinks the kids had thinking the babysitter was dead for the first three thirds of the movie. That's my biggest problem with Smokin' Aces (among a bevy of others). Otherwise I'm happy to give the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt and let him or her end the movie the way they want to. If it doesn't betray what came before it I won't be let down by the lousy last act of an otherwise great movie. But I'm thinking of some other examples of a bad (or good) ending that ended up flipping your view of the movie.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
It was kind of a seduction year for me and movies in 2007. Few things jumped out and knocked me on my ass. It was more of a subtle relationship. Granted, there's certain movies I haven't been able to see yet -- There Will Be Blood & Jesse James are two that come to mind -- but for the most part the movies I loved this year were the sort that washed over you and got under your skin and stuck with you. A couple days later I would think, Wow, that was a damn fine movie.
I've seen no performance this past year that topped Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. Everyone is hyping Javier Bardem, and as great as he was in No Country, he never really came close to the layers that Viggo's Nikolai has. And nothing about Chigurh, or No Country, comes close to representing the brutality of Eastern Promises' steam room scene. Nikolai's just as imposing, if not more so, than Chigurh and he's far more interesting. Viggo gives him a menacing sexuality and constantly keeps you guessing as to what he's thinking about behind those tattoos, that suit and hair and which side -- if any -- he's really on. He's chilling and yet completely engrossing and ultimately sympathetic. He hits so many notes, and that's why he's got my vote for best performance.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Hoffman's getting so good these days that it's almost to his detriment. Is he still going to surprise us if he just keeps hitting home run after home run? I haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War or The Savages but they both supposedly contain great Hoffman in them. There's a scene in BDKYD where Hoffman's character arrives at a high rise apartment -- he's let in by this mysterious flamboyant young man who practically says nothing to him. He's early, he waits, makes a drink, looks around the place and takes in the view. It's goddamn brilliant. We have no idea what's going to happen in this apartment, why he's there, and his wordless lingering is hypnotic. It's those performances and those kind of moments that are just transcendent -- there aren't many people like Hoffman who can so perfectly inhabit a character and make a small moment like that one so great.
Into the Wild is filled with great performances but oddly enough, the star of the film, Emile Hirsch is the one that stands out the least. That's not to say he didn't do a good job. (He did though I think he only really let it out at the end.) But his character serves as a sort of mirror for everyone around him. Just as much as it is a movie about his journey into the wild, the best moments are through the encounters he has along the way. Each one of these people see in him that thing they lost and have been looking for whether it be youth and its freedoms and promise or the child they never had or always wanted, but these are the people who really shine. When they look in his eyes Sean Penn captured some outstanding performances from Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker and Kristen Stewart. The movie is a little bit uneven at times but I don't think there was a better ensemble this year.
2007 was the year the Affleck boys made good. Both have been wild cards since their first movies. But Gone Baby Gone is a terrific movie and it wouldn't be without Ben and Casey. I think this really goes to Ben's credit. Everything that's great about Gone Baby Gone, I really think it's due to Ben Affleck. And there's no small amount of good things: Casey and Amy Ryan have never been better (again, I have my Jesse James screening reserved for Jan14); bringing John Ashton back to the big screen -- thank you; making a film shot around Boston actually feel like it was shot around Boston -- good job; putting together that scene in the townie bar -- amazing; working out one of the toughest endings since Sophie's Choice -- bravo.
Since the revitalized Bond and Batman were off the 2008 ticket, Bourne Ultimatum was just about the only place to go to get your action/adventure kicks. Which is ok with me since this franchise has been the place to go since it began. I only hope that if this franchise does not continue that the powers that be remember what the Bourne series taught us -- the people who enjoy action movies are smarter than you think. Which leads me to The Host -- the one movie this year that really did jump out and knock me on my ass. I didn't have a wilder, funner time in the theater this year. Cloverfield is going to have a tough time trumping the monster movie magic of this one.
Hot Fuzz was pretty bad ass though and combined with the continuing reign of Apatow, 2007 resulted in one of the better years for comedies. Superbad and Knocked Up were both hysterical. I give the slight edge to Superbad overall only because it came really close to perfecting the high school comedy movie -- something very few movies succeed at when they attempt the subject. It's honest and it has a undeniably big heart -- all the bullshit abut the misogyny in Knocked Up has me bitter even though I know it really is a bunch of bullshit. El Topo -- there's some misogyny -- no male character in Knocked Up is presented as even being stable nevermind the second coming of Jesus.
People can call Old Country a neo-western all they want -- the real deal was playing in theaters right alongside it in 3:10 to Yuma. Another great collection of actors at the top of their games and what should be a star making, breakout performance from Ben Foster playing another character showing us the unwavering path violence can take. It was certainly great seeing an Elmore Leonard adaptation that didn't completely shit the bed.
Documentaries were coming in faster and furiouser over the past few years but went back to their small niche areas this year. The one that has my vote for best doc since Murderball was King of Kong. Like Murderball it takes a subject found in the margins of society and brings it front and center, scars and all. It's a triumphant, classic story of the underdog besting the giant -- the true toppling the corrupt -- all set against the backdrop of the frayed carpets of arcade halls and the barrels and ladders of Donkey Kong. If Rocky won the hearts of the Academy voters in '76 -- King of Kong should get at least a nomination for best documentary this year.
Werner Herzog got away from his steady stream of oddball documentaries to put another movie in the drama section with Rescue Dawn (based on one of his own documentaries, of course). For me it was a breath of fresh air to have him stay behind the camera, I'd gotten to thinking that if you were to watch a Herzog movie these days you'd have to put up with his voice in your ear for 90 minutes. Everything in Rescue Dawn reminded me of why I've liked this guy since I first saw Fitzcoraldo 15 or so years ago. The image I have in my head of Herzog isn't the quizzical guy in his bomber jacket asking questions about some footage he found. It isn't the guy sitting in the voice-over booth asking existential questions. It's the guy I saw in the making-of feature on the Rescue Dawn DVD -- the bare chested man running through the jungle, showing his crew and actors that you shouldn't be afraid of jumping into river, throwing your body through thick thorn riddled brush and walking barefoot through ant hills, because he just showed you how it's done. It's a gorgeously shot movie filled with great performances by actors seemingly possessed by some other-worldliness they can only achieve in his movies. I hope he can find the money to make more of these.
There were a couple of good musicals that came out this year, and no, I'm not talking about Hairspray and Sweeney Todd, I'm talking about Once and Romance & Cigarettes. Saying these two movies are musicals is kind of like saying Schindler's List and Before Sunset are both dramas -- they have very little in common. For very different reasons they were both wonderful, unique gems that anyone looking for a break from the routine should see immediately. If you can that is. It was doubtful that Romance & Cigarettes would ever see the inside of a theater but after two years of no distribution deal Turturro and friends were able to get the money together to have the film travel to a few towns. John Turturro's musical ode to infidelity in Queens is something that has to be seen to be believed. It's certainly not everyones cup of tea but those familiar with Dennis Potter will certainly dig this blue collar story set to pop music. Those who have been waiting to see Christopher Walken's big song and dance moment will be satiated for a while anyway and those who love to hear Kate Winslet talk dirty will be in heaven. On first thought I felt the movie was damn near perfect (for what it's trying to do). But the real amazement comes from the fact that the movie works at all. I think it has to be near perfect for it not to flop miserably from the get-go. From top to bottom of all the major people involved in this movie -- I can't think of anyone else who could fill their shoes. Sarandon and Gandolfini give the movie the needed emotional weight and Turturro's eye for the neighborhoods... well, I'm so damn happy I got to see this movie and can't recommend it enough.
Once is certainly the date movie of the year for people who don't really like typical date movies. It's almost anti-romance, yet it's quite moving, delicate and yes, romantic. It's like Before Sunset/Sunrise crossed with The Commitments. A young Chekoslavakian woman with child and a nice guy Dubliner make beautiful music together, cut an album and well I won't ruin for those who haven't seen it. It's one of the simplest, smallest stories and it's all the better for it. Whether or not it is a musical by categorical terms is uncertain but I like to think that it succeeds thoroughly in these conditions.
All right. I've gone on long enough -- I've had enough drinks -- let's break it down. Best 10 Movies of 2007
9. Romance & Cigarettes
8. Hot Fuzz
7. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
6. Into the Wild
4. The King of Kong
3. The Bourne Ultimatum
2. No Country for Old Men
1. Eastern Promises