January 02, 2008

Best and Worst Films of 2007

by Neil Morris

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years. From stem to stern, the cinema of 2007 was the best-rounded in years. Sure, there were the big-budget, mindless money grabs (Transformers) and purposeless sequels (Rush Hour 3; Fantastic Four 2; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End; etc.). But, at least thirty or more films could credibly lay claim to inclusion in any critic’s Top 10 list, and their genres spanned not only drama and comedies, but animated films, documentaries, musicals (more than one), and foreign language films. The one subgenre not represented – the ubiquitous films relating to the Iraq War, most of which proved lackluster and heavy-handed in their sermonizing. Indeed, the only one registering on critics radar is the documentary No End in Sight, which, frankly, I found to be a pro-war wolf (or is it hawk) in anti-war sheep’s clothing.

Many critics have expressed difficulty in narrowing down their top films of the year, and even more in selecting just one as their very best. The degree of quality separating my second through tenth favorite films is small – they include first-time filmmakers, veteran directors, and, as was the case in my 2004 top 10 list, a Jason Bourne sequel and an animated film by Brad Bird. Nonetheless, my choice as the number one of the year proved a clear-cut decision.

Several of my choices will find their way to theaters over the next few weeks. Even better is that, thanks to the ever-shrinking time before a film’s DVD release, many of my choices are already available for viewing in the convenience of your home. Here, then, is my year’s end gift to you: the movies to seek out, and – perhaps equally important – the ones that should relegated to the $5.99 bin at Wal-Mart.

Top 10 Films

Best Movie of the Year: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Buttressed by terrific performances from Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt, writer-director Andrew Dominick fashions a gorgeous, lyrical meditation on celebrity and the concept of hero-worship, a longing gaze on the sepia-soaked days of yesteryear refracted into a piercing commentary on our contemporary culture.

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Director Julian Schnabel’s (Before Night Falls) mesmerizing account of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers a stroke leaving him nearly totally paralyzed save his left eye, is a technically adroit achievement that puts you inside Bauby’s head – and often his limited point-of-view – for an emotionally wrenching experience.

3. There Will Be Blood – Officially based upon Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic tour de force blends The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Citizen Kane, Giant, and the narrative structure of Kubrick’s 2001 into a sweeping, occasionally bombastic dissection of greed, religion, family, and capitalism. Equally brilliant – and overheated – is Daniel Day-Lewis Oscar-caliber performance as a turn-of-the-century oil prospector who realizes his financial dreams at the expense of his soul.

4. Eastern Promises - This taut film has artistic and symbolic aspirations beyond the confines of a murder mystery or suspense thriller. The yuletide setting is no coincidence, as this is director David Cronenberg’s Nativity story and as such is one of his most subversive works. Alongside the plotline’s intricate patchwork of alliances and betrayals, it is the exploration of (mis)identity and self—central to so much of Cronenberg’s work—that provides the film with its multi-layered texture.

5. Into the Wild – Director Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book molds the true-story of the life and death of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) and his trek to the Alaskan wilderness into a poignant struggle to break free of the social mores that permeate and control nearly every inch of our planet.

6. Charlie Wilson’s WarMike Nichols’ breezy dramatic-comedies have always carried more provocative social import than his dour melodramas, including this account of how an East Texas congressman (Tom Hanks) waged a political war to arm the Afghan mujahedeen in their 1980s guerrilla war against the Soviet Union. Credit Nichols’ deft touch and Aaron Sorkin’s staccato, “West Wing”-y vernacular for a narrative that is both incisive and uproarious.

7. The Bourne Ultimatum – As pointed an indictment of Bush’s War is this sequel’s depiction of the metastasizing of the covert Bush-era intelligence apparatus. That themes this weighty could fit within the confines of what is essentially an extended adrenaline rush bear continuing testament to the talent of director Paul Greengrass.

8. The Lookout – Writer Scott Frank makes his directorial debut with a “heist flick” that doubles as an intelligent neo-noir about a victim of life’s circumstances tempted to place greed ahead of his most precious priorities, the same spirit as the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple or David Mamet’s hard-boiled morality plays.

9. Ratatouille – Director Brad Bird offers a luminous third act on the heels of his equally superb Iron Giant and The Incredibles. As seen through the eyes of a rat/wannabe chef named Remy, this animated film underscores the human capacity for both creativity and cataclysm, and it accentuates the themes of personal achievement and nurturing one’s talents in the face of countervailing cultural and societal impediments.

10. Juno – Imbued with a rapid-fire, Gen-Y argot, Diablo Cody’s script not only tackles touchy life lessons without sanctimony but also finds hilarity in the tale of a pregnant teenager (Ellen Page, stellar) who must come to grips with the notion that maturity is not merely a reluctant acceptance of responsibility, but instead the reclassification of cool.

The Best of the Rest
11. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
12. Gone Baby Gone
13. Sweeney Todd
14. No Country for Old Men
15. Zodiac
16. The Savages
17. 3:10 to Yuma
18. The Hoax
19. Atonement
20. Hot Fuzz

Worst Films of 2007
Every year brings its share of ineptitude, and although compiling a list of the worst of the worst allows me the pleasure of purging my spite for these wastes of celluloid, it also forces me to briefly relive the pain suffered while enduring them. Unlike last year, however, choosing the most dreadful film I had the misfortune to watch during 2007 is, like the film itself, a no-brainer.

Worst Film of the Year – Good Luck Chuck
2. Code Name: The Cleaner
3. Transformers
4. Because I Said So / Mama’s Boy (the annual Diane Keaton submissions)
5. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
6. The Golden Compass
7. Evan Almighty
8. Mr. Woodcock
9. The Condemned
10. The Number 23

Most Overrated Film Michael Clayton and Superbad (tie)

Most Underrated FilmGreat World of Sound

Most Pleasant Surprises
The Darjeeling Limited
I Think I Love My Wife
The Kingdom
Live Free or Die Hard
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)
Mr. Brooks
Paris, je t’aime

Most Disappointing
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Margot at the Wedding
Reign Over Me
Shrek the Third
Things We Lost in the Fire

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting list.
I appreciate that you included The Bourne Ultimatum in your list of the Top 10. But I was surprised about some interesting exclusions from that list.
1. I Am Legend-Will Smith completely sells this movie. If it was anybody else, it couldn't be done.
2. Transformers-An action movie that had great plot behind it.

Live Free or Die Hard was different from Transformers in that it went solely on action. And the plot was hard to understand.