Monday, January 14, 2008

Zombies, Barbers and Preggers, Oh My! The Best Films of 2007

Ah, yes it is that time again. Time to figure what movies were the “best of the year.” But what really is the best? Who am I to determine what are the best films of the year? Lists are really inconsequential but oh are they fun! 2007 was a fantastic year for movies. This is the first time that all ten films on my Top 10 List were all given grades of A. Sometimes I had to sneak an A- or a B+ film in there, but this year, every one of these movies is a four star film. It was really tough to narrow down my list this year as this was the best year for movies so far. Any one of these movies could have found it to the top, but I had to put them in order somehow. So hunker down and check out my list of the best films of 2007:

1. Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn) No other film this year (except for maybe my number 2 pick) has affected me the way Sean Penn’s standout film has. This true story of a young man determined to leave society behind and live in the wild was an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. The film is so moving, poignant, and best of all entertaining, that I simply didn’t want it to end. The songs composed and performed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder are simply amazing; never have songs attempted to reflect the main character’s (real life Christopher McCandless) psyche the way these do. Actors Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener and especially Hal Holbrook give career-defining performances in a tale about following your heart and taking that journey inside oneself. Fun Fact: It took Sean Penn nearly ten years to convince Chris McCandless’ parents to let him make the film.

2. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly (dir. Julian Schnabel) No other film this year (except for maybe my number 1 pick) has affected me the way Julian Schnabel’s standout film has. The film tells the true story of French Elle Magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s tragic stroke that leaves him with “locked-in syndrome.” He is complete paralyzed from head to toe, except for his left eye, which he blinks into order to communicate with those around him. The film explorer’s Jean-Do’s mind and imagination in a way I’ve never experienced. This is a film, although French, that transcends the language barrier and is so stirring that I haven’t been the same person since viewing it. This is a great example of an artist at work. Fun Fact: Director Julian Schnabel is a painter and he insisted the film be made in French.

3. Juno (dir. Jason Reitman) One of many films about pregnancy (see my number 9 pick ‘Knocked Up’ and Sundance favorite ‘Waitress’) is simply a knock out. First time screenwriter (and former stripper) Diablo Cody pens a delightful script about a witty and hip teenage girl’s completely unplanned pregnancy. Actress Ellen Page simply shines in the title role. Her dialogue is funny and smart and cool as are all the other colorful characters. This is a film that just makes you feel good. Want to hug this movie. This film also features a great soundtrack featuring some songs from indie singer & songwriter Kimya Dawson. This is a delightful and surprisingly poignant romp from start to finish. Fun Fact: The hamburger phone Juno uses belongs to writer Diablo Cody.

4. No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen) Wow. This movie scared the piss out of me when I saw it. The story, based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, revolves around a drug deal that goes completely sour. And by sour, I mean everyone is dead. Even the dog! Josh Brolin stumbles upon a case full of cash, which he takes, but unbeknownst to him a vicious killer is on the loose after him. Spanish actor Javier Bardem embodies terror, evil and sports a nasty hairdo as Anton Chigurh, a character certain to go down in movie history as one of the most frighteningly sadistic villains in movie history. The Coen Brothers direct an amazing story that is chock full of suspense and tight editing. No other film this year was as nail bitting. You’ll need a manicure after watching this movie. Fun Fact: Javier Bardem’s strange haircut was derived from a 1979 photo of a brothel patron.

5. Atonement (dir. Joe Wright) I am as shocked as you are to find this film on my list of the best films of the year. What appears to be an overly dramatic British period piece is actually a fantastically entertain story of secrets, lies and the search for redemption. Brilliantly told by director Joe Write and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, this tells the story of young Briony who mistakenly accuses her older sister’s boyfriend of a heinous crime that sends him away to prison and eventually to fight in World War II. As 13-year-old Briony, actress Saoirse Ronan commands the screen much in the same way Helen Mirren did in last year’s ‘The Queen.’ Composer Dario Marianelli’s magnificent score and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s 5 ½ minute tracking shot are simply standouts. Fun Fact: The Steadicam operator passed out during one of the long Dunkirk beach tracking shot takes.

6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (dir Tim Burton) What is a top ten list without a musical to lighten things up? Except, that this Tim Burton directed adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim stage favorite is not exactly an uplifting tale. It is a dark, malevolent, wonderfully conceived and fantastically executed (slight pun intended) take on a barber hell-bent on seeking revenge and the pie shop owner who falls for him. Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are great together as the man who slits throats and the woman who grounds the bodies into the tastiest meat pies in London. The music is wonderful, as are the sets, costumes and make-up. This is a great technical achievement and one of auteur Tim Burton’s best films to date. Fun Fact: The bloody film’s final on screen body count is 12.

7. Knocked Up (dir. Judd Apatow) Another heartwarming tale of pregnancy, like ‘Juno,’ except with a dirty streak filled with sexual gags and jokes about bodily fluids. This isn’t your average “She’s Having a Baby” romantic comedy, but it is one of the best. Judd Apatow as writer and director simply creates one of the funniest and most touching films of the year. Career oriented Katherine Heigl meets slacker/stoner Seth Rogen at a bar. They get drunk. They do it. And before they can say, “I farted on your pillow and just gave you pink eye,” Heigl is with child. This is a romantic comedy for the grungy college crowd, but it’s surprising sensitivity towards growing up and family values was a breath of fresh air in summer of remakes and sequels. This delightful ensemble comedy (with Apatow regulars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd) is a lot of fun. Fun Fact: After the film was released, Steven Spielberg phoned director Judd Apatow to compliment the movie because Seth Rogen’s character make a reference to his film ‘Munich.’

8. Gone Baby Gone (dir. Ben Affleck) Yes contrary to popular belief actor Ben Affleck can direct a good movie. In fact, his directorial debut is fantastic. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the novel ‘Mystic River’) this film tells the story of a drug addict mother (standout Amy Ryan) whose young daughter is kidnapped. Her sister and brother in law hire P.I. Casey Affleck and Michele Monahan to help find the girl and slowly a story of betrayal is slowly revealed. The film is set in the Affleck brothers’ native Boston and the film has a realistic tone that is simply sensational. Amy Ryan gives an amazing performance as a woman who isn’t exactly mother of the year. The most the film goes on the more we sucked into its intriguing plot. This is only one of Morgan Freeman’s many films this year and it’s by far his best. Forget ‘The Bucket List’ this is a film you’ll be talking about for days after you see it. Fun Fact: Actress Amy Ryan looked and sounded so convincing as a low class Dorchester mom that a security guard mistook her for a fan on the first day of location filming, and wouldn't let her on the set.

9. Lars and the Real Girl (dir.Craig Gillespie) This quirky film (penned by ‘Six Feet Under’ writer Nancy Oliver) is the definition of a love it or hate it premise: Ryan Gosling is a socially awkward man who orders a sex doll (who he names Bianca) over the Internet and convinces himself and those around him that the doll is his real girlfriend. As Lars, Gosling gives another remarkable performance. The whole film hinges on the idea that we as a viewer believe that he believes that Bianca is a real person. He creates an entire backstory for her (she once was a missionary and she loves kids) much to the dismay of his older brother and sister in-law. A psychiatrist insists that everyone go along with Lars’s delusion and the whole town pitches in to make Bianca feel at home. This is a fun, heartwarming movie that has divided most critics. This critic found it simply charming. Fun Fact: To help Gosling stay in character, the real doll was treated like an actual person on set. She was dressed privately in her own trailer and was only present for scenes that she was in.

10. Grindhouse (dir. Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino) ‘Grindhouse’ a double feature featuring the zombie-fest ‘Planet Terror’ and the car chase thriller ‘Death Proof’ makes the cut simply because it was the most audacious and fun movie theater going experiences of the year. This is a movie that is fun because it has everything one loves about seeing a movie in the theater. And one of the reasons why I think it bombed when released last April is because the target audience is the typical audience who would rather pirate the computer illegally from the Internet. ‘Grindhouse’ features two silly but well-made films as an ode to the schlock horror flicks that appeared in small, smelly theaters in the 1970s (complete with missing reels and purposely placed scratch marks). The film features astounding work by filmmaking buddies Tarantino and Rodriguez and best of all are the phony trailers that play in-between the two features (directed by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Rodriguez). This is a great film because it is meant to be seen in the theater, which is one of my favorite things to do. As if you didn’t know. And let's not forget Rose McGowen's machine gun leg. Only, at the Grindehouse. Fun Fact: A mere seventeen seconds were removed in order to achieve an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA.

Honorable Mentions – The 11-20th best films of the year in alphabetical order:

Across the Universe – Solid, visually arresting musical featuring great Beatles covers.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Sidney Lumet’s electric tale of a jewelry store robbery gone horribly wrong.
Enchanted – Amy Adams simply shines in this homage to Disney fairy tales.
Hairspray – The most addictive movie of the year. You really can’t stop the beat.
Ratatouille – Stunning animation is featured in this tale about a rat with eclectic taste buds who loves to cook; from the ingenious Pixar folks.
Sicko – Michael Moore’s scathing healthcare documentary. In fact, when is Moore not scathing?
The Simpsons Movie – A bright and colorful big screen version of one of TV’s most loved animated sitcoms.
Superbad – A hilarious coming of age film from producer Judd Apatow. Introduced America to McLovin.
Waitress – The late Adrienne Shelly’s sweet story of a pie-loving waitress who falls for her OB/GYN.
Year of the Dog – Molly Shannon is great in this fable about a woman whose pet’s death changes her life forever.

Stay tuned for the Worst Films of 2007!