The Evaluation of 2007
By The Critic Collin Souter
Posted 01/17/08 23:37:41
Yes, I’m two or three weeks too late to post a year-end list and, honestly, who can keep up with all of them? Why should I even bother writing one if I haven’t even written a single movie review all year? Because I like to. Isn’t that why we all do it? Not because we believe we will change the consciousness of cinephiles everywhere with our eclectic choices, but because it’s fun. Critics live for the list. I got one. You probably got one. So, take another minute or two to play “Is he right or is he nuts?” Probably both. You decide. I will say that 2007 was a mixed bag. A lot of interesting artistic achievements, but I couldn’t help but notice a slight lack of pure joy at the movies. For that reason, it falls just shy of its status as a monumental movie year.
First, movies that should have been shot (as in killed) at sunrise:1. Good Luck Chuck I can’t remember the last time a movie filled me with so much hate. Maybe Bad Boys 2. I don’t know. It just felt like the world’s most hatable characters inhabiting Hollywood’s most hatable storyline (women line up to have sex with Dane Cook, because he’s… Do I even have to go on from there?). It’s a movie that hates women, hates its audience and hates the thought of being the least bit original or insightful.
2. Halloween A close, close second. Rob Zombie takes everything that made the original Halloween so effective and throws it out the window. Wasn’t Michael Myers scarier when he just embodied pure evil and nothing else? Didn’t the original work so much better because of the realism and the lack of blood and gore? Didn’t it also work because it wasn’t the least bit pretentious?
3. I Know Who Killed Me A laughably awful thriller in one respect and a depressing piece of torture porn in another. If Lindsay Lohan ever does come out of her drunken stupor lifestyle and looks back at where she made her worst decision, she would most surely have to end up here. I didn’t think she could appear in a worse film than Just My Luck. Just my luck.
4. D.O.A. Dead or Alive I don’t care if the cast is hot, this movie sucks. It’s no better than a Charlie’s Angels movie and those movies suck. It’s just another headache-inducing video game movie that can’t even make up for its apparent stupidity with a single great action sequence.
5. Wild Hogs You people actually liked this movie? I don’t know who you are anymore.
6. Man in the Chair I hate to pick on a movie as sincere as this, but it’s impossible for me to think of another film that so desperately needed rewrites and a new editor. It’s a movie that has no idea what story it wants to tell and I’ve never seen a movie with so many distracting and unnecessary stylized cut-aways. It’s as though they just discovered the Avid and wanted to show off every trick in the book.
7. Because I Said So This movie really left a year-long scar on the critics who saw it, as indicated from the number of times I’ve seen it pop up on other critics’ Ten Worst lists. This piercing whine-fest really does leave an everlasting ringing in your ears long after it’s finished, much like being right next to an amp at a Christina Agulera/Mariah Carey on Helium concert.
8. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer See what happens when you make an empty, soulless and grating noise-a-thon a hit? You get another one just as obnoxious, braindead and unwatchable. Thanks, Fox.
9. Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls A 10-worst list doesn’t feel complete anymore without the words “Tyler” and “Perry” in there somewhere. Since I didn’t see Why Did I Get Married?, this will have to do. Although, his film is only a slight improvement over his first two (mainly because he doesn’t appear in them), it’s still a maudlin and embarrassing affair. But you probably gathered that just from the title.
10. Lions For Lambs Or, NPR: The Movie. Okay, sure, there are worse films from 2007 to be put on this list, but it’s hard for me to think of anything else as smug, self-important and condescending. It gets to the point where Robert Redford literally talks down at the audience and shouts (in so many words) “Why aren’t you mad about the war, people?”
More for the firing squad: Premonition, Next, The Reaping, Eagle vs. Shark, Ghost Rider, Transformers, License To Wed, Skinwalkers, The Ex, Exiled, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
Just give them a severe flesh wound: Reno 911: Miami, Evening, Inland Empire, Across the Universe, 30 Days of Night, American Gangster, Love in the Time of Cholera, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Bucket List, Dedication, The Golden Compass
No assassination necessary. Just scare them a little: Music and Lyrics, The Wayward Cloud, 300, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, Vacancy, The Invisible, Spider-Man 3, Fay Grimm, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Hatchet., Dragon Wars (D-Wars), Rendition, The TV Set, In the Land of Women, The 11th Hour, The Brave One, August Rush, Margot At the Wedding, Starting Out in the Evening, Lust, Caution, Reservation Road, The Kite Runner, Music Within, Atonement, Sharkwater, Enchanted
Best/Funniest Gags: The Beatles scene in Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story; The closing credits sequence of Superbad. The beard jokes in Knocked Up.
Best Use of Music: The Frames song “Say It To Me Now” in Once
Best Lines of Dialogue / Favorite Lines of Dialogue or Dialogue Exchange:
From Mr. Brooks: “You look like the E.T. guy!”
From There Will Be Blood: “Every day, I drink the blood of lamb from Bandy’s tract.”
From The Amateurs: "Did your parents work at the same nuclear plant?"
Best Dramatic Pause: The actual assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
Best Fight: Matt Damon, thug and hardcover book in The Bourne Ultimatum
Best Newcomer: Michael Cera
Worst Decision by an Actor: William H. Macy, Wild Hogs
Worst Decision by an Actress: Natalie Portman, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
Best Ensemble: Juno
Best Brainless Movies: Hot Rod, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Worst "Smart" Films: Lions For Lambs, Love in the Time of Cholera, Inland Empire
Movie That Made Me The Hungriest: Waitress
Most Underrated (Critically): The Mist
Guiltiest Pleasure: Southland Tales, The Nanny Diaries
Biggest Surprises (could be from an actor, director or studio): Two movies with Dane Cook that I actually liked (Mr. Brooks and Dan in Real Life)
Biggest Disappointments: Across the Universe, Spider-Man 3
Best Action Scene: From the explosion to the chase along the rooftops to the final fight in the bathroom in The Bourne Ultimatum
Most Romantic Scene: The very last scene in Juno
The "F. U." Award (Given to someone - director, actor, anyone - you'd like to get out of the movies permanently - based on a film released in 2007): Jessica Alba
Worst Sequel: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Worst Remake OR Movie based on a TV show: Halloween
Best Cameo: Paul Rudd as John Lennon, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Worst Cameo: Peter Fonda, Wild Hogs
Sexiest shot, moment or scene: Christina Ricci dancing to Samuel Jackson’s music, Black Snake Moan
Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Ellen Page, Juno
Best Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Best Supporting Actress: Marcia Gay Harden, The Mist
Best Director: Andrew Dominick, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Best Cinematography: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Favorite Song: “If You Want Me,” from Once
Favorite Score: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Favorite soundtrack: Once
Favorite Tearjerker Moment: The last sequence of Once
Best Movie That Did Not Receive A Proper Release: The Amateurs
Favorite Bad movie: Dragon Wars (D-Wars)
Worst actor: Dane Cook, Good Luck Chuck
Worst actress: Jessica Alba, Good Luck Chuck
Most overrated: Michael Clayton, American Gangster, 300
Best Monologues: Peter O’Toole’s restaurant review at the end of Ratatouille; Craig Robinson turning away Katherine Heigl and Leslie Mann in Knocked Up; Daniel Day Lewis’s final confrontation to Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood.
Favorite Character: Juno MacGuff
Most nail-biting moment: The sewing shut of the eye in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Most stomach-turning moment: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (there’s a shot towards the end I’d rather not talk about or describe)
Favorite DVD: The Stanley Kubrick Collection
Best Bargain in Town: Grindhouse Neither Planet Terror nor Death Proof is perfect (even if they’re not supposed to be), but in terms of giving moviegoers the most for their money, the double-feature-with-trailers gimmick of Grindhouse was a gift to movie geeks everywhere. The overall production is marred only by the presence of Quentin Tarantino in front of the camera and the fact that Planet Terror doesn’t play as well on the small screen as it does on the big screen. It’s not hard to see why the project bombed, but it’s sad to know that it’ll likely be the last of its kind.
Hold your fire! These movies are good!: Freedom Writers, Zodiac, Maxed Out, Blades of Glory, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, Hair High, 28 Weeks Later, 1408, Live Free or Die Hard, Sunshine, The Kingdom, Death Sentence, Broken English, Shoot ‘em Up, The Brothers Solomon, Disturbia, Eastern Promises, Michael Clayton, Surf’s Up, Dan In Real Life, The Darjeeling Limited, Bee Movie, Southland Tales, The Great World of Sound, Into the Wild, Darfur Now, Redacted, Talk To Me, I’m Not There, La Vie En Rose, Control, The Nanny Diaries, The Golden Door, Nanking, P.S. I Love You, I Am Legend
Movies to smoke a cigar with: Breach, The Host, The Namesake, Grindhouse, Waitress, Paris, je’taime, A Mighty Heart, Sicko, Ratatouille, Rescue Dawn, Joshua, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hairspray, The Simpsons Movie, Hot Rod, The Lookout, 3:10 to Yuma, Them, The Hunting Party, 2 Days In Paris, In The Valley of Elah, Things We Lost in the Fire, Gone Baby Gone, Lars and the Real Girl, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Beowulf, Crazy Love, No End In Sight, The Savages, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Orphanage, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Romance and Cigarettes, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, War/Dance
Finally, movies worth stalking, just so you can be in the same room with them…The BEST of 2007!:
20. In the Shadow of the Moon This wonderful documentary about the only men who have actually been on the moon was a refreshing change of pace for this year’s crop of documentaries, if only because it dared not to look at the world and all its horrors, but all its wonders.
19. The Astronaut Farmer (Okay, so maybe I just developed a soft spot for films about space travel in the last year) The Polish Brothers did something the Coen Brothers did not: They stepped outside their comfort zone and delivered something unexpected. In this case, Mark and Mike Polish made their most accessible and emotionally satisfying movie to date, but also maintained their oddball sensibilities. The result is one of the best family films in years, one that film buffs can also enjoy.
18. Black Book Like Lust, Caution, but with a pulse. Director Paul Verhoven’s crackling, sexy-as-hell spy thriller was one of the most entertaining gems of the year and his best movie since RoboCop. A big arthouse surprise with what should be a star-making performance by Carice van Houten.
17. The Hoax I honestly don’t know which film I liked more, this or The Hunting Party. Both have the exact same tone to them, as well as Richard Gere (perhaps the year’s most unappreciated actor) giving his best performances in years. I’ll go with this once since I read the book and was quite impressed with how well they re-told the story (let’s remember, the book should not be taken as fact). Like The Assassination of Jesse James, The Hoax beautifully depicts the downfalls of being on the wrong side of celebrity.
16. No Country For Old Men Too low for the most acclaimed movie of the year? Maybe for some. Look, I think it’s a terrific film, the best the Coens have made probably since Fargo. It has great performances, impeccable suspense and atmosphere to spare, but come on. It’s nothing they haven’t done before. I’ll be a little more excited when the Coens make a movie that doesn’t involve stolen money, incompetent criminals and ambiguous endings. This may be their best movie in a while, but it’s certainly not one of their most original.
15. Hot Fuzz Another spectacular genre send-up from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead). Although I think Shaun is a better paced film, this one still has more wit and originality in one minute than most comedies do in ninety. Chocolate cake, Point Break and “great, big, bushy beards!” The best part: It’s a cult movie without even trying to be.
14. The Mist One of the most depressing stories of the year was about how this movie just completely tanked at the box office. Where was everybody? Where were the horror fans, the lot who so devotedly shelled out their cash when Eli Roth delivered a crappy Hostel sequel? Where was the mass populi who complain that Hollywood doesn’t give them the bang for their bucks? This movie delivered the goods on all accounts (including the year’s bravest and most uncompromising ending) and, sadly, most people decided to stay home. Meanwhile, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets…
13. Year of the Dog Maybe it’s because I know some of these characters and maybe because I myself lost a pet this year. Like Alexander Payne and Terry Zwigoff, Mike White knows how to find the uncomfortable truths about ordinary people and the challenges they face. Out of nowhere, SNL alumni Molly Shannon gave one of the year’s best performances and delivered a closing monologue that ends the movie in a perfect and unpredictable note.
12. Mr. Brooks Too high for a Kevin Costner film? Only time will tell, but I had a blast with this sadistic little serial killer flick. Costner and William Hurt became my favorite buddy team of the year as they gleefully chewed on one of the most original screenplays in recent memory. A movie that stars Costner, Demi Moore and (oh, brother) Dane Cook should not be this good. But it is and that deserves something.
11. Away From Her Sarah Polley’s extraordinary feature-length debut showed she learned quite a few tricks and lessons from the greats she worked with in the past (David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Michael Winterbottom, to name a few). She proves herself their equal with this study of a married couple in their twilight, as the wife (Julie Christie) slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s. Christie will earn many awards and nominations for her performance here, and rightly so, but Gordon Pinsent, who plays her shattered husband, gives the movie its drive. It’s a wonderfully understated performance of such sadness and love, and yet one can sense something dark and unsettling in his past—their past—that should probably be left unspoken.
10. Knocked Up Judd Apatow’s follow-up to 40-Year Old Virgin did something most rom-coms seem scared to death of doing: He made one of the leads unlikable. That is not to say that the character of Ben (Seth Rogan) didn’t have his charm. He did, but at the same time we’re taken aback by just how unsympathetic he can be. Could he really win the love of someone like Allison (Katherine Heigl) at the end of it all? Somehow, Apatow and his cast manage to make us believe that he can. It works so well, because he and Rogan don’t come from the Wedding Crashers or Hitch school of Romantic Comedy. They aspire to the likes of James L. Brooks and Albert Brooks. They know their characters inside and out and they stay true to them. In comedy, that’s a lot trickier than it sounds. Like Apatow’s debut (as well as the other Apatow/Rogan offering Superbad), Knocked Up will be quoted in conversation and watched repeatedly for years to come.
9. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days I can’t think of a more unpleasant or uncomfortable movie to sit through this year, but it’s also hard to think of any more hypnotic. Director Cristian Mungiu sets up every scene in one take, giving a sense of real time and real anguish. Its tale of a woman in 1984 Romania having an illegal abortion in a hotel room doesn’t try to present itself as a “hot topic” movie with an agenda one way or the other. Instead, it presents a story about real characters facing tough choices with a fear of not what’s at stake morally, but personally. Telling everything from the point of view of her friend helping her out was the right choice. The movie takes us on the journey of the observer rather than the observed, making the questions we have to ask ourselves at the end of the film that much harder to answer.
8. The Bourne Ultimatum It’s hard not to think of quote whore-like superlatives when describing how much fun this movie is. “High-octane!” “Heart-stopping!” “A Thrill Ride Rush of Adrenaline!” They all apply. Until now, I had been pretty indifferent to the whole Bourne franchise, but this movie made me go back and reevaluate the entire series. How many Part 3’s can you say that about? Of course, a lot of this has to do with director Paul Greengrass and his ability to convey a simple story with such intensity that it makes faxing documents more exciting than anything in Transformers. Unlike Michael Bay, he’s able to take a shaky camera and lightning fast editing and not give us a headache. Unlike most action directors, he’s also able to not let the humanity and emotional core of the story get overwhelmed by the action.
7. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters By far, the most engaging documentary of the year and one that rewards more and more with repeat viewings. Although the movie depicts an arrested state of adolescence amongst male video game enthusiasts, King of Kong is most certainly about being a mature adult. It’s about doing the right thing, behaving gracefully and the desire to achieve. In a brisk 80 minutes, director Seth Gordon conveys all of this, but never making the point to underscore just how odd and dedicated this subculture of gamers has become. We’re talking about arcade games of the ‘80s, not Halo. That’s probably one of the things that makes the movie so refreshing: It brings me to that special place in my youth when I was too busy to answer the phone, because I was about to hit the kill screen for Ladybug on my Colecovision.
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly More than any other filmmaker today making biopics, Julian Schnabel has a way of getting inside his subjects’ minds and making it into breathtaking cinema. Anybody can take a character’s physical ailment and put it on display before the cameras, but Schnabel immerses us into so far into the mind and condition of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby that we end up feeling his frustration, sadness and determination. Schnabel doesn’t pull any of the usual heart-tugging tricks we commonly associate with life stories of physical disabilities. He knows just when to cut away from anything that might be crossing the line into shameless manipulation, and yet it’s hard to not get teary-eyed in the process. The result is the most satisfying, rewarding and original biopic since American Splendor.
5. Black Snake Moan Christina Ricci turned in one of the most fearless performances in recent memory in this brilliantly conceived love story disguised as an exploitation film. The misleading ads depicted only the struggle of wills between the scantily clad Ricci and her oppressor, Samuel Jackson, who chains her to a radiator in order to beat the devil out of her. We got that, but we also got one of the most moving, original and daring love stories since Million Dollar Baby. Both films depict love in the form of unlikely friendship and the need for redemption. It also happens to be a wonderfully atmospheric slice of deep southern Goth with one of the best soundtracks you’ll ever hear. Both this and Hustle & Flow establish Craig Brewer as a major filmmaking talent.
4. Juno The best movie this year to watch with a big crowd. 2007 may not have been a joyous year at the movies, but as far as communal, crowd-pleasing offerings, there weren’t as many as satisfying as Jason Reitman’s sophomore effort, Juno. Diablo Cody’s screenplay tries a little too hard in the first act, but once it settles in, the movie doesn’t have a single false note. Much deserved praise has been heaped upon star Ellen Page for her star-making portrayal as the quick-witted and vulnerable Juno, but both Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner deserve attention for turning what could have easily been yuppie caricatures into a completely believable mismatched couple whose best years are finally behind them. Garner has the toughest moment in the movie in which she talks to her unborn baby in hopes of feeling it kick. She sells it perfectly and, thus, gives the movie its strongest emotional center.
3. There Will Be Blood It’s always worth waiting for the next Paul Thomas Anderson film. You just never know what to expect, even if the title promises blood. Anderson’s Kubrickisn take on Upton Sinclaire’s novel is basically a character study of a man who, while digging for oil, digs himself deeper into his own private hell. The final confrontation between Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis, in the performance of the year) and Eil (Paul Dano) will no doubt gain legendary status, but the opening 14 minutes should also be noted, as Anderson tells us everything we need to know about this character without a single line of dialogue.
2. Once A natural for my list, but what’s not to love? Great music, a simple storyline, unobtrusive camerawork and great Irish locales. As a special bonus (for myself personally), it stars one of the most unheralded frontmen in rock today, Glen Hansard of The Frames, who gives a much better performance than he gives himself credit for. Both he and co-star Marketa Irglova portray their nameless characters with such subtlety and believability that we can read more of what’s happening between them by what they don’t say, almost more than what they do say. I also disagree with some critics who claim the movie suffers a bit due to its lack of cinematic ambition. I think director John Carney’s movie gets its strength from its scrappiness. By employing few lights and few crewmembers, Once achieves an intimacy and realism seldom felt in any romantic comedy or drama, let alone musical.
1. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford Anybody who knows me knows that I’m just not a “Western” kind of guy. Yes, I admire Leonne, Eastwood and The Searchers, but the genre as a whole has never been my thing. So, naturally I walked in less than enthused about having to sit through one that ran 2 hours and 40 minutes, with hardly any action sequences. From the first sequence, I was mesmerized and didn’t look at my watch once. Everything from Roger Deakins’ majestic cinematography to Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score, from director Andrew Dominik’s uncompromising vision to the contemplative pacing and painstaking attention to historic detail had me spellbound. Most of all, though, I felt most drawn to Casey Affleck’s flawless performance as the pitiful and creepy Robert Ford, a character who serves as a perfect symbol for America’s fascination with celebrity and the need to inhabit it, regardless of integrity. More than any other movie this year, when it ended I immediately wanted to watch it again.
Finally, Juno fans, let’s settle this…..Better year for music, 1977 or 1993? I say… 1993!
Here's my reason why: