Monday, January 14, 2008

Top 10 of 2007

Top Ten of 2007:
1. No Country for Old Men
2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
3. Eastern Promises
4. Juno
5. The Memory Thief
6. Michael Clayton
7. 3:10 to Yuma
8. Persepolis
9. Ploy
10. Hot Fuzz

The Rest (alphabetically):
1408
30 Days of Night
American Fork **
Atonement **
Babel
Beauty in Trouble *
Before the Devil Knows Your Dead
Big Dreams, Little Tokyo *
The Bourne Ultimatum *
Brand Upon the Brain **
Broken English *
The Collector *
Control **
Darius Goes West ***
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly **
Electroma
Emma’s Bliss **
Fresh Air
Getting Home ***
The Golden Compass
Grindhouse *
Hear and Now
Honeydipper *
I Am Legend
King of Kong: Fist Full of Quarters ***
Margot at the Wedding *
The Method
No Regret
Paprika *
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer ***
Rainbow Song
Ratatouille *
Rescue Dawn *
Romance and Cigarettes *
The Sacred Family
The Savages ***
Spider-Man 3
Sunshine **
Waiter *
The Walker
You Kill Me **
Zodiac ***

Key:
* Good
** Great
*** Excellent

Older films with 2007 US releases:
Fine Dead Girls (2002) **
Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) ***

Still to see:
American Gangster
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Charlie Wilson’s War
The Darjeeling Limited
Lars and the Real Girl
Lust, Caution
I’m Not There
Paris, je t’aime
There Will Be Blood (will count for 2007)
Waitress

Overview:

When I stand 2007 right up next to 2006 and look back on my words one year ago, I’m not sure I can properly justify why I think this year was an improvement. 2006 had a small cluster of brilliant highlights that might be argued to outshine this year, but I felt its middle of the road was full of potholes. There were plenty of good films in 2006 and yet almost all of the best ones had to be sought out off the beaten path. No so this year. Hollywood made a comeback, with studio and indie pictures coming out in spades and generally thriving on the burnt out remnants of 2006. Even the one Hollywood feature that made last year’s list, “Children of Men,” was basically a 2007 release in St. Louis.

This was accompanied by the revenge of the genre flick, which proved that crime films, musicals, comedies and even westerns were far from dead. This was not really a year for innovation nor even novelty. It was a year for solid drama and evolved entertainment, with tested directors marshalling their resources at the top of their games. There were welcome newcomers, some flirtations with experimental approaches and a handful of buried treasures, but overall this was a year where a lot of the great films were just obvious. I’ll be the first to admit I was surprised, given my low-regard for baseline contemporary American pop-culture, but I was as quick to celebrate the cinematic boon as anyone else. At heart, you see, I really do want to dine liberally on moody modern noirs, mid-to-upper brow hilarity and all manner of exciting adventures, I just need them to be interesting, edgy, thoughtful and well-crafted. This year, the theaters delivered.

I observed a few other changes since last year. Sadly, though sci-fi and fantasy really blazed across the sky in 2006 (The Prestige, Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, The Fountain, Lunacy, The Science of Sleep, Renaissance), it kind of fizzled in 2007 (Paprika, Grindhouse, I Am Legend and Sunshine provided sustenance, but didn’t fully satisfy my craving). Meanwhile documentaries actually managed to catch my eye and qualify as a couple of the year’s sleeper hits. Though not as important as 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” both “Darius Goes West” and “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” admirably explored tight-focus, personal quests.

A few last, quick statistics: of my top ten movies 2 were foreign films, 4 Hollywood and 4 indie. Depending on your definition, 6 or 7 of the films could be construed as genre efforts (albeit with plenty of combining and undermining).

Anyway, I should mention some criteria for the lists above. Basically, no movie that appeared on my 2006 list is eligible even if the film didn’t receive wide release until 2007. Two films, “Fine Dead Girls” (2002) and “Tears of the Black Tiger” (2000) only got a US release in 2007, but they were actually made much earlier. I am fond of stretching the “year” quite a bit to accommodate the vagaries of distribution and personal laziness, but these ones fall outside my limits. For the curious, “Tears of the Black Tiger” would have made it into the top 10.

The reviews that follow are just short pieces for the top ten films. Longer reviews on St. Louis International Film Festival showcases can be found elsewhere on the Film Walrus.

Reviews:

10. Hot Fuzz:
A British action-movie/cop-parody that knows how to juggle telling a story with making fun of it. A wide-range of comedy and conspiracy told at a siren-blasting pace while remaining slyly self-aware.

9. Ploy:
A sensual dream-state reverie that grapples with the mystical core beneath normal life that is at once more complicated and more interesting than simple love. Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang continues to stay relevant with his ambient, affecting cross-culturalism.

8. Persepolis:
An adaptation of a true Iranian coming-of-age graphic novel with the whole dramatic spectrum starkly set to black and white. It’s one of those blends of personal and universal truths that works like a rambling tragicomic summary of life on Earth.

7. 3:10 to Yuma:
Somewhere in the shady territory between classical and revisionist westerns comes this action-packed, high-intensity thriller about a desperate rancher and deadly killer forced into traveling stand-off. The fine acting and skilled execution without all the epic self-aggrandizement bring an old genre back to life.

6. Michael Clayton:
Part white-hot corporate thriller and part ice-cold formalist exercise, this is a post-Enron pot-boiler told Kubrick style. Clooney’s dead-on introspective portrait of a purgatory suit actually makes the story of personal redemption more interesting than the predictable intrigues.

5. The Memory Thief:
One of the year’s few out-of-nowhere greats is this modernized “Taxi Driver” tale of a lonely boy who over-identifies with Holocaust victims and begins to feed on their pain, until he history-hijacks reality into a delusion that can accommodate his compulsion for martyrdom.

4. Juno:
A pregnant teen uses good-natured witty cynicism and smartly customized convictions to weather the hormonal meteor-showers and emotional tempests which are contemporary adolescence. Well-cast and wickedly penned, but likely to suffer from the mismanaged marketing and the quirkiness-saturated market.

3. Eastern Promises:
Cronenberg takes a simmering Russian mafia drama and gives it the visceral intensity and steely edge of his body horror oeuvre. Boldly captivating, with each darkly persuasive scene packed into a cartridge and fired into the audience.

2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
After countless forgettable adaptations by less directors, Tim Burton takes one of the eeriest musical oddities and gives it the extravagant gothic trappings and attention-to-detail that it deserves. Operatic, catchy and deeply disturbing.

1. No Country for Old Men:
The Coen brothers triumphantly return with a dry, amoral vision of a border-town incident gone to hell. A sheriff sits back impotently while a virtuoso cross-country cat-and-mouse battle ensues between one of the screen’s most chilling freelance killers and a down-on-his-luck war-vet with a suitcase full of drug money.

7 comments:

Mad Dog said...

A solid list. Bonus points for working in the word oeuvre.

Walrus said...

I work in oeuvre a lot because it is way better than "body of work" or "corpus" or whatever. I was hoping to squeeze "opus" in but couldn't find any room.

sort-of grown-up said...

Electroma?

sort-of grown-up said...

Although my top ten for the year wouldn't be precisely the same, I agree with most of it. I didn't realize how strongly you felt about Michael Clayton, and would have subbed that out for Sunshine.

...Among other changes.

Walrus said...

Thanks for reminding me about Electroma.

Feel free to post your top ten in the comments or if you put it on pwning adulthood, leave a link.

Mad Dog said...

I feel Sunshine shouldn't be in a top 10 because of that fucking boogeyman trick it tried to pull at the end. Whatever. I still bought it. {:3

dad said...

hey brian, enjoyed your top ten list even though i've only seen a few of them. all of them are or will be on netflix however.
dad