Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Best of 2007: Top 10 Films

10. Shoot ‘Em Up - This is one of the most underrated films of the year, primarily because its schlock genre appeal isn’t the kind of thing that most film critics respond to. The thing I love about the movie is the sheer excess of the piece, taking these gun battles to ridiculous extremes turns common action movie tropes into grand comedy. It’s a movie where you’re laughing not so much because it’s a joke, more because the movie is just so excessive, you’ve got to react in some way. I prefer a movie like this to a more grounded ‘realistic’ action movie because it embraces the pop craziness of genre and continuously goes for broke. This is the kind of movie the Quentin Tarantinos of tomorrow will be reviving.

9. Knocked Up - A movie that’s become the first victim of the Judd Apatow backlash, Knocked Up is actually a near flawless mainstream comedy that is both funny and heartfelt. I occasionally get into debates with people about how most people just want to watch movies to be entertained, that’s why an Adam Sandler movie has value. I don’t have any problem with wanting to be entertained by movies, every movie I watch I hope to be entertained by, but most of these movies that are supposedly entertaining are just awful and repulsive both cinematically and intellectually. Why is entertaining synonymous with shut your brain off? That’s why I like Apatow’s stuff, he’s able to make movies that are accessible, but still have a unique, off kilter sensibility. You can watch this movie without wondering why the filmmakers think the viewer is mentally deficient.

I do have some issues with the same Peter Pan narrative cropping up in countless works this year, but Knocked Up makes it work. You believe in the characters, and the actors just nail the film. Beyond the obvious comedy stuff, I love the bizarre digressions, like the acid trip scene, or the wonderfully executed women go to the club scene. It’s a shame that shit like Alvin and the Chimpunks and Transformers keeps making so much money, but at least Knocked Up shows that originality and being good isn’t going to turn the audience away.

8. I’m a Cyborg, but That’s OK - Park Chanwook’s new film doesn’t match the grandeur of his past two movies, but that’s ok. This is still a fun, inventive movie that has some really fantastic moments. I love how he just runs with the bizarre premise, not commenting on the girl’s psychosis, instead letting you get drawn into her world. Scenes like the speech with the vending machine recall the slightly goofy, but still incredibly touching stuff with Tony Leung and the towel in Chungking Express. I don’t think the film ever fully congeals, but as a palette cleanser after the Vengenace Trilogy, it’s a success.

7. Across the Universe - This is another movie that’s flawed on a lot of levels, but has so many dazzling images and moments, it ends up a wonderful experience. The major issue with this film is that it’s another spin on the classic 60s narrative, suburban kids become hippies, get radicalized, get violent, go to Vietnam and come out the other side radically altered. It’s by no means an original story, but a story need not be original to work. The purpose of narrative in cinema is to produce an emotional reaction in the viewer. That reaction can range from laughter to tears to simply trying to wow you with action and effects.

So, even though the film was surely less original, and a less engaging story than something like No Country For Old Men, the movie had me more emotionally engaged. That’s primarily due to the image based storytelling, which produced some truly astonishing moments. I love the avant garde trippy interludes scattered throughout the film, and I really admire the way that, with only a few exceptions, music was used to advance the story, not just exist as spectacle on its own. There’s certainly some goofy stuff in here, but there’s also some of the most beautiful images of the year. People usually judge films on which have the least bad, when they should be looking at which are the most good. No Country is an essentially flawless film, the only flaw was it just didn’t hit me emotionally. This film did, and despite its flaws, it’s still a fantastic work.

6. Sweeney Todd - Todd is a thankful return to quality for one of my favorite directors. Probably his darkest film, it’s a wonderfully sealed experience. He creates a world, and the very simple narrative allows us to dwell in the deluded minds of these characters for the time they’re on screen. Depp is great as always, but the star of the film for me was Helena Bonham Carter, who played the whole film is a bizarre, immoral haze. She stole the film, and her exit was the movie’s most shocking moment. I’d love to see Tim tackle another musical since he clearly has a lot of aptitude for the genre, and making films that are simultaneously visually grand and emotionally focused.

5. Southland Tales - Another movie that’s far from perfect. There are sections of the movie that are just baffling in their meandering pointlessness, but there’s also sections that are so perfectly on, so beautiful and singularly odd that the movie demands attention. By no means does the film match the emotional preciseness of Donnie Darko, however its incredible ambition demands attention, as does its sheer bizarreness. The Justin Timberlake sings The Killers musical interlude is but one of countless scenes that just sort of happen as the film goes along. It’s a film that feels like a whole bunch of ideas, not a finished script, but many of those ideas are so fascinating, it’s not a problem.

What got the film this high on the list was the astonishing finale. The last 45 minutes or so of the film all work, and it goes out on a high note. The strange dance between The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mandy Moore is probably my favorite scene in any film this year, and the score by Moby throughout the film is fantastic. It probably could have used another pass at both the script and edit stage, but I think it’s encouraging that a film this bizarre made it out into theaters. The only sad thing is that it was so thoroughly rejected by both critics and audiences.

4. Planet Terror - Robert Rodriguez has made a lot of films that were really close to great, but just couldn’t quite make it. But, this one is outright brilliant, an incredibly fun pop movie that puts on a free clinic for horror filmmakers bogged down in torture porn and self importance. There’s a lot of things working here, but one of the most important is the characters. Freddy Rodriguez is a lot of fun to watch as El Wray, putting Six Feet Under’s Rico out of my mind. Jeff Fahey as J.T. also nails it, with the fun barbecue sauce subplot. But, the person who owns the film is Rose McGowan, who finally gets a role to match her wonderful work in Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation. It’s like those seven years on Charmed never happened. The machine gun leg was a concept so genius, it really doesn’t need to be expanded on. Most importantly, the film wasn’t just about cool concepts, I really bought these characters as real people and cared about what happened to them.

Along with that caring was the fantastic camera work and score from Rodriguez. From the opening frames, you knew this would be a good movie. I can see why Rodriguez left his wife for Rose McGowan, the opening go go dance is as close as you can come to fucking someone with a camera, and equally great is when he has her literally burn up the film during her sex scene with El Wray. Throughout, Rodriguez used slightly over the top, but effective zoom ins and tight framing to raise the tension. The Grindhouse premise gave him the freedom to do these over the top things without being criticized for it, and to be honest, I’d love to see him do this in every movie. I loved the craziness of the movie, Rodriguez used the genre and style to enhance our experience of the characters. Probably the best compliment I would have been happy to just hang out with these people for 90 minutes, even if there were no zombies.

3. Death Proof - Tarantino just barely tops his Grindhouse counterpart with a totally unique, and extremely fun movie. I think this is a really misunderstood piece. People talk about how Tarantino is retreating more and more into genre and away from realism when this movie is arguably his most real. What can you relate to more, six thieves whose heist has gone bad, or six girls who drive around going to bars and hanging out with people? Yes, the car chase stuff is a genre thing, and some of the style is a pastiche of 70s films, but the first half of the film feels totally true to me. I’ve been at bars like that, and Tarantino creates such fully realized people that it’s a joy to hang out with them for the time they’re on screen.

As with Rodriguez’s movie, the Grindhouse brand gives him the freedom to do some over the top emotional stuff we wouldn’t see in a ‘regular movie,’ most notably the scene where Julia gets a text message and the bar’s music is drowned out by this incredibly melodramatic piece of score. Yes, it’s a bit over the top, but it also tells you exactly how she feels using the language of movies. Despite consisting almost entirely of people talking, Tarantino makes the film visually dynamic and full of momentum. Again, I don’t even need the car chase stuff, I would have been cool if the film just spent the whole movie at the bar with the first set of girls. But, the car chase is admittedly pretty damn cool, and I absolutely love the absurdity of the film’s final moments. It’s a joyous pop confection from start to finish.

2. Daft Punk’s Electroma - Daft Punk show that they’re as skilled at cinema as they are at music, crafting an entire odd world in their debut feature. The movie is very simple, but shot with such gorgeous precision it lulls you into another mental zone. The images they present are as dazzling as anything you’ll see in cinema, from the stark white transformation zone to the gritty, nasty public bathroom scene. It’s abstract art, less about telling you something than about giving you ideas and concepts you can bring your own meaning to. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not emotionally potent. The apocalyptic finale is devastating and powerful. What Daft Punk do here is revive the midnight movie tradition of filmmakers like Jodorowsky. It’s never going to cross over to the mainstream, but for a certain audience, it’s a truly powerful, challenging film.

1. I’m Not There - Todd Haynes confirms his standing as one of the best filmmakers working today with this kaleidoscopic, innovative feature. Not so much a movie about Bob Dylan as a film about the formation of identity and process of reinvention that we all go through, it’s the most metaphysically significant work of the year. Haynes reminds me a bit of Grant Morrison in the way he uses existing pop culture icons as a way to explore the issues that are significant to him and humanity in general. Is making a film about Bob Dylan to explore the nature of identity any different than using Superman as a way to explore mortality? Both are pre-existing icons who serve to enhance the thematic points behind the project.

This film has a dizzying mix of styles and narrative approaches. While Cate Blanchett has been justifiably lauded, no one section jumps out over the others. I loved the Heath Ledger/Charlotte Gainsbourg stuff and the Richard Gere town of Riddle section just as much as Blanchett’s. It’s a really heartfelt, emotional film and one that’s quite substantial. It’s a film about the very nature of human existence, the way we live and how we evolve our concept of self to deal with the world. That makes it by far the best film of the year.


Alexander said...

Not one of my favorite movies of the year made your list. (Ratatouille, Juno, Into the Wild, The Lookout, Bourne Ultimatum.) Moreover, I now notice that I haven't seen a single one of your favorites, so the fault lies with me.


Patrick said...

I actually haven't seen any of the movies you mentioned! So, it looks like we've both got some catching up to do.