Saturday, February 23, 2008

2007: In Review

By default, these are what I consider the best movies of the year. Each is a
Full-Price Ticket.

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes)
Atonement (Joe Wright)
No Country for Old Men (The Coen Brothers)
Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck)
Into The Wild (Sean Penn)
American Gangster (Ridley Scott)
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson)
Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
Zodiac (David Fincher)
Sweet Land (Ali Selim)
Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron)
Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood)

There's not a one of these films I would change an opinion on. Each of these was a special film that told their stories in a distinctive way that made them a cut above the usual fare. Slightly less inspiring were these fine films.


Enchanted (Kevin Lima)
There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson)
I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence)
The Golden Compass (Chris Weitz)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet)
The Kingdom (Peter Berg)
Juno (Jason Reitman)
The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson)
Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie)
In the Shadow of the Moon
In the Valley of Elah (Paul Haggis)
Sunshine (Danny Boyle)
The Simpsons Movie ("The Usual Gang of Idiots")
Stardust (Matthew Vaughn)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
300 (Zach Snyder)
The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)
The Queen (Stephen Frears)

And this is the Bottom of the Barrel:

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Fred Claus
Lions for Lambs
Across the Universe
Shoot 'Em Up
The Brave One
Ocean's Thirteen

The Best Sound Editing in a Movie: "No Country for Old Men." No question for these old ears. It's the rare film that makes listening an essential part of the movie. The Coen Brothers do it on a fairly regular basis.

Who Had Spectacular Years? Casey Affleck (who finally stood out from the pack in "Ocean's Thirteen," and was indispensible to "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," and "Gone, Baby, Gone ") and Amy Adams (in "Enchanted" and "Charlie Wilson's War")

Who Didn't - The Most Spectacular Celebrity Flame-Out: Despite Anna Nicole, Paris, Lindsey and Britney all see-sawing for the pre-eminent spot, the fastest flame-out goes to Amy Winehouse, who, in a case of irony that's just too dead-on, only sang about going to "Rehab" while everybody else was going. Amy, we hardly knew ye before the lifestyle caught up with you in an arc that hasn't been seen since Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight in 1962. Straight up. Straight down. Glad she won the Grammy's. Glad she was together enough to appear.

Memorable Quotes From The World At Large:

a) "Don't Taze' Me, Bro!" South Florida irritant Andrew Meyer becomes a shallow phrase-maker when five campus security guards use a tazer to take him down (or shut him up). It's not surprising that he should be such a whiner, or that security should over-react. But what's surprising is a hallful 0f sheep and a one-time Presidential candidate collectively didn't have the stones to protest and/or act. But we got lots of different angles on it, though!

b) "Howard, do some-thing, pleeeeease!" As slimebag lawyer Howard ("this footage is money") Stern follows a pregnant, drug-addled and clown-faced Anna Nicole Smith with a video camera, the only voice of sanity-and decency-is that of a 9 year-old child. What a world, what a world.

The following is inspired by Richard T. Jameson's (and now, Kathleen Murphy's) yearly run-down of the "little pieces of time" in this year's films that moved them in some way. I've been reading the "Moments Out of Time" faithfully for years, and they've been continuing the trafition at MSN. This year's run-down is here. We don't intersect much.

Movie Moments Out of Context:

Patrick Kenzie's "thesis" statement--"Gone Baby Gone:" I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they'd accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life; most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. "You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves."

"I am Shiva, the Goddess of Death!" -The "boo-yah" exit line of the year--"Michael Clayton"

A blood-trail in a vast stretch of empty desert is followed by the camera, when suddenly, it is criss-crossed by another blood-trail--"No Country for Old Men"

Remy learns the finer points of controlling his Jerry Lewis-like animatronic, the appropriately-named Linguini, in "Ratatouille"

The King of the Polar Bears desires his own daemon, but the best he can come up with is a rag-doll--a hilariously throw-away visual moment in "The Golden Compass"

Frank James (Sam Shephard) can spot a phony a mile away: "The more you talk, the more you give me the willies." And talk is an important subtext of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

"Hello!" Sean Penn's pivot-point of "Into The Wild:" Alexander Supertramp stumbles upon the "magic bus"--a base of operations, and a resting place.

Briony's closing of a window frees an unseen bee, but cements lives--the movie continues with Keira Knightley contemplating her image in a mirror, and before we know it we've gone back in time, as Joe Wright prolongs the inevitable--"Atonement"

Julia Roberts starts off a fund-raising speech by saying "The Prime Minister did not kill Bhutto." It packs a bit more of an uncomfortable punch for post-Christmas audiences--"Charlie Wilson's War"

Actually, Bianca looks kinda hot--"Lars and the Real Girl"

Disney has just as much fun deflating it's balloon as Dreamworks does: When Princess Gisella (Amy Adams) calls on the animals to help clean her new digs in New York, she's answered with troops of pigeons, rats, flies and cockroaches...that they're vermin is acknowledged in the delirious Mencken/Schwartz "Happy Working Song"--"Enchanted"

"I'm gonna be straight with you, Chico...You mind if I call you 'Chico?'" "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"

The discreet charm of the transitions from mice-squeek to English in "Ratatouille." Combine that with the travails of "Pip," the chipmunk in "Enchanted," who must learn to communicate despite a real-world chipmunk's limited vocabulary.

A girl lies on the side of a fountain as the camera pans towards her, it tilts so the girl is now seemingly upright, as a tear traces its way back to and into her eye -- the time and space altering opening shot of "Pan's Labyrinth," that might be a life, two lives, flashing before our eyes.

Hal Holbrook's entire performance--"Into the Wild"

And while we're at it--Ashraf Barhoom's in "The Kingdom"

And Amy Adams has the Princess act down so well, it's actually a bit...alarm-ing! As a radio voice said, "Her hands look like they're always ready for birds to perch on them!"--"Enchanted"

And Ryan Gosling is getting all the attention for "Lars and the Real Girl," but Paul Schneider's long-suffering brother role is note-perfect.

"You're an in-DUS-trious little fucker, aincha?" Brian Dierker's lived-in, perfect first performance--"Into the Wild"

Welles (Woody Harrelson) asks his employer if he knew that one of the floors of the building was missing. "We'll look into it" is the unimpressed reply--"No Country for Old Men"

It couldn't be more transparent as a metaphor, but there's something wonderfully elegant about the last time the brothers Francis, Peter and Jack (Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, Jason Schwartzmann) run to catch "The Darjeeling Limited" tossing away their baggage.

Say what you will about Jason Bateman, he delivers the one moment in "Juno" that chills: Michael Loring's smile

Al Pacino is in "Ocean's Thirteen" so "The Godfather" references fly fast and loose, with Elliott Gould's stricken Reuben Tishkoff as Godfather: " I hear voices downstairs...I hear Linus crying..." and Clooney parrots back to Pacino: "What I want...what's most important to I need a guarantee..."

Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) is all velvet over chromium as she explains The Magisterium to Lyra: "They make sure that things keep working by persuading people. In a good way."

Out, out, brief candle--an astronaut's instantaneous cremation - "Sunshine"

"I hate to be rude, but...we're French" Even that joke works gangbusters in "Ratatouille"

A long walk down an empty cavernous corridor as Joan Deerfielfd (Susan Sarandon) melts into husband Hank's (Tommy Lee Jones) arms - "In the Valley of Elah"

Charles Hanson (Albert Finney) walks down his own hospital corridor as the screen goes searingly white - "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"

Two couple in a park are accosted by a man in a ski mask--he's beaten and tied up; she's hit repeatedly in the back--it takes a moment to realize....she's being stabbed by the "Zodiac" killer, it happens so fast, and so...casually. "Zodiac"

Whispered words that unite enemies: "The Kingdom"

It's been a good year for Michael Cera, too--Box Office stardom with "Superbad," then he owns the biggest laugh-line in "Juno:" "I try really hard, actually."

Daniel Plainview threatens Paul Sunday over a handshake: "...I'm going to find you and take more than your money back, is that alright with you?" He'll stop asking soon enough--"There Will Be Blood"

Julia Roberts separates her newly-mascaraed false eye-lashes with the point of a safety pin--something about that choice points to the woman's fastidiousness, and ferociousness. "Charlie Wilson's War"

"The Sandman" desperately tries to pull himself together from the mound of sand he's been dissovled into--despite all the dynamic CGI swooping throughout "Spiderman III," it's the only thing that resonates.

The two sets of brothers in the river-Wes Anderson takes a dramatic turn in "The Darjeeling Limited"

A "Vertigo" zoom that completely bends space and time while simultaneously defining "comfort food," and the special value of CGI animation--"Whew!" That's a full "shot!"-"Ratatouille"

Susan Sarandon adds a perverse bit of fore-shadowing as her Evil Queen snakes her tongue in "Enchanted"

Some of the most gorgeous night-photography in movies show Llewelyn Moss' truck on a hillside silhouetted against an star-lit sky. The next time we see it, there are two trucks - "No Country for Old Men"

"I'm playing 'Jennifer Juniper' to anyone who asks me!" The one-note nature of Natalie Portman's performance actually pays off with that answer to another exasperated "What are you doing?"-"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium"

Skating-show impressario Bryce (Robe Cordrry) to drunk former skating champ Chazz Micheal Michaels (Will Farrell): "You smell like urine!" (Pause) "....a lot?"-"Blades of Glory"

"Don't come in here tryin' to get noble, boy..." Morgan Freeman can freeze with a look-"Gone Baby Gone"

Dunkirk in one five minute camera move. Joe Wright shows off-"Atonement"

A mini-cooper stuffed with desperate people try to escape a murderous mob with guns and knives and fire-bombs. We see the whole fight and flight from within the confines of the car - "Children of Men"

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) and Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) meet at a lunch counter and talk around what they both know while "You Don't Know Me" plays in the background-a moment of civility in "The Brave One"

The chases and ker-fluffles of "Ratatouille"-- there's just enough time to register the cleverness of the sequences as opposed to the speed-freak antics of "Spiderman 3" and "Beowulf" that leave you in the murk.

An obscure in-joke: Matt Damon wasn't allowed to wear a false nose in "The Brothers Grimm" so he gets the most outrageous honker in make-up history for "Ocean's Thirteen"

The look on Will Smith's face as he watches another hunter take his prey--annoyance, fascination, envy, acceptance-"I Am Legend"

Two awakenings that shake Llewelyn Moss to his core-"No Country for Old Men"

If you have any doubt that "The Golden Compass" is talking about The Catholic Church, why do all the kids wear the same dress-uniforms at the Bolvanger School?

A CG-animated balsa wood T-Rex skeleton briefly distracts from the "deadly earnest whimsy" of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium"

A 9-11 rescue worker with bronchial complications, Reggie Cervantes, is in Cuba to get the inhaler that costs her $120.oo in the States and finds that, there, it only costs a nickel. She runs from the pharmacia in tears...and shame-"Sicko"

Sister Patricia Whitman (Anjelica Huston) plans breakfast for her boys, and you know where Francis gets it. "The Darjeeling Limited"

Daniel Plainview's face is only slightly less dark than the surrounding night-Many times in "There Will Be Blood."

Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffud) at his bachelor party stretches up towards the overhead camera in a patented Gene Kelley "Gotta Dance" moment - "Fantastic Four 2: The Rise of the Silver Surfer"

Two different conversations in two different movies by two brilliant actors: Tommy Lee Jones and Barry Corbin--"In the Valley of Elah" and "No Country for Old Men"

The opening scene from "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" that you wish you could Boraxo out of your mind

Three horses on a hill by trees--the dramatic, psychic through-line from Michael Clayton's innocent son to his desperately deranged colleague, Arthur Edens, to him...that somehow saves his life - "Michael Clayton"

"These here appear to be managerial" - the deputy, reaching a bit out of his depth in "No Country for Old Men"

Three Men and a Funeral: The Whitman boys delay going to their father's funeral by picking up his car at the repair shop (run by Barbet Schroeder). Hilarity ensues.--The Darjeeling Limited"

The camera advances on a train in the night-time, slows to a crawl, and then backs up, matching it's forward momentum--an elegantly simple shot that precedes the way train robberies logically would have occurred - "That's how things get done around here!" "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Casey Affleck's casual one-note reading of a complicated speech laced in steel: "Cheese, if you ever disrespect her again like that, I'm gonna pull your fuckin' card, okay? So you're saying you didn't do it, fine. We'll take your money, and we'll be on our way. When it turns out you're lying, I'm gonna spend every nickel of that money to fuck you up. I'm gonna bribe cops to go after you, I'm gonna pay guys to go after your weak fuckin' crew, and I'm gonna tell all the guys I know that you're a C.I. and a rat, and I know a lot of people. And after that, you're gonna wish you listened to me, 'cause your shitty pool hall crime syndicate headquarters is gonna get raided, and your doped-up bitches are gonna get sent back to Laos, and this fuckin' retard right here is gonna be testifying against you for a reduced sentence, while you're gettin' cornholed in your cell by a gang of crackers. 'Cause from what I've heard, the guys that get sent up Concord for killing kids, life's a motherfucker."

Two men who have never met recognize each other in a hardware store - "Zodiac"

Three actresses complete each other's work (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave) so seamless is the characterization of Briony in "Atonement"

Brad Bird equates cooking with art--first with a Fantasia-like visual kaleidoscope explaining taste, and with a dance for the preparation of a meal - "Ratatouille"

Two shots of empty television screens in the same room that hold two antagonists that will never see each other the entire movie, though they will be in the same room again-"No Country for Old Men"

What happens when Hal Holbrook says: When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God's love shines on you."-"Into the Wild"

The cornerstone of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Daniel Plainview, as Eli Sunday tries to convert him to his flock, both characters and actors are playing to the hilt, and you know that either the actor or the character is losing it when he, for once, speaks the truth in public: "Just give me the blood, Eli, and I'll get out of here!"

The just-plain decency of the community surrounding "Lars and the Real Girl."

A black card that feels like it has a huge "Boom" behind it: "I Am Legend"

Remy the rat, trapped in a glass-jar can only answer with his eyes when Linguini asks "...and you can do it again, right?" at which point, in equal parts humility and desperation he equivocates slightly. Brad Bird takes the time to make things absolutely perfect. "Ratatouille"

The most painful shot of scotch ever filmed - "Pan's Labyrinth"

Drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) gets his police inquisitor Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) a cup of coffee in the interrogation room, and it becomes a Hawksian bargaining chip for five minutes - "American Gangster"

Dario Marinelli's music blends seemlessly with location and psychology - "Atonement"

At the Museum of Art, Theo Faren (Clive Owen) meets his contact, and through the window, a pop-culture memory--a floating pig tethered over an industrial plant - "Children of Men"

The gently earnest persuasiveness of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) - "No Country for Old Men"

Brad Pitt and George Clooney's parting cracks to each other in "Ocean's Thirteen:" "Maybe don't gain so much weight between these things." "Why don't you settle down, have a couple kids?"

The last shot of "Gone Baby Gone" - a blessing and a curse.

Sam's death. And the movie never really recovers - "I Am Legend"

From "Ratatouille," the most wise and elegant speech from a movie this year, movingly performed by Peter O'Toole:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."

So, shall we all.


Jon said...

No places for 'The DIving Bell and the Butterfly', 'The Savages' or 'Away From Her'?

Yojimbo_5 said...

Didn't see them. There is no "place." It's not a "Top Ten" List (again). It's what I've seen, and their designation.

And don't give me any grief about "Well, if you're going to do a complete movie site..."

Never my intention. I do what I can when I can. It's been a busy year. My time is limited, and I make no apologies to anyone.

You get what you get.

If you want to contribute reviews for these films, you'll be able to, probably Monday (I'm excited by that prospect, and we should share a conversation off-site).

PLUS, and this is a big plus, "Savages" and "Away from Her" both deal with Alzheimer's which I am hyper-sensitive to. I have a prejudice--if they don't get the disease right, I'm brutal--I can't tell you how many times I've seen blinkerdly "romatic" depictions of it (and I've heard some criticism of "Away from Her," but for now it's just talk). The only accurate depiction I've seen, so far, is "Iris," which shook me right to the bone.

Anyway, time will tell. Start writing, perfesser.

Jon said...

Point taken about the 'places'. Not going to give you grief 'bout nothing. I was surprised you hadn't seen any of the three but it is clearer now.

It's a difficult one that - being critical of something you haven't seen - I have the same reaction to Juno right now but I know in the end I need to see it just to see what I think.

Looking forward to the conversation.

Yojimbo_5 said...

"Juno" is not painful.

It's very entertaining, and not in an "idiot" way. It might be a tad too "sweet," but it is about people who manage to be sweet after going through pain so there is a tempered redemptive quality to it.

And my earlier point about the films you mentioned? It's not like I'm avoiding them and pre-judging them before hand--they just came out at a time when I got REALLY busy, and there's been no time, literally, since before New Year's. I want to see all of them, but "life happens."

We shall see.

lowcoolant said...

"The Fountain" was November of '06!

There, that's all I can find to nitpick about. In terms of both cosmetics and potential longevity, this blog looks fantastic.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Well, bless you.

Your quibble is noted. "Sweet Land" was even earlier, but didn't make it around these parts 'til 2007. And, of course, you could say that "Pan's Labyrinth" was 2006, too.

My all-encompassing (whispered)argument is that I have my own fiscal year.

Thanks for visiting, LC. Y'all come back now y'hear?