10 January 2008

2007: The Year in Film (A Review)

During my midyear review of the year in film, I bemoaned the lack of strong American cinema in 2007. Turns out that American studios were just waiting for the second half of the year to unleash their best work. Curiously, the top three are all Westerns, in their own way.

1. There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson's latest uses the past to illuminate the present; set among oil tycoons and revivalist preachers around the turn of the 20th Century, Anderson shows how America's two dominant strains—Jesus and capitalism—are bound to destroy each other and, in the wake, the whole country. The film is a serious and epic piece about American endtimes, but what's more, There Will Be Blood is gorgeous and Daniel Day-Lewis is, no surprise, phenomenal in the lead.

2. No Country for Old Men
(Full Review)

Cormac McCarthy's novel, one of the lesser in his canon but still a rip-roarer, reads like a screenplay in its terse description of action and total lack of psychology, and the Coen Bros. wisely stick close to it in their cinematic adaptation. The only problem: if Tommy Lee Jones' character is so important, why is there so little of him? Anyway, that's easily forgivable: the Coens finally make the most of their filmmaking talents by abandoning their tendency to descend into the zany, and what emerges is an intense, dourly hilarious West Texas crime saga, a masterwork of form and grammar, that eventually sheds its humble genre-ness to shape up into a lesson on violence and American culture. "This country's hard on people."

3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
(Full Review)

Andrew Dominik's meditation on the dark side of fame, the tragedy of ambition and how criminals become lionized as legends; it's this generation's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, with far more poetry and patience, even cynicism. Casey Affleck, the year's best new actor (when considered along with his performance in Gone Baby Gone), doesn't grow up to be a Senator after cravenly killing the badman James; instead, he's doomed to the cruel fate of repeating the cowardly act on stage for the rest of his foreshortened life.

4. Ratatouille
(Full Review)

If we disregard 2006's misfire Cars, we can fairly say that Pixar can not only do no wrong, but just keeps getting better and better. Sure, Finding Nemo may have more sentimentality, Toy Story may have better jokes and Toy Story 2 might have more pathos, but no Pixar film until this one has had such an abundance of all of those traits; it's also a fascinating examination of the artistic process and drive, not to mention populist cinema at its finest.

5. Southland Tales
(Full Review)

There's quite a bit that doesn't work in Richard Kelly's mishmash tale about current events, pop culture and the space-time continuum—foremost, its stabs at comedy (Sarah Michelle Geller excepted)—but what does is astounding. Kelly gets an A for effort, for that scene where Justin Timberlake lip-synchs "All These Things that I've Done," for making two cars have sex with each other, etc. etc.

6. Syndromes and a Century
(Full Review)

More of the same from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, meaning one more fantastic out-an-out redefinition of the medium's potential. It's like one long and confounding dream, beautiful and overwhelming. Its complexity can be frustratingly boggling, but the sheer beauty of its execution is enrapturing.

7. Sweeney Todd
(Full Review)

The bloodiest musical since...well, ever. Sweeney Todd achieves a level of tragedy worthy of the opera hall and addresses America's propensity for war by warning: beware of vengeful impulses because they never end well. It's Burton doing exactly what he should be doing—Gothic horror—while getting a chance to do what he wants to do—a musical, and the result is a wonderful mix of the two informing each other.

8. Day Night Day Night
(Full Review)

Luisa Williams channels no less than Falconetti in her performance as an adolescent suicide-bomber-to-be in Day Night Day Night, a beguiling film that makes no effort to offer any answers to the mysteries it poses, namely: WHY? Despite the edge of your seat tension as she wanders Times Square with a backpack bomb, Day Night Day Night is less about terrorism than, wildly, how tough it is to make it in New York.

9. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
(Full Review)

What's wrong with America? Everybody's strapped for cash and it makes them do terrible things, like hold up their parents' jewelry store and go on killing sprees. Sidney Lumet finally churns out a solid film after two decades of clunkers, one that, by far, features the best ensemble acting of the year.

10. 12:08 East of Bucharest
(Full Review)

Modest and hilarious, the Romanian New Wave scuttles along with this entry from Cornelius Promoboiu. What if they had a revolution and everyone came ten minutes late? Well, we could argue about it years later. The point of this simple comedy is that sometimes a revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Runners up:
The Darjeeling Limited, Zodiac, The Simpsons Movie, Paprika, Sunshine, Black Book, Triad Election, U-Carmen, Time (Shi Gan)

Best Documentary:
No End in Sight
(Full Review)

Sure to become dated when the Iraq War is, hopefully, just a painful but distant memory, for now No End in Sight is the a straightforward, unbiased breakdown of what went wrong and where to lay the blame. Everyone should see it just to make sure that they understand what's happened thus far.

Best Movie Released Decades Ago:
(Full Review)

This gem out of Italy finally made its American debut earlier last year, though it dates from 1962. What starts out as a culture clash comedy between Northern and Southern Italians becomes a serious exploration of the clash between the safety of modernity and the dangerous violence of old-fashioned living.
(N.B. I still haven't seen The Killer of Sheep!)

Best Cinematographer:
Roger Deakins

From the West Texas landscapes of No Country for Old Men to the plaintive wash-outs of The Assassination of Jesse James... Deakins wins hands down. He's responsible not only for one of the best cinematography jobs of the year, but two.

Best Actress:
Carice von Houten

Von Houten's performance in Black Book as a spy for the Nazi resistance who falls in love with a Third Reicher was on par with those from great movie stars of the past.

Best Actor:
Casey Affleck

He's got stiff competition from the boys of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Daniel Day-Lewis and even his Assassination of Jesse James... co-star Brad Pitt, but for putting in two revelatory and top-notch performances this year, in Gone Baby Gone and Assassination..., Casey Affleck wins.

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Ryan

Ryan's filthy performance in Gone Baby Gone as a strung-out, odiously selfish and yet sympathetic mother added to the film's most redeemable virtue: its keen sense of place. She seems nothing if not pure Boston.

Runner-up: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There (Full Review). She looks like Bob Dylan—but she's a chick!

Best Supporting Actor:
Hal Holbrook

Just about the only redeemable thing about the abysmal Into the Wild is Holbrook's devastating performance as one of the many people Christopher McCandless abandoned in the course of his life.

Runner-up: Albert Finney, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. A towering turn as a shaken old man who never liked his son and eventually comes to hate him.


Anonymous said...

I've been pleasantly surprised by all of the recent love for Promoboiu's "12:08 East of Bucharest". I caught this in 2006 at a FF and it had me in stitches. Nice to see it getting so much attention.

Anonymous said...

I just got a chance to see My Kid Could Paint That, and think if I had seen it sooner I may have named it best documentary over No End in Sight.