This has been a fantastic year for movies. There have actually been enough great films this year that I had a challenging time deciding what wouldn’t make my top 10, so I went ahead and made a top 15 list instead. I’ve also attached links to the movies that I’ve previously written about.
I live in New Orleans, and (unfortunately) art movies either 1) don’t make it down hear at all (and I usually have to wait until they are released on DVD) or 2) release in the city after January 1 when I’ve already made my favorites list.
So, I’ve missed a good number of highly-regarded films that got a lot of buzz from the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals, but I’ve still seen some great movies. I went through my list of favorites over and over again and decided to have “best” defined as what I want to be most remembered from this year.
Any movie mentioned in any of the lists henceforth should be considered highly recommended. All the films listed under the Miscellaneous Honors category can also be considered Honorable Mentions of the Year.
TOP 15 + HONORABLE MENTIONS & WORST 5
I love all these movies pretty much equally (there is no definite number-one film for me this year), so I’ll list them alphabetically.
Across the Universe – The most pure fun that I had at the movies this year. Period.
Atonement – It’s a circle, never-ending questions bombarding you while watching the epilogue and after you’ve left the theater. A great work of art with a highly impressive performance from Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan (above).
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Sidney Lumet is a legendary director with a bunch of great movies under his belt, and in his eighties, the man has made one of his best movies ever. (Yes, from the guy who did Network, Fail-Safe, and 12 Angry Men.) Philip Seymour Hoffman is in another completely brilliant performance, and we see action from Ethan Hawke that he hasn’t seemed capable of since Tape. A phenomenal film that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
Eastern Promises – A surprise move from David Cronenberg who has been going in a new direction since A History of Violence two years ago. I moderately liked History (it didn’t feel the same as other Cronenberg movies), but Promises shows he’s still the same Cronenberg with a twist: it’s like The Brood and Videodrome and The Fly, but minus the violence. That sounds like there’s not much left, but those other movies had a heavy weight with them that made them more than exploitation films, and Promises asks some heavy questions (and it even has a little sentimentality at the end) that don’t have a definite answer.
Gone Baby Gone – Ben Affleck has convinced me that he truly is talented and not someone leaching off Academy Award prestige. All the scenes are handled very well, the screenplay is complex but not confusing, and the performances are awesome. (I think maybe Casey Affleck was better in Assassination of Jesse James…, but it’s a tough choice.) A movie I really fell in love with.
Juno – Ellen Page is a stitch, and Michael Cera does some more of his best work since… whatever his last movie was. Juno may come off as a little too witty and precocious to be true or realistic, so her eventually winning me over should be credit to Diablo Cody for making the character so darn likable.
The King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters – It’s utterly fascinating to watch these men act like competitive boys (which we all are guilty of doing), and the fact that it’s all over Donkey Kong makes it even more bizarre. Funny, insightful, and inspiring.
Margot at the Wedding – Of the three films that I’ve seen from Noah Baumbach, this is his most mature. Margot is cringe-inducing, eye-opening, and insightful, always fascinating and never boring. Not a lot of critics are crazy about it, but I think it will stand the test of time and will emerge as a forgotten gem later on.
Paris je t’aime – From what I remember, my favorite short was from Gus Van Sant (pictured above), and Alfonso Cuarón and the Coens (among others) did notable contributions. Even though the movie isn’t consistent, the experience of watching the movie still made me feel like I was floating on air.
Pierrepoint: the Last Hangman – I love Timothy Spall: he’s one of the most talented actors working today. He’s breathtaking in his role of a real-life executioner in England. I wouldn’t say the movie has an agenda (it’s not trying to make a point, per se), but I feel what it says comes across very strongly in a natural manner, and the film is an experience you shouldn’t miss for the world.
Ratatouille – Not only is this the best animated movie of the year (haven’t had a chance to see the highly-touted French film Persepolis), but this is the best movie to come out from Pixar yet. I’m convinced that Ratatouille is destined to become a classic alongside the great Disney giants. What I loved most was Brad Bird’s willingness to not follow the obvious Disney clichés (even though I love Finding Nemo, it’s guilty as charged) and let the story breathe on its own. [Note: On the second watch, when food critic Anton Ego takes a bite from the title dish, I almost cried my eyes out.]
Sicko – The best documentary of the year. Some people probably see it as Michael Moore crying wolf and won’t believe what he has to say. He doesn’t tell us what to think (as he has in his other more Riefenstahl-esque works), but he gives an option, only suggesting that universal healthcare isn’t such a dangerous, commie idea after all. He gives the audience a starting point, asking us to do our own investigation if we so choose.
This is England – My first Shane Meadows experience. A local video artist ranks this as his favorite film of the decade. I can’t say quite yet that I would agree, but looking at my list of my favorites from the 2000s so far, I don’t think This is England would be too far from the top.
Waitress -Nothing this year is as sweet of a confection! Keri Russell is precious, Adrienne Shelly is adorable, and Cheryl Hines is even better than when she’s on Curb Your Enthusiasm. When Russell doesn’t go all gooey just because she’s pregnant and sticks to that for the longest, the detail really shines in a year that shows all women melting when they see their ultrasound. (I don’t blame these other female characters, but it’s a nice change of pace.)
The Wind that Shakes the Barley – Ken Loach has wowed me since I saw Sweet Sixteen. He blew me away with this (and Kes, his first film, which I recently caught on TCM). Above all the movies this year, I believe that this is most likely to become a classic that will stand the test of time for a long while.
Some highly praised and/or highly anticipated movies I didn’t get to see: 2 Days in Paris, 3:10 to Yuma, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, After the Wedding, American Gangster, Bamako, The Bourne Ultimatum, Brand Upon the Brain, Cassandra’s Dream, Control, Delirious, The Devil Came on Horseback, For the Bible Tells Me So, God Grew Tired of Us, Grbavica, The Great Debaters, Great World of Sound, Hairspray, The Host, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Inland Empire, Into Great Silence, Into the Wild, The Italian, Journey from the Fall, La Vie en Rose, Lake of Fire, Life of Reilly, The Lives of Others, Manufactured Landscapes, My Kid Could Paint That, The Orphanage, Persepolis, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, Private Fears in Public Places, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, Red Road, Rocket Science, Romance and Cigarettes, The Savages, The Simpsons Movie, Starting Out in the Evening, Stephanie Daley, Syndromes and a Century, Ten Canoes, Terror’s Advocate, There Will Be Blood, An Unreasonable Man, The Water Horse
I don’t want to focus on the bad movies too much, because no matter how terrible these films are, you just may be intrigued to go rent them at your local video store. But, nonetheless, you should receive a fair warning so as to know what to avoid. Starting with the worst:
- August Rush
- Reign Over Me
- I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
- Fred Claus
- Blades of Glory
10 MOST UNDERRATED (OR, THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD)
To qualify, the movie should have received more publicity, a wider audience, or more positive reviews from critics. In alphabetical order:
- 12:08 East of Bucharest – I had never heard about this until I perused the Top Movies of 2007 list on Rotten Tomatoes. Netflixed it and found it observant, sharp, and charming.
- Across the Universe – One of the most fulfilling experiences at the movies this year, and half the critics hated it.
- Beowulf – Even the critics who liked it didn’t give the movie it’s due respect, but I found it to be a great adaptation of the poem that I read in high school. The themes of temptation and greed were well rendered. Also, I liked how Grendel and his mother were humanized, an element from the more recent book simply titled Grendel.
- The Brave One – Poor reviews, poor box office, but maybe audiences didn’t catch its anti-torture-porn subtext (at least what I perceived to be an anti-torture-porn subtext).
- Breach -Chris Cooper is incredible (again), and it’s Billy Ray’s (Shattered Glass) next movie. Need I say more?
- The Heartbreak Kid – Was I the only person who liked this? I actually liked it a lot, watching the Farrelly brothers translate the Elaine May classic into their own cinematic language. And the ending is the right level of bittersweet, just as in the original.
- Pierrepoint: the Last Hangman – Thank you, Roger Ebert and Jim Emerson. I couldn’t have come across this beauty of a film without you two.
- Rendition – The critics were divided, but I thought Rendition was a great follow-up from the director of Tsotsi, and maybe it was even a little better.
- Starter for 10 – I saw previews for it in January before Pan’s Labyrinth at the theater, and then never heard about it again until looking through RT’s aforementioned Top Movies list.
- Zoo – More interesting than any of the boring talking-heads documentaries I saw all year (like the snooze-a-thons No End in Sight or 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama), yet its controversy was more known than the location of a theater where one could see the movie.
10 MOST OVERRATED (OR, THE ONES THAT GOT TOO MUCH LOVE)
For the record: I liked a couple of these movies. I don’t think these are necessarily bad. Either people hyped these way too much, or they got way better reviews than they deserved.
300 – Brutal? Manly? You’re joking, right? No: Takashi Miike is brutal, and the guy who played the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera is not my idea of manly. If Gerard Butler would have stuck needles in his eyes and still do
Away from Her – I loved it at first, but about half way through (when Julie Christie goes to the hospital), the movie couldn’t stay interesting. I can’t even recommend it solely for Christie’s performance, which is nothing short of miraculous.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Pretentious, empty, and exploitative in the way it takes a true story and sucks the life out of it, whittling it down to a gimmick.
Grindhouse – I liked Quentin Tarantino’s bit, but Robert Rodriguez’s movie was boring and too tongue-in-cheek to not be self-pleasing. I felt like I was being winked at the whole three-plus hours.
I’m Not There – I greatly admire it, but I can’t say I actually enjoyed watching it for 135 minutes. It grows tedious after a while, but to look at the movie objectively, I can definitely see why people are drooling over it. Still though, I can’t recommend a movie to someone that I could barely sit through myself.
In the Shadow of the Moon -I loved For All Mankind. This did the same thing, but with “talking heads.” I hate “talking heads.” (But not the band — they’re wicked cool.)
The Kite Runner -It has “Away from Her”-syndrome, starting off great in the first half. The problem with Kite Runner’s second half is the all-new characters (at least in their appearance), which we have to completely re-invest ourselves into: it’s almost as if it switches to another movie. And the use of the surrogate bully at the end made me mad.
Michael Clayton – Why all the nominations? George Clooney isn’t much different than he usually is. Which I like, but why a nomination for this one? And I can’t believe it’s getting nominated for best picture at the Golden Globes.
No End in Sight -How could this be boring?! All the information is necessary, and people need to hear it. When I saw this at the theater, I fell asleep, and I assumed that I was just tired that day. But when I watched it later, I wasn’t any more enthralled with it, despite it being a treasure chest of glorious facts.
Once – Don’t get me wrong: it was cute and the songs were good and the structure isn’t traditional for a musical. But that doesn’t make it one of the stand-out films of the year.
TOP 5 COMEDIES
Comedy is probably the most overshadowed genre, even though many writers and actors claim it’s extremely tough to do well.
I found all the following movies to be as hilarious, or more subtle and not so laugh-out-loud, as any great comedy. In order, starting with the best:
- Juno – Observant, honest, and (I know I’m playing into a cliché) “real.” One of those movies I can’t say enough good things about. I walked out the theater with a little bit of Juno.
- Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story – The funniest movie of the year.
- 12:08 East of Bucharest – see Most Underrated list.
- Superbad – I didn’t like Knocked Up after a second viewing as much as I did when first I saw it in the movie theater. After watching Superbad again, though, I found it just as fresh and funny and reminiscent of high school as when I first saw it in the summer.
- Bee Movie – Not great on a technical level, but an awesome little mood-booster.
Honorable Mentions: The Heartbreak Kid, Starter for 10
To fans of Hot Fuzz and Knocked Up: I liked both movies, just not enough to make the list.
One final overlooked and underappreciated category:
…And that ends my cramming-in of 2007 movies before January 1. I can go back to focusing on older movies I need to catch up on (can you believe I’ve never seen Gone with the Wind, The Rules of the Game, or The Seven Samurai?) in addition to what’s coming out next year.
Can 2008 be any better than this year? Well, that’s the beauty of it all: we just have to wait and see.
Happy Watching, and a Happy New Year!