Films Seen 2007
(in reverse order seen)
Why don’t I like Tim Burton’s movies more? In theory Burton is the most interesting, most unusual director in Hollywood, so why do I always find his films fall short? I think it’s that there is something so embalmed about most of his films: they’re so overly designed that there is no whiff of life in them. Sweeney Todd looks incredible with its haunted faces and gashes of color (especially Sacha Baron Cohen’s blue suit) but the film itself felt like it was playing out a foregone conclusion. Of course it helps to love Sondheim’s musical itself and on first listen I can’t say I really did. But I loved Rent, so what do I know?
It’s rare that I watch a film with no idea who the director is, but half way through I Am Legend I realized i’d never bothered to check. Turns out it’s one Francis Lawrence who brought us Keanu Reeves in Constantine, as well as videos for Britney, J-Lo, Justin, Janet and, natch, Will Smith. The problem with I Am Legend is that Lawrence doesn’t get jiggy enough with the idea of a deserted Manhattan. There are some stunning images—deer running though a Times Square filled with tall grass, a decimated Brooklyn Bridge—but not enough real invention. The real problem is the script which has less narrative logic than Alvin and the Chipmunks, changing the play whenever it’s convenient (the zombie hordes can’t stand the light, but now they can!) And when Will Smith’s hero scientist rhapsodizes about Bob Marley (I Am Legend, get it?) it’s pure David Brent.
[Caught up with on DVD]. Mira Nair’s moving and fairly engrossing family saga about displacement and filial devotion might have made a better TV mini-series than a movie. I much preferred her rambunctious and joyful Monsoon Wedding.
Well, you can’t win ‘em all when you take the kids to the movies. I was dragged kicking and squealing to this on Christmas Day but I have to admit there was a moment mid-way through the second or third scene when I thought “actually, this isn’t half bad.” I was wrong.
Another film which, for me, played better as a trailer. Having read and loved Ian McEwan’s novel this year, watching the film was passably enjoyable as a reminder of its greatness, even as it reminded me of how much the film couldn’t possibly capture. If I’d never read the book I don’t really know what I’d think. Mr. Tumnus makes a far better Robbie than I thought he would, and Keira Knightly, whom I’m usually on the fence about, is radiant. Loved the clattering typewriter score too.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year. Ellen Page and Michael Cera make the year’s most adorable couple but Page especially is undone by Diablo Cody’s cloyingly know-it-all dialogue that smacks too much of Dawson’s Creek, and by Jason Reitman’s insistence on underlining every too-smart line with a visual embellishment of his own. Add nattering Moldy Peaches ditties over that and the whole thing screams quirky. The trailer, however, which I had seen so many times that I knew it by heart, remains my favorite short film of the year.
The film of the year? Perhaps. Certainly part of an astonishing 2007 western triumvirate with No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James, though to be honest I wasn’t as in love with it minute-by-minute as I was those other films. But it has a powerful hold on my imagination a day later. What struck me most about it, as a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, was how, if I’d been watching it with no idea who directed it, I would never have guessed it was PTA. In fact, I would have been hard pressed to even take a guess as to who it was. Kubrick back from the dead maybe? There are certainly no PTA clues: no bursts of Supertramp or cameo by Philip Baker Hall, no look-at-me tracking shots, not even any Jon Brion music (instead a simply astounding score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood). It’s just a really strange film (although at the same time deceptively straightforward) and the perfect colonic for Boxing Day.
[Caught up with on DVD]. Ken Loach’s compelling IRA history/Iraq allegory is his most pictorial film to date, but, considering the title, disappointingly lacking in inessential sequences of rustling barley stalks. Cillian Murphy and his sad blue eyes center this sequel of sorts to Land and Freedom, which unfolds like a less formalist version of Jancso’s The Red and the White, with reprisals begetting reprisals until the world swallows its own tail.
I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to think about Christopher McCandless and his grandiloquent, doomed gesture. Sean Penn, with his bombastic camerawork overlaid with Eddie Vedder’s warbling battle cries, seems to be celebrating him, but McCandless comes across at times as a raging egotist, more concerned with trumpeting his big adventure than with just enjoying the natural world he’s supposed to be at one with. Of course, Penn, as I’m sure Krakauer does, makes it clear that he’s really running away from rather than towards something, but I felt far less conflicted about Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, and he was no saint. The real pleasure of Into the Wild is in the human encounters he has on his journey (reminiscent of The Straight Story), especially a beautifully sad Hal Holbrook. I also loved Jena Malone’s voiceover (used to such great effect in Lucas Moodysson’s undistributed, undistributable Container).
Entertaining and engaging enough, I suppose, if one had never seen The Wire. Even though it’s based on a true story, Ridley Scott’s film seems greatly indebted to David Simon’s masterpiece but, even at 160 minutes, just doesn’t have the time to give us the detail that makes that show so extraordinary. Instead it’s all broad strokes, some of which are wonderful, but they don’t add up to as much. Meanwhile, Harris Savides’s Harlem streetscapes are superb, but, as in Margot, he really seems to be really pushing the limits of underlighting his interiors.
I’ve been hearing about Todd Haynes’s six-ring circus for so long now that I can’t say I was really looking forward to actually sitting through it. Lord knows the music biopic needs an injection of wit and invention (see Control), but the gimmick (borrowed from Todd Solondz) seemed like it might be the be all and end all of I’m Not There. Yet, as he did with Far From Heaven, Haynes pulls off his intellectual conceit and then some. I really didn’t expect the film to be so moving, so transporting. The music helps of course, and it barely needs saying that Cate Blanchett gives the performance of the year.
Critical faculties be damned. I saw this with the kids and it was adorable.
After lighting Nicole Kidman so exquisitely in Birth, the great Harris Savides here drowns her in a Sokurovian sunless gloom. Which is no less than she deserves as Margot, one of the most inventively cruel creatures I have ever had the pleasure of watching on screen. Her put-downs should win Pulitzers. After a couple of early trifles, Noah Baumbach has certainly found his voice documenting familial disintegration and the tortures of male adolescence, but you do wonder if he’s not sometimes laying it on a little thick. I did love the quiet panic of Margot stuck in the tree. Almost a wind in the trees moment.
[Caught up with on DVD]. Not quite the well-meaning slog I thought it would be. Genre gadfly Michael Winterbottom adeptly conjures up the roiling chaos that is Karachi, with his handheld camera darting around the action, and he does his best to make it all seem realer than real. Of course we know the terrible outcome of the Daniel Pearl story, and there’s nothing much more to do with it but tell it, but the way it builds to a crescendo of grief and horror is still deeply moving. Angelina gives a fine, noble performance as Marianne, but I particularly liked Dan Futterman’s quiet performance as Danny.
Richard Kelly’s attempt to duplicate (and then some) the cult factor of Donnie Darko results in a movie that feels more ’70s than any of the low-key urban crime thrillers circulating right now, though not necessarily in a good way. An unholy mix of Jodorowsky and one of Altman’s more grating multi-cast satires, Southland Tales always has something to look at (though at the same time looks kind of tacky) and is undeniably ambitious (but really doesn’t add up to much). There’s terrific music of course (Blur, Pixies, Killers, Moby), and a diverting cast of TV-land emigrés; Justin Timberlake acquits himself once again, and the Rock gives his second best performance of the year after his real-life turn in Operation Filmmaker.
This horrible poster makes the latest Steve Carrell vehicle look like an American Mr. Bean, when in fact it’s a very sweet romantic comedy that may well be my Guilty Pleasure of the year. Directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) it’s more indie-looking than you might expect, though it also adheres to the Hollywood rom-com rule book (opening meet-cute, insurmountable obstacles surmounted, funny dancing scene, wacky bowling alley montage) and ends up somewhere in-between The Family Stone and Cheaper By the Dozen II. Still, I’m a sucker for father-daughter movies, it’s got Carrell, who’s perfect here, Juliette Binoche (who I have a new-found love for since Flight of the Red Balloon), the adorable Emily Blunt, and, best and most surprisingly of all, a soundtrack by my favorite Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche.
The most underrated movie of the season.
NEW DOCUMENTARY RELEASES
UNRELEASED NEW FILMS
(*opening in 2008)
IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA (José Luis Guerín)
*ALEXANDRA (Alexander Sokurov)
*PARANOID PARK (Gus Van Sant)
SECRET SUNSHINE (Lee Chang-dong)
*FLIGHT OF RED BALLOON (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
*SILENT LIGHT (Carlos Reygadas)
*MARRIED LIFE (Ira Sachs)
*THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Fatih Akin)
THE MAN FROM LONDON (Bela Tarr)
*JELLYFISH (Etgar Keret & Shira Geffen)
*REPRISE (Joachim Trier)
*THE LAST MISTRESS (Catherine Breillat)
BLACKOUT (Jerry Lamothe)
CENTO CIODI (Ermanno Olmi)
LONGING (Valeska Grisebach)
CES RENCONTRES AVEC EUX (Jean-Marie Straub & Danielle Huillet)
TRANSE (Teresa Villaverde)
CA BRULE (Claire Simon)
CHILDREN (Ragnar Bragason)
*STILL LIFE (Jia Zhangke)
PARENTS (Ragnar Bragason)
RELATIONS (Avdotia Smirnova)
MISCHIEF NIGHT (Penny Woolcock)
THE KILLING OF JOHN LENNON (Andrew Piddington)
CONTAINER (Lukas Moodysson)
DRIVING WITH MY WIFE’S LOVER (Kim Tai-sik)
UNRELEASED NEW FILMS (DOCUMENTARIES)
L’AIMEE (Arnaud Desplechin)
*ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Werner Herzog)
FADOS (Carlos Saura)
SILVER JEW (Michael Tully)
DOUBLETIME (Stephanie Johnes)
AUDIENCE OF ONE (Michael Jacobs)
CHASING GHOSTS: BEYOND THE ARCADE (Lincoln Ruchti)
THE OLD, WEIRD AMERICA-HARRY SMITH’S ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC (Rani Singh)
DONG (Jia Zhangke)
OPERATION FILMMAKER (Nina Davenport)
SCOTT WALKER:30 CENTURY MAN (Stephen Kijak)
CAUGHT UP WITH ON DVD
Had to revisit this after I’m Not There. One of my all-time favorite films. The “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” sequence mid-way through the film still gives me goosebumps. I love that Kris Kristofferson narrates Haynes film, but I would have loved to have seen him play the aging Billy too.
I could do without the franchise spin-offs (though Jack-Jack Attack is pretty great), but the original films: Knick Knack (1989), For the Birds (2001), Boundin’ (2003) and this year’s Lifted (2007) are byte-sized masterpieces.
I seem to be working my way through the complete works of the great Amy Ryan, who has now run the gamut of single moms in The Wire, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Keane and Gone, Baby, Gone. She was however relatively happily married to Albert Brooks (and consequently much less interesting) in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
Not top-notch Fritz Lang, to say the least, but fascinating as the sequel to The Assassination of Jesse James and as the first appearance of a 20-year-old Gene Tierney.
Better than I expected, but I’m a sucker for apocalyptic zombie movies. Stunning cinematography by one Enrique Chediak, especially in the central sequence of the escape from London.
I haven’t written anything yet about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but it’s one of the year’s best films. I’d been meaning to see Andrew Dominik’s previous (and only other) film Chopper (2000) for years. If you’ve thought, like me, that Eric Bana was one of the blandest leading men in Hollywood, wait until you see the extraordinary performance that led to his Hollywood career.