11 Jan 2008

My "before seeing There Will Be Blood" Top Ten Movies of 2007!

As the title of this post suggests, I have not yet seen There Will Be Blood. I have no doubt that this movie will be in the top 10 of the year when I finally get around to seeing it. Until then, here they are...

1. Once

This movie absolutely blew me away. I hadn't heard much in the way of promotion about this movie (despite it being released by Fox Searchlight - a subsidiary of the biggest media company in the world - NewsCorp.). I instead heard about this through movie websites and in film magazines. It is a small Irish film about a struggling musician (The Frames frontman Glen Hansard), living in Dublin, trying to get over an ex. One day he meets a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) who loves his music and is a musician herself. Needless to say, they become close through their shared love of playing. Both Hansard and Irglova are real musicians and first-time actors, though you would never know it from their incredibly natural performances.

Much of the movie is made up of the two leads performing their music (think Damien Rice meets Ray LaMontagne and you're on the right track), and the ordinary struggles of love, love lost, low-income living, friendship, desperation, ambition and, of course, emotion.

This was one of those movies where, after 5 minutes, you know you're watching something special and can't wait to watch it again. Director John Carney both keeps the narrative moving while at the same time letting scenes play out to their natural conclusion. Similarly, the camerawork is both flowing (watch for an especially great tracking shot as Irglova walks home from the store singing) and static.

In short, while I expected this movie to be very good, I certainly didn't expect it to be so wonderful on every level. Don't just see this movie Once, see it many times.

2. No Country For Old Men

For starters, I have always been a huge Coen brothers fan. The odd misstep aside (I'm thinking The Ladykillers and The Big Lebowski) their films are consistently smart, knowing, funny and just plain great. The first Coen brothers movie I saw was Miller's Crossing back in 1991, a year after it came out. I was very much in the gangster phase of my movie-loving life, and I would rent any movie to do with the mob. Needless to say, Miller's Crossing (like all of their genre work) was unlike any other mob movie I'd seen and I became intrigued enough by these weird, slightly nerdy brothers to seek out other parts of their ouvre. I then watched (through tears) Raising Arizona and Blood Simple (to which No Country... owes a huge debt) and I couldn't believe that the same writers/directors made all three of these movies. Since then, I've awaited each Coen brothers release with bated breath (BTW, it isn't baited...trust me, I just found this out).

As much as I loved The Hudsucker Proxy and Barton Fink and O Brother..., Fargo had always been head and shoulders above the rest of their work in terms of genre-mixing brilliance...that is until now.

No Country... is a modern-day western, an old-fashioned cat-and-mouse thriller, a contemporary black comedy and an all-time drama. Based on Cormac McCarthy's acclaimed (when his this guy NOT written an acclaimed book?) novel, the story is as follows: a man (Josh Brolin - um, when did he become a fantastic actor? See American Gangster for further evidence) stumbles on a drug deal gone wrong in the middle of the Texan desert, finds $2 million in cash and decides (foolishly, of course) to keep it. Now, both a small-town sheriff (the ever-reliable and appropriately leathery Tommy Lee Jones) and a psychopath (Javier Bardem - and when I say psycopath I mean psychopath) are after him. Yes. It's that simple.

The Coen brothers take McCarthy's story and inject it with the blackest of humor and the bleakest of tones to produce a film at once terrifying, involving, chilling and hilarious. The writing is brilliant (exhibit A - Brolin's exchanges with his wife), the cinematography beautiful (even of the bowl of shite known as the Texan desert) and the performances uniformly excellent. If you have, until this point, been unfamiliar with Javier Bardem's work (see Jamon Jamon and Before Night Falls for starters), you should stop being so American and try to embrace movies from elsewhere in the world.

A truly memorable piece of film.

3. Juno

This is an indie in every sense of the word…low-budget, naturalistic acting, unpredictable storyline/plot, the converse of an “epic” film. This in itself is not a mark of quality, but it’s a good start.

It’s the story of a 16-year-old girl (Ellen Page) getting pregnant in small town America, and the funny, painful, all-too-real consequences that follow. I won’t be giving the plot away to say that she decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption to two upwordly-mobile smug-marrieds played by Jason Bateman (surprisingly understated) and Jennifer Garner (annoying, yet sympathetic). The plot and the film then revolve around this decision and how it affects all of the interested parties – her Dad (the always great JK Simmons), the child’s teenage father (the good, but always-acts-the-same Michael Cera), the adoptive parents, her friend, etc.

What makes the movie so special is the script and the acting. Screenwriter Diablo Cody has created a painfully funny movie with characters that actually speak realistically (probably the hardest thing to write is how “the kids” in America actually speak, act, react, etc). Despite some criticism that Juno speaks perhaps a little too smartly or smart-alecky, I would say that Cody has the patois just right. Juno becomes a little less witty and loquacious as the movie goes on and the realities of her situation become heavier.

As for the acting, Ellen Page is absolutely sensational as the eponymous heroine. A 20-year-old that still looks all of 14 or 15, never mind 16, she imbues the character with all the familiar traits of teenage years: the aforementioned smart-assedness, maturity AND immaturity (often in the same sentence), melodramatic moments and moments of real heart. It looks like she will be nominated for Best Actress and quite deservedly so, but may lose to Julie Christie for Away From Her or Marianne Cotillard for La Vie En Rose, if recent critics awards are anything to go by.

I had a constant smile on my face as I watched this, from the involving story, to the continuously funny moments, to the realization that I was quite simply watching a brilliant film.

4. Atonement

I, unlike many of my male, military, heterosexual brethren, adore period films. Also unlike many of them, I regularly use the word adore. With this being said, I thus feel qualified to judge the good period pieces from the bad (of which there are many). For every Remains of the Day, there's a Scarlet Letter; for every Passage to India, there's a House of Mirth; for every Age of Innocence there's a…well, you get my point.

I read many, many, in fact they were all, good reviews about Atonement, so naturally I was looking forward to seeing it, but with some trepidation. I love James McAvoy but dislike Keira Knightly. I love screenwriter Christohper Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) but dislike director Joe Wright(last year's woefully underwhelming and boring Pride and Prejudice). However, I was sure that it was going to be ultimately worthy of my time. It was this and much more.

Atonement is about love, sorrow, regret and, well, atonement. I won't go into the plot too much lest I give away a spoiler or two. Suffice to say that McAvoy and Knightly are lovers across class boundaries during the early stages of WWII. They get separated and ostracized under false pretenses and struggle to find a way back to each other.

Ian McEwan's story, upon which the film is based, is truly moving and by turns, touching, sad, surprising and uplifting. The movie's success, for me, comes down to Hampton's screenplay and the performances of the cast. McAvoy is typically brilliant, adding another truly great performance to his growing canon. Knightly is a revelation. Her clipped accent and portrayal of feeling shows she can act after all. Newcomer Saoirse Ronan, as Knightly’s younger sister, is astoundingly good. Recent talk of a supporting actress nomination would be well-deserved.

But the real star of the show is Christopher Hampton. As we’ve all seen in the past, it’s so easy to take a great book and fuck it up on screen. Hampton’s achievement is miraculous in that he manages to trim an untrimmable book into a 90-min (unheard of these days) movie that captures the heart and soul of McEwan’s novel without sacrificing anything of import.

Again, I went into this movie expecting something very good, but got something fantastic. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not seeing this.

5. Sicko

Those of you who know me know I’m a liberal. I have no problem standing up and being counted (unlike some people). I don’t claim to be “independent.” I’m left-wing and proud of it.

Michael Moore is also, as you know, very left-wing. The given position people took when Michael Moore came out with a new film that you would like it as much as you liked/agreed with Moore. Certainly with movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 and, to an extent, Bowling for Columbine, this argument seemed to hold some weight.

In Sicko, however, Moore drops the partisanship for an honest, sober, sometimes harrowing tale of the US healthcare system (or lack thereof).

I’ll refrain from getting on my soapbox and explaining why universal healthcare works and why the US is so behind the times and instead concentrate on the film. Moore is a filmmaker full stop. The man knows how to put together a compelling movie, no matter your political preference. I went to see this in a movie theatre just outside Baltimore. In the audience (and I’m not making this up) were a mixture of young and old, different races and what, in my own stereotypical way, I presume to be college kids, military, gangbangers (no, really) senior citizens and pretty much every demographic you can think of. Judging from the laughter and the whispered conversation going on around me, it certainly appeared that EVERYONE thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Moore knows how to get an audience’s attention and keep it for the full running time. When the subject interests you as much as this did me, that’s a formula for one of the most enjoyable evenings I spent at the movies this year. Absolute joy.

6. Eastern Promises

I love David Cronenberg. I believe that I can be a bit biased when it comes to his movies because The Fly was one of my first favorite (and when I say favorite, I mean it was when I first became conscious of the mechanics of film-making) movies and I believe that despite the praised heaped on it at the time of its release and even today, it is still somewhat underrated, as is Jeff Goldblum’s performance – which, for my money, is still one of the top 10 performances by any actor ever. But I digress.

When A History of Violence came out in 2006, critics and audiences alike seemed to reappraise Cronenberg and reevaluate his body of work. Certainly A History… was one of his very best and in Viggo Mortensen (an underrated actor who first got my attention as a wheelchair-bound Hispanic gangster-turned-informant in Carlito’s Way-the accent, and I should know, was spot-on) he seemed to find an actor who inspired him like Goldblum or Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers.

It’s no surprise, then, that his next movie (completed, in a very un-Cronenberg-like way, only a year after A History…) would feature Mortensen again. In both films Viggo is a tough guy, but they couldn’t be more different and they show his range as an actor, a range that, to some of us, has been all too obvious for a while. As a side note, despite the praise lavished on Viggo for this movie and talk of a Best Actor nomination, I thought he was far, far better in A History… than he was in this.

But, back to Cronenberg. His trademarks are all here: sudden, shocking violence; clean cinematography; tight editing; strong female characters. The film had special interest for me as it was set in London and, since I’m not in England right now, but miss it more than I can possibly say, I automatically love anything to do with the UK. But don’t let that take away from what is, again, a triumph from Cronenberg. The movie takes a thoroughly dislikeable human being in Mortensen’s Russian gangster, and actually turns him into someone we can root for. We even feel a certain sympathy for Vincent Cassel’s mobster, who is clearly meant to be the psychopath but has many issues of his own. Throw in one of the best, uncomfortably realistic and most brutal fight scenes ever put on film and you have a movie that’s hard to forget.

7. 300

I knew that this movie would be in my top ten of the year, but I struggled with where to place it (listen to me…”I struggled.” As if this list is even worth “struggling” about. I should get out more). I thought this movie quite literally kicked-ass. There really is no better way to describe it. But, I thought, shouldn’t more “worthy” movies like Rescue Dawn or American Gangster be higher on the list? Then I thought no. That’s just snobbish. When it comes right down to it, I just really fucking enjoyed this movie. I also think “fucking” is an appropriate adverb here.

Much has already been written/talked about this movie, so I won’t go into too much detail. I liked it for pretty much the same reason as most people liked it – the fights, the CGI, the fights, the action, the story, the fights, the acting (Gerard Butler, Lena Heady, Dominic West and Rodrigo Santoro were all awesomer than a movie with this subject matter deserved. Yes, “awesomer” works here too), the fights and lastly, the fights.

There isn’t really much else to write about concerning this movie. It fucking rocked. The End.

8. Knocked Up

Perhaps it was because I was on temporary duty away from my family for three months this past summer that I went to see a LOT of movies. Pretty much ALL the summer blockbusters (I even went to see Fantastic Four 2 – the shite-est film in the traditionally shite-est period of the year). Knocked Up, though, was the only movie I went to see more than once. I missed a lot of it, you see, the first time around through LAUGHING MY ASS OFF ALL THE WAY THROUGH IT!!

There were so many parts of this movie that had me in tears (Rodders, Rizzo, Eric and Jake will attest to this) that they are too numerous to recount. If I said to you, “Dammit, Cohagen, give these people the air!” You’ll know what I mean. Director/writer Judd Apatow is very much flavor of the month in Hollywood and rightly so. The 40-year-old Virgin was also great, as was Superbad and I’m sure Kissing Jessica Stein will be hilarious (if the trailer is anything to go by).

But, as funny as it was, what really struck me about the movie was the dialogue between Seth Rogen and his buddies. Again, maybe because I was away from home when I saw it and my days consisted of hanging out with a bunch of friends all day, but the dialogue really rang true. In some ways I’m ashamed to say that we (guys) really do speak this way…we really talk about inane things and make stupid (and even sometimes witty) jokes. I can’t remember another movie that has captured the way a group of guys speak/act around each other better than this.

As well as the funny and truthful moments, the movie also struck a chord with me regarding the whole “becoming a Dad” aspect. I remember so well many of the situations Rogen’s character found himself in. When you can identify with as well as just enjoy a movie, the whole experience is so much more rewarding. For this reason, this movie was the funniest of the year for me and deservedly in my top 10.

(BTW, there seems to be a small backlash against this movie currently, along the lines of “Well, it wasn’t THAT funny,” etc. I am officially starting the backlash against the backlash. Who’s with me??!!)

9. American Gangster

Of all the movies on this list, I was most looking forward to this one. It filled all of the boxes on the “Carlos wants to see it” checklist: Gangster movie? Check. Denzel? Check. Russell? Check. Ridley Scott? Check. True story? Check.

I suppose that it was inevitable, then, that I would be ever-so-slightly disappointed; after all, what movie could live up to such pedigree? Don’t get me wrong. This movie ruled. However, it didn’t blow me away. I thought it was really, really good, but not utterly fantastic.

With this being said, it was still great enough to be in my top 10 of the year. To give you a little perspective, I’ll mention below some movies that I loved that didn’t make the top 10. This will show you how good this movie was, but also how high my expectations were for it.

To the film itself. The true story of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas and the NYC policeman who brought him to justice. This movie reminded me very much in tone, subject matter, style and structure to Heat. It wasn’t in the same league as the Michael Mann masterpiece of course, but is the closest thing to it I’ve yet seen. Both movies show the parallel stories of a criminal and a cop. Both movies star top-notch actors who don’t even share the screen until the end of the film. Both movies have said actors finally meet in a scene involving a conversation across a table. Both movies have stunning, sudden violence, show the domestic issues of the main characters and have the two leads surrounded by excellent supporting actors.

Maybe subconsciously I was comparing this to Heat all along and that’s why it didn’t knock my socks off. But, on the other hand, maybe I wasn’t. In either case, the film was still one of the best of the year. Denzel and Crowe were, as ever, fantastic (I loved Crowe’s NYC accent – hard to do and not overdo at the same time). Josh Brolin was, for the second time this year and the second time on this list, absolutely brilliant. Seriously. What happened to this guy? The story was completely involving and Ridley toned down his stylistic flourishes a bit to let the story do the talking. Watch this movie, then put on Jay-Z’s companion album of the same name (it’s not a soundtrack as it wasn’t written until after the movie came out and none of the songs are used in the movie. Rather, it was inspired by the film).

Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.

10. (Tie) Enchanted and The Kingdom

Yes. I know it’s cheating but it’s my list and I can do whatever I want.

You probably won’t find two more different movies if you tried. They were both well-written, well-acted and both were way better than I thought they would be and that’s where the similarities end.

Courtney and I took Cate to see Enchanted. It was more for her but, to be honest, from the previews and reviews, I thought I would probably enjoy it too. Well, it totally exceeded my expectations. I was, quite literally, enchanted. I think Amy Adams deserves an acting nomination (really). She embodied all of the clich├ęs of a Disney princess without, impossibly enough, being too sickly sweet. She was utterly believable in every scene in the film and it looked like she’s also quite an accomplished dancer and singer. James Marsden also surprised me. I always found him to be the very definition of bland, but in this movie he was truly funny – and had a good singing voice to boot. Kudos, young man, kudos. Patrick Dempsey was a bit meh and Susan Sarandon hammed it up a bit too much, but in every other aspect the movie was a delight: the songs, the CGI, the animation and the fact that it didn’t go on too long (for the little ones with their short attention spans). All in all, the perfect holiday movie and a truly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

As for The Kingdom, the reviews were mixed, but the subject matter looked interesting and I really like Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper so I waited for it to come out on DVD and I rented it. As I said, this movie was far better than I thought it would be.

A fictionalized account of the terrorist bombing of an American compound for civilian contractors and their families in Saudi Arabia and the subsequent investigation by four FBI agents, the movie mixes social commentary with all-out action to great effect. There are interesting questions posed about both sides of the war on terror as well as some absolutely kick-ass action scenes. In other words, this film was an action movie that actually went deeper – it made you think. For me, this determines what separates a good blockbuster from a great one. As well as being on the edge of my seat throughout the film, it made me think for a while after.

It’s interesting that both sides of the political spectrum have claimed the film as their own. I can certainly see it as both pro- and anti-US involvement in the middle east. If only all summer movies could have both brains and balls…

Honorable mention

Other movies I saw this year that I really liked included:

Hot Fuzz – No Shaun of the Dead, but still one of the best comedies of the year

Superbad – No Knocked Up, but still one of the best comedies of the year

Harry Potter 5 – For me the best HP movie yet (from the least-enjoyable and longest book, no less)

Rescue Dawn – Both Werner Herzog and Christian Bale can do no wrong

28 Weeks Later – Even better than the first one!!

Before the Devil Knows Your Dead – Great performances from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and even Ethan Hawke in an otherwise conventional thriller

Live Free or Die Hard – The best Die Hard since the first one

Sunshine – Absolutely riveting…until the end. WTF???!!!

1408 – Surprisingly good. Worth it for the scene between Cusack and Sam Jack alone.

The Simpsons Movie – I wanted to hate it, but it was actually very funny

Bee Movie – I like Jerry Seinfeld so I liked this. Simple

Shrek the Third – I disagree with most reviews. I thought it was just as good as the first two

Spider-Man 3 – Same with this one. I really liked it. Good story, action and effects

I Am Legend – I thought this would be okay and that the ending (if the reviews were anything to go by) would suck. How wrong I was. It was great and the ending was perfect. Will Smith. Biggest movie star in the world

Ocean’s 13 – Again, I thought it would be okay, but I really liked it. Funny and cool

Zodiac – A serial-killer movie from the guy who brought you Se7en, and it couldn’t be more different. A meditation on the nature of obsession featuring a career-best turn from Jake Gyllenhall

Movies I saw this year that I didn’t like (I can’t say a movie’s bad unless I’ve seen it, no matter how right I think I’ll be, otherwise Who's Your Caddy and Alvin and the Chipmunks would be on this list, I'm sure...)

3:10 to Yuma – What a massive disappointment. It should have absolutely kicked ass and it was mmmokay

Transformers – Aside from the CGI, it was rubbish

Fantastic Four 2 – Aside from Fish as the Silver Surfer, an atrocity

Ratatouille – One word…BORING! Both Cate (my five-year-old) and I agree on this one!

Shooter – Wow. Did this suck. And I quite like Mark Wahlberg, too. Shame

Arthur and the Invisibles – Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…


Cam said...

I think you have a really great list, with the obvious exception of Sicko. I won't bring the debate over to this comment section, but you'll see that I have replied to your most recent reply on my blog. I really want to see Once and you putting it at your #1 makes me more interested.

I can respect all of your other decisions in your runners-up and bad films... but not for what you said about my Ratatouille. I agree that it is not an entertaining movie for kids, but how could you not see all that heart and story in this one? And it looks like WALL-E is going to be even better.

Overall, a good list.

Anonymous said...

There will be blood is 100% pure shite. Watching wet paint dry is more dramatic than this movie. What a waste of time and my $$

Anonymous said...

There will be blood is a lame satan oilman western, with poor screenplay, drivvel for a storyline and god knows sooooo boring to watch that cutting grass instantly becomes a viable alternative.........That critics rave over it tells me the crack they are giving away to the press must be real sweet.....

Anonymous said...

If someone gives you a choice between cutting off your thumbs or watching There will be blood, go for the thumbs!!!!!! It is a lot less painful.............

Anonymous said...

Actually if I had a choice between cutting off my tits or watching this crap movie, I think I would part wih my tits - a no brainer!!

Anonymous said...

I think seppuku is a fine alternative to watching this shit!! What were they thinking when they made this one?

Anonymous said...

Jesus I would cut of my dick as an alternative to watching there will be blood - then there really will be!!