8 Feb 2008

My "after seeing There Will Be Blood" Top 10 Movies of 2007!!

OK. I have finally seen There Will Be Blood (as well as some other new movies since my last top 10) so here is my revised and latest Top 10, top 10 v. 2.0, if you will (and I shall). I deliberately waited a few days to do it so it wouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction. I've also, after some thought, changed a few positions of movies from my last top 10.

(-) = Non-mover

(-) 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. (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.

3. (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.

4. (new) There Will Be Blood

Well, I finally saw this and while it didn't quite meet my expectations (which was partly my fault for building it up too much) I thought it was still utterly brilliant from start to finish.

This film reminded me of those films made during Hollywood's "second golden age" - the 70s. Throughout the movie, I kept getting flashes of movies such as Easy Rider, Nashville, Taxi Driver (especially), Apocalypse Now, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Barry Lyndon, etc. The feel and tone of the movie seemed like a throwback to that era - the first era of film that incorporated realism (in all aspects - script, cinematography) into mainstream film-making. For more on this subject, I recommend Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls a book about 70s movie-making and one of the best books I've ever read about movies.

Back to TWBB, everything you've read/heard about Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in this movie (and probably a hell of a lot you haven't) can't do justice to how remarkably good he is. I've always been a DD-L fan (especially since My Left Foot in '89 and In the Name of the Father [one of my all-time favorite movies] in '93). The guy just seems to be able to play any role completely convincingly (compare this to his falsely-accused IRA bomber in In the Name of the Father and to his gay hustler in My Beautiful Launderette and you'll see what I mean). These days, he chooses his work sparingly, which in one way sucks for us - we don't get to see him that much, but in another way ensures quality control (though Gene Hackman, who's in tons of movies, is good in everything, even if the movie is shit). In this movie he creates another memorable monster (think Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York) but gives him so many complexities that he still has the ability to surprise us throughout the movie. He'll get the Oscar and deservedly so.

A little praise, though, for Paul Dano. He plays DD-L's nemesis in the movie, the self-righteous (to the nth degree) preacher, Eli Stone. For a young kid who's only notable other roles include sidekick in The Girl Next Door and mute (for almost the whole movie) sullen teen in last year's Little Miss Sunshine, it's a miracle that he doesn't get acted off the screen by DD-L. Remarkably he doesn't. He manages to hold his own and create a memorable (if somewhat one-note) slimeball. One of the few missteps in the movie is when we see Eli Stone about 20 years later. Paul Dano, who looks like a 15-year-old anyway, looks exactly the same 20 years on - something that caused me to temporarily to suspend my willing disbelief.

On to Paul Thomas Anderson. Of the four movies he made before this one, I'm split right down the middle. I loved Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but hated Hard Eight and Punch-Drunk Love. I have a great affection for his movies, though, because of how utterly fantastic Boogie Nights was (which is another of my all-time faves) and because it's rare to find such an accomplished and interesting (even in his failures) director AND writer. Here he creates what many say is his masterpiece (I still think it's Boogie Nights, but concede that I'm in the minority here). One thing that's struck me about PTA is that he knows (and loves) his movies. As I mentioned, you can feel the 70s maverick director feel throughout this movie and can spot where he's lifted from the great directors of that era. If you get a chance, re-watch Goodfellas and Boogie Nights back-to-back. You will see that Boogie Nights is almost a remake of Goodfellas, so shamelessly does PTA "homage" Scorsese's masterwork. The upshot being that PTA is someone totally influenced by other filmmakers, but far from that being a bad thing, it works in his favor as he employs the best techniques and ideas to create great movies (for the most part). TWBB is another in his arsenal of great movies (he's now 3 and 2 by my reckoning).

5. (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 Marion 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.

6. (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.

7. (new) The King of Kong

I had heard many great things about this movie on the internet and finally found time to download and watch it. All I can say is "wow!" How did a documentary about Donkey Kong become one of the best movies of the year? Probably by being a classic underdog story and creating what quite possibly may be one of the best villains of the year in Billy Mitchell - videogame legend and record-holder of many classic arcade games.

In a fit of laziness on my part, here's a capsule summation of the movie by someone else: "In this hilarious, critically acclaimed arcade showdown, a humble novice goes head-to-head against the reigning Donkey Kong champ in a confrontation that rocks the gaming world to its processors! For over 20 years, Billy Mitchell has owned the throne of the Donkey Kong world. No one could beat his top score until now. Newcomer Steve Wiebe claims to have beaten the unbeatable, but Mitchell isn't ready to renquish his crown without a fight. Go behind the barrels as the two battle it out in a vicious war to earn the title of the true King of Kong."

This movie was soooo good. Steve Wiebe, an unassuming family man from the Seattle area, has always been good at most things, but through bad luck or not enough talent, he's never been the best or made a huge success of his life. For reasons I can't remember right now, he decides to break the Donkey Kong world record. He buys a coin-op DK machine, installs it in his garage and sets about to do the impossible - beat a 20-year-old record.

Billy Mitchell, superstar gamer, was big in the eighties (appeared on TV countless times) and runs his own successful business (hot sauce manufacturer). He has a cabal of hangers-on and "assistants" who run around after him, biggin him up and doing his bidding. So arrogant and slimy is Mitchell, it's hard to believe you're watching a documentary. He belongs to the pantheon of classic eighties/early nineties movie villains - ones that have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even his hair is villainous ( a straight, shiny mullet).

I won't give away what happens. Needless to say it's unexpected. This was possibly the most enjoyable and entertaining movie I saw all year. See this now. Pure heaven.

8. (new) Gone Baby Gone

See my initial review/response here. Suffice to say, the movie equivalent of The Wire. That, in itself, should be all you need to know.

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. (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.

Movies that were knocked out of the top 10 thanks to this new list:

Knocked Up, Eastern Promises, Enchanted and The Kingdom - see my original Top 10 here.

Honorable mention (some new ones since the last list)

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

(new) Into the Wild - Read the book, loved it. Saw the movie, really liked it

(new) La Vie En Rose - Cotillard should win Best Actress. She was fantastic in a very good movie

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…

1 comment:

Cam said...

I'm glad that you liked There Will Be Blood and I'm really want to see The King of Kong (have for awhile now).