Another year has passed, leaving some great films and some bad ones in its wake. Usually I try to defend the quality of the overall state of cinema in these introductions, but 2007 has left me strangely conflicted. It contained an about equal amount of films rated one star and below, but there was a much smaller amount of films in the three and a half to four star categories. This may be due to two reasons. First – I have become much tougher on movies in general, or second – 2007 really was a step down from the excellent 2006 and 2005. To be honest, it may very well be the former. I frequently found myself rating films a half of a star lower then what the general consensus among professional critics would rate them. But, in my defense, this year I have tried to be extremely objectionable, and it may have been the year of the fairest ratings, if not the highest.
One thing I can’t argue though, is that 2007 was definitely a year worth remembering. The themes in cinema this year were so varied, that I was surprised at every turn. Of course, no one could have expected the strong return of the Western genre. From Seraphim Falls to No Country for Old Men, westerns were not only large in quantity but high in quality too. It may reveal something about the need to rejuvenate old school cinema in a new way, or it may expose the general public’s lack of enthusiasm toward more established genres. Either way, Westerns are welcome to grace the screens in 2008 – I enjoy them thoroughly. But there was also some major genre retreats this year, namely the war film genre. From action-packed mash-ups like The Kingdom, to revealing documentaries, to boring dramas like Lions for Lambs, the war in Iraq exhibited numerous box office failures. Myself, and the general public are seriously sick of the way Hollywood has treated the war on terror. Overall, this year exhibited interesting failures, triumphs, and gargantuan disappointments. Oh, and Hitman sucked. But now onto the annual…
Most Boring Good Movie: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Most Exciting Bad Movie: Next
Most Beautiful Movie: Across the Universe
Ugliest Movie: Grindhouse
Best Horror: The Mist
Dis-Honorable Mentions (alphabetical): I Know Who Killed Me, Puccini for Beginners, The Salon, Saw 4, and Silk
10. Feel the Noise (*) – Truthfully, I am not the biggest fan of reggaeton. But to say that it can’t be put to good use in a film about dancing is simply wrong. Director Alejandro Chomski completely misses the mark though. His endless efforts to make a clone of the superior Step Up and Stomp the Yard are also endless in the many ways they fail. By the 30-minute mark I was sick of the music, sick of the bland sets that all merged together, and sick of the horrid acting by the likes of Omarion. I wasn’t sick of the plot, since there wasn’t one – just a lame excuse to show a lot of average dance performances and lame romantic dialogue between the two leads. This film is a disappointment for dance movie fans and film fans in general. See at your own risk.
9. Are We Done Yet? (*) – Ice Cube films love to show up on my bottom 10 lists every year. It is not because I have something against the guy, but when the best moment of a film involves a stuffed raccoon attacking him, one knows they are in for a long night. Cube is also a bad actor, attempting to be badass in a film about a family moving into a new house. It is completely pointless, but Cube wants to look cool. And who wouldn’t want to at least garner a little more credibility while involved in a catastrophic failure like this one.
8. Hannibal Rising (*) – When he was asked to be in Hannibal Rising, Anthony Hopkins declined since he felt that the script ‘did not stay true to the previous movies’ – I totally agree. The worst part of this fact is that it was written by Thomas Harris – the author of all the Hannibal books and the creator of the titular character. While it sounds like a great idea to attempt to shine a light on the beginnings of this character’s life, Harris fails both in his pedestrian book, and his script for one of the most boring and laughable films of the year. The book and film are simple cash-ins for Harris, who didn’t take any time to make either of them very good or creative. Meanwhile, he has put an ever-lasting blemish on one of the most interesting characters of all time.
7. Delta Farce (*) – Larry the Cable Guy promised that Delta Farce would be much funnier and better then his previous film (which also made my Bottom 10) Health Inspector. The fact that this film only repeated the previous film’s dreadful feel and awful jokes is a testament that Larry has no feel for humor in films at all. His jokes work better in stand-up, but when realized on screen, they are part of a sheer train wreck that one watches with an unbelieving look on his or her face.
6. Who’s Your Caddy? (*) – We’ve all seen this film before. It is a film that depends on racial stereotypes to get laughs from the audience. If it functioned as that it might have stayed out of this list, but the film is so shallow it even gets tiring. At least when Martin Lawrence makes a movie like this one (too often these days), he always tries to pick a script that has at least some emotional resonance in its climax. This film has nothing like this either at the end or anywhere throughout the film’s too long running time. It is a cold-hearted, racist comedy that demeans the commonality that black and white people have finally reached in modern America. Don’t let it insult your intelligence.
5. Redacted (*) – This film tells the story of a group of American soldiers who rape an Iraqi girl. It is not a documentary; instead it is a film ‘based on a real account’. Director Brian De Palma has been called fearless for making this film, as it reportedly shines a light on something that is kept from the general public and will get a lot of criticism for portraying soldiers in this way. They are wrong. With this film De Palma shows that he is both a coward and a bad filmmaker. His Anti-American prose is so disgustingly false, so hateful, and so badly put together, that Redacted leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth for all the wrong reasons. It might not be the very worst film of this year, but it is the most hate-filled one. The more I think about this abberation, the less I like it.
4. Kickin’ It Old Skool (1/2) – Jamie Kennedy’s newest dumber-then-dumb comedy lives up to that classification, and adds annoying, terrible, and embarrassing to it. I guess Kennedy wants to embarrass himself in his films so people can laugh at him, but I found it hard to even do that this time around. Instead I sunk lower and lower in my seat, as the realization that I was one of the few people staying in the theater to watch it until its dumb end slowly started sinking in.
3. Hostel: Part 2 (1/2) – Eli Roth is running out of people to blame for his film’s failure at the box office. He has blamed everyone from film fans, to illegal downloaders, to other filmmakers – everyone but himself. Well I put the blame squarely on him. His Cannibal Holocaust-inspired films are immature in their tone, and their B-grade technical quality set cinema back a step as an art form. Hostel: Part 2 is an even bigger offender than the first. Roth’s disregard for humanity spurred by the lack of any dimensionality in his characters, creates a film with absolutely no redeeming qualities, and I mean none. Reportedly, Roth’s next film will be an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Cell. So Roth will probably turn that complex tale of technology taking over people’s lives into a brainless splatter-fest. God forbid.
2. Epic Movie (no stars) – Epic Movie was actually pretty good. I saw it on an airplane and there were only two walk-outs.
1. BRATZ: The Movie (no stars) – This film is not only terrible, it is also very dangerous. To this day, I believe one of the worst thing a film can do is tell kids to aspire to be in cliques and separate themselves from people who are seemingly not good enough. Mean Girls combated that mindset effectively, but BRATZ embraces and preaches it, while also advertising horrible dolls. Girls younger than 12 who will see this may grow up to be like the characters portrayed in the film – annoyingly superficial and demanding to be put up on a pedastool when they should probably be hit in the face with one instead. Please do not see this film. It shows the very worst side of Hollywood and is the worst film of 2007.
10. The Kite Runner (***1/2) – For all its greatness, Khaled Hosseini’s book “The Kite Runner”, can never be hailed as one that is aesthetically detailed. Marc Forster and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer remedy that, while David Benioff’s amazing adaptation keeps the emotional tone of the book fully intact. While the film doesn’t stay true to the book all the way, it keeps its main story of two boys’ (later men) dealing with the conflict that a Soviet invasion and a take over of the Taliban can wreak on their lives pretty accurate. This film contains some of the most touching, disturbing, and beautiful scenes in any film this year, and the fact that it works on all these levels makes it a complete and fulfilling experience. It is impossible to not get emotional at the end of this film – an honest display of the unfairness of the Taliban and the redemption of a flawed human being, all montaged together to some of the most emotional film music composed this year. Amazing film.
9. Beowulf (***1/2) – Robert Zemeckis’ follow-up to his beautiful The Polar Express is the amazing Beowulf. I am one of the people who thought that no pre-historic war film could be better than 300, but Beowulf proved me wrong. It just goes to show that when you have an expert at the helm, special things are bound to happen. The MOCAP technology in this film which is Zemeckis’s specialty is even better than before, and you can actually judge the actor’s performance even though they are wholly animated. Having said that, the acting is great by all involved, especially Anthony Hopkins, whose tongue-in-cheek portrayal of King Hrothgar is one of the best of the year. Another good thing about the film is that it doesn’t stay true to the original poem, but instead modernizes it and provides a few themes that may not have existed in the novel. An interesting thing about this version is that unlike the poem, it doesn’t embrace the Christian religion, instead it questions it. This is expected from Zemeckis, whose hero is the late atheist Carl Sagan. Yet, like Sagan would have done, Zemeckis shows the Christ-fearing character Unferth redeem himself at the end. It is a complex story with many such themes, and deserves to be seen many times over just so one can spot all the thematic elements. It is also fun to watch and never boring.
8. Reign Over Me (***1/2) – A film of indescribable sadness, Reign Over Me is touching from beginning to end. There is not a wasted frame or line of dialogue, and the acting is some of the best of the year. Adam Sandler plays Charlie Fineman – a man who lost his family on 9/11. He is a troubled man, bordering on crazy, who is trying to forget that moment in his life and therefore pushes everyone and everything from the past as far away as possible. Fineman’s confession of how he reacted on that fateful day, and how he feels, is the saddest moment in film of 2007. Don Cheadle is also amazing as Fineman’s friend who tries to help out. I cannot recommend this film more. It is a flawless tear-jerker, but you’ll feel good about crying. One can only hope Sandler is not ignored by the Academy.
7. No Country for Old Men (***1/2) – There is nothing like a good Coen brothers movie, and No Country for Old Men is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It combines genres and breaks the preset boundaries of cinema without fear. The film is beautiful beyond belief, while displaying the utmost ugliness of humanity in a fair and realistic way. It is filled with emotion, but also with silence, making it a meditation on how film can make people feel during a viewing. I hated the bad people in this film, and prayed for the good ones to succeed. The ambiguous ending offered by the Coens is in their style and is as fulfilling as it is frustrating. This is a film that will be talked about months after its release, maybe years, and contains some scenes and lines of dialogue that will be in my head for just as long. This truly needs to be seen to be believed.
6. Rescue Dawn (***1/2) – At first glance, Rescue Dawn may feel like a bland prisoner-type film with assorted war themes, but as one digs deeper, many more themes are realized. This survival tale is full of complexity in decision-making and the weight of those decisions have great consequences. Christian Bale and Steve Zahn do well to not lose the humanity needed in an epic like this one, and director Werner Herzog is as invested in their fates as the viewers will be while watching the film. It is that care by Herzog that makes the film, and one wishes all filmmakers loved their characters and held as much respect toward them as he does. This is a film that will be enjoyed by everyone, not only fans of the prison genre, but fans of all films, especially ones that don’t dramatize things too much, but create realistic characters that we care for. This film is the best of its kind in recent years.
5. Into the Wild (***1/2) – Who would have thought that Sean Penn was also a good director. His film about the ultimate escape from materialism and embrace of the things in this world that really matter is something to behold and to enjoy. The performance by Emile Hirsch solidifies him as the best actor of his generation and one to watch-out for in the future. His portrayal is challenging as he is playing a character that may be unlikeable, even cold-hearted at times, but these thoughts never go through ones mind, as Hirsch is endlessly likable and one can understand where his character is coming from. A special mention is deserved of Hal Holbrook who delivers one of the most heartbreaking performances in a film this year. He should be nominated for an Oscar and should win. If you like films that hold a message that resounds deeply within us all, watch this film.
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (***1/2) – Your whole body is paralyzed. You can’t talk at all and the only part of your body you can move is your left eyelid. That is what the main character in this film is experiencing and what he is bound to experience for the rest of his life. The most surprising thing about the film is that it is nowhere near as sad as the plot would indicate. It is sad, of course, but director Julian Schnabel decides to tackle the story in a different way. He portrays the relationships other people have with the paralyzed Jean-Dominique (played brilliantly by Matthey Amalric). While in the state he is in, he still hurts others and he is still selfish and holds all the flaws of humanity. One can view this film as a criticism of the belief that people with disabilities are nicer. That is false – they are the same people. One can also view it as an exercise in cinematography as it is some of the most creative stuff. The first ten minutes of the film are all from Jean-Dominique’s point of view – an amazing feat anyway you look at it. This film has to be watched in film schools.
3. Into Great Silence (***1/2) – Two hours and forty nine minutes of meditation are what comprise Philip Groning’s Into Great Silence. Most people will find this documentary on the lives of a group of monks excruciatingly boring, but I found it as enlightening as Groning meant for it to be. After getting approval from the monks to film on site, Groning took full advantage of it. His camera acts as an admirer of these people’s lives and the beautiful location which helps them meditate. These people are not in love with themselves or any material possessions – they only love the world around them. They have respect for every living thing and value its life as much as they value their own, maybe even more. This may be the most silent film of the year, but it is also the one we can learn the most from. The best documentary of the year.
2. There Will Be Blood (***1/2) – Director Paul Thomas Anderson has spent the past decade hanging out with big names like Stanley Kubrick (on the set of Eyes Wide Shut), Steven Spielberg (on the set of Minority Report), and Robert Altman (on the set of A Praire Home Companion). He has taken all that he has learned from these three auteurs and has created one of the most captivating films of 2007. There Will Be Blood is as much a homage to American cinema as it is a criticism of American greed. It is a love-it-or-hate-it film to the best sense of the phrase, because of its long moments of silence punctured by some of the most over-the-top scenes in movie history. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Plainview – a man who discovers oil and decides to do whatever it takes to make a profit from it. His actions represent some of the most evil things that any character has done in a 2007 non-horror film. Yes, even more evil than Javier Bardem’s Anton in No Country for Old Men. The film is so many things, but the word dramedy describes it best. It is the darkest and most disheartening film of the year, but if you find yourself laughing at some parts – don’t worry, you are supposed to. The film’s ending is so amazing, and so exciting, that it is definitely the most memorable sequence of all I’ve seen in 2007. Do not miss this gem.
1. Atonement (****) – The only four-star film of the year, Joe Wright’s Atonement had me absolutely stunned as I walked out of the theater. It is so emotionally hard-hitting, so challenging, and oh so beautiful that at times I got shortness of breath. Director Joe Wright has made an almost perfect film from the first frame to the last. While this is not as ‘enjoyable’ as Pride and Prejudice, it is with good reason. Atonement gets under your skin and challenges you as a viewer without holding back. The cinematography is some of the best of the year and some scenes are absolutely breath-taking (the beach war scene is only one example but the most popular one). Wright plays with the way different people view the same event in different ways, and how the way the see this event is based solely on their psychological mindset. This adds a level of complexity that no other romantic drama has even attempted in the year 2007. The performances here are amazing, but Saoirse Ronan stands out and she is the youngest one here. The ending of the film is amazing just like the rest of it. The Best Picture of 2007.