Monday, December 31, 2007

Fried Rice Favorites: 2007 Movies

EDIT (Jan. 1): After Matt pointed out an oversight on my list, I realized that I posted a draft that I'd saved before I saw Juno.  So the picks have changed (#8-10) from what was originally posted yesterday.  What I should've done is listed 15 or 20 films.  That would've made things easier.

After looking through my old posts, I realized that I didn't post a Favorite Movies list last year (but did for 2005).  How the hell did that happen?  I mean, this isn't a movie blog, per se, but I love writing about what I saw.  And this time, I won't wait until mid-January to post the list.  There are plenty of movies I want to see that haven't yet shown here in Michigan (and as I did last year, I'll also post a list of movies I wish I'd seen, but didn't), but there were so many good ones this year that I already had a hard time whittling my choices down to ten.

Here are the Best Movies I Watched in 2007.  Movies I previously wrote about are linked back to the original posts:

1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: I'm going to be writing a lot more about this movie later in the week.  (And it won't be contained in four sentences).  This is an achievement in filmmaking.  In adapting Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir, portraying both the abstract and literal, Julian Schnabel and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, utilize the camera as creatively as I've ever seen it used in telling a story.  It's heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

2. I'm Not There: Had I not seen "Diving Bell" last week, this would've been my favorite movie of the year.  Todd Haynes probably could've told the story of Bob Dylan more coherently, and knowing something about Dylan beforehand would surely help, but it wouldn't have been nearly as fun to watch.  Musical biopics should never be told the same way again.  Haynes re-invented the genre.

3. Starting Out in the Evening: It seems like movies about writing would be boring.  The trick, I suppose, is to make the writer an interesting, compelling character.  And that's exactly what Frank Langella did with his portrayal of Leonard Schiller, an author whose work is close to being forgotten and who has watched the culture completely change around him.  Compared to movies and TV, literature is almost a fringe form of entertainment now, and those who enjoy and celebrate it increasingly find themselves doing so in secluded, almost underground environments.  So what happens to a man whose livelihood, identity, and self-worth is tied to such pursuits?  How does that affect the other people in your life (such as your children)?  And how important is it to find someone else (even if she's decades younger) who not only feels the same, but is also utterly in love with your work?  Watching that relationship develop between Langella and Lauren Ambrose is fascinating.

4. No Country For Old Men: How did I not get around to writing a Four-Sentence Movie Review for this one?  I could cause serious injury trying to kick myself.  If not for the seemingly anti-climactic (and low-key) ending (or last 1/4 of the movie, really), this might have been the best movie of the year.  For 3/4 of the story, however, the Coen brothers made one of the scariest, tensest films I've ever seen.  Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh makes Hannibal Lecter look like a wine-and-cheese-eating dandy boy.  (Though Chigurh has the dandy boy haircut.)  It's too bad the Oscars don't have a Best Ensemble Cast award, because the entire cast (even Woody Harrelson) is outstanding.

5. Once: I wince when I see critics call this a "musical," but given the role that music plays in the story, maybe there's no better way to classify it.  And if the music wasn't really good, this probably wouldn't be an enjoyable film.  But it's an unconventional romance, which is what I liked most about it, along with a perfect ending.

6. The King of Kong: Seth Gordon might be one of the luckiest men on the face of this earth.  Or he's a living example of the maxim that says good luck is the result of hard work.  Either way, following the exploits of video game champion Billy Mitchell provided him with one of the best villains a documentary has ever had.

7. Ratatouille: Another one I wish I'd have taken the time to write about.  If there was ever any doubt as to how large of a place food and cooking holds in our culture, an animated movie devoted to foodie love should decisively answer such questions.  I thought it was amazing enough when Pixar could make water and hair move realistically.  Making food preparation, with bubbling liquids and sauteing meats and vegetables, look real (and tasty) is a whole other level of computer-generated verisimilitude.  I also wonder if Ratatouille is more appealing to adults than to children.  Themes such as finding your passion in life, the battle between criticism and artistry, and getting back in touch with your inner child provide plenty of intellectual chow for grown-ups.  But the kids get talking animals.  And they probably won't be as disturbed by the imagery of filthy rodents taking over a restaurant kitchen as their parents might be.

8. Juno: It's so refreshing when characters don't behave in ways we're accustomed to seeing in a story.  I don't know if that makes the people in Juno more real or not.  Maybe it makes them too good to be true.  (The dialogue is probably too clever at times, though it's frequently hilarious.)  Of course, I never had to tell my parents I was pregnant, so I don't know how that goes.  But several interactions between these characters felt real because people don't always say exactly the right thing and often hope the other person figures out what they really mean.  Being funny and poignant along the way helps, too.  Ellen Page is getting a lot of praise for her performance, and justifiably so, but Jennifer Garner deserves some applause, as well.  There's a scene in which her uptight exterior melts away and you see what's really important to her character, and it's a joy to watch.

9. The Host: Am I mostly recycling previous movie reviews to fill up this list?  Oh... lil' bit.  But it's always easier to write about a movie I loved, rather than hated, so that's what usually sends me over to the computer.  The Host is a good ol' monster movie, like the ones a lot of us grew up with (the Godzilla flicks, Alien, etc.).  But it doesn't follow the familiar formula, especially in regards to revealing the monster (which is a total freakshow), while also remembering that movies like this should be fun.  Sequel!  Sequel!

10. Michael Clayton: I was hoping this movie would be about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver who killed my fantasy football team three years ago.  Surely, other fantasy players made the same mistake after reading draft guides and previews that said Clayton would be a good pick.  And he had a good 2004 season.  Since then, however, he's been a bust.  But George Clooney went and made a movie about something else.  Yet I'm not sure what that was, exactly.  Shortly after seeing it, I told myself I needed a second viewing because when someone asked to explain the story, I couldn't do so.  Yet recalling all the details didn't seem that important as the story is more of a character study (which I assume is why the filmmakers chose the rather boring title they used).  Clooney isn't just a personality anymore; he can act.  The ending (and end credits) give him the chance to show that.

Ten Other Really Good Movies: Gone Baby Gone, Zodiac, Knocked Up, Breach, Waitress, Charlie Wilson's War, Away From Her, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, and The Assassination of Jesse James.