Monday, December 31, 2007

REV: Best Stuff from 2007

The best of years, the best of years
Well, it was great year from this vantage point, with a lot of small films put out, an Emmy nomination, no hospital stays (!), getting to see loads of great friends, putting on three critically loved plays, and a bunch of other stuff i'm ont remembering right now.

During the year i got to see some great shows as well, and many fine, fine films (seems like a much better year overall than usual), and there's some stuff i really wanted to see an dhaven't yet that will be up for awards. Regardless, i'm going to take this time to talk about the best things i saw this year (meaning of course that, if you trust my judgment, these are things i'd recommend you checking out). So here, grouped into some kind of categories are the things i liked, with some occasional criticisms and remarks on the things i didn't (which quite frankly are few since i generally know ahead of time what i'm getting into).

So let's start with the best films i saw this year, including catching up with a few things from last year that i didn't manage to see before year's end. I'm putting these in alphabetical order for lack of a better way to organize - i did label the films i saw in one of three general rankings. Those are "brilliant" movies that are so good that even if there were quibbles here and there, the film was so strong in story, character and production value that i consider them films for the ages, ones i will immediately purchase on dvd, and will watch over and over hopefully with friends who haven't seen them. The next, more middling group, is labelled one of two ways -- "fine" which are flicks that are not great across the board but do a good job in story, characterization and production. And then there is "flawed" which are movies that are excellent in two of the three areas, but severely flawed in one so as to be distracting from the storytelling, which after all is what the art is about. In any case, i'll still buy the dvds of many films in this category, and recommend them as well. The final group is "stinks" which are movies so flawed or so unequivocally flat as to not be worth another watch. Finally, you'll see that most of my "brilliant" movies are dramatic. For a comedy or animation to achieve this level in my book they have to transcend their comedy or animation. In fact, even though i really liked some animation this year, i have trouble believing any animated film should be anything but perfect since you're not working with live actors.

I might use here to note also the films i haven;t seen but really want to so that my "picks" below can be measured against what i haven't seen: Atonement, Sweeny Todd, American Gangster, I'm Not There, Into the Wild, There Will Be Blood, Transformers.

So onward --
Disturbia (flawed) this film had a lot going for it, but spent way too much time unfortunately trying too hard to scare you, and being so self-conscious about it took all the scare out of it. Take a mulligan.

The Shooter (flawed) i have gone back and forth about this film being brilliant or flawed. Ultimately i'm going to say flawed, but probably not for a very strong reason. Because i had seen the trailer before the film came out i knew exactly what the plotline was, and i think that spoiled it. It should be a lesson in toning down trailers. I can't make out know when i would have become suspicious had i not known in advance. If the suspense lasted a while then i think the movie would tsand up better, but i don;t know now, and the studio is who ruined it.

Freedom Writers (fine) this is a nice pick-me-up film, based on a true story, that essentially has nothing wrong with it. But i guess we need to be figuring out that there are an awful lot of hard-working, speaking-truth-to-power, inspirational teachers in this country. What we need are some stories of significantly flawed teachers still managing to bring out the humanity in their students. Unfortunately this boilerplate American success story sells well, draws tears, and will be shown in classrooms until the next knockoff rolls around. Folks contemplating making this kind of movie would do well to watch British versions of the story like The History Boys.

Becoming Jane (fine) is best for showcasing some outstanding young talent. And as Austen stories are rather fine, so this Shakespeare in Love for the feminist oeuvre mines the material well. It doesn;t sit totally well for me more because there is suddenly so much Austen around. Someone might have done well to hold off a few years.

Flags of Our Fathers (brilliant) worth every minute, this historipic takes a well-deserved look at some of the not-so-perfectness of World War II which is perhaps the most glossed over war ever. It has been promoted so well that it has the feel of one long party knocking back Fascism. Those who endured know better, of course. I grew up in its shadow in a family with some military background, and it generally wasn't spoken of. Many years later i got hold of a box of letters from my grandparents back and forth to my uncles, half of whom were in the South Pacific -- and it's all fear and scarred minds and lost hopes. Nice to see some of that portrayed well.

Ratatouille (fine, probably as close as i'll get to brilliant this year for an animated film) what a fine film, loads of fun overall, though it drags on occasion. Again though, with a great story in hand, how could you not be perfect. Seems silly maybe, to not mark it brilliant, but to me it's just not the same as working with actors to produce art. Sorry.

300 (flawed) okay of these pseudo-animated films, probably the best. I just have to say that it was so jingoistic, so junior-high boyis, that i felt slimy. It's a shame too, since a good story could have been had, and frankly the art work was simply phenomenal. Compared to the fatally flawed Beowulf though it was energizing.

Beowulf (stinks) okay this was the opposite of 300 for me -- there was the possibility of dragging a great story out of this, but it didn;t happen, instead we got some of the most stilted, ridiculously formulated sentences ever written out of a literary masterpiece. But mostly, for me, the animation so so hideous that i laughed the whole time. It's a freaking cartoon and we spent a good part of the movie's climactic fight scene watching an onscure cartoon masking of animated genitalia. Sheesh, if two-dimensional junk is that unshowable, then find a way to show us action that doesn;t make us point at the silliness of hiding it. I lost the story completely about a third of the way through for the distraction of plastic faces and poor art choices. Unbelievable after all the hype.

The Devil Wears Prada (brilliant) i guess all i really want to say is that any chick flick that keeps me this enthralled, laughing this much, remembering lines for a week, and wanting to see again, has to be brillinat.

Breach (brilliant) another show i like because it has two fine actors, who haven't yet gotten the acclaim they deserve -- Chris Cooper and Ryan Philippe -- doing beautiful work. In addition, i love stories where you think you know what's going to happen next, and it does just enough to throw you off the next time. Whatever, you label that kind of thing -- thriller, suspense, i don;t know -- it works extremely well here. I've watched this thing three times already, and i always find nuances i missed before.

Zodiac (brilliant) all you have to do here is read my writeup on Breach, only substitue Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Juno (brilliant) i like quirky movies that portray life as i know it. Juno does that. It's about not-everyday-kids who get in tight fixes the same as everyday-kids. And it's about kids having to solve their own problems sometimes. And it's about adults being dorkier than the dorkiest junior high kid you can remember -- about adults who seem to work their very hardest to not be who they are. So that's life as i know it -- and this film is a tone poem on that very wavelength. I'll be giving these away for gifts forever. There is one giant flaw i need to mention, if only because it follows a theme for me, and that is the outfront, in-your-face product placement of SunnyD. I used to drink SunnyD. Not anymore. I boycott companies that breach my trust -- and making a wonderful movie into a two-hour advertisement breaches my trust. It was a constant distraction. I like to think that if companies figure out that their tactics are costing them customers, then maybe they'll regain a bit of class. One of my contenders for best movie of 2007.

No Country for Old Men (brilliant) i'm not a fan of violence, though i certainly watch and see plenty of it. And i'm an on-again, off-again fan of Cormac McCarthy (see books below). So i went with some trepidation to see this movie, which i knew i would have to see, there would be no missing it. Wow. One of my contenders for best movie of 2007.

Hairspray (brilliant) not a fan of musicals, but this was fantastic (and much better in my opinion than the original). Travolta was roll-on-the-ground funny. Everyone was wonderful. The music was just contagious. I went back a second time and took friends. And will again.

i did not finish these reviews but wanted to post the materials i had . . .

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