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Jan 9, 2008

BEST AND WORST ON FILM IN 2007

You know I have discovered that the hardest thing about having a blog is actually creating posts. So my New Year’s resolution for 2008 is to get on track, and get back to regular updates. And what better way to start than with my Best and Worst of 2007 list!

This was a very good movie year. Even with the load of weak sequels in the summer, there were some nice surprises, and a very eclectic offering of solid pictures. Looking through my lists, I found I had more “good” picks to choose from than I have had in previous years. Shall we begin?

BEST MOVIES OF 2007

1) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Paramount Vantage/Miramax)

This one should come as no surprise as it seems everyone is raving about this movie, and justifiably so. It’s a well crafted film not only in the performances, screenplay and photography, but the sound design as well. This to me is the quintessential post 9-11 movie. Here we have a group of characters going through the motions with little hope of accomplishing much of anything. Josh Brolin’s character seems to run off with the suitcase of money simply because it’s there, Javier Bardem kills anyone he happens to cross paths with and Tommy Lee Jones has the awareness that he is up against something that is so much bigger than him, but pursues it anyway, but again with little or no inspiration or motivation. A perfect microcosm of today’s society (even though the time period of the film I believe is the 1980s). We’ve been so beaten down thanks to 9-11, the war on terror, Iraq, the sub-prime bust, the threat of recession, etc., that this is just one of those cases of the right film at the right time.

Available on DVD and BLU-RAY.

2) ONCE (Fox Searchlight)

The title of this film is misleading. It’s not a film you should watch just ONCE, it deserves multiple viewings. An emotionally charged yet small movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, yet never condescends to the audience nor cheapens itself via the usual theatrics. All the pain, loneliness, frustration, desire to succeed and find more out of life, and ultimately, everything these characters are is revealed through music numbers and very simple filmmaking techniques. Recently released on DVD, and if you haven’t seen it I suggest you stop reading this right now and go rent or buy it.

Available on DVD and BLU-RAY.

3) JUNO (Fox Searchlight)

There seems to be one genre that never dies, and every 5 years or so goes through a complete renaissance – and that is the teenage coming-of-age movie. It’s something every generation has to deal with and always will. This year was a good year for such films (one other similar title is included on this list further down, as well as another among my runner-up picks. You’ll just have to read on to find out which). Jason Reitman, who made this list last year with the fantastic THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, handily earns another spot with a near perfect film. Ellen Page who electrified the screen in HARD CANDY proves she is no fluke, and there are solid performances from Michael Cera (who appears again below….I know, I’m a tease), Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons and Jennifer Garner. Also of note is the soundtrack which has to be the most perfect fit for a song filled soundtrack that I have heard/seen since THE BREAKFAST CLUB.

On DVD and Blu-Ray April 15, 2008.

4) THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (Picturehouse)

Who would have thought that a documentary about a guy trying to beat the world record score at DONKEY KONG would be so poignant? This is a classic tale about a dreamer who has suffered many failures, just trying to find his place in the world and make a name for himself somehow, but an egotistical maniac stands in his way and refuses to engage with our hero in person. This well crafted documentary easily plays out like a scripted Hollywood film, but the realness of the individuals involved makes the film as great as it is. Luckily, Michael Moore is nowhere to be found!

Available on DVD.

5) MICHAEL CLAYTON (Warner Bros.)

This is a court room movie without the courtroom. Confused? It’s ERIN BROKOVICH without the court case, the last minute revelations, the surprise evidence or the poor near-death victims getting screwed by an evil corporation barely. Sure they’re there in the background, and you’re vaguely aware of what this whole lawsuit is about, but this is a movie about a man at a crossroads with himself and how he makes his living. Clooney seems to be at his best when playing down-and-out depressed and disenfranchised individuals (see his Oscar Winning performance in SYRIANA – also a previous top 10 pick of mine).

Available on DVD, Blu-Ray and HD DVD.

6) GONE BABY GONE (Miramax)

These crazy actors, somehow they turn out to be really good directors. Now add Ben Affleck to that ever growing list. Keeping with the theme of down and depressing movies with heavy moral questions, Ben captures the utter hopelessness of a lower class community devoid of ambition and hope. You’ll find yourself mulling over the main issue long after the final credits have rolled.

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

7) RATATOUILLE (Walt Disney/Pixar)

When I first saw the trailer for this, I didn’t think much of it. I liked CARS, but didn’t love it, and this just didn’t strike me as being much better. My first mistake of course was to doubt Pixar. RATATOUILE is a smartly written and enjoyable film that basically says it’s okay to be a snob. Can’t wait for this year’s Pixar entry, WALL-E which I think will be even better!

Available on DVD and BLU-RAY.

8) SUPERBAD (Columbia)

This is that other teen movie of which I spoke earlier. Incredibly crude, yet smart and touching at the same time, I am definitely McLuvin’ this movie. And Michael Cera…where did this kid come from? First this, then JUNO, this kid is going to be one to watch, hopefully he’s not just a brief blip on the Hollywood radar.

Available on DVD and BLU-RAY.

9) BREACH (Universal)

This is one of those rare occurrences, a good movie that was released in February (usually bad-movie dumping ground). Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe bring their A-game to this smart film. I’m probably the only one on Earth putting this as one of the best of the year, but somebody’s got to do it.

Available on DVD and HD DVD.

10) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (Universal)

This was the year of part threes. OCEAN’S THIRTEEN, SPIDER-MAN, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, and somehow the BOURNE ULTIMATUM defied all logic and was great. There’s something about Matt Damon that just works, and he doesn’t have to do much of anything to emote. Not to mention, he’s been extremely smart in his career choices. Joan Allen is outstanding as well, but then again, when isn’t she?

Available on DVD and HD DVD.

11) BLACK SNAKE MOAN (Paramount Classics)

This is another early-in-the-year-movie that is kind of being forgotten since it came out so long ago. You’ll barely recognize Christina Ricci in this, and for once, I actually liked her and surprise, surprise, Justin Timberlake delivers a very solid performance! Great soundtrack as well, including Blues tunes performed by Samuel L. Jackson.

Available on DVD, HD DVD and BLU-RAY.

RUNNERS UP

3:10 TO YUMA (Lionsgate) - On DVD and BLU-RAY
KNOCKED UP (Universal) - On DVD and HD DVD
ATONEMENT (Focus Features) - Being released on DVD and HD DVD on March 18, 2008.

BEST “POPCORN” FLICK OF THE YEAR

TRANSFORMERS (Paramount/Dreamworks)

I believe it was in 1998 that I started working on an essay that I had planned to send into FILM COMMENT entitled “Why Michael Bay is the worst thing to happen to Hollywood…ever.” Well Michael has the last laugh because TRANSFORMERS is a blast. Watching it I couldn’t help but realize how ludicrous the idea behind this movie is, and right from the top of the opening credits when HASBRO is listed as a production entity (there were plenty of snickers at that) you realize you’re watching something based on a toy from over 20 years ago. But somehow it works thanks to the on screen charisma of Shia LaBeouf who had better bring his A++ game to INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, and the use of the original cartoon voice of Optimus Prime instead of casting a name actor which helps tie it in to the classic cartoon we all loved.

Available on DVD and HD DVD.


SURPRISES

These are not good enough to make the top 10 or be a runner up, but are unexpectedly good films that deserve some attention.

HAIRSPRAY (New Line Cinema) - On DVD and BLU RAY
THE KINGDOM (Universal) – On DVD and HD DVD
STARDUST (Paramount) – On DVD and HD DVD


THE WORST MOVIES OF 2007

As usual, there were a large number of mind-numbingly bad films released in theatres this year. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the trailer for ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS practically places that film on the list sight unseen. There are the obvious stinkers like EPIC MOVIE, but I tend to steer away listing those titles because everyone knows they’re bad. My list contains bad movies that should have known better. I won’t even bother revealing if they are on DVD or when they are coming to DVD because then you may be tempted to check them out, and I just can’t have anyone do that.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Revolution/Columbia)

Pretentious, annoying and gimmicky – this is an empty vacuous movie that tries to fool us that it is good by employing clever camera tricks and overly artistic production design. There is no chemistry between the two leads, and the use of Beatles songs to tell the story is not at all effective. This movie just gave me a headache.

SMOKIN’ ACES (Universal)

Hey look…a movie that wants to be SNATCH with clever Tarantino-like dialogue but instead is a loud, obnoxious, noisy mess. Stay FAR away if you know what’s good for you.

THE NUMBER 23 (20th Century Fox)

Jim Carrey is laughable, but too bad this is a thriller not a comedy. The concept itself is pretty ludicrous, and the audience was laughing hysterically at serious moments. 20 + 3 = A BAD MOVIE.

SPIDER-MAN 3 (Columbia)

So what happens when you put together the creative team that brought you two great Spider-man movies? Well, they phone it in, and the movie becomes a mish-mash that just doesn’t work at all. Not to mention, a complete waste of two great villains and several decent talents.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (Paramount Vantage)

I kept thinking, the only good thing that could happen during this movie is that somehow, all the detestable characters would die horribly painful deaths, and I’d be able to go home and not want to shoot myself.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (20th Century Fox)

That’s right, Die Hard 4 with computer-using terrorists that can somehow defy all technological logic. Not to mention that John McClane is as indestructible as the Terminator, and the kid from the Apple commercials (which I hate) is just outright annoying (saving grace is that he’s using a PC in this movie! About time he switched to a real computer).

FRACTURE (New Line Cinema)

Here we have really great talent slumming it for a paycheck.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS (New Line Cinema)

Enough with the epic fantasy films already. Even if there were no NARNIA or LORD OF THE RINGS films, I would still hate this. Director Chris Weitz is way out of his element with this mess, and New Line wasted a lot of money that they aren’t making back.

DEATH PROOF – THE GRINDHOUSE (Dimension)

The whole idea behind THE GRINDHOUSE was intriguing, but the final product is less than stellar. Consisting of two movies, I’m going to let PLANET TERROR off the hook (although it’s not good either) because DEATH PROOF deserves all the shame. The usual litany of Tarantino “hip” dialogue gets annoying fast, and when the big car chase at the end finally happens (and it’s good at least), it’s too little, too late. Hated the characters, hated the story, hated the dialogue and I wish Tarantino would just disappear for a while.

300 (Warner Bros.)

It’s a video game masquerading as a movie. Loud, overly stylized and Gerard Butler screams all his lines. Go figure that it made $300 million at the box office, but I’d rather see a film adaptation of MADDEN 2008 (the football video game for those not in the know) before I’d even consider sitting through this again.