Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

The Year 2007 Movie List

by Kevin Bowen

published February 3, 2008

 

 

The Stage and Cinema film writers were asked to list every movie that they saw that was released in the United States in the year 2007, and to categorize them in any way they chose


 

Film of the Year

 

1) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - I would love to sit here and write a wonderful paragraph about this transparently first-class masterpiece. But I tried writing eight or nine previously, and found the results wholly inadequate to the task. I don't plan to repeat that mistake by trying again. All I'll say is that no other film so dominated my imagination. No film so shepherded me to so distinct a place. No film felt so passionate and relentless in expressing its point of view. No film made me so wonder how they filmed that moment, time and time and time again. No film so this, no film so that as Andrew Dominik's brilliant Western epic. The fact that people consider this relatively straightforward narrative "strange" or "offbeat" shows how far our collective film tastes have turned to the spoonfed. Which of course means that we're deeply in need of this great, great, great film. And more like it.

 

The Top Ten

 

As we move through my list of the ten best films of 2007, I will become increasingly at a loss for words. That's a good thing. While I have exact explanations for my appreciation of films nearer to number 10, my feelings for my favorite films are not as easy to express. They lie in the impressionistic murk beyond words, somewhere in that special, ineffable province of film.

 

10. 28 Weeks Later - Last year at this time, Children of Men couldn't pee without hitting an enthusiastic review. This year, a substantially similar film, but one dressed in apocalyptic zombie flick clothing, is being overlooked. Producer Danny Boyle and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo might as well have sat around Starbucks brainstorming with Children of Men director Alfonso Cuaron. But they reached radically opposed conclusions about children and human nature. Like Whitney Houston, Cuaron's film believes that children are our future. Expressed through its popcorn symbolism, 28 Weeks sees through Cuaron's sentimental assertion, finding in children the continuation of social maladies rather than their cure. It isn't comforting to say, but isn't the pessimism of 28 Weeks Later closer to the mark?

 

 

T-8) Michael Clayton - If Michael Clayton had been directed by an established French auteur, everyone would be marveling about this wonderful, semi-farcical lament for our death by capitalism. Since it's directed by someone named Tony Gilroy, it only gets that respect grudgingly. But at least it gets it. This sharply written corporate thriller captures our most vital office-desk struggle - the way that carnivorous corporatism is wiping away our traditional ideas of ethics, particularly among the weaklings actually burying the knives. In the future, this could well be remembered as the high-water performance of the George Clooney heartthrob-burnout phase, in which he somehow combines Hitchcock-era Cary Grant with 70s-era, politically mindful Jack Lemmon. For all its potboiler excesses, no film captures the sad erosion of our increasingly distant sense of propriety and community.

 

 

T-8) There Will Be Blood - The point of discussion between Michael Clayton and There Will Be Blood is whether power corrupts or power attracts. Does our economic system force good guys to do bad things, or does it beckon those pre-disposed to solitude and ruthlessness? I suppose the answer depends partly on how you feel about your boss. Whatever the answer, Paul Thomas Anderson is our most adventurous and grasping filmmaker. Or at least the most adventurous and grasping who can command a real budget.

 

 

 

 

7) Control - Relentless newcomer Sam Riley walks into stardom (at least of the critical kind) in Control, the first of two films that smashed the guitar of the conventional musical biopic. The story of suicidal Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis offers no easy solace, no easy relief, no confidence in the power of love and music to redeem. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe and director Anton Corbijn, the noted rock photographer, re-create 1970s Manchester in a deliciously despairing black-and-white.

 

 

 

 

 

6) I'm Not There - From Todd Haynes' overactive mind comes this at-times-unwatchable, at-times-unforgettable biopic of Bob Dylan. Six actors (including one actress) play the Minnesota folk singer, each at a different stage of his life and career. Cate Blanchett takes on some of the best young actors of this generation (Christian Bale, the late Heath Ledger) and beats their pants off while playing a man. A very loopy take on the complexity of identity and the nature of storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

5) Once - There are few musicals that so thoroughly erupt with the communal spirit of music. The songs come from the mind of Frames singer Glen Hansard, playing a lovesick sidewalk singer and strummer. But they belong as easily to immigrant flower girl Marketa Irglova, too. And to those lucky, hip few who viewed this intimate, infectious masterpiece in the theater. (If you ever tell me critics don't recommend crowd-pleasing movies, I'm holding this film's meager box office receipts against you.) Hey, baby, they're playing our song.

 

 

 

 

4) The Namesake - The immigrant film is one of the least-discussed but most consistently successful genres in American film. Why? Because in viewing our struggles through the newcomers' eyes, we untangle who we are as a people. Mira Nair's story of an Indian family's decades-long odyssey is a moving example. Few films so exactly dissect the baffling contradictions and the unlikely, enduring promise of our country. Contains two of the year's most overlooked performances, from Irfan Kahn and Bollywood star Tabu.

 

 

 

 

3) No Country for Old Men - I once told a date that the best Westerns are Greek plays on horseback. (Now that's attractive!). Although short on saddle sores, this modern Western, revolving around the Classical topic of vanity in the face of death and the eternal, truly gets what I'm saying (not that the Coen Brothers' job is to make me look good on a date). It also seems to be a re-working of The Seventh Seal, with Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) as the Grim Reaper, trading cloaked baldness and chess for a creepy haircut and a flip of a coin. No film this year has inspired as much debate. In fact, I grew to more greatly admire it as I vanished blissfully further into the conversations.

 

 

 

2) Zodiac - On my last viewing of Zodiac, I discovered another little gem about this David Fincher film. This serial-killer script, penned by James Vanderbilt, is secretly one of the wittiest of the year. (Really, Diablo Cody would do well to take notes.) I say "discovered another little gem," because this story about the burden of obsession has inspired in its admirers an unhealthy fixation with the rewind button. This police procedural slowly turns into a reflection on the modern dislocation of masculinity, the nature of knowledge, and the subjective construction of reality. It's a little disconcerting, but I think I actually know what I mean when I say all that. Although you're free to disagree.

 

 

 

1) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Most Underrated:

 

28 Weeks Later

 

The Namesake

 

Bridge to Terebithia – I’m not a big children’s movie fan, but this classic fourth-grade tearjerker had me weeping just a bit. A great supporting performance from Robert Patrick, the T-1000 turns tough but loving farm dad.

 

The Invasion – This much-delayed, much-maligned, much-fiddled-with late summer release arrived with the indignity of re-shoots and a pounding from critics. But while some viewed it as an update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s more of a weird ode to Stanley Kubrick, particularly to A Clockwork Orange. With the First Lady of Scientology, Nicole Kidman, presiding as a psychiatrist, The Invasion quietly explores a Kubrick-ian subject – the conflict of human instincts, even the worst ones, with the interest of a conformist society. During one tense dinner scene, it does something audaciously daft by making the breakout of world peace seem alien to human nature. A film for the Age of Ritalin, and a deeply flawed masterwork.

 

Ocean’s 13 – I had the considerable good fortune to re-watch the John Boorman-Lee Marvin masterpiece Point Blank a few weeks before watching the third movie in this series. Stephen Soderbergh assisted on the DVD commentary, so I was in the right frame of mind to appreciate this film on another level. Soderbergh borrows a basic conflict – a talented criminal from a different age comes up against the modern world. In fact, George Clooney’s nostalgic little speech in front of one mega-hotel’s fountains is a bit of soul in the midst of all the splash. A fun movie on top of that, but with a bit of a weak ending.

 

 

 

 

 

Five most overrated:

 

American Gangster –My biggest objection is that it fails to do a single new thing within the gangland genre. There's a difference between being derivative and using similar cinematic language to discuss a topic or theme. This is just derivative.

 

The Bourne Ultimatum – The Bourne series helped awaken the action movie from its late nineties, early oughts CGI slumber, restoring gritty fistfights, elongated suspense. and a more character-driven plotline. Yet it’s clear from this entry that it’s been overtaken by Batman and James Bond. Bourne does not share the same level of ethical complexity; the moral environment tilts so wildly to Bourne’s side, with the faintest of lip service to its opposite. Essentially, the rogue agent can do no wrong. Additionally, the set pieces are repetitive, individually and collectively. And Matt Damon’s acting is so subpar that it takes Julia Stiles to make him seem alive.

 

Eastern Promises Eastern Promises wastes a charismatic performance from Naomi Watts, whose role fractures and diminishes as the movie progresses. David Cronenberg is always fascinating, but sometimes his clinical sensibility leads to a certain theoretical coldness in his films. I got over that feeling while watching A History of Violence. Not here.

 

Knocked-Up – There’s a simple reason that Judd Apatow movies are so popular. They pay off. People shelling out $20 on a date don’t have to worry about failing to be entertained. He’s an insurance policy with a word processor. But when I watch a Wes Anderson film, good or bad, I think, what a wonderful ode to the French cinema. When I watch Apatow’s films, I try to remember what obscure sitcom he wrote for. Its admirers feel the need to make labored arguments about its deep human understanding (of which it has a modicum). I would rather they just appreciate it for what it is.

 

Spiderman 3 – Here’s a film that I panned, and I still feel like I was generous to it. The film is so calculatedly teen-age to be almost unwatchable without uncontrollably texting to distract yourself. In what movie does a villain (Sandman) go from, in the space of a few minutes, trying to pound the hero into oblivion to apologizing for all his sins? And then Spidey just forgives him and lets him blow out to the wind. That example locates the film’s moral sensibility at that of a Friday-afternoon filmstrip, when you’ve been good in class for the whole week. How it got a positive Tomato Meter rating, I’ll never know.

 

 

 

 

 

The five worst

 

Looking back from a January in which I’ve already panned three movies, last year’s films could not have been that bad, right? Wrong.

 

Because I Said So – Diane Keaton inflicts the overbearing-divorced-mother routine on a love-torn Mandy Moore. It couldn’t get worse, you think. Then they rip into a Motown song.

 

Reservation Road – Director Terry George’s overwrought hit-and-run domestic drama leaves you no choice but to hide the dishes, lest one of these oh-so-moody characters bust all of them on the floor.

 

Transformers – You can debate the messy philosophical implications of the Star Wars universe. The Lord of the Rings can awaken your sense of nobility and mission. Transformers are just robots that turn into cars. A nostalgia trip for geeky types that you hope goes down in the Andes. Forcing all the fanboys to eat each other. 

 

Rush Hour 3 – If Jackie Chan only had two legs. If Chris Tucker only had one brain. If Brent Rattner only had organs other than a ….

 

Balls of Fury – This Dan Fogler-starring ping-pong spoof is regarded as too transparently stupid to bother with. By Larry the Cable Guy fans.

 

 

OK, six.

 

Perfect Stranger – Halle Berry stars as an investigative reporter. Bruce Willis plays a womanizing and possibly murderous entrepreneur. Giovanni Ribisi delivers a talking-killer explanation so long that it has Powerpoint and coffee breaks. Balki Bartakomous doesn’t do anything.  

 

OK, seven.

 

Good Luck, Chuck – Dane Cook and Jessica Alba race each other toward the career trash heap. Hopefully, there isn’t a loser. And hopefully, they take the penguins with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five that will look much better in future years:

 

28 Weeks Later

 

The Invasion

 

The Darjeeling Limited – While the film fails to fully satisfy, this is Wes Anderson in transition. If the destination works out, this film will seem like a lynchpin.

 

The Kingdom – Will this well-studied, gunfire-heavy actioner be better remembered than all the high-minded “sand” films about the Middle East? At least to my mind, it already is.

 

Hitman – Slickly directed action/exploitation film that looks better in retrospect for its narrative ideas and execution, despite its ludicrous video-game plot.   Watching a few January exploitation releases reminds me of how much better this film looks and feels.  But yeah, I pretty much stuck it in this category because there was nowhere better to fit it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best performances no one remembers

 

Fracture – A great Ryan Gosling performance, in which he reveals himself not only as an actor but as a star. Anthony Hopkins serves as a properly ego-overloaded ballast.

 

Waitress – Keri Russell was terrifically energetic in this otherwise overly precious and overly praised indie effort. The only bad note – her hair was too glamorous for the part.

 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – I know there’s a lot of complaints about Cate Blanchett’s Oscar nomination for her performance in this often lousy film. But its her performance – playing the queen as half Iron lady Thatcher, half-fratboy George Bush – that almost makes the movie’s soapy first half acceptable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worst use of a good premise

 

Evan Almighty – Why, oh why, did they take the potentially interesting premise of a middle American guy acting on the voice of God to build an ark and turn it into this, well, shipwreck?

 

Factory Girl – This disappointing biopic of Warhol icon Edie Sedgwick, starring Sienna Miller, does contain one of the year’s most repeatable  gems of a line, “Your father is so straight he doesn’t pee in the shower.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff all the animated films here so I can go on just one rant.

 

Meet the Robinsons – I didn’t care about the kids.

 

Ratatouille – I didn’t care about the rat.

 

Beowulf – The smartest thing that any studio promo person did last year was decide to show critics this thing in stunning IMAX. It’s an absolutely overwhelming experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name?  

 

Gracie – Carrie? Christie? Ruthie? Rudy? Umm …

 

Nancy Drew – Weren’t you in some books I read when I was….?

 

TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – Teenage what, again? Hey, didn’t you used to be on TV?

 

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – When your name is Magorium do you just naturally gravitate toward owning a Wonder Emporium?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good sequel, bad sequel

 

Live Free or Die Hard – Exciting, if a little overblown, example of re-tooling your original idea. The film turns the entire country into a flaming Nokatomi Tower. Which is our great fear.  

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – At least this time I knew why Captain Jack and crew were doing what they were doing. Even if I could never understand why deep down they wanted to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best three-quarters of a film you could make before pummeling it to dust with the ending

 

Sunshine – This Danny Boyle film, about a last-ditch space mission to re-ignite a dying sun, is a terrific example of lifeboat ethics. Then some unexplained space creature-man shows up out of nowhere in the third act. Presumably from out of a studio exec’s head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s visit the library

 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Julian Schnabel’s film outdoes its “disease of the week” material, to create a portrait on the necessity and beauty of life even for a cynic. Sure the first-person, eye-blink camera idea is a bit of a gimmick, but the performance of Marie-Josee Croze is not. She’s terrific.

 

Atonement – I hate the ending of Atonement. And it favors swoony romantic fare over intellect. Yet it still manufactures tremendous atmosphere, based on wonderful performances from James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan.

 

The Golden Compass – OK, don’t read the book, either. But do watch the fighting CGI polar bears. You can’t get that in a book.

 

Lust, Caution – No matter how ornately beautiful Ang Lee makes his film, no matter how moving the performances, it always seems to decorate an ordinary story.

 

Into the Wild – Adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s portrait of wild-eyed idealist/arrogant prick Chris McCandless, as he finds beauty and limitlessness in the western landscape, until he recedes into the Canadian wilderness. Good Emile Hirsch performance, and some real magic from Sean Penn as a director.  

 

Old Joy – Tender, subtle short story adaptation about two spiritually estranged friends re-connecting on a camping trip in Oregon.   

[Editor's Note - Old Joy was released in New York in 2006 but did not reach other critics until 2007]

 

Martian Child – John Cusack making the best of this over-Hollywood-ized script, like it was 1988 or something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best execution of the wrong Harry Potter film

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Harry finally achieves an appropriately mature tone, but in a story that left most people yawning.  Of course when the real dirty work begins, Hermione, as usual, is still there to bail his near-sighted little ass out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Musical

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Tim Burton creating a fictional London pitch-perfect to his macabre vision. Delightfully wicked Sondheim music. A solid Depp performance, and an amusing Helena Bonham Carter one. Priceless.

 

Hairspray – Fast, fun, campy. Good Morning, Baltimore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My theories on romantic comedies

 

Catch and Release – Romantic comedies made by men always have the attractive female object of longing in the end going for the goofy guy, who does everything wrong but gets forgiven in the end. Women don’t fool with that crap. They go straight for the racy stud. Then they write him as a guy with a hidden reserve of decency. Pure biology.

 

Lucky You – Romantic comedies made by women go straight for the racy stud. Then they write him as a guy with a hidden reserve of decency. Men don’t go for that biology. Romantic comedies made by men always have the attractive female object of longing in the end going for the goofy guy, who does everything wrong but gets forgiven in the end. Pure crap.

(By the way, this Curtis Hanson Las Vegas film got dealt a bad hand.  It does a great job of capturing the hanging-by-a-card lifestyle of a professional gambler. It would help if Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore didn’t come up deuces on romantic chemistry, though.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, we are ripping off 28 Days Later. And what are you going to do about it?

 

I Am Legend – Sure it’s ending and bogeymen fail to satisfy. But deep down this is a film about loneliness and a sense of mission eroding in desperation, starring the least lonely of film stars, Will Smith. 

 

30 Days of Night – Blood-sucking monsters (sometimes called vampires) terrorize sunless Barrow, Alaska. Everyone hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good, but come on

 

Juno – Poor Jason Reitman. Overshadowed by his screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Entertaining comedy, with dialogue that’s not so much funny as clever. But among the best films of the year? Naw.

 

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – I love how this film eventually morphed into a furious debate among some critics about whether Sidney Lumet was ever more than a hack director.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pounding sand

 

The Kingdom

 

Charlie Wilson’s War – A nice box-office take for this tale of the Afghan War in the 1980s and the scoundrel of a Congressman who pushed it. But it didn’t grasp that Wilson was “a hero despite” not “a hero because.”

 

Rendition – Like most of the sand films, overdone and favoring current political fads over long-term perspective. Wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve. But not a terrible film.

 

The Kite Runner – Marc Forster, as usual, finds his level. Even in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The annual Disney live action feature that isn’t quite as bad as it should be (but is still very bad)

 

Wild Hogs – need I say more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The outstanding Christian Bale year that nobody bothered to notice

 

Rescue Dawn – Christian Bale’s signature performance in a signature year gets overlooked by Oscar. He’s terrific as the dreamy POW leading an escaped from a starving Laotian prison camp. Directed by Werner Herzog.  

 

3:10 to Yuma  – Bale tends to do very well playing his method tendencies off of charisma actors like Russell Crowe. Their relationship and interaction are magnetic in what otherwise might be a standard oater.

 

I’m Not There

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Remember Me!

 

Talk to Me – A great performance by Don Cheadle. A great performance by Chwietel Ejiofor. Quality direction by Cassie Lemmons. One review that I would like to have back.

 

Breach – Chris Cooper stunned critics in February with this tense true story of FBI mole Robert Hanssen. Laura Linney ain’t bad, either.

 

The Astronaut Farmer – The Brothers can be precious. But they also can catch the loss of wonder and individuality in a bureaucratized world.

 

Hot Fuzz – The craziest comedy of the first half of the year, from the makers of Shaun of the Dead. Simon Pegg is a treasure.

 

Black Snake Moan – The story of a man who chains the town trollop to a furnace is not the best film, but at least it’s an alive one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com

 

 

 

 

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