Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

The Year 2007 Movie List

by Harvey Perr

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


 

2007 IS DEAD, LONG LIVE 2008: FILM

 

No long dissertation this year on what I loved and what I hated and why, no angry tirade on what’s wrong with cinema, no discussion on the pro-life trend in otherwise radical films about adolescence (I’ll let that statement speak for itself), no nothing but cutting to the chase. I just want to say that I do realize that the bleak vision behind some of the best films this year corresponds to the bleakness of the world we live in and I have to accept that or forever stop seeing most contemporary films, although I will always turn my eyes away from excessive and gratuitous violence, and my central aesthetic for cinema is that it insist upon keeping my eyes glued to the screen. I will say only that if Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (half of Grindhouse; I didn’t see the other half plus trailers) is an example of the “new” direction film buffs want to take us to, I, for one, was already there when it was really new and it always had a very limited appeal for me. You, however, are free to go there if you will, if you must.  My idea of where to go to see what movies should be about: the Max Ophuls retrospective at BAM, the major film event of 2007. Now, for the look backward.

 

1.      Charles Burnett’s KILLER OF SHEEP: One of the great film poems of all time, no less poetic for planting itself in the midst of a gritty urban landscape, this was the best film of 1977 and, finally receiving its long overdue theatrical release thirty years later, the best film of 2007.

 

2.      Alain Resnais’ PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES (French title: COEURS):  The one new film that I instinctively felt I would continue to love with the passing of time. Only an old master like Resnais could have treated Alan Ayckbourne’s real but somewhat trivial observations with such melancholy, such delicacy, and, when necessary, with such comic ferocity. I would never have suspected that Ayckbourne’s so very British play – and which, under Ayckbourne’s direction, was such a brilliant production that it remains vivid in my memory – could survive a transplant to French soil. But here it was, universal in its insights, rich and complex in its feelings, very modern and very fresh. And the image of snow flakes, so crucial to Resnais’ vision, still haunts me.

 

3.      Paul Thomas Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD: I think this is a great film. Period. And great not because it lives up to one’s expectations of what greatness is but because, like all great works, it opens our eyes. So it is audacious and maddening and eccentric. And it’s got life in it, enough life to fill a hundred movies. It has epic sweep, but it is essentially a chamber piece about a recognizable human beast and the monstrous pit he creates in which he can fall into. And Daniel Day Lewis fills the screen with a performance of such breadth and such consuming passion and energy that there is no room for anyone else – either on the screen or in the audience – to breathe. I have slowly come to appreciate Anderson’s innately cinematic originality, but I never anticipated that he would ever make a film this extraordinary. And the way that commerce and religion struggle for the soul of the American psyche without giving a damn about its heart is revelatory about how the process really works.

 

4.      David Fincher’s ZODIAC: Another film that, to put it as simply as possible, thrilled me, this one with its determined obsession to get every, and I mean every, detail right. Fincher takes so much pleasure in his film-making, it is hard not to be infected. Enthusiasm is its own reward. It is, or should be, contagious.

 

5.      Ken Loach’s THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY: Not new material, the origin of the Irish fight for its independence, but rarely treated with an understanding of how even the noblest political dreams can be blunted from within, of how brutality breeds brutality, and yet – and this without romanticizing or sentimentalizing – it is Loach’s compassion that shines through. One flinches. One weeps.

 

6.      Florian Henckel von Dannersmark’s THE LIVES OF OTHERS (German title: DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN): An absolutely amazing first film and heartening evidence that humanism is still a viable possibility in our more and more inhuman world. The triumph of humanity while engaged in the worst acts of a repressive society gave us hope and not for a minute did it seem a false hope. It flickered within us for a while, without promising global redemption.

 

7.      Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD: not great but it had genuine greatness in it, a profound feel for both human aspiration and for nature. And the one American film this year that dared to touch the summit of tragedy. Christopher McCandless, so powerfully embodied in the person and performance of Emile Hirsch, and his journey towards self-discovery was so heart-felt that the journey itself was not diminished by the fact of his dying so young. Also, conclusive evidence that – like Warren Beatty’s REDS, Robert DeNiro’s THE GOOD SHEPHERD, Charles Laughton’s THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, to name the ones that come most readily to mind – great actors who become directors can not only marshal the talents of their fellow actors, but can break the rules of conventional movie-making and still obey the rules of craft.                                                                          

      

8.      Brad Bird’s RATATOUILLE: If this film were made just for artists, for people who like to eat well, and for children who are trying to find their own way in the face of rigidly restrictive parents, it would be enough. So it’s nice to know that it was so far-reaching that maybe even the unsuspecting got a few of its subliminal messages. For me, it certainly defined what the life and objective of an artist is all about. That glorious moment when the ratatouille arrives before the critic, so gorgeously designed and animated, and we see that art is getting to the essence of what one is, brought such joy and even sadness, that I merely have to envision it to have again exactly the same emotional response. The best animated film – I’m willing to go out on a limb and say so – of all time.

 

9.      Neil Jordan’s THE BRAVE ONE: Although I was riveted throughout by the sheer driving intensity of its mise-en-scene, I was apt to dismiss it as another one of those films that ultimately relishes the very violence it supposedly abhors, but, ironically enough, it is Jordan’s humanism that has stayed with me. That and the searching intelligence which Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard brought to it.

 

10.  Three-way tie: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS: A definitely sad but nevertheless true and honest depiction, told in deceptively simple animated imagery, of a young Iranian girl’s discovery that one must sometimes break away from one’s deepest attachments in order to move forward…..Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP: this generation’s most memorable romantic comedy, very much in the tradition of Hollywood’s classic romantic comedies, and far more persuasive about the feelings of young people than JUNO……Wes Anderson’s THE DARJEELING LIMITED: One of the year’s most visually arresting films – I don’t know if India has been captured so beautifully since Renoir’s THE RIVER – and, upon reflection, a warm and slightly crazy film about what’s right and what’s wrong with families.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Runners-up:

 

 

 

It was a good year for movies. NO END IN SIGHT (The year’s best documentary, absolutely essential – if anything this past year was essential – viewing); SICKO (The second best documentary and the one that proves that the beleaguered Michael Moore is indeed a national treasure); AWAY FROM HER; THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY; I’M NOT THERE; ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES; THE SAVAGES; REIGN OVER ME; SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET; MICHAEL CLAYTON.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I admired but didn’t really like:

 

 

 

EASTERN PROMISES; NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN; SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (I know, I know, it’s on my list of runners-up, but that’s because I cannot deny the beauty of its vision even as I was put off by its heartlessness, and because nothing could destroy the magnificence of the Stephen Sondheim score).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I liked but didn’t admire: 

 

 

 

ONCE; WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY; ROCKET SCIENCE; HAIRSPRAY (I am in total agreement with John Topping's comment about this one).

 

 

 

 

 

 

An essential film for religious homophobes: 

 

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO

 

 

 

 

 

 

A film that would have been more interesting if its homosexual subtext had been explored: 

JOSHUA

 

 

 

 

 

 

A word about JUNO:  

 

The ALL ABOUT EVE of teen-age comedies - its screenplay so damned smart and clever, and its star, Ellen Page, so sassy and so much what every adult thinks a perfect teen-ager would be if such a thing exists - and yet I didn’t believe a single word of it; not one hilariously funny word of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I hated but which seemed to gain the respect of almost everybody else:

 

 

 

ATONEMENT (perhaps I liked the novel too much to put up with all that self-conscious imagery that passes for lyricism, but at least it’s getting people to read the book); BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (a tragedy based on a comic premise? Novel, I suppose, but I, for one, hated every moment spent with these loathsome characters); STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING (Frank Langella may be so subdued that it probably stuns those who think of Langella as our premier scenery-chewer, but it’s impossible to believe that the kind of Upper West Side novelist he is portraying would be so tiresomely humorless); THE HOST (A monster movie with delusions of grandeur).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The performances I liked the most in a year of many superb performances:

 

Daniel Day-Lewis (THERE WILL BE BLOOD); Adam Sandler (REIGN OVER ME); Mark Ruffalo (ZODIAC); Gordon Pinsent (AWAY FROM HER); Ulrich Muhe (THE LIVES OF OTHERS); Emile Hirsch (INTO THE WILD); Terrence Howard (THE BRAVE ONE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hal Holbrook (INTO THE WILD); Philip Bosco (THE SAVAGES); Robert Downey Jr. (ZODIAC); Paul Dano (THERE WILL BE BLOOD); Dillon Freasier (THERE WILL BE BLOOD); Timothy Spall (SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET); Christpher Mintz-Plasse (SUPERBAD); Marcus Carl Franklin (I’M NOT THERE); Ben Foster (3:10 TO YUMA); Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN);

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Christie (AWAY FROM HER); Laura Linney (THE SAVAGES); Jodie Foster (THE BRAVE ONE); Marion Cotillard (LA VIE EN ROSE); Kate Winslet (ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vanessa Redgrave (ATONEMENT); Elaine Stritch (ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES); Marcia Gay Harden (THE MIST); Catherine Keener (INTO THE WILD); Margo Martindale (PARIS JE T’AIME); Saoirse Ronan (ATONEMENT); Cate Blanchett (I’M NOT THERE); Leslie Mann (KNOCKED UP); Marie-Josee Croze (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY).

 

 

 

Now, let’s look forward to this year.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 

click here to see Kevin Bowen's list

 

click here to see John Topping's list

 

 
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