Sunday, December 06, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2007 edition

Before I get into any of that, it seems there may actually be a good baseball movie in the works, an increasing rarity that's certainly reason to rejoice.

Michael Lewis' "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" has already had more than a bit of a tortured past. Steven Soderbergh had been attached to direct the story of how Billy Beane turned the Oakland As into a contender on a tight budget, with Brad Pitt set to play Beane, but the plug was pulled on that by Columbia just five days before production was set to begin.

Now, however, director Bennett Miller, who has already appeared on this 10-day extravaganza of my opinions with "Capote," easily one of the best movies of 2005, has been hired to revive the project, with a new script from Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Pitt will still play Mr. Beane, and I love baseball movies so much that this bit of news already has me rather giddy.

But getting back to 2007, the vagaries of time and space have joined forces to engineer an upset of sorts. I've been extolling the virtues of "Ratatouille" for many years now - as if it actually needs my help - but it's been knocked from the top spot by a more serious contender. Read more below to find out what it is.

All in all, 2007 was a really good year for movies - so good in fact that I've cheated a bit this time and let the list go to eleven (as everything really should) to accommodate a movie that was actually made in 1977. And here, just in case it jogs anyone's memory and give you some rental suggestions, is the rather long list of honorable mention movies: "The Lives of Others", "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls", "Breach", "Starter for 10", "300", "The Namesake", "The Host", "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", "The Lookout", "The TV Set", "Grindhouse", "Waitress", "Eastern Promises", "Michael Clayton", "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", "The Kingdom", "King of Kong", "Talk to Me", "Control", "Away from Her", "Gone Baby Gone", "Knocked Up", "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", "Shoot 'Em Up", "Across the Universe", "American Gangster", "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten", "Margot at the Wedding", "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Juno", "Atonement","Sweeney Todd", "Charlie Wilson's War", "There Will Be Blood", "Walk Hard" and "The Orphanage."

Wow. I wouldn't blame anyone for giving up now, but we're just getting started. Here, without any further delaying (in dishonor of Dick Cheney, I've decided to never use the word "dither" again) from me, here are my top 11 favorite movies of 2007, and as usual, please feel free to add any you think I may have snubbed.

Most of the complaints I've heard about David Fincher's best movie are what I think actually make it work so well. He does indeed take his time telling the story of the Zodiac killer, and more specifically about two men, a cartoonist and a reporter, who became obsessed with the still unsolved case. Obsession is in fact what this tale is really about, and it's sold perfectly by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.

"Killer of Sheep"
This nearly flawless little movie by Charles Burnett is the entry from 1977 that got its first real theatrical release in 2007. Made as Burnett's thesis film while he was a student at UCLA, it tells the story of a slaughterhouse worker and his family, and how they struggle to get by in Watts living ever so slightly above the poverty line. It's a vivid portrait of American life, and well worth renting on DVD if you've never seen it (I had to check the Netflix to make sure it had ever gotten a DVD release, which it has.)

"Rocket Science"
Speaking of obsession, anyone who's been here before (and there are apparently a few of you) knows I talk about this autobiographical romantic comedy of sorts from director Jeffrey Blitz quite a bit. It's actually a truly terrible title, but this often painfully charming portrait of a teen stutterer who somehow ends up joining the debate team and having his heart ripped out by his debating partner captures the hell that often is high school. It's made a star of Anna Kendrick, who's already garnered some best supporting actress awards for this year's "Up in the Air," and really should have with Reece Thompson, who plays our hero here.

I really don't think you can re-create the magic that flowed through this Irish romance from director John Carney, but stars Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard have tried anyway, musically at least, reuniting this year to record a CD as the Swell Season. It's a beautiful record, but be warned: It's all about heartbreak, which has never sounded lovelier. Carney's movie is a musical love story that tells its tale with hardly any budget at all but plenty of humor and heart. I love this movie more than any words from me can really express.

"No Country for Old Men"
Even the Best Picture Oscar for this bleak Western of sorts wasn't enough to get the Coens' latest, "A Serious Man," distribution wide enough to reach my little corner of the world, so I have yet to see it even as it garners plenty of end-of-year kudos. Though "No Country for Old Men" isn't my favorite Coens' work (a tie between "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother Where Art Thou"), they definitely put their unique stamp on Cormac McCarthy's tale of drugs, money and death in West Texas. Calling it a meditation on violence would be accurate but really understates just how entertaining and darkly witty it is, and in a cast full of macho bravado, Scot Kelly Macdonald certainly deserves more credit than she got for her work as Carla Jean.

Juvenile as it may be, I'll make no apologies for including this Greg Mottola movie, because it was the most fun I had watching a movie in 2007, and really, what more can you ask for? The dual stories of two teenagers (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) who just want to get laid and two truly amateur cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) who often act more foolishly than the kids unfold at a brisk "After Hours" pace, and it's just funny from start to finish (and, puerile as it was, I don't think I laughed harder at anything all year than Hill's diatribe about his "ghostbusters lunch box dick treasure chest.")

"I'm Not There"
Todd Haynes' extremely nonlinear bio pic of sorts about Bob Dylan uses six (I think, it has been a while since I've seen this one) different actors, ranging from a young black child (Marcus Carl Franklin) to Cate Blanchett, to play Dylan, but never quite gets to a full portrait of the enigmatic poet. Fittingly, he instead made the movie a kaleidoscopic series of vignettes that add up to a hazy dream that's a joy to behold until it falls off the rails at the end when Richard Gere tries to play Billy the Kid. The best and most tender scenes are shared by the late Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

"The Savages"
A quick check of the IMDB revealed that director Tamara Jenkins doesn't have any projects listed after this flick, which is a shame, because "The Savages" is a real winner. Laura Linney, a definite Reel Fanatic favorite, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as the titular "Savages," two brilliant but self-absorbed siblings who finally have to face up to familial responsibility to care for their ailing father, who neither of them have spoken to for 20 years or so. Both are at their best here, and it just perfectly captures this awkward situation which all of us will eventually have to deal with.

I recommended this one for a Macon Film Guild screening, and though they took me up on it, I don't think it was a very big hit, unfortunately. Directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi bring Satrapi's graphic novel about her life growing up in Iran and Europe to colorful life on the big screen despite animating it most often only in stark black and white. It's a poignant coming of age story packed with plenty of humor as precocious Marji grows into a woman who struggles to feel at home in either the strict world of Tehran or morally looser Vienna, and is just thoroughly entertaining.

Up until about six months ago or so, Brad Bird's best animated movie (by just a nose over "The Iron Giant") reigned as my favorite movie of 2007, and it still holds a lofty position in my heart. In glorious 2-D, which is the only way I ever want to watch animated movies, Paris looks as gorgeous as it would had this been made by Hayao Miyazaki as we meet Remy, the rat who just wants to be a chef. It can be more than a little unsettling as he and his fellow rats take over the kitchen at Gusteau's, but this movie is packed with something sorely missing from almost every animated movie I see nowadays (and I see quite a few): wonder. And besides, it contains easily my favorite scene of 2007 as critic Anton Ego's steely culinary heart is finally melted by Remy's simple dish of ratatouille. Priceless.

"Into the Wild"
My appreciation for this Sean Penn (if you wanna hate, please, keep it to yourself) movie only grew after I went back and read Jon Krakauer's book about doomed American dreamer Christopher McCandless. Comparing the two just reinforces how well Penn condensed the sprawling tale of how McCandless abandoned his promising future after graduating from Emory University to embrace a more than slightly less than traditional lifestyle. If you don't know how this story ends, you won't hear it from me, but Penn treats both McCandless and his suffering parents with respect, keeping this apolitical and just turning it into a great American road movie. In a flick packed with great performances, Emile Hirsch as McCandless and Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener in supporting roles as people he meets in his travels all deserved to be not just Oscar nominees, but winners. And, in case you couldn't tell, this one has lingered in my mind as my favorite movie of 2007.

So, there you have it. As I said, please feel free to add any of your favorites. I'll leave you with a real oddity. I saw the original "Death at a Funeral," and found it to be an amusing enough diversion. When I heard there was going to be an American remake, I just shrugged it off as something to ignore, but it actually looks mildly intriguing. Somehow directed by Neil Labute, it now features a mostly black cast led by Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, and the trailer is below. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.


The Mad Hatter said...

Holy hell...that was a pretty kick-ass year, wasn't it??

Count me as another who loves INTO THE WILD, but admittedly my love for it waned a tad when I discovered how avaoidable McCandless' fate actually was.

As for RATATOUILLE - Yes! I don't think this Pixar offering gets nearly enough credit, but for me it offers up the best explanation of what it takes to be creative: Really, it all comes down to passion.

I think I'll need to rewatch it tonight.

Not much difference from yours to mine, but why screw with tradition now?...

Reel Fanatic said...

That part of the story didn't bother me, Mad Hatter, because it just made McCandless both a more foolish but also more complex character, all at the same time

Anonymous said...

So many good movies came out in 2007, that I have to commend you for narrowing your picks to 10. I really dug Zodiac as well, and it has the vibe of a 1970s thriller.

dbackdad said...

Great list. I've commented on it here before, but Into the Wild was my favorite movie of that year. It's simply beautiful. I don't think there is a false note in it. It's easily Penn's best directing job. Holbrook should have won an Oscar in an absolutely heartbreaking performance.

I would have put There Will be Blood in my top 10. It's my 2nd favorite movie of that year and a stunning performance by Lewis.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm with you on the acting in "There Will be Blood," dbackdad, and I'd say Dano was just about as good as Lewis ... While I'd never call it anything approaching a bad movie, I couldn't bring myself to list it here because I just never feal the story was as epic as Anderson built it up to be

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movies said...

Great to see your best movie list for the year 2007. All the films are looking to be superb..Lemme make a plan..I will surely complete all film in my coming holidays :)