2007 — The Year in Review

 

THE BEST

1. Once: Produced for less than $200,000, this miniature gem of a movie is an achingly beautiful marriage of soaring music and potent chemistry. The story is as simple as stories can be. Boy, in the form of an Irish busker, meets girl, in the form of a Czech pianist, and their connection inspires each other to take the next step in their lives. The result is the kind of heartbreaking, emotionally explosive magic that only the very best movies can muster.

2. There Will Be Blood: Despite taking place entirely in the deserts of early 20th century California, Paul Thomas Anderson's big, bruising epic about oil and greed might as well have been shot on Mars, it is so singular a picture. Anderson has crafted a magnificent film that occasionally borders on lunacy, before diving right off the deep end in its crazed conclusion. Choosing to focus obsessively on his protagonist (if you can call him that), Anderson allows his lead actor to do the heavy lifting. Daniel Day-Lewis more than rises to the challenge, giving what can only be described as one of the very best performances I have ever seen. His transformation into Daniel Plainview, who devolves from ambitious man to vicious beast over the course of three decades, is uncannily believable. Watching Day-Lewis feel out every crevice of the character is one of the most spectacular experiences a movie lover could ask for.

3. No Country for Old Men: After a pair of misfires (Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers), the Coen brothers return to glorious form with one of their most memorable and mature works to date. This time around, they amalgamate the thriller and western genres and create a beautiful and harrowing mixture of themes. The setup is rooted in basic thriller territory: When small-town cowboy Llewellyn Moss stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, he walks off with a satchel full of money, inciting the wrath of the money's rightful owners, who send unstoppable assassin Anton Chigurh after him. We've seen this kind of tale told countless times before, but never like this. Silence is deployed as a narrative weapon, making us feel the impact of every shotgun blast, every footstep, every exhaled breath. Many people have attempted to dissect the meaning of this film (and, specifically, its ponderous ending) and the beauty is that the Coens have left so much open to personal interpretation. For me, the movie's message is encapsulated in a single line uttered late in the movie: "You can't stop what's coming." And what's coming is scary as hell.

4. Knocked Up: Comedy mastermind Judd Apatow follows up his first feature (the delightful The 40-Year-Old Virgin) with the story of a lazy stoner named Ben who impregnates a career-minded woman named Alison after a wild one-night stand. That setup easily allows for a large collection of obvious gags, as the unlikely couple grapple with the challenges of parenthood, while their lives head in polar opposite directions. Many filmmakers would settle for the easy and the obvious and look no further, but Apatow digs deep and crafts a witty, relatable commentary on gender differences. Leads Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl bring Ben and Allison to life so effortlessly that they transcend the basic stereotypes that otherwise would have defined the characters. The entire cast hits each comedic beat with precision and Apatow emerges as the most reliable voice in comedy cinema today.

5. Superbad: Rarely has the strange world of high school been portrayed with such honesty and hilarity as it is in this sweet-and-vulgar comedy about two geeky best friends who embark on one last adventure before school ends. The plan is to somehow provide the alcohol for a massive year-end party and hopefully impress the girls they have crushes on, with an aim towards losing their virginity before the night is over. Of course, things go horribly awry and the boys have to come to terms with the fact that their lives are about to change. Most movies that tackle this subject matter are either completely obnoxious or dripping with treacle. Incredibly, Superbad manages to avoid such pitfalls, instead providing believable and lovable characters that are worth rooting for. This is a smart story that understands that such juvenile adventures are only memorable and meaningful when they have heart.

6. Grindhouse: The slime and grime of 70s exploitation flicks returns to the screen in all its scratchy, gory glory with this lovingly packaged double feature born from the twisted imaginations of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. This was one of the most unique experiences I had at the cinema this year: two feature-length films, played back-to-back, with a quartet of fake trailers serving as the adhesive holding the two together. Robert Rodriquez starts things off with Planet Terror, a deliciously demented zombie apocalypse tale, featuring a standout performance from Rose McGowan and some of the most stomach-churning gore effects I've seen in years. The movie is a fun and campy ride that respectfully spoofs the zombie genre, without smugly insulting it. As if that weren't enough, Tarantino closes out the show with Death Proof, a brilliant spin on the slasher genre (the villain kills his victims with his car, instead of a handheld weapon). The movie lulls us into a false sense of security with its dialogue-laden approach, before blindsiding us with a shockingly visceral car chase that will leave you breathless.

7. Sharkwater: This little-seen documentary about a shark fanatic who wants to dispel the notion that sharks are evil, murderous creatures is a richly engrossing study of courage and determination. Rob Stewart (who wrote, directed, photographed, edited, and produced the movie) may sound like a complete wacko on paper, but as depicted here, he is an intelligent, articulate adventurer whose passion for sharks is instantly infectious. Featuring some of the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring underwater footage I have ever seen, Sharkwater is an incredible story of one man's journey to shatter a myth and save an ancient being long since deemed a monster.

8. No End in Sight: The war in Iraq was an unavoidable subject in 2007 and this fascinating documentary offers clarity to a very muddled mess. Writer/director Charles Ferguson wisely focuses on the cold, hard facts as he reveals, in painstaking detail, how poorly planned the entire invasion was and how the restoration of Iraq was always an afterthought. No End in Sight cuts to the heart of the issue with a dizzying collection of relevant interviews and gripping footage showing life in Iraq on the ground level. There is nothing heavy-handed and overtly biased about this film's approach. Instead, Ferguson has delivered a sombre examination of what went wrong and why, in a powerful attempt to make sense of this seemingly endless war.

9. Margot at the Wedding: A devastating, yet oddly optimistic, look at family dysfunction, featuring multi-layered performances from Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jack Black. Hilarious one moment and heartbreaking the next, this is a smart, nuanced story of how one woman turns her sister's weekend wedding into a complete disaster. Margot is one of Kidman's most fascinating characters to date.

10. Atonement: A sumptuous visual feast, Atonement is a richly conceived tale about the power of imagination and the consequences of abusing that power. Director Joe Wright navigates the narrative tangles with precision and grace, as his talented cast offer powerful, controlled performances. This is an invigorating, moving picture that succeeds in transforming the old-fashioned romantic epic into a wrenching meditation on youthful naivety, ongoing class struggles, and a storyteller's commitment to their audience.

 

THE WORST:

1. Ocean's Thirteen: My disdain for this movie is as vast as my adoration for Once. While the latter inspires with its bare emotions and refreshing narrative, Ocean's Thirteen insults as it stumbles carelessly from scene to scene, cracking bad jokes in a lame attempt to mask the contrived plot. This franchise has never been about anything more than George Clooney and his buddies stupidly winking at the audience while goofing around, but this is ridiculous. Getting attacked by a rabid dog would be a more pleasant experience than watching this asinine drivel lazily attempt to entertain.

2. Ghost Rider: Since comic book-to-film adaptations were rescued from the abyss known as 1997's Batman & Robin (a movie so bad it single-handedly killed the superhero genre for a couple years) by such successful flicks as the modest Blade and the trilogy-launching X-Men, the genre has offered up the good (Spider-Man), the bad (Hulk), and the ugly (Elektra). But nothing could have prepared me for the brain-melting idiocy of this stinker, about a dopey daredevil (Nicolas Cage, featuring one of his lamest accents yet) who makes a pact with the devil that turns him into a soul-collecting dude with a flaming skull. But don't worry, he's still a good guy (insert eye-rolling here). The comic was aimed at slightly older readers who were looking for more hard-edged fare than the usual, more playful titles. The movie seems to be aimed at the deaf and blind.

3. I Know Who Killed Me: Lindsay Lohan was a tabloid punching bag in 2007 due to her sudden fall from grace, which sent the former teen star on a downward spiral that included multiple stints in rehab and arrests for drunk driving and cocaine possession. As if that weren't enough, she also starred in this trashy thriller as a student/stripper who vanishes one night, only to abruptly return, mutilated by her kidnapper, and claiming that she isn't who everyone thinks she is. The script isn't worthy of being printed on a vomit bag and Lindsay Lohan, once a promising young actress, gives a performance that would make even Paris Hilton cringe.

4. Blades of Glory: Will Ferrell and company mine the depths of professional figure skating and homophobia in search of cheap laughs in this disturbingly awful movie that is convinced that the image of two men with their crotches stuffed in each other's faces is downright hilarious. Ferrell is at his most obnoxious and Jon Heder (as Ferrell's competition-turned-partner) reminds us that his fifteen minutes of fame were over pretty much the moment the Napolean Dynamite credits rolled. There were a handful of dreadfully unfunny comedies released in 2007 (count Balls of Fury and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry among them), but none of them made me more angry than this piece of insulting garbage.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy ends with a long, drawn-out thud in this stinker of a sequel, which pits Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, recycling his tired shtick once more) and his rag-tag group of theme-park pirates against a villainous trading company bent on eradicating the pirate population so they alone can control the high seas. In the midst of it all, Orlando Bloom campaigns more furiously than ever for a Golden Raspberry Award (in case your mind is drawing a blank, the "Razzies," as they are affectionately called, award the worst achievements in cinema each year). Bloom is one of the most wooden actors working in movies today, and watching him awkwardly attempt to channel Errol Flynn is a new form of torture.