Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Fifties: A 2007 Progress Report

Just like last year, I have waited till I clocked 50 U.S. theatrical releases from this calendar year before I started thinking about the best of what I've seen. Granted, it's taken almost three weeks longer to see 50 movies from 2007 than it did in 2006, largely because most movies that opened this summer were sequels to franchises I already didn't like (Spider-Man, Rush Hour, Pirates of the Caribbean, and with apologies to the terrific second movie, Shrek). The other movies appeared to have Dane Cook in them, and I still don't understand who that is, or they had insupportable titles like Blood and Chocolate or Catch and Release, or they implied that it's easier to get legal benefits if you're gay, or they were about teenagers on stakeouts, or they were patently disgusting, or they were about being stupid. And none of them cast a legendary actress in a lead, except for Because I Said So, which had an insupportable title. From what I did see, some of which was still about being stupid (see: Alpha Dog, The Valet), and some of which were still sequels to franchises I dislike (Harry Potter), here are some achievements on which I'll look back fondly as we head into the fall, which I imagine to be three solid months of uninterrupted and Dane Cook-less masterpieces, full of well-rounded characters attaining legal and health-related benefits through marginally credible channels.

N.B. Between you and me, these aren't the Fifties so much as the Fifty-Two's. I finally caught 2 Days in Paris and Becoming Jane, so if we squeeze 'em in, the Fifties serve as my referendum on the winter, spring, and summer seasons. I've also caught two early-bird fall entries, The Brave One and The Bubble, but I'm not counting them in the categories below. 'Course we may as well, since they'd barely figure anyway.

Day Night Day Night - Arresting in unexpected ways; surprising notes throughout
Deep Water - Incisive doc with narrative thrills and philosophical ambitions
Jindabyne - Fine-grained psychology + expressive technique + cultural commentary
Once - The miniaturist pleasure everyone describes, lovingly crafted
Zoo - Smartly shaped as a time capsule and a strange poem to the unknowable

Andrea Arnold, Red Road - Brilliant with light, sound, and performance
John Carney, Once - Shrewd judgment about what to leave out, where to linger
Robinson Devor, Zoo - Shaping up as a true indie wonder, albeit a weird one
Ray Lawrence, Jindabyne - Novelistic in insight, but totally filmic execution
Julia Loktev, Day Night Day Night - Bold and concise with her unexpected vision

Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray - Invigorating and game, with unflagging cheer and gusto
Julie Christie, Away from Her - Smiles as she disappears, keeping her secrets
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en rose - You say potato, I say brilliant and deeply felt
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart - Impressive portrait of love and intelligence
Laura Linney, Jindabyne - Subtly nasty, humiliated, weary, entirely plausible

Gabriel Byrne, Jindabyne - For once, his dour visage allows eloquent shadings
Don Cheadle, Talk to Me - Vocally adept, brilliant at comedy but still sincere
Shia LaBeouf, Transformers - Humanizes and enlivens this film for a long while
Ulrich Mühe, The Lives of Others - Artful reticence, complicated stillness
Gordon Pinsent, Away from Her - Bravely unsympathetic, tiny evolutions

Deborra-Lee Furness, Jindabyne - Handles huge emotional shifts very deftly
Sidse Babett Knudsen, After the Wedding - Credible, flexible, hearty, enigmatic
Leslie Mann, Knocked Up - A comic archetype becomes a surprising personality
Vicky McClure, This Is England - Goes deeper and warmer than her Goth exterior
Julia Stiles, The Bourne Ultimatum - "It was difficult for me. With you."

Martin Compston, Red Road - The most memorable character in a shady gallery
John Cothran, Black Snake Moan - A minister who isn't lofty or simplistic
John Carroll Lynch, Zodiac - Tightroping: has to tip his hand but still keep us guessing
Denis O'Hare, A Mighty Heart - A selfish person who doesn't see his foibles
Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn - Haunted and desperate without false affectations

Deep Water - Artful arranging of superb materials and a great story
The King of Kong - Tense and colorful, cheap but creatively inspired
No End in Sight - Redraws the Iraq War as a drama of disenfranchisement
An Unreasonable Man - Various, evocative points of view on a divisive figure
Zoo - The I'm Not There of doc's, turning curiosity back on ourselves

2 Days in Paris - Terrific comic battering average, plus real feeling
Black Snake Moan - Works daringly and devilishly with exaggerated archetypes
Deep Water - Gorgeous balance of a specific tale and its wider contexts
Once - A keenly observed core, with light, revealing accents
Red Road - Enticingly suppressed motives find unpredictable releases

Away from Her - Comfortable with connotation and quiet observation
The Bourne Ultimatum - Gimmicky and imperfectly directed, but great structural loops
Jindabyne - An ingenious, culturally acute reimagining of Carver
A Mighty Heart - Draws a tough, fractalized map of a desperate search
Zodiac - Bravely messy in its chronicle of petered-out obsession

Jindabyne - Suggestive framings on a wide canvas, bold overexposures
Ocean's Thirteen - Unrelated to the plot, but zesty and luminescent all the same
Red Road - Glowering colors, fascinating shadows and depths of field
Sunshine - Brilliant eye on the future, kind to actors and sets
La Vie en rose - Expert handhelds dial emotional intensity up and down

Day Night Day Night - Equally adept with time lags and accelerated crises
Grindhouse - Flashy but taut and evocative work in two divergent styles
Jindabyne - Compresses a huge, rich story into a dense but fluid experience
Once - Cuts banish sentiment while emphasizing emotion
Zoo - Kaleidoscopic, interblending the factual with the poetic and speculative

Grindhouse - The usual bath of kitschy music and sharp, funny foley work
Hairspray - Musicals feel inevitable here, but this one's bright and bouncy
Hot Fuzz - All the best jokes are sonic; hilariously overdone
Once - The thrill of live performance, doting but measured
Talk to Me - Fresh musical choices; evokes a whole, lost culture of public sound

300 - An end in itself, but more arresting than Sin City
Bug - Unnerving throughout, with a second-act coup de theatre
Grindhouse - For the delirious Planet Terror: in-jokes everyone can enjoy
Hairspray - Dreamy pastels, plus a witty mix of the tacky and the joyous
Sunshine - A spaceship that's also a planet that's also a mental landscape

2 Days in Paris - Odd, evocative instrumentations cover a lot of tonal bases
Deep Water - Impressively vivid for a doc, without ostentation
Grindhouse - Again, all Planet Terror, jokey but electrifying

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Blogger tim r said...

I'm so glad you liked Deep Water so much! It's a cracking film, and I wasn't sure if it had even come out in the States.

I may have to do this too now...

8:09 AM, September 14, 2007  
Blogger John T said...

I love seeing John Carroll Lynch listed here. That interrogation scene in Zodiac was one of the creepiest I've seen onscreen in years.

Though I have to disagree about Marion Cotillard. That performance seemed so disjointed to me, and a bit one-note (how ironic). I spent the first half of the film wanting desperately to love the movie, and the second half praying Cotillard would just stick to lip-synching.

8:39 AM, September 14, 2007  
Blogger Michael Taylor said...

Thanks for the props (co-editor of Day Night Day Night). By the way, the DVD is available next month with commentary for Julia Loktev.

4:30 PM, September 14, 2007  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

Cotillard. why u wanna hurt me? ;)
i did say potato i suppose.

i love reading this list but it fills me with abject terror about picking five things in each category when the year is done.

7:30 PM, September 14, 2007  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

It fills me with glee to see such love for Jindabyne. You surely know how much I loved it. And not just the love for the film and Linney, but also for Furness and the cinematography and editing. It really was an ADAPTATION in the best sense. Taking the best bits from the written form and turning them into a cinematic version.

2:52 AM, September 16, 2007  
Blogger RC said...

congrats on seeing 50 alrady this year...i'm nowhere close...

with my limited 2007 viewing my best pic of 2007 progress report would be very sad (including ratatoille, hot fuzz, zodiac, hairspray, & away from her)...

i've missed a few of the good ones, but i'm also missed a lot of the blah ones to...

here's to the next three months -- hooray!

10:16 PM, September 19, 2007  

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