DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE BEST OF 2007

Friday 4 January 2008


The Daily Film Dose Best of 2007

It was a great year for many reasons. First, the launch of Daily Film Dose, which has grown substantially since my inaugural posting on Feb 3rd. Since then there have been 342 postings in 342 days (322 reviews, 20 feature commentaries).

As for the films of the year, it’s been the best, arguably since the grand year of 1999. Of the critical favourites that we’ve seen on other top ten lists lately I didn’t get a chance to see Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”. Other than that I’ve seen most of the big unanimous favourites. Here’s my top ten of the year, plus a few other fun notes:

1. Control (dir. Anton Corbijn)

Sam Riley plays the tragic life and death of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis with complete authenticity. So much so in fact, he sang his own songs in the film and his on-screen band played and recorded their own versions of the songs. Corbijn’s pristine black and white images evoke the despair of working class Manchester and the depression which drove Curtis to suicide. Corbijn, Riley and his co-star/bandmates make the music pop out of the screen like few rock films before it.

2. There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

As grand and epic as both “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights”, “There Will Be Blood” does what PT does best, aspiring for greatness, telling big stories about big ideas, big successes, and big failures. Though different in time and place, “Blood” fits into the challenging and edge-pushing cinema boundaries we want him to do every time he gets behind the camera.

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (dir. Julian Schnabel)

This brilliant film mixes the art house filmmaking of Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”, “Basquiat”) with the highest quality of Hollywood storytelling. Steven Spielberg’s #1 producer, Kathleen Kennedy, produces this inspiring triumph of the human spirit tale of French fashion editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers a brain aneurysm and is rendered completely paralyzed. With the use of one blinking eye Bauby manages to put his life story into a best selling novel. You have to see it to believe it.

4. Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn)

The story of Christopher McCandliss who eschewed his secure middle class life and literally discarded all his possessions and disappeared into the wild is a flawlessly adaptation. Two and half hours never went by so fast. It’s a riveting and ultimately tragic story anchored by one of the year’s best performances, Emile Hirsch.

5. Away From Her (dir. Sarah Polley)

The short synopsis couldn’t be less appealing – the story of an elderly man dealing with his wife’s Alzheimer’s. Though I have no connection to this tragic disease and the lead characters were over twice my age, the film is intimately compelling from the first scene to the last. It’s the quietest moments that ring the loudest in this film. Sarah Polley exercises remarkable poise for a young director with subtle yet strong directorial choices.

6. No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)

I had problems with the final act, but the Coens wanted to stay frustratingly accurate to Cormac McCarthy’s book. With seemingly little effort the film stays a hair’s breath close to the material yet retaining that Coens-esque tone which makes the film their own. Despite some leaps to thematic conclusion the film is essentially one long chase and a triumph of sustained terror and suspense.

7. Planet Terror (dir. Robert Rodriguez)

The theatrical Grindhouse experience which included the hilarious fake trailers in between Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s B-Movie double bill was perhaps too esoteric for lay-audiences, but I was caught hook, line and sinker. Tarantino’s self-conscious dialogue-heavy film was a let down, but Robert Rodriguez’ blood-splattering contribution, even after a couple of viewings, brought so much joy and happiness to me I had to show some respect by including it in this list. It’s a b-movie extraordinaire, but Rodriguez infuses so much life and energy into his ridiculous story.

8. Once (dir. John Carney)
The indie film that could for 2007. Shot for under $150,000, "Once" is one of those cinema miracles that comes about every five years or so. The fantastic songs which express the emotions of the characters make “Sweeney Todd” look antiquated and out of date.

9. Juno (dir. Jason Reitman)

Jason Reitman had the easiest job on set. First he had Diablo Cody’s near perfect screenplay whose dialogue bristles with brilliant one-liners and quirky-geek-cuteness. Second, he cast some of the finest comic character actors to read the dialogue (Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, Rainn Wilson, Michael Cera, Alison Janney). And third, he has Ellen Page as the lead. She was still a relative unknown, but one glance at her performance in “Hard Candy” and you know she is the real deal. Reitman could have phoned this one in.

10. Eastern Promises (dir. David Cronenberg)

Viggo Mortensen’s commanding performance as Nikolai, the Russian gangster, is one of those Brando-esque performances, full of nuanced actor’s mannerisms and subtext. David Cronenberg has a few moments of his own as well including, hands down, the most gruesome throat slashing ever filmed. Despite the brooding material the film isn’t without its humorous moments. Cronenberg and writer Steven Wright keep it simple. Save the epic filmmaking for Ridley Scott or Martin Scorsese, “Eastern Promises” never gets too big for its britches.

Ten films is never enough for a Best of List. So I always include my second top ten 11-20:

11. The Bourne Ultimatum (dir. Paul Greengrass) Bourne is relentlessly pursued by the latest surveillance techniques in New York as well by the nastiest and toughest villains he’s had to face so far. Buckle your seat belts, the picture moves fast, really fast.

12. Zodiac (dir. David Fincher) – A slow-burning procedural epic

13. The Hoax (dir. Lasse Hallstrom) – A highly entertaining under-the-radar film which gets betters as it goes along

14. Paris Je T’Aime (dir. Various) – 18 short films – 2 of the them bad, the rest, a mixture of good and great – more than enough to make it a whimsical journey through one of the great cities in the world.

15. A Mighty Heart (dir. Michael Winterbottom) – The tragic death of Daniel Pearl is made exciting and engrossing by Angelina Jolie and the docu-style filmmaking of Michael Winterbottom.

16. American Gangster (dir. Ridley Scott) – The complete opposite of “Eastern Promises” – a big sprawling decades-spanning tale of gangs, drugs, cops, politics and economics.

17. In the Valley of Elah (dir. Paul Haggis) – Gotta be in the right mood for this. “Elah” is dark and moody – a story of the despair of small town America coming to grips with repercussions of the Iraq War on the home front.

18. This Is England (dir. Shane Meadows) – A rough and tumble romp through the racist hooliganism of northern England in the 80’s.

19. Knocked Up (dir. Judd Apatow) – A perfectly executed sitcom feature film. Seth Rogan’s jovial best friend slacker character finally gets the star treatment.

20. Sunshine (dir. Danny Boyle) – It’s not perfect, and the third act becomes an unnecessary monster movie, but no other film on this list got better on second viewing. It’s meditative cinema at its best.

Critically Lauded Films that I Just Didn’t Get (though I hope to someday):

I’m Not There (dir. Todd Haynes) – What’s been called a masterpiece by virtually every critic out there was a complete mystery to me. Though the ideas were profound, the execution of them wasn’t.

Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy) – A slow burner with apparently a lot of subtext which was too subtle for me to penetrate.

Sweeney Todd (dir. Tim Burton) – Actors adequately singing their dialogue just lightens for me what should have been dark, really dark.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (dir. Sidney Lumet) – A ridiculously manipulative and overwrought melodrama consciously trying to shock us with it’s faux Shakespearan excesses.

Great Films Failed by the Third Act:

Bug (dir. William Friedkin) – The 72 year old director of “The Exorcist” could have made the comeback of a lifetime if were not for the third act which turns a fascinating three-hander character study into a predictable and nasty horror film.

Gone Baby Gone (dir. Ben Affleck) – Affleck was coasting toward having one of the best films of the year until he undercut all the great characters he created in the first two acts. The third turns into ridiculous whodunit television with an ethical conundrum which is a no-brainer.

The best action sequences to fast forward to, or rewind and watch again:

Spartan bloodletting in 300 (dir. Zach Snyder) – There‘s a single unedited shot where a pair of Spartans hack to death a dozen Persians with slow-fast uncompromising limb hacking beauty.

Robots battle robots in Transformers (dir. Michael Bay) – Few directors can blow things up better than Michael Bay. In the final action climax Bay’s robots and a few little army men destroy downtown L.A. real good.

Tangier chase in The Bourne Ultimatum (dir. Paul Greengrass) – Midway through the film, which is essentially one long chase scene anyway – Bourne chases down a hitman who’s targeted the lovely Julia Stiles. Bourne’s relentless rooftop pursuit and brutal hand to hand fight with the thug is violent and disturbing. Bourne beats the guy down with a book for god sakes!

Zombie splattering in Planet Terror (dir. Robert Rodriguez) – Just after the main characters are finally united against the flesh-eating zombies they hitch a ride on El Wray’s pick up truck for a little game of “hogs of the road” – one-by-one the truck smashes every zombie in their way. Their bodies explode into pieces like a bloody juicyfruit commercial.

Deer hunting in I Am Legend (dir. Francis Lawrence) – The opening sequence is perhaps the best action scene of the year. With Manhattan desolate and grown over with weeds the last man on earth, Will Smith, emerges in a sportscar and chases a herd of deer through the city streets. Heart pounding excitement at its best.

Fuck you terrorists! in The Kingdom (dir. Peter Berg) – For two thirds “The Kingdom” attempts to tell an investigative military whodunit with intellectual historical context and political intrigue. Peter Berg discards everything for one intense mind-blowing action finale. By the end you’ll have forgotten what the film was about.

Documentaries of the Year (note: I didn’t get to see a lot of the high profile ones, but here’s my favourites):

In the Shadow of the Moon (dir. David Sington): I can’t believe we actually take for granted the fact that man has gone to the moon (and 38 years ago). The stock footage looks better than any special effects ever made… because it’s real!

The Trials of Darryl Hunt (Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern): A tragic case of a man misidentified as a rapist/murderer because of the colour of his skin and forced to serve over 20 years in prison as an innocent man. A frightening story.

Sicko (dir. Michael Moore) – Moore effectively makes a case for public medicine in the United States by comparing the seemingly corrupt private system against the equitable public systems around the world.

Best Male Performances of the Year

Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises
Sam Riley in Control
Emile Hirsh in Into the Wild
Gordon Pinsent in Away From Her
Will Smith in I Am Legend

Best Male Supporting Performances of the Year

Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma
Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild
Christopher Mintz-Plasse in Superbad
Harry Connick Jr. in Bug

Best Female Performances of the Year

Ellen Page in Juno
Julie Christie in Away From Her
Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray
Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart
Samantha Morton in Control
Laure Linney in The Savages

Best Female Supporting Performances of the Year

Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There
Vera Farmiga in Joshua
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton
Vanessa Ferlito in Death Proof

I hate to do Worst Movies of the Year, so I just have two to single out:

Hotel Chevalier – The short by Wes Anderson which accompanied “The Darjeeling Limited” was a tedious exercise in nothing.

The 11th Hour – A lot of good intentions went into this sub-sub-par nail-hitting documentary – watch BBC’s “Planet Earth” instead.

Thanks for reading Daily Film Dose - Please keep reading for a new film everyday plus fun new feature topics up for disussion.

Happy New Year!


Reel Fanatic said...

Great list, and I'm definitely with you on "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" .. Mr. Lumet has made much better flicks, but he was clearly just coasting here

Anonymous said...

Very astute young man, BUT where the f**k is Daniel Day-Lewis for best male lead! I was sitting right next to you when you saw it! I forgive you for dropping the ball.

Alan Bacchus said...

Daniel Day-Lewis was good. But thinking it over since I saw the film the less impressed i was. He's essentially doing Bill the Butcher again. It's less of an achievement compared to those other roles. Oh well. Indeed he should be there.

Anonymous said...

Alan, did you see "La Vie En Rose"? I notice you don't have Marion Cotillard on your list for Best Female Performances of the Year, and although I'm no expert on French singers or foreign film, I thought she was damn good in that movie. Watched "Superbad" last night and loved it. Looking forward to seeing "There Will Be Blood" and as always, checking most of the other movies on your top "10" list. What about "Atonement"? I thought that one was getting some good praise. It's nowhere on your list or even in your Oscar nominee hopefuls section. Liked "3:10 to Yuma" too.