On Oscar Day, I always enjoy reflecting on my favorite films of the previous year, since I have little to no hope they’ll get Academy recognition. Indeed, the majority of them weren’t nominated for any of the major awards. But they’re worth your attention.
Michael Moore’s damning indictment of the US health care industry has come under fire for exaggerating the strengths of other nations’ medical care, including England, France, and Cuba. But I bet you won’t find a single British or French citizen who’d trade their system for ours. “Poignant” is a word that is often overused in regards to documentaries, but this film does a commendable job of mixing unpleasant facts with emotional, personal stories.
9. I’m Not There
Leave it to Todd Haynes to crossbreed a standard musical bio-pic with avant garde hipness. His latest film, I’m Not There, is half Walk the Line and half Eraserhead, telling the Bob Dylan story (or a reasonable facsimile of it) by constantly swapping six different actors in and out of the lead role over the course of the tale, and wreaking havoc with the Dylan timeline as well. It’s zany, creative, playful, and every bit as inscrutable as Dylan’s lyrics. You’ll either love or hate this movie. There ain’t no middle ground. And why the heck wasn’t this nominated for a Best Editing Oscar?
8. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
As a recovering Donkey Kong addict, I was utterly entranced with this fantastic documentary about two guys determined to kick each other’s asses in one of the greatest video games of all time. I found Steve Wiebe, a middle-school science teacher, very likeable, if a little unfocused with his priorities, but hot sauce king Billy Mitchell just gave me the creeps. But regardless of their personalities, these guys are Donkey Kong Artists. If you like classic video games, or portraits of obsession, or both, then go see this. NOW.
7. Gone Baby Gone
Tear down Ben Affleck if you must, but with this stunning directorial debut, Affleck (who also co-wrote the script) proves he’s a filmmaker with a real sense of vision, and not just a pretty boy. Every frame of this complex kidnapping story oozes with atmosphere; as in Good Will Hunting, Boston pops off the screen and emerges as a bona fide character, while Affleck is confident enough to cast actors who actually look like people, not movie stars. One of the best surprises of 2007, this powerful film is strongly recommend.
6. There Will Be Blood
Daniel Day-Lewis drank my milkshake. (The bastard!) Fortunately, he also gave one of the finest performance of this, or any, year in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant magnum opus. It’s an epic movie, filled with huge John Ford-like vistas, but never loses sight of its main protagonist: the oil tycoon who *must* have the whole world at his feet, lest he go mad with lust for it.
5. Black Snake Moan
A stunning exploration of pain and remorse, masquerading as a grade-B exploitation film. Samuel L. Jackson is a delta bluesman who has been hurt by a cheating wife. When he discovers the nymphomaniac Rae (Christina Ricci) beaten up and bloodied on the road outside his house, he considers it his religious duty to cure her of her affliction. It sounds cheesy, but this is a thoughtful, powerful little film, more concerned with character development than crass exploitation. With this film, Craig Brewer earns a spot on my “Directors to Watch” list. Jackson and Ricci are both phenomenal, and the soundtrack is like manna from heaven.
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
What a marvelous little film. I discussed this move in my last blog entry as well, but this triumphant tale of a man who suffers from “locked in” syndrome (i.e., his brain is completely normal but he is unable to move or speak, communicating only by blinking one of his eyes) is absolutely haunting. It’s been several days since I saw it, and I just can’t shake the experience. This is everything an Oscar movie should be, and I’m ashamed of the Academy for nominating Juno and Atonement for Best Picture, but ignoring this far more memorable gem of a movie.
David Fincher’s noir-tinged expose of the California serial killer is a perfect blend of visual style and narrative efficiency. Although the running time (nearly three hours) may tax a viewer’s bladder, the story is always gripping. A major snub by the Academy; suspense films haven’t been this good since Hitchcock’s prime. And let’s please stop bashing Jake Gyllenhaal, who does fine work as the obsessed cartoonist turned investigator. Thanks.
This movie makes me embarrassed of every film I’ve ever made. So simple, so elegant, so beautiful. Funny yet serious, whimsical yet firmly rooted in the real world. And oh, those songs! A platonic love story about working-class musicians who channel their emotions into their tunes, Once is unquestionably the most emotional experience bestowed upon me by a film this year. What a gift.
1. No Country for Old Men
I am so in awe of this film that I can barely pick myself up off the floor. I am ashamed of myself for ever pronouncing a film a masterpiece before today. Call it what you will: a post-modern Western, an art crime film, a psychological exploration of the dark side of humanity. No Country for Old Men is all of these things, and none of them. It exists outside the limitations of genre. It is an absolute jewel of a film, strong in its convictions, masterfully shot, brilliantly acted, and edited so tightly that the movie practically hums with tension. Come for the Oscar buzz, but stay for some of the best performances and most memorable movie dialogue I’ve seen… ever? Quite possibly.
(HONORABLE MENTION: Control, Hot Fuzz, In the Valley of Elah, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille)