1.14.2008



Just over a year after launching my own blog, I up and left everyone hanging with total of one post this year. Life got in the way, but I'm here now to make it up to you with a 2007 recap. After spending the last several years keeping up with over 100 new movies each year, I set a new rule for myself in 2007: Watch less mediocre new releases, and use those 120 minute chunks instead to see some great films I've never gotten around to seeing. I didn't quite fulfil my idea of a 50/50 split, but I did manage to save some money I would have surely regretted spending (PIRATES 3, SHREK THE THIRD) and crossing off some big titles on my list (THE GODFATHER PART II, ON THE WATERFRONT). But aside from these heavyweights I had many other discoveries this year, and to honor that I'm starting a new tradition of an additional top ten, highlighting older movies I've just discovered.



1. ERASERHEAD - Lynch at his deepest and darkest. A journey into the subconscious. 2. GONE WITH THE WIND - More bold and more beautiful than I even imagined it would be. 3. THE SEVENTH CONTINENT - My introduction to Michael Haneke, who brought me such other disturbing joys as FUNNY GAMES and THE PIANO TEACHER. 4. NAKED LUNCH - A dream-like exploration of creativity, writing, and adaptation. 5. BLOOD SIMPLE - The brilliant beginning to my re-education with the Coen brothers. 6. THE FILTH AND THE FURY - The incredible story of the Sex Pistols, told as a cinematic collage. 7. HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. - Maybe the best documentary I've ever seen, and one that makes you re-think your place in the world. 8. DON'T LOOK BACK - A fly on the wall during the most fascinating of Bob Dylan's chapters. 9. ROGER & ME - Michael Moore first brings to light the American issues we've yet to acknowledge. 10. THE NOTEBOOK - I cried in spite of myself. A classic Hollywood film.

Other discoveries: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE LAST WALTZ, LITTLE BIG MAN, THE RED BALLOON, BARTON FINK, FUNNY GAMES, ALPHAVILLE, THE FLY, PIERROT LE FOU, ON THE WATERFRONT, THE KARATE KID, THE GODFATHER PART II

But contining on...

...there's nothing like the allure of a dark movie theater for me, and it would be almost impossible for a personality like myself not to keep up with new releases, especially in a year that many are calling the most outstanding in a while. For whatever reason-- maybe my aformentioned project, maybe my whirlwind of a year that had me away from home most of the time, or maybe the growing possibility of being an out-of-touch eccentric-- I didn't always agree with the popular opinion. The school of Judd Apatow just wasn't for me, as I found both KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD simplistic, sexist, and mean. ONCE seemed like it was made just for me, but I didn't fall under its spell. I hated the critical darling WAITRESS, I felt flat out guilty for not giving TRANSFORMERS a pass, and I found it frighteningly easy to see how dangerous a movie like 300 is to our society. Meanwhile, it was the random expectation-free matinee, be it HAIRSPRAY or STARDUST or DAN IN REAL LIFE or ENCHANTED, that caught me off guard and warmed my heart.

And once again, this year more than ever, I found myself in a frustrating perdicament as a movie-goer and movie-lister: the documentaries I saw this year moved me more than almost any fiction film I saw. How do you compare the power of an imaginary story to the enlightenment brought on by a great documentary? Complicating things even further, how do I reconclie the fact that for me, the greatest achievement by far in the art of motion pictures this year was the BBC's PLANET EARTH? To remain somewhat technical, I'm leaving that epic work off my list. But I'm gonna try out the easiest solution: giving the docs their own top ten. That might be a cop out, but it's an experiement. As Taylor from Kid Nation would say, "deal with it!"



10. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON - Letting a story be told by the ones who lived it, before their time has passed.

9. JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN - Julien Temple follows THE FILTH AND THE FURY with another artful rock doc.

8. HELVETICA - Yes, a documentary about a font, but arguably the most important and controversial font ever. How often can you say a movie truly makes you see the world differently?

7. MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES - An inconvenient truth by way of MoMA... a slideshow of civilization's imprint on the earth.

6. THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS - Steve Weibe and Billy Mitchell turn a Donkey Kong quarrel into the stuff of Star Wars.

5. NO END IN SIGHT - An investigation the US' involvement with Iraq that should not just win an Academy Award but a Nobel Prize for the caliber of its journalism.

4. INTO GREAT SILENCE - A quiet, once-in-a-lifetime look at the Carthusian monks, who live an ascetic life in the French Alps, and a meditation on the spirituality of space and solitude.

3. HEIMA - Not just an introduction to the people behind the music of Sigur Ros, but a story of a country seemingly united behind music as the band returns home to Iceland, sounding their gorgeous music across the country's spacious, alien landscapes.

2. SICKO - Michael Moore's passion trandscends its own loopholes. Here he contributes again to our disillusionment with ourselves as a country.

1. MY KID COULD PAINT THAT - First about a possible child prodigy in painter Marla Olmstead, then about parenting and the media, then, as filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev becomes a character in his own documentary, about the representational nature of art itself. The most thought-provoking movie I saw all-year.

Continuing now into the realm of fiction, my 2007 top ten is going to look a little different this year; hopefully more passionate, probably even less mainstream, definitely more confused. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that there were massive amounts of well made films this year, and yes, maybe more than in years before. But I'm realizing that the worst thing I could do, if I'm embarking on the mostly self-satisfying, very obsessive task of listmaking, is to promote a movie that didn't send a torpedo down into my heart and explode. One's "best" films might not be their "favorites," but I hope to come closer and closer to merging the two. In that progress, you'll still recognize a few of those dark, dark movies that 2007 brought out of us (particularly those several about mad, mad men out West), and maybe even one of those movies about pies or about abortions. But you won't find a movie, no matter how well done it may have been, that didn't keep me up at night still thinking about it, wishing I could see it again, and marvelling at how, in some small way, I won't look at the world exactly the same way again.



10. DEATH PROOF - Beyond the parody of PLANET TERROR, Tarantino actually makes a real grindhouse film, not without paying homage to some of his favorites with a killer car chase courtesy of Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike and the only person who could stop him: real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell.

9. MICHAEL CLAYTON - A Hollywood thriller I could actually follow, confidently directed in a debut by Tony Gilroy's, and with Clooney in the darkest recesses of his iconic star-power.

8. SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET - Perfect harmony between director (Tim Burton) and material (Steven Sondheim), plus a great ensemble cast from Johnny Depp to 's Burtonesque blonde china doll, all brought me rapturous joy and a permanent distaste for pie.

7. THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD - The first of three parables of the American Old West and America Today, with Casey Affleck as the youngling obsessed with the celebrity of Jesse James, whose myth is personified in Brad Pitt. Gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins.

6. ATONEMENT - You heard it from me first, when Joe Wright revitalized movie language in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, displaying his ability to locate human emotion and then film it. Here he adapts what some said was an unfilmable novel and surprises us with the devastating power of storytelling.

5. ZODIAC - David Fincher returns with an epic chronicle of obsession. As reporters Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr. descend deeper into their search for the real Zodiac killer, so do we, only to be left in the darkness.

4. BLACK SNAKE MOAN - A heartbreaking story of redemption and the healing power of music, directed in the deep South by Tennessean Craig Brewer, and disguised as a bargain-bin exploitation flick. The most underrated movie this year, with career-best performances from Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson. I didn't really "get" the blues until I saw this movie.

3. THERE WILL BE BLOOD - Paul Thomas Anderson paints a mythic portrait of the capitalist and religious enterprises of America in the story of Daniel Plainview, fiercely played by Daniel Day Lewis. Finding a soulmate in composer Johnny Greenwood, PTA crosses a new divide as a filmmaker, and gives us a deep parable of man's conquest to dominate the world around him.

2. PAPRIKA - No other foreign cinema captures the essence of its culture quite like Japanese animation, and PAPRIKA is the most amazing anime film I've seen. The ideas here are familiar, ones we've encountered in Philip K. Dick, David Cronenberg, and THE MATRIX, but through the imagination of anime they are more fantastic and profound than ever. In Satoshi Kon's hallucinogenic visualization of the future, characters delve seemlessly into their dream worlds and transform playfully into their dream selves (the titular character is the ultimate fantasy heroine-- Leeloo meets Amelie). PAPRIKA is a celebration of the collective unconscious and individual identity, as well as a romantic homage to the magic of movies, so similar to dreams themselves.



1. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - Rewatching the Coen brothers' films this year didn't just give me the appreciation for these filmmakers I've always longed for, but it also set me up perfectly to see how their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel is a movie that, if the Coens died tomorrow, could culminate their career. In a sparse masterpiece of suspense, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones play three men rotating around each other in the boundaries of mortality. Like THERE WILL BE BLOOD, it's a movie that hovers far above me; It's perfectly articulated in form, yet still a mystery, and in the deepest way I silently understand it, and how much it says about our world today. We all look around at what's happening and wonder how it's possible. Can we do anything about it? Is there hope?

Honorable mention: THE LIVES OF OTHERS, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, I'M NOT THERE, AFTER THE WEDDING, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, L'ICEBERG, ENCHANTED, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, DAN IN REAL LIFE, STARDUST, RATATOUILLE, THE HOST, JUNO, RESCUE DAWN, INTO THE WILD, HAIRSPRAY, BREACH, I KNOW WHO KILLED ME, BLACK BOOK.

And the many films I didn't see and wish I could have: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, PERSEPOLIS, SOUTHLAND TALES, LAKE OF FIRE, CONTROL, 4 MONTHS 3 WEEKS & 2 DAYS, YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY, ROCKET SCIENCE, THE SAVAGES, THE KITE RUNNER, THIS IS ENGLAND, PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, RESERVATION ROAD, COLOSSAL YOUTH, GRACE IS GONE, REGULAR LOVERS, STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, PROTAGONIST, TEN CANOES, THE LOOKOUT.

The best performances of the year: Daniel Day Lewis (THERE WILL BE BLOOD), Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci (BLACK SNAKE MOAN), Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), Rolf Lassgard and Stine Fischer Christensen (AFTER THE WEDDING), Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD), Ulrich Muhe (THE LIVES OF OTHERS), and Cate Blanchett (I'M NOT THERE).

Worst of the year: SPIDER-MAN 3, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, WAITRESS.

And lastly, as always, my top ten most anticipated movies of 2008:

1. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Spike Jonze)
2. THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan)
3. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (David Fincher)
4. INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS (Steven Spielberg)
5. BE KIND REWIND (Michel Gondry)
6. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Sam Mendes)
7. WALL-E (Pixar/Andrew Stanton)
8. FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke)
9. PARANOID PARK (Gus Van Sant)
10. IRON MAN (Jon Favreau)

Agree? Disagree? Post your Top Ten and other comments below, and I'll be back as much as possible in 08.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

so you like "the assassination...?" it seemed to die in theaters but i was excited about it.

i thought "no country" was freakin' phenomenal. i agree there 100%.

- amy

Adam J. Karp said...

For the love of all that is holy... do NOT see Southland Tales.

raf said...

man no mention of Eastern Promises or Sunshine? strange. otherwise i'm right with ya on most of those.

tfo said...

I have to say that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End was one of the year's most pleasant surprises. It was epic in its ambition and almost achieved what it set out to do.

Sam Smith said...

Amy - yeah, ASSASSINATION was pretty much ignored by audiences, but like NO COUNTRY and THERE WILL BE BLOOD it's a great new kind of western with an interesting commentary on our country and AMAZING cinematography. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are both great in it.

AJK - SOUTHLAND TALES seems to be the most divisive film of the year. Because of that, I have to see it.

Raf - EASTERN PROMISES was definitely good, and Viggo's bath house fight deserves recognition for sure. SUNSHINE was pretty interesting but it lost me a little in the end, and ultimately it didn't bring much new to the genre.

Thanks for reading!

Terah said...

Though I never saw Knocked Up, I would agree with you that Superbad was a letdown. Everyone said it was hilarious. I was annoyed most of the time. Good thing I got some great popcorn!;) Everything else that I haven't seen on your list, I'll have to check out! Thanks, Sam!

Anonymous said...

so now that "michael clayton" has been re-released, you'd recommend going to see it?

- amy

Sam Smith said...

Definitely, Amy. In fact, thanks to this re-release I saw it a second time and it was even better. One of those kinds of movies for sure.

brenton said...

1. Juno (cmon man it had everything from acting to offbeat comedy which is hard to pull off and it was heartwarming)
2. No Country For Old Men (i made it #2 bc there was no music and that was all it lacked from being the best movie ever made in my eyes)
3. The assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford (affleck and pitt rocked)
4. There will be blood (ddl was amazing)
5.the valley of elah (tommy lee at his best)
6. sweeney todd (no explanation needed)
7. micheal clayton (clooney got good again)
8. black snake moan (brewer will get an oscar nomination for his directing in the next 5 years mark my words)
9.Gone baby gone (ben affleck may not be able to act but he can direct and with his brother casey, morgan freeman, ed harris and amy ryan this just became a homerun for me)
10. the kingdom (i had to get my boy jason bateman on the list as #1 and #10....he has turned out to be an excellent actor....thank you arrested development for ressurecting his career)