Halftime '07

The first half of '07 delivered. I can't remember another year period where not just a couple good movies came out in the dreaded first quarter, but a couple GREAT movies came out... plus a whole other batch of good ones and even enough of em for people to disagree and come up with different lists, as I'm hoping will be the case here. I won't go so far as to say that this Top Ten could be a suitable year-end list, but I'm counting on a couple of these not straying very far from their current positions.

23 Movies so far this year, which means I'm holding pretty well to my 2007 ration of mediocre new films-to-great old films.

01. Black Snake Moan
Since the Nashville Film Festival screening of Hustle and Flow I'd been watching for Memphis-based Brewer's next moves, but this bizarre trailer threw me off and leveled my expectations, which helped me to appreciate what is not just a sweaty exploitation flick but a tender and moving story of redemption. Sam Jackson and Christina Ricci both give what I consider to be the best performances of their respective careers and deserve Oscars for their work in this movie, which also enabled me to finally "get" blues music.

02. Zodiac
To comprehend the level of detail that Fincher put into this superior serial-killer movie would take the kind of manic obsession in which the story's protagonists find themselves in their quest to somehow understand the Zodiac killer himself. Fincher's welcomed return to the screen rapidly scrolls by you like a microfilm machine gone haywire, yet we retain sympathy towards the real victims of the Zodiac: a couple of San Francisco's best professional and amateur detectives. The genius of this movie, and how Fincher has mindfucked us so with it, is that just like the life and work of a serial killer, it is tantalizing, confounding, and ultimately unsolveable.

03. Grindhouse
I would hope that any box office pundit who is at all intelligent would admit that the famous Grindhouse flop of 2007 was simply a fluke, nothing more, nothing less. Trailers, lengthy dialogue and all, Grindhouse is another movie-lover's dream, but more so a relieving
respite from the Hollywood formula. If we're breaking them apart, I'd give this slot to Death Proof (which I still believe stands on its own and will do so in the future) and put Planet Terror among my honorable mentions (which I still believe has less staying power due to its heavy tone of parody).

04. The Host
A new director with a refreshing new style, a great sense of location, and a politically-charged monster. The Host says something about that world we live in without being so damn overt-- something most American horror films fail to do.

05. Ratatouille
I was actually surprised a bit at how Pixar's new movie avoided some of the sentimental pitfalls that even this great little studio has repeatedly encountered (in their own, more mature sort of way of course). And for some reason this kinda disappointed me... that Remy didn't miss his family that much out in the world on his own... that it's the first Pixar movie where its characters have to really interact with fully-developed human characters... that the majority of the movie takes place in a single restaurant kitchen. To me, its a big turn for Pixar. I have some quibbles with it, and I may still be rooting for Cars. But because they continue to not insult the intelligence of young AND old viewers, and because their technical ability nearly outshines the simulated water, fur, fire, and textures of the world's top effects companies, I welcome this one with open arms.

06. Paris je t'aime
Way more affecting than I expected, especially from a movie made by twenty different directors. Unlike previous films of this kind, this actually felt whole, with its fragments linked with b-roll and even suggestions that these characters all live in the same time and space
together. I'll take a couple of weak pieces (the oft-cited vampire short) for the several that managed to get me in the gut (think Willem Defoe as Death on a horse).

07. Once
Something about Once isn't quite the perfect musical love story for me, but I'm all about romantic encounter flicks like these, especially when they involve songs and songwriting, and for that reason Once is a movie I'm telling everyone to see. It's just no Before Sunset, to give a somewhat arbitrary comparison (but one that others seem to be using anyway).

08. La Vie en Rose
Severely depressing and often unpleasant, but with a very good performance and some exceptional all-around film craft.

09. Black Book
A superbly-made old-fashioned historical thriller. It's a shame I don't really like old-fashioned historical thrillers. But if there's anyone who will make me forget about that for a couple hours, its Carice Van Hauden.

10. Ocean's Thirteen
A sorry victim to the 2007 Curse of The Three, Soderbergh's trilogy-capper is almost completely forgettable and, in a way, just as sloppy and selfish as its predecessor (Twelve). But a Soderbergh mis-step is at least three times more interesting on the surface than Sam Raimi taking a great super-franchise on a huge-horrible nosedive.

Honorable mention: Offside, Away From Her, An Unreasonable Man

Worst so far: Spider-Man 3, Waitress

It's Compicated: 300, Knocked Up, Hot Fuzz

Missed or haven't seen yet: Sicko, 28 Weeks Later, The Lookout, Syndromes and a Century, The Hoax, Paprika, Reign Over Me, Evening.

Skipped: Shrek 3, Pirates 3, Fantastic Four 2.

Best Male Perfs
1. Sam Jackson, Black Snake Moan
2. Cillian Murphy, The Wind That Shakes the Barley
3. Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac
4. Charles Fleischer, Zodiac
5. Justin Timberlake, Black Snake Moan

Best Female Perfs
1. Christina Ricci, Black Snake Moan
2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
3. Carice Van Hauden, Black Book
4. Zoe Bell, Death Proof
5. Marketa Irglova, Once

Best Scene Contenders
1. Car Chase, Death Proof
2. "Black Snake Moan," Black Snake Moan
3. Place des Victories (Nobuhiro Suwa), Paris je t'aime
4. 14th arrondissement (Alexander Payne), Paris je t'aime
5. "If You Want Me," Once

And finally, my current Top 10 Most Anticipated for the rest of the year:
1. Be Kind Rewind
2. Atonement
3. The Golden Compass
4. Sunshine
5. Reservation Road
6. The Darjeeling Limited
7. There Will Be Blood
8. The Simpsons Movie
9. Son of Rambow
10. Stardust

And of course the new Allen, Lee, Cronenberg, WKW, Van Sant, Herzog, Baumbach, and if it comes out, that Jesse James movie with the very long title. And since it counts, I should mention that I kinda can't wait to go see Transformers as the first movie of the second half.

Hit me with your best and worst, and I'll see you at year's end.