Annual #3 - How Do You Spend Your Evenings
1921 - 2007
Happy New Year, y’all and welcome to another increasingly infrequent edition of the Electric Theatre. I feel badly about that, honest I do. But considering last year’s annual wrap-up didn’t get online until early February, I think I’m doing pretty good here.
2007 was an unusual year for film in many respects and it was harder than ever for me to pick my Top 11. I saw plenty of movies that I liked this year and relatively few that I outright hated, so in that regard, this should be considered an above-average year. But as I was going over the list, I realized that very few of the movies I enjoyed really stood out. I liked them. In some cases, I admired them. But I rarely loved them and wanted to watch them again.
On the other hand, those movies that did stand out were pretty exceptional and it was incredibly difficult to narrow them down and put them in any kind of order. I usually have a pretty strong opinion about what the two or three best movies of the year are. Not so this time. The order you see below represents how I feel at this very minute. Ask me again in a month and while I’m sure I’ll still defend these movies, I might put them in a completely different order. In some ways, I feel that I could put all these titles in a hat, both the official list and the honorable mentions, pull eleven of them out at random and still have a list I could stand behind.
As always, you may (and indeed probably do) feel differently. Fair enough. No doubt you’ll let me know where I went sideways. Bear in mind, this is only an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering.
2007 - The Honorable Mentions
A beloved animated TV series hilariously hit the big screen with the long-awaited Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters.
A beloved animated TV series hilariously hit the big screen with the long-awaited The Simpsons Movie.
Paul Verhoeven returned to the Netherlands to make Black Book, a fascinating and powerful WWII film and Verhoeven’s best work in years.
Paul Greengrass wrapped up the Bourne trilogy (wishful thinking, I know) with the kinetic and thrilling The Bourne Ultimatum.
I have never had a filmgoing experience quite like the one Guy Maddin created with the silent, beautiful and bizarre Brand Upon The Brain!
Thanks to its being released in February, Chris Cooper will almost certainly not receive the Oscar nomination he rightly deserves for his role in Billy Ray’s Breach.
The most unexpected comeback of the year: William Friedkin proving he can still creep us out with the unsettling horror-drama Bug.
Tony Gilroy’s legal drama Michael Clayton gives hope to everyone who thought that intelligent, grown-up movies were a thing of Hollywood’s past.
Low-budget indie horror doesn’t get much better or funnier than Murder Party from director Jeremy Saulnier and the Lab of Madness.
Paris, Je T’Aime, an anthology valentine to the City of Lights, features segments so good they more than compensate for the occasional misses.
Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is so close to being a classic science fiction film that the fact that it didn’t quite make the final list actually frustrates me.
Best Movie I Didn’t Think I Wanted To See But Am Really Glad I Did: Kasi Lemmons’ funny, smart and vibrant biopic Talk To Me with a fantastic performance by Don Cheadle.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an ambitious, technically breathtaking epic and I suspect my opinion of it will only get higher in the years to come.
Waitress, directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, proves that cute romantic comedies can be sweet without dripping in sentiment.
And now, our feature presentations…
The funniest of this year’s three movies to come from the Judd Apatow comedy factory, Superbad doesn’t hit the ground running but warms you up by letting you enjoy the natural, smile-provoking performances of Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Once the big laughs start rolling in, they hit hard and fast. Superbad is either the smartest dumb movie or the dumbest smart movie in a long time. Either way, it’s a guilty pleasure you shouldn’t feel in the least bit guilty about enjoying.
10. The Host
It’s been too long since a giant monster movie was used as a vehicle for cultural subtext and rarely as well as in Joon-ho Bong’s The Host. Korean Studies scholars will probably get even more out of it than I did. For the rest of us, it’s funny, intelligent and fascinating while never losing sight of the fact that a monster movie needs to be scary and exciting.
9. The Lives of Others
Technically this is a 2006 movie but it didn’t go wide in this country until ’07 so it qualifies. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, this Oscar winner is thoughtful, deliberate, gripping and illuminating. Anchored by a great, stoic performance by the late Ulrich Mühe, The Lives of Others reels you in slowly but never once feels overlong or padded.
Arguably Michael Moore’s best film to date, Sicko doesn’t shy away from his usual controversy-stoking stunts (anybody for a trip to Cuba?) but tempers it with some of his most compassionate, even-handed and logical arguments to date. It’s difficult to imagine anyone walking away from this film thinking that the American health care system is the best in the world. Even if you disagree with his conclusions or solutions, Moore presents a debate that needs to be engaged in.
7. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
My expectations were high walking in to Sweeney Todd. Tim Burton is so ideally suited to adapt Stephen Sondheim’s musical to the screen that I assumed the results should be perfect. Happily, they are. Johnny Depp is fantastic in the title role, clearly relishing the opportunity to make grand operatic gestures, and Burton fills the screen with fantastic images and gallon upon gallon of vibrant red blood. Capped by one of the most hauntingly beautiful final shots in recent memory, Sweeney Todd ranks high amongst Tim Burton’s best films to date.
6. No Country For Old Men
Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel starts out like a bad-ass crime thriller with Javier Bardem pouring on the sinister as Anton Chigurh and Josh Brolin dialing it back with a strong minimalist performance as Llewelyn Moss. And for the most part, No Country For Old Men can totally be appreciated on the most basic level. But look past the surface pleasures and you’ll find a somber, meditative film that’s not really about either of those two characters. The man to watch is Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, delivering a sad, lived-in performance almost entirely through his eyes. This may not be the Coens’ best movie but it’s definitely a top five contender.
5. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
If Seth Gordon’s The King of Kong wasn’t a documentary, you’d think the screenwriters had gone too far in recreating the world of competitive video gaming. As it is, it’s a great reminder that truth can indeed be stranger, and more inspirational, than fiction. In charting the rivalry between Donkey Kong champ Billy Mitchell and challenger Steve Wiebe, Gordon has made a movie every bit as crowd-pleasing as Rocky and more fun than virtually anything Hollywood has to offer.
4. Eastern Promises
The world doesn’t need too many more movies set in the world of organized crime but if they were all as good as David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, keep ‘em coming. Viggo Mortensen turns in his second great performance under Cronenberg’s direction. Most impressively, Cronenberg directs Steven Knight’s screenplay with razor’s edge precision, crafting a lean, tough movie without a single extraneous moment. Eastern Promises is a rare example of a story that could not be told as well in any medium other than film.
By now, everybody pretty much expects Pixar movies to at least be pretty good. What continues to be surprising about the studio is how often they make something genuinely great. Directed by Brad Bird, who seems to be genetically incapable of making a bad animated movie, Ratatouille didn’t at first strike me as something I was dying to see. I’m glad I didn’t listen and went anyway. It’s vibrant, funny and touching. I’ve seen plenty of movies about food that made me want to go eat. This is one of the few that made me want to cook.
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
As with a number of movies on this list, this one may rank so highly in my estimation in direct proportion to how little I wanted to see it in the first place. But what I at first thought would be long and tedious turned out to be utterly mesmerizing. Andrew Dominik’s sense of visuals is every bit as strong as Terrence Malick’s but unlike Malick, Dominik never seems to forget that the beautiful images are there to serve the story, not the other way around. Special mention must be made of Casey Affleck’s phenomenal performance as Robert Ford, possibly the best, most unexpected acting I’ve seen all year. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford didn’t get nearly as much attention as I thought it deserved but I think in the years to come it’ll be praised as a classic.
Nobody can be more surprised than me that the quietly lovely Once is at the top spot. But of all the movies I saw this year, Once kept coming back to me and replaying itself over and over in my head, thanks in no small part to the great soundtrack by star Glen Hansard that found itself in heavy rotation on my iPod. But beyond the music, what appealed to me about Once was its simplicity. Directed without frills by John Carney, the only thing complex about this film is the emotion being conveyed on screen, both through the songs and the performances of Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Unlike other movies I’ve placed at the top of the heap, this may well be a case of the right movie hitting me at the right time. Once may or may not be the best film of the year but it was my favorite and it’s the movie I bet I’ll rewatch the most of any on this list.
So much for the good. Now it’s time for our annual wade through the sewer of the bad and the ugly. The usual disclaimers: these are listed in alphabetical order, not according to their ability to induce a gag reflex. And I'm quite certain there were worse movies than these released last year but I hope that I avoided most of them. Abandon all hope ye who enter.
2007 AT THE HELL PLAZA OCTOPLEX
The Brave One
I liked Jodie Foster once, didn’t I? I mean, I am thinking of the same person, right? Talented actress, made smart choices and good movies like The Silence of the Lambs. What happened to her? I can only assume she’s chained up in a basement somewhere while her evil clone runs around making idiotic Death Wish ripoffs like The Brave One.
OK, so it’s a family movie and I don’t have kids so I should cut it some slack. If I had kids, I wouldn’t allow them within a hundred yards of this schmaltz-a-thon. If nothing else, I hope Steve Carell is enjoying the yacht he probably bought with the truckloads of cash I trust the studio paid him to participate in this tooth-yanker of a movie.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer / Ghost Rider / Spider-Man 3
The Merry Marvel Marching Society had a pretty decent run at the movies but all good things must come to an end. They say death comes in threes so it’s no big shock that all three of the big Marvel movies this year stank like Howard the Duck droppings. The Fantastic Four sequel lived down to the low standards set by its predecessor. Ghost Rider took the image of a demon with a flaming skull-head on a motorcycle and made it boring. As for Spider-Man 3, it’s easily the best of this misbegotten bunch. Unfortunately, after the one-two punch of the first two Spidey flicks, it’s also the most disappointing. You leave the movie feeling that Sam Raimi’s enthusiasm for the franchise has all but disappeared and he’s doing everything possible to sabotage his chances of being asked back for Spider-Man 4.
This may seem a little harsh. After all, I did get some enjoyment out of Grindhouse. But the more I thought about it after the fact, the more the whole thing annoyed the crap out of me. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino seemed to miss the entire point of the truly great exploitation movies of the past, tossing money around in a way that would have made Roger Corman, Jack Hill and Lloyd Kaufman vomit in rage. Plus, Tarantino’s Death Proof truly is one of the most god-awful unwatchable cinematic abortions I’ve ever suffered through in a cinema. Would people PLEASE stop telling him that dialogue is his strong suit?
Rush Hour 3
Dear Rush Hour Franchise. Please go away forever. Love and kisses, Jahnke.
I expect very, very little from Michael Bay movies and even less from movies based on toys, trading cards or video games. Somehow, Bay failed to rise to even my lowest hopes with this one with headache-inducing action scenes and endless comic relief sequences that are less funny than finding an oozing pustule on your nut sack.
And there’s your big shiny red ribbon on the year 2007. Your Electric Theatre will return in twenty-oh-eight, perhaps not on the weekly basis it was crackling along at before but it won’t be shuttered for weeks on end, either. Until next time, I hope you’re having a very happy new year.