2 DAYS IN PARIS (Julie Delpy, 2007)
Among her many credits on the film, Julie Delpy writes, directs, and stars in this charming romantic comedy that brings the verbal wit and intelligence of BEFORE SUNSET to a MEET THE PARENTS scenario. Playful and philosophical, 2 DAYS IN PARIS is a nice antidote to its dunderheaded cinematic brethren.
28 WEEKS LATER (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2007)
A tense and terrifying trip through a chaotic urban environment, 28 WEEKS LATER is Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's respectable follow-up to Danny's Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER (which made my 2003 honorable mentions). The rage virus that ravaged London is believed to have been eradicated, so the city begins to be repopulated. The characters and audience are forced into reactive mode when faced with sensory bombardment, creating palpable fear in one of 2007's scariest movies.
AFTER THE WEDDING (EFTER BRYLLUPPET) (Susanne Bier, 2006)
AFTER THE WEDDING'S anguished portrait of family, charity, and mortality peels back layers in the characters that defy their easy categorization. Director Susanne Bier takes a soap opera plot and wrings every last ounce of human emotion out of it. What good is charity to others if none exists for those who are closest? The film's invitation to look closer doesn't challenge what's on the surface so much as it searches for core truths.
AIR GUITAR NATION (Alexandra Lipsitz, 2006)
Bringing pretend rocking out of the bedroom and onto the world stage, AIR GUITAR NATION follows the search for the United States' initial ambassador of air. This very funny documentary should get audiences strumming along on their own air guitars and flashing devil horns in support of these masters of mock rock.
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (Andew Dominik, 2007)
Andrew Dominik's deconstruction of celebrity creation and worship features a stunning performance by Casey Affleck as the unlikely killer of the famous outlaw.
CONTROL (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
Electrifying musical performance scenes and Sam Riley's riveting star turn sear the screen in the biopic of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. CONTROL'S uniqueness comes through in its moody and ordinary portrait of a rock legend.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (David Sington, 2007)
NASA's Apollo missions are remembered in a breathtaking documentary that reminds us how amazing manned space travel is.
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
This comedy about a man and his life-size sex doll isn't as outrageous as it sounds in concept. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL could have felt overly precious, like a cheap stunt or joke, but the emotional depth and warmth make this quirky regional character study anything but plastic.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
As a Cold War thriller about the East German secret police, THE LIVES OF OTHERS is gripping stuff replete with the nuts and bolts of all-encompassing surveillance. It's greater impact, though, is as a character study of the spy and those spied upon.
MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (Amir Bar-Lev, 2007)
A four-year-old girl's abstract paintings make her the darling of the art world in the intriguing documentary MY KID COULD PAINT THAT. Although the film is about this particular case and whether or not it is a hoax, it wrestles with the larger question of what makes something art and how important extra-textual considerations factor into the evaluation.
NO END IN SIGHT (Charles Ferguson, 2007)
About the last thing I wanted to see in 2007 was yet another documentary about the war in Iraq, but Charles Ferguson's film features the kind of objective journalism sorely missing in the national debate.
PARIS, JE T'AIME (22 directors, 2006)
Gus Van Sant and Joel and Ethan Coen contribute some of the best shorts in this omnibus film about the neighborhoods of Paris. With twenty segments, there will inevitably be a few less successful pieces, but the good easily outnumber the mediocre. Alexander Payne's "14th arrondissement" may be the best work he's ever done.
RESCUE DAWN (Werner Herzog, 2006)
In RESCUE DAWN Christian Bale gives himself over completely to his performance as Dieter Dengler, a U.S. fighter pilot held as a prisoner of war by the Laotians during the Vietnam War. Director Werner Herzog is drawn to obsessives--in fact, he told this story before in the documentary LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY--and he tells this tale of escape with the verve and visual flair expected of him.
THE SAVAGES (Tamara Jenkins, 2007)
Finding the proper care for a parent with declining health is never easy. It's especially difficult when the father in question has been estranged from the siblings now tasked to make arrangements for him. Tamara Jenkins' THE SAVAGES locates the humor and heart in a situation where those qualities are badly needed but hard to see. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney excel as the brother and sister who want to do right by their dad but also wish to have the circumstances not interfere with their lives.
SUPERBAD (Greg Mottola, 2007)
Relentlessly crude teen comedies aren't usually the stuff of best films lists, but the raunchy SUPERBAD distinguishes itself with clever wordplay and a keen understanding of high school male friendships. With SUPERBAD and JUNO, Michael Cera builds upon the comedic chops he first showed on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Jonah Hill is hilarious as his vulgar pal. But it's newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse who runs away with the movie as McLovin, a geeky, would-be Casanova.
WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly, 2007)
Keri Russell shines in this sweet and funny tale about a woman seeking a fresh start. One of the film's happy surprises is Andy Griffith stealing his scenes as the curmudgeonly diner owner. Russell's character has to make the best of a bad situation, something those involved with WAITRESS had to do in light of the murder of Adrienne Shelly, who wrote and directed the film and played a supporting character in it.
ZODIAC (David Fincher, 2007)
Based on the unsolved case, the decades-spanning ZODIAC documents the intensive search for a killer who haunted Bay Area citizens and taunted authorities with promises of unpreventable future murders. In a year littered with the corpses of films that tackled the war in Iraq, this was the movie that best expressed life in a post-9/11 environment.
Some other crumbs from the moviegoing year...
-THE BOTHERSOME MAN (DEN BRYSOMME MANNEN) (Jens Lien, 2006)
-COLD PREY (FRITT VILT) (Roar Uthaug, 2006)
-REPRISE (Joachim Trier, 2006)
-SONS (SØNNER) (Erik Richter Strand, 2006)
This four-pack of Norwegian films at the Cleveland International Film Festival probably didn't come anywhere near you, but collectively they were among the best entries I saw at the fest.
-A MAP FOR SATURDAY (Brook Silva-Braga, 2007)
This documentary about solo backpacking around the world could be seen as a counterpoint to INTO THE WILD. Brook Silva-Braga, the film's director and subject, discovers the joy and loneliness that come in going on a worldwide adventure on your own.