Friday, February 08, 2008

The Best Films of 2007

1. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Beginning in a silver mine and concluding in a lavish basement, THERE WILL BE BLOOD tracks the thirty-year descent of a man pursuing wealth at all costs. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Daniel Plainview is one for the ages. Without a doubt, the ferocity he applies to this hateful man is responsible for much of his acting's power. Electrifying as his monstrous moments are, he isn't all bluster and scenery-chewing. His quiet moments as an observer of people and rare times of vulnerability have some of the greatest impact.

Biblical in scope, THERE WILL BE BLOOD can be viewed as an origin tale of contemporary corporate greed and the danger to organized religion when intermingling with capitalism, but the film is more compelling in how it connects to the past. It’s a story of costly sacrifice as promised in the title.

On a formal level THERE WILL BE BLOOD is an astounding accomplishment. The cinematography and production design’s caliber is second to none. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's dissonant score scrapes and swells like Daniel's distaste for mankind. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson brings it all together with his superb direction and a screenplay he adapted from Upton Sinclair's OIL! A spectacular achievement, THERE WILL BE BLOOD seems, at this early date, worthy to be mentioned alongside cinema's avowed masterpieces.

2. RATATOUILLE (Brad Bird, 2007)

RATATOUILLE is yet another triumph for Pixar, the computer animation studio that can seemingly do no wrong. The gorgeous animation and story's maturity give the film a richness worthy of the finest gourmet meal, let alone a summer movie presumed to be aimed at kids. Artistic creation is often attributed to divine inspiration or some other mystical source, but RATATOUILLE acknowledges and revels in the hard work necessary to make things. It finds joy in the process, something that Brad Bird and the Pixar crew apparently know quite a bit about if this film is any indication.

3. ONCE (John Carney, 2007)

ONCE is a film of modest means, yet this musical love story between an Irish busker and Czech immigrant takes on a grand emotional scale. Sweet in tone and simple in filmmaking technique, ONCE draws us in with a relationship that develops as naturally as unpredictably as any plucked from real life. The characters played by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová connect in songs seamlessly integrated into the film and thus in the hearts of moviegoers.

4. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2007)

The Coen brothers bring their unique sense for bloodshed and humor to their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Intense, thoughtful, and darkly funny, the film looks at a violent landscape where morality and mercy are absent. In a standout cast, Javier Bardem leaps to the fore as a ruthless man ushering in the wave of senseless killing.

5. ATONEMENT (Joe Wright, 2007)

A child's overactive imagination, busybody's curiosity, and an observational misunderstanding lead to life-altering consequences in the devastating ATONEMENT. Director Joe Wright demonstrates a remarkable ability to tell stories with the entire cinematic language. From the precise sound design to the sprawling tracking shot of the evacuation to Dunkirk, Wright attends to the small and the large with a masterful touch. ATONEMENT is an exquisitely crafted film bursting with the possibilities movies offer.

6. HOT FUZZ (Edgar Wright, 2007)

With HOT FUZZ writer-director Edgar Wright and co-writer and star Simon Pegg send up action films in the same vein that SHAUN OF THE DEAD goofed on the horror genre. Rather than engaging in outright parody, they construct an original story that lovingly lampoons cop movie conventions. Blessed with an airtight script, a sterling cast of comedic actors, and a director in peak form, HOT FUZZ is an arresting farce sure to keep audiences locked up with laughter.

7. MUSIC AND LYRICS (Marc Lawrence, 2007)

Like a catchy pop song you can't stop humming, the sublime romantic melody of MUSIC AND LYRICS puts a smile on your face and love in your heart. Romantic comedies, potentially the easiest genre for depicting familiar people and scenarios, regularly get mucked up with plot contrivances that make them alien to viewer experiences. Perhaps that's why MUSIC AND LYRICS is so refreshing. Marc Lawrence's film succeeds because it develops lovable, realistic characters and focuses on the budding relationship between the delightful Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore rather than tearing them apart so they can get together in the end.

8. I'M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes, 2007)

Todd Haynes' masterful portrait of Bob Dylan scrutinizes the musician-poet-actor-artist-husband-father-outlaw and leaves him at once as mysterious as ever and yet somehow knowable. Haynes' challenging film sets out to see how the disparate pieces of Dylan's persona fit together, if they're even part of the same puzzle. Edited like a puzzle worker's trial-and-error method of searching for what goes where, I'M NOT THERE juxtaposes eras in a structure that suggests chronology but avoids hewing to it.

9. SUNSHINE (Danny Boyle, 2007)

A mission to reignite our dying sun becomes an exploration of existential questions in SUNSHINE. Packed with spectacular visuals, tense moments, and philosophical musings on humanity's place in the universe, Danny Boyle's film is more than just an echo of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and SOLARIS.


THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY transcends the uplifting movie-of-the-week story through Julian Schnabel's artful direction and deep empathy. Often shot from an incapacitated Jean-Dominique Bauby's subjective view, the film excels at expressing the unsettling feeling of his fixed perspective and the constricting sensation of immobility. Schnabel and actor Mathieu Amalric approach the situation with the single-minded purpose of providing a virtual experience that reveals the power of the mind to animate.

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