Commentary on some favorites of 2007:
Best Feature-Length Film
1. 3:10 to Yuma
Out of all of the great films this year, I wouldn't have guessed that my favorite would be the remake of a Western, but here
it is, 3:10 to Yuma. Christian Bale plays a Civil War veteran that puts his life in jeopardy to escort a captured outlaw
(Russell Crowe) to a prison train, facing a myriad of dangers along the way, not the least of which is the outlaw himself.
Bale is fantastic as the noble man determined to do the right thing, while a spellbinding Crowe undergoes his own moral crisis
when confronted with true good for the first time. The final moments are breathtaking, thrilling, and shatteringly poignant.
David Fincher's Zodiac is a masterpiece of crime cinema, and the year's most unnerving film. Based on the true story
of a serial killer that terrorized San Francisco for years, it doesn't follow the murderer, but a number of men driven to
madness in order to catch him. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo play the Zodiac's primary pursuers, each
with his own discoveries to make and his own failures to face. The characters accumulate piles of evidence that point to one
man, but they never know for sure. And that we don't either means that the Zodiac won, after all, and will taunt us forever.
3. Gone Baby Gone
Ben Affleck's first film as director didn't give his detractors new ammunition, but instead produced a thoughtful, deeply
moral detective story about the way the sins of adults destroy children. Younger brother Casey Affleck stars as a private
detective scouring Boston for an abducted child, the sordid case forcing him to make a number of choices with profound consequences
for all involved. Absorbing and sad in a way precious few films are.
4. The Lives of Others
For those who claim Communism is such a great idea, observe The Lives of Others, a devastating portrait of life in
1980's East Germany. The late Ulrich Mühe plays a secret police agent (Stasi) assigned to monitor everything that occurs in
the life of a "subversive" playwright Sebastian Koch). From his listening post in the attic of the playwright's apartment,
the Stasi man quietly begins his own rebellion against the tyrannical government. Devoid of sensationalism or the phony conflicts
that plague so many films, The Lives of Others slowly builds to a conclusion that quietly celebrates man's capacity
for good in the face of evil.
5. There Will Be Blood
Yes, there will be blood, and it pours from the victims of its madness in the same way that oil gushes from the veins of the
earth. Paul Thomas Anderson's grand character study follows a greedy, cruel, oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis) from the turn of the
19th century to the late 1920s as he builds an empire from Texas Tea. He's such a misanthrope that his ultimate goal is to
seal himself off from all others, and he eventually succeeds, his malice finally blowing up like oil gushing from the ground.
6. Rescue Dawn
Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), U.S. fighter pilot and German immigrant, is shot down over Laos and thrown into a POW camp.
But his hope never wanes, and his true-life escape is a miracle borne of hope and perseverance. Legendary German director
Werner Herzog is right at home in the madness of the jungle, while his thoughtful admiration for America means that Dengler
is a character he knows like few others can. In an age where Hollywood rarely makes patriotic films, it's notable that a foreigner
can do it with such intelligence, and so well.
7. Across the Universe
How wonderfully fun and magical this tribute to The Beatles is, full of timeless music played out in visually and acoustically
thrilling ways. Or at least I thought so; many critics despised it, while others embraced it. Count me in the latter group;
how could one resist a musical that hits all the right notes?
8. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Celebrities weren't invented yesterday, as we see in this melancholy anti-Western about the death of the notorious outlaw.
Brad Pitt slides into the role of the killer like a glove, his eyes so evil they look black, as if they would bleed out onto
his face at any moment. Casey Affleck stars as his assassin, a star struck kid who sees his own chance for fame and takes
9. Eastern Promises
David Cronenberg's surprisingly mainstream drama tackles the Russian mob in London in a way that seems both unstated yet gruesome
at the same time. Viggo Mortensen deserved his Oscar nomination as a gangster that looks out for a woman (Naomi Watts) who
stumbles into the London underworld. The film's visceral centerpiece, which sees a nude Mortensen knife-fighting in a bathhouse,
almost belies that film's subtle, patient story line and character development.
Perhaps the most overlooked film of the year, Once would be ridiculously popular amongst college students if they knew
it existed. This offbeat musical follows a Dublin musician and a Czech immigrant who meet and bond over songs they craft together.
Romantic and touching in unexpected ways, it's also filled with beautiful music, and topped with a delightfully bittersweet
Best Lead Performance, Male
1. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
What's so incredible about Daniel Day-Lewis' performance isn't just how powerful it is, but its Rorsach effect on audiences
and critics. Is his Daniel Plainview a sociopath, or just a severe misanthrope? Does he really want to be severed from all
human contact, or is that claim a defense mechanism against hurt and disappointment? Whatever your take may be, it's a dazzling,
unforgettable performance, the kind that instantly immortalizes that character in the minds of moviegoers forever.
Best Lead Performance, Female
1. Ellen Page, Juno
Predictably, there has been a battle between those who think Juno is a wonderfully human and charming little comedy and those
who label it annoying and phony. But what you don't see is a debate about Ellen Page, a fabulous young actress brimming with
charm and possessing talent to spare. It's hard to imagine that Juno could have been played better, as Page imbues the character
with a perfect mixture of intelligence, naivete, vulnerability, and likeability. Love or hate the film, Page's performance
is a slam dunk, homeskillet.
Best Supporting Performance, Male
1. Chris Cooper, Breach
Robert Hanssen is a mean son of a bitch. The minute we meet the devout Catholic FBI agent that he's cruel and vindictive,
but a funny thing happens; we start to admire him. His devotion to God and country is laudable, and we see the man behind
the stony demeanor. That's why when his assistant is told that Hanssen is actually a traitor funneling information to the
Russians, we are as shocked and hurt as he is. Chris Cooper is used to playing good ol' boys and lunatics, but he's just as
good here, playing a complicated and ultimately evil man whose tics and motivations are so labyrinthine that the film doesn't
attempt to crack them, but merely hand us the puzzle.
1. David Fincher, Zodiac
There's no doubt that many looked at Zodiac's three hour running time and balked. Surely it would be dull and tedious, right?
That's what I thought, but David Fincher turned what could have been a boring procedural into an examination of obsession
and the way murderers claim victims other than those killed. It's a brief three hours, suspenseful and heartbreaking in equal
measure, a wonder considering that we essentially know the story before sitting down to watch.
Best Cinematic Moment
1. 3:10 to Yuma, Dan bolts with Wade for the train
The odds are against Dan. Outside the hotel where he holds Wade captive is a gang of killers and a couple dozen men willing
to blow his head off to make an extra buck. Yet he makes the run anyway, willing to sacrifice his life to prove to his son
that doing the right thing is worth dying for. Some have criticized Wade's actions during the closing minutes, but in 3:10
to Yuma, good is contagious, and we can only hope that the same holds true in real life.
2. Zodiac, Words not necessary (conclusion)
The Zodiac was never caught, but Zodiac's hero Robert Graysmith is certain that Arthur Leigh Allen is the culprit. However,
Allen is never charged, driving Graysmith to the brink of madness. At the end, after many years have passed, Graysmith approaches
Allen at his job at a hardware store, and words aren't necessary; a angry, sad stare between the two men says it all.
3. There Will Be Blood, Milkshakes and bowling pins!
How to interpret the ending of There Will Be Blood, which sees a confrontation between decades-long enemies Daniel Plainview
and Eli Sunday. Here, we witness the breathtaking zenith of Plainview's frothing hatred for Sunday and perhaps all men as
uses a milkshake analogy to destroy Sunday's hopes before literally destroying his brain with a bowling pin.
Best Cinematic Breakthrough
1. Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (actor)
What a year for the younger Affleck. Though on the scene for years, it wasn't until star performances in two of 2007's most
powerful films put Casey on the radar of the general public. In both films he excellently expressed a sense of conflicted
morality in a violent world that helped make them great.
Best new DVD Release
1. Blade Runner: The Final Cut 4-Disc Collector's Edition
How often does a DVD collection deliver this well? Not only did fans of Blade Runner get five different versions of one of
the most awesome films ever, they got oodles of bonus features, including telling interviews with all of the key players.
Worth double the price.
10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1997
1. Boogie Nights
Whoever says that Paul Thomas Anderson's early work has no connection to There Will Be Blood wasn't watching. It's all here:
the sweeping scope, the great performances, the hilarious dark humor, the bleak setting, the grim view of human nature. What
Boogie Nights has that There Will Be Blood doesn't is a killer soundtrack, a terrific name cast, and some really hot screwing.
25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1982
1. Blade Runner
Forget the awesome special effects. Forget about the deep story and groundbreaking design. Ditto the exceptional performances.
Consider this: how many films have different versions that just barely alter the plot but significantly change the story?
Whether or not you protagonist Rick Deckard is a regular man or one of those he hunts, Blade Runner is one of the greatest
meditations of what it means to be human ever put on film, not to mention the most dazzling.
"Claptrap," as Steve Carlson called it. The characters are flatter than pancakes, the story drags on endlessly, until it finally
does end in one of the dodgiest cheats I've seen in a film. I dread the thought that this rubbish will win the Best Picture
2. No Country For Old Men
Unlike Atonement, I'm not going to claim that this critical darling is bad. Call me a philistine, but I didn't care one bit
for those final 20 minutes, which seemed to function mostly as an attempt to fool the audience into thinking they had just
witnessed something seriously profound, when really it was only mildly profound. And please stop claiming that this represents
some magical maturation of the Coens' filmaking prowess; this is perhaps their sixth best film.
Hugh Grant, Music and Lyrics: Perhaps my guilty pleasure this year would be Hugh Grant's performance in Music and Lyrics,
but I can't feel guilty about it. Grant's washed up pop star isn't a huge jerk, a womanizer, a hack, or even pathetic; he's
a nice guy who misses being on top of the world and desperately wants to go back. I normally can't crack the 15-minute mark
on romantic comedies, but Grant's performance made it difficult to turn away, and certainly carried the film.
1. Shoot 'Em Up
What wasn't wrong with this rotten piece of trash? Horrid acting, pathetic action sequences, and childish screeds against
bad drivers and parents who spank their kids. Davis even has the nerve to throw in anti-gun commentary, as if he weren't introducing
thousands of 10-year-old boys to the joys of firearms (most kids are too stupid to know just how much these action scenes
blow). Frankly, he could draft some of those kids to help write his next screenplay, because it can't be any worse. How did
Michael Davis convince Paul Giamatti and Clive Owen, both who are embarrassed to no end, to participate in this?
I'll admit to being an opponent of Michael Moore's politics, though he had me for a bit. You'd have to have a heart made of
stone not to feel bad for those poor people raped by their insurance companies. Where it falls apart is when his trademark
self-aggrandizing dishonesty comes into play, with a series of bogus claims that Canada, France, and the U.K. have utopian
health care systems, an outright falsehood whether or not you support socialized medicine. It's not enough to ignore the shortcomings
or critics of these systems; he has to claim that they're perfect. And the ending assertion (the film's big special effect)
that Cuba of all places has a better health care system than the U.S. is demonstrably absurd, not to mention quite vile when
one considers the abject poverty of most Cubans. Of course, this will win the Oscar for Best Documentary, because it would
break tradition if every ceremony wasn't worse than the last one.
3. The Darjeeling Limited
I was shocked at how tedious this was, so devoid of charm or wit and mired in sequences designed to dare the audience to flee
the theater. I got piles of hate mail over my review of this, and I was proud to be despised by its steadfast supporters.
Stephen Hunter is a great critic, though I can only hope he is a better novelist than this nonsense, an adaptation of one
of his books, implies. Pointlessly violent (though it pales here compared to Shoot 'Em Up) and relentlessly silly, it might
be the bloodiest left-wing action film ever made. To its credit, the action scenes are competently done, though I'm a gun
geek and still missed half the terminology.