Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Top 20 Movies of 2007-2008

My Blog, my rules, so I'm gonna have a top 20 list of movies. Screw top 10 - I saw too many movies this year. Many critics' response to this problem (see: Godfrey Cheshire) is to have a 30-film long "honorable mentions" list, but that's a copout. I'm putting together a list of 20 films, in order of awesomeness. I'm also enclosing the number of publications that, according to metacritic, ranked each of these films the best of the year, so you can use that to decide how much my taste sucks - I'll try to find a Top 10 Tracker instead, since that'd be more representative, but I haven't found one yet. Enjoy. Soon, I'll try to add pictures and descriptions! (Try not to laugh if you stumble across this list in the year 2347, as part of your Doctoral Disseration on Film Blawgs of the early 21st century, and you find it without pictures or my comments).

Update: I'm too lazy to get pictures, and I've decided you don't necessarily need to hear from me again on these films, so I'm providing quotes for each of them from reviews by The Only Film Critic Who Matters. If he didn't review it, that film just has to sit without a quote and curse Dargis and Holden.

1.Away from Her
“I can’t remember the last time the movies yielded up a love story so painful, so tender and so true.”
2.Knocked Up (1)
“Mr. Apatow’s critique of contemporary mores is easy to miss — it is obscured as much by geniality as by profanity — but it is nonetheless severe and directed at the young men who make up the core of this film’s likely audience.”
3.No Country for Old Men (20)
“No Country for Old Men” is purgatory for the squeamish and the easily spooked. For formalists — those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design — it’s pure heaven.
4.The Lives of Others (2)
Georg and Captain Wiesler, though they occasionally waver and worry, remain true to their essential natures, and thus embody the film’s deepest, most challenging paradox: people don’t change, and yet the world does.
5.Rescue Dawn
6.Michael Clayton (3)
7.There Will be Blood (13)
8.Futurama: Bender's Big Score
10.The Bourne Ultimatum (1)
11.Waitress (1)
Part feminist fable, part romantic fairy tale, it is by turns tart and sweet, charming and tough, rather like its heroine and like Keri Russell, the plucky, pretty, nimble actress (still perhaps best known as Felicity, from the television coming-of-age melodrama of the same name) who plays her.
12.The Simpsons Movie
I have long been of the opinion that the entire history of American popular culture — maybe even of Western civilization — amounts to little more than a long prelude to “The Simpsons.”
13.Once (2)
But its low-key affect and decidedly human scale endow “Once” with an easy, lovable charm that a flashier production could never have achieved. The formula is simple: two people, a few instruments, 88 minutes and not a single false note.
“Persepolis,” austere as it may look, is full of warmth and surprise, alive with humor and a fierce independence of spirit. Its flat, stylized depiction of the world — the streets and buildings of Tehran and Vienna in particular — turns geography into poetry.
15.3:10 to Yuma
Mr. Bale is one of the few screen actors who can convincingly shed the trappings of modernity. Dan is much more than a movie star in costume: with his gaunt, haggard face and wide, awe-struck eyes, he seems to have stepped out of a daguerreotype or a murder ballad.
16.The Lookout
17.American Gangster
18.The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (9.5)
Their common subject, however, is freedom, the self-willed liberation of a difficult, defiant individual. But Mr. Schnabel is not content simply to state or to dramatize this idea. Rather, he demonstrates his own imaginative freedom in every frame and sequence, dispensing with narrative and expository conventions in favor of a wild, intuitive honesty.
20.The Host

Honorable Mentions: Hot Fuzz, because everyone seems to have forgotten about it, and it was awesome, although less awesome than both Shaun of the Dead and the preceding 20 movies. Otherwise, I don't think you need a list of other movies I saw that were good, but not as good as these.
Regrets: I didn't see (and wanted or at least felt obligated to see) Lars and the Real Girl, Great World of Sound, No End in Sight, The Savages, This is England, King of Kong, Election and Triad Election, Across the Universe, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Charlie Wilson's War, I'm Not There. I also didn't see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, but I blame the film industry/Mr. Stone for that.

Review: Diary of the Dead

Go for the brain, dumbass!

Diary of the Dead

I want to make one thing clear: Diary of the Dead emphatically does not deserve the 1.5 stars I have given it. It only gains them because it is a zombie movie and, yes, has some pretty sweet shots of zombies getting shot, getting stabbed, blowing up, eating brains, etc. The special effects are mostly CGI this time around, and they look pretty good, but they're nothing special - not as polished as 28 Days or Dawn of the Dead [2004) while lacking the charm of Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead.

Having gotten that out of the way, I want to make it clear that every single other element of Diary qualifies it for potential consideration as Worst Movie Ever. The director, zombie legend George Romeror, has gone on record saying he'll never make a zombie movie just for the fun of making a scary, gory zombie movie (ala the 2004 Dawn) but that all of his zombie movies must have a message. Shot, like the recent Cloverfield, in faux-documentary style, Diary is supposed to have some sort of a message about new media culture, the news, blogs, etc, but I'll be damned if I could tell you what that message was. Sometimes the mainstream media is to blame, sometimes its the bloggers, sometimes its regular people like you and me. Also, I don't know what any of these people would be to blame for, but it's something.

Possibly a full 3/4 of the film's dialogue (that is, all that's not something along the lines of "I don't see any of 'em here" or "go for the head!") is dedicated to this attempt at conveying a profound message. Our semi-protagonist Jason (I think that's his name. Probably.) has begun the movie as a bad horror filmmaker, who originally wanted to be a documentarian, and he sees the outbreak of zombieness as an avenue to tell the "truth" about the subject at hand. He's constantly making pseudo-profound statements like "I want everyone to know the truth about this" while the others in his band respond with crap like "the camera is changing your perspective on the events" or something. These are just examples. The actual dialogue is much worse. And remember, it's 3/4 of the dialogue.

The actors and characters are all such embarrassing types that I'm not going to bother to remember/lookup their names or even their types. The only semi-competent actor is (surprise!) the middle-aged professor supervising their project. Yes, the character is a stupid conglomeration of professor cliches (he's British, wears sweaters, loves bourbon, learned archery at Eton, etc) but the character is less cliched than the others, and the actor doesn't embarrass himself. Everyone else does.

All that being said, I would still recommend this movie, especially if you can round up a group to see it with - and have alcohol. Zombies are blown up with dynamite, melted with hydrochloric acid, fried with a defibrillator, tied to a tree branch by their hair and shot into tiny pieces with a shotgun, trapped in a swimming pool, stabbed with a scythe, etc. All of this is fairly awesome, and if you know going in that the other 9/10 of the movie is going to be so bad you can laugh at it, you can enjoy yourself. I managed to figure out the score early enough to have a good time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Review: Persepolis


Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels Persepolis and Persepolis 2 are among my favorite works ever produced in that medium. Now they have been adapted into a film, Satrapi and Vincent Parronnaud's Persepolis, which I can safely say is one of my favorite films of this year.

First and foremost, Satrapi's illustrations practically glow on-screen. The product of the French graphic novel enclave L'Association, Satrapi embraced the pure black-and-white (no greyscale) method of illustrating championed by L'Association's founder, David B. But whereas David B's illustrations are sinuous and elaborate constructions, Satrapi adopted a simpler and more iconic approach, one with more geometric figures than snaking lines. When transferred to the big screen, what previously appeared to be simple and iconic has become lush and captivating. American film audiences seem to have little sympathy for traditional animation in the 21st century, but surely it's because we we've never seen figures so striking as this. Whether the film is showing us the violence of war or the beauty of jasmine flowers, the images are indelible, simultaneously stark and beautiful.

Like the graphic novels, Persepolis is Satrapi's memoir of growing up as a young girl during the Iranian revolution, spending someunhappy time free from the regime's oppression in Europe, and returning to Iran as a young woman. The graphic novels told this story in a series of vignettes, only loosely advancing a larger plot, and the film adopts this method, except it covers even less of the material, and thus connects the dots even more loosely. The movie thus plays out as a gentle, unstrenuous journey throughout various points of Satrapi's life. Some of the vignettes last for a good chunk of time; some of them seem less than a minute long. Combined, they paint a picture of a young girl struggling to find herself in relation to a country that has lost itself. Friends and family come and go, some of them permanently at the hand of the regime, as Marjane tries to navigate the road into a adulthood.

Persepolis is not a plot-driven film, and thus even its 95 minutes could feel long if you're looking for something driving the action. But sit back, relax, and lose yourself in each individual vignette, and you'll find it to be one of the most rewarding films of the year - and possibly the best looking.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


The Hottie (left) and the Nottie

Atonement was widely praised by critics, garnering a metacritic score of 85 out of 100 and 7 Oscar Nominations, and strongly disliked both by The Critic (
and by several people I know who saw it. Having now seen it, it's hard for me to understand either reaction. While far inferior to Ian McEwan's original novel, Joe Wright's heritage picture follow-up to his heritage pic Pride and Prejudice succeeds in bringing McEwan's fascinating pre-WWII/WWII story and characters to life. Along the way, it introduces Scottish stud James McAvoy to an even larger audience, and, quite unbelievably, manages to not be completely ruined by the presence of Keira Knightley. There are few movies capable of not being ruined completely by Keira Knightley, so Wright deserves that much credit - even if he's to blame for her casting.

McEwan's novel is about both a romance between a lower-class intellectual and a young rich girl being interrupted by her younger sister's lie, and the difficult and complex moment of modernism and stream-of-consciousness in British literature that took place between the wars, played out in the younger sister's attempts to tell the story of that romance. That the film largely ditches the latter subject is to its credit; although it eviscerates McEwan's story, any attempt to render the novel's interiority would have been nearly impossible. Instead, Wright sticks to a fairly standard tale of star-crossed lovers, taking place in a lavishly filmed British mansion, a World War II hospital, and, in both the novel's and the film's finest sequence, captured France, as our protagonist Robbie tries to make his way to the evacuation point at Dunkirk. It does none of these things phenomenally, but it does none of them poorly, and if you're a fan of Oscar-bait heritage pictures (The English Patient, every Merchant and Ivory film, etc), than this one's for you.

Mini-Review: Starting out in the Evening

Starting out in the Evening
4/5 Stars

My initial response to the highly-acclaimed Starting out in the Evening was very similar to my initial response to the even more highly-acclaimed Juno: seriously? People liked this? But it's annoying!

Unlike Juno, which annoyed me because every character spoke in the same uber-witty manner, my annoyance for Evening was mainly directed at a single character: Heather Wolfe, the ambitious graduate student who's played by Lauren Ambrose to be simultaneously precocious, pretentious, and precious. Wolfe is doing her master's thesis (which seems to be about 200 pages long...) on Leonard Schiller, a former literary giant who has faded into obscurity. Schiller is both flattered and annoyed by Wolfe's interest, and their lively debate on whether or not his last two novels forsook the worthy theme of his first two provides some of the film's best scenes.

Besides that running debate, I otherwise found the relationship between Schiller and Wolfe to be a tedious rehash of any older man-younger woman Hollywood cliches you can think of. But Starting out in the Evening is richer than those cliches, and the director, Andrew Wagner, gradually spends less and less time focusing on Schiller's relationship with Wolfe, and more on his relationship with his daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) and her sometimes contentious relationship with her occasional boyfriend Casey (Adrien Lester). Taylor plays her character with the right blend of confidence and frustration throughout the film, and the script allows Casey to develop from the bad stereotype he appears to be into a rich and interesting character.

In short, I was not impressed with Lauren Ambrose or her character, but that fault eventually falls away as the film slowly widens its scope to include Ariel and Casey. In the end, although the grad student stuff feels phony, Starting out in the Evening seems right on difficult subjects ranging from literature to romantic love to the strains of aging on familial. It's not perfect, and Langella's performance as Schiller isn't as earth-shattering as others would have you to believe, but it ends up both true and touching, which is more than enough for me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider, 1932-2008

One of Hollywood's most underappreciated leading men, Roy Scheider, was recently lost to us. The picture I've posted is from his role in Jaws, by far Steven Spielberg's best film. It was also Scheider's best role - to the best of my knowledge, he was the leading man in a critically successful Hollywood film only once after Jaws: in Bob Fosse's All that Jazz, which I lamentably have not seen. You might recognize him as Gene Hackman's partner in The French Connection, and, if you're super dorky, you might recognize him in the role that first exposed me to him, as a nerdtacular scifi child of 10 years old: Captain Nathan Bridger of Seaquest, which could pretty much be summed up as "Star Trek: TNG in a Submarine, with Sam Raimi's crappy brother Ted in a role in which we are inexplicably supposed to think he's cool, and Jonathan Brandis before he died." God I loved that show. I will never watch an episode of it, in order to preserve my pre-adolescent love of it. But if I ever do, I have no doubt that Scheider won't let me down. And yes, in Seaquest, he got a bigger boat.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Love, A.O. Scott Style

Just after I weighed in on love, our Patron Saint decided to do so as well. He's a better writer than me. Enjoy.