2007 Movie Reviews

I’m at work. I’m surrounded by 3 ¼ of cubicle wall and a bunch of people who, unlike me, love what they do. I feel like Al Gore cutting the ribbon at the Yucca Mountain grand opening. It’s utterly nauseating to stare at this carpet-wall all day. If I had eaten chicken salad for lunch then it would be all over my monitor right now. But I didn’t, I had 46 Cheeze’Its. My imagination is steadily shrinking from the lack of use it gets put to. I can’t stay focused on any one thing for very long at all. I changed my pants this morning more times than Mitt Romney changed his mind on abortion…this morning. And for what? So it would match my shirt? I forgot to even wear a shirt!! One might say I have writers’ block, but for the mind. Sort of like how scissor packages say “Not for children under the age of 6 and…Brittany Spears.”, my brain box says “Not for anything creative, imaginative…or Brittany Spears”. Okay, maybe the last bit goes without saying, but the former portion is what needs to be addressed. It’s only healthy to create and imagine, but if this “Corporate America” trend keeps up, I will go off like Mike Gundy at a guess-your-age booth at the Payne County Fair. I turn from the window and the enticing four-story jump it holds and go back to my cubicle to do something productive for a change. I’m putting together my Top 10 Movies of the year 2007 and a few of the worst as well for fun. 2007 has been a great year for film-lovers. Week after week the theatres have screened what feels like too many movies to see. So, it’s pretty exciting to be able to write about it. I demote my pivot table and begin.

P.S. If you viewed P.S. I Love You in the theaters and didn’t get carried out on a stretcher, you best exit now and go back to your daily dose of TMZ.com.

1. There Will Be Blood
We begin in complete silence save a very dynamic and dissonant score as Daniel Plainview digs his own underground silver mine. He blows up rocks with dynamite. He climbs in and out with sticks nailed to the rock wall and a pulley system lifts his home-made tools. There is no dialogue for about the first 15 minutes. This is the first stage in his evolution as an oil man. He has a son and business partner, H.W. Plainview. They go from town to town and pitch their skills as oil prospectors. They receive a tip from a young man, Paul Sunday, giving the location of oil in a town called Little Boston. The Plainview’s make their way to this new Promised Land to broaden their business. It is here that the story unfolds and grows. This film is epic, grand, dark and bold. It’s a character study, a rise and fall, a tour de force (a term which I very much dislike using). It’s an achievement in all aspects of cinema. Paul Thomas Anderson once again creates something that will stand the test of time by being both elegant and haunting at once. Based on the novel, Oil!, by Upton Sinclair, Anderson adapts for the screen, and still leaving traces of his own style for us to find, and directs it phenomenally. It has been compared to Giant, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and even Citizen Kane; all of which are valid comparisons. Robert Elswit, photographs beautifully the frontier and farmland, using appropriate opportunities to show off unpretentiously his skill in cinematography and long single shots. The most beautiful being the scenes where Plainview and is “brother” are surveying the land between Little Boston and the coast. Another incredible shot is the scene where H.W. returns from school. The camera shoots the length of the pipeline being laid and then rests on Daniel and H.W. as we study their new form of communication. Not only is the cinematography artistic and beautiful, but it has a purpose. It advances the plot beautifully by teaming with the very dark and brilliant score, which was written by Radiohead front man, Johnny Greenwood. The score repeats certain phrases and chords and mysteriously has us recall scenes from earlier in the film during which it played. Daniel Day-Lewis gives another magnificent performance. He is completely engulfed in this character, Daniel Plainview, who is unpredictable in every way except his lust for oil drilling. He is a volcano constantly on the verge of eruption. He jerks the audience around by showing love for his son, but then minutes later chooses his business as his priority. It is his love for drilling that ultimately alienates him from son, and everyone else for that matter. Plainview is a character to behold as we see his journey to power. Paul Dano plays the twin brothers Paul and Eli Sunday, the latter of which is the eccentric preacher of the Church of the Third Revelation in Little Boston and also, natural enemy of Daniel Plainview. By the end, the story bottlenecks and zooms in on the film-long boxing match between Plainview and Sunday. This film is a masterpiece and an instant classic. I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren that I actually saw this film in the theatre.

2. Once
Imagine going into a theatre without any preconceived notions about a film and leaving completely elated. This is one of the best movies of the year and has, by far, the best soundtrack. Written & directed by John Carney and made for under $160,000, this modern-day musical stars Glen Hansard from the Irish band, The Frames, and co writer Marketa Irglova as their paths cross, musical talents merge and form the best film of the year. Once takes us through a few days of the character’s lives as they share their music with each other. It studies their short relationship and how their music has been influenced by their past. This is truly a songwriter’s movie and music and lyrics created in this film are nothing short of perfect. It is shot in a grainy, handheld-like format, some of which used with long-lens so that passersby remained unaware of the miracle that was being created around them. For a glorious movie experience, watch this. It is simple and a must see for film music/lovers.

3. Atonement
It’s hard to imagine that someone could envision this film prior to making it. 2nd time director, Joe Wright, did and it’s obvious that much thought was put into each shot that was made. This film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement is a period piece set during World War II. Wright adds his own style and artistic signature throughout with smokey, wordless scenes and beautiful cinematography all of which mix perfectly with the beautiful score. James McAvoy continues to impress and Kierra Knightley shows us that she can act without being obnoxious. Atonement is the story of how jealousy can direct someone to see something that wasn’t necessarily so, resent what one doesn’t understand and the drastic consequences it has on everyone else. Brioney, the girl who royally screws up the lives of Robbie (McAvoy) and Cecilia (Knightley), is played by 3 different women from her adolescence (Saoirse Ronan) to late teens (Romola Garai) and finally as an elderly woman (Vanessa Redgrave) telling her story to the world. It also addresses the concept of tweaking reality in one’s writing to present the subject matter through a different point of view. The twist in this movie truly gives the audience the proper perspective of the difference in what could have been and what actually happened. The film presents perfect editing and it truly shows in the storytelling. I have to mention the amazing 5 ½ minute single tracking shot where the camera gracefully follows Robbie (McAvoy) on Dunkirk beach through a mass of British soldiers in a gazebo as they sing along with the score, a wrecked ship, destroyed buildings and even a ferris wheel. Wright takes period pieces to another level.

4. No Country For Old Men
What do you get when you mix the hardboiled, edgy wit of Raymond Chandler with the wide-open, epic cinematography and direction of John Ford? No, not “The Big Sleeping Searchers” and no, not “The Thin Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. No Country For Old Men, that’s what. The setting is Texas, 1980 and action-packed suspense from alpha to omega. The Coen’s have brought back the old western style into a semi-modern time by adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel by the same name, direct, edit and produce their best work since Fargo. Roger Deakins photographs a beautiful film. The Coens continue to make the audience love horrible people. “Mucho denaro” in the form of $2 million-cash is stumbled upon by Llewlyn Moss (Josh Brolin) as he tries desperately to stear clear of the unstoppable and ruthless Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem); whose madness is based on principle and who also scares the bejesus out of everyone. Batting third is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). He’s smart enough to figure out what’s going on, but also realizes that times, as always, are changing. I can’t write this review without mentioning Kelly Macdonald’s performance as Moss’ wife, Carla Jean…it’s good too. If you want Hollywood to hold your hand as you watch a shootout of an ending and one that requires no thought, then please go see Michael Bay’s next fiasco. This film has meaning.

5. Juno
This movie mad an impact at the box office even before Oprah got her hands on it. Diablo Cody hits a grand slam with this first-time script by putting her clothes on, letting go of the stripper poll, and writing a screenplay that completely takes slang and witty dialogue to an entirely new level. Ellen Page is taking Hollywood by storm and Michael Cera, as always, has a quiet and reserved hilarity about his acting. Everything about this film is new and refreshing. Juno, directed by Jason Reitman, tells the story of a 16 year old (Ellen Page) who has just found out she is pregnant. She wrestles briefly with the idea of abortion until her picketing friend tells her that her fetus has fingernails. Buzzing from this double-shot of perspective, she finds a happy couple (Jason Bateman & Jennifer Garner) that will adopt the baby. The quick-paced, hilarious dialogue makes Juno the most well-written movie of the year. Mark my words come Oscar time when they announce Best Original Screenplay. It’s the funniest movie of the year and it’s a great time at the theatre.

6. Eastern Promises
David Cronenberg, as usual, presents another drama thriller that leaves us with more questions than it actually answers. Naomie Watts plays a midwife who stumbles across the diary of a young mother who has died during childbirth. She has it translated in an effort to find the family. Viggo Mortensen plays a driver for the Russian mob, the head of which upon translating the diary, realizes he must destroy the baby. Once again Cronenberg does something that’s never been done on film involving a bath-house, two Russian hit men and an incredibly nude and vulnerable Viggo Mortensen. Eastern Promises is visually striking but at the same time has simplicity about it. From the violence to the passing background during the motorcycle ride, Cronenberg sticks to his roots by being simple, yet stark. As the film comes to a close, it’s plain to see that Cronenberg barely scratches at the surface of what seems to be a very deep story. If you want Hollywood to hold your hand as they power-point you through until all questions are answered, then try License To Wed…and then die…

7. Michael Clayton
Michael Clayton is a film that gradually comes into focus throughout and not until the very end is it perfectly clear. However, it’s not confusing to the point of frustration and it’s not wordy to the point of pretention. Stephen Gaghan take notes…this is what Syriana should have been. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a janitor for a law firm. Not one that cleans toilets, but one that quietly cleans up messes for people in high positions; saving their reputation. Sort of like what Ted Kennedy must have used when he “accidentally” drove himself and Mary Jo Kopechne off a bridge in 1969. (“Errah, if you got a hooka in da cah, make shah ya drive her off da bridge errah”). Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), works for the same law firm as Clayton and has been doing work for a corporation for years when, after uncovering extremely unethical and fraudulent actions and information, builds his own case against the corporation and goes insane during the process. Tilda Swinton plays a very neurotic corporate spokeswoman that is well aware of the corporate scandals and also, quite a turn off looks-wise. You hate everything about her. Clayton, taking the evidence Eden has left him, totally sticks it to the man by exposing the corporation at a shareholders meeting. Hope I didn’t ruin it for you. This movie doesn’t try to dizzy you with the plot and script although one must pay attention to keep up. Michael Clayton is visually dark, sharply written and contains underlying themes involving his sons red book that I will not get into here. George Clooney does some of his best acting as the credits role (he neither bobs his head, nor smirks). He communicates, wordlessly, everything he’s just gone through and you believe him because you’ve witnessed the whole thing.

8. Waitress
The late Adrienne Shelly writes, directs and acts in a whimsical and quaint film that’s more independent than Ralph Nader was in 2004 and much more successful. This film made quite an impact at the Sundance Film Festival. Kerri Russell proves that she can hold her own as the frontrunner of a film by playing Jenna, a waitress in a small café. She has a different pie recipe for every mood she’s in, which is usually a bad one courtesy of Earl (Jeremy Sisto), her husband who’s abusive in just about every way. Jenna is driven to an affair with her doctor as part of a journey to find out what she really wants out of life. Andy Griffith gives an emotional performance (as usual) as Old Joe, the owner of the café. In his most brilliant scene he describes the texture and taste of a good pie…and it’s never sounded so good.

9. Ratatouille
Brad Byrd (The Incredibles) writes and directs Pixar’s newest movie about Remy, a rat who loves to cook. Despite his family who has no food preference, eating mainly from the trash and who also have a hatred of humans, Remy finds a way to do what he truly loves to do; and that is to cook. Ratatouille is Pixar’s most mature movie. Even though the goal is to appeal to children, this film is geared toward adults more so than any other Pixar has done. There are parts in the movie where you wonder whether it’s animation or actual footage of Paris. Ratatouille truly magnifies the beauty and color of the city with wide landscapes centered with the Eiffel Tower and with the artistic style and color of Van Goh and Monet. The film relies on story, which makes it all the better.

10. Before The Devil Knows
Sydney Lumet shows us that, at 83 years old, he can still make a great movie. Shot in a style reminiscent of Network and Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead comes from the Irish Proverb, “May you be 40 years in Heaven before the devil knows you’re dead.” Hank (Ethan Hawke) is the youngest of 3 siblings; one brother and one sister. He is divorced and months behind on child support. Andy (Phillip Seymoure Hoffman) is a payroll supervisor with a drug problem supported by the salaries of two imaginary employees. Inspired by this problem-in-common, the two band together and form a plan to rob their parents’ jewelry store. This plan seems foolproof because the insurance will take care of family’s losses and they will end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hank carries out the mission with a hoodlum friend of his whom, not knowing any different, kills the mother who is working at the store and also gets himself killed. We view the movie through several different installments starting from different points in time and points of view of the characters, which makes for fascinating storytelling. The end is through the eyes of their father, Charles (Albert Finney). We follow him as he deals with the loss of his wife, his children’s problems and finally, solving the mystery of his wife’s murder and gaining retribution by stuffing a pillow in his son’s face. Family quibbles always seem to work themselves out.

11th Place:
The Diving Bell & Butterfly – innovate & experimental cinematography. Great script & acting.
La Vie En Rose – worth seeing just for Marion Cotillard’s performance.
Into The Wild – character study of rebellious wanderer. Great performances
The Orphanage – the scariest movie of the year and it’s Spanish.
Charlie Wilson’s War – Nichols, Hanks, Roberts, Hoffman, Adams…enough said. Comedic political retrospect that doesn’t take itself seriously.
Enchanted – Amy Adams outdoes herself, again. Disney spoofs itself, finally. Adults and children laugh at the same jokes for different reasons. Refreshing.
Sweeney Todd – Burton/Depp’s newest film. Violent to the point of nausea, great fun and great music.
Hairspray – for a great time at the movies. Great music, great dancing. Loveable.
The Darjeeling Limited – Wes Anderson needs Owen Wilson to keep folks interested.
Harry Potter OOTP – huge fan. Good adaptation, effects and of course, a great story.
I’m Not There – Todd Haynes abstract interpretation of Bob Dylan’s life. 6 actors portray Dylan. Blanchett gives another great performance.
The Bourne Ultimatum – Greengrass directs the best of the Bourne’s. Great action & spastic camera work.
Knocked Up – Realistic story and insanely funny.
Hot Fuzz – Quick-edit action flicks. I hope they never run out of ideas.
Grindhouse – it’s all about the experience. Needs to be viewed with all 4 trailers and both movies.
Dan In Real Life – a real comedy. If Dane Cook had to be cast, at least he’s subdued.
Sicko – Moore’s least controversial and most thought-provoking.
Gone Baby Gone – Ben Affleck’s first take at directing. Casey Affleck comes to his own as an actor.
Zodiac – Fincher’s newest tells the story of a killer. Visually stunning.
Away From Her – Julie Christie’s performance puts it on the map. Gordon Pinset opens your eyes to the world around you.
Bug – Hitchcock-y. The power of the mind when influenced psychologically.

The Worst
Basically, when I say “The Worst” I also include the most disappointing. These are the ones that started with a boat-load of hype and turned out to suck. These movies had every reason to be good, whether it be a director, script or actors and despite these advantages, still managed to disappoint.

1. License To Wed
This movie is one unrealistic misunderstanding causing one unrealistic reaction after another. If you didn’t write your own vows at your rehearsal dinner, your fiance’ isn’t going to walk out on you for it. And if she does, then good riddance biotch. Go find someone that can write vows, hope he makes you happy. License To Wed is just down beyond mediocre. Robin Williams’ needs an intervention for this. Mandy Moore gets an eternal pardon from crappy movies because that’s just her style. John Krazinsky is one “smirk-into-the-camera” away from being forever type-cast as a “30-year-old slacker who has potential and knows it but doesn’t fully use it because he doesn’t really give a crap”, character. Trust me; we don’t need another one of those. I was flying over Cuba while this movie was playing on the plane. I wanted to jump out and take my chances with the Marxist-Leninist-Communist way of life there.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean 3
I knew this movie was going to suck big-time because the 2nd Pirates sucked and, since they filmed both the 2nd and 3rd installments at once, I had no reason to believe this one would be any better. I was correct. This movie is an endless array of meaningless scenes that does not follow its own plotline. One gets the impression that the script was being written as the camera was rolling. As a matter of fact, it’s as if they just made up the story as they went along and with no script. The effects aren’t that great, but there are a lot of them so your basic movie-goer is automatically wowed by that. That’s the problem these days. The standard for movies is so low that audiences don’t recognize good or bad, just boring or “frickin’ sweet”. In my opinion in most cases, boring trumps “frickin’ sweet”. Thank goodness (don’t jinx it) this trilogy is over.

3. 300
What was the point? Oh, I know, to show off special effects. Wow, good job guys. Someone took a bucket of special effects, threw it all over the monitor and then took the mouse and wiggled it around some. There’s only so much slow-motion decapitating that one can take and 300 more than wears it out. I’ll give you a rundown of the movie. The leader says, “Sparta, Charge!!” and then the men go “YEA!! ARRGHH!!” No questions asked. This movie had fanboys crapping themselves all over America.

4. Transformers
Maybe this movie shouldn’t be on here because it’s Michael Bay and can you really expect anything more from this guy? John Voight fulfills his usual role of being a man of political power and corny one-liners who can also wield a shotgun. Shia Lebouf takes a quick blockbuster stop on his way to the top. Apparently, Hoover Dam is home to the evil Transformer who comes alive and starts a fight between the good and evil Transformers. The effects are cool, except when they start scrapping. They then turn into blurry objects rolling around crashing into buildings and what not. So, in reality, the special effects aren’t good and neither is this movie.

5. American Gangster
It’s more disappointing than bad. Washington and Crowe are two of my least favorite actors and here they play their usual type-cast selves. They play the same character every time and I can’t help but notice their personal mannerisms leaking through their characters on screen. This to me is a sign of mediocre acting. Director Ridley Scott tries with another swing and a miss. He hasn’t done a decent film since, some might say Gladiator, but I say Thelma & Louise or Blade Runner. Nothing happens in this film. It tries to take too much from other films with like-manner. Crowe tries to catch Washington. That’s it. He finally does and for about 5 minutes of the film they’re in the negotiation room together, which is actually pretty good stuff. The movie then ends with a “thought-provoking scene” with Washington being released from prison in a different time and apparently a different world. It provoked no thoughts from me.

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