Thursday, January 03, 2008

Am I Too Late To Jump This Bandwagon?

Oh, hell. I’ve been wrestling with this for weeks. Do I jump on the bandwagon? Or in a fit of protest over my individuality, do I abstain from boring my readers (all two of them) with my thoughts on the years “Best Of" whatever?

I know, full well, that I cannot compete with what I consider the master of all "Top Music" lists, so in the spirit of individuality, and well, mainly because I’m flat out of time and have to get some work done, the following are my Top Six Movies of 2007, Along With 4 Honorable Mentions And A Few Others I Could’ve Lived Without. The official term, I believe.

1. Ratatouille – Maybe I’m prejudicial. But it’s my damn blog, and I’ll rant if I want to. And in my opinion, Ratatouille was one of the sweetest, funniest, coolest films of the year, if not “the” one. The fact that it was all about the culinary arts had nothing to do with it, really, I swear.

This was however, for Pixar, on a plane above even my other favorite, Finding Nemo, which till now, really I had never thought they’d top. The plucky tale of a food-obsessed rat with the taste of Julia Child herself was refreshing and surprising. Chock full of both verbal and visual wit, genius comedic timing and enough j’ne sai quos to satisfy even the snootiest Francophile, Ratatouille was as thoroughly pleasing as a slab of St. Andre with apricot preserves, a baguette & a glass of Bordeaux on an autumn picnic. Not to mention that it contained what was probably the best performance of Peter O’Toole’s career (as Anton Ego, the critic from The Grim Eater).

Ratatouille faithfully carried out its thematic elements with a sensitivity and depth that belied its intent as a children’s movie. Touching on the pursuit of excellence over mediocrity and the unavoidability of family differences, it spoke to its audience with such personal insight, that anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider looking in could not help but be touched and moved to their very soul. I almost felt like I was Remy, the little blue rat with the oddly oversized nose and the annoyingly visceral family. Yet, it never gets so sappy that it forgets to infuse its audience with the joy of artistic creation and intuitive partnership that is the basis for the plotline between Remy & Linguine, his human counterpart.

Ratatouille is a kid’s movie that I would be happy to watch over & over again wit the niece & nephew were it not for the fact that at the end I’m always left with a nostalgic wistfulness for a trip to Paris and a hankering for some good Coq Au Vin. Like a perfect broth or stock, it is clearly a winner.

2. No Country For Old Men – the fact that this was a Cormac McCarthy novel scared me a bit at first, as I’m not exactly a fan. Only the uber-talented, creative genius’s, the Coen Bros could’ve done it justice however. And in a tale where justice is relative, it was done well my friend.

The screen seems to be painted with a stark gravity, a merciless sort of poverty really, in this tale of a movie. My only complaint might have been the vaporous ending, but really, McCarthy’s more to blame there, as Joel & Ethan Coen strayed not from his book or his dialogue, lending it breath and vision.

Do I even need to comment on the chilly sort of fear that Javier Bardem imparts, in his bowl haircut, as the most relentless villain of the year? I've not been a big fan of his before, but after this role, even if he played Santa Claus dressed up as Jesus, he could not redeem himself & win my warm affection. Respect, certainly, affection, uh-uh.

3. Gone Baby Gone – To say that this movie was personal to me would be like saying that Ben Affleck loves Boston. And after seeing this movie, any spectator knows one thing for sure. Ben Affleck loves Boston. Hell, Ben Affleck is Boston (though probably one of their more good-looking representatives).

Gone Baby Gone is an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s breakthrough novel, the first to introduce sleepy PI, Patrick Kenzie, and his razor-tongued assistant/sometimes girlfriend, Angie Gennaro. Years ago, this series was one of my obsessive favorites. Lehane painted the characters in this novel with such rich depth and color, that they seemed to jump off the page and right into my room. I could almost smell the Killians & cigarette smoke.

Therefore, the nervous pessimism that predisposed me to a negative opinion on Affleck’s direction, even before seeing the movie, was heavy (though not as heavy as the stories scenarios and themes). I mean, come on, I’m supposed to believe Daredevil was going to do this justice?

Yet, as the film starts, and the Boston landscape is portrayed in gritty realism, the camera scanning grafitti littered walls with tubby, pasty Bostonians lazily passing time in front of them, it becomes apparent that only someone with a true love for their native land could’ve nailed the accents, the scenery, the general slow summer vibe, the way Affleck did. And I’m still talking Ben here. We won’t even go near how truly affecting Casey Affleck’s performance was. The moral and ethical dilemma’s that his character wrestled with were played out with such moving subtlety and whispery perfection that you almost wanted to crawl through the screen and wrap your arms around him. If this brotherly team doesn’t see Oscar this year, I will be wicked pissed!

4. Stardust - The first thing I could think of when this movie ended was “It’s a Princess Bride for the next generation”. Like it’s legendary predecessor, it had all the necessary elements – a star studded cast, a beautiful heroine, a sometimes gawky, but ultimately handsomely triumphant hero and enough wit and banter to hold even the most cynical viewer transfixed. There is action, swashbuckling swordplay, CGI witchcraft, comedic genius (as Robert DeNiro surprises and delights as the unconventional pirate Shakespeare), sweet romance and adoration (which was my favorite part really) and much, much more. Yep, loaded with colorful, delightful characters, Stardust is a cameo dream and a visual feast.

The story was original enough for a fairy tale, the result of a local Minnesota writer’s imagination. Stardust originally was conceived as Neil Gaiman’s four-book 1997 DC Comics mini-series, which later became a novel, caught attention and was later adapted for the movie, quite well I might add.

As one of the main characters, the usually grating Claire Danes, shines as the impatient, slightly arrogant fallen star, Yvain. The true star, however, was Michelle Pfeiffer, as the embodiment of every wicked, evil, vain stepmother/witch. Next to DeNiro (who you must see to believe) she truly steals the show. She poured into every conniving turn and phrase the passion of a star who relished the opportunity to turn her beauty on its head.

Like an old time variety show, Stardust is an all around great, versatile choice for family, date night or whatever the occasion may be. I really hope that, like Princess Bride, this film ripens richly with age.

5. Once – in a summer awash with Shreks, Spideys, Pirates, Transformers and myriad of other big daddy films ready to squelch anyone in their path, it’s a miracle Once even got noticed, much less made it through.

Its strength was not in its budget, its special effects, its award-winning cast or its massive publicity sprawl – Once found all its strength, and its soul in its music. A unique, low-fi musical that is both a bit scruff around the edges and hauntingly beautiful, Once was touching, soulful and moving. It drew me in and transported me, through its music, to a place where I want to fall in love - Dublin.

I heard one reviewer call Once “not a musical, but a film about music. Once contains some of the best songs you will hear in a film, ever”. I agree. But though it’s the music that makes Once shine with heart and depth, its sweet love story will carry you along as well.

6. Waitress - I wasn’t expecting much from this film. Both low budget, and sporting Keri Russell as the main star, it just didn’t look that promising. The heartbreaking story of the death of its director, Adrienne Shelly, however, was what finally drew me into renting it one night. And I’m glad I did. Sometimes tender, sometimes sobering, funny, witty and touching, Waitress was a little Easter Egg of a surprise.

Ok, like Ratatouille, the fact that this film deals with the culinary world had something to do with its appeal. But that’s not to say I’m an easy sell – after all, I never even wasted my $8 on that Catherine Zeta-Jones/Aaron Eckhart flop earlier in the year, and that was about two chefs.

The hilarious, sometimes ingenious pie names that were inflicted on Jenna’s towering creations were so entertaining and amusing. Take “Pregnant-Miserable-Self-Pitying-Loser Pie” for instance, which boasts dark chocolate and raspberry puree in a towering confection of a pie shell. Or aphrodisiacal “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie”, with its Miami-esque colored marshmallow topping beckoning. Yep, the pie sequences, and the pie song especially, were creative and whimsical in this little gem of a film.

What moved me more, though, was the stark honesty written all over Jenna’s face as she faced some pretty scary, hopeless situations – an unwanted pregnancy in the midst of a very abusive relationship, with her jerk of a husband, Earl (played to a tee by award-worthy Jeremy Sisto). It was the surprising realism of this aspect of the storyline that kept me watching, and eventually broke my heart. Sure, there were parts that were typically predictable. Yet, no one but director Adrienne Shelly could’ve nailed the fear, apprehension and anger that Keri Russell’s character expressed at the coming of a baby she didn’t want, and felt no affection or maternal instinct for. How refreshing to hear her expressing her own hesitation to be a mother, to the baby – so very un-Hollywood! Instead of nailing you with the typical “romantic comedy happy ending” that could’ve brought this film down to the level of say “Sweet Home Alabama”, this film took the risk to show something true, which is always more moving, albeit bittersweet.

I’d call Waitress a chick flick, because nothing blows up in it – but I would also wholeheartedly recommend this film to anyone looking for a sweet human interest movie.

*On a side note, probably the tearjerker moment of the movie, for me, was the closing scene of Keri Russell triumphantly walking away holding, on her hip, her movie daughter, played in real life by Adrienne Shelly’s 3 year old pixie of a daughter. Knowing now about the brutal murder of this innocent independent actress/director, that scene didn’t just bring me to tears, but left me weeping.*

Ok, now it's time for the Honorable Mentions:

7. Atonement - the only thing in this movie prettier than Kiera Knightly, was the movie itself. Even the war scenes were shot so cunningly beautiful that it was hard to ascertain the realistic tragedy of battle, because I was wondering "How'd they do that??" A tragic love story, spanning the decades, with beauty everywhere - in the swirl of cigarette smoke against dinner jackets, and silk dresses, and beautiful coiffed hair and sweeping English landscapes, and refined British accents. Ooooh, it's just so purdy and so damn English!

8. Knocked Up - I love Judd Apatow. I love Seth Rogen (no, really, I really do, that hair, he's big & awkward, my kind of guy!), and even Katherine Heigl was neurotically adorable (till she went and shot her mouth off to Vanity Fair about the stereotypicalness of the roles in this movie - honey, that's what made it enjoyable!). Knocked Up managed to take those same stereotypes and portray them with such biting comedy that I was laughing on the floor. If you didn't love Paul Rudd before, then the scene where he waxes poetic about his imaginary DeLorean over dinner will draw you into a sweet little boy-crush. It probably was my favorite scene in the whole movie, though there were so many great ones, it's hard to pick. Dirty, foulmouthed, with full vaginal birthing shots, Knocked Up sure isn't for everyone, but I happened to love it. Take that Katherine Heigl!!

9. Hot Fuzz - I’m so glad this wasn't Shawn Of The Dead II. Though the trailers, at the time it came out, gave no indication to the towering heights of funny that this film soars over. Taking one of the most ridiculously outlandish genres of film - the action/adventure cop buddy movie - and turning it on its silly little British head, this movie cracked me up in so many ways. It literally made fun of itself at times. With fast sweeping little sequences of amazing sound editing, and one of the best impalement scenes ever (seriously, it was just as good as Brad Pitt getting hit by a car in Meet Joe Black. I rewound it like four times!), Hot Fuzz is definitely worth the rent.

10. 300 - Last but not least, the late winters highly anticipated, grandiose, CGI bloodbath rendition of the battle of Thermopylae. Packed with so many special effects, so much visual candy, I couldn't keep my eyes focused, that was till Gerard Butlers’ thighs entered the scene, and then things became a lot more tranquil in my little world. Fantastical, voluptuous, bloody, ferocious, wow, this movie did not let up for one minute, and retold one of history's most senseless battles in a way that entertained the 13 year old boy in all of us.

And before I are just a few I could've lived without:

The Transformers Movie – Overblown, overly lengthy, overly caffeinated, way too much testosterone (channeling Independence Day), and just, too, too, too much. Shia LeBeouf, however, was charming as always.

30 Days Of Night – Such a classic graphic novel. The very first graphic novel I ever read (yeah, I got into comics kinda late). Just would’ve been better left untouched and pristine as the Alaskan landscape where it was set. The screaming, Eastern European traveling cirque vampires got on my last nerve after a while and I just wanted to plug my ears & bitch slap them.

The Heartbreak Kid – after a healthy dose of Judd Apatow humor this year (with Superbad and Knocked Up) the Farrelly brothers seem to just be overreaching. They were, in my opinion, really just trying too hard to push the envelope, instead of allowing the raunchy comic genius to flow as naturally as it did in Something About Mary. I could’ve done without the Kitty Ring & the Donkey Show, really I could’ve.

Zodiac – Actually, I was really looking forward to this true-crime thriller, for the fact that it’s in my favorite genre, and included three of my favorite hot guy actors, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. & Jake Gyllenhaal (wow, that’s quite the tall, dark, handsome triple stack!! Highly inappropriate club sandwich references are now running through my head!). The movie, based on real events, however was not able to gracefully meld the crimes and subsequent investigations, into one cohesive story well enough to keep the pace moving or capture my attention for the entire duration of the film. The lengthy pauses between important plot twists, and the lack of any resolution to the events were awkward enough to sully the movie as a whole.

Pirates Of The Caribbean; At Worlds End - Yeah, been there, done that, and the first one still rocked the best. The extended dream like sequence, amongst miles of white sand, and forty CGI Johnny Depps, was surreal, and not in a good Dali clocks kind of way. Probably should’ve just fast forwarded to the very end when Orlando Bloom does the whole Davey Jones thing, and hooks up with Kiera Knightly on the beach. Oh, did I just ruin it? Oh well. ;-)

Ghost Rider – OMG. I’m so embarrassed to say I even watched this. But, I went to high school with Eva Mendes, and though she was a few years ahead of me, I still feel compelled to follow her career with pride. Till now. Oh, and by the way, does Nic Cage just have one method of acting that he does now, despite the script/character? Yet another reason to hate Scientology.

Ok, so just in case you think I have more to say.....let me add, in the great tradition of movies past, that this is........


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