2007 Film Review: Top 60 Movies (20-1 and recap)


THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD-Andrew Dominik

The last installment of our favorite movies of the year…

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20-THE BAND’S VISIT-Eran Kolirin (Trailer)

Chosen to represent Israel at the Oscars, but disqualified for being partially spoken in English; the impossible story of a brass band from the Egyptian army invited to play in Israel for the opening of an Arab cultural centre; with its members getting lost on arrival, could have well spawned a gripping drama. Instead, it was one of the warmest, most humane works among the ones released in 2007. In times of new atrocities being perpetrated upon Gaza’s population, the central idea behind this charming comedy makes it even more touching and necessary.

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19-HALF NELSON-Ryan Fleck (Trailer)

Hailed as a powerful slice of real life for its political consciousness in times when movies seem to avoid politics at all cost, many issues were raised by it; particularly the rigors of a neo-conservative philosophy that has conquered Today’s America, nearly wiping out left-wing ideals and affecting society at every level, from the streets to the classrooms. “Half Nelson” was also one of the most accomplished dramas of the year, enhanced by two star-turn performances by Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps, told through the relationship between a disillusioned white history teacher, addicted to crack, and the pupil he befriends, a lonely black girl, when he’s caught by her having a fix.

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18-BLACK BOOK-Paul Verhoeven (Trailer)

Paul Verhoeven’s return to his country found him in the best shape he’s been for ages with this epic war flick, the most expensive Dutch movie ever made, in which a singer in WWII’s Nazi occupied Holland joins the resistance and, after meeting an SS officer who falls for her charms, she’s sent to spy at his headquarters. Circumstances will conspire to make her appear as a traitor to both sides. Hugely entertaining, this big-budged production restored the faith in one of the most innovative and commercially successful directors of the past forty years; faith that was lost since with “Showgirls” Verhoeven created the genre formerly known as “involuntary comedy”.

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17-CONTROL-Anton Corbjin (Trailer)

Anton Corbjin left behind years as one of the most in demand videoclip directors (Depeche Mode; Moby and U2, among others, owe him part of their excellent audiovisual image) and in a logical evolution, for his debut chose the biopic of a recent rock icon, Ian Curtis; based on his wife’s memoir. In glorious black and white, with an attention to detail rarely seen, recreating the landmark moments in the career of Joy Division; Sam Riley and Samantha Morton nailed their performances as the lead couple. And even when the depiction of the events that led to Curtis’ tragic death was somehow inconclusive, “Control” was a real treat for rock fans and an excellent movie for everyone else.

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16-AWAY FROM HER-Sarah Polley (Trailer)

Another actress, muse of the independents, recently known by her leading role in Isabel Coixet’s “My Life without Me”, jumped into writing and directing with notorious aplomb describing a victim of Alzheimer’s life, with a magnificent performance by Julie Christie that’s going to earn her the Oscar young Ellen Page permitting, and the sacrifices her husband has to go through while the disease goes on. Moving, yet avoiding sentimental clichés, some comedy touches helped balancing the second half of this tough drama.

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15-THE BOSS OF IT ALL-Lars Von Trier (Trailer)

The mastermind behind the Dogma movement, always trying new paths, this time made a comedy for the first time, maybe to lighten up the intellectual load his movies are commonly known for. The owner of an IT company made a big boss up to divert responsibility on unpopular decisions. When the company needs to be sold to an Icelandic investor; he pays an unemployed actor to take on the president’s role with unexpected consequences. This funny idea successfully showed another side of the Rober award winner Danish director.

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14-THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM-Paul Greengrass (Trailer)

Paul Greengrass left again his personal stamp and frantic rhythm in the last and best movie of the Jason Bourne saga; script provided by “Michael Clayton” director Tony Gilroy, and an impressive cast of superb actors both regulars (Damon; Joan Allen) and new (David Starthairn; Paddy Considine). In this third installment, Robert Ludlum’s penned character went to Madrid, Tangiers and New York, among other locations, in order to find his true identity and, even when theoretically was reaching its end, a convenient last minute escapade left the door potentially opened to new adventures.

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13-THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD-Andrew Dominik (Trailer at the beginning)

One of the most controversial movies of the year, not for its content but for the division that generated between supporters, who elevated it as a masterpiece, and detractors underlining its excessive length, slow and gradual pace and irregular ending, Nick Cave singing cameo included. The idea of a western starring Brad Pitt induced to think about typical classic tales of outlaws and gunmen. Instead, we found a film in the genre’s new tradition; existentialist and adding depth to the characters and motivations behind the former character stereotypes; meticulously narrated; with prodigious cinematography, art direction and top notch performances from Pitt as the iconic bandit next to Casey Affleck as his assassin, the actual carrier of the film.

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12-LUST, CAUTION-Ang Lee (Trailer)

Suffering from the same excessive length that afflicted “Jesse James” was the only flaw in this espionage movie in which Ang Lee mastered another genre, nearly completing now every single one of the cinematic spectrum. “Lust, Caution” rewarded concentration with another visual feast recreating the times of Japanese invasion in China and sexual explicit scenes as its main selling point. But whoever expected to describe it as “The Last Tango in Shanghai” found that sex was not such a big part in the story of a group of idealist students, driven by patriotic will against the invaders, who will end up spying and trying to kill a high rank politician who cooperated with the enemy.

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11-ZODIAC-David Fincher (Trailer)

In the same lengthy vein of the two former positions, but with a more fluid narration, David Fincher returned with another exceptionally well-conceived work about the real events behind the unresolved crimes of the zodiac killer, who during the seventies terrorized the San Francisco area; leaving police drowned in confusion due to the total absence of clues; reaching notoriety through messages to the media. A grisly tale of a journalist’s obsession to solve those crimes, helped by the political cartoonist on his journal and two homicide detectives, who kept on investigating for decades until reaching some light for its resolution.

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10-NOTES ON A SCANDAL-Richard Eyre (Trailer)

An acting masterclass from Judi Dench and Cate Blanchet elevated this film, dealing with a subject that seemed taken from the pages of a typically sensationalist British tabloid, to favourite status. The loneliness and cynicism of a veteran teacher will interfere in the life of a newly arrived, younger one. They become odd friends by chance, but the manipulative character of the former began taking positions in order to acquire the second’s whole attention; until she founds her having an affair with one of her pupils. This exceptionally gripping character study kept the tension in crescendo until the last scene.

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9-THE LIVES OF OTHERS-Florian Henckel (Trailer)

Halfway between a political thriller and a poignant drama; the vision of East Germany in the mid Eighties under the rule of the Stasi, the state police who turned the last days of the Communist country into a constant paranoia of generalized espionage and intrusion in its citizen’s lives, earned unanimous acclaim for its complex recreation of a social system’s decadence through the roles of an officer, the intellectual couple (play writer and lead actress) he had to report on and the moral consequences that process will have in all of them. Henckel went to win, among many other awards, the Oscar to the foreign movie with this work bound to become a future classic.

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8-I’M NOT THERE-Todd Haynes (Trailer)

Bob Dylan received the anti-biopic treatment in this, the first movie dedicated to his persona in which Todd Haynes ignored the usual rules of biography and experimentally tried to deconstruct its figure through six different actors, representing different aspects in the personality of the legendary songwriter. With different degrees of success, the bluesman; the poet; the protest folk writer; the new born Christian; the star and the cynic were all reflected by a cast that included the late Heath Ledger and a spectacular Cate Blanchett. The soundtrack was made of the cream of alternative and indie US musicians covering their favorite moments along his five decades of career. It was possibly the best way to pay a screen tribute to such an influential and changing popular culture icon.

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7-RATATOUILLE-Brad Bird (Trailer)

Pixar did it again! The best animated movie of the year belonged once more to its factory, full of his trademark entertainment with an all-family appeal, blending a superb script any other film would have kill for with excellent art direction and an impossible tale with the inspiring big message of “Be whatever you want to be, against any circumstances”. It introduced a new set of classy characters headlined by Remy, the rat with a superior sense of smell and a passion for high cuisine, who desperately wanted to become a chef despite the prejudices against his kind. A nemesis in the shape of a terrible food critic, whose heart will be finally won by the excellence of Remy’s dishes. At first, the recipe didn’t look very appetizing, but it was ultimately delicious.

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6-INTO THE WILD-Sean Penn (Trailer)

Sean Penn went back behind the camera in order to shoot the real life story of a young graduate who, disillusioned by the double moral standards of the ones surrounding him and the traps of today’s commercialized world, decides to break all his ties at the same time than his credit cards and goes to the wildest nature looking for answers, leaving with the basics towards the mountains of Alaska, equipped with a guide to identify edible plants as his main survival weapon. His adventure ended tragically, but the persons and situations he encountered on his way were full of truth and harbored deep vital lessons. With a few National Geographic type of shots less, it would have been a true masterpiece.

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5-EASTERN PROMISES-David Cronemberg (Trailer)

Excelling himself on the new phase started with “A History of Violence”, in which the Canadian director leaves behind fantasy and horror, considered minor genres, to follow more respected ways. “Eastern Promises” offered an, as shocking as violent, view of the Russian mafia’s modus operandi. Placed in London, Naomi Watts struggled a bit against the English capital’s always hard traditional accent, whereas Viggo Mortensen gave the performance of his career. Nearly Perfect!

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4-INLAND EMPIRE-David Lynch (Trailer)

Where Lynch discovered the wonders of digital cameras and began toying with them, and with his viewers. “Inland Empire” worked as a catalogue of his directing achievements, revisiting a big number of the tricks already shown elsewhere, from “Twin Peaks” whodunits to “Mulholland Drive” mystery solving hidden codes, with a touch of “Lost Highway” schizophrenia in a self-indulgent three-hour film, better enjoyed when abandoning any attempt to make sense out of it. Counting with at least four different layers of reality; two movies inside the movie, one of them in Polish; showing Laura Dern’s descent into the hells of madness and indigence; waves of surrealism; soap operas with canned laughs and rabbit-headed characters; prostitutes dancing to “The Locomotion”…Repeated viewing only added more confusion to its enigma. A real piss take, just a fascinating one.

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3-THIS IS ENGLAND-Shane Meadows (Trailer)

“Atonement” was not the best British movie of the year. The fifth full-length feature in Meadows career could proudly take the honors instead. Inspired by his own memories growing up in Margaret Thatcher’s England circa 1983, under the signs of unemployment and low morale after the Falklands defeat. The tale of a kid, whose father’s just been killed in the war, unexpectedly becoming friends with a gang of skinheads who introduced him to the new world of teenage distractions until one of them returns from jail, dividing the group and showing the harshest face of racism, violence and abuse. Incredibly emotional; finely observed and sensitively dealing with issues of identity and rites of passage; the social mechanisms of imitation and loyalty and the political problems of that era, some of them still around; “This is England” meant a complete triumph and Shane Meadows’ confirmation as one of the best filmmakers in the UK.

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1 (ex-aequo) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN-Ethan & Joel Coen (Trailer)

Our number one this year is shared by two works that arrived to European cinemas in the first week of 2008, but whose presence was widely felt across the festival circuit all through the past year. The first of them is the Coen Brothers’ glorious return to their best shape, leaving behind years of irregular attempts to explore new paths by adapting first class literary material, the acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy. An underlying sad reflection about the harshness of living in America, behind the apparent tale of a drug deal gone terribly wrong and its consequences for three men, who represent three different ways to face reality: the Vietnam veteran who by chance discovers the place of the deal with a bunch of corpses and a suitcase full of money and decides to keep it as the only chance for a better life for him and his wife; the killer sent to bring the loot back (a frightening Javier Bardem who should be preparing his acceptance speech for the Oscar) and the retiring sheriff in charge of the case, whose philosophical musings are the real conductor of the story.

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1(ex-aequo)-4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND TWO DAYS-Cristian Mungiu (Trailer)

Deserving winner of the Palm D’Or at Cannes, the second feature in Romanian Cristian Mungiu’s filmography described with brutal realism the dodgy dealings to get an abortion, forbidden by law during the economically depressed era Romania was going through before the fall of dictator Ceaucescu; where the lack of basic resources added extra bleakness to the already dramatic story. The action began in a student’s residency, where everyone needs to barter cigarettes and everyday products to get by, and develops in a hotel room. Its script and main performances were the highlights, next to a simple yet terribly effective execution. The enormous sacrifices the young girl and the friend who helps her had to go through and the gripping way the consequences of their actions are told, grabbed the viewer with disturbing tension and made of this maybe the best movie about an abortion ever made.

The rest of the film review:

TOP 60 MOVIES (40-21)
TOP 60 MOVIES (60-41)
THE REST
DECEPTIONS AND GUILTY PLEASURES
THE WORST OF THE YEAR
ROBER AWARDS: COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS