Saturday, 23 February 2008

[2] Top 10 Films of 2007

I'm going to post up my Top 10 Films of 2007 article, which I wrote hastily so I could submit it to CC2K's Best of 2007 article series. Looking back, it wasn't really up to scratch; and it wasn't published at the time, anyway. I'll rehabilitate it here. The introductory ramble about year of production / year of release / year of viewing is still pretty topical, as we're over halfway through February and I'm still seeing '2007 Films'. Over the last three weeks, since my last post, I've caught Lust, Caution, Sweeney Todd, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Juno, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and There Will Be Blood. I'm seeing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly this weekend.

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This year, through steadfast stubbornness, I managed to see a lot more films than usual. In total, I got up to 22. However, of course, things slipped through the net. A Zodiac DVD is sitting on my desk at the moment, waiting for a spare 153 minutes; and I also missed out on most of the major summer films, so, for me, certain trilogies exist unfinished.

Time for my spin on the ‘year of production/year of release’ debate: I am not a professional. That goes without saying. But to impose the restriction of ‘year of production’ onto these personal lists makes it possible for strange juxtapositions (e.g. ‘The Lives of Others’, top film of 2006, seen on 23rd March 2007). It creates this strange dimension in between years, where nothing is certain. Of course, I’m writing this list now, but I’m also seeing ‘films produced and released elsewhere in 2007’ at this moment in time. In the last week and a half I’ve seen I’m Not There, Paranoid Park and No Country For Old Men, which miss this list by under a month; in the coming months I’m sure I’ll be seeing other ‘big films of 2007’. Where do the films of 2008 begin? Will the ‘allowed’ list of 2008 films only begin in July? Even December? Or not until 2009?

Ok, I’ll simplify it. Here are my favourite films that I saw in a big, darkened space, projected onto a screen, in the year 2007. In no real order, probably in order of viewing, as I come to think of it.

INLAND EMPIRE (dir. David Lynch)

Still miles ahead of the pack in sheer abstract 'what the fuck?' expression, Lynch foisted this 3 hour traumatic epic on us all. Laura Dern really steps out as a leading actress in a fantastic performance. A gripping, visceral experience.

Das Leben Der Anderen / The Lives of Others (dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

This film seemed to deliver on every level, especially with the performance by Ulrich Mühe, and the ‘sonata’ scene. However, the film really stood out in terms of its unique tone – dragging espionage / thriller themes into a touching, affecting drama.

2 Days in Paris (dir. Julie Delpy)

The only film I saw twice at the cinema this year. Julie Delpy steps out and shows her impressive talent as a screenwriter and director in this mishmash of influences. Funnier than Linklater's Sunrise/Sunset movies, but bubblier than Woody Allen. Anchored by great performances from Delpy, her real life parents, and Adam Goldberg. A film which managed to balance French and American stylistics, humour and language - coming off quite uniquely trans-Atlantic. A talky, intelligent, funny Romantic comedy.

The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (dir. Andrew Dominik)

A slow-burning, intense epic. A sharp script, with another landmark Brad Pitt role. Casey Affleck emerges as perhaps the most promising 'newcomer' of my year. The arrival of the night-train is my undisputed 'best scene' of the year.

Planet Terror (dir. Robert Rodriguez) / Death Proof (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I only caught the divorced/extended standalone versions of the Grindhouse movies, being in the UK. Planet Terror delivered as a rollercoaster of gore, B-movie cheese, one-liners, references and a beautiful Carpenter-pastiche of a soundtrack. Death Proof was also good, although it seemed QT forgot that he was making a B-movie homage/parody, and spun his usual quick, snappy dialogue, at times sacrificing thrills for wordiness, especially around the centre. On the whole, probably the two films I enjoyed the most this year. A real treat, an experience with friends, wide-eyed laughing and air-punching. In a year where most films were serious-serious, these stood out as delivering the goods in a shamelessly fun capacity.

Control (dir. Anton Corbijn)

On the heels of the shambolic, self-referencing absurdism of 24 Hour Party People, Control brought dramatic depth to the story of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Anton Corbijn, known for his evocative music videos and photography, frames this story in Black and White; capable of displaying the crushing dullness of 1970s Northern England, but with brief, striking moments of beauty and transcendence. The cinematography may have elevated this above other biopics, but the performances were nothing less than perfect. Sam Riley is another great newcomer; Samantha Morton confirms her position as one of the best Britishers around at the moment; AND a great minor role / extended cameo from Alexandra Maria Lara. The music was handled very well, with enough guts to mix in actor-performed material with actual Joy Division recordings. Ok, this detail may be mere cosmetics, only noticeable to those who know the music inside-out, but the band really nail the performances – dancing on the line between restraint and outbursts of cathartic energy.

The Hoax (dir. Lasse Hallström)

A careening romp in the style of Catch Me If You Can - Lasse Halstrom's casual retelling of Clifford Irving's Howard Hughes autobiography hoax, also referenced in Welles’ great ‘visual essay’, F For Fake. Great fun. Alfred Molina turning in a great comic supporting role to Richard Gere's cool performance as Irving (actually stretching himself!). Cameos from Eli Wallach and (again) Julie Delpy.

Hot Fuzz (dir. Edgar Wright)

A great follow-up to Shaun of the Dead. I’ve been a loyal fan of Pegg/Wright since Spaced, and I’ll faithfully gobble up anything they produce. Although, whereas Shaun of the Dead was, like Spaced, a touching story within a world of pop-culture references and movies-come-to-life, Hot Fuzz was a more fully-blown spoof. The story didn’t have as much heart as its predecessor, but was probably funnier, certainly in terms of set-pieces, dialogue and characters.

Lady Chatterley (dir. Pascale Ferran)

A real surprise. A French adaptation of an early version of the ‘titillating’ D.H. Lawrence novel. A tender, natural rendition, which manages to avoid the pitfalls of tasteless rutting. Languidly paced, the direction was surprisingly radical in its own way; with super-8 footage, episodic structuring, direct address, and ending on a sharp cut.

Stardust (dir. Matthew Vaughn)

An adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel that I’ve only half-read. However, as a film, this worked well. A good injection of irony and satire into a traditional fairy tale, which is quite a breath of fresh air in a more spoof-focused world. A film made memorable by its fine details, a great cast of impressive cameos (including De Niro’s self-parody) and a nuanced pastiche of Epic Film Scores.

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Bubbling outside of this 10 are a few films that were perfectly enjoyable, or in some way notable, just not ‘top 10’ material. Here are 5 ‘honourable mentions’:

Sunshine (dir. Danny Boyle) - Great cinema experience, but a flawed final third

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (dir. Stephen Kijak)- Really insightful, if too one-sided, documentary into a reclusive, mysterious musical genius.

Die Hard 4.0 (dir. Len Wiseman) - Pure enjoyable action, a great antidote to super-serious ‘gritty’ films – too bad about the bad 1990s ‘h4x0r’ storyline.

Sicko (dir. Michael Moore) - A really touching documentary from Michael Moore.

Youth Without Youth (dir. Francis Ford Coppola) - A challenging, abstract, often beautiful melange of a film, although almost smugly inscrutable at times.

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There it is. I've been working closely with the Video Games CC2K editor on his new Weekly Guide to Gaming column. So far, there has been one instalment on The Most Anticipated Games of 2008 (I might post my contribution up here later, but for now, follow the link - hits would be appreciated!). Next week, and possibly the week after, we're discussing Video Game Violence. I'm contributing a rant-piece on the current wave of military advertisements which seem to recreate aspects of computer games to be more coercive. It was going to be short, but it's ballooning as I write it.

No news on the film-making front. I have been scouting out locations, and shooting some location/outdoor footage for the documentary, but I still need to email people to see who would be willing to participate.

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