1. Superbad – Between this and the episode of Psych that aired that night (“Meat Is Murder, But Murder Is Also Murder”) I believe August 17th will forever be the day I burned the most calories by laughing. But it wasn’t until the next week when I saw it again that I could see past that to the other, relatively daring things, for this sort of movie anyway, that Superbad was doing. To neither glorify nor vilify drinking, despite using the pursuit of it drive the entire plot, to explore the relationship of two males without reverting to generic gay jokes (although one audience did think the basement scene at the end was being played that way) and ground so much of the out of control idiocy in relative reality are such rare and admirable qualities it’s astonishing that they can be present in something that made so much money. Proof, I guess, that the two aren’t as mutually exclusive as we’ve been led to believe. And thank goodness. It’s totally been worth having to endure the occasional calls of “McLovin!” when I walk into a public place.
2. Once – Somewhere in this severely underused thing you’re reading there lies my initial impression of Once. It doesn’t sound like I liked it that much. In fact, the only positive thing I had to type was that I wished I had something positive to type. And yet here it is at number 2. And I’m not so sure things have progressed much since then in terms of explaining myself.
Because it is a musical after all, as much as it might not want to be seen as such. Difference is, maybe, that none of the songs tell you what anyone is doing or feeling at the time they are being sung, but rather used as a way of telling backstories, including an improvised literal one that might be the best expository scene in cinema history. And as it turns out, backstory is kind of all there is in Once. And yet, none of it is ever really tangibly important to what’s going on in the present. But it informs everything. The music is important, and of course it helps that it’s good, but the movie doesn’t revolve around its presence. You’re never waiting for the next song, it’s just a delivery system, like the work or adventure or whatever of any other movie where two people who don’t know each other meet. And yet, it ends up being more important to these people than each other, which in the context, makes all the sense in the world.
I feel like I’m going in circles here. And oh how I wish that were somehow metaphorically appropriate. But it isn’t.
3. Ratatouille – Nothing about a food-snob rat cooking French cuisine seems either interesting or commercially viable. Especially when you add that it’s primarily for kids. Which, even after seeing it, doesn’t seem possible. It’s paced very differently (i.e. slower) than most animated movies, and that’s not a judgment. Clearly I have no problem with either. And yet, kids seem to have no trouble with this. Maybe it wasn’t quite the hit Pixar’s become accustomed to, but it’s far from a failure either. Which despite all this doesn’t come as a surprise.
You can at once be independently fascinated by the animation (the scene in the rain is incredible simply by virtue of being in the rain, you don’t even have to know what they’re saying to appreciate it), the story, the dialogue or the voice work. Most movies with anthropomorphic animals will go to lengths not to address the existence of humans, never mind interaction of the animals with them. But this faces that inherent contradiction head on, the rats run a restuarant by the end, and never once are you left contemplating the inescapable holes in logic this creates. Because it’s self-aware without delving into irony and intelligent without being snobby. And then there’s that ending, from which the movie gets its title, which is as well done as a climax that basically amounts to a food tasting could possibly be.
4. No Country For Old Men – Dear Coen Brothers,
You know this already, but you gave us one of the most perfectly made movies we’ve ever seen. You can feel the perfection while you’re watching it. It’s sort of discomfiting, really. And that has nothing to do with the subject matter. The problem with that though, is when something goes wrong, it stands out all the more. Because No Country For Old Men has a monstrous flaw, and it isn’t the ending (or lack thereof if you’re an idiot), it’s that you don’t show me Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) after he’s dead. There’s a lot of stuff we’re supposed to fill in for ourselves throughout the course of your movie, or at the very least piece together ourselves, and that’s wonderful. But you cannot kill what amounts to your main character and not give us confirmation. We’re thrown off enough as it is, which is your intention, I get it, but this is too much. There’s a reason we have funerals. It isn’t religious. It’s because we don’t readily accept death. So let me see him on that table, if in fact that’s him. Or better yet, let me see him on the floor of the motel room he’s killed in. Something. Because otherwise I’m liable to think he’s the one driving the car that crashes into Antoine (Javier Bardem) at the end.
Anyway, I’m sorry I spent this whole time on what you did wrong. But it just doesn’t make sense that you aren’t my number one movie of 2007. And I feel like I owe you an explanation in case it’s as unfathomable to you as it is to me.
Sorry Coen Brothers. I watched it again and you can clearly see what I said you couldn’t see. I feel terrible. But I’m still not moving your movie up my list because I still don’t get what you were doing with Tommy Lee Jones and that hotel door Javier Bardem is apparently not hiding behind.
5. There Will Be Blood – As has been the case with every Paul Thomas Anderson movie, I’m not sure I completely get it. And as with every Paul Thomas Anderson movie, I’m not sure I care. In fact, maybe it’s partially the desire to get it that propels its importance in my mind. Though try as they might (that means you, Darren Aronofsky) no other filmmaker can manage to make it seem worth bothering. So there must be something else going on.
Regardless, much like No Country For Old Men, you can feel how well it’s been made while you’re watching it. And normally, to be aware of technique while watching something is exactly what you don’t want. But somehow, in rare cases such as these, it either doesn’t matter or somehow enhances the experience.
Now, unlike No Country For Old Men, no one will ever accuse There Will Be Blood of not having an ending. One of the most insane, grandiose final scenes there’s ever been. Some may think it too much, but it seems to be reveling in that. When the mood changes, and bowling pin goes from slapstick utensil to deadly weapon, it’s amazing, without giving you time to catch up.
6. The Kingdom – There was a review somewhere with a headline along the lines of “When did Peter Berg become the new Michael Mann?” I can’t find it now, so I can’t confirm its existence, but it’s a valid question even if I happen to have made it up. Because while Peter Berg doesn’t have quite the technique of his de facto mentor, he has surpassed him in entertainment value. The Kingdom is fairly standard fare to a point. A team of Americans investigating a crime in a foreign land they don’t, or refuse to understand. Peter Berg elevates these elements to something that feels a lot more important though. Or at least more interesting. Even before the final half hour (which plays like the end of an early John Woo movie on a larger scale, in that it is relentless and astonishing, both visually and violently), it’s clear that The Kingdom stands apart from the C.S.I. Arabia it could have been. It’s cynical without ever not being pro-American and pro-American without ever slipping into jingoism (even when some of the characters do.) But what gets it this high on the list has everything to do with the final line, delivered in a parallel, from both the American and Saudi perspective. It’s a moment primed for ridicule, but it’s too powerful and nihilistic an ending, and too well done to succumb to that.
7. The Savages – It looks like another one of those independent dramas that Laura Linney can’t seem to turn down. And those can be just as generic and forgettable as the formulaic blockbusters to which they supposedly serve as counter programming. And maybe it is just that. But maybe Laura Linney knows what she’s doing. Because it sneaks up on you and leaves you thinking about it for days, even though it didn’t seem like all that much was going on at the time.
8. Live Free Or Die Hard – Speaking of formulaic blockbusters, holy crap. Ahem.
Dear Len Wiseman,
I hereby apologize for assuming you would out duel Renny Harlin for worst installment of a Die Hard movie. Admittedly, I don’t feel that bad, because you really didn’t give me any reason to suspect otherwise. But you went way beyond just not ruining things. I mean, after the first time, I thought I was crazy for thinking yours was better than With A Vengeance. But after the second time, I knew it was true. The endings of each are equally ridiculous, but this one feels like it’s part of the same movie, whereas that driving a truck through a flooded tunnel stuff trudges into James Bond territory. Anyway, it’s an incredible job you did, Len. And while I wish I could just appreciate that without the caveat that I expected so much less, at this point, it doesn’t matter.
Still Hates Underworld
9. Grindhouse – Go ahead and complain your head off about the dialogue of Death Proof or the inanity of Planet Terror. The point of this wasn’t to give you want you wanted, it was to let the respective directors revel in what they like to do best. And that’s exactly what they did. You would rather have had two Planet Terrors? Two Death Proofs? That doesn’t make any sense. It takes both to make this a worthwhile experiment. To cover the spectrum of the grindhouse product. Even those one note trailers are necessary pieces. Neither one would make this list on their own. Death Proof‘s cartoonish ending is kind of horrendous and Planet Terror isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. But taken together they manage to cover each other’s faults; not with similarities, but with their differences.
10. Gone Baby Gone – This one has a lot to overcome to be here. First of all, there’s that title. Then there’s the fact that the story has more in common with an Ashley Judd movie than it does with Mystic River, as was advertised. It’s even got Morgan Freeman in it, so Ashley Judd would have felt right at home. And really, besides it being shot a little less fancy than one of those Ashley Judd mysteries and obviously getting a better performance from its overall cast, it doesn’t go out of its way to be different than one of them. It’s the ending that distinguishes it most of all. Because Twisted or Kiss The Girls would never dare to leave the audience as divided over its main character’s actions than this did.
11. – 15.
Surf’s Up –There’s nothing like that rain scene in Ratatouille to marvel at visually, but, of course, it doesn’t need that. It’s got Shia LaBouef and Jeff Bridges. And they’re so great together you’ll kind of wish it wasn’t animated at all.
Zodiac – Generally, when a movie feels like it ends four different times but instead keeps on going, it’s pretty annoying. But even after watching what amounts to two full length movies on the same subject, you still feel like you could handle one more.
3:10 To Yuma – When the cast of this movie was announced, I just assumed the two leads would be reversed. That Russell Crowe would be Dan Evans and Christian Bale would be Ben Wade. I’m not sure that would have mattered, but I’m still glad I was wrong. I’m mostly glad I wasn’t wrong about changing the ending of the original though, because that didn’t make any sense, but this one is near perfect. James Mangold continues to prove that he can master any genre he chooses. He still owes us a musical though, don’t let him think Walk The Line counts.
Michael Clayton – Usually, the old recorder in the pocket trick is just that, an old trick. But when everything that leads to that ending has everything to do with talking and how to do it, it suddenly doesn’t feel old at all and turns out to be a lot more satisfying than some kind of out of context chase or physical altercation. Michael Clayton doesn’t try to subvert your expectations, it does something more amazing, it changes them without allowing you to notice. And then fulfills them.
Juno – It’s been said a million times now, but Juno really does grow up before your eyes. And it’s really incredible what it grows into because, wow, was it one terribly annoying infant.