Thursday, 20 December 2007

2007

(A portion of this entry was written for the upcoming issue of The Coast.)


2007 began and ended with audience disinterest. In April, the anticipated-on-the-Internet Grindhouse opened and quickly reminded everyone that people who spend their days online are not the real world. In November, Beowulf couldn't reach the audience an epic of its size depends on.

The response to both these movies is made worse because, as flawed as they are, they absolutely had to be seen in the theatre. Since Grindhouse's two halves were released as separate movies on DVD, the original continuity of the film is unavailable. Beowulf on IMAX 3-D is a movie-going experience more than it is a great movie. Though not among the year's best films, on the big screen, these were the most indispensible movie outings.

Let’s take this opportunity to look at what 2007 stood for. It’s a fallacy to complain that movies are getting worse. It just seems that way because it’s mostly good movies that are remembered from past years. It's equally deluded, or else just a huge difference in standards, to think '07 delivered a lot to be excited about. That it was a weak movie year is evidenced in its place in the cycle where Hollywood gets deathly scared of taking risks and makes sure most of its tentpole releases are part 3s.

THE THIRD IN A SERIES IS RARELY EXCITING

Ocean’s Thirteen was the best of its franchise. So was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. But neither film was especially good, as they arrived when both of those series were exhausted. Shrek the Third, Rush Hour 3, and Spider-Man 3 were likewise hits that didn’t inspire much enthusiasm. The threequel summer was a drag reflecting a lack of creative inspiration. It was surprising that a filmmaker of Sam Raimi’s esteem didn’t even visually distinguish Spidey 3 from part 2. Soderbergh’s lower estimation Ocean’s Thirteen was the only third chapter to reimagine itself in visual terms. The one threequel that was embraced by critics was The Bourne Ultimatum, a good movie nearly destroyed by its visual style.

BARF-CAM FOR DUMMIES

The Bourne Ultimatum may be celebrated as an adult thriller, but its attitude is patronizing. It’s part of an increasingly common approach in genre filmmaking where hand-held shakey cam is supposed to constitute realism. This is a problem for a number of reasons. For one, action movies like The Bourne Ultimatum by Paul Greengrass and The Kingdom by Peter Berg (who sells this same barf-cam “realism” on TV’s Friday Night Lights) assume their viewers are too cynical for the manipulation of classical filmmaking. So they make movies where no shot composition has to mean anything. It’s just spastic edits, random close-ups, whip pans, meaningless zoom-ins, and shaking. (The funniest audience comment of the year happened in The Bourne Ultimatum, when someone interjected during a fight scene, “I think that was a fist.”) I’m not sure how people began to equate barf-cam with realism anyway. The world simply isn’t that shaky. If you’re running, your head is moving with your sight line, so you can still tell what’s going on better than in most of Bourne, The Kingdom, A Mighty Heart and 28 Weeks Later. It’s a gimmicky approach to realism of which 2007’s less remarked-upon achievements in realistic drama, like Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Preston Whitmore II’s This Christmas, don’t succumb. Finally, it’s just not that hard to hold a camera steady.

THE HITS ARE ALRIGHT

Apart from the respectable box office of No Country for Old Men, Ratatouille and Hairspray were the two instances where hugely popular movies ranked amongst the year’s best. As for the event-films, the best in a usually soulless enterprise were Transformers, Michael Bay’s sundrenched Americana about boys and their machines, and Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend. Lawrence isn’t as distinguished, skilled, or (in some ways) as frustrating an artist as Bay, but his version of the Richard Matheson sci fi yarn makes up for its familiarity with actual emotion and social interest. The whole movie lives on the strength of Will Smith’s underestimated performance as the last man on Earth. As ideal and likable a movie star as he is, for all the bank it makes, the film may prove too slow and downbeat in the public’s estimation. Still, it’s exciting to see a blockbuster that at least has stretches of inspiration.

WORST THROWAWAY

Warner Bros. efforts to not let anyone see its best release all year, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, involved quickly yanking the movie from theatres after pleading ignorance about how to market a Brad Pitt film.

WATCH THAT C-WORD

2007 might be the momentary end to torture-based horror films. Dwindling interest in this year’s titles The Hills Have Eyes 2, Captivity, Hostel Part II and Saw IV (most of which were no worse than years past) indicates that viewers were beginning to question their own taste in porn. Yet there was a weird connection between the horror genre and Oscar prestige. Both the horror movies Hostel Part II and P2 (about a woman terrorized in a parking lot on Christmas Eve) as well as the Ian McEwan adaptation Atonement feature a violent dramatic shift around a female character reacting to a male using the word ****. Lesson learned from watching otherwise unrelated movies: Saying (or spelling) **** results in everything from military exile to castration.

XENOPHOBIA REIGNS

I often suggest that people watch movies that aren’t aimed at their demographic. The reasoning is that one of the basic values of movies is their ability to show how people are the same—the ways in which people whose lifestyles seem different than your own are in other ways a lot like you. This connection brings insights into humanity, and then to ourselves.

But it’s an ideal that gets buried when studios assume viewers are ignorant and then sell them movies about themselves. The malebashing in Waitress only reaffirms stereotypes of Southern men as abusive and uneducated. It’s an annoying but familiar prejudice that’s somewhat forgiven by the film’s goodwill toward female uplift. The light comedy in Waitress has distinct attitude. As a movie, it’s good TV. That’s far preferable to Shoot ‘Em Up, the most blatantly misogynistic movie this year. The 15-years-out-of-date action spoof has Paul Giamatti fondling a female corpse, not just to establish him as a villain but because somebody on board thought it was cool. You can almost picture a bitter movie exec doing lines of coke while watching it.

Superbad actually got adults to see a movie about teenagers, which is an amazing feat. I say this because teens are the one group that most people think it’s dignified to complain about, as though they themselves were never 17, and as though adolescents don’t have a more powerful foothold in cultural trends than they do. I think about it everytime I hear people in their late 20s bash emo kids. But because Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan want to believe there are no Hispanic or Black people in Southern California, and that the hottest girls in school will inevitably fall for the dorkiest guys simply because the guys want it, Superbad’s achievements aren’t worth too much.

Juno, another comedy about teenagers I'm mostly positive on, is guilty of some of the same casual racism. I don't know how a movie this universally white can justify that its most despised characters are the supporting parts of the East Asian pro-life high school girl, and the nurse who gets told off by Juno's mom. Then again, people are so used to it, I'm sure not many will notice.

If you’re a 40 year-old white male who likes Velvet Revolver, you should go to a crowded Friday night showing of This Christmas. If your whole idea of action-adventure is Heroes and Live Free or Die Hard, rent Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. If you like bashing Tyler Perry or Amanda Bynes, try watching one of their movies first (neither Daddy’s Little Girls or Sydney White is completely without interest.)

28 year-old Sarah Polley directing Away From Her, a movie about senior citizens, means she’s probably rather strange. But she’s reaching beyond herself.

MUSICALS WERE BETTER THIS YEAR

This connective value of movies had been lost in recent bloated movie musicals. The award-winning Chicago celebrated petty narcissism, Rent faked edginess, and Dreamgirls fumbled music history.

In 07, they got their mojo back. Hairspray adapted the stage musical of John Waters’ cult film without many theatrical bearings. Adam Shankman’s version moves like a movie, carrying its tunes through levels of nostalgic comedy, teen empowerment and social drama.

The stripped down DV look of Once complimented its realist folk music love story. If only its director John Carney had studied the cutting rhythms and visual expression of real music videos beforehand (and not just conservative indie rock ones) its quaint approach would have left a deeper impression.

This lack of music video directing experience conversely helps Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe—she’s such a gifted visual filmmaker, she lets the numbers speak their own language. As everyone loves to say, Across the Universe is a mess. But that doesn’t invalidate the rush of its best moments. Even small touches, like the vocal quality of T.V. Carpio’s rendition of“I Want to Hold Your Hand” were movie-year standouts.

Most bigtime filmmakers don’t have a good ear for pop music. That’s why “Kung-Fu Fighting” shows up in so many action sequences. And it’s partially why new movies by Wes Anderson and The Farrelly Brothers are to be valued, even in a year when they only give us The Darjeeling Limited and The Heartbreak Kid.

Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Anton Corbijn's Control also notably stretched the resurgent musical format.

2007 HAD NO ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE

Not yet. But 2 films came close.

5 STUPIDEST MOVIES THAT ACT SMART

1) Into the Wild
2) A Mighty Heart
3) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4) The Mist
5) Smokin’ Aces

5 SMARTEST MOVIES THAT ACT STUPID

1) Hot Rod
2) Stuck
3) Bug
4) Captivity
5) Freedom Writers

5 STUPIDEST MOVIES THAT ACT ACCORDINGLY

1) Epic Movie
2) Dead Silence
3) Bratz: The Movie
4) License to Wed
5) Balls of Fury

*********

Now here's every 2007 movie I saw in 2007, ranked. The list will be updated until at least January 1. Everything given a B- or higher, I overall liked. Films that are considered 2006 North American releases that were made unavailable in my market until 07 (such as Little Children and The Curse of the Golden Flower) are not ranked. Otherwise, Idiocracy and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer would have made my top 10.

A RATINGS

1) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)



2) No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)




A- RATINGS

3) Black Book (Paul Verhoeven)



4) Stuck (Stuart Gordon)



5) Hairspray (Adam Shankman)



B+ RATINGS

6) Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog)



7) Ratatouille (Brad Bird)



8) Hot Rod (Akiva Schaffer)



9) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton)



10) Control (Anton Corbijn)



11) Paris, I Love You
12) The Lives of Others
13) Redacted
14) Beowulf
15) Grindhouse (Planet Terror C+; Death Proof B-; Full experience B+)

B RATINGS

16) The Orphanage
17) Hot Fuzz
18) Transformers
19) Across the Universe
20) Reign Over Me
21) Bridge to Terabithia
22) Bug
23) The Wind That Shakes the Barley
24) Freedom Writers
25) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
26) Lucky You
27) I Am Legend
28) TMNT
29) The Tracey Fragments
30) This Christmas
31) 28 Weeks Later
32) The Simpsons Movie
33) The Lookout
34) Dan in Real Life
35) Knocked Up
36) Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

B- RATINGS

37) The Darjeeling Limited
38) Zodiac
39) Amazing Grace
40) The Bourne Ultimatum
41) Juno
42) Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls
43) Alpha Dog
44) Paprika
45) Waitress
46) Halloween
47) Vacancy
48) Awake
49) Atonement
50) Captivity
51) The Nanny Diaries
52) Disturbia
53) Superbad
54) Enchanted
55) Live Free or Die Hard
56) Elizabeth: The Golden Age
57) Norbit
58) Zoo
59) Talk to Me
60) Ocean’s Thirteen
61) Black Snake Moan

C+ RATINGS

62) 1408
63) The Host
64) Michael Clayton
65) You Kill Me
66) Sunshine
67) American Gangster
68) Eastern Promises
69) Fido
70) Bee Movie
71) Once
72) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
73) Shrek the Third
74) Sydney White
75) The Heartbreak Kid
76) 3:10 to Yuma
77) Murder Party
78) Nightwatching
79) Arthur and the Invisibles
80) Meet the Robinsons
81) I Think I Love My Wife
82) Reno 911!: Miami
83) The Astronaut Farmer
84) The Messengers
85) Ghost Rider
86) Resurrecting the Champ
87) The Invisible
88) Mr. Bean’s Holiday

C RATINGS

89) Weirdsville
90) 300
91) In the Land of Women
92) Spider-Man 3
93) Are We Done Yet?
94) Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
95) The Golden Compass
96) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
97) The Reaping
98) Evening
99) Stomp the Yard
100) Shooter
101) Wild Hogs
102) Music & Lyrics
103) Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
104) I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
105) Fred Claus
106) Year of the Dog
107) Hunting and Gathering
108) The Stone Angel
109) The Hoax
110) Next
111) Gracie
112) The Brave One
113) Alvin and the Chipmunks
114) P2
115) Who Loves the Sun
116) Lions for Lambs
117) Balls of Fury
118) Rise: Blood Hunter

C- RATINGS

119) Sicko
120) Perfect Stranger
121) War
122) Severance
123) Hostel Part II
124) Blood and Chocolate
125) Catch and Release
126) Primeval
127) Dead Silence
128) A Mighty Heart
129) Fracture
130) 30 Days of Night
131) Lady Chatterley

D+ RATINGS

132) Mr. Brooks
133) Nancy Drew
134) Blades of Glory
135) National Treasure: Book of Secrets
136) The Hitcher
137) The Hills Have Eyes 2
138) The Last Mimzy
139) The Number 23

D RATINGS

140) Smokin’ Aces
141) Bratz
142) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
143) The Mist
144) License to Wed
145) Shoot ‘Em Up
146) The Kingdom
147) Into the Wild

D- RATINGS

148) Good Luck Chuck
149) Southland Tales

F RATINGS

150) Because I Said So
151) Hannibal Rising
152) Happily N’Ever After
153) Saw IV
154) Epic Movie

7 comments:

riley said...

what's the weigh-in on 'there will be blood'? heard it's the masterpiece you're missing. got any idea when you can see it?

I'm also still jonesing to see 'the assassination of J.J' and excited that you thought it was great..

God, Brad Pitt as a cowboy could NEVER get old for me!

xo

Mark Palermo said...

I'm not sure when There Will Be Blood is opening here. Halifax has definitely metamorphosed in stature this year for how soon we get limited-engagement movies, so hopefully it won't be too long.

Mark said...

I missed your Sunshine review - why only a C+? I genuinely thought it was one of the best films of the year (I am currently giving it 4.5 stars out of 5); but then I am a sucker for conscious science fiction, and you DO rate hard (if not unjustly).

I am pretty pumped to see Jesse James now that I have finally heard huge praise for it. Also, damn, what an image you posted for it!

What do you mean by Bug acting stupid - its marketing? Also I must disagree with placing Knocked Up above Superbad and Hostel: Part II under War (oh, must I EVER) but cheers for the simple task of deriding Epic Movie and Hannibal Rising - as a rule I don't watch terrible movies but I managed to watch both of those in their entirety for my column. SO VILE, even in spite of the Eagles of Death Metal's sad, straw-grasping performance.

Mark Palermo said...

If you saw Sunshine in the theatre, some of those effects writ large were very impressive. But in the end, it just turns into Freddy Krueger in Space, which would be fine for some movies, but in this one it's just like it didn't know where to go. The C+ is a mixed rating as I liked some of it.

Bug acting stupid is partly a marketing thing. That film was rejected by audiences for not being the dumb bug infestation movie they wanted, and it plays to those expectations just enough to annoy people. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and was disappointed that Joe didn't versus the volcano until the last 5 minutes.

I don't feel hugely different about Knocked Up than Superbad. They both got the same grade, just a slightly different ranking.

You should talk to my friend Peter Dostal about Hostel Part II. I didn't think it was especially well done, but I've never seen him angrier than when we left that film.

What did you think of War? The Lee and Statham pairing excited me for some reason, but the movie didn't deliver.

People often say that a movie is unwatchable, and they don't literally mean it. But Epic Movie really is hard to keep looking at.

Mark said...

I doubt I'll see War, actually - I am only trashing it based on reputation and my own personal tastes (which do not include Statham or Jet Li in an English-language film). The whole thing kinda reeks like a DTV project that got bumped to theatrical release.

Mark said...

Just saw Jesse James. The only way I can reasonably make a to-10 list for this year is if I make No Country, There Will Be Blood, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford three-way ties for number one.

TAoJJbtCRF is the goddam most beautiful film I've ever seen, even moreso than Touch of Evil.

Mark Palermo said...

I feel the exact same way! Those 3 films are the unofficial western trilogy of 2007. They're collectively the best movie of the year, and the year would be very marginal without them.