Friday, December 21, 2007

2007’s top five best and worst films in Hollywood

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At the end of each year, the collective quality of the year’s movies usually seems to even out. But just the same, there are always the outliers, the extremes, the very best and the very worst, which is where some of the fun comes in. This year, Atonement proved period romance movies don't have to be sappy, while Sandra Bullock demonstrated her box office appeal is relegated to public transit as the Speed star's thriller Premonition failed to connect with moviegoers.Here is a review of the year that was--and wasn’t--on the big screen, with my picks for ’07.
Hollywood critics Top Five
This is this year’s equivalent to The English Patient, a book adaptation that follows the traditions of those sweeping period films romantic saps like me love to sigh over. Even though there are some--like Seinfeld’s Elaine--who would surely balk, I am on the side of the devoutly dreamy, especially when it’s a story about enduring love during war-torn times. But Atonement offers so much more: exquisite cinematography (director Joe Wright outdoes himself), affecting performances (lovers Keria Knightley and James McAvov and the extraordinary new find, Saoirse Ronan), a melodic original score (from composer Dario Marianelli). And most importantly, at the film’s core beats the heart of a writer, trying to find her own redemption through her words. Any writer will relate to that.
If I had to be a teenager again, I’d want to be just like Ellen Page’s Juno MacGuff--minus the pregnancy, of course. She’s practical, can zing off the snarky comeback lines like it’s nobody’s business, has a thing for the geeky track star and doesn’t apologize for it. And as for getting herself into this wee bit of trouble, she handles the responsibilities with a lot of warmth and humor. Then again, maybe I should just ask Juno’s first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody -a former stripper now a hot commodity in the writing department--to follow me around, writing my dialogue for me. Nah, she’s probably too busy these days. I think instead I’ll just own Juno when it comes out on DVD, so I can enjoy the film’s wry sense of humor and enormous amounts of unpretentious feel-gooiness over and over again.
Michael Clayton
I’m also a sucker for smart legal thrillers that sees an underdog bring down big, bad corporate mucky mucks. The Verdict, Afew Good Men, Erin Brockoyich --the smarter they are, the better. But writer/director Tony Gilroy does something slightly different with his Michael Clayton. All his characters are morally questionable and seriously flawed, so you’re not entirely sure who to root for. Oh, sure, there is definitely a clear-cut bad guy--in the form of a highly motivated corporate climber played near perfect byTilda Swinton. But whether it’s Tom Wilkinson as a top litigator whose conscience gets the better of him or Sydney Pollack as the resigned head of the high-powered law firm orGeorge Clooney as the firm’s beleaguered “fixer” caught in the middle, the film adds new dimensions to one of my favorite genres and is refreshingly top-notch entertainment.
I wouldn’t call myself a great chef, but I do appreciate good food. Helmed by the ultra-talented Brad Bird, Ratatouille is the delicacy I was waiting for, on par with other excellent food-related movies such as Like Water for Chocolate and Barbette’s Feast. Of course, the film is also a masterpiece in both animation and storytelling. Bird, of The Incredible fame, captures the adults’ imagination with his endearing tale about a little Parisian rat named Remy who knows his way around a kitchen, and then puts it in a fun-filled animated package the kids will enjoy. A win-win situation. I may even want to try the titular title’s main dish someday--in a Parisian café, of course.
There will be Blood
Be prepared for this one, folks. From the opening sequence in which Daniel Day –Lewis, deep in a hole in a Californian hillside, is whacking away at the bedrock with a pickaxe, while a discordant score permeates, There will be Blood hits low and hard. Based on Upton Sinclair’s sprawling novel Oil!, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson incorporates a slow, methodical technique to his adaptation, much like a Terrence Malick film. But while that might indicate a certain level of boredom, There will be Blood is anything but boring, thanks in large part to Day-Lewis’ unrelenting performance as Daniel Plainview, a man corrupted by his greed for more oil, and Paul Dano, a religious zealot who proves to be Plainview’s Achilles heel. Let’s just say, I definitely felt saturated by the black gold before the end of the film--in more ways than one.
And Five Honorable Mentions:
Grindhouse (for the ultimate cinematic B-movie experience); Superbad (I just laughed and laughed and laughed); The Borne Ultimatum (smart, grainy, action-packed--the best of the summer); Before the Devil Knows you’re Dead (gut-wrenching little crime drama that falls like a row of dominoes); and NO country For Old Men (it’s nice to have the Coen boys back doing what they do best)
Bottom Five
Happily N’Ever After
From the producers of the Shrek series comes this annoying Shrek rip-off—a wannabe fairytale spoof with no imagination about what would happen if none of the fairytales had happy endings, and the villains won out instead. I think we have enough CGI-animated films spoofing fairy tales than we know what to do with, so ultimately, it’s probably just best to keep the fairy tale spoofs to the Shrek professionals.
Nicolas, Nicolas, Nicolas. Sometimes you can hit it out of the park with one of your action films-- The Rock and the first National Treasure come to mind--but more often than not, you fail quite miserably. 2007 was a particularly bad year for a Nicolas Cage actioner: First, there was the tepid Ghost Rider and then Next, a film about a guy who can see 30 seconds into the future and has to save L.A. from a nuclear bomb. I’ll be the first to suspend my disbelief, but this is just about as implausible as it gets (unless you are talking about Premonition see below). Jury is still out on National Treasure-2, so maybe Cage can redeem himself.
Like I said in my opening line, Eddie Murphy in another fat suit? What could possibly go wrong with that? Oh, so much. So very, very much. For all of Murphy’s silly, latex-laden, heavily made-up comedies, there has always been a somewhat sweet story at its center, such as in The Nutty Professor and Coming to America. Not so in Norbit it's really only about being mean-spirited--and, well, fat. Great big globs of cellulite thrown at us onscreen at an alarmingly rate. Shiver. Let’s hope there’s never a sequel.
No Reservations
Just as Ratatouille made you want to eat food prepared by a five-star restaurant, No Reservations --about an anal top chef who falls for a renegade chef -makes you want to order pizza at home and watch reruns of Scrubs. No delicacies here, as these two crazy chefs try to make a go of it in the romance department. Add in the “affecting kid role” played by Abigail Breslin and you’ve got something as bland and predictable as a frozen TV dinner.
Ah, probably my favorite film to dislike this year. Talk about improbable. You spend most of your time just trying to figure out why this woman, Linda Hanson, is running around like a crazy person, waking up one day to find her husband, Jim, is dead and then the next, that he’s still alive. The movie is exhausting, frankly.
And Five Honorable Mentions:
Freedom Writers (Hilary Swank at her syrupiness); License to Wed (Robin Williams at his most annoying); Wild Hogs (kind of embarrassing for all involved); Death at a Funeral (a calamity comedy at its worst); and Bratz (insipid fluff; just get one of the dolls instead).

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