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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Best films of 2007

This year proved to be a strange year for film for me personally. Taking so many film classes simultaneously made me want to watch more films, but also made me too lazy to see films outside of class because I spent so much time working on films in class. Yet, every time I saw a new movie my desire to see movies was reinvigorated. So with that said my viewing schedule was quite sporadic and I saw plenty of great films this year, but I don’t think I can comment on 2007 as a whole. So let’s jump into this list shall we?

(Note: This list is in order starting with ten then moving to number one)

10. Eagle Vs. Shark
This film is the anti-Napoleon Dynamite. Not that I didn’t like that film, but Eagle Vs. Shark is all about de-romanticizing the Nerd. In the last few years the Nerd has become a character whose social awkwardness, quirky wardrobe, and pointless obsessiveness have become in many ways very cool. Eagle Vs. Shark is a film that follows the rocky courtship of two New Zealand nerds in their mid-twenties. This film shows that being socially awkward and being an outcast is not something that is desired, it can be painful and the scars of high school are forever lasting. It’s about how people with destroyed self-esteems manage to go on living and how they need love more than anyone else in the world. It’s a beautiful film that survives by finding humor and hope in even the most tragic of circumstances.

9. Hott Fuzz
Seeing Edgar Wright’s second film Hot Fuzz in theaters with all university students would rank as the most fun I had at the movie theaters in 2007. A film about big time neurotic cop Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) being reassigned to a small town where things aren’t as they seem, its chock full of hilarious moments, big action and great characters. You don’t need to know the specific films that Mr. Wright is parodying. We all know what big action movies are like and this film hits all the notes perfectly while also being a wonderful film that stands up on its own. Seriously the most fun you’ll have watching a movie this year.

8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Someone said it best when they said Sweeney Todd is the anti-musical. Missing the grandiosity and utter insipidness of most musicals, Tim Burton using Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant play has constructed something truly cinematic, suspenseful and satisfying. A tale of a barber wronged who returns to seek revenge, Sweeney Todd (played by the always amazing Johnny Depp) is an example of when someone becomes so consumed with revenge it crosses the borders of reason. This film is tragic, darkly humorous and incredibly bloody. Also if there ever were a case for the return of German Expressionism this film would be it. Tim Burton has always flirted with it stylistically, but I feel Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is truly a reinvigoration of a genre thought to have died before 1930. It’s a big film that hits all the notes without falling into the trappings of other plays-turned-into-films and that makes me excited more than anyone.

7. No Country For Old Men
This film is the kind that gets better the more you think about it. Not necessarily the biggest Coen Brothers aficionado I’m not sure I am qualified enough to geek out about it. However I don’t believe No Country For Old Men requires any sort of fandom to fall into the world of West Texas in 1980 where senseless violence is around every corner and all people can do about it is react with a feeling of helplessness. And I think that’s where the power of this film appears. The brilliant Tommy Lee Jones as the old cop Ed Tom Bell always acts so lost at the absurdity of the bloodshed around him and I think while watching the movie we do too. And we should. No Country For Old Men is our world and even though there always is violence, we feel that world is getting darker. Is it because we are getting old or is this all really going to shit?

6. Juno
I came into Juno very cynical, but I really ended up falling in love with this film. I know the expression, “It has a lot of heart,” gets thrown around a lot, but this film needed it otherwise it would have ended up on the large pile of the entertainment industrial complex’s shameless attempts at tapping into the youth market. About a young witty girl who gets pregnant, Ellen Page shines, but so does the entire supporting ensemble. The interactions between Juno and Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) are something very new to film, but something very close to me. The soundtrack is of course great, but again the hamburger phones, semi-obscure movie/music references, witty dialogue, etc. would have meant nothing if these characters weren’t grounded and so damn likable.

5. Ratatouille
Possibly my favorite Pixar film, Brad Bird’s Ratatouille is brimming with so much. It’s a very strange film too. Generally speaking, it’s about a rat that wants to be a chef in Paris. Yet, it’s much more than that. It’s about having the courage to do what you love and to be creative in a time when creativity is scorned and ridiculed. It says we should be willing to be great if we try and that too often those around us limit our potential for greatness. It is also Pixar’s most gorgeous film truly refining and redefining the art of computer animation. Its not just about achieving realism, but a higher sense of reality that can better show the subtleties of the story at hand. Ratatouille is a revolutionary work in animation and a great raised fist for artists everywhere.
first teaser!

4. Into The Wild
I read John Krakauer’s Into The Wild when I was about twelve years old and although fascinating, I could not relate to it at all. Here I sit on the cusp of turning twenty-one with only a year of college left before graduation and after seeing Sean Penn’s brilliantly crafted adaptation, John McCandless’s story truly resonates. Although sympathetic to McCandless’s plight, the film strikes a subtle balance of emotions that hits you hard and makes this tragic tale even more meaningful. Emile Hirsch is sublime and Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack is a perfect compliment. This is a film for everyone, for all of us who think about the bigger picture and want to stand up and actually see it. Into The Wild shows us that to see, it requires risks, and even if it proves fatal, it can be worth it.

3. The Darjeeling Limited
I love that Wes Anderson is becoming more and more openly emotional. Easily one of his most moving films, The Darjeeling Limited, although covered in the usual shiny hipster veneer, it’s a film that constantly gave me lumps in the back of my throat. This film has all the usual Wes Anderson trademarks but is definitely more playful, not only in the script but in the shots themselves. About three brothers played perfectly by Adrian Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, they seek adventure and spirituality one year after their father’s death. This film kind of fell through the cracks at the year’s end and it makes no sense, but then again many people refuse to look below the surface and understand that beyond the beautifully shot, beautifully art directed film is a story about the pain we often inflict on ourselves and how we need to just be willing and open no matter what.

2. I'm Not There
This film is more about you and me than Bob Dylan. I don’t believe for a second you need to be a huge Dylan fanatic to fall in love with this film, you just are letting little details and facts get in the way of the bigger picture. I’m Not There, the postmodern masterpiece by Todd Haynes is so clear in its intent that it leaves you screaming, “Yes!” the whole way through. This is a film I related to instantly on every level and its execution is practically flawless. And fuck you if you say Richard Gere’s section doesn’t work, its utterly vital and the film would fall apart without it. I love this film so much. Every actor puts one hundred percent and although Cate Blanchett steals the show you cannot forget Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale and others. It’s more than just about one man who refused to be pinned down; it’s really about all of us who never want to be one-dimensionalized. There’s a way out, I’m Not There will show you the way.

1. There Will Be Blood
I thought I’m Not There was going to be my number one 2007, but There Will Be Blood wouldn’t settle for second best. Beyond what anyone will say or has said about this film, there is nothing else like it. I’ll say this again; There Will Be Blood is a film that will be remembered when film is as old as painting. We don’t matter to this film; you might be angry, in awe, jealous, surprised or anything else; it takes what it wants. Paul Thomas Anderson has raised the bar in art as a whole and Daniel Day-Lewis as oilman Daniel Plainview is one of the greatest performances in film history. Jonny Greenwood has also constructed a revolutionary score. There is something more at work here, beyond all these elements. The sum of its the parts is too great for anyone to handle. I am in pure awe of this film. It reveals humanity at it’s darkest, most pathetic and most powerful. There Will Be Blood will consume you.

There you have it folks, my top ten films of 2007, it definitely proved to be a year where the best films have now become some of my favorite films. And what would a best of list be without the worst film of 2007?

Spider-Man 3
Now I admit that the first two installments where fun slices of entertainment, but this film is atrocious. Tonally it never knows where it wants to be and no one in the film takes anything seriously. When they want to make jokes it isn’t funny and every dramatic scene is embarrassing. People talk about the “emo scene” and how, “It didn’t belong and it screwed up the film,” but really the scene would have worked if the rest of the movie wasn’t so fucking insipid and ridiculous. It was crammed to the teeth with so much that everything became pointless. Even the action was unremarkable considering there were THREE bad guys. There are talks of a Spider-Man 4, but without Raimi and crew. I hope that is the case.

Being a film major I actually see lots of student films and I couldn’t let out the little guys so here is a piece on all the great films coming out of my university, UC Santa Barbara. Now we aren’t a film tech school, mostly focusing on theory, but what we lack in equipment we make up in ingenuity, resourcefulness and an infectious level of excitement for making films and having fun while doing it. And 2007 was definitely the best year yet.

Short Films (Made with varying mediums between 14 and 30 minutes):

Best Leader
A genre picture about a man who goes on dangerous mission to save his wife, Best Leader was one of the more daring films made here at UCSB that packed a lot of content into fifteen minutes. Sci-Fi is always hard to do on a small level, but thankfully there were enough resources on hand to make it look authentic. The ending resonates quite eerily and overall became a film that still gets you thinking long after the static.

Open Toes
I really wanted to hate this film I’ll admit. Seeing the early stages of this UCSB oriented remake of West Side Story looked quite dreadful…until footage started coming in. Wow, I fell in love with it quite quickly. It was the actors for me personally that truly made this a laugh a minute riot. Every one of them just put tons of nuances into their performances that made new jokes appear every time I re-watched it. A fun fun fun fun film that pokes lots of fun at the typical UCSB crowd.

The Titan Sting
This film about Sean Connery and his granddaughter McKenzie’s adventures on a mysterious island and their quest for the Titan Bee truly had my heart last year. Cute, psychedelic, beautifully animated and featuring one of the best film scores of 2007, The Titan Sting is a great testament to the versatility of students at UCSB and definitely one of the most interesting animated films in recent memory.

16mm Reel Loud Film Festival Films (Between 2 and 6 minutes long and silent w/ musical accompaniment):

Internet Girl
A film starring yours truly, this cautionary myspace tale about love gone unexpectedly twisted is simple, funny, and disturbing. With two female directors and two male leads in slightly homoerotic situations I’m sure a case could be made for a new leap in feminist filmmaking, but I’ll leave that up for you to decide; you’ll enjoy the ride.
the film!

Jonathon’s Tree
A quiet, sad, but beautifully animated film, Jonathan’s Tree was one of the only serious films at Reel Loud this year and I think was gravely overlooked. About a boy’s tree and its fate in a future filled only with robots, it moves along quickly, but the score done by Too Dark For A Picture slows things and down and leaves you haunted by this tragic tale.
the film!

Love Muffin
Another slightly homoerotic tale (directed by a female) about a lonesome boy who bakes a muffin friend, this film got the most laughs at Reel Loud last year and deservedly so. It’s basically a montage of classic film scenes set to a cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” except imagine them happening between a nubile young man and a creepy looking guy in a giant muffin costume. You know you want to see it now.
the film, live!

This film did not get the kudos it deserved. Smartly written and even more cleverly executed, this fake infomercial (and the side effects) about a drug that allows you to repent all your sins in one easy pill said a lot more than any film at Reel Loud last year.
the film!

Timon’s Friendship Adventure
Probably the most successful film to come out of UCSB in this past year, Timon’s Friendship Adventure is a loose loose adaptation of a Shakespeare play, but is a hell of a lot more…bloody. It’s truly a silent film in the classic sense of the word while also being very akin to the type of b-movies of the 70s. And it stars the always-amazing Jason D. Scott as Timon, the man who was too kind, until…
the film!

Sadly I am away from UCSB for 2008, but I know that as a film department we are constantly making strides to get better and better. I am ecstatic at what lies ahead.

As we speak The Oscars are going on, but they are not broadcast here in New Zealand so I’m getting updates via IMDB. So far everything is going as predicted, but you never know…

Stay tuned for the final installment of my “best of 2007” lists. Cheers!

Orginal Reviews for about half of my top ten here!
Roger Ebert's top ten films of 2007
Awards Daily for all your award season knowledge
UCSB Department of Film and Media


Ginny said...

whoaaaa, getting a little defensive about richard gere, are we? hehehe. i'm just playing, i loved 95% of i'm not there.

annnd you already know what i have to say about eagle vs. shark.

alex t. said...

yes, long indeed, but there's no way this could've been short.

nice top ten. and i guessed right on what your top five would be ahaaaa

Steven Ray Morris said...

oh shiz, I forgot who was really number one on my top ten:

your mom!

oh snapz

alex t. said...

yeah, well you also forgot MY film...

the one i made with your mom!

media sucks said...

Do you really think Eagle Vs. Shark is a better film than say, Zodiac? Take out your personal affections and you'll see that that film is mediocre at best.

Hot Fuzz. I never understood the love for this film. I thought it was overlong and had a main character who wasn't very compelling. I liked that it's basically a romance between the two men, but beyond that subversive touch I found the plot to be uninteresting and the action to be substandard. Shaun of the Dead is one of the best films of the last decade because it's just as good a film as Dawn of the Dead (original). The characters pop and the horror is damn scary. But Wright isn't as good with straight action.

Sweeny Todd wasn't even a good movie. Lots of off key singing and a truly atrocious performance by Mrs. Burton. Boring, insipid and predictable. It's EXACTLY the film I envisioned when I heard Depp was starring in Burton's version of Todd. Only Cohen really lights up this movie. His slave boy is cool too. As for Burton himself, flirting with German Expressionism? The man remakes Cabinet of Dr. Caligari every 2 years! He's as interesting and relevant as Marilyn Manson. (Who's newest record is only marginally more listenable than this soundtrack).

I would have put No Country for Old Men in the top 3.

Juno is placed about right. Some of it was too precocious. Riann Wilson's cameo is almost unbearable, but otherwise, a splendid, charming film.

Ratatouille--great film, but structurally frustrating to me. It was like watching a film and its' sequel back-to-back. The story ends when the Kid gets the restaurant. The stuff with the grim eater is swell, but I was slightly confused as to how it connected to the plot for the first 80 minutes. I adore Brad Bird and cry every time I watch the Iron Giant, but this isn't as good as The Incredibles.

Into the Wild--Damn good film, placed just about right.

The Darjeeling Limited--Clever, cute and fundamentally racist, The Darjeeling limited is a step up from Anderson's last film, but it still wallows in the same rich whiteboy entitlement that grew stale after his, (admittedly brilliant), Royal Tenembalums. Beautifully shot and very funny though.

I'm Not There--I haven't seen this film yet. I look forward to the Magic Lantern screening. I'm a pretty big Todd Haynes fan.

There Will Be Blood--Right choice my man. Great friggin movie.

Things you missed--Zodiac, The Nines, Sleuth (2007), Knocked Up, The Simpson's Movie (Say what you will, the moment where Marge tapes over the wedding is better character work than almost anything this year.), Once, The Mist and Atonement.

Steven Ray Morris said...

I'm very mad that I missed Zodiac, Lars And the Real Girl, The Assassination of.., Once, Gone Baby Gone, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, etc.

As for Sweeney, the fact that the voices weren't perfect is why I loved it! And Helena was fantastic.

I don't agree that Darjeeling is racist. The characters might be in the sense that they come to the "exotic" india to find themselves etc. etc. But meh racism is a dumb word that gets thrown around way too much.

Steven Ray Morris said...

Oh and Thank you Daniel! I'm glad someone can appreciate my uber long posts on this site with an equally compelling and detailed response =)

media sucks said...

I write for collider.com so I'm used to being long winded with my thoughts on films. I think it's funny though, that our lists have maybe 3 of the same films total.

But really, check out THE NINES, one of the the most interesting films I've seen in the last 10 years.

media sucks said...

As for racism in Wes Anderson's work, this article on Slate can explain it better than I can:
http://www.slate.com/id/2174828/ pagenum/all/
also, this article
Perhaps racist is too strong a word, but ethnocentric in the least.

Nana on the Interweb said...

Yay. Repentex and Titan Sting! Thanks for the love and great list. I still need to see so many movies from the ones you mentioned.

Steven Ray Morris said...

I'll check out Collider!

as for ethnocentric I'll give u that one.

We all gotta write from what we know best and stretch out when we can.

James Eric Laczkowski said...

The list is incomplete until you see Once :) Other than that, I like all the films above. The one I haven't seen is the one about the rat that cooks.

media sucks said...

Not to spam your board, but I would also advise you to check out Julien Temple's superb documentary, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten. A film that "gets" the punk world more than any other that I have ever seen.

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