Friday, February 8, 2008

Movie Musings

It's February, so that can only mean one thing ... time for belated "best of 2007" lists, right?

Some people listen to a lot of music, and while I hear my share, my tastes are not diverse enough to give an objective look at the year past, although there are a handful of releases that I can recommend wholeheartedly and without any reservation: Bruce Springsteen's "Magic," Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible," Eddie Vedder's "Into the Wild" soundtrack, Lucinda Williams' "West," The National's "Boxer" and Spoon's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga."

One of my favorite records that I heard in 2007 was called "Fighting Trees," from an incredible Philadelphia band known as The Swimmers. Their melodic masterpiece is finally getting an official release next month. Check 'em out.

But I digress.

This list is about movies. This year, I managed to see 70 films in theaters, from "Alpha Dog" to "Zodiac" and a bunch in between. Here's one dude's list of favorite movies from 2007:


"Gone Baby Gone": A fantastic performance by one of the best actresses working in the world today -- Amy Ryan of HBO's "The Wire" -- is just one highlight in a good film marking the feature directorial debut of Ben Affleck. The plot twist and convoluted ending didn't work for me, but the film is recommended easily for the performances, most notably the aforementioned Ryan's and that of director Affleck's brother, Casey, who also impressed in another film this year. More on that one later.

"Persepolis": Ambitious and powerful Oscar-nominated animated feature about a young woman's coming of age in post-revolution Iran and in exile in Europe.

"Once": Sweet, intimate drama about the passion for music and life.


20. "The Great Debaters": So what if it plays a bit like a TV movie or "Remember the Titans" in a classroom. Denzel is charismatic, Forest Whitaker is a rock, and the young actors playing the students are all uniformly good.

19. "Lars and the Real Girl": A guy with issues buys a life-sized "real" girl doll ... and hilarity, as well as a surprisingly poignant tale about searching for a little human touch, ensues. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.

18. "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly": Director Julian Schnabel's film about a French magazine editor suddenly stricken with "locked in syndrome" -- rendering him immoble except for a blinking eye, which he uses to communicate with the outside world via a system devised by his tireless and dedicated physical therapists -- is one of those riveting, unforgettable artistic achievements that you never want to see again because it was so emotionally powerful and challenging all at once.

17. "American Gangster": This was one of my most highly anticipated movies of the year, but -- alas -- it didn't live up to the "Heat"-like instant classic promise of its remarkable trailer. That said, it's still a very good, highly watchable tale of parallel obsession.

16. "Knocked Up": Funny, scabrous take on relationships, love and the search for hot chicks from the Apatow Repertory Company.

15. "The Savages": Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are extraordinary in this tale of siblings trying to care for an elderly parent.

14. "Charlie Wilson's War": This one has some problems -- Julia Roberts not really working in her role and director Mike Nichols not necessarily being the best-suited director for this material -- but it's smart and well-written by Aaron Sorkin, and it boasts an absolutely electric, movie-stealing, must-see supporting performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as CIA agent Gust Avrakatos. Gust!

13. "The Bourne Ultimatum": Damon and Greengrass bow out of the "Bourne" franchise -- for now -- with a two-hour high-energy classic, the best action film in years.

12. "3:10 to Yuma": Russell Crowe and Christian Bale tee off in a thrilling Western.

11. "Breach": Chris Cooper delivered one of the year's best performances -- I sh-t you not -- as disgraced FBI agent/traitor Robert Hanssen in this criminally overlooked gem of a thriller from "Shattered Glass" writer/director Billy Ray and also starring the great Laura Linney and Ryan Phillippe.


To be continued...

(Just because I'm new to this doesn't mean I haven't figured out that spreading things into multiple posts over multiple days will make this look like a more active blog than it really is...)

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