Saturday, February 9, 2008

More Movie Musings

Back with the top ten...

10. "Paris Je T'aime": Terrific omnibus picture featuring 18 short films by 18 different directors -- including the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Walter Salles, Gerard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Gurinder Chadha, Tom Tykwer and more -- set in and around Paris.

9. "Juno": This has been hyped to the heavens by the press, so beware the eventual backlash. If you somehow haven't heard anything about this, consider yourself lucky and check it out. Yeah, the dialogue might be somewhat too-cute/clever for its own good, but the heart of the movie is unmistakable, and the performances -- especially from Ellen Page in the lead and Jennifer Garner in support -- are excellent.

8. "Zodiac": Three hours of meticulous, deliberate, examination of the investigation into the Zodiac killer might not sound like fun at the movies -- and it isn't, really -- but David Fincher has made it an utterly involving, captivating look at events that kept a city on edge. Mark Ruffalo is terrific as San Francisco police inspector Dave Toschi. Can't vouch for the historical accuracy, but the details of the process were fascinating to me.

7. "Into the Wild": Sean Penn delivers his most fully realized work to date and Emile Hirsch turns in a mesmerizing performance in this utterly powerful film. Oh yeah, some dude named Vedder wrote a few outstanding songs to top the whole thing off.

6. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford": For some reason, half the people who see this will hate it and call it pretentious crap. If you somehow manage to fall into the other half, you'll love this for its thoughtful meditation on obsession, competition, jealousy and morality. Casey Affleck is revelatory as Ford.

5. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead": The king of 2007 -- Philip Seymour Hoffman -- knocks it out of the park in the third film of his to appear on this dude's list. Somehow, 83-year-old director Sidney Lumet has uncorked a film that rivals the brilliance of his best movies from 30 years ago, getting career-best performances out of Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei and a career-capping supporting turn by the great Albert Finney.

4. "Michael Clayton": It's an old-school, big-studio popcorn thriller with smarts to burn, in the vein of "The Parallax View" and "Klute." Clooney, Swinton and Wilkinson all bring it.

3. "Eastern Promises": Viggo Mortensen reteams with David Cronenberg for a followup to "A History of Violence" that evokes memories of writer Steven Knight's brilliant and overlooked "Dirty Pretty Things." Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl also shine in pivotal roles in this dark thriller set amid the Russian mob in London.

1-A. "There Will Be Blood": What can one say? Daniel Day-Lewis turns in a powerful, riveting, tour-de-force performance that will go down in history among the great characterizations in modern film. Detractors will point out the third-act flaws, and, yeah, a few eyebrows might be raised. But, so what? This tale of ambition, compulsion, unchecked power and greed is the right stuff. Paul Thomas Anderson instantly enters the pantheon with this immediate classic, a quantum leap forward for a director who'd already distinguished himself as one of the most talented of his generation.

1. "No Country for Old Men": The Coen brothers turn in an unqualified masterwork, the best film of 2007 and a career-defining picture in a body of work that already includes such legendary releases as "Miller's Crossing," "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Javier Bardem redefines the movie villain, Kelly Macdonald provides great supporting work as a woman stuck between a rock and a hard place, and Josh Brolin -- the other king of 2007 -- continues his meteoric rise out of the ashes with some beautifully intense work here. I'm normally a little bit sad when a Coen brothers movie comes out, fearful that I won't see anything from them for a few years, but the good news is that their next film -- a CIA-set black comedy starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins called "Burn After Reading" -- might be ready for release in 2008. Let's hope!

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