2007 Best/Worst

I read a lot of words that 2007 was the best year for film since the transcendent year of 1999. It was a year that had many artistic experiments and lots of ambition. It was a fine year at the movies with memorable characters and gripping stories, most of them a bit more on the dark side.  I saw more movies this year than any other year (95+) and yet this is the first year that I never found a movie that I thought deserved a 10/10 rating. I don’t know what to make out of that but 2007 was a year filled with a bounty of intelligent and daring movies, though not all of them succeeded and drank my milkshake. So without further adieu, let’s begin my massive and belated look through the year in film.

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PART ONE: BEST & WORST MOVIES OF 2007

 BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR

Notable exceptions that I have yet to see: Persepolis, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

10) Breach

Chris Cooper is masterful in an unnerving and deeply contradictory role as a man of God, country, patriotism, and family. He was a respected FBI expert eventually discovered to be the biggest mole in U.S. intelligence history, directly responsible for the deaths of U.S. spies and interests in Russia during the Cold War. Writer/director Billy Ray infuses the film with the same stoic, controlled calm of his exceptional earlier effort Shattered Glass, and the movie unwinds like a great political thriller from the 1970s. The story is smart and engaging but it is Cooper that turns Breach into one of the best films of 2007. His performance is as varied and complex as the man he is portraying; frightening and intimidating but also empathetic and bound by a sense of honor, Cooper gives a performance that plays upon ambiguity and understatement. Watch the way he even drives people into walls when he walks alongside them in hallways. It’s that kind of intense, highly focused, and morally challenging work that deserves an Oscar nomination.

9) Waitress

Kerri Russell is irresistibly charming in this winning romantic comedy from the late write/director Adrienne Shelly. I fell totally in love, head over heels, with Waitress and I’m not ashamed to say it. In a perfect world, Russell would earn an Oscar-nomination for her sure-handed, witty, and incandescent performance as a pregnant woman who has an affair with her new gyno doc (Serenity‘s Nathan Fillion). This is a star-making performance and it is sealed when the movie relies solely on her emerging smile for an entire minute to communicate a blossoming figure. The supporting cast is great in their eccentric roles well and the movie concludes in a happy if unconventional manner. Waitress is the kind of movie that makes you feel great. The sheer exuberance on display is infectious and it makes it an even bigger tragedy that Shelly will never grant the world another wonderful slice of entertainment.

8) Sweeney Todd

Fans of traditional musicals, the kind that feature songs centered on female deer or large corn exporting states, may be aghast at how adult and violent the musical is. It’s just as much a grand horror movie as it is a musical. No doubt people are not generally accustomed to soaring medleys set to gashed throats and spurting blood. Sweeney Todd is captivating tale where almost all the characters are villains in some sense, and yet you do build sympathies even after innocents are killed and baked into flakey deserts. The medium of film ups the horror elements and transforms Sweeney Todd into a stronger work by amplifying the tension. The last scene with Mrs. Lovett is far more haunting than anything that could have been achieved on a stage. It’s refreshing and exhilarating to see a perfect marriage of material and artistry. Burton has transported Sweeney Todd into a faithful and jubilantly dark movie that doesn’t shy away from the grotesque. It’s a stirring, wonderfully Gothic rendition of Sondheim’s masterpiece. Sweeney Todd is blissful, spirited entertainment that’s not exactly for the squeamish, but this is one musical that can simultaneously touch the heart while turning the stomach.

7) Ratatouille

This movie continues to grow on me every day after I saw it. Writer/director Brad Bird yet again impresses with a deceptively simple story that manages to hit big themes in organic ways. The comic possibilities are fully realized with the setup of a man and a rat teaming up to be a great Parisian chef. There is a jubilant spirit alive and well throughout the film, and it’s difficult not to get swept up in the wit, the wonder, and the magnificent visual feast.

6) Grindhouse

The movie going experience isn’t what it used to be, and Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez want to do something about it. This 3-hour plus movie is stuffed to the gills with 70s reverence, right down to cheesy retro clips telling us the film rating via an animated cat. If Rodriguez and Tarantino could, they probably would make the floors stickier just to round out the experience. But that’s the marvelous thing about Grindhouse – it turns the film-going experience into an event once again. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is a great blast of fun, a perfect ode to schlocky B-movies. Rodriguez creates action movies closer to cartoons, and the more over-the-top and crazy things get the more joyous his films generally turn out. Tarantino, on the other hand, is all about taking the genre and catapulting it into something ambitious and different and greater. Death Proof is Tarantino’s take on the slasher horror genre, with the unique twist being that Tarantino’s roving killer takes out his prey with his car. Honestly, I cannot say another movie released this year that provides more bang for your buck than Grindhouse. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s double bill will leave you giddy. This is the fastest 3 hours and 10 minutes of your life, folks. I suppose Grindhouse was never going to have a 300-sized audience, since the idea of making a sloppy 3-hour love letter to trashy cinema seems destined for a limited appeal. This is a high-art tribute to high camp, and you really do feel you get more than your money’s worth even if you pay, like I do, 10 bucks a pop for a show.

5) Michael Clayton

A smart, suspenseful, terrifically acted corporate thriller, this movie hums along with great precision thanks to a deeply articulate screenplay by writer/director Tony Gilroy. The acting trio (George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton) delivers sensational performances muddled with doubt and weary, nervy complexity; each comes across a full human being in what could have come across as a dull Law and Order episode. There is a murder that is played against Hollywood convention; it’s quick, grimly efficient, and scary in how soon it’s all over. Michael Clayton is a first-class movie that respects the intelligence of an audience.

4) No End in Sight

This is the best documentary on the Iraq War yet. Director Charles Ferguson lived his life as a PhD political scientist, and then he felt compelled to make a movie. No End in Sight doesn’t focus much on the origins of the current Iraq War, which have been well documented and discussed in many other realms, instead the movie takes an exacting look into where the U.S. government fouled up the occupation after toppling Saddam Hussein. Because of this approach, Ferguson’s expose cannot be dismissed under false propaganda claims, and because his interviews mostly consist of the people on the ground who were responsible to stabilize the country, No End in Sight is blessed with plenty of hard-hitting first-hand accounts by the people given the hurried, thankless job of rebuilding a conquered nation. No one can accuse this film of slander or pushing an agenda; this is an exacting autopsy on the current chaos in Iraq, and it has cold facts and hard truths to back up its convictions. Even if you feel that you know all the blunders tied to Iraq, this sensational film is not merely a repackaging of dogma. It’s eye opening and intensely fascinating and one of the better films of the year; it’s an argument made on the merits of evidence and testimony, and it is damning. One soldier reflects upon the current conditions and flatly asks, “This is the best America can do? Don’t tell me that.” Then after a small pause he adds, “That makes me angry.” You are not alone, brother.

3) Knocked Up

Judd Apatow scores again. The man has a long history of creating memorable and heartwarming character-based comedy, and Knocked Up is another winner. This man creates thoroughly human and engaging stories that focus on our own foibles and triumphs. Apatow wrote and directed yet another poignant, clever, and uproarious comedy that has so much more below the surface and becomes universally appealing. Knocked Up is bawdy and hilarious, sure, but it’s also far more realistic and a lot more emotionally involving than any romantic comedy Hollywood has offered in years. Apatow seems to have mined his personal parental experiences for a lot of hard-earned truths. The film is most natural when it showcases the male perspective of prolonged adolescence and an unplanned pregnancy, but Knocked Up also has a mature and thoughtful view on marriage and feminism. We see the array of personal challenges a woman would go through but the movie still manage to slip in humor amidst the uncertainty. n the end, you really care about these characters because Knocked Up is a raunch-fest that has a sweet gooey center of sentiment. Knocked Up is a very funny and very wonderful sex comedy for adults, but it also happens to be an endearing and heartfelt romance. The cast is excellent, the comedy rarely misses a beat, and Apatow is a instant classic hitmaker. Just like The 40-Year Old Virgin, Apatow has explored a deeply personal topic for all the comedy and pathos he could wring from the material. Knocked Up is nothing short of a knockout.

2) No Country for Old Men

What a fine-tuned, nerve-wracking, and engrossing cat-and-mouse thriller this film is. Anton Chigurh, as masterfully played by Bardem, is the stuff of nightmares. I was literately afraid to go home after seeing this movie and it is because No Country for Old Men fashions a villain so methodical, so cold-blooded, and so downright deadly and cunning that I felt as if he could very well be residing under my bed at night waiting. Bardem is hypnotically horrifying and the Coen brothers establish early on how ruthless their cinematic boogeyman is. Like Chigurh’s coin, the film focuses much on the randomness and cruelty of fate. By sticking to this ethic, the Coen bothers are eschewing the traditional Hollywood rulebook and playing around with our expectations for characters and plot. The outlook isn’t too sunny for many involved. It works and demands an audience remain on edge for fear that anything could happen at any moment. No Country for Old Men is exactly the kind of material the Coen brothers needed to return to form. This is a lean and stirring thriller that plays to their strengths and echoes some of their most riveting and twisty work, like Blood Simple and Fargo. In many ways the film feels like a Western, a high-stakes drama, and a tragedy that takes its time to unravel. It may have taken some time but the Coen brothers are back, baby, and No Country for Old Men is fit to stand beside their hallowed pedigree of cinematic classics.

1) Once

It’s a modern-day musical that manages to be so much more. It’s a small, hardscrabble indie that’s completely unpretentious, unassuming, and sweetly divine. Once is not mawkish, nor overly sentimental, but it does leave you with the sensation that you’ve just had your best hopes about love reaffirmed, no small feat. This is a movie for people that love music and the innate power it can unleash. Once could be described as a musical for people that hate traditional musicals, much like Moulin Rouge, but I think that sells the film too short on its merits. Once is a very stripped down but enormously romantic love letter to music and human connection. Watching the movie is akin to be serenaded by a soulful crooner that clearly wears its idealistic heart on its sleeve. There’s something undeniably magical about watching Once; you feel transported by the sheer exuberance of feeling and emotion. I suppose the music is really going to be the breaking point for people; either you enjoy its sweet harmonies and light acoustic arrangements, or, um, you don’t. I adored the music and was transported by the deeply romantic current running through the film. Once is a small movie with a big heart and some wonderful music. In between pirates, robots, super heroes, and wizards, I think there’s plenty time to squeeze in a beguiling and earnest musical that will be long remembered.

Honorable mention: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Juno, Stardust, Zodiac, Rescue Dawn

WORST MOVIES OF THE YEAR

10) Blood and Chocolate

A werewolf tale set in Europe where the remaining handful of werewolves hunt men for sport by night and swish around being Eurotrash by day. The film plays closely to the teens-as-super creatures formula that seems to be chiseled by the likes of The Craft, Underworld, and The Covenant. What’s kind of hilariously goofy is that these werewolves actually just turn into normal, White Fang-looking wolves; no hulking man-beasts. They tend to run, and in a feat of cheesy special effects, blur into a wolf thanks to a magical glow. But there are instances when they would be much better off staying as people than transforming into wolves, like for ridiculous wolf-on-wolf fight scenes. The whole concept seems rather uninspiring; would you feel a sense of power simply because you could transform into a medium sized canine at will? I can’t see many practical instances where this would benefit someone. What’s the appeal? Regardless, the peculiarly titled film is rather dim with plot and character and whimpers to a hasty yet predictable conclusion. Agnes Bruckner, that’s a talented and beautiful young actress. Someone out there find her something worthy.

9) The Invisible

Forget whatever the advertising and the trailers had you believe this film was about. Instead of watching a ghost solve the mystery of his own death, almost all of The Invisible consists of following an obnoxious kid mope about. There is no mystery from the start because the audience witnesses exactly what happens, knows exactly who the murderer is, so much of the film is just waiting for other characters to piece things together. It’s the cinematic equivalent of sitting on your hands. The plot holes are massive and people have the irritating habit of acting out of character or being moronic (why does the best friend, who inadvertently got his friend killed but was not an accomplice, say nothing to the police?). When the film tries to shoehorn in a laughably contrived romance between murderer and murderee, I was about ready to kill someone myself. Whole sections and characters could be wiped out and nothing would be too altered. The ending is a cop-out and makes little sense given the facts of the case (it’s never really a murder, which makes the advertising even more wrong). Watching The Invisible feels like you’re chained to an annoying emo kid who won’t shut the hell up. This is one lame, snooze-worthy supernatural After School Special.

8) Premonition

Premonition is in hopeless want to be a modern-day version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five with the added sprinkle of a Lifetime movie. The plot may be maddening, but I think Premonition was meant to be a comedy because it’s sure as hell not an effective thriller. The movie’s feeble attempts at attaching scares to its central puzzle are astounding bad. This is the type of film that not only thinks a dead crow is spooky but that the mystery of what happened to the dead crow is integral to audience satisfaction. Premonition has an ending that just lays there in utter defiance of taste, causing the audience to upturn their nose in disbelief as if they had just discovered someone defecating in a store aisle. And that’s really the closest analogy to what the ending to this moving is like — utter crap. Personally, if I was unstuck through time and needed some help figuring out important events, I would leave a lot of Post-It notes for myself filling me in on what I know. That would make sense; this movie doesn’t in any capacity. Bullock, writer Bill Kelly, and director Mennan Yapo need to pray that they can wake up the day before they ever started to make Premonition and then they can spare us all.

7) Norbit

It’s terrible, yes, and a grotesque cartoon that milks one joke (the fat shrew is fat!), but it’s not as terrible as I expected and that in and of itself must be something of a small victory. The candy-coated direction and ghastly realistic makeup effects elevate the wretched material, and I’m ashamed to admit that I did indeed laugh a few times, albeit only a few. Rick Baker’s makeup will likely win yet another Oscar, which means we will be stuck with the tragic sentence “Academy Award-winning Norbit” for the rest of our lives. The fabulous makeup can bring these wretched characters to vivid life, including an odd racist depiction of Murphy as an old Asian man, but what’s the point of expert mimicry if it can be recreated on a physical level? Murphy’s comedic gifts seem like they will be replaced by technology instead of complimenting what he has to offer. Then again, there’s no technology that can make Norbit funnier. I hope you’re happy with the money you have reaped from this mean-spirited, unfunny crass comedy, because the advertising for this almost certainly cost you, Eddie Murphy, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Dreamgirls. Then again, that movie wasn’t too great either.

6) Bloodrayne II: Deliverance

It would be a worst of the year list without an annual entry by Uwe Boll; however, this is his lowest placing yet so things are looking up. Bloodrayne II: Deliverance is far less fun than the original while being better in some regards and worse in others. It’s vampires in the Wild West, people. There isn’t much artistic growth shown. Boll was naturally meant to transition to the relegated realm of direct-to-DVD movies. It’s more his terrain what with the queasy production values, bad acting, and shoddy, repackaged scripts. In the world of direct-to-DVD a movie can live on into infinity thanks to assembly line sequels. Did anyone realize there are now, thanks to direct-to-DVD releases, seven Children of the Corns, four Bring it Ons, and a whopping 13 Land Before Times. It’s here where Boll’s quick production turnarounds will yield the most gain and where he may even thrive. He’s already planning to direct a Bloodrayne 3 and producing an Alone in the Dark 2 (regrettably there was a 2005 direct-to-DVD sequel to House of the Dead though it had no Boll involvement whatsoever). I think Uwe Boll is finally where he belongs.

5) Ghost Rider

Nicolas Cage’s career has been flaming out, so what better role than a burning skeleton biker who serves as a bounty hunter for the Devil, in this case Peter Fonda. A cliché-riddled script, laughable performances, cheesy effects and dull villains doom any entertainment prospects this movie might have had. Cage, as the titular rider, gets to fight a group of escaped demons who all have one connection to an element; one has the power of fire, another the power of wind, etc., it’s like a hellish Captain Planet squad. But what’s the point when Ghost Rider simply vanquishes them so easily? It’s repetitive and goes nowhere. There’s one moment Sam Elliot “turns” into an older ghost rider/bounty hunter and rides along with Cage to save the day. But then he says, “Well, I could only do that once more, so good luck.” What? You could only turn into a flaming ass kicker one more time and you wasted it on riding a horsey through the desert? Eva Mendes is awful as her role of “girlfriend from past,” and why, if she and Cage grew up as childhood sweethearts, does he look over 15 years older than her in the present? I guess working for Satan can really take a lot out of you.

4) License to Wed

Someone just tell Robin Williams to stop already. This painful and dated movie exists in another realm, a realm too fanciful and bizarre to exist even in sitcoms. The characters are all unlikable nitwits and I could not suppress to urge to want to dropkick William’s astoundingly annoying pre-teen sidekick. This implausible and puerile comedy is like an enema for the brain; it will wipe you clear out. The PG-13 movie regularly wades in tired pee and fart jokes, sometimes combing the two, but what really irritates me is how lazy the whole enterprise is. Williams makes a joke about O.J. killing his wife. I repeat, in the year 2007, Williams makes a joke about O.J. killing his wife. How topical and cutting edge. This whole movie induces one long, never-ending exasperated sigh from anyone that appreciates good comedy. If it weren’t for casual cameos by stars of NBC’s TV show The Office, this film would be totally worthless. As it is, License to Wed is yet another nail in Williams’ comedy coffin.

3) Perfect Stranger

What starts as a pretty poor thriller goes absurdly over the top by the tired Hollywood convention of a forced twist ending, and this one isn’t just forced, no, it contradicts everything that happened before it for 100 minutes. The movie piles up red herring after red herring trying to keep the audience guessing, but I think this is because Perfect Stranger had no idea how to end and who would be deemed the killer. And then there’s perhaps the worst twist ending of the decade. It makes no sense and defies all logic. If the ending were right then why would someone wait years upon years to plan a murder to hide something that seems inconsequential? Why does someone think their friend is a killer because their computer memory recalled that they visited a company website despite the fact that this person is a journalist and going undercover at this same company? And why, stupid Hollywood characters, do you recite how you’ve figured out their deeply convoluted plan to the murderer only to get murdered? Halle Berry gives a rather embarrassing performance; she’s all over the map and I question much of her character’s actions and anxiety, especially when seen ALONE, if the twist ending holds. Perfect Stranger is ridiculous junk that tries to outsmart an audience by confusing them and then openly negating their story thanks to a twist ending that is intended to blow minds but will simply leave people scratching their heads and pitying everyone involved in this disposable dreck. And no, this has nothing to do with Cousin Larry and Balki.

2) I Know Who Killed Me

Thanks to a second summer DUI Lohan was unable to promote her new movie, I Know Who Killed Me. This may be a blessing in disguise because if I were her I would want to draw the least amount of attention possible to this stinker. I Know Who Killed Me is a disaster in every sense of the word. The ineptness on display is staggering. The movie is trash from start to finish but it’s not even redeemable trash. The movie tries to cover its numerous plot holes with images of Lohan canoodling with a stripper pole, but the trouble is that Lohan is abysmal as a figure of lust. She’s got the vivacious body to fill out the skimpy outfits, but this woman has little charisma when she’s swinging around the pole. There’s such an awkward, discombobulated coordination to her limited movements. Lohan struts and makes goo-goo faces that she thinks are sultry. After a while you start to realize that Lohan is just preening for imaginary red carpet photographers and has no clue how to titillate. I Know Who Killed Me is a ludicrous, incomprehensible, and rather sundry thriller that won’t help Lohan’s troubled life. If she needs to know who’s killing her career, the answer is in a mirror.

And the worst film of 2007 is………

1) Epic Movie

Flatly stated, there is no reason for this film to exist. I am growing a special hatred for “writers/directors” Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. They made Date Movie (#3 on my list of Worst films of 2006) and that should have been reason enough to stop any additional film in their pop culture vomit style of “comedy.” This latest spoof-fest is depressing to watch because I think of all the good independent movies that could have been bankrolled instead of this garbage, but I also drop my head in sorrow for the fact that a generation of mostly adolescent boys will grow to maturity thinking utter crap like THIS is comedy. These two nitwits generally just throw a year’s worth of unrelated pop culture references together and call it a movie; there’s no rhyme or reason for damn near anything. Let me make this abundantly clear; Epic Movie and its recent ilk do not parody movies or cultural events, they parrot them. Don’t even get me started on the futility of the movie trying to parody Snakes on a Plane. I hope those sadly misguided few that find chuckles from Epic Movie will eventually discover that jokes are funnier when there’s setup, when you play against expectation or convention, and that wit does indeed exist in this universe. I pray that these terrible, cannibalistic, aimless spoofs will fade away, or else we may all be left with the disgusting possibility that the future idea of a comedy will be a movie that simply makes references to Epic Movie. I already have a spot reserved for my 2008 list for Friedberg and Seltzer’s Meet the Spartans. If comedy is to survive these movies must be stopped. I’m not advocating a violent overthrow but I’m certainly not not advocating it.

Dishonorable mention: Georgia Rule, Smokin’ Aces, Wild Hogs, Next

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PART TWO: VARIOUS AWARDS AND ACCOLADES

Best titles of the year: Death at a Funeral, No Country for Old Men, Knocked Up, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Worst titles of the year: P2, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, In the Valley of Elah, Delta Farce, The Last Mimzy, Happily N’Ever After

Titles that could be confused with porn: Black Snake Moan, No End in Sight, Hot Fuzz, In the Land of Women, Skinwalkers (I will not reward Balls of Fury and Mr. Woodcock for lazy double entendre titles)

Thanks But No Thanks Award: Villain back-stories. Remember when Darth Vader was the baddest mutha in the galaxy? Then Georgie Lucas had to ruin everything by supplying Vader’s back-story, where we could have the privilege of learning that he was an annoying tyke and whiny teenager. The best villains are the ones with minimal back-story or explanation. I don’t need to know how and why these bad people got to being bad, I just know I love them being bad. Hannibal Rising tried explaining that everyone’s favorite cannibal got to be a monster thanks to watching his little sister get eaten by hungry WWII German soldiers. Was that a sufficient psychological explanation for the most iconic villain of all time? Seems pretty much mundane. Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween decided to add an extended peek into Michael Myers’ white trash childhood. The turning point may have been during a hilarious moment where Michael sits crestfallen on a stoop while his sister has sex, his mother swings around a stripper’s pole, and the movie blasts “Love Hurts.” I accept that my villains are who they are; back-story and explanation is feeble and will never match the power of those mighty figures.

Runner-up: Natalie Portman’s bruised derriere in he opening short for Wes Anderson’s  The Darjeeling Limited. Well, that didn’t seem worth it. The pixie has long been a figure of lust for young men, usually of the geek variety, and she finally bares some substantial flesh and exposes a bottom covered in deeply unsexy bruises. Try masturbating to that, fanboy

The Best 10 Minutes of 2007: Viggo’s bathhouse brawl in Eastern Promises. He sits there naked and exposed and two unhappy gentlemen descend upon him (fully clothed) with knives. It’s at this moment that we bare witness, no pun intended, to the cagey survival instincts of a man who must live his life looking over his shoulder. It’s a bravura scene that is played out in agonizing detail. Nikolai is slashed and thrown against tiled walls and much penis-related mayhem is glimpsed. It’s enthralling and wince-inducing.

Runner’s-up: “Falling Slowly” performed in Once; the opening of Hairspray,

“Truth” in Advertising Award: Primeval. In the early weeks of 2007, Primeval was billing itself as a thriller based on the most deadly serial killer in the world. Ignoring the fact that dictators don’t seem to count on the serial killer body count, the film presented a group traveling through Africa to hunt this most notorious killer. And who was this killer? “Gustave” … the crocodile. That’s right, “the deadliest serial killer” was a massive reptile. Call me closed minded, but I don’t believe that animals can qualify as serial killers. And yet this blatant false advertising is not the film’s low-point, that would be a toss-up between a black character saying, “You know, that croc’s a lot like OJ. He made a mistake when he killed that white woman,” and, “I’m never gonna say this in front of a bunch of white people. Slavery was a good thing. Anything to get the fuck out of Africa is a good thing.” No wonder the advertisers wanted to focus on elements that weren’t even in the movie.

Three-quel Letdown: It wasn’t just a summer of sequels; this year it was a summer of three-quels. And almost all of them were bad. Spider-Man 3 floundered what was the gold standard for super hero movies. The alien goo suit is supposed to tempt Peter and bring out his wicked wild side. So what does he do? He acts like he’s auditioning for the lead in The Mask. Spider-Man 3 has moments to dazzle and excite but it also feels battle fatigued from carrying the dead weight of extraneous characters and half-baked storylines. There are too many balls in the air for director Sam Raimi to juggle. This Spidey chapter squeezes too many ideas in too short a space. Pirates 3 failed to capitalize on any of the intriguing setup from Dead Man’s Chest, and the film was awash in confusing double-crosses to the point that characters had to take a time out and explain what has taken place. Shrek 3 didn’t have any of the heart and wit of the previous two movies and was, instead, a bland message movie minus any charm. Rush Hour 3 was pretty much more of the awful same but it marked the first movie in 6 years to star nails-on-the-chalkboard actor Chris Tucker. The exception to this rankled lot was The Bourne Ultimatum, which continued the fast-paced, kinetic thrills of the Jason Bourne super spy character

Strangest Use of Technology: Lindsay Lohan’s prosthetic in I Know Who Killed Me. A doctor fixes Lohan with a pair of prosthetics – a fake leg and a robot arm. He slides the robot hand onto her stump and it reacts to her nerve impulses. As soon as I saw this scene I blurted out, “Oh my God, Lindsay Lohan becomes the Terminator!” Where the scene earns its stupid wings is that the doctor says she’ll have to charge her prosthetic when not in use or else the battery will go dead. Naturally, I’m thinking he’s referring to the robot arm of doom, but no, he’s talking about her freaking leg. Her leg amputation is below her knee; therefore this fake leg is little more than a pole. There’s nothing mechanical to it. Why does it need to be plugged in? Will it hop away?

Runner-up: seeing swaying, heaving peasant woman bosoms in 3-D thanks to Beowulf; a love doll as a therapeutic coping device, Lars and the Real Girl

Best Film I Saw in 2007 (that wasn’t released in 2007): The Lives of Others. If I counted this 2006 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Film as a 2007 release, it would contend for my top spot.

Biggest Disappointment: There Will Be Blood. The fact that the film was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) was enough to get me excited, but when critics kept throwing around the term “masterpiece” I got even more excited. Blood isn’t a bad film by any means but its masterpiece status eludes me. The filmmaking can be awe-inspiring and Daniel Day-Lewis gives a commanding performance, but the plot was a major letdown. It spends a good hour setting up the pieces and the players and then key characters will drop out for long stretches or merely be easily dispatched. The movie coasts for too long without conflict and is defiant in its indiosyncrasies. I still have the feeling that I need to see it a second time and then, perhaps, everything will click on its own terms, but we shall see.

Best Time I Had in a Theater: Grindhouse. 3 hours of awesome.

Thora Birch Award for Hottest Actress: Carice van Houten in the Dutch film, Black Book. As the Jewish undercover spy trying to seduce a Nazi officer, van Houten is an enticing screen beauty that brings to mind Hollywood stars of old. She has a very simple, prim, elegant look to her, and a presence that is coy and sensual but far from trashy or vulgar. This helps add traces of believability to a figure that does some incredible acts in the name of God and country. Hollywood would have cast Rachel as a tall, buxom bombshell, but it would all be wrong. If this girl turned heads she would be dead.

Runner’s up: Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3; Marisa Tomei, 43 years old and naked in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Meagan Fox in Transformers.

Reasons Why the MPAA is Stupid: Reason 1: The MPAA, in its irritating wisdom, has decided that Once should be rated R, thus distancing it from an armada of impressionable youth. Once has a handful of F-bombs, though you could argue their inclusion is diminished because of the occasional indecipherable nature of heavy Irish accents. The restricted rating is a shame because this movie doesn’t have a profane bone in its body. Teenagers, people who are struggling for meaning and acceptance, and reconfiguring their musical tastes, should see this movie. I think they would relate to the personal struggles and the romanticism. Glen Hansard may populate many a teen girl’s bedroom in poster form soon enough.

Reasons Why the MPAA is Stupid: Reason 2: Black Book is clearly and fairly rated R, but part of the rating piqued my curiosity. One of the items that help push the film into the restricted rating is “graphic nudity.” Now, what exactly is graphic nudity? I recall last year’s Babel also getting an R-rating for what was deemed “graphic nudity.” One thing the two films have in common is that they both show quick glimpses of exposed female genitalia. I suppose that the MPAA feels that nudity becomes graphic when we see pubic hair. This confounds me. What about pubic hair turns nudity into an extra, more offensive category of nudity? At the end of the day, it’s just hair, people. I did some quick research and Basic Instinct, infamous for Sharon Stone’s career-making leg crossing, is rated R for mere “strong sexuality.” For the record, when Stone flashes her naughty bits they were bare. So let the record show that hair seems to be the qualifier between what is nudity and what is graphic nudity.

Best Onscreen Death: John Cusack losing his daughter a second time in 1408.

Runner’s-up: the bleak climax to Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; the eerie quick kill in Michael Clayton; vehicular homicide times four in Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse. Special demented mention to Eli Roth’s Grindhouse trailer that involves a cheerleader, a trampoline, and a long knife.

Best Villain: No contest; Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.

Runner’s-up: Michelle Pfieffer, Stardust; Anthony Hopkins, in Fracture; Russell Crowe as the magnetic Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma.

Lamest Villain: The number 23 in The Number 23. I know math scores have been systematically dropping with America’s youth, but have we gotten to the point where numbers themselves are scary? The Number 23 is a thriller built around the spookiness of a digit greater than 22 but a little less than 24. Does anyone have nightmares about walking down an empty hall only to have the number 23 pounce from the shadows and scream, “Boo”?

Magic Eye Award: Trying to figure out what’s going on with robot-on-robot action in Transformers = watching scrambled porn. The original Transformers were designed smoothly, because in all reality they were animated toys and needed to function for kids. These 21st century Transformers have parts all over the place. There are gears and wheels and who knows what sticking out everywhere. They look far too cluttered, like a little kid’s art project where he keeps slathering on more junk. As a result of this robo design, when it comes to action you may not have a clue what’s actually happening. When the big robots wrestle you’ll be left trying to piece together in your mind which part is the robot mouth, the robot head, the robot fists/claws/drill/whatever. I suppose in a way this kind of demanding user activity is similar to watching scrambled porn; both involve trying to dissect the image into something workable and, thusly, satisfying to the senses.

Proving There is Life After Gigli: Ben Affleck adapted the screenplay and directed Gone Baby Gone, a smart, thrilling, and morally complex movie.

Proving There May Not Be Life After Gigli: Jennifer Lopez in El Cantante. She looked like a hooker on the poster.

Biggest Trend: War fatigue. American audiences stayed away in droves with any movie that dealt explicitly with the ongoing Iraq War. I think it’s an awful shame that the public doesn’t seem up to the task to engage challenging dramas for very challenging times. Instead, they all went to see Wild Hogs 80 times. Not all of the Iraq-themed movies were good; Rendition was a message with barely a movie strung around it, Lions for Lambs was 80 minutes of being lectured by a haughty, smug Robert Redford, and The Kingdom, while entertaining, was more like a CSI episode where the good guys morph into Rambo warriors for the finale. Writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash) explored the hidden psychological costs of the war with surprising sensitivity and power with In the Valley of Elah. The documentary No End in Sight should be required viewing just so that the public will not allow the post-war screw-ups to happen again.

 ________________________________

PART THREE: GRADE CHART

2007 MOVIE GRADES
 
A
—-
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Breach
Grindhouse
Knocked Up
The Lives of Others (2006?)
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
No End in Sight
Once
Ratatouilie
Sweeney Todd
Waitress
 
A-
—-
The Bourne Ultimatum
Hairspray
Juno
Rescue Dawn
Stardust
Zodiac
 
B+
—-
3:10 to Yuma
1408
Away From Her
Beowulf
Eastern Promises
Gone Baby Gone
I Am Legend
In the Valley of Elah
The King of Kong
Lars and the Real Girl
Live Free or Die Hard
My Kid Could Paint That
The Namesake
The Simpsons Movie
Superbad
 
B
—-
300
The Astronaut Farmer
Atonement
Black Book
The Brave One
Bridge to Terabithia
Dan in Real Life
Fracture
Freedom Writers
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Hot Fuzz
The Lookout
Ocean’s Thirteen
Sicko
Transformers
 
B-
—-
Blades of Glory
Crazy Love
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The Kingdom
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Sunshine
There Will Be Blood
 
C+
—-
Bug
Catch and Release
Disturbia
Evan Almighty
The Golden Compass
In the Land of Women
The Reaping
Reign Over Me
Southland Tales
Spider-Man 3
You Kill Me
 
C
—-
Across the Universe
Alpha Dog
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Hannibal Rising
The Heartbreak Kid
Kickin’ it Old Skool
Martian Child
Music and Lyrics
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The Number 23
Shooter
Shrek 3
Sydney White
 
C-
—-
Because I Said So
Evening
Georgia Rule
Next
Wild Hogs
 
D+
—-
Blood and Chocolate
The Invisible
Norbit
Premonition
Smokin’ Aces
 
D
—-
Bloodrayne II: Deliverance
Ghost Rider
I Know Who Killed Me
License to Wed
Perfect Stranger
 
F
—–
Epic Movie
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