Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, December 28, 2007

A Baker's Dozen from '07

       Can somebody tell me what’s so special about the number “10”, anyways? Oh sure, I know that’s the number of fingers and toes we have, and it’s also the base for our numerical system -- but besides that, what makes it so special? It must be something, because every end-of-the-year “best of” list seems to count ten-and-only-ten films as the number of noteworthy movies in a given 12 month period -- which seems a bit arbitrary, to say the least. This blog refuses to bow down to the dictatorship of “base 10” thinking and will brazenly index a full baker’s dozen of exemplary films from the past year -- and mention in passing another half dozen or so that are well worth taking a look at, too. Truth be told, 2007 was a great year for movies and I suspect that I could easily double the size of this list without much effort -- especially if you count some of the well-received films released late in the year that I haven’t yet had a chance to see (like 4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). But in the interests of brevity, I’ll confine my comments to just the following twenty or so films -- besides, you don’t really want to read about any more than that, now do you?

BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! - Regular readers of this blog -- and before that, recipients of the occasional e-mails from me which were very much the template for it -- already know the drill by now; and it goes something like this:

a.) Guy Maddin directs and releases a film.
b.) I proclaim it one of the best movies of the year.
c.) There is much rejoicing by all... -- well, much rejoicing by me, at any rate.

I previously wrote about this film here, and don’t really have much to say about it beyond that; save, given that his latest film -- a mockumentary called My Winnipeg -- is already receiving rave reviews in festival screenings up and down the continent, you can almost certainly look forward to that showing up on my ‘08 Year-end review. Try not to think of it as me being, “predictable” -- rather, just think of me as a rock of stability in these oh-so-uncertain times.

DEEP WATER - I also wrote about this film previously, and have only this to add: I’m pleased to see that it has made its way to a number of other “ten-best” lists, as in many ways it’s the best-executed documentary I saw this year.

EVERYTHING WILL BE OK - Earlier in the year, I proclaimed this the best movie of 2007; and that it would take an amazingly accomplished film to push it off that pedestal. Extraordinarily enough, that has happened; but I still stand by everything else I said. And Everything Will Be OK remains the best 17 minute long film you’ll see this year -- or most any other, I’d wager. It’s still only available through creator Don Hertzfeldt’s website, Bitter Films; but with any luck you’ll be able to catch it in theaters this spring, when the ‘08 edition of The Animation Show -- and part 2 of Bill’s story -- rolls out.

THE HOST - Everybody knows this is a “monster-movie” from Korea; what the critics haven’t been making as clear, is that it’s also this year’s best “family-drama” -- a genre that seems particularly popular in that faraway land. Think Little Miss Sunshine meets Godzilla and you’ll have some idea of the genre-blending appeal of this film.

I’M NOT THERE - Todd Haynes’ sort-of-biopic of Bob Dylan is the best cinematic profile of a rock-star since... -- well, since Haynes’ own biopic of this singer-songwriter back in 1987. The movie -- while a bit overlong -- is nonetheless entertaining because of its novel approach: using different fictional characters, usually drawn from Dylan’s own work, to portray him at different periods in his life. It’s a truly innovative way of illustrating an artist's life on-screen. Paul Schrader’s 1985 Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters attempted a similar approach in certain ways -- but Haynes has made the better movie of the two. See it whether you’re a Dylan fan or not.

THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS - Without a doubt, the funniest documentary I saw this year; we tend to forget that there’s nothing more hilarious than real life; fortunately the makers of this film didn’t -- so we get a movie that excites, engages, even tugs at the heartstrings on occasion; but most of all -- makes you laugh.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - This movie has a high-enough profile -- and is on so many other “ten-best” lists -- that I don’t feel the need to say much about it. One thing that I will say, however, is that I don’t think that it “glamorizes” the violence it portrays -- quite the contrary, as a matter of fact. In some ways, it’s one of the most restrained modern thrillers that I’ve seen. In terms of its on-screen depiction of violence, the movie leads up to several key moments that it refrains from showing us at all, in fact. And if there are a couple of “shockingly” violent scenes -- and there are -- they seem to be there to just drive home the gravity of the whole situation. As crime-thrillers go, No Country For Old Men does a better job than most of detailing the human cost of said violence to its participants -- both victim and perpetrator. That being said, a number of critics have felt otherwise. What movie were they watching, I wonder?

ONCE - Another film on its fair share of “ten-best” lists, Once is a sort-of-musical, a romance, and just a great movie-going experience -- It’s the only clear-cut “date-movie” on this list, and if you haven’t seen it, get thee to a video store post-haste, people. It makes me wonder why more musicals aren’t done in this faux-vérité style -- and when I’ll be seeing the next film from director John Carney.

RATATOUILLE - A movie should transport a person to another place for its 90 minute or so length; a place that completely enthralls the viewer in the experience and maybe makes you a little better -- in some fashion or another -- for having done so. Ratatouille does just this thing, as well as any movie I’ve seen this year. Who cares if it’s for kids? Go see it.

RED ROAD - This is the other great thriller I saw this year; director Andrea Arnold has previously won the Academy Award for her short, Wasp, and this, her feature debut, is ample evidence of the justness of her having received that award. Red Road is a work of considerable subtlety and complexity; and it has a couple of twists -- both in plot and character -- that will keep you guessing till the very end.

ROCKET SCIENCE - Spellbound director Jeffrey Blitz’s feature debut borrows a bit from fellow filmmakers Wes Anderson and Noam Baumbach -- but this year, IMHO, he made a better movie than either of them. It’s set in the world of high-school debate teams and is as true-to-life a portrayal of the awkward entry into adolescence as I’ve seen. Having smashed my fair share of cellos in the neighbors yard myself (that previous statement will make sense once you see the movie), I can say that with authority.

TEN CANOES - This is another film I’ve written about previously, and that write-up pretty much covers what I have to say about it. Just to assuage any fears as regards viewing it, though; I recognize that “ethnographic filmmaking” can sometimes be a bit... uhh, tiresome (and that’s being kind) -- but this film is far from it. Take a look and see for yourself.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD - You’ve seen the trailer; you’ve read the reviews; you’ve heard the hype -- and it’s all true folks: There Will Be Blood is the best film of the year and an extraordinary accomplishment in cinema. Many critics are comparing it -- quite favorably -- to Citizen Kane; and while that may be over-reaching in its praise, I understand why they’ve done so. Not since that landmark film have we seen as compelling a portrayal of avarice and the grasp for power -- nor as extraordinary a performance of as much -- as the one which Daniel Day Lewis gives in this film. If he doesn’t win the Best Actor Oscar this year, then the Academy has truly lost all sense -- common and otherwise. I could go on, but ultimately there’s little that words can communicate that would say more than the film itself does -- spare in dialogue and building slowly, but inexorably, to a brilliant conclusion, Paul Thomas Anderson may have just made the first truly great American film of this millennia. And yes, you want to see this in a movie theater.

       Like I said, 2007 was a great year for movies -- and while the thirteen listed above were my favorites, there’s quite a few more that should be regarded as required viewing: here’s a couple, along with their consolation “awards”:

BEST ABC AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL (... that ABC never made) goes to JUNO; the trouble with most film comedies is that they’re full of dumb characters portrayed by bad actors who make unlikely decisions just to keep the plot moving -- thank goodness that never happens in Juno. A smart comedy full of likable characters portrayed by a great cast. It also has this years best pop-song-driven soundtrack.

BEST MUSICAL (... featuring characters who indiscriminately murder) goes to SWEENEY TODD, which is as good a movie as could be made from the Stephen Sondheim operetta of the same name. Don’t listen to the Sondheim purists -- the songs cut from the libretto were the ones that contained exposition and/or background unnecessary for a film adaptation -- in a movie, what the camera shows you, best serves that purpose; and Burton uses it most ably towards that end.

BEST MUSICAL (... featuring characters who inexplicably have the surname of “Murder”) goes to ROMANCE & CIGARETTES, a sort of down-and-dirty, blue-collar musical from actor/director John Turturro; it takes a little while to get in sync with the film’s conceit -- very naturalistic characters in very everyday settings suddenly bursting into song -- but once you do, it’s pretty delightful -- and who knew James Gandolfini could sing? Also of note: Kate Winslet delivers some of the most torrid, shocking, downright filthy dialogue ever to emanate from the mouth of an Oscar-nominated actress -- now if you’ll excuse me, even thinking about it requires that I take a cold shower; maybe even smoke a cig, while I’m at it.

BEST ANIMATED MOVIE (... you’ll see this year that does not star a talking, cooking rat) goes to PERSEPOLIS, Marjane Satrapi’s (& Vincent Paronnaud’s) adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same title. It’s an autobiographical tale of growing up in Iran -- first under the dictatorship of the Shah, then under the even more repressive Fundamentalist government. This film is completely enthralling, but not really for kids; for reasons related to both content and tone. But let me tell ya', if you think you had it tough “growing up punk” in America, try doing the same in Iran -- SHEESH!

THE ICARUS AWARD goes to Francis Ford Coppola’s YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH. Yes, Francis definitely flew too close to the sun on this one. It’s a very ambitious film, ambitions set so high, in fact, that it couldn’t possibly succeed in every aspect; but as misfires go, it’s a pretty spectacular one, and it’s a credit to Coppola’s ability as a filmmaker that he made as compelling a film as he has here. It also looks and feels like it was shot in 1948 -- and I mean that as a high compliment. As a film, it reminds me of nothing so much as an early Powell/Pressburger effort -- and I suppose I’m thinking of this film in particular when I say that.

       Well, that’s it for 2007 -- not that there weren’t other fine movies released this year (yes, I know -- The Darjeeling Limited -- it was very good, but... Wes has done better), all the same, this seems like enough pontificating for one post, I should think... And, just a note, Beyond The Ranges will be on hiatus during the typically cinematically slow month of January, but will return in February.

Next post -- 02/01/08

1 comment:

jonderneathica said...

I'm excited that Romance and Cigarettes is finally available in the US. And I see by your sidebar that you are a fan of the BBC program "Top Gear", a show that everyone in my family enjoys.