28 December 2007

Best of 2007: Film

Revisions since original publication date in bold.

American Gangster (dir. Ridley Scott)
With towering performances from both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the true crime story never feels straightforward. And thanks to Scott's lean direction, two and a half hours will fly by.

Grindhouse (dirs. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino)
What a pity no one went to go see the best movie-going experience of the year. And what a shame Dimension made two separate DVD releases. The three-plus hour, trailer-infused perverted masterpiece is the only way to see it.

Hot Fuzz (dir. Edgar Wright)
Sorry, Judd Apatow, the funniest movie of the year belonged to these Brits, skewering cop movies with a sense of reverence and a keen eye for gags.

Juno (dir. Jason Reitman)
While the film could have easily fallen into a series of pop-culture references and snide comments, the script from newbie Diablo Cody and a sparkling performance by Ellen Page, gives the year's best pregnancy comedy real emotional depth.

The Kingdom (dir. Peter Berg)
Infusing the action picture with plenty of talking points and great performances, Peter Berg's best film takes a look at our current relationship with Saudi Arabia, and how it may hurt us in the long run.

No Country for Old Men (dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Maybe not the year's best movie, but it's pretty much flawless. Major points go to the Coens for having both a ruthless killer (a chilling, Oscar-worthy Javier Bardem)as well as a hero who's not a complete moron (Josh Brolin, good in so many things this year). Tommy Lee Jones is also great as the world-weary sheriff.

Once (dir. John Carney)
With the beauty and heartbreak of a great song, this ultra-tiny indie from Ireland may have been the year's best love story. Non-actors (and now real-life couple) Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are completely natural onscreen and are the best duet partners since Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (dir. Tim Burton)
Chalk up another masterpiece for Tim Burton (how is it the man has never been nominated for an Oscar?) and Johnny Depp. The ultra-dark, ultra-gory musical is the perfect material for the team to adapt, but the real revelation here is Helena Bonham Carter, returning to the glorious acting days of Room with a View.

Waitress (dir. Adrienne Shelly)
Finally, one can use the term Capra-esque as a praise, not an insult. The late Adrienne Shelly's script bubbles with life, thanks to glowing performances from Keri Russell and Andy Griffith. But really, all the actors here shine and make you hanker for a piece of pie.

Zodiac (dir. David Fincher)
The oldest movie on the list but possibly the best, a somewhat restrained David Fincher's procedural of the still unsolved string of murders that haunted the Bay Area in the late '60s and early '70s keeps you riveted for all two and a half hours. Look for the extended director's cut DVD in January.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Across the Universe, Away from Her, The Bourne Ultimatum, Charlie Wilson's War, Hairspray, Knocked Up, Ratatouille, Rescue Dawn, The Simpsons Movie, Superbad

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men
Simply the most frightening villain since Hannibal Lecter. Even his coin tosses keep you on the edge of your seat.

Christian Bale as Lt. Dieter Dengler in Rescue Dawn
Bale dropped 55 pounds (right before he had to bulk up for the Batman sequel The Dark Knight) to play the German-born, American-bred fighter pilot shot down over Laos who stages a daring escape from a POW camp. The greatness of Bale's performance is not so much in his words, but in the determination and desperation across his face.

Julie Christie as Fiona Anderson in Away from Her
What could have devolved into people-with-disease clichés is overcome by Christie's astounding performance as a woman with Alzheimer's. You feel the heartbreak in every word, and every time you see her husband's (Gordon Pinsent) face. What a knockout.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Again magnificent, this time as the crazed barber, desperate for revenge.

Andy Griffith as Old Joe in Waitress
Appearing onscreen for the first time in years, Ange's return is delightful, playing an old curmudgeon who might not be as terrible as he seems.

Glen Hansard as the Guy and Markéta Irglová as the Girl in Once
Now a real-life couple, the Irishman and the Czech immigrant have real chemistry, beyond their otherworldly songs.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakatos in Charlie Wilson's War
Sure Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts do their movie-star thing, but it's Hoffman's portrayal of the bitter CIA agent that grounds the movie.

Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff in Juno
The only thing bigger than her mouth is her heart, which she covers up in snide comments and pop culture references. What a delightful ingenue.

Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville in I Am Legend
Just eeking out John Cusack's one man show in 1408, Smith again proves why he's the most bankable star in Hollywood, as the last man on Earth determined to stop the virus that overtook the planet in the first place.

Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas and Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts in American Gangster
Sure, Denzel is fantastic as the ruler of Harlem in the '70s, but without Crowe's hard-working detective, he's merely grandstanding. The way the two play off each other (even when not onscreen) is palpable and makes for a truly compelling cat-and-mouse game.

Leonitas (Gerard Butler): "Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty... For tonight, we dine in hell!"

Charlie Wilson's War
Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts): "Why is Congress sayin' one thing and doin' nothin'?"
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks): "Well, tradition mostly."

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page): "No, I mean, like, for real. 'Cause you're, like, the coolest person I've ever met, and you don't even have to try, you know..."
Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera): "I try really hard, actually."

The Kingdom

FBI Director James Grace (Richard Jenkins): "It only matters how you want to go out: on your feet or on your knees."

Knocked Up
Pete (Paul Rudd): "Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond, only it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever."

No Country for Old Men

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem): "Call it...friend-o."

Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole): "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."

Officer Michaels (Seth Rogen): "That's women...even after you're dead, they still want to rip your heart out."

There Will Be Blood
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis): "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly): "This is a dark f***ing period!"

Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
They could have added the word "definitive" and been absolutely right as well. Five discs features every possible version of Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi tale (theatrical, director's, international, producer's, and the recently released Final Cut) as well as the essential feature-length making-of doc Dangerous Days.

Heroes: Season 1
Catch up with Hiro, Claire, and the Petrellis in the inventive superhero tale. Not like it will help you make sense of the second season.

Hot Fuzz
Chock full of extras, it's surprising a 3-disc limited edition is available.

It's 99.99% likely you didn't see this brilliant film during its very limited theatrical run. That's ok. Now you can discover Mike Judge's dystopian follow-up to Office Space. It's razor-sharp satire in the guise of a stupid comedy.

The Jason Bourne Collection
If you didn't get the primo Bourne Files with a free ticket to Ultimatum (not valid at AMC Theaters though. A-holes.), get all 3 films of the greatest spy series of all time (you heard me, James Bond) in a nifty package.

The Jungle Book (40th Anniversary Platinum Edition)
Disney always does top notch work with these releases, and it's about time their greatest feature film got the deluxe treatment. Not just the "bare necessities," this collection is filled with bonus features and a spiffy new transfer.

Pan's Labyrinth (New Line 2-Disc Platinum Series)
Learn all the tricks of the glorious Spanish language film, one of the best of last year. From the gorgeous production design, to the startling make-up, it's all here.

Seinfeld: The Complete Series
TV Guide called it the greatest show of all-time, and while that's not true (it's still The Simpsons...always) you can't help but fall in love all over again with the horrible foursome and their hilarious misadventures.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Complete Series
One of the best shows of the decade never got the respect or audience it deserved (it was too smart for the average Joe, too preachy for the critics), but may finally get its chance to shine on DVD. Get it pronto.

Superbad (Unrated Widescreen Edition)

You don't even need the Two-Disc Special Edition. The standard disc already contains a bevy of special features including a table read, bloopers, and, what everyone was really asking for--animated menus featuring Seth's sketches.

Best Trailer: The Hills Have Eyes 2

Best Song Not from Once: "PoP! Goes My Heart" from Music & Lyrics

Best Poster: Michael Clayton

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