Yes, yes, I know. It is August 2012. But as I roll up to the second birthday of Flaw In The Iris at the end of this week, I’m looking back at film-related stuff I did in the days before the inception of this venue. I used to have an hour every week on CKDU 88.1 FM in Halifax called The Love & Hate Movie Show. I’d write stuff in The Coast, the local alternative weekly, about movies. So, as a way of quietly celebrating what it is I do here, I’ll be publishing my lists for the Best of 07, 08, 09 and the best movies of the first decade of the century, through the coming days. It’s an archive of opinion, if you will.
For me, it’s fun to look over these lists to see movies that have aged well and those that haven’t. Some I was tougher on than they deserved, some I think I was too enthusiastic, and still others I can barely remember seeing. Anyway, here are my unvarnished impressions. (And CAPS where my 2012 self needs to make an editorial comment.)
Here are my favourite movies of the past year, and a bunch of other passing observations. I tried to wait for There Will Be Blood, as I’ve loved every other PT Anderson picture, but it isn’t opening here in any hurry so will have to be considered for 2008. IT FELL BETWEEN THE CRACKS AND DIDN’T MAKE MY 2008 LIST, UNFORTUNATELY. IT SHOULD HAVE HAD AN HONOURABLE MENTION, AT LEAST.
Here are my own personal criteria for this list:
I live and see movies in Halifax. Therefore, the movies on the list had to have been shown in cinemas in Halifax or be available on DVD in 2007. Films that opened in cinemas elsewhere in 2007 but not here AND haven’t yet arrived on DVD do not qualify for my list.
The Atlantic Film Festival, always complicates things as it shows movies that may not get a theatrical release until 2008, if at all. I consider the AFF a preview week for things coming in 2008, and therefore movies I loved at the AFF, such as Starting Out in the Evening, Scott Walker: 30th Century Man, Room 205 and Fugitive Pieces might make my Best of 2008 List.
One more disclaimer: I’ve caught over 100 new feature films in 2007, but still missed many for any number of reasons, including these which were very well reviewed: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (IF I’D SEEN IT, IT WOULD HAVE MUSCLED ONTO MY TOP TEN LIST FOR SURE), 3:10 to Yuma, Black Book, In The Valley of Elah, Inland Empire, while 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and Redacted will be playing soon in Halifax… for consideration on the 2008 list. Maybe.
OK… lets begin:
10 Poor Boy’s Game
Clement Virgo and Chaz Thorne’s drama set in the seedier part of our city had problems… it was implausible and overly melodramatic towards the end. But never before have I seen a film that tackles the stuff that Nova Scotians don’t like to talk about: race and class, in a dramatic framework. The story is of a white badass kid played by Rossif Sutherland—in a powerful, understated performance—who when he was young and angry beat a black kid to permanent brain damage, and now, getting out of jail, has to fight a local black prize fighter who wants to kill him in the ring. The film shows a Halifax I see every day, a Halifax I recognized instantly, one I’d never really seen in movie before.
Now, I have to go on the record, I think Planet Terror, the zombie movie side of Grindhouse as directed by Robert Rodriguez and Death Proof, the chase flick directed by Quentin Tarantino, are neither of those guys’ best works. But together, along with the fake trailers for other ’70s exploitation style movies directed by Eli Roth and local filmmaker Jason Eisener, made for the year’s biggest movie event. That night I saw Grindhousein a preview at the Park Lane was packed full of fans of fun, bloody filmmaking, and the three hours just flew by, full of laughs and gasps and cheers. It was one of the best times I’d had at the movies all year, and I think because of that, I can overlook problems I had with the movies in particular. It’s a shame the experience of it can’t be recreated on DVD where the movies were released separately without all the other trailers…. a mistake, I think.
8 Perfume: Story of a Murderer
The picture is about a man born in 18th century Paris with the gift of superhuman olfactory abilities: his sense of smell is one in a million. He becomes a perfumer, trying to capture the scent of a woman, with bloody consequences. Even when adapting others’ source material—here the so-called “unfilmable” novel by Patrick Suskind—German director Tom Tykwer creates his own thematic unity, mixing social, moral and political questions into the suspenseful story of a charismatic killer with the soul of an artist. In fact, I was thinking Perfume would be a great double bill with Ratatouille, this year’s other film exploring what it means to be an artist. It was the ending of Perfume that blew me away, a jaw-dropping, beauty-as-redemption finale. Amazing cinema.
7 A Mighty Heart
There were plenty of topical War-on-Terror pictures this year, and though I didn’t see them all, I thought A Might Heart was the most moving of what I did see. Partly because of Angelina Jolie’s grounded, soulful performance as Maianne Pearl—the widow of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl—and partly because director Michael Winterbottom took the story of how westerners approach the Middle East, and showed how out of depth we are, how American hubris and imperialist notions just don’t apply when trying to deal with fundamentalists in a city as unimaginably huge as Karachi, Pakistan.
6 The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Winner of the Palme D’Or Cannes in 2006, this Ken Loach film sort of came and went in theatres here, but was one of the most powerful political historical films I’ve seen in years. Loach is a left-wing British filmmaker, depicting his countrymen as occupiers and imperialists in this film, set in Ireland during their war of independence in the early 1920s. Two Irish brothers, fighting against the Brits, disagree when one decides compromise is the answer while the other stays fiercely supportive of freedom and republicanism. A heartbreaking and very smartly written story.
5 The Lives of Others
This picture won Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars last year over Pan’s Labyrinth, which was quite a surprise. Having seen all the movies on that list, I can go with the Acadamy’s decision. The Lives of Othersis an amazing drama set in East Berlin before the fall of the Wall. A Stazi surveillance expert monitors the activities of two artists, and begins to have sympathy for them and support their decisions against the oppressive regime. Not only is it shot in a way that absolutely suggests Communist East Berlin, the tale of sacrifice and suspense won’t let you go.
This little Irish film I discovered very recently. It’s a musical shot by a first-time feature director, utilizing his musician friends, non-actors all, in the key roles. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t work, but absolutely does due to the amazing music, the naturalism in the direction and performances, and the freshness of the approach, a script that was largely improvised. It’s a little gem, and should be seen by anyone who enjoys any kind of Irish music or desperate, unlikely romances.
3 Away From Her
The Sarah Polley film was screened at the 2006 Atlantic Film Festival and not released into cinemas until May 2007, so for me it’s been out quite awhile, but there was no way it wasn’t going to feature high on my list. An amazing first film from the actor Sarah Polley, the movie deals with an elderly couple, providing a venue for Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie to give career-best performances. Christie’s character gets Alzheimer’s and goes into a nursing home, and she falls in love with one of the other tenants, while slowly forgetting her husband. Based on an Alice Munro short story, Polley was able to flesh out the script and tell a very Canadian yet very universal snapshot of aging and a lifetime of devotion, despite her not yet being 30. Some people criticized the film for looking like a TV movie, but I didn’t think so. I found the exteriors and the silences absolutely refreshing.
2 Eastern Promises
I’ve heard those who say that Eastern Promises was a disappointment after David Cronenberg’s last picture, the genre-straddling A History Of Violence. Here he embraces a single genre, a crime thriller set in London, utilizing his leading man from AHOV, the astonishing Viggo Mortensen, this time as a Russian mobster, with Naomi Watts as a London nurse investigating the death of a Russian prostitute. The suspense really comes from Mortensen, whose motivation remains opaque until late in the running, not unlike Gabriel Byrne in The Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. A lot of attention as paid to the nude bathhouse knife fight that takes place in the film’s third act. Personally, I loved it. It was typically gruesome and bloody and strangely visceral, like many violent set-pieces in Cronenberg’s films. A History of Violence started with one just like it. I didn’t think it was uncalled for. In a weird way, the violence in Cronenberg’s films make them more profound.
1 No Country For Old Men
Though I’m not one for jumping on bandwagons, I couldn’t deny this was the smartest, most challenging, most haunting film of the year, as so many other critics did. Its no less a meditation on evil and its irreparable passage through the world. It can’t be stopped or reasoned with, it just is. The Coens prove they are master storytellers, and everyone in the film do great work. Big ups to Josh Brolin, who, with this film and Grindhouse was in two of the best pictures of the year, and was in In The Valley of Elah and American Gangster, two other well received films in 2007. Yet, he still flies under the radar.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS GO TO:
Made me laugh more than any other movie this year, though it’s squeamishness about abortion and lame sexism in places knocked it off my top 10 list. THIS I’VE ENJOYED A NUMBER OF TIMES SINCE, AND HAVE BEEN MORE FORGIVING OF ITS ISSUES.
I take back what I said about Knocked Up. I laughed at this poke at American action movies (and British mysteries) as much if not more. On a sunnier day it would have been in the top ten.
Very charming, with a dynamite performance from our homegirl Ellen Page. I thought it was witty and light, but perhaps not quite deserving of all the hype. Maybe it will age well. HAVEN’T SEEN IT SINCE 2007 SO CAN’T SPEAK TO ITS VINTAGE QUALITIES.
Everything’s Gone Green
A weirdly compelling Canadian comedy written by Douglas Coupland, a very similar spirit now available weekly in Coupland’s Jpod on the CBC.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp bring the blood and gothic grandeur of the Sondheim musical.
Across The Universe
Julie Taymor’s ambitious musical utilizing Beatles music as a soundtrack and inspiration, 80 percent of which works very well, it just feels overstuffed in places. A couple fewer songs would have helped.
Paris Je T’Aime
A great collection of short films with Paris as an inspiration. The Coen Bros., Tom Tykwer and others shine in their moments.
Days of Glory
A WWII movie about Algerians fighting to free France from the Nazis, it’s structured a lot like Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but winds up being a more affecting political statement, as it shows the struggle immigrants are having right now in France. It seems more contemporary and relevant.
After The Wedding
Danish family melodrama, about a man who returns to Copenhagen after 20 years to find he has a grown daughter, starring Mads Mikkelsen from Casino Royale. It’s a great, emotional popcorn movie, well shot and well told.
The return of Seven director David Fincher, as great a technical director as exists in Hollywood, the real scion of Scorcese, Michael Mann and Ridley Scott. This is based on a true story of an unsolved serial killer case in San Francisco in the 1970s, and has a creepy green wash over everything, and great performances from Robert Downey Jr, Jake Gyllenhaal and others.
The newest Pixar film, a wonderful examination of what it means to be an artist, utilizing rats and French cuisine.
Into The Wild
A movie I was prepared not to like, but it won me over with its final lesson: we needn’t isolate ourselves to find enlightenment, and it’s really the journey with other people that matters the most.
The Diving Bell & The Butterfly
Julien Schnabel’s tale of a man locked-in to his own body after a stroke, who finds a way to tell his own story by blinking a code to a series of very similar, gorgeous French women. A movie of fleeting images: beautiful, sad, and, in the end, affirming.
…and since it arrives this weekend in Halifax, I decided at the last minute to add…
Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman play estranged, unhappy siblings taking care of their estranged father who has dementia. Funnier than you might think, it works on a number of levels, and is carried by the performers, two of the best in movies right now.
BEST DOCS OF 2007
Now on DVD, the strangely perverse story of a group of men who would meet to enjoy sex with a horse, this is maybe the most provocative and challenging film I saw all year.
What starts as a typically lovely-looking nature doc, becomes a document of international crime perpetrated by Central American governments against an entire species of fish for Asian fin soup customers.
The 11th Hour
The climate change doc that An Inconvenient Truth wanted to be, but failed. This one had the philosophy, the technology, the science and even suggestions for solutions.
FUN TIMES AT THE MOVIES or ALSO RANS:
Michael Clayton MUCH BETTER ON SUBSEQUENT VIEWINGS. TOP TEN-WORTH FOR SURE.
The Darjeeling Limited
Charlie Wilson’s War
Freedom Writers I CAN BARELY REMEMBER THIS ONE
The Jane Austen Book Club
Control (a music bio I preferred to the intellectual
and mythologizing I’m Not There)
Amazing Grace OR THIS ONE
I Am Legend
THE WORST OF 2007:
Idiotic to the point of being insulting.
Pretentious, annoying, starring the charisma-sucking Michael Pitt.
Pirates of the Carribbean 3: At World’s End
Huge inert stretches, being dull is the cardinal sin of summer blockbusters, despite the presence of Keith Richards. I did like the white crabby rocks, though.
MOST DISAPPOINTING IN RELATION TO HIGH EXPECTATIONS:
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The first film was such a joy, while this one was screechy and silly, piled high, along with the wigs, and Liz lost all the conviction she’d gained in the first film. Hadn’t really aged over the 20+ years that would have passed between the movies though, funnily enough.
Empty special effects, a formula story and a frantic, feel-bad energy spoils the franchise.
The Golden Compass
A rushed script leaves out much of the book, providing a borderline incomprehensible story. Costumes were lovely to look at, though. And Sam Elliot is always cool.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
After 25 years, lets hope it is final. But I sure loved seeing it all spruced up.