2007: Revival of the Genre Films
By Doug Nayler
Before I get into my Top 10 list for this year, I feel that a disclaimer is very much in order. Actually, two disclaimers. The first of which relates to the film There Will Be Blood. There has been much discussion concerning whether this film is to be considered a film of 2007 or 2008. There is little consensus to be found online as to when it is being released where. There are claims of December 25th, 29th, and January 4th release dates. As far as I can determine, its earliest release in Canada is not until January 4th. For that reason I have decided to consider it a 2008 release. Otherwise I fear that it would be too grave an omission from consideration in a Top Films of 2007 list. And there are already enough omissions without adding a major one.
Which brings me to my second point. As you are aware, MONDO is a community of young, starving writers who have found a way to get our take on the worlds of art and culture out there. As such, many of our writers and editors (including myself) are also in school, and in many cases employed as well, to keep those mean people who own the buildings where we live from tossing us out on the street. So, unlike a “professional” film critic the amount of time I have to devote to film going is more limited than I would prefer. Thus, for transparency’s sake, I felt that this list should be accompanied by a list of films I have yet to see. All of these are films released in 2007 that I wish I could’ve considered before compiling my Top 10:
God Grew Tired of Us; The Good German; The Italian; Color Me; Kubrick; Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters; Red Road; Year of the Dog; Hot Fuzz; Zoo; Away From Her; Once; Paris, Je T’Aime; Paprika; A Mighty Heart; Rescue Dawn; Eastern Promises; Into the Wild; Lust; Caution; Lake of Fire; Lars and the Real Girl; Gone Baby Gone; Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains; My Kid Could Paint That; The Savages; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Juno; Grace is Gone.
So now, with all that said, here are my top films of the year:
10. The Lives of Others
While not as insightful a character study as the marketing copy made it seem to be, The Lives of Others‘ portrait of living, working, and relationships in Eastern Germany proved very compelling. The world the film constructed felt authentic, right down to the material of the couches.
Damn you Pixar! Why must you keep making big budget, mass-appeal films that are still clever enough to bore into the chests of us cynics where they promptly tug at our heartstrings. While I still feel guilty about giving Disney my $12, this tale of a rat who wants to be a world-class chef is impossible not to like. Now if only Patton Oswalt could get a film more in tune with the tone of his stand-up comedy.
Being a young Canadian male in his 20s who came of age not long ago, it’s probably not that surprising that I responded so strongly to in-his-20s Seth Rogan’s coming-of-age tale based on his teenage experiences in Vancouver. What proved funniest to me was how finely pointed the film’s jabs at male teenage insecurity were. I could’ve almost characterized it as too close for comfort if I hadn’t been laughing so much.
7. Michael Clayton
Legal thrillers are often fucking boring. As far as I was concerned, the ’90s orgy of John Grisham-ism had killed the entire genre. Enter Michael Clayton, an unsettling, heady film that understands that tension has to be built, not just thrown in with music. This film is also smart enough to know not to set the stakes of the story so high that it starts becoming absurd. The title is something of a misnomer, however. While George Clooney’s titular “janitor” is the fulcrum around which the story turns, it’s Tilda Swinton’s CEO and Tom Wilkinson’s off-his-meds defence lawyer who give the film its heart and soul.
6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
I saw this film three months ago, and I am still trying to sort it out. This film features fantastic imagery, excellent performances, and one of the best train-robbery sequences I’ve ever seen. Yet the characters and the audience both wrestle with the nagging worry that the “point of it all” is always just out of reach. It makes for a fascinating new take on an old genre rife with archetypes and images buried in the modern subconscious. If only it had been more precisely edited, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford would probably be even higher on this list.
5. Knocked Up
While many have heralded Superbad as the superior of this year’s two Judd Apatow blockbusters, my money is on Knocked Up. Ever since his television days, Apatow has had a great skill for pulling great comedy out of characters and relationships that seem quite present day and relatable. This film also marked a much-deserved breakout role for Seth Rogan, the man with the perfect comic delivery.
The latest film from David Fincher has shown many an excited film nerd of the ’90s that he still has great things in him. Zodiac is about a serial killer, yes, but has more in common with a film like The Conversation than Fincher’s Se7en. The film focuses less on the killer or the crimes than on the toll it takes on the investigators trying to sort it out. Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal all shine as the investigators who each in turn are consumed by the case that won’t be solved. Like some of the others on this list, Zodiac is notable for taking a tired, winded old genre and turning it in a smart, unique direction.
3. Margot at the Wedding
Critics and audiences both hated this one, but I feel that the wrath is quite undue. The complaints focused primarily on how cruel and spiteful the characters were; how director Noah Baumbach was working out personal demons and “would’ve been wiser to spend the money on therapy.” I can only wonder if the film provoked such a strong reaction because it touched a nerve. The film’s focus on selfishness, insecurity, and the complicated relationships of family is genuine and unblinking. The dark, bitter tone comes as the result of how the film bravely refuses to pull any punches. If you’re willing to make the investment, Margot at the Wedding is a film brimming with hard truths.
2. The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Director Ken Loach’s take on the Irish Republican struggle in the 1920s makes a number of choices that cause it to stand out from other historical epics of the year. Instead of trying to show all the major players and events of the period, Loach stays focused on life in the rural Irish county of Cork. Here we see the conflict exclusively through the eyes of ordinary people who couldn’t take it anymore. And, like those individuals, the viewer only hears about the goings-on of the leaders and big conflicts in Dublin and Ulster. The result is a film that is much more accessible in its approach to history. By seeing how choices developed for the ordinary man joining the IRA, the viewer is engaged to wonder what they’d do in the same situation. And it soon becomes very apparent that it’s easier to define what you’re fighting against, than what exactly is the shape of what you’re fighting for. There are no easy answers here.
1. No Country for Old Men
Raved about by critics long before its release, No Country for Old Men was surprisingly able to live up to the hype and then some. In an age of hopelessly quirky-so-it-must-be-edgy “independent” films, it’s very encouraging to see the Coen brothers play it straight. What’s most successful about this film is the way that tension is built and controlled not through music or camera tricks but by simply, discretely showing the story unfold. Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Tommy Lee Jones deftly carry the weight of the film, and the Coens proved shrewd in allowing them to do so without unnecessary frills. This film doesn’t even have any soundtrack music, but you wouldn’t notice if I hadn’t mentioned it. The tone and momentum are so well developed you don’t ever miss it.