Damn, I saw a lot of movies this year! And a mess of really good ones, too. Here are the ones that made an impression on me, even if it wasn't the best impression (in one case, at least).
In the Theater
- No Country for Old Men: Not surprisingly, the new Coen Brothers flick has garnered lots of praise (The Film Geek weighs in here) and will figure heavily in the upcoming Oscar season. It is an excellent flick, although I don't think it quite measures up to Fargo or O Brother, Where Art Thou? Having said that, it's got some absolutely mesmerizing moments (you'll never listen to footsteps in the hallway the same again) and will hard to beat in the best pic derby (NOTE: I've not seen either Sweeney Todd and There Will Be Blood, which are both garnering serious praise as well).
- Sicko: Michael Moore's latest documentary isn't going to change any hard-held opinions on health care, but it does provide a pretty compelling argument for what's wrong with our current system. I was surprised by how much the flick bypassed the completely uninsured and focused on the under insured, who do constant battle with their insurance companies to pay up their share. That's probably where the battle for reform of the medical industry will be won, as more middle-class folks can see the same thing happening to themselves in the near future.
- The Simpsons Movie: I'm a huge fan of The Simpsons (I working my way through the ninth season on DVD as I write), but I'll admit that I've not paid a whole lot of attention to the show in the past few years. It's lost a step and, quite frankly, isn't the watch/tape at all costs show it once was. I was worried that the movie wouldn't really justify itself, but the input of several of the early writers/producers really paid off. Very funny.
- United 93 (2006): I took a pass on Oliver Stone's 9/11 movie, but I was intrigued by the idea of Paul Greengrass's approach - to try and recreate that awful morning through the activity on the one hijacked plane that didn't hit its target. Using a largely unknown cast, as well as several of the actual figures involved on the ground, Greengrass evokes a great tension that's sustained even though we know how it ends. When the passengers start making farewell calls to loved ones, I wept. That doesn't happen very often.
- Lost Boys of Sudan (2003): When most documentaries today proceed with a political axe to grind (see Moore, Michael, infra), it's refreshing to see one where the directors get out of the way and let the story unfold on its own. The story, in this case, is about several teenage boys* from Sudan who were orphaned due to the civil war there. They are selected as part of a refugee program to relocate to the United States, specifically Houston. The movie follows their attempts, over the next year, to learn a new life in a new country. Not all goes well, but it's generally uplifting.
- Downfall (2004): This film earned some notoriety for being the first German film to portray Hitler on screen in decades, apparently. It's a chilling study of the final days in the bunker, as Hitler's tenuous grasp on reality completely dissolves and the Red Army moves in for the kill. As gripping as the Hitler narrative is, what really stays with you is the portrayal of Joseph and Magda Goebbels, who methodically murder their six children (before killing themselves) to spare them living in a world without the Third Reich. It's pure evil that is more frightening than any gory slasher flick.
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988): Although I remember the hullabaloo when this film first came out, it took me nearly 20 years to get around to watching it. Speaking as a non-believer, I have to say that it's a fascinating thought experiment on what it would mean for Jesus to exist as part of the fully human world. Once you get past the odd non-PC casting (Harvey Keitel as Judas!), the performances are very good. To top it off, you get a wonderful soundtrack from Peter Gabriel.
- A Scanner Darkly (2006): While lots of Phillip K. Dick works have made it to the screen, not very many of them have been all that good. It takes some serious outside-the-box thinking to make his stuff work visually, which Richard Linklater can do quite adeptly. Using the same rotoscoping technique he did with the equally excellent Waking Life, Linklater and a well-matched cast indulge in Dick's drug-fuelled paranoia with gusto. Probably need to watch it more than once, tho'.
- Fight Club (1999): What an overrated piece of crap! There - I've said it. I have no idea how it commands so many high ratings over at IMDB or in the Netflix comments. Yes, Ed Norton and Brad Pitt are very good in it and some of the cinematography is clever. But the plot doesn't make sense and the big twist near the end doesn't work, either. I suppose I also don't buy into the whole "masculinity=violence" theme, either, so perhaps it just doesn't connect with me. Oh well.
That's it for 2007 here at the Ranch - see y'all next year.
* NOTE: One of the user comments over at IMDB asks indignantly "[w]hy aren't women and girls being offered these types of massive resettlement?" Apparently, the reviewer came in late. The film opens with paintings of village raids with voice overs describing attacks that destroyed families. It tells how the men were generally kills, while the women and girls were captured "until they were used up." Younger boys sometimes managed to escape. In other words, the massive resettlement doesn't appear to apply to women and girls because they're either in captivity or dead, which is a whole separate topic for a movie.