Friday, December 28, 2007

Highlights

Granted, I haven't seen several of this year's most lauded films ("There Will Be Blood," "Once," "I'm Not There," "Sweeney Todd," etc.), but I started thinking about those I have seen and which made the strongest impact.

Atonement is, quite possibly, the best film I saw this year. I went into it knowing nothing about the story, and perhaps that's the reason I responded so positively to it. Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, and Saoirse Ronan are nothing short of exceptional. I left the theater angry -- as odd an emotion as I've ever felt toward a film. As the anger dissipated, I realized how much of an impact the film had made, and how much I believed in the love story of Robbie and Celia. The ingenious score, by Dario Marianelli, underscores the playfulness, suspense, and ultimately, the tragedy that plays out on the screen. Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is ethereal. Several shots, such as Celia, Marshall, and Leon taking in the sun by the lake, or something as simple as four children being children in a nursery evoke the intuitive work of Sven Nykvist. The film is not flawless -- the much-lauded Dunkirk Battle aftermath sequence bolted me out of my emotional connection to the characters. Rather than thinking about the abject misery and tragedy of it all, I was wondering how much longer Wright could keep the sequence going without a cut. Moreover, I felt that the sequence itself could have benefited by some merciful editing. Still, the film's greatness is such that it more than makes up for any perceived short-comings.




Control owes nothing to "Walk the Line," "Ray" or other musical biopics. It stands on its own as one of the most honest and realistic portrayals of an artist ever put on film. Perhaps it works better than other biopics because it isn't bogged down by a supernova iconic figure; rather, it features a tortured, vulnerable, and all-too human protagonist. Sam Riley is nothing short of a revelation, and I look forward to seeing him in future projects. His portrayal of Ian Curtis is balanced and assured -- he's just as effective when he works behind a desk at a government job as he is playing a young, conflicted husband and father. The musical sequences capture the Manchester music scene better than "24 Hour Party People" could ever hope to. Even more impressive, all the actors played their own instruments and Sam also sang many of the now classic Joy Division songs. To be sure, this is a tragic story, and Martin Ruhe's crisp black-and-white cinematography delicately depicts Curtis's downward spiral in what is surely the best photographed film of the year. My only regret is that this film hasn't received the recognition it so much deserves. However, Corbijn and company should be proud of a nonparaliel work of art.




No Country for Old Men is one of the finest films to come out of the US in years. It defies genre classifications and works as an almost other-wordly tale of good vs. evil. Javier Bardem embodies pure evil, in one of the scariest performances of the year, and Tommy Lee Jones embodies goodness, with Josh Brolin somewhere in the middle. The film is expertly directed by the Coen Brothers, in what amounts to their best film in ages. Their adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel is loyal to its source, but stamped with the unique Coen style of realistic gore. The film has made its way to most end of the year top-ten lists and it deserves all its accolades. It is perhaps a perfectly executed film, and would rank higher in my list were it not for the lack of an emotional connection to the story. I was impressed and sometimes in awe, but I wasn't particularly moved by any of the characters with the exception of Kelly McDonald's Carla Jean Moss. But that's a minor quibble when compared to what's on the screen thanks to the Coens, their actors, and Roger Deakins's brilliant cinematography.



Into the Wild is Sean Penn's best directorial effort to date. Based on the Jon Krakauer book, the film tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who turned his back on society to embrace what nature has to offer. That's a simplistic one line description of a film that showcases so many big themes like death, love, and the searching spirit. Emile Hirsch gives one of the top performances of the year and is worthy of an Oscar nomination that will hopefully come his way. The supporting cast young McCandless (a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp) encounters is terrific. However, Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener stand out as two of Christopher's guardian angels. The beauty of the film is that it captures a journey most people travel in a lifetime with simplicity and pathos. The joy of living and the certainty of death walk hand in hand in this unforgettable film, and hope wins out in the end.



The Lives of Others won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I hadn't seen the film at the time, and I couldn't believe anything other than "Pan's Labyrinth" deserved the award. I was wrong. Ostensibly, the film might seem like a cloak & dagger tale of sorts, but it is much more than that. It is, not unlike "Into the Wild," about how the least-likely people can affect our lives. Unrelentingly suspenseful, the film shows man at his worst but also man at his very best. I confess I cried at the ending, which in lesser-hands might have proven disastrous, but which, in this case, manages to elevate the film above its peers.



Breach was a welcome surprise. I was familiar with the story of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who for years sold U.S. security secrets to the Soviet Union, resulting in the worst security breach in the history of the United States. While the film employs the oft-used device of the young, idealistic agent (Ryan Phillippe) setting up the fall of the villainous elder (Chris Cooper), the added element of religious conflict gave it a certain air of fresh story-telling. Chris Cooper is nothing short of genius in a contained, frightening performance that should be dissected by acting students for decades to come.



La Vie En Rose...yeah, never heard of it :)

3 comments:

k_obrien said...

Isn't that funny? I was just about to email you asking if we should post our own Best Of lists...

Also: Go rent Once. Now. It's the most beautiful movie I've seen since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. AMAZING.

loomer said...

Fantastic! How uncanny.. Atonement (I agree that Keira was good, but somewhat overrated by some of her fanboys, it was all about James and especially Saoirse there), The Lives Of Others (R.I.P. the brilliant Ulrich Mühe, least this film got recognition before he died), Control, Into The Wild and LVER of course are all my favourites too, all of which had very moving endings which I cried at. "No Country" not out in the UK yet and Breach was one I meant to catch if only to ogle Ryan Phillipe, lol.

Totally agree with Control not receiving the recognition it deserves (it will at the BAFTAs though, I think). Really Sam Riley should be a leading contender for best actor (and the always brilliant Samantha Morton, of course), though that race is a lot stronger than actress this year. It's good that it's so open in contrast to how dull and predictable it was last year, much more exciting. The only thing I want as much for Marion to win the Oscar, is for Emile Hirsch to be nominated in actor. Thank god for the SAGS!

Cotillard-Admin said...

K, it's atop of my queue. It should be awaiting me when I return to NYC next week.

loomer, I had no idea about Ulrich Mühe's death -- that is devastating news. Very, very sad.