Here's my end of the year wrap-up. I, too, haven't seen all the big movies (There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild), but here are my favorite films this year:
Once is one of the best films produced this decade, and is certainly one of the finest musicals (modern musical, really) ever made. Beautiful, intimate, and poignant, every time I watch this film I am hit by this intense rush of feeling. It's a very simple story about Guy and Girl, both passionate musicians stuck in humdrum jobs (he fixes vacuum cleaners with his dad, she cleans houses and sells flowers). They meet one night while he is busking and immediately form a bond over music. Girl encourages Guy to record some his music, with her playing piano and singing back-up, and to go after his estranged girlfriend in London. The two leads aren't actors, but rather singer-songwriters. Their acting is charming and engaging, helped enormously by a wonderful script, but it's the music that'll stick with you. Almost like a Broadway musical, the music is well-placed int he film and plays a part in furthering the story. Glen Hansard (Guy) and Marketa Irglova (Girl), especially Irglova as she sings him "The Hill" midway through, act the songs as well as they perform them. If I had my way, this film would take Best Picture at the Oscars, but that seems unlikely. After being snubbed by the Golden Globes, I am confident Hansard and Irglova will score Best Original Song nominations for "Falling Slowly" and "If You Want Me." I highly recommend this film and its soundtrack, though I'm sure you won't be able to resist buying the soundtrack after watching the movie.
Despite my admiration for Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman, I had reservations about this film. Can the actors really sing? Will Sweeney Todd, my favorite musical, end up being a Broadway play caught on tape rather than a film? My questions were answered, and let me just say: Thank God for Tim Burton and screenwriters John Logan (the screenwriter)! They've made a brilliant film out of Stephen Sondheim's genius musical. And, I should say, with Sweeney Todd, Johnny Depp officially proves that he can do anything. His singing voice is rough and harsh, which works wonderfully for the character. His acting is also top notch; he is completely transfixing, and, somehow, makes it feel as though the audience is participating rather than just watching. Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Lovett was always the play's laugh-getter, and Lansbury, who is brilliant (I saw a recording of the televised play), hams it up for the crowd. Bonham Carter has a quieter wit about her as Mrs. Lovett, which wouldn't work for a play but works wonders for the film. Her singing voice isn't as robust as Lansbury's, but it is rather light and airy ("A woman with limited wind," as Mrs. Lovett sings in 'The Worst Pies in London') which really fits the character. She and Depp earned well-deserved Golden Globes for their performances, and I'd like to see them make it to the Oscars, with Depp winning (finally!) for Best Actor. Burton's direction is fast and exciting -- excellent, really, and I'd like to see him walk away with the directing statue. Dante Ferretti's production design, Colleen Atwood's costumes, and Dariusz Wolski's cinematography should also be noted. Every piece comes together beautifully to make this film a modern masterpiece.
I'm not the type who goes for the big, sweeping epics; Cold Mountain didn't seem to end, The English Patient put me to sleep, and Dreamgirls gave me a headache. What sets Atonement apart, however, is the beating heart at the center of the story. It's a romance you care about, you actually feel. Boosted by excellent performances from central actors James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as well as supporting players Saoirse Ronan and Vanessa Redgrave (in a heart rendering cameo at the end of the film), the film grips you from the first shot and never loses energy. Joe Wright's direction, while not particularly original, is great. He gives us several beautiful shots, and with the help of Seamus McGarvey's gorgeous cinematography, Atonement is arguably the most visually stunning film of the year so far. Christopher Hampton's screenplay bounces along at a quick pace, and though sometimes his adaptation gets a little stuffy or self-aware, it provides us with a wonderful story of love, loss, betrayal, misunderstandings, regret, redemption, and, of course, the possibility of atonement. A special note should be made of Dario Marianelli's inventive score, which helps keep the energy of the film high and adds an extra layer to every scored scene. It really is rater remarkable how much his score adds to the overall feel of the film.
Some other films that made the grade for me: La Vie en Rose; Knocked Up; Superbad; No Country For Old Men; Ratatouille