***Note from the editor: Please welcome the newest addition to Moviegasm, Mr. Damien Belliveau. He’ll be partnering with the irreplaceable Sutter Cane to bring you more movie coverage, as requested. Welcome to the gasm, Damien!!
Best of 2007 by Damien Belliveau
The year 2007 is gone. Done. Finished. It’s already appeared and disappeared from our collective rear view mirrors. And it is obvious 2008 has just begun, because the first weekend of February saw absolutely nothing opening that any decent and self-respecting filmgoer is interested in seeing.
Why Paul Rudd? Why?
Listing the best pictures of any given year is tricky business. End of the year lists are like elbows – everybody’s got two. The guilds and academies and societies of mutual admiration often screw it all up. They have a depressing tendency to promote pictures that champion content over form – Michael Clayton. They praise pictures that pander rather than provoke – Atonement. And year after year we see some director getting props for reigning in his stylistic tendencies and playing ball with the mainstream – the Coens’ No Country For Old Men (last year it was Scorsese for The Departed).
Here’s my list of what movies excelled as cinematic works:
There was absolutely, positively no more engaging or rewarding a movie going experience last year than Quentin Tarantino’s and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. I have rarely, if ever, been in a theater where the audience laughed, cheered, jumped, screamed, applauded and basically partied so unashamedly as they did during the three hour running time of Grindhouse. It was like being at a sporting event.
Too bad there wasn’t a pogo stick handy. That would have been awesome.
Rodriguez’s inspired Planet Terror is the distillation of great cinematic filmmaking, in the most exploitive tradition of Russ Meyer and Lloyd Kaufman. Tarantino’s Death Proof is an exercise in genre blending and bending, alternating between the writer-director’s trademark dialogue exchanges and his increasingly masterful suspense sequences.
The trailers that open and divide the two movies are also outrageously well done. This is not simply great movie-making. Grindhouse, just by the nature of how it is structured, is nothing less than history-making.
2. There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is devastating. It is immediately a classic, just like the mainstream critics have been saying. And here is why: It is decidedly not the product of current box office trends or popularity. Too the contrary, There Will Be Blood is so thoroughly the work of a single individual’s vision, it seems to exist somewhere outside of contemporary cinema, alongside other massive auteurist works like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather or The Searchers.
The popular view is that Daniel Day-Lewis makes this picture what it is. Day-Lewis’ work is undeniable. But knowing Anderson’s powerful facility for working with actors, I have no doubt he could have a made the picture just as effective with John C. Reilly in the Plainview role. Hell, he could have swapped Paul Dano and Day-Lewis’s roles and made this thing what it is. This is not an actor’s picture. This is a director’s picture, through and through.
There Will Be Blood will endure because it is a profound commentary on America, and what it is to be American, which is, essentially, what it is to be a son of a bitch with out-sized dreams and aspirations.
3. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Julian Schnabel makes films through the eyes of a painter. And he likes his canvases to be bigger than big. He likes them humongous.
In The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, Schnabel turns the camera against the viewer and against the protagonist. He uses the camera as a means of limiting, of constraining, of trapping and oppressing and denying. Schnabel’s Diving Bell is something like an education in cinematic technique, for as Schnabel’s lead character tries to adjust to a world where his only means of communication is the blink of an eye, the audience is shown ways in which composition, editing, focus and sound all come together to create a unified picture, a world within the frame, a world limited in space.
Where most films strive to make the form of filmmaking transparent, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly succeeds because Schnabel unites the protagonist and the viewer in a psychological suture, using film form rather than literary form as the means to the end, an achievement that is nothing less than glacial in size, as the end titles suggest.
4. I’m Not There
Todd Haynes. This guy is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. He works in the tradition of another gay director who holds a special place in motion picture history: Nicholas Ray. Like Ray, Haynes genre hops liberally. From Safe to Velvet Goldmine to Far From Heaven Haynes has made his life work the exploration of genre, dissecting them from the inside out.
No wonder Judi Dench fell in love with Bob Dylan in Notes on a Scandal.
With I’m Not There, Haynes goes several steps beyond his masterful Far From Heaven, and serves up a genre pastiche which is superficially about Bob Dylan, but is fundamentally more concerned with identity construction and the life and times of The Artist. Not Dylan, necessarily, but any Artist.
Does knowing Dylan’s life help the experience of I’m Not There? I would argue that it does only if one’s primary interest is information. If cinema exists for you as a information delivering mechanism, then knowing the musician’s life would be helpful. But if, like me, cinema is a vehicle for aesthetic expression and play, then one could experience I’m Not There knowing nothing about Bob Dylan and still come out satisfied by a picture that is exceedingly well-built, and has a lot to say about what it is to be a human being who lives in a chronic state of conflicted self-examination.
People really slept on this movie. I mean, this movie really put some people to sleep. When I saw it in the theater I was not impressed. It was not, at all, what I was expecting. Fincher’s Panic Room is so clean, so contained, and so beautifully orchestrated that I entered Zodiac with certain expectations, which is usually a bad thing going into any movie.
I ended up getting the DVD and watching it at home. David Fincher reached deep down and channeled his inner Stanley Kubrick. Zodiac is deliberate in a way movies aren’t anymore. It is not made for the ADD generation.
Fincher is a guy who knows that in 50 years his film will be discussed in film studies courses all across the planet, and all the things that are important to box office geeks and studio execs and those who make a living off the industry and, yes, even the reaction of contemporary audiences will not matter to anyone any longer. It is built with the sort of detailed grandeur that one feels went into the design and construction of Egypt’s great pyramids. It was built to stand the test of time.
6. Spiderman 3
Talk about digging deep. Sam Raimi reached down deep and channeled his inner Sam Raimi on this one.
The first Spiderman was the most accessible to the mainstream. With Part 2 Raimi pushed both the action genre and the superhero genre to another level. But really, Part 2 just feels like Part 1 got bit by a radioactive spider. It is, quite literally, the second part of a story.
Spiderman 3, on the other hand, exists apart from the previous two films. Spiderman 3 is great and epic because it is basically the distillation of Sam Raimi’s essence – it is the culmination of Raimi’s oeuvre, his work as a film artist. Where the first two revealed his ability to compromise and work with the studio, Part 3 is like a portal into the purest Raimi aesthetic. If one were to look at the Evil Dead series, Darkman, The Quick & The Dead, or The Hudsucker Proxy (which he co-wrote), they will see this wacky-ass superhero movie is actually a part of a body of work which is informed equally by the Three Stooges, Golden Era Hollywood Musicals, B Horror movies, and Pop artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein.
Ultimately, Raimi is a unique voice in the contemporary cinematic landscape, giving a genre that often suffers from taking itself too seriously (Superman Returns, anyone?) a much needed injection of fun, bombast, and reckless abandon.
Plus it’s awesome to see the guy from Wings kick some ass.
7. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
This is full-blown noir melodrama in the classical mode. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead has more in common with Out Of The Past or Casablanca or The Big Heat or Man With The Golden Arm than with anything released from a major studio in the past couple decades. It is what they used to refer to back in the day as a “male melodrama”.
Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman are absolutely at the top of their game. And thank the Lord for Marissa Tomei. Physically she is hot and sultry, but in the dramatic scenes she is subtle and nuanced. She ought to be working more.
Veteran director Sidney Lumet sets this amazing piece in a world where What Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong. And Lumet, God bless him, makes sure that when things do wrong they go wrong in the most soul-crushing, emotionally gut-wrenching ways.
8. Margot At The Wedding
Noah Baumbach’s follow up to The Squid and The Whale is funny. Really funny. Super funny. It is Three Stooges funny. Just replace the Stooges’ eye-gouges and head bonks and swift kicks to the buttocks with psychological torture and emotional blackmail and self-centered intellectual attacks on loved ones and you’ve got Margot At The Wedding.
The movie is successful because it never apologizes or justifies the actions of its characters. In fact, whenever Baumbach can, he will have one of the characters in the film expose another character’s motivations in the most cynical, insulting, and intellectually searing way imaginable.
Simply put, it is an exceedingly confident movie about people with very little confidence in themselves.
9. Hot Fuzz
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg just got everything right in Hot Fuzz. They set out to lampoon the action genre and ended up making a better action picture than the ones they are making fun of. It’s brilliant and clever and fun. The duo’s previous effort, Shaun Of The Dead, showcased their ability to be cinematic and comedic at the same time. In fact, cinematic techniques like whip pans, extreme close-ups and quick-cut edits are mined as an additional source of comedy. Without trying to be, Hot Fuzz ends up being the best buddy-cop action-comedy ever made.
The greatest thing about Superbad is that it feels real. That is, it is a sincere film. There is an emotional truth that permeates every frame of this movie. It is, obviously, a comedy. But it could have been a drama. And this is the genius of the Apatow touch. Nearly all the filmed works Apatow has been involved with are defined by this blending of drama and humor. It is evident in his television work on Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. It’s in Anchorman and The 40-Year Old Virgin and Talladega Nights and Knocked Up. All of these pictures are characterized by their commitment to emotional hardship.
It is hard enough to make a picture that is effective as just drama or comedy. Superbad excels as both.
Knock-knees are back in! Thanks, Superbad!
11. Rescue Dawn Would be up there but there’s only room for 10 in the Top 10.
12. The Darjeeling Limited Would be up there but Wes Anderson is turning into the comedy version of Tim Burton – every film looks exactly the same.
13. Knocked Up Would be up there but Superbad already is and Superbad is more fun.
14. The Host Would be up there but it’s down here.
15. Eastern Promises Would be up there but something had to be number 15.
No Country For Old Men
Yeah, sure, it’s good, but the fact is that if it wasn’t the Coen Brothers, nobody would care. And the Coen Brothers can do, and have done, much better than this.
Dan In Real Life
This movie is just so watchable. It’s clean and efficient and moves and is funny. Just great classical filmmaking going on here.