Howie picks the 10 best movies of 2007
Hard to believe it’s that time of year again where we start the countdown to Oscars via The Golden Globes and, of course, my annual “Best of” for the year 2007.
It was an interesting year for filmmakers and one that offered up something for virtually everybody out there. If your movie of choice was animation, you had plenty to choose from. “Shrek the Third,” “Ratatouille” and “The Simpsons Movie” are all Oscar contenders easily.
Documentary films were very well represented, with “No End in Sight,” “In The Shadow of the Moon” and “Sicko” at the top of my list. A lot of franchises concluded this past year, with movies such as “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Spider-Man 3,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”
Even musicals were present, with “Hairspray” leading the pack, followed by “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “High School Musical 2” and “Across the Universe.”
A wide variety of comedies were offered up, from the sarcastic spoof “Hot Fuzz” to the coming-of-age juvenile offerings of “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.”
And, lest we forget, the stuff that has “Oscar” written all over it: the very dramatic, “American Gangster,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Eastern Promises” and “Michael Clayton” to name but a few that were available this past year.
Both the big studios and the smaller independents were well represented. Lots of movies about the war were evident, too, such as “Lions for Lambs,” “In The Valley Of Elah,” “The Kingdom” and “Rendition.” It was tough to choose a Top 10 and some of the movies didn’t even play up here (a few are slated to be released “wide” next year but qualified under 2007 being released in a few major cities for Oscar contention).
So, without further ado, I offer up a little slice of what 2007 had to offer. Some were very tight and I had to go back to remember what it was that made one movie stand out a little more than another. It’ll be easier next week picking out the Worst Movies of 2007 because in some cases I was almost driven to vomit, which is usually a good indicator for a rancid movie. Hope you enjoy some of these or, if anything, check ’em out on DVD and you be the judge.
Love him or hate him, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore actually received praise from one of his biggest critics: FOX News. It’s one thing to take sides when it comes to all things political but throw “Health Care” in there and you’ll soon find that the one common denominator is that we all grow old and die. How we age and our quality of life/care are explored in a very disturbing documentary which makes the United States la Third World country compared to what other countries have to offer in the name of a national health care system. The movie hits very close to home and in a prosperous nation such as ours it is horribly despicable to see seniors who have worked their whole life having to cross our border into Mexico and Canada to get affordable medication. I love this country but feel betrayed to live in a country that has no plan that takes care of its own when it comes to health. “Sicko” is a wake up call for those still living long enough to do anything about it.
“I’m Not There” (R)
Director Todd Haynes took a huge risk that paid off handsomely with this biopic of one of our most prolific singer/songwriters of the last century. Telling the story of Bob Dylan is not an easy task but to use six different actors of both sexes and several races ranging in ages from 11 to 50 was nothing short of brilliant to convey the various stages of Dylan’s career. The only other documentary I thought capture the essence of Dylan was Martin Scorsese’s 2005 “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.” While that was interesting using never seen before concert footage telling the story of Dylan through Haynes’ eyes not only kept my interest peeking with every scene but told a story in a way never done quite like this before. All of the actors give a marvelous performance and start with the very young Marcus Carl Franklin followed by Christian Bale and then morphing into Heath Ledger before Cate Blanchett captures Dylan at one of his most interesting phases. Richard Gere is then introduced followed by Ben Whishaw and then we take a U-Turn back to Christian Bale. A must-see for all Dylan fans and casual acquaintances as well.
“Michael Clayton” (R)
Just as he did in last 2005’s “Syriana” actor George Clooney plays a man with a conscience but not always on the surface at first. Here in Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” he plays the title character as the man the corporate bosses turn to when it comes to fixing a legal mess. The film goes from dramatic to thriller when actor Tom Wilkinson, as a corrupt lawyer who loses his marbles in order to find his soul, does some of his finest acting ever as the lawyer realizes that there is a higher power controlling him and it’s not the firm’s senior partners either. Clayton, a smooth in-house fixer in his own right must balance what is right and also what he must do to silence his own personal demons. I wish more people saw this movie but hopefully with both The Golden Globe nominations already out and sure-bet nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards “Michael Clayton” may get its just deserts after all.
One of the best adaptations from the written word (Ian McEwan’s best-selling novel) “Atonement” is the haunting and destructive story of young love just before, during and after World War II. What makes this movie so remarkable is not just the span of time taken from the book but how it transferred to the big screen so easily in just two hours. With excellent performances by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as the lovers director Joe Wright (who also directed Knightley in “Pride and Prejudice”) is able to bring the essence of human fragility amongst the horror of war without ever over-dramatizing the story. Saoirse Ronan is also incredible as the 13-year-old sister of Cecilia (Knightley) who is in love with Robbie (McAvoy) though he doesn’t know it. She forever changes everyone’s destiny when she accuses her older sister’s lover of a crime he did not commit. The film’s story never lets up and its conclusion is one that surprisingly doesn’t disappoint. The closet thing to experiencing the novel on screen, “Atonement” is one movie worth repeating.
What an enjoyable piece of filmmaking. As much a I enjoyed the original John Waters version (1988) this version has a snappy soundtrack with fresh faces and some veterans too in roles that just had me cracking up. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky in the role that Ricki Lake (who makes a brief cameo here) made famous is effervescent as the chubby teenager who defies any prejudice and challenges the authority figures most notably Michelle Pfeiffer who finally gets vindication for her hiccup appearing in the musical “Grease 2.” The total screen stealer though belongs to John Travolta who plays Edna Tumblad, mother of Tracy (Blonsky). In every scene you find yourself laughing out loud at his character and yes, he still has the pipes to sing as well as he did in “Grease.” A fun movie that never tires and one of those musicals that fits well with the storyline too. Nothing worse than a movie that just breaks into song for no apparent reason confusing the viewer but here all very relevant.
“No End in Sight” (not rated)
Unlike Michael Moore’s views on the Bush administration that many argue is slanted toward his views, director Charles Ferguson’s documentary follows those who were the decision makes following the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The documentary is shocking in its recklessness and incompetence and this from actual footage too! Taken from over 200 hours of footage the film provides an extreme insider’s look into those high ranking officials (including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage from Bush’s inner circle) who come across as bungling fools relying on what someone else said to justify their decisions that would eventually effect millions. I almost wanted to laugh if it wasn’t true so I instead became angry and at first wondered how these idiots got into positions of power and also reminded me of Nazi Germany where all involved just insisted they were just “following orders. ” One of the more insightful documentaries on the subject, “No End in Sight” chronicles the errors that would lead to the insurgency taking place today in that country. This is Ferguson’s first feature project and suffice it to say won’t be getting any offers from Republicans to help with their television campaigns. You’ll leave scratching your head asking how some of these supposed diplomats came to the conclusions they did. And unlike Michael Moore Ferguson here is smart letting those in power do all the talking which at times sinks themselves without anyone else’s assistant.
“American Gangster” (R)
Director Ridley Scott has fashioned together a movie that at its core is a movie about seizing an opportunity, albeit an illegal one and filling a niche with lots of greed. The cast is superb with several Oscar winners leading the pack. Based on the real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas during the late 1970’s, “American Gangster” is a mob movie and such has its own moral code that its ‘family’ lives by. Each ethnic family had its own code be it the new immigrants now known as Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans or in this case African-Americans. Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas with such conviction that it seems possible he could get another nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Frank is driven to succeed so much that he almost always insists on doing the job himself believing no one else can get it right the first time. As a man raised from poverty in North Carolina he symbolizes the potential of that American Dream even if a twisted dream. Like Al Pacino from “Scarface” (1983) even an uneducated person can learn from the streets quickly dodging bullets rising to the top but always looking over your shoulder for the next guy wanting to take your place. We’re supposed to believe that he is the bad guy for lack of a better definition but then what passes as good guys are also manipulated to the illegal trade of drugs. Why? Anytime there’s the potential to make huge amounts of money in a little time the lure is insatiable. Enter Russell Crowe as Ritchie Roberts, a tough New Jersey cop who makes it his personal mission to bring Lucas down. With his own personal life virtually in shambles the only aspect of his life that he has any control over is bringing Lucas to justice.
Jut like last year’s sleeper hit, “Little Miss Sunshine” this very quirky and very unpredictable movie succeeds without a huge budget or big names. Directed by Jason Reitman (son of filmmaker Ivan Reitman) and written by blogger and former stripper Diablo Cody, the movie stars the young and virtually unknown actress Ellen Page in the story about a high school girl who gets pregnant almost by accident. Her best friend, Bleeker (Michael Cera of “Superbad”), had planned to watch TV one night because “The Blair Witch Project” was scheduled to be on but, alas, instead they decide to have sex. The movie charts a course of both dark humor mixed with serious issues, but never gets preachy about what is right or wrong but follows what her choices are and how her friends and family react to those decisions. Misconceptions abound and are answered, such as Juno’s visit to a clinic and when confronted by an anti-abortion protester (who just happens to be a fellow classmate) tells her the fetus already has fingernails. Once inside the clinic Juno decides this is not for her and what follows is actually very poignant. Forget what advanced misconceptions you might have, because you will be disappointed, and instead be pleased watching this surprise little hit with a heart. A great cast, too, that includes Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Allison Janney.
“The Simpsons Movie” (PG-13)
OK so it’s taken over 18 seasons to bring one of television’s most popular and enduring animated series to the big screen but who cares? It’s still very funny and edgy just like the TV show has been for years. The movie brings back many of the familiar faces from the small screen but gets to have a few liberties and even with a PG-13 rating still pushes it. Even Bart shows skin but then this is animated so do animated figures have an anatomy. Apparently so! The movie centers around the town of Springfield and its unflattering status as being the most polluted town in America after Homer dumps some un-environmentally friendly ‘waste’ into the town’s lake. This sets off a chain reaction drawing the attention of President Arnold Schwarzenegger (narrated by Harry Shearer). That in turn brings in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Russ Cargill (narrated by Albert Brooks who is hysterical). And this is just the beginning of Homer’s problems. In usual Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons) style the entire voice cast is back for the movie. Dan Castellaneta is the voice of not just Homer Simpson but also Itchy, Barney, Grampa, Krusty the Clown, Mayor Quimby, the Mayor’s Aide, the Multi-Eyed Squirrel, Sideshow Mel and Mr. Teeny just to name a sampling. Julie Kavner still voices Marge and Nancy Cartwright is Bart Simpson, Maggie Simpson, Todd Flanders plus a few more as well. Harry Shearer (in addition to President Schwarzenegger does a ton including Scratchy, Mr. Burns, Rev. Lovejoy, Ned Flanders, Lenny, Skull, Kent Brockman, Principal Skinner and Dr. Hibbert to name but a few. D’oh!!
“In the Shadow of the Moon” (PG)
There was a time when astronauts were the American hero and what every kid wanted to be back in the 60s and early 70s. What started with the Mercury program lead to the Gemini program and culminating with the Apollo program landing a man on the moon in July of 1969 with Apollo 11. David Sington’s remarkable documentary includes never-seen NASA archival footage of the nine moon missions attempted from 1968 to 1972 along with the latest interviews among the surviving astronauts. That is except the elusive Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk upon the lunar surface. The film is a time capsule embracing the space program launched when President John F. Kennedy’s speech about putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade (1960s). It’s amazing to revisit a moment in time when I was a child watching the grainy black and white images of that first lunar landing and thinking how incredible this was having it happening in my lifetime
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
“Into The Wild”
“Resurrecting the Champ”
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
— Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout Northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio, and you can see his film reviews on RSN.