A Heavenly Eleven from 2007
A little something for everyone. That’s a concise overview of this year’s film releases. We may decry the increasing amount of sequels that the film studios produce, but a more sanguine view is to consider that the huge success of the films in the Spider-Man, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter series helped to finance smaller films or at least to keep a struggling industry afloat. But the major studios are still capable of exceptional product while at the same time independent films both here and especially abroad continue to increase in quantity and more importantly, quality.
What movie genre fared best? Well, it’s no secret that R-rated teenage comedies made a roaring comeback, and so did raw violence—if there was a bloodier year for films memory fails– neither of which is a trend I find inspiring. On a happier note, musicals continue to make a hearty comeback. With at least a half dozen, very distinct each, all deserving accolades. And movie fans voted with their pocketbooks—nearly every politically oriented movie died a quick death at the box office.
The chasm between critics and casual movie fans continues to widen. Of the top 50, yes 50, highest grossing films there are likely only two (“American Gangster,” “3:10 to Yuma”) that will be on any major critics’ “Best of” lists.
That’s where I come in. Call me the “populist” critic but I have no hesitation in saying a film is great even if it is designed for mass appeal. And conversely, my critic’s pride won’t deter me from letting you know when other critics crowing over a small art-house film is mostly hot air. Remember my motto: I see a lot of bad films so you don’t have to.
Here’s the list of films (in no particular order) that I feel were the cream of the crop.
3:10 to Yuma – A contemporary update of the classic western with great shootouts, galloping chases and powerful performances by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale and an emotional depth not found in your Father’s cowboy yarn.
Once – An Irish street musician meets a Czech girl and the two create beautiful music together—literally. Like the couple’s own musical discoveries, the film blossoms before our very eyes and not one second feels scripted.
I Am Legend – Equal parts Robinson Crusoe and zombie fest, the sweeping vistas of an apocalyptic Manhattan wiped out by a virus serve as a chilling backdrop for the always dependable Will Smith.
Sweeney Todd – A bloody good adaptation of the Sondheim musical, Tim Burton melds mayhem and melody in a soaring triumph marred only by a lack of self control with the rivers of hemoglobin. You’ve been warned.
Bee Movie – Not as stunning visually as “Ratatouille” or “Beowulf” but Seinfeld’s animation debut is the little film that could. Youngsters will delight in the bouncy pace, parents will love that their kids are learning more in 90 min. than in most science classes.
The Host – Alien sea monster terrorizes goofy Koreans. Hard to explain, impossible to forget.
Freedom Writers – Practically forgotten, this true story of a heroic teacher (Hilary Swank) in a tough neighborhood proves that formula can excel and inspire with the right screenplay, perfect casting and a director with a light touch.
Hairspray – John Travolta got most of the press, but truth be told the rest of the energetic cast coupled with a relentlessly rhythmic soundtrack make this spirited musical a retro delight from start to finish.
The Orphanage – If you see only one creepy movie this year… this haunting, psychological Spanish thriller avoids the traps of the genre and does something few scary movies do: move you.
Music and Lyrics – Why? Because good romantic comedies are rare which proves the difficulty in crafting one this joyous, smart and for the most part, original. Killer 80s-influenced songs don’t hurt.
Lars and the Real Girl – A pathologically shy single guy (Ryan Gosling) buys an inflatable woman for companionship. This film is the opposite of everything you are thinking. It begins quietly and sweetly and never flinches.
Hate their politics, love their movies: Robert Redford (Lions for Lambs), Sean Penn (Into the Wild), George Clooney (Michael Clayton).
A good summer for blockbusters: “Transformers,” “Live Free, Die Harder,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Spider-man 3”. Every one worth owning.
Music lovers, see these movies in this order: “Once,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Music and Lyrics,” “Across the Universe,” “Enchanted.” And, only if you must: “August Rush”.
Giving Hollywood’s treatment of teenage pregnancies some dignity: “Juno”
Giving Hollywood’s treatment of homophobia some (welcomed) comic relief: “Wild Hogs”.
Guilty Pleasures: “The Mist,” “Jane Austen Book Club” “300”. There’s a trio for my therapist to explain.
Breakout performances: Shia Labeouf (“Disturbia,” “Transformers”) Ellen Page “Juno”.
Heroes: Disney, the makers of “High School Musical 2” which gave St. George (where most of it was filmed) worldwide publicity and more pride than a million downtown “revitalization” projects.
Missing in action: Heartwarming Holiday films, Hugh Jackman, memorable PG rated comedies.
Most underrated performance: Richard Gere “The Hoax”
Worst Movie of the Year: “Code Name: The Cleaner”. Cedric, we are still waiting for that “Entertainer” moniker to prove itself.