Saturday, December 22, 2007

Movies for Music Lovers

Click here for Songs for Swingin' Cineastes

I compiled the following list from the 350+ films I saw this year. As usual, I don't pay much attention to the big-budget extravaganzas released around the holidays, so you won't find many here. In fact, as of this date, I haven't seen
The Golden Compass or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber
of Fleet Street
yet. Though I'll probably pass on the former,
I look forward to seeing the latter in the coming days.

I missed a few other films, as well, like Live-in Maid and Ter-
ror's Advocate
, which had too-short Seattle runs. Sometimes real
life gets in the way, even if real life for me often equals reel life
(and I'll let you decide whether that's a good or a bad thing).

For several years, I would also compile a list of top disappoint-
ments, but I kicked the habit in 2003, so you won't find much
negativity here either. For the most part, I liked what I saw.

To quote A.O. Scott, "I know it’s hard to believe, but during
the past 12 months I some-
times went two or three weeks
in a row without finding any-
thing to mock, deflate or be
disappointed by, and my inner curmudgeon was frequently elbow-
ed aside by a wide-eyed, arm-waving enthusiast." I feel you, Mr. Scott.

If I haven't listed a film, it's because I didn't see it, didn't like it,
found it forgettable, or am still digesting it, as is the case with
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which I just saw yesterday.

The Tops:
1. Away From Her (Sarah Polley)

There were so many surprises in Sarah Polley's first film as a dir-
ector, Away from Her. First, that still in her mid 20s—and in
a youth-obsessed industry—she chose to make a love story ab-
out an aging couple. Second, that she talked Julie Christie into
playing one of her leads, a woman at the onset of Alzheimer's
(a career high for Christie). Perhaps most surprising of all is
that the result is such a measured and moving film. But then
again, this is a woman who was allegedly blacklisted by Disney
at 12 for refusing to take off a peace badge at a showbiz function.
-- Cath Clarke, The Guardian




2. Into the Wild (Sean Penn)
3. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
4. Daratt (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)

[Abderrahmane] Sissako also produced one of the year's best
[films], Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's devastating Daratt (2006),
part of the New Crowned Hope Series, which premiered in Seat-
tle at SIFF (and concerns reconciliation in war-torn Chad). This
is hardly a scientific survey, but there were three people at the Saturday evening screening I attended, and three at the mat-
inee a friend caught earlier that day (SIFF Cinema seats 400).
For some reason, African films don't tend to attract much of a
local audience—it’s no wonder more don't come our way.

-- From my Siffblog review of Bamako

5. Killer of Sheep
(Charles Burnett)
6. Control (Anton Corbijn)
7. Zodiac (David Fincher)

[A] deep reflection on the evaporation of truth...[and] a great film about disappointment and a mental labyrinth at odds with the myth of American efficiency...Fincher combines visual beauty and narrative virtuosity to arrive at melancholy drift that
has no equivalent in the American cinema of the last 20 years.

-- Thierry Jousse, Frieze

8. Tie: Once (John Carney) / Lady Chatterly (Pascal Ferran)
9. This Is England (Shane Meadows)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)

My Amazon review of No Country for Old Men:
In the finest Coen Brothers thriller since Fargo, they adapt Cormac McCarthy with fidelity and restraint. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet who could use a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with two million dollars. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way—or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II vet, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful—except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers.



Note: The links are to my Amazon, Siffblog, and Stranger reviews. In the case of No Country, however, I'm posting the original as I prefer it to the edit. For more reading, click here for an interview with Julie Christie in the LA Times, and here for The Guardian's picks and pans of the year. Until 2007, my newspaper of choice was The New York Times; I've since changed my allegiance to The Guardian (plus, their writers are allowed to curse with impunity).

Runners-up:
11. INLAND EMPIRE
(David Lynch)
12. I'm Not There
(Todd Haynes)
13. Talk to Me (Kasi Lemmons)
14. Letters From Iwo
Jima (Clint Eastwood)
15. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-Liang)
16. Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck)
17. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet)
18. Le Petit Lieutenant (Xavier Beauvois)
19. Blame It on Fidel! (Julie Gavras)
20. Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin)



Note: Interview highlights of the year include speaking with
John Sayles (for Seattle Sound) and to David Lynch (for Res-
onance
). Long live true independents; as with my music list,
I tried to include as many of these folks as possible. Also, my
top 20 includes not one, but two—two!—films with exclama-
tion points in the title. And one spelled with all caps. HOORAY!

Second Runners-up:
21. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark)
22. Black Book (Paul Verhoeven)
23. El Aura (Fabian Bielinsky)
24. Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
25. Red Road (Andrea Arnold)
26. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa)
27. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)
28. Half Moon (Bahman Ghobadi)
29. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
30. Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog)

Note: I sense a pattern, i.e. films made by liberals for liberals that take liberals to task. Let's face it: it's time to look in the mirror and fix
what's broken. And rest in peace, Ulrich Mühe, the East Berlin-born actor from The Lives of Others.

Click here for part two (documentaries, re-releases, events,
and more random notes) and here for an alternate version

Endnote: This is a work in progress, subject to change at a moment's notice. The lock date is 1/12/08, day of the Axman's annual top 10 party. Other acclaimed films that haven't hit Seattle yet include 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (which opens on 2/8), The Duchess of Langeais (3/7), Persepolis (1/18), and There Will Be Blood (1/4). Also, Les Amours d'Astrée et de Céladon and Private Fears in Public Places. Click here for the tops of 2006.

Image Credits: Sarah Polley (© 2006 Capri Releasing), Aw-
ay From Her (Michael Gibson/Lionsgate Films), Killer of Sheep (Milestone Films), INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch...I guess),
and The Lives of Others (Hagen Keller/Sony Pictures Classics).

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