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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Year that was 2007. And what's in store for 08?!

2007. The Year Of The Three-quel. Sequels aren’t something that inspire confidence in the movie goer. Sure, to the studios, it means guaranteed ticket sales. But in an age where sequels are hammered out as quickly as possible in order to make a quick buck, the quality of these films leave something to be desired. This year we had sequels from a whole host of franchises, and to be honest, most of them were pretty poor at best.

The crop of films in the first half of the year made many label 2007 as the worst year for film in a long, long time. Indeed, as the summer drew to a close, and most of the blockbusters proved to be one long stream of disappointment, I tended to agree. But, as with 2006, the later part of 2007 saw the release of the best of the year. The blockbuster season had passed and finally we saw the release of the films that weren’t going to pull in the biggest audiences because, well, there was thought put into these films. Some of them, shock horror, didn’t have one single explosion in them! Good lord, how would we be expected to maintain concentration?!

2007 also saw a return to form for the western. Both 3:10 To Yuma and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford were very different films, but each were fine examples of the genre. This trend continues somewhat in 2008 with Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Again, it’s a very different example of a western, but with the success of these films, perhaps the western will become a regular fixture on the big screen.

So without further ado, here are the Critical Mass Top 10 Films of 2007-

10. 3:10 To Yuma- The first of two westerns in the top 10, 3:10 To Yuma was the more action packed of the two, with Christian Bale as a Civil War veteran escorting Russell Crowe’s condemned criminal to the train of the title and then execution. A study of what makes a man, the film has two brilliant performances from two of the best actors working.

9. American Gangster- Yet again, Russell Crowe delivers the goods. This time he’s on the side of the law, playing honest cop Richie Roberts, who’s job it is to take down Frank Lucas, the most successful drug importer in US history. Ridley Scott recreates 70s New York in stunning detail and delivers one of the best gangster films in years.

8. Ratatouille- One of the best animated films in years, and proof that Brad Bird is one of the top directors working today. The story of Remy, a rat with a talent for taste, Ratatouille is simply gorgeous to look at. Pixar hold onto their title as the world’s best CG animation studio with another great film.

7. Zodiac- After 5 years in the wilderness, David Fincher returns in fine form with this chronicle of the Zodiac murders and Robert Graysmith’s obsession with finding the serial killer. Like American Gangster, Fincher brilliantly recreates 1970’s San Francisco. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jnr. all put in brilliant performances as the cops and reporters obsessed with finding the Zodiac killer and how their obsession affects their personal lives.

6. The Darjeeling Limited- The most critically panned of the movies I’ve chosen, I personally couldn’t understand what their problems were. Wes Anderson’s films are a matter of taste, I’ll admit. But this tale of three brothers travelling across India trying to reconnect is one of Anderson’s better films. And gorgeously filmed with Anderson’s unique and oft imitated sense of humour and skewed outlook on life.

5. The Bourne Ultimatum- Something unique for 2007, a sequel that was actually good. Paul Greengrass, possibly one of the best directors working at the moment, delivers the final part of the Bourne trilogy with Jason Bourne getting to the route of who he is. The best action film of the year, the best of the trilogy, with the rooftop chase in Tangiers possibly being the scene of the year. Better than Bond!

4. I’m Not There- A biopic of Bob Dylan that’s not a biopic, Todd Haynes’ film studies the life of Bob Dylan without ever mentioning the singer himself. Also an examination of the biopic itself, I’m Not There is by far the ‘artiest’ film on the list. Six actors all play aspects of Dylan’s life brilliantly. But it’s Cate Blanchett’s Jude Quinn that is the standout performance of not only the film, but also of 2007.

3. This Is England- Shane Meadows’ semi-autobiographical film about skinhead culture in 1980s England, This Is England continues to show Meadows’ ability to capture reality extremely convincingly. The film doesn’t tackle British nationalism on a grand scale, but instead focuses on it’s effect on a young boy who lost his father in the Falklands War. With a brilliant performance from newcomer Thomas Turgoose, This Is England is yet another brilliant and utterly realistic film from Meadows.

2. Eastern Promises- David Cronenberg teams up once again with Viggo Mortensen in their companion film to 2005’s A History of Violence. The violence is sporadic and graphic. The pace is deliberately slow. And the performance from Viggo Mortensen as Russian mobster, Nikolai is brilliant. Choosing between this and the following film for the best of 2007 was a very difficult job. Eastern Promises is utterly brilliant, and only just edged out by...

1. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford- The second western released this year is also for me, the best film of the year. Andrew Dominik’s film about the last days of Jesse James, and the man who became notorious for killing him is a melancholic and beautiful film with two incredible performances by the actors playing the leads. Brad Pitt puts in a career best performance as Jesse James, the notorious killer who seems to be waiting for death. And Casey Affleck becomes more than just ‘Ben Affleck’s little brother’ as Robert Ford, the man who is obsessed with James. Brilliant in every way, script, direction, acting and cinematography. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford rightly deserves it’s spot topping the best of 2007.

Before I begin the alternate list, let me say that there were one or two movies that wont appear on this list. Films so inherently awful looking that I could not bring myself to watch them. So the likes of Good Luck Chuch and I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry (in fact, you wont ever see any film with Rob Schneider in any list I ever do) wont be here. And so, without further ado, here is the Critical Mass 10 Worst Films of 2007-

10. The Golden Compass- The book may be universally praised, but the film, directed by Chris Weitz is painfully boring. And all the elements about atheism which pissed off the Catholic church have been removed, making the condemnation by the church all the more ridiculous. Boring.

9. Die Hard 4.0- Just because Bruce Willis is in it, and just because his name is John McClane, that does not for a second mean it’s a Die Hard film. McClane goes from blue-collar cop to ridiculous over the top action hero in a film that is big on explosions but nothing else. Call it what you like. Just don’t call it Die Hard.

8. Transformers- The only, ONLY thing worth praising about this film is the quality of the CGI. But what else would you expect from a film with a huge budget and backing from Steven Spielberg. Michael Bay cements his reputation as one of the worst directors of all time with this appalling adaptation of the 80’s cartoon.

7. Hitman- Further proof that video games make rotten movies. And Timothy Olyphant shouldn’t be the lead in a film. So bad, I was not arsed doing a review of it.

6. Shrek The Third- The first Shrek movie was brilliant and subversive. The sequel was a little tamer, but was still entertaining. The third movie is a pure cash in by the studio and it shows. As funny as Michael Bay is artistic, there is little in the movie to keep even young kids entertained. And I’m sure there’ll be more sequels. The worst example of the power of money over art.

5. The Kingdom- An overlong episode of CSI Middle East disguised as a political commentary film, The Kingdom quickly loses focus and ends up as a shoot-em-up. Has the unique distinction of making Jason Bateman, the star of Arrested Development, not only desperately unfunny, but also the most infuriatingly punch-able character in a serious film.

4. Spider-Man 3- How do you take a universally praised series of superhero movies and turn it into a laughable poor movie? I don’t know either, but somehow Sam Raimi achieved this with Spider-Man 3. Plot holes galore and too many villains, the emo-strutting scene is woefully misjudged. Terrible.

3. Premonition- Terrible. Awful. Rubbish. I can’t believe I wasted money on this movie. Sandra Bullock does the whole supernatural thing again after learning she can’t pull it off with The Lake House. And Julian McMahon should stick to television where we can at least switch over.

2. Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End- As much as I despise this series of films, it somehow wasn’t the worst of the year. But that’s not saying very much. How the Pirates trilogy has garnered so much praise is a mystery. Even Johnny Depp, arguably the best actor of his generation can’t save this film, but then his Captain Jack performance is appalling. Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly are as wooden as ever. The script calls for every character to stand around explaining what’s going on to each other. A film bogged down by an unnecessarily weighty script, characters whose motivations make no sense, performances that are for the most part appalling and a final battle that is absolutely anti-climactic. But saved from being the worst film of the year by the fact that the special effects are quite impressive.

1. Hostel: Part II- I’ve watched my fair share of horror movies. Some brilliant, some awful. But very few are as bad as this immature, puerile, distasteful piece of filmmaking. A horror film that isn’t even remotely frightening, Hostel: Part II does nothing but bore you to death. Which, if that is what director Eli Roth is going for (he does seem to be obsessed with torturing people to death), he hits pretty close to the mark. There is nothing, not one thing, redeeming about this film and therefore, it rockets into the top spot of the Worst of 2007. Shame on everyone involved.

So there you have it. The best, and worst films of 2007. To be honest, it was a pretty bad year in terms of films. I managed to get a top 10 of the year, but these films were the extreme exception to the norm this year. Most of the year in the cinema was spent staring blankly at the list of films and wishing there was at least one film that grabbed my attention. The later part of the year was slightly better than the earlier part, but that doesn’t make up for six months of boring fare.

2008 has a few pretty interesting films on the horizon. Some of these, you lucky Yanks will already have seen. The two that pop straight into mind are The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country For Old Men, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, There Will Be Blood. Both films have garnered a lot of praise in the US, and I know there are many of us over here that are waiting with bated breath for these movies.
Tim Burton’s adaptation of the musical Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has had many calling it the film of 2007 in the US. It sees Burton teaming up once again with his long-time collaborator, Johnny Depp. With Burton going back to his trademark twisted gothic style, Sweeny Todd should make for interesting viewing.
The year sees quite a few blockbusters coming our way. First up is the much anticipated Cloverfield. After a very interesting advertising campaign, we await to see if Cloverfield lives up to the hype the campaign has generated. All we really know is it’s a monster movie. Whether it’s any good remains to be seen.

The trend in comic book adaptations continues this year with two new Marvel adaptation on the way. Iron Man sees Robert Downey Jnr. donning Tony Stark’s super armour in the first big screen appearance for this superhero. On the other hand, Marvel has another shot at bringing The Incredible Hulk to the screen with... The Incredible Hulk. This time Edward Norton plays the green one with Louis Leterrier, the director of... The Transporter behind the cameras. Makes a huge difference to 2003’s much derided (but I liked it) Hulk which had Ang Lee directing. Lee also has a film coming out this year with Lust, Caution, a film that was heavily cut in China due to it’s graphic sex scenes.

In other comic book releases, Guillermo Del Toro brings Hellboy back to the screen with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something...

... Oh yes. The Dark Knight. That’s released this year. Anticipation of this film has reached fever pitch, and from what we’ve seen so far, we shouldn’t be disappointed.

After 19 years, Indiana Jones returns to the big screen in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Probably the most anticipated movie of 2008, it’s an apprehensive time for fans. Indiana Jones is a much loved character. It’s a big gamble bringing him back to the screen after so long. But even Harrison Ford has said this is the best film they’ve done with the character. Whether this is true or not, we’ll find out in May.

It’d be a strange year without a Pixar movie, and 2008 is no different. WALL-E hits the cinemas in July, and after seeing the teaser, it should be a gorgeous movie. Another film with a sci-fi edge to it... okay, completely sci-fi, is J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie. Abrams restarts the saga with a whole new cast of characters playing the original crew embarking on their first mission. The casting has been a little cryptic so far, but we’ll have to wait til December to see if it pays off.

Other films to look out for include the World War 2 Tom Cruise thriller Valkyrie; Mark Millar comic adaptation, Wanted; animated movie Persepolis; Michael Haneke’s remake of his own film, Funny Games; and Steve Carrel comedy Get Smart.
Whether 2008 is a success or not depends on the quality of these titles. There’s a lot to look forward to, but there could be a lot of disappointment. What’s for sure, is that 2007 shouldn’t be THAT hard to top. It’s there for the taking!

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