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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Best Movies Seen 2007

I'm not a big movie buff, so it amazes me that I watched 58 movies last year. Below are 26 that I really really enjoyed, with the very best 5 in bold:

1. Tsotsi - brilliant, unflinching profile of a South African thug who strangely finds himself trying to take care of the baby of one of his victims.

2. Chokdee - French feel-good (true) story of an ex-con who becomes a kickboxing champ.

3. Dark Blue - Hard and honest movie about cop life and cop corruption, set during the week leading up to the Rodney King race riots and subsequent Los Angelas race riots.

4. Sixth Sense - I watched this on late night TV in Paris. My wife translated from the dubbed French. I'd never seen it before, but I knew the twist. Still, it was cool and creepy and sweet and sad.

5. Letters from Iwo Jima - Saw this on a westbound plane across the Atlantic. Not just a war movie. It was more about waiting for imminent death, waiting for it to be over with, knowing that all things good in life, all loved ones, will never be seen again. Tragic and heart-breaking, and so well done. Kudos to Clint Eastwood.

6. Ms. Potter - Loved those books as a child, and according to this movie the author was a great, ahead-of-her-time, yet childlike woman. Zellweger nailed it.

7. Castaway - The first three quarters of this movie are a fascinating psychologal study of isolation. The last bit could have been better if Hanks' character had the kind of melt-down a real person would have after 4 years of hardy survival on a deserted island. Where was the culture shock, the 'this world makes no sense to me anymore' that I myself have had just from regular travel abroad? Still, his time on the island captivated me.

8. The Falcon and the Snowman - Stranger than fiction true spy and crime caper where lefties at least can sympathize with what the criminals did. Great acting by Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton drive a great character study of grey-area men.

9. Girl Fight - Brilliantly crafted story of an 'at-risk' young woman literally fighting her way out of oppression and danger, with several very realistic hiccups along the way, and difficult choices. Hint: it's better than million-dollar baby.

10. Hard Candy - As its title might suggest, it hits hard and takes you by suprise. Starts out as a nauseating sexual predator story, turns upside down, then gets creepier. Leaves you severely shaken with equally mixed emotions, and shows a side too rarely seen.

11. Godfather II - Need I say more?

12. Erin Brockovich - Just a fun and touching movie with themes of environmental and health ethics, expert culture, and workplace gender roles.

13. Coach Carter - I'm kind of a sucker for the Adult-Leader-makes-good-with-troubled-kids genre, especially when based on a true story. I also love basketball, and I love that someone out there worked with black kids and stressed academics over athleticism. Sadly rare.

14. Sicko - Michael Moore's best since Roger and Me. Great story of one of the world's worst medical system in the world's richest country, and its effects on real human beings. Moore is a genius and creating the perfect scenarios to show the worst of American culture, in an ongoing attempt to reinvigorate the best of it. Yeah, he painted an overly rosy picture of the healthcare systems in other countries, but he was making a point, and doing so very well. A nice leftist counter to mainstream rightwing propaganda.

15. Have You Been to Gaza Lately? Our friend John Filson strikes again with a short documentary in which he and his friends take a day trip to the Gaza strip and explore a fairly typical day in a place with a rep as the most deadly place in the universe. In this typical day nobody dies and no bombs explode, but John does explore the lingering shadow of ongoing violence. I think you can get this one on Youtube and it's well worth the half hour of your time to learn what Palestineans really go through on a day to day basis, and their typically human resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

16. Naked on the Inside - Brilliant doc about body image, as told mostly by several very strong people with body challenges, such as cancer, deformities, anorexia, and fatness. This movie gets incredibly intimate with its subjects and makes a strong case for loving our own bodies whether mainstream culture does or not.

17. Shake Hands with the Devil - Another movie about the Rwandan genocide, this time from the perspective of the man who failed to stop it, Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, based on his book. Not quite as good a movie as Hotel Rwanda, but still very good, largely because Dallaire has always been so honest about his experience and how it haunts him. There are literally millions of stories that could be told about those events, and I think they would all be riveting and tragic. Many would also be heroic. They are well worth watching.

18. Lenny - Classic portrayal of the troubled and harrassed comic who told satirical dirty jokes that seem tame by today's standards. Great performance from Dustin Hoffman.

19. Poor Boy's Game - Despite a sentimental ending, this film did a great job depicting the poverty and racism that drive the beautiful sport of boxing, and the black/white conflicts that still plague North End Halifax.

20. In the Same Boat - Two short, straightforward companion documentaries of a no longer thriving way of life in Nova Scotia: fishing. The first examines the dying art of line fishing and the men who are going broke doing it while trawlers deplete the fish stalks; the second looks at Bear River First Nation's refusal to sell their treaty rights to fish back to the government, and their outreach to and negotiation with white fishers for fair distribution of the catch.

21. Three Colours: Red - The final film of Kieslowski's famous trilogy. I'm not even sure quite what this film is all about, but it's gorgeous and the characters seem very real.

22. The Namesake - Probably the very best movie I saw last year. This is the story of an Indian couple who immigrate to America and the American children they create and raise. One of the best portrayals of cultural adaptation I've ever seen, it demonstrates the complexity of living between cultures, the value and importance of family and familiarity. And it's just a damn good story.

23. Grizzly Man - This one wins on the basis of unintentional comedy. I felt like I was watching a Christopher Guest documentary with the usual series of misfits taking themselves way too seriously. Except, those misfits were real, and the central figure who shot most of the footage was the craziest of them all. The narrative voice-overs are a mix of absurdly abstract and out of context philosophy, and a fine example of telling instead of showing. Spoiler: the bears win.

24. Hope in Heaven - Horribly sad, depressing documentary about the sex trade to foreign tourists in The Philippines that shakes one's faith in humanity, especially men. Sounds like a good time eh? Well, it's worth seeing because you can't understand the heights of humanity without witnessing some of its depths.

25. Borat - So, so funny. With all the hooplah about making fun of Kazakhs, it's American culture that is left standing embarrasingly naked in this flick, and I can't help but laugh at it. Yeah, it's crass and offensive, but Cohen is a genius at bringing out the worst in people and letting them make fools of themselves in the process.

26. Last King of Scotland - I watched several movies set in African this year and only two made this list because most of them used African characters solely to make a point either about corruption in Africa or corruption in America. Last King of Scotland features a great portrayal of Idi Amin, has several other important African characters, and shows how the ignorant arrogance of foreign do-gooders can backfire. It's a fictional story of extremes but it is convincing and it works.

27. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen - One clueless critic slammed it as 'glacially paced'. That's kind of the point, or part of it anyway. It's a beautiful follow-up to Atanarjuat from Zacharius Kunut. Finally we get a movie that shows the Euro-aboriginal culture clash from the aboriginal, in this case Innuit, perspective. It's a sad story of change and loss, brought on not by violent conflict but by gentle manipulation by dim-witted do-gooders.

28. The Trap - Great 3-hour doc linking academic science, philosophy, economics, sociology with current politics. Fascinating stuff.

29. Cinderella Man - Another great boxing flick, this one set in the great depression, shows the true nature of the sport, the desperation of it, the poverty that breeds fighters. "Now I know what I'm fight for." "What's that?" "Milk."

"I recalled with a twinge of sadness how Japhy was always so dead serious about food, and I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody's food money to blow their heads off anyway."
--Jack Kerouac in Dharma Bums, 1956


Anonymous said...

Man, I hate the dishonesty of Top Ten Lists. It seems right out of Japanese MTV.... A Top Twenty-Six list is a better scheme though, less disingenuous (I like that word, because it's got three vowels in a row, two of which are the same!)

Well then...

Sixth Sense -- I came away from that mainly just impressed with Haley Joel Osment. At that age. To give that kind of performance, was just... incomprehensibly good, I thought. He was already mysteriously talented when I was just discovering the world. His IQ must be off the map. I hope he is given the chance to become a shining adult lead, if he so desires...

Letters From Iwojima -- I watched this in Japanese, with no subtitles. At times incomprehensible, but at the same times (note the plural)inexpressibly powerful. Much better than Flags of our Fathers, which was actually very good as well, and featured Ira Hayes, who ought to be on a coin. (He has as much right as Jefferson to be on money, anyway.)

Castaway -- watched and rather enjoyed it in Vancouver. Too much product placement for my taste, but just watching Tom Hanks struggling to do simple stuff that our 'civilization' would never normally have to think twice about... that was fascinating.

The Godfather II -- Deniro's best, I would opine. Small though his role is, it was done so very well. And, though Coppola is an inconsistent director, it is an, an unforgettable, experience when he is on his game.

Sicko -- Good film, but... But, but, did you wholeheartedly agree with it? From my own experience with the Canadian medical system, at least, I must somewhat disagree. I have waited hours to get a simple examination, months to get a simple exam. Moore downplayed that aspect of socializecd medicine, and he needn't have.

Lenny -- Chriz, were you not with me and Mum and Dad when I showcased this to them as one of great overlooked movies of all time? I thought you were. but if I did not include you, I apologize. It is, indeed, a notable film

In the same Boat -- Have not seen it, and desperately want to. Do you have it in file form? Stranded here in Iwakuni, there is so much I want to see, but cannot...

Borat -- Also on my "must see" list. I find Sascha Baron Cohen... intriguing. I especially like the moustache.

Deixis said...

Not that you care, but here's my Top Movies for 2007, in no particular order, despite the convenient numbering.

1. The Corporation (Same guy who did Manufacturing Consent -- the Chomsky film -- which I also greatly enjoyed.)

2. The Smartest Guys In The Room -- Truth is strange like fiction.

3. An Inconvenient Truth -- Made me cry. Honestly, it brought me to tears. When I saw the (animated) polar bears dying, I just felt incredibly sad. Not inclined to explain it, but that is how I felt....

4. Who Killed The Electric Car? -- Corny at times, but the narrative is riveting. Makes you wonder what might have happened if the electric car had survived. A different world , maybe, I thought.

5. Hotel Rwanda -- Don Cheadle; man, can this guy act!

6. Batman Begins -- Watched it about eight times. Good good good. I was a comic freak so a finally well done Batman movie was actually a moving experience for me. Analyze that!

7. The Machinist -- Kind of like The Usual Suspects, but sadder, more beautiful.

9. The Constant Gardener -- Based on a John le Carre novel. Ralph Fiennes makes it all happen. He somehow draws you into the mythos. Wow.

10. American Werewolf In London -- Griffin Dunne

11. Repo Man -- Just weirdly watchable

12. The Bride Of Frankenstein -- So very gay

13. Shaun Of The Dead -- So very very gay. Also features Dylan Moran, whom I always enjoy. (Watch it, be impressed!)

--The Nail--

benjibopper said...

Anaphora: Yeah, Sicko was pure propoganda, but it was good propaganada and I enjoyed it. We're agreed about his glossing over of public healthcare though. On Lenny, I may have been there. I know for sure it was you who introduced me to this movie, and this wasn't the first time I'd seen it, but yet it was still good enough to be one of my favourites of the year, even after a couple of previous viewings. About 'In the Same Boat': we own the DVD, so I suppose all I have to do is rip it and transfer it to you somehow. Let's discuss this on yahoo or email some time.

benjibopper said...

Deixis: oh but I do care. I have seen and enjoyed many of those myself. I liked, but didn't love, 'An Inconvenient Truth' though. But I'm glad he made it because it seems to be waking people up somewhat. I guess it took an ex-Veep to convince people. I did love Hotel Rwanda, that was brilliant. The Corporation was greatly informative but not the most riveting in terms of style - pretty talking headsish. Batman begins was a lot of fun - it was my favourite of the batman movies. The Machinist reminded me of Memento, but more of a character study, and also sadder. The Constant Gardener was pretty gripping, but I found it to be one of those movies that was making a sad sack case for Africa, trying to make a very simple political point with corporate badguys screwing the poor helpless Africans. Repo Man and Shaun of the Dead are great fun - Shaun made a previous best-of list of mine. This is fun!

benjibopper said...

strangely though, I have this distinct memory of you telling me you didn't like 'batman begins'.

benjibopper said...

lastly, i usually find ralph fiennes' acting pretty gripping.

benjibopper said...

somehow i forgot a really good movie from my list: The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. It has been added.

benjibopper said...

oops, forgot another one: The Trap. It has now been added.

benjibopper said...

please note the addition of yet another movie: Cinderella Man. how did i forget so many?