Stuart Rachels


2007 Movie Round-Up





Top 10 Flicks of 2007 (in order)

In discussing these movies, I won't give away anything.

2007 was the best year for movies since at least 2000.

1.  No Country for Old Men


Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert sat together at the premier of Fargo (1996). As they were watching the movie, Siskel leaned over to Ebert and whispered, "This is why I go to the movies!" That's how I felt about Fargo, and that's how I felt about No Country for Old Men, all six times I saw it in the theater. Joel and Ethan Coen, bless them, have made four flawless movies: Fargo, No Country, Blood Simple. (1984) and Raising Arizona (1987). Perhaps no movie is truly flawless; the IMDb lists numerous anachronisms in No Country for Old Men, which is set in 1980. However, none of those bothered me during the movie (nor would they, had I noticed any of them!).

No Country for Old Men returns to the stark, West-Texas feel of the Coen bothers' first movie, Blood Simple. (1984). The scenery is spectacular, as is the dialogue, taken almost verbatim from the Cormac McCarthy novel. Josh Brolin plays a resourceful hunter and welder who lives in a trailer park and stumbles upon a fortune left at a crime scene; Jarvier Bardem plays a bad guy who is looking for the money; and Tommy Lee Jones plays the aging sheriff who is trying to find them both. Brolin--who got the part after Heath Ledger (1979-2008) turned it down--should have been nominated for Best Actor. Bardem, who won every award in sight, plays the best villain in movie history. In my mind, he edges out Andrew Robinson in Dirty Harry (1971), Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man (1976), and John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire (1993). Tommy Lee Jones, a real West Texan, is great as always.

On location in Marfa, Texas, the Coens had to stop shooting one day when a great cloud of smoke obscured part of the horizon. The smoke was coming from an oil fire on the set of There Will Be Blood.

2.  My Kid Could Paint That

This is a documentary about Marla Olmstead, a 4-year-old girl from Binghamton, New York, whose paintings have fetched tens of thousands of dollars. Is she the Mozart of the art world? I'll say no more, but you should watch it.

This movie would make a nice double feature with Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (2006), a documentary about a retired truck driver who becomes convinced that a $5 painting she bought at a thrift shop is actually a Jackson Pollack "worth" around $50 million. In both movies, the art world comes off badly, and perhaps rightly so.

3.  In the Valley of Elah


Paul Haggis wrote and directed this nicely paced film about a man who goes to look for his son in Fort Rudd, New Mexico. The son has gone missing after returning home safely from Iraq. Tommy Lee Jones, nominated for Best Actor, plays the man, and Charlize Theron plays a small-town police officer. You won't find a more thoughtful movie from 2007, as well as from most other years.

If the world were full of adults, this movie would have been a big hit. As things are, it made $6.8 million, while Pirates of the Caribbean 3 ("At World's End") made over $309 million.

4.  No End in Sight



This documentary explains what went wrong in Iraq, mostly through interviews with Bush administration insiders. It is not a hatchet job, though it paints a terrible picture. The U.S. occupation was run by a small, ignorant coterie of politicians who were too arrogant to listen to military experts and too comfortable in their own homes to visit Iraq. No surprise, perhaps, but the movie tells quite a story. It leaves me wondering whether the invasion might've been a good thing, had it been run by competent bureaucrats.

5.  The Simpsons Movie


At long last, The Simpsons come to the big screen! I waited years for this. (Twentieth Century Fox reserved the domain name, simpsonmovie.com, in 1997!) The Simpsons is my all-time favorite TV show. To me, its first six seasons (1989-1995) represent the high point of TV comedy. Since then, the show has been spotty--sometimes awful, sometimes great, though never as good as the early episodes. This movie gives us an excellent later episode lasting 87 minutes. I enjoyed it thoroughly, twice.

According to the IMDb, the script for The Simpsons Movie went through 158 drafts. I guess they thought it was important.

6.  Michael Clayton



George Clooney stars in this smart legal thriller that got nominated for Best Picture. Michael Clayton (Clooney) is a "fixer"--someone who comes in to clean up messes--at a big corporate law firm. Clayton is called in when a lawyer played by Tom Wilkinson suffers a mental breakdown during a big case. The movie looks great, the acting is great, the dialogue is smart, and the plot is engaging. People complain about "Hollywood" movies, but this one is great. It is a mystery to me why it grossed under $50 million--isn't this what people are looking for in a movie? George Clooney, criminal intrigue, slick production?

7.  Rescue Dawn

Christian Bale might be the best actor working today. He's great here, as he was in The Prestige (2006) and The Machinist (2004)--both superb movies. Bale lost fifty-five pounds for Rescue Dawn, making him almost as thin as he was in The Machinist. He plays an American pilot shot down over Laos and taken prisoner during the Vietnam War. The scene where he's shot down, though brief, is spectacular, and the scenes in the jungles of Southeastern Asia scare me--I feel like human beings shouldn't go in there. It's not safe.

This movie, by Werner Herzog, is based on Herzog's documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997). I admire its realistic depiction of captivity, in contrast to the cartoonish buffoonery of movies like The Great Escape (1963). (Note: technically, this is a 2006 film. It was shown at a few film festivals in 2006 but came to theaters in July, 2007.)

8.  Sicko

This is Michael Moore's documentary about healthcare in America. It is not about the uninsured; it's about people who get raw deals from their HMOs. Two (apolitical) doctors I saw it with thought it rang true. Moore not only finds the American healthcare "system" abysmal, he visits Canada, England, France and Cuba and finds their healthcare systems beyond reproach.

I found this movie enormously entertaining as well as thought provoking. I suspect that Moore is right about America but glorifies the healthcare of other countries. (A physician in England tells me that the NHS is in disastrous shape, contra Moore.) To be blunt, a college dropout who makes movies is unlikely to know a lot about foreign healthcare systems. However, he might know a lot about making good movies.

Sometimes I like Michael Moore, sometimes I don't. I thought Bowling for Columbine (2002) was self-righteous, self-important and ignorant. I loved Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), and Moore can certainly boast that he was right about the Iraq War. I loved Roger & Me (1989) when I was 20. However, I just rewatched it and was struck by its narcissism. Moore now has three movies that refer to him in the title: Roger & Me, Two Mikes Don't Make a Wright (1992) and Captain Mike Across America (2007). The first rule of conversation and filmmaking is It's not about you. Moore is constantly in his own movies even though his voice is mediocre and his appearance is worse than that. Still, I heartily recommend Sicko.

9.  Superbad

This is a funny, good-hearted teenage comedy. Michael Cera, who also stars in Juno (2007), plays the straight man to Jonah Hill's likable-fat-kid-with-questionable-judgment and Christopher Mintz-Plasse's lovable-geek-named-Fogell. Fogell gets a fake ID bearing the name "McLovin," which is what he is called for much of the movie. If Spicoli is what people remember about Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), then McLovin is what people will remember about Superbad.

10.  There Will Be Blood

A great movie, and a great shame. For two hours it's a masterpiece, and then P. T. Anderson puts on his water-skis for the big jump, which lasts a painful 25 minutes. It's very hard to rank this movie against others, but I felt that the first two hours earned it a place on this list.

Daniel Day Lewis rightly won Best Actor for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, a sinister oil man working around the turn of the century. The story centers around a small town sitting on oil and Plainview's dispute with Eli Sunday, a young, serious, ambitious preacher played by Paul Dano, who is also very good. For those who haven't seen the movie, I'll put my objection to it abstractly: in the end, the movie becomes a character study of Plainview, rather than the story of what goes on in this small town, but Plainview's character is too one-dimensional to be studied much. There Will Be Blood falls apart much as Scarface (1983) did, but the good part was better, and the bad part was shorter.

To my mind, this is Paul Tomas Anderson's best movie since Boogie Nights (1997).

Honorable Mentions: Persepolis; Gone Baby Gone; Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; Juno; The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters; American Gangster; and Reno 911!: Miami. In a normal year, most of these movies would have made the top ten, with the honorable mentions being The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Eastern Promises, The Brave One, Charlie Wilson's War, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. But this year was outstanding.


The Nominees for Best Picture


No Country for Old Men  (reviewed above)


I was relieved when it won. I know I shouldn't care, but I felt myself getting nervous as the envelope was opened. I saw No Country for Old Men five times in the theater (as I did Man on the Moon (1999)). Since the academy bypassed Fargo for the precious film, The English Patient, in 1996, there were no guarantees here.

Juno

A delightful movie, grossing $143 million, shot in just 31 days. Ellen Page, who plays Juno, should become a big star--she's got it. Her character comes up with great phrases ("I'd like to procure a hasty abortion," she says to the receptionist at the clinic), and the movie has a small plot twist that kept up my interest at a crucial moment. A gem. I really don't know whether I prefer it to Superbad, which made my top ten list.

Michael Clayton   (reviewed above)

It got 7 nominations. George Clooney was nominated for Best Actor. All he did was play George Clooney, but still, that's good enough. Tilda Swinton won Best Supporting Actress for playing an uptight high-powered attorney. She was good, but the role, by its nature, wasn't Oscar-worthy. Even less imaginative, I think, was nominating Tom Wilkinson for Best Supporting Actor. He was fine, but his role in the movie was histrionic--memorable but not noteworthy.

Atonement

A-shit-ment. I was worried that No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood would split the "cool" vote, thus allowing this tragic pretentious drivel to win. Evidently this happened with the Golden Globes.

Rather than watch Atonement, you might think about watching a randomly selected Eddie Murphy movie.


There Will Be Blood   (reviewed above)



Certainly not as good as No Country for Old Men, due to the whole milkshake thing.


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My Award for Most Hideous Mutant-Freak



Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War. When are people going to stop casting her in the good-looking-woman role? Unbelievable!