Wednesday, February 6, 2008

K's Best Films of 2007

K. McKiernan’s
Best Films of 2007
One Brave Woman Looks at it Fresh and New and Speaks Her Mind
(Even if Others Will Scoff)

Everyone says it has been a great year for movies. And you know what, everyone would be right. But there are two ways in which I distinguish my love for this year’s movies from everyone else’s. First, this year may have had more quality films, but the top films themselves were no better than the top films of last year or even the year before. Quantity was what this year had, not better overall quality. For example, for all the wonders of No Country for Old Men, The Departed and Little Children would trump it HUGE if they were made in the same year. Secondly, this year did have many deserving films because, frankly, I was tired of choosing the films I was “supposed” to choose. I am tired of choosing inside the box that the critics carve out for me. My top ten films have what would be big surprises for critics. They would most likely scoff at some of my “silly” choices.

I doubt I have much in common with any critics this year, nor do I probably have many in common with my husband. But I am done with the pandering to art for art’s sake (I’m Not There) and I have exhausted the patience I have for male angst and pain (Lars), and male entitlement and self pity masquerading as bravery (Into the Wild). So, because I refuse to let these so called “top movies” (by so many critics) plague me with their idiocy and nagging self approval, I have opened up to look at so-called “populist” movies with more respect and admiration. I am going to review this year’s movies with a few new standards.

1. The movie has to engage me and entertain me for its duration. In short, a movie has to be good enough to keep me awake. My time is valuable and just because someone decided to give a director money and a green-light does not mean he should be able to squander it because he likes to feel like big stuff.

2. Movies need to be fun. Not all of them have to be hilarious fun, but they should make me glad I sat my ass in the chair for 2 or more hours. I use “fun” loosely. Fun means I would not choose to be elsewhere.

3. The movie has to do something new. No matter how small, the movie has to try to add or shift or tackle something new. When you see over 100 movies a year (we saw 120+), a fresh angle is a must.

4. The only way a film can avoid the “fun” standard is if it says or does something important. Movies should either entertain or inform—and not just inform about male pain and pride. Filmmakers have an obligation to comment on or move us to feel or do something about our human condition. This year, I had a record number of “important” films. What use is the power if you only put it to the use of showing how angst-driven men are? Um, we already knew this.

5. Simply put, the movie cannot annoy me.

So, there you have it. I am tired of playing within the typical framework. At first, I was really sorry I did not jump for joy over the critical darlings: Michael Clayton, Into the Wild, Lars and the Real Girl, Once or I’m Not There. I felt foolish and even a little dumb. Not to mention sad to not have something in common with my husband. But then, it finally dawned on me. There are other really fun or important movies that I doooooo give a goddamn about. I don’t have to like that which others like. I don’t have to pretend to give two shits about any poor schlubs if I don’t wanna. And you know what, I don’t wanna.

Here, below, is what I do care about. These movies were touching and/or real. Raucous fun or tear jerking. They made me think or feel stimulated. They made me feel like acting out, writing, debating, or laughing. They made me feel good. Or they made me feel really bad in a good way. And they made me feel like we could all do better. I thank each of them for what they gave me. This really was an incredible year and journey for me. I feel enlightened and lighter. I don’t need any guys on my back. I decide what is good. We all do. And my voice matters just as much as the next, um, guy’s.

Okay, it may seem a bit hypocritical of me that I say all this feminist stuff and then I list a “male” movie like The Bourne Ultimatum as my #10, but it’s not. Fair is fair—this movie met my standards. It was fun and beautifully executed. Moreover, it was smart fun. So often, male bastion movies become about the brawn, and the brain is no where to be seen. Here, brain takes center stage and we are rewarded for our devotion to the series and to our hero. Besides, a movie this well written and directed and acted needs to be on the list, no matter what gender dominates it. Um, you might see this definition cropping up again.

Was there any more fun in film this year? No. Sadly, not that long ago, I questioned how I could add these films to a year littered with praise for being a movie with “so many quality” movies. I thought with all the artful, “important” (says the critic) films, that it was foolish to put on the list such unabashedly raucous, wild, fun, zany, insane flicks. Well, thank God I saw the errors in my logic. We don’t have enough films anymore that are fun and just go for broke. We need more filmmakers who say, “we are going to have fun for fun’s sake and we hope you love the ride, because we are having fun, too.” I let these two phenomenal films tie because they both brought back absolute, crazy fun back to cinema. I did not sit and think, “Am I supposed to like this?” “Is this okay to like?” Nor did I think, “is the 3 hours over yet?” I just fucking loved it. Smokin Aces was more in my face, balls out (as my husband loves to say), going-for-broke ambitious but Grindhouse lovingly homaged and brought me an art form I had never seen nor would I have ever been exposed to. Both movies entranced me and I just sat glued with child-like glee plastered all over my face. Now, that is filmmaking!

I would have never guessed in about 28 years that a Disney kid’s movie would grace my list. In fact, in past years, I have been adamant. These movies get relegated to a kid’s list. Period. Well, not this year. With my new standards being applied, a Disney “kid” movie secured itself a spot on the list and as clichĂ©d as it sounds, it secured a place in my heart as well. At first, I really worried about this entry. I thought I would be scoffed at and told how silly it was. But, with my new bravery, I must say I don’t give a flying fuck. This lovely movie twisted the princess fairytale/myth into a modern day tale that any feminist mother could be proud to take her daughter to. It’s pretty sad when it takes this half cartoon Disney kid flick to finally have a woman rescue a man (I guess Vacancy did it early in the year—oh boy, two movies), but it did and I was everso grateful to finally see it. And better yet, to finally have my two sons and daughter get a positive girl power message. And no one on the planet could have been successful at merging sweetness with spunk the way Amy Adams did. Thanks to Amy Adams, I finally have a princess I can let my daughter admire.

However, the next time Disney—or any other studio, for that matter—casts the spectacular Idina Menzel in a very musical film and doesn’t allow her to sing, I will refuse to put it on any list, just on principle.

The rich gray tones of Sweeney Todd’s world had me mesmerized from start to finish. And who ever knew that Johnny Depp could belt out such sweet tormented anguish? Even if I knew precisely where this film was going (and the twist was as easy to figure out as last year’s The Prestige), I still thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We went on Christmas, J and I, and on the surface it sounds like the most fucked up movie one could see on such a “blessed” day, but in actuality it was perfect spectacle. Can you get anything better for a holiday than a grand musical? Too bad this year has such huge contenders, unbeatable ones (Daniel Day-Lewis will, of course, win the Oscar), or Depp would have a real shot. And, it would be so nice to see.

This movie rocked me back. I had no idea it would be as good or as thought-provoking as it was. Unsettled is what I became, but the movie allowed me room to decipher and respect what all it was up to. There are not enough movies this enthralling, this important, and this worthy of discussion. Documentaries too often get lost on such “top” lists. We tend to be film snobby and think only narrative films are worthwhile. But how much greater does a film get than one that gets us to question the way all of us construct our own personal histories, narratives, and opinions. Brilliant film. The other day this film was #5. I hope #6 is a good enough home for it, because it deserves very special kudos.

Here is a film that exceeds all my standards. This movie packs an entertaining punch as well as gives us a crucial message which should never again (but will most certainly) be ignored. The Kingdom proves that you can have fun and learn something at the same time. It’s not impossible to create an enthralling spectacle and move people with the message as well. Director Peter Berg creates a stunningly visceral film, one that cuts into your gut as much as your mind. The final act of this film propels you forward at high speeds and minutes pass and you realize you have been holding your breath. This movie deserves more accolades than it has received. The last frames, the final edits, the final words, should leave you speechless and thankful you were graced by its message.

Michael Moore’s Sicko is brilliant, funny, heart wrenching and important. He is the genius of distilling valuable information into sensitive anecdotes, utilizing ironic music/tones, and bravely saying whatever needs said in order to wake us up and to hold our face to the screen. How dare any of us look away from this film. Now, he has softened a bit on the surface, but his argument is as solid and strong and carefully executed as it has ever been. Those who really love him and pay close attention to the way he devises his rhetoric will surely note that he is as scathing as ever, but he has learned how to play the game enough that most miss it, those who never respected him enough in the first place to see him as not just a humanitarian or an extreme leftist, but as a genius writer, director, and editor. He is aware of each and every word, neh, syllable and he surely knows how to make each second of imagery count. He is at his most sincere yet sarcastic best here and this film, documentary or not deserves, its spot on my list for this year and for all time.

This film has held strong for me since the months and months ago I viewed it. So many are tired of the “Iraqi War” film onslaught. Not me—not if done right. And In the Valley of Elah was done beyond right. Now, that does not mean it was a simple or easy film to watch. This movie tore me apart in many ways. First, I do not care to see inside strip joints or see men act like the monsters I know so many of them can be, but these were necessary devices, because it demonstrated that the way we raise sons and the way a war changes or reinforces our sons, makes them monsters and its not just their fault, its ours. It is ours for allowing them to be there in the first place.

While we sit in our nice cineplexes there are people being faced with horrible situations, ones they should never have to face. On any given day, at any given moment, soldiers could be tortured or could be doing the torturing. As you sit down and take another mouthful of popcorn, a child’s small head could be popping under the wheels of a Humv that soldiers chose not to stop, thus turning him into an entirely different man than the boy his mother bore and raised. This film is probably the most important one on my list. It showed something people need to see. It showed that as we dehumanize others, we destroy ourselves. As men view people as others, they create a new reality. One no one can really live with, unless they enjoy being monsters. PS. Tommy Lee Jones should be nominated for his beautiful, subtle portrayal.

The Coen brothers are not at their crazy, oddball Fargo selves here, but that is actually a good thing. I mean, I loved Fargo, but No Country for Old Men is the best Coen brothers’ movie to date. In Fargo, we could see them having fun as much as directing and that made for a very richly, darkly, perversely funny movie, but No Country is more sedate and serious, though still with a darkly humorous appeal. It is the grown up to Fargo’s child. Here, the brothers are no longer “joshers”; they are serious directors and it shows. It shows in the themes and the characters and the bleak tons of scenery. They deal with the greed of man again (what else is Fargo), but this time it cuts even deeper. It’s the ticking doom that waits for all of us and perhaps that is why so much of man is preoccupied with cheating and stealing. Maybe it’s not just the money they seek and steal but its time they really want to take a piece of. And they can’t. No matter how one tries, it beats down on all of us and no matter how adventurous or mundane the ride, it will take all of us. Sooner or later, we all just bite the fucking dust that settles so finely in the backdrop of this film.

This cast may be full of nearly nothing but men, but I did not care. This film may be the favorite of most critics, but I don’t care. I liked it because it felt true and honest and it took me on a ride of intrigue and fear. And, it certainly did not play by the numbers. It decided to change it up, shift what we would expect… It had to if it the theme was going to be done a service and not a disservice. Superbly written, directed, acted… hey, what was it I said about that definition cropping back up.

And then, there was Juno. Sweet, lovely, perfect Juno. Let me cut and paste what I said before. Remember it? “Besides, a movie this well written and directed and acted needs to be on the list, no matter what gender dominates it.” No words could more aptly get to the heart of Juno.

Juno is by far the best-written film of the year. No matter what the haters (and we know why they really hate it) will say, this film is so real, honest, and it’s about fucking time. It is about time we see a girl like Juno instead of eye candy, popping out of tops about to be killed in the shower or fucked in her dorm room. Juno was completely and utterly on target and it hits a mark that has not ever really been hit before. We know what teenage boys want and think, but here, we get the flip, the story from the girl. And she is no nitwit. She is no sex toy cheerleader. As many mistakes as she does make, she is strong, witty, intelligent, caring, and above all, she is complex and willing to grow. She makes the decisions for herself in this movie. Whether we like them personally or not, she owns them and never looks back.

This movie is earnest and it unfolds in the most tender of ways. The cast is formidable and they all complement one another so fully that the movie shines. And shine this movie does, even after a third viewing. With time and more viewings, I reveled in more layers, details, tears and fun. I finished Juno feeling like there is chance for women in film, and women in the film making/writing industry. I felt like I was finallllllly on the inside… I was “in” on the joke. I got it. A movie finally knew how to embrace a segment so often silenced and it was beyond exhilarating to hear Juno. Her voice was magical, complicated, and lovely, like so many women everywhere.


11. I AM LEGEND—Nice surprise. Thought this would be all popcorn and it was very touching and thoughtful as well.
12. WAITRESS—I wish this movie could have remained in my top 10. It had a home there for a very long time, but I swore to myself to be fair this year and not fall to pretensions of peer pressure of what to choose. Nor did I want to choose it just because a woman wrote and directed it.
13. THE SAVAGES—A little too sardonic to be believed entirely
14. GONE BABY GONE –So close to an A. A few missteps, but a nice surprise.
15. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD –some real missteps but provoking
16. THE LOOK OUT—What a nice surprise.
17. RESCUE DAWN –Christian Bale is THE man.
18. AWAY FROM HER –Jesus, could it be anymore depressing?
19. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE—Beautiful and ambitious.
20. LUST, CAUTION—The Brilliant Ang Lee seemed confused on what he really wanted to do/say. That ending… shoved it down several notches.

21. THERE WILL BE BLOOD—Never have I seen a movie look so beautiful and think it would be on the 10 list to have it just veer off… crashing and burning at the end.
22. ZODIAC—Wonderful in the theater.. Admittedly, this film has faded since January ‘07
23. THE BRAVE ONE--A rough, tough, morally ambiguous female "superhero" movie.
24. THE DARJEELING LIMITED –Fun that felt empty a few hours after viewing.




Utah Savage said...

Here is the problem commenting on a very long list of films and not being able to go back and refer to the films place on the list and the ranking.

I did love the Bourne Ultimatum, but would not place it so high on the list. Yes it was all of the above, but what is this, number four, five? I can not get enough of what's his name, Matt Damon? love everything I've ever seen him in. He is smart, He is riveting. Great direction and all the rest, but with the budget they probably had to make this film, it would have been pretty amazing if they had fucked it up. The books from which these movies are made are pretty good themselves.

I have seen so few of these films I simply cannot say anything. Having no children or grandchildren to take to movies, kid's movies are off my list. So..

Did you mention The Lives of Others? I think that might be my pick for top spot., 2 would probably No Country for Old Men, 3, In the Valley of Elah 4,Michael Clayton, 5, maybe Sicko. Beyond that I could talk about what I didn't like more than what I did. There are films I simply refuse to see. Into the Wild is one such film...Glorifying the Myth of Manliness is not for me. The longer I get from having seen There Will Be Blood, the less I like it. I did not like it all that much when I was sitting in the theater going on what is a really "bad acid trip." Those were the first words out of my mouth as the lights in the theater came up.

As to what I have not seen? I cannot say, but always like to read what you have to say.

K McKiernan said...

Bourne was not MY #5... It was #10.

Have you seen Juno?

Did I tell you I have worked In the Valley of Ellah into my Gender and Film class.

Can't wait to see it again (even though it pains me so).

Utah Savage said...

Yes I thought Juno was very sweet, wonderful performances form everyone in the cast. I don't know why it does not pop into my memory when I think of films i saw quite awhile ago. Much like the Kiddie beauty contest movie, can't remember it's name. It won an Oscar year before. I remember every scene, but would not have put it up there at the top of my list. Loved Arkin's performance. I wonder what this blind spot for darkly sweet films means. I do not quite take them seriously enough to think of them as top ten material. Must be the film school snob in me. I grew up walking distance from Salt Lake's only art house. I used to walk home from Jr. High and stopped off at the Tower for a little Diabolique, the original one. I saw the Bicycle Thief. Lots of Imgmar Bergman. Felinni. I can't help myself. So what is in reality family fare seems light weight to me. Ditto musicals. I have seen so many versions os Sweeney Todd, but this is an inspired choice for casting. I will enentually see it, but only as a rental. would see any Johnny Depp film. God what an actor, and interesting man.

K McKiernan said...

Little Miss Sunshine was no where near the caliber of Juno. It grated my nerves and I hated Arkin... his character anyway. I bet you can guess why.

J got me a remarkable book called "Female Chauvinist Pigs" by Ariel Levy... amazzzzzing. Get it.

Vigilante said...

Just finished Daniel Day Lewis' THERE WILL BE BLOOD a few minutes ago. I do not understand your comment,

Never have I seen a movie look so beautiful and think it would be on the 10 list to have it just veer off… crashing and burning at the end.

3:10 to Yuma crashed and burned in the last 15 minutes, but not this film.

Trophy Wife and I actually discussed this film for about 30 minutes afterwards. Lewis was perfect and the societal comment, completed in the film's finale' was profound.