Cinema festivus 2007


Movie of the Year: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
How is it that Julian Schnabel — purveyor of broken-plate paintings, unfashionable sarongs and a bad Basquiat biopic — ended up becoming one of the most talented, intuitive American directors working today? With Diving Bell, he and screenwriter Ronald Harwood managed to avoid the traps that so many "inspirational" biographies fall into by quite literally getting inside the head of their paralyzed protagonist. My Left Foot this ain't: Diving Bell uses evocative flashbacks and a first-person point of view to suggest an amazing life.

The '70s-Cinema Necrophilia Award: Michael Clayton
George Clooney finally produced and starred in the '70s paranoid-thriller throwback he so obviously strives to re-create, thanks in large part to the efforts of writer-director Tom Gilroy, whose stellar work on the Bourne trilogy only hinted at his skill for crafting brilliant, high-wire dialogue. Clayton is the rarest of Hollywood product: A slow-burn thriller whose careful attention to character pays off in one of the most satisfying, knockout conclusions in recent memory.

East-Coast Intellectual Angst Is Alive and Well: The Savages/Margot at the Wedding
The phrase "cringe-worthy" usually implies a negative, but both of these tales of self-involved, middle-aged New Yorkers turned interpersonal embarrassment into the stuff of vital cinema. While Tamara Jenkins' Savages offered some hope in the midst of its father-child estrangement narrative, Noah Baumbach's Margot provided a hilariously repellent performance from Nicole Kidman in one of the most fascinatingly open-ended character studies of the year.

The Least Clichéd Immigrant-Experience Movies of the Year: The Golden Door/Eastern Promises
They couldn't be more different, but Emanuele Crialese's Ellis Island period drama and David Cronenberg's Russian Mafia epic both managed to infuse their respective tales — the "off the boat" immigrant journey and the exotic-gangster flick — with both intense realism and a knowing, almost ironic disdain for the corniness of their genres.

The Anti-Rent Rock Flicks of the Year: Control/I'm Not There
In a year of would-be rock "statements" — the florid, shameless Beatles musical Across the Universe being the worst — Ian Curtis and Bob Dylan both were done right by these unconventional biopics. Not everything in their films worked (Richard Gere, this means you), but above all else, directors Anton Corbijn and Todd Haynes infused every scene with an immense love and respect for their subjects' music.

Worst Movie of 2007: Lions for Lambs
It's possible there was a worse film than Robert Redford's heart-on-sleeve political talkfest — the reheated Tarantino rip-off Smokin' Aces, the chick-flick nightmare Georgia Rule, the exploitive issue flick Trade and the preteen shopping lesson Bratz all spring to mind — but for misplaced, misbegotten earnestness, you couldn't beat this torturous, uncinematic leftie screed. Redford may be the youngest-looking 71-year-old on the planet, but his work behind the camera betrays an insurmountable senility.


1. No Country For Old Men
Think of it as a sun-bleached version of Fargo ... without the winky-winky humor. Tops on most critics' year-end lists, this exhilarating and disturbing meditation on the inevitably of criminal violence in America deserves every accolade it gets, "Friend-o."

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Or "My Left Eye." A haunting, visually astonishing and beautifully made biopic told from the seemingly impossible POV of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, whose stroke-induced paralysis left him with only the use of his left eye.

3. The Bourne Ultimatum
Move over James Bond, this ain't your daddy's secret agent flick. The third chapter in this surprisingly excellent action series also turns out to be one of the best post-9/11 films of the year. Paul Greengrass (United 93) perfects his queasy handheld fight sequences while filling out the narrative with juicy political subtext.

4. There Will Be Blood
There will be superlatives ... for Daniel Day Lewis' performance. If he doesn't take this year's Oscar, well, it wouldn't be the first time (nor the 100th) the Academy chose the wrong man. Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Upton Sinclair's Oil! comes damn close to being this century's Citizen Kane ... if only he hadn't botched the final act.

5. Ratatouille
As rich and frothy as the French cuisine it celebrates. After the mildly disappointing (but brilliantly merchandised) Cars, genius director Brad Bird proves once again why Pixar is the gold standard for children's films. There aren't enough awards for Peter O'Toole's deliciously wicked turn as pretentious food critic Anton Ego.

6. Away From Her
Emotionally sophisticated and heartbreakingly unsentimental, Sarah Polley makes a quiet but indelible debut with this sometimes overly literate adaptation of Alice Munro's short story about love and Alzheimer's. Want to know what Sandra Day O'Connor's going through? Rent the recently released DVD.

7. Gone Baby Gone
A modern crime noir with no easy answers, tabloid-laughingstock-turned-director Ben Affleck tackles Dennis Lehane's convoluted novel and does a better job of evoking the rotten underbelly of working-class Boston than Clint Eastwood's overpraised Mystic River. Taut, morally complex and terrifically acted, it's a sleeper in every sense of the word.

8. Superbad
I'm McLovin' it. Sure, we could've done with a bit less of the Seth Rogan-as-a-cop shtick but this heartfelt ode to teenage friendship, sexual angst and the penis played like a hilarious mash up of John Hughes and Mike Leigh. Plus, it sidestepped the sentimental hooey that bogged down Knocked Up.

9. The Host
Wouldn't be much of a "Best Of" list without at least one monster movie. And it's Korean. Ingenious, funny and terrifying, director Bong Joon-Ho breaks the creature-feature mold to deliver the first giant mutant tadpole flick to be inspired by An Inconvenient Truth. Oh, and the special effects totally rock.

10. Juno
OK, so they fudged the abortion debate a la Knocked Up. Still, Diablo Cody's debut screenplay is funny, knowing and constantly engaging. Ellen Page is the hip pregnant chick in high school you always wanted to date and the supporting cast is dang near perfect.

Honorable Mentions: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Zodiac, Hot Fuzz, Once, Eastern Promises, Sweeney Todd and Into the Wild.

The Worst Film of 2007: That Robin Williams movie
It doesn't really matter what the title was because if there's one thing you can count on: the latest Robin Williams flick is pretty much gonna suck. Mightily. Truth is, it probably wasn't any worse than Norbit, I Know Who Killed Me, Hostel II, The Reaping, Wild Hogs or Ghost Rider (and, man, did that suck). But for the sheer dependability that Robin Williams will waste your hard-earned 10 bucks, License to Wed (or whatever it's called next year) gets the nod.


1. Michael Clayton
Craft should not be a dirty word, and no movie was more sturdily crafted than this exquisite legal thriller, so direct and seamless that nearly every frame is perfection. George Clooney is the smartest star in Hollywood, and his teaming with first-time director Tony Gilroy was a shrewd move that created an old-style classic.

2. There Will Be Blood
... And there will be heaps of praise, for director PT Anderson's bloody and boldly stark turn-of-the-century epic. And there will be awards, for Daniel Day Lewis' malevolent performance as an oilman whose soul is as black as the crude he steals from the earth.

3. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Who knew there was a "Mappy" champion, and who knew a doc about arcade shenanigans could provide white-knuckled drama? Kong turned the smug "look at the geeks" doc genre inside out, with laughs, heart and the villain of the year in button-mashing mega-jerk Billy Mitchell.

4. Once
A tiny, twee little slice of Irish enchantment that by rights should've been forgotten by now, yet like that pop song you can't shake it just hangs on. John Carney's quaint, no-budget romance also happens to be an innovative spin on musicals that should influence them for the better.

5. Juno
Yes, it's cutesy. Yes, the script by first-timer Diablo Cody was full of aggravating hipster lines like "honest to blog?" But teen pregnancy was never, smarter, funnier or more entertaining. This one has a terrific cast, an awesome soundtrack and Ellen Page's star-making turn.

6. I'm Not There
Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger all as Bob Dylan? Multiple leads equaled confusion at the box office — but sheer joy in the aisles — in Todd Haynes willfully quirky and disjointed bio collage. A movie that's so far outside the box it's as daring and crazy an artistic statement as old Dylan himself has been known to make.

7. Superbad/Knocked Up
Triple-threat comedy MVP Judd Apatow had an unbelievable championship season. A season that peaked on these two films — double doses of sustained hilarity, which elevated dick jokes to newly ethereal levels.

8. Darjeeling Limited
Yes it's Wes Anderson being "Wes Anderson," but that's still good enough for jazz.

9. Rescue Dawn
Christian Bale gets gaunt, again, in this mesmerizing journey into the primordial jungle of human limits, in Werner Herzog's gripping and painfully uncomfortable survival saga. The real stunner is Steve Zahn as a haunted POW, a long, long way from his many goofy buddy roles.

10. Sicko
Lost in the ever-swirling chatter about Michael Moore the blowhard personality is Michael Moore the filmmaker. Fact is, the big dude continues to deliver devastating blows to the system's ever-slacked jaw.

The Worst Film(s) of 2007

1. Norbit
You know you've got something truly putrid when the very name of your movie becomes a shorthand for crap, the measuring stick by which all other garbage is gauged. So it is with this year's Gigli, a horror show called Norbit, a loud, stupid, racist, backward and aggressively offensive "comedy" that's like a kick in the nuts from a flaming, horseshit covered boot. Putting on a fat suit cost Eddie Murphy an Oscar, as this stink pile instantly erased all the good will he'd earned for Dream Girls, and any shred of what little dignity he had left.

2. Hostel 2

3. Balls of Fury

4. Evan Almighty

5. Southland Tales

6. Who's Your Caddy?

7. Delta Farce

9. Wild Hogs

10. Anything starring Dane Cook!

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