2007 In Retrospect

Introduction

It may be getting on for the end of January 2008, but finally the penultimate entry of 100 Films 2007 is here! Read on for my five least-favourite films I’ve seen this year, and (more interestingly, I’m sure) my top ten — in a lovely countdown and all!

(Yes, I said penultimate entry: still to come, a statistics-tastic one!)


A Bit of an Explanation

I’d like to point out that these lists aren’t based on the ratings I gave at the time. That is to say, if I gave out precisely ten 5-star ratings it doesn’t mean those will be my top ten. A slightly strange thought I know, but opinions can change and therefore so may mine. The title of this entry sums it up: in retrospect these are the films I wanted to pick out as the best I’ve seen in 2007. Hard work it was choosing too!

I’ve included a “see also” section for each of the top ten. These aren’t supposed to be the ten next-best films I’ve seen this year, but are instead other films I’ve seen this year that are in some way related (with the briefest of explanations as to how). These are really just a chance to point out films that are of similar interest; I wanted to stress that they’re not necessarily numbers 11 to 20 on my list.

As a final note, I’ve not considered any of those controversial different-cuts-of-films-I’ve-seen-before for inclusion here. If I had then I’m sure Crash would’ve been high in the top ten.


The Five Worst Films I’ve Seen in 2007

Flight 93 (#26) 1/5
The only film all year to achieve the lowest possible score; if this list were numbered, it would surely be my worst film of the year. Nothing in it is above the level of cheap TV movie — which it is, but that’s no excuse. The script, acting, direction, effects… I genuinely failed to find anything worthwhile here, especially in light of the excellent United 93, a truly brilliant film of the same story. Some say this makes a good companion piece to the movie, but I really don’t think it does: the latter is a respectful, realistic, thoughtful piece of filmmaking; this is tacky and unrealistic, and tries so hard for an appropriate level of sentiment that it often winds up being laughable. And laughable is not something this event was. In short, don’t even bother.

New York Stories: Life Without Zoe (#117) 3/5
It seems almost churlish to pick out one segment of a film, but as it’s an anthology where the other two parts are pretty good it would be even more churlish to slate the whole film. The centre short of New York Stories, an anthology film by Scorsese, Coppola and Allen, is second only to Flight 93 as the most painful thing I’ve had to sit through this year. The characters are irritating, the performances weak, the writing twee… Sofia would obviously go on to better things (Lost in Translation mainly), but Francis Ford seems to be firmly leaving the quality filmmaking behind at this point. (As a side point, I thought Scorsese’s short in this film was decent enough, while Allen’s is utterly brilliant. The listed score is the one I gave the whole film.)

Play Time (#118) 2/5
Jacques Tati has his fans. Filmmakers such as him (especially foreign ones) inevitably do. But I just can’t fully get to grips with his style of comedy, and I suspect many truly discerning critics wouldn’t either. There are gags, but they’re slipped in among long stretches of interminable boredom where literally nothing happens, and when they arrive they have a tendency to run on too long. Tati is undoubtedly making some points about the state of the modern urban world with this, but that doesn’t make it any more entertaining. Repetitive and flat, it’s not worth sitting through for the handful of genuinely good comic moments.

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (#79) 2/5
As well as being a poor film in its own right, this represents a variety of films which failed to live up to my expectations. In this case, I was looking forward to a well-developed alternate history of America, where things were vastly different because the Confederates won the American Civil War. Instead, the film is almost solely concerned with the idea that, if they had won, black people would still be slaves. This preoccupation is unsurprising when you learn the background of the filmmakers, but the film isn’t sold as simply a “what if black people were still slaves?” piece. Most major historical events play out as they did anyway… except that black people are still enslaved! It’s far too one-dimensional.

Thunderbirds (#85) 2/5
I was left with a few potential final choices from my short list of bad films, all of fairly equal poorness. This is the worst though, because, like C.S.A., it’s so disappointing. I didn’t have great expectations for this film thanks to all the bad press it received at the time of release, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that Thunderbirds is a great TV series full of wonderful and entertaining ideas, most of which are squandered in this poor Spy Kids rip off. The only good thing about it are the ship designs, which faithfully modernise all of the Thunderbird craft. Other than that, it’s a poor script, poor story, and pretty poor acting too (even from Sir Ben Kingsley, who camps it up something rotten). What a waste.


The Ten Best Films I’ve Seen For the First Time in 2007

10) Blood Diamond (#19) 4/5
Ed Zwick pulls off the impressive task of making a Moral Message Movie that is also a proper action thriller, something which (as far as I’ve seen) usually leads to a film winding up greatly more in one camp than the other. The action sequences are exciting and impressively staged, the message is conveyed but not over-played, and within this there’s still room to focus on the characters and their personal journeys. All of the actors perform well in their roles, though Djimon Hounsou can still be singled out as the best of the bunch. Important and entertaining — a rare feat.
See also: The Bourne Ultimatum, a more widely praised gritty action-thriller.

9) 300 (#101) 4/5
Pure testosterone-fuelled entertainment. That’s a pretty simply way of summing up what is, at the end of the day, a pretty simple film. It looks gorgeous, with cinematography, design and CGI combining to create a series of hyper-real, beautiful visions. The fight scenes are brutally excellent, though in danger of becoming a bit repetitive if they’re not your thing. The story is also a little slender, padded out with copious slow motion and a bolted-on political subplot in the final act, which could have been excellent if integrated better. But none of these flaws really matter, because 300 does what it sets out to, and it does it bloody well.
See also: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, an equally CGI-heavy bit of constant action.

8) Three Colours Red (#42) 5/5
This really (slightly cheekily, but unashamedly) represents the whole Three Colours trilogy. You see, while each film is completely standalone and works excellently in its own right, they still work best when viewed together, in order, at which point the ending of this (the third part) is wonderfully effective. The trilogy explores the three values represented on the French flag: freedom, equality, brotherhood; but these are clearly themes with broader resonance, which gives these films a more universal appeal. They do tend toward the slower-paced and slightly ‘arty’ end of the filmic spectrum, but, considering that’s a style I don’t generally get on with either, these are nonetheless brilliant.
See also: Hidden, another French film with occasionally similar themes.

7) Citizen Kane (#100) 5/5
Widely regarded as one of, if not the, best films ever made, Citizen Kane has certainly had to fight hard for such an accolade. But it’s pretty well deserved: almost everything about the film still stands up well today, from the engaging mysteries of the plot, to the collage of styles, timeframes and unusual camera moves that can still seem innovate 66 years on. As I said in my original review, there is masses that can (and has, and will) be said about this movie. You shouldn’t need me to tell you that if you have any real interest in films you ought to at least give it a go. For me, it mostly managed to live up to its colossal reputation.
See also: Chinatown, an acclaimed noir-ish & unsolvable mystery of America’s wealthy.

6) Brief Encounter (#76) 5/5
Most classics are so for good reason; and, chances are, the older a film oft-cited as a classic gets, the better the chance of it genuinely being one (as the lesser films drop away in favour of newer ‘classics’, you see). At 62 years old, then, Brief Encounter stands a fair chance of being a damn good film. And, lo and behold, it really is. The social conventions of a bygone age are beautifully played out — while things certainly wouldn’t go this way today, one can still oddly relate to it all. With a touching, funny script, note-perfect performances, and terrific direction, you don’t get them much more classic than this.
See also: Before Sunrise, a modern take on railway-related romance (that only narrowly missed a spot here).

5) Stranger Than Fiction (#81) 4/5
This is a wonderful conceit for a film: one day, a man begins to hear his life being narrated, as if it were a novel. And then the novelist tells him he’s going to die. To explain what happens from there would ruin it, of course (and take too long), but it’s variously fantastical, romantic, thoughtful, and fun. It’s stylishly directed by Marc Forster, who’s fast becoming one of my favourite directors (I expect Bond 22 to cement that opinion), and has plenty of originality. While some plot threads may be pretty standard fair, they’re well executed too, which makes for a highly entertaining whole.
See also: While You Were Sleeping, a quirky (though not as fantastical) setup for a rom-com.

4) The Prestige (#14) 4/5
I must confess to being a bit unsure about The Prestige at first. Not that I didn’t think it was good, just that I wasn’t sure how good. In retrospect, it’s good enough to make it this high on my list (beating off most of the films that I rated higher than it!) Nolan is a great storyteller: the chronology of the film is all over the place, yet never once is the viewer lost as to what we’re seeing when. It’s all propped up by a brilliant cast and a central mystery that is intriguing, with a number of neat twists in its resolution. The more I remember it, the more I like it.
See also: Primer, a somewhat similar mystery in a (sadly) less satisfying film.

3) Mean Creek (#69) 5/5
It’s a simple concept: a group of kids take the school bully out to teach him a lesson and it all goes horribly wrong. But it’s not a sanitised, irritating kids movie, with shiny little brats and a beautiful message about friendship; it’s an indie with a realistically dark heart, and thankfully not one that has succumbed to the “nothing happens because it’s about the characters, see” school of ‘intelligent’ filmmaking. The kids carry the movie (barely an adult is seen, and even then only briefly) and their performances are all strong, often a worry with child actors. It’s a tense, believable story, with a good exploration of the consequences of their actions, including an appropriate level of ambiguity. A fantastic little drama.
See also: Brick, another indie of middle American kids in potentially murderous situations.

2) Hot Fuzz (#20) 5/5
The Shaun of the Dead team return, this time spoofing action movies (as opposed to zombies). Many say this isn’t as good as Shaun, but I rather suspect they’re mostly the sort of people who are into the niche-y zombie films in the first place (don’t get me wrong, mind, I love Shaun). Hot Fuzz is funny throughout, has a good stab at some exciting action sequences, and the cast of British stalwarts are fantastic. It was a big hit in the UK and deservedly so. It’s set to form a loose trilogy with Shaun and an as-yet-unrevealed project, which I feel we should all be looking forward to immensely.
See also: Stormbreaker, a kid-centred slice of tongue-in-cheek British action.

1) United 93 (#22) 5/5
Paul Greengrass didn’t stand a chance at the Oscars, as Scorsese had finally got round to making another film good enough for them to finally give him an award. Greengrass deserved it more though. The Departed was a decent film, but as this is the only mention of it in this entire article you can see I was hardly blown away. But this is all beside the point: United 93 is a great film. The direction is perfectly suited to the subject matter, the storytelling appropriately tense and with a good dose of realism, and the performances utterly believable. The fact that this is endorsed by the families of those who died is the final stamp of approval. The men and women who were on board United 93 are all heroes — not in some cheesy Hollywood way, but in a very real-world way. This captures that, and feels an appropriate tribute.
See also: Right at Your Door, a fictional tale of terrorism’s potential effect on ordinary people.


Special Mentions

I just wanted to take a moment (or, a section) to highlight a few other films, for various reasons.

Firstly, I can’t end this without mentioning the 13 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year, as only six of them made it into the top ten — those being Brief Encounter, Citizen Kane, Hot Fuzz, Mean Creek, Three Colours Red, and United 93. Perhaps I was less certain about rating some so highly in retrospect, but, regardless, the other seven were: Chinatown, Educating Rita, Goodfellas, Heat, The King of Comedy, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Trainspotting.

As the year went on I kept a running list of potential contenders for both my bottom five and top ten. The former eventually totalled 15 films (some were shortlisted not because they were truly bad, but due to the level of disappointment involved, such as Spider-Man 3). The list for the top ten reached the giddy heights of 48 films — 37% of the total! Maybe I’m just the generous sort. As well as the top ten itself (obviously), some of these were the other 5-star-ers listed above, and several more have been named in the “see also” sections. Rather than list all the remaining 24 (you do the maths), here’s nine of them that stuck in my mind enough to warrant mentioning:

Night Watch, an entertaining epic/fantasy/horror mash-up from Russia.
Perfume, a visually pungent, thoroughly bizarre adaptation of the popular novel.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a classic silent urban fairytale.
Manhattan, a beautiful black & white relationship drama.
The Woodsman, an intelligent and character-centric study of a difficult issue.
Pan’s Labyrinth, an engaging blend of fantasy and cruel reality.
Bullets Over Broadway, an amusing and entertaining take on the mob and the theatre.
Octopussy, a surprisingly entertaining Roger Moore Bond film.
Basil the Great Mouse Detective, an underrated Sherlock Holmes-riffing Disney flick.


The Films I Didn’t See

Of course, this obviously isn’t a Top 10 of 2007 in the traditional sense. But, nonetheless, new films do feature, and with that in mind there were a number of notable films released this year that I’ve yet to see.

Here, then, is an alphabetical list of 50 films made in 2007 that I’ve missed. (To be fair, some of these aren’t actually out over here yet… but when I finally see them they’ll be listed as 2007, so on this list they go! Equally, a fair few films have cropped up on best-of-year lists but are technically from 2006, so have been left off.) The films listed here have been chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim.

2 Days in Paris
28 Weeks Later
3:10 to Yuma
30 Days of Night
Across the Universe
Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
American Gangster
The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Atonement
Becoming Jane
Beowulf
Blades of Glory
Charlie Wilson’s War
Control
Die Hard 4.0 / Live Free or Die Hard
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Enchanted
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Ghost Rider
The Golden Compass
Grindhouse (or its constituent parts individually)
Hairspray
Halloween
I Am Legend
I’m Not There
Juno
Knocked Up
Lions For Lambs
The Man From Earth
Michael Clayton
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
No Country For Old Men
Ocean’s Thirteen
Ratatouille
Resident Evil: Extinction
Rush Hour 3
Shrek the Third
Sicko
The Simpsons Movie
Southland Tales
St. Trinian’s
Stardust
Sunshine
Superbad
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood
TMNT
Transformers
Waitress
Zodiac


A Final Thought

It’s been very strange, looking back over this list to pick my choices. Some films I saw at the beginning of the year feel like they were just the other week; others seen more recently feel like they were an age ago. It’s quite an interesting experience — one that I’d recommend.

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