Jaq's Top Films of 2007
by Jaq Greenspon
January 14, 2008
What a year it's been...
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
of cabbages - and kings."
This past year has been a year of such a variety and differentiation amongst the crop of both Hollywood and independent cinema that there really is no way to actually encompass it all. As my first year back on the reviewing circuit, it was a bit overwhelming to catch the diversity the viewing public is being presented with. Granted, like Theodore Sturgeon said, "90% of everything is crud" and the film industry is no exception. So when something rises to the top, it's only fair to note it, to praise it and hope that the people responsible will take notice and endeavor to repeat it.
2007 it seems, at least for me, was the year of the fairy tale. A number of the films on my top nine list are unabashed romanticized escapist fantasy - they just happen to be quite well done escapist fantasy. Additionally, as I wrote out this list, I realized that performances were a key factor in my 2007 film enjoyment. Which all begs the question, what is a top film and how do I pick one? For me, it's a matter of mixing my enjoyment of the movie with the quality of the production and if it succeeds in accomplishing what it sets out to do. So this list may be slightly controversial (and I hope to hear from you if you agree or disagree) and certainly not going to match many others. And now, without further ado and in no particular order, my top films of 2007:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
An absolutely stunning film. While it takes a while to get moving (the pacing is a bit slow for most American audiences) the wait is very much worthwhile. Performances by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are both award caliber (and certainly stand out amongst excellent performances by both of these men this year). The settings are gorgeous and the music is haunting.
This is a wonderful little film, marked by realistic reactions to drastic situations. Ellen Page is a find, a rare actress who is able to capture the confusion of a teen hopelessly over her head and yet struggling successfully to stay afloat. The supporting cast, from Michael Cera, Jason Bateman to Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons are all spot on. Diablo Cody's script, while suffering from a bit of first-timer syndrome, is still well-crafted and shows promise for a huge talent to come.
Easily one of my favorite films of the year, Waitress shows courage and patience in every aspect of its production. Keri Russell, who is fast becoming one of my faces to watch, nails her performance to the wall, playing Jenna with such easy precision it's impossible to see any seams. The script is tight and the direction, by the late Adrienne Shelley, is confident and secure. This is one you should own because it bears repeated viewings.
You Kill Me
What can I say? I'm a sucker for against-the-grain films. While this one didn't work completely, I loved the fact that Ben Kingsley's hitman is entirely unapologetic about his career choices. Add into this mix Téa Leoni and Luke Wilson and you have a recipe for fun. The story works and the ending is delightfully ironic.
The Hunting Party
One of the best dark political comedies of the last few years, The Hunting Party shows why Richard Gere is a great actor as well as a movie star (The Hoax, earlier in 2007 also delivered a tour de force performance by Gere). The film is funny, clever, well shot and makes you think about the world situation in ways films like Charlie Wilson's War and The Kingdom cannot even hope to emulate.
Based on a book by World Fantasy Award Winner Neil Gaiman, Stardust makes no bones about the fact that it's a fairy tale. The filmmakers create a perfect fantasy world, complete with witches and ghosts and unfulfilled promises and broken quests. Like Enchanted, Stardust deconstructs the genre and creates a loving and respectful pastiche which works on its own as well as within the confines of that same genre.
A perfect send-up of Disney princess movies, updating and modernizing without ever losing the charm and innocence of the source material. Amy Adams is brilliant as Giselle, the country girl turned princess, and James Marsden is fearless in his portrayal of her Prince Charming. This is one you can watch, and enjoy on the same level, with the kids. You just have to check your cynicism at the door.
Pixar is one of the most consistent film studios producing today. Everything they send out is at least a base hit. But when they swing for the fences, they can connect and send it well over the wall. Such is the case with Ratatouille. The animation is top notch, naturally, but the story works on several levels, providing enjoyment for everyone in the family in any age group. And Peter O'Toole's voice work, as the food critic Anton Ego, is worthy of a nomination.
Probably the most controversial film on my list, August Rush wears its heart on its sleeve and is proud of it. At no point does it ever claim to be a realistic film and revels in its pie-eyed optimism. Freddie Highmore as the title character is indescribably earnest while Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as his parents are believable - not easy in a film like this, but they make it work.
In addition to those listed above, The Hoax, Gone Baby Gone and The Mist are all well worth seeing. They are all entertaining, thought provoking and well crafted films which deserve your time and attention.