Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008 Movie Year in Review

This is my movie year in review, in accordance with Oscar season, the timetable on which all movies are judged.

My top five movies of the year*:

1. No Country for Old Men
First, Javier Bardem. A memorable and stunning performance, he's one of the creepiest villains in recent memory. Second, every other performance in this film was spot on (Kelly Macdonald, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones). Third, its blend of humor and cynicism was enjoyable without feeling forced or overwritten (a nod to the final scene as well).

2. There Will Be Blood
First, Daniel Day-Lewis. Easily the best actor of the year—he carries all two hours and forty some odd minutes of this movie (all due respect to Paul Dano). Second, the authenticity of early American capitalism and moving west fascinates and resonates (greed, obsession, the rape of natural resources). Third, Daniel Day-Lewis.

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
First, Julian Schnabel takes material that shouldn't translate well to film and makes it work. Second, very creative cinematography and editing keep things moving briskly, giving insight into Bauby's state without dragging the audience down too much. Third, all the beautiful women cast in this movie.

4. Zodiac
First, I love when movies take a genre or sub-genre and transcend it—this movie transcends the thriller/police procedural genre with understated direction and calculated performances. Second, the attention to detail is stunning without becoming overly burdensome. Third, I love the expanse (scope) of everything: location, shots, characters (in number and depth), clues and evidence, etc.

5. Juno
First, a very funny, original script that manages to infuse some level of deeper human emotion. Second, they managed to make a movie about teenage pregnancy, abortion and adoption without obviously offending anyone. Third, fantastic supporting (and lead) roles by Allison Janney, JK Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Michael Cera.

*No Country for Old Men is my top movie of the year, everything after that is basically on equal footing.

My top movies not in the top five:

Michael Clayton:
Good... Completely compelling, well cast, well written. There's really nothing bad about this movie, or very little anyway. Stunning performances from Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.
Falls short because... It never raises its level of art to a level of significance matching There Will Blood or No Country for Old Men (or any of the top five movies really). The final scene might be a bit too theatrical and tidy, though highly satisfying, nonetheless.

Good... A beautifully directed and shot movie with smart casting choices. The final scene instantly ups its rating a star.
Falls short because... At the end of the day, there are only two scenes that will make anyone think about this movie well after they've seen it (the aforementioned final scene, and the red curtain hospital bed). Nothing terribly original or ground breaking here.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford:
Good... The photography is some of the best of the year, if not the best. The pacing of the story and its landscape are intertwined exceptionally. A gunshot in this movie really feels like a gun being fired.
Falls short because... it's a bit meandering and aimless in areas. The sum of its parts leaves one wondering if there's enough meat in the story for a lasting impression beyond the artistry with which it was made.

Good... The music and performances feel authentic and real. The film makers managed to make a musical without offending reality. Lastly, it's heart warming and satisfying without crossing into saccharine fantasy (think not Romantic Comedy territory).
Falls short because... it's still basically a small little musical love story. "Best Picture" movies tend to have a bit more power than this, however likable it may be.

Good... Beautiful animation aside, there's lots to love about this movie: funny, original, clever, warm. It has at least a few memorable scenes (Ego's first bite and flashback, the Granny firing off her shotgun, the très français couple fighting and embracing within seconds).
Falls short because... it's still message-y in places. Remy's speech about changing nature comes across a bit heavy-handed.

Lars and the Real Girl:
Good... Ryan Gosling finds the right mannerisms to keep you moving along with this character. In the wrong hands, this movie could've easily fallen short or fallen apart completely. Often funny and makes some interesting points about community along the way.
Falls short because... A little sitcom-like in places. I usually balk at this sort of criticism, but it takes situations that could be more subtle and layered and plays them too straight, usually for the sake of a laugh at the expense of authenticity.

My Oscar predictions for the major awards*:

Best Picture:
No Country for Old Men

Best Director:
Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best Actor:
Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood

Best Actress:
Julie Christie - Away From Her

Best Original Screenplay:
Diablo Cody - Juno

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Joel and Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men

Best Supporting Actor:
Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men

Best Supporting Actress:
Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

*These are one part what I think will win and one part what I hope will win.

Friday, January 4, 2008