Saturday, January 05, 2008

Best of 2007: Movies

I had a hard time picking my favorite movies of the year. I saw a lot of movies, courtesy of Netflix of course, but few wowed me enough to put them on this list or recommend them to other people. I saw several movies over the Christmas break, including potential Oscar-nominated movies, but I had a hard time putting those on my list (I'll get to that in a minute.)

Here is my list, in no particular order.
  1. Waitress staring Keri Russell. I missed seeing this in the theatre due to it's limited theatrical run in my market. I finally watched it on DVD. I've already blogged about, so I won't say much more. It's a movie with heart, which I always like.

  2. Once. Another movie I've already blogged about. A non-traditional musical with plenty of heart and a realistic resolution, even if it's not one we "want." I love the song "Falling Slowly" the two characters play together that starts their relationship.

  3. Jesus Camp. As a person that helps plan and run a Christian camp, this movie might be more interesting to me than you. The film focuses on a summer Bible camp for children as young as five. I don't want to live in a Christian church state (church states don't work anywhere else in the world, so why would we want one here?) and the goal of this group alarms me a little. Regardless of where you stand of the role of religion in politics and government, you should find this doc intriguing.

  4. Bourne Ultimatum. I love Jason Bourne. I've read all the books, which are more of a jumping off point for the movies instead of an adaption. A lot of people don't like Greengrass' quick-cut editing, but I think it illuminates Bourne's role as the weapon against anyone he faces. One of the best action flicks I've seen since, I don't know, the Bourne Supremacy. :-)

  5. Zodiac. If I expected this to be an adrenaline rush like the Bourne Ultimatum, I might have been disappointed. I'd read enough to realize this was more of a slow-boiling, psychological thriller. I thought it worked. Seeing the emotional and psychological toll trying to find a killer took on difference people involved in the investigation was fascinating.

  6. Atonement. I was not expecting the artful direction of this film. Gorgeous film! I read the book and the film took advantage of it's medium well to tell the story. I loved how we would see part of scene as witnessed by one character and then see the full scene without losing the scene's impact or significance. This method also helped the audience understand why Briony did the things she did because we saw what she saw. Atonement is a good story with good actors beautifully filmed.

  7. Hairspray! This was the best experience I had at the movies all year. I didn't know much about the play or the music. The movie starts with the in-your-face "Good Morning Baltimore" sung by Tracy. At first I was unsure of what to think, but by end of the song, I was sold. It took me to the "Elephant Love Medley" to feel that way about Moulin Rouge the first time I saw it, but Hairspray accomplished that with the first song. I left this moving smiling and humming the songs. I saw it again in the theatre and bought it on DVD the first day it came out.
Over the Christmas holidays I saw Juno, Sweeney Todd and No Country for Old Men. None of them made my final list. Why? It was a mix of high expectations and bleak, dark subjects. Juno is not dark. Juno is uplifting and funny. However, the reviews I read for this film were so glowing that I expected something magical. What I saw instead was your basic, feel-good comedy/drama that is being touted as the most original work to ever come along. Obviously the critics have never watched an episode of Gilmore Girls. However pop-culture happy, witty and snappy the dialogue on Gilmore Girls was, it still seemed natural. With Juno, especially in the beginning, it didn't seem real. The movie couldn't recognize it's own limitations and tried too hard.

I couldn't put the book No Country for Old Men down when I started reading because I had to know what happened. And despite the fact that I knew who lived and who died, the Coen brothers set up scenes and chases so well, I was tense and anxious during the movie. But something about the conclusion, when the Sheriff is processing everything that has happened and his role in it, rubbed me the wrong way. I thought the same thing as times during the book, but because there was so much inner-monologue throughout the the book, it didn't take away from my overall experience. With the movie it did. And the movie was too long; near the end I was waiting for it to be over. Well made but hard to like, like Sweeney Todd.

The dreary art direction fit the tone and spirit of the movie; Tim Burton was the perfect person to make this movie. I wasn't bothered by the lack of singing talent of Depp and Bonham-Carter. It's the character of Sweeney Todd that I don't like. He has a valid reason for wanting revenge, but that is all that matters to him. Does he care about the welfare of his daughter? Only if it helps him get revenge against the person that ruined his life. I didn't like him any more than I liked the villian, which is problematic. Maybe I'm not supposed to, but I doubt it. It's hard to not like a movie that is as well made as this, but I don't.


Alexis said...

I grew up with the musical Sweeney Todd, and when I saw "grew up" I mean I was about 10 when I first saw it. To me Sweeney Todd has never been the hero in the story, not even an anti-hero. He is a villain, as is the Judge. Antony is the closest person to heroism, but much of his role was cut for the film. In the stage production Antony has a meatier role and his purpose was to counteract the darkness of the rest of the musical. I think Burton chose to cut out most of Antony's romance because he wished to focus on the more gruesome aspects of the story, which he did extremely well.

I have to admit that I was impressed with how well the transition was made from musical to film. In many ways I think the casting was better than previous stage versions. In the musical Mrs. Lovett is often played for laughs ... but Helena Bonham-Carter played her so hollowly with an equally hollow voice that seemed so fitting. And for the first time the relationship between Mrs Lovett and Toby made sense to me. And Johnny Depp's musical voice, while not rich, was able to convey some things with an even creepier tone than I could have imagined. The line he sings while holding his open razor "now my arm is complete" gave me chills, which the stage version never accomplished.

I also think Burton made a chancy but wise decision when he reduced the amount of song. And I don't just mean entire songs are gone, but that lines from songs in the film were shortened as well. But, it seems he made a concession to those who are familiar with the entire Sondheim track, and put in instrumental versions of the removed songs in the scenes that would normally have them.

Perhaps you should consider renting a televised version of the musical. I know there's a PBS version out there with Angela Lansbury playing Mrs. Lovett. It's still dark, but not quite as heavy, and infinitely less gory. But, again, I don't think you'll find the character of Sweeney Todd any more likable.

Jamie said...

Hey, Alexis! Good to hear from you! I think not liking the main character is my problem. I've heard great things about the Rabbit books, but I started the first one and didn't like the main character, so I stopped. I'm not sure I can get through four books not liking the person I'm reading about. Bonham-Cater was great during he song/scene when she let Toby see the operations. So emotional and torn about her allegiances.