Monday, March 10, 2008

Top 100 of 2007 (31-40)

31. No End In Sight
While there has certainly been no shortage of documentaries on the Iraq war in the past few years, this one stands apart from so many of the others. Rather than pointing the finger at the Bush administration yet again for lying to the nation and getting ourselves involved in Iraq when they had nothing to do with 9/11 (by now, I think we're all well aware, and director Charles Ferguson avoids that - but the Bush administration doesn't get off easy here either). Instead, No End In Sight looks at everything since our invasion. It takes a very harsh view of how we've let the country go to shit through taking careful planning and throwing it out the window with utter disregard. It pinpoints exactly what was planned, what should have been done, and how we not only failed to execute it, but how we just flagrantly disregarded all of it and flew by the seat of our pants through one misguided decision after the next. And while some may be tempted to disregard this as another piece of "liberal propaganda," you have people who are very powerful and who were very much in the know speaking quite matter-of-factly about it: Folks like Richard Armitage speaking, as well as archive footage showing folks from the top down speaking about what should be done, and showing how it failed to be implemented. Now... after such glowing praise, why do I rank it so seemingly low? My biggest issue with the film is that hindsight is 20/20, and while these people all speak with a high degree of authority -- they'll know more that we ever will -- I only wish that they would speak about what we should do from here. What steps do we need to take to get out of the mess we're in now? What does the future hold? In a year with an election right around the corner, I would like to know so I could listen to the campaign speeches with a little more insight to judge the effectiveness of the suggested plans each candidate has on getting ourselves out of this quagmire. Even if they weren't definite answers, just to hear what these people thought the next step might be would have been helpful, especially going into the upcoming primaries and elections. But as it was, it ended up being a lot of talking about what we should have done, and not where we should go from here. And that's what I want to hear from people so knowledgeable on the state of affairs in the Middle East.

32. Lust, Caution
Ang Lee's lush, beautiful epic was unfortunately branded with an NC-17 by the MPAA, and it's just one more reason that organization is among the most useless entities on the face of the planet. By being branded with a commercial death, audiences were deprived of a truly wonderful film. It's an espionage story about a young Chinese girl who infiltrates the Japanese occupation forces in the late 1930's/40's, but gets a little too close to the enemy. It's a long film, but one that never had me squirming in my seat. And while the sex scenes are highly erotic, they aren't overly graphic. So I'm only left scratching my head at the MPAA's decision, especially after I watched a man's penis be severed and fed to a dog in the R-rated Hostel Part II.

I love me some Sarah Polley like no one's business. As an actress, she's the best actress going in the under-30 set, and I think there's very few people who bring so much integrity to the types of films they make. Her name attached to a project means I'll check it out, unconditionally. So, for her feature film debut as a srceenwriter and director, it makes sense that someone of Julie Christie's caliber (who is of a similar mindset when it comes to the projects she chooses), would be attached. And it's a wonderful debut for Polley behind the camera. She clearly has a gift, and while it's a flawed film, if this is her starting point, I can't wait to see her career behind the camera develop. And while most of the attention went to Christie's performance, I think Gordon Pinsent, who plays her husband, gave the strongest male lead performance of the year. He's incredible, and his omission from pretty much every award or nomination in the States was pretty inconceivable to me.

Jean Dominique Bauby, the French editor of Elle Magazine, suffered a terribly debilitating stoke leaving only his left eyelid mobile, and managed to blink out his memoirs. And while this sounds ripe for an overly sentimental and precious biopic du jour (you know, like 99% of them), Julian Schnabel is too good for that, and thankfully, isn't concerned with trying to pull the same tired tearjerking antics. Instead, his film is a beautifully crafted meditation on a mind trapped inside a body that doesn't work. Like most of Schnabel's films, it tends to get a little too cerebral for it's own good, but it's a damn fine film.

This is another example where taking risks and having the balls to try affords the film a lot of goodwill. There are any number of criticisms you could make about the film, and chances are I'd agree with you on a lot of it: the story is thin, some of the musical numbers don't work, it's a little style over substance... all true. Yet, bizarrely enough, it worked for me. I think Julie Taymor is a gifted visualist and I'm pretty much up for anything she's willing to put out there. I really liked how a lot (not all) of the Beatles songs were reimagined and also how she incorporated the band's transformation from bubble gum to political and fashioned a story around it that follows the same path. Not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. However, I warn you that it's divisive as hell, you'll either like it or completely hate it.

This Palme D'Or winning film from Ken Loach shows the emerging conflicts in Northern Ireland that led up to the formation of the IRA, and does a commendable job of showing its impact on scales both large and small. It's beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted.

A whole host of directors and actors collaborated on this one to create 18 short stories, each set in a specific arrondissement in Paris. The stories don't mesh or intertwine and each short film skips between genres. And while not all of them work, so much of it works, that it is a worthy experience. I can't recall a collaboration between directors and actors on this magnitude, and I really appreciated something like this that can show you just how wonderful short format films can be.

While most comedies are quick to settle for the dick-and-fart joke and that's it, Knocked Up gives you that through the filter of something genuine, adult, and a realistic depiction of many relationships and the growth you make when life throws you a curveball. And that's why Knocked Up is one of those films that will still be remembered five years from now, while the rest fade off to the discount bins at WalMart.

Although this one is slowly rolling out in theaters now, it did officially open in Los Angeles for a limited qualifying run in December, so it gets included here. This Israeli import was just such a charming, sweetly written, superbly acted little film. It makes no great statements, nor does it politicize Arabic/Israeli tensions. It puts it all aside for a sweet and genuine little story that I really admired a good deal.

The funny thing with Todd Haynes' films is that even when I don't really love him, I have to admire his chutzpah for trying, which is more than can be said for most filmmakers. This time out, I think it was a successful film even if it doesn't work completely. And while much has been made of Cate Blanchett's gender-bending portrayal, the real star of the film was Marcus Carl Franklin (above). This kid is someone to watch.

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