Sunday, January 06, 2008

The 2007 Cinema Hall Of Fame


Aka La Vie En Rose. It is a testament to how poor a cinema year the UK experienced in 2007 that a film I have a few minor quibbles with should be my number one film. I am not certain that a chronological jumbling was a wise idea and there were a couple of other directorial flourishes that I didn't think really sat well with the film. However, said quibbles fade into nothingness when Marion Cotillard is taken into account. Her performance is absolutely extraordinary. She so embodies Piaf that it is as if there are four different actresses in the role. It's the performance of the decade, in any medium, by anybody.


This was a truly unexpected treat. A distinctly American novel transported to France, adapted and directed by the guy who Virginie Ledoyen dumped in The Beach? How on earth is that going to be good? Well, it's more than good. It's a taut, gripping, atmospheric thriller which, if it were adapted from better source material, would probably have eclipsed Rose for film of the year. Unfortunately, the novel's reach somewhat exceeds its grasp and the screenplay is a little too faithful to it. Up to the overextended ending though, this film is relentless in its grip.


This film has had its UK release indefinitely postponed due to similarity with the Madeleine McCann disappearance which is why I made the point of seeing it while I was on holiday in New York. One of Pajiba's twelve best films you didn't see in 2007, I echo their sentiment that is a real shame this film was so ignored. It seems poor Ben Affleck can do no right, even when he is behind the camera. Damn you, Jennifer Lopez. I really hope this has its day when it makes it to DVD because otherwise one of the best directorial debuts in recent times will have been unjustly dismissed. A great script that manages to be a crime thriller and pose difficult moral questions (refreshingly not giving an easy answer), this also has some outstanding performances in it too. Amy Ryan was critically lauded at the time and is starting to see nominations coming her way. But Casey Affleck is every bit as watchable as she is, in a fantastically understated way. Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman bring the gravitas but it's the locations and the extras that add the veritas.


I am as surprised as anybody that this film made the list at all, let alone as high as it did. I think it's because I never in a million years expected the film to be any good. In fact, I was so uninterested in the movie version of the musical of the movie (apparently now called movicals) that when I sat down to watch it a few days after it opened, I realised that beyond the casting, I didn't know a damn thing about what had been altered for the stage to screen transition. It was the casting that caused my lack of interest. As soon as John Travolta was cast, I gave up hope. Well I was wrong. He is great, quite clearly having the time of his life with the role and everybody else in the cast does a bang up job too (biggest surprise? James Marsden). A joyful and life affirming film that made me weep tears of happiness. Several times.


How do you make an interesting movie out of a true story that doesn't really have an ending? Well, if you watch Zodiac, you will find out. Intertwining three strands of plot, each with a strong performance at its centre (from Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo) ensured the film never sagged. Unflinching and unsettling recreations of the Zodiac killer's crimes made sure the audience cared as much as the characters did. Never less than engrossing, this also has the most intense and suspenseful scene of the year in it, when Jake Gyllenhaal pays a visit to someone who it turns out might just be the killer.


Another unexpected treat. I really hated the book and my distaste for Keira Knightley is well documented. She's ideally cast as a brittle upper class girl though so it kind of worked. What worked far better was the elegant adaptation and the flawless direction (the rightly celebrated tracking shot on Dunkirk beach is wondrous). And it's pleasing that the supremely talented James McAvoy is being noticed, having been overshadowed by Forest Whitaker this time last year.


I was not pleased when this film beat out Pan's Labyrinth for the Oscar. Well, I take that back. It's not a fun or easy film to watch but it is a riveting and sometimes unbelievable one (and of course, the parts you can't believe are all true). Telling the story of the Stasi through one target and the operative who is assigned to him made an impossibly huge story intimate and personal. Anyone who was dry eyed in the heartbreaking last few minutes has no soul.


Emile Hirsch has been proving himself as one to watch for quite a while now and with this film, hopefully people will start watching (and hopefully for reasons other than the fleeting glimpse of his cock in a nude scene). The story of Chris McCandless, who rejected society to live off the map and died for it, is an endlessly fascinating one and so is the film that tells his story. Graceful direction and a refreshingly unpretentious adaptation of the book, this is another overlooked film of last year that deserves to be seen by far more people than it was.


Crazy title, glorious film. As beautiful to look at as it was fascinating to watch, this film could have been the most tedious pile of shit in different hands. But somehow it works and it works well. It has a host of good performances contained in it, but there is one truly outstanding performance on show here. Casey Affleck, as the titular coward, is absolutely unfuckingbelievably amazing. I have been a fan since American Pie and pledged my undying love after seeing him on stage in This Is Our Youth in 2002. He's seriously talented and he is this film's rock and anchor. If only for him, see it.


What? So I have an inner child, so what? I unashamedly and unabashedly love Disney animated movies (but not blindly. Pocahontas? Fuck off.) so when I heard about this I thought it was the best idea ever, couldn't think why it hadn't been thought of before. To make the utterly insane plot work, the performances have to be spot on. And they are. Amy Adams, James Marsden and Patrick Dempsey are all pitch perfect with how they handle their roles. The script is sweet, funny, charming and cute (but not cloying or cutesy). The big musical number in Central Park is just one of many many highlights. I loved it. I laughed, I cried. I laughed again and then cried some more.

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