As I mentioned in the last post, 2008 was the beginning of the Comic book adaptation explosion. This march through the years to determine the Best Movie of all time really shows that themes come out in particular years. 2007 was loaded with amazing movies that almost no one saw. They were so good that I may have my first year with multiple winners. I say that no one saw them because the top 3 highest grossing films of 2007 were Transformers, Shrek the Third, and Spider-Man 3. All were panned by critics and had lackluster performance at the box office. This was a year for those Superbad movies and others like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Wild Hogs, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Bee Movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Norbit.
That being said, the ugly performance of popular films in 2007 really made the gems shine. We had an artsy Bob Dylan biopic with I’m Not There, and one of the coolest, nerdiest documentaries ever in King of Kong. There was a great entry from one of my favorite directors Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) who gave us Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. We saw a minor resurgence of good westerns with a 3:10 to Yuma remake and my pick for best long title movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. On the musical front, there were several solid entries from Sweeney Todd, Across the Universe, August Rush, and the hauntingly beautiful Once. There were also two emotionally shattering foreign films in Diving Bell and the Butterfly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.
Other must watch films from the year include: Hot Fuzz, Ratatouille, Juno, Into The Wild, I Am Legend, Sunshine, Atonement, Gone Baby Gone, Lars and the Real Girl, American Gangster, Persepolis, and Michael Clayton. Charlie Bartlett is the film that sticks in my mind for the late Anton Yelchin, It is not a perfect film, but it is very entertaining with a great cast. However, all of these good films should wait if you haven’t seen any of my top three. I consider two of them modern classics that are almost perfect films.
3rd – Zodiac
Zodiac is a woefully underrated film from David Fincher, the same director that gave us Se7en and Fight Club. Roger Ebert said in his four-star review, “Zodiac is the All the President’s Men of serial killer movies, with Woodward and Bernstein played by a cop and a cartoonist…. What makes Zodiac authentic is the way it avoids chases, shootouts, grandstanding and false climaxes, and just follows the methodical progress of police work.” The cast (Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the tone and script are all so tight and precise. It’s a delightful movie and immensely frustrating and entertaining. Now, onto the two films which I will be including in the Best Movie Bracket Competition.
2nd – There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood is an exposition of the pioneering American spirit in the vein of Citizen Kane. Paul Thomas Anderson has given us a visually arresting suspenseful historical epic. It traces the rise of the oil industry in California through the eyes of Daniel Plainview. The Script is based upon the 1927 novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair which was based loosely in-turn upon real-life oil tycoon Edward Doheny.
Plainview is a simple man to understand. He has one driving ambition. There is no questioning his motivation. However, through this story we see a man who plunges deeper and deeper into greed. This greed permeates the entire film, which only seems to get better the more times you watch it. I remember thinking about Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Plainview for days after watching the film the first time.
The next time, I watched trying to see things from Eli Sunday’s perspective. It is hard, because he is such a weak character. Not a weak performance, mind you, Paul Dano does a great job, but Sunday is so overshadowed by Plainview. Everything pales in comparison to him. That is the point. Both Sunday and Plainview are ambitious and use their own currencies to get ahead and to swindle people. Plainview uses oil, Sunday uses religion, but Plainview is the superior man in all ways.
The film intimately explores the psychology of this self-absorbed, ambitious, antisocial man who believed himself to be so superior. But it doesn’t turn him into a complete villain, because we can see his love for his son and Mary Sunday in particular. We follow his anger and passion and rage right up to the very end.
It was too dark of a film to be a box-office hit, but this performance made sure that it won awards, Best Actor and Best Cinematography at the Oscars. If P.T. Anderson wasn’t already known to be one of the best filmmakers of our time after Boogie Nights and Magnolia, this certainly cemented his place there.
1st – No Country For Old Men
It was a very tough decision to go with No Country for Old Men over There Will Be Blood. I ultimately followed the crowd and let the Academy break the tie for me. Both of these films were nominated for best picture and it was a toss up who would win with Best Actor going to Daniel Day Lewis and Best Director going to the Coen brothers, but at the end of the night, No Country came away with the prize.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name is the best film they have ever made. I can think of few perfectly executed films and this is one. Set in the 1980s in Texas (although it was curiously filmed in the same general location as There Will Be Blood), the whole film is a suspenseful chase with three parties.
The law is represented by one of the titular old men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. As you already know by now through his extensive film library, Tommy Lee Jones is a grizzled and world weary man. He has some of the best lines in this film, which leads me to believe that we are to see the film primarily through his eyes. He is not sure what to make of this world that has evolved beyond him. While speaking to one of his deputies, he comments on a news story to emphasize the depths to which things have sunk, “Here last week they found this couple out in California. They rent out rooms for old people, kill’em, bury’em in the yard, cash their social security checks. Well, they’d tortur’em first, I don’t know why…. Maybe the television set was broke.”
The senseless violence and evil is personified by the second person in the chase. Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, is a homicidal lunatic who has a knack for making his victims disappear. Bardem, wearing the world’s worst bowlcut, is a villain for the ages. The type of twisted evil that plays with his victims like a cat with a mouse. He looks at people like they are ants for him to burn under his magnifying glass. That is not an enviable place to be.
The ant who is on Chigurh’s bad side is Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin. This is the standout performance of Brolin’s career. His angular jaw has been on the silver screen since Goonies, but it was all leading to this role which made people stop and look at him. He brings the human touch the part needs. Moss is a Vietnam vet and does well as an everyman. He is a man out of place and time, he would have been more at home as a prospector or a cowboy. You can sense that he is looking for something different than the cards he seems to have been dealt in life. One day, he finds the solution that he wasn’t looking for in the form of a half a dozen dead bodies and $2 million in cash from a drug deal gone bad. Moss does what I figure most people would do, he takes the cash. Unfortunately, that decision leads him on a dangerous path into to gaze of a malicious bounty hunter.
I won’t give you any more than that. You will just have to watch it for yourself. Don’t expect your standard Hollywood ending. Remember, this is the Coen brothers and they don’t work like that. As I said before, this stands out to me as the best of their films. It wasn’t the acting which was superb, or the inspiring cinematography, or anything that is easy to point a finger at. Essentially, I believe this was such a good film because good and evil are addressed and no one acts like the hard questions have easy answers. There have been a spade of movies that focus on politics and religion to show the downward spiral of our society, but No Country doesn’t salute or beat its chest. Instead, the Coens push us to the edge of the pit which we have dug for ourselves, and with relentless suspense they force us to peer in. “You can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”
Two new films have been added to my ongoing Best Movie Bracket list. There Will Be Blood will join three other impressive 2nd place finishers who will play in for a spot in my top 64. Tell me if you think I got it wrong. I want to hear your thoughts.