Mafoo’s best films of 2007

Ok, I know I’m a little late, but I felt I had to add my faves to the plethora of 2007 lists. I’m afraid I missed many of the so-called “best” movies of 2007 such as No Country for Old Men, Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, etc. I watched a lot of older movies this year. But this is the best of what’s new.

10. Zodiac –
To be honest, I didn’t want to put Zodiac in the top ten, but I realized that Inland Empire was released in December of 2006. I like movies about serial killers so I went into this expecting a tense, creepy, suspense-fest. Of course, this wasn’t really about that. I respect it as a view into the mundane reality of a failed manhunt, but I still think Fincher could have done much more with the tone of the film, to make it more tense and depressing, like what he did in Se7en. The acting was very good, but did anyone else notice that they put in hardly any work the make the actors appear older as the years progressed?

9. Knocked Up –
Yes, it was overrated. But it was still very funny. It seems Judd Apatow is bringing to comedy what Kevin Smith brought, or attempted to bring, in the 90s: witty, interesting, hilarious dialogue. Apatow manages to make it sound even less scripted than Smith. His dialogue is managing to both reflect and transform the state of lowbrow wit in this country. His is a unique blend, at once extrovertedly self-conscious and sympathetically antagonizing.

8. Grindhouse: Planet Terror
I believe it to be the lesser of the Grindhouse double-feature but it was once of the most fun movies to see in the theaters. The audience loved it – I am still perplexed by how poorly this movie performed at the box office, I saw it in a packed house. Rodriguez has a knack for creating legendary characters and you could easily imagine the back-story of many of these characters. I kind of hope he expands on the El Rey character, it was too much fun watching Freddy Rodriguez slice up zombies with his duel knives.

7. Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer
Technically this movie came out a few days before 2007, but I’ll include it anyway. I loved the book by Patrick Suskind, and was pretty skeptical about the adaptation, but this was a decent one. I think having read the book I suffer from Not-as-good-as-the-bookitis, but visually the movie is a feast. Many, such as Kubrick, declared the novel to be unfilmable. Director Tykwer managed to capture much of the scent-based imagery using lush and grotesque visuals. Still, I was relatively unsatisfied, but as a purely visual film it was stunning. I would say that along with Satoshi Kon’s Paprika it was the most visually intriguing film of the year.

6. Superbad
Popcorn movie of the year. The dialogue was great, the acting was silly and strikingly realistic, and the humor gross and offensive. It’s a less idealistic Dazed and Confused for the 2000s. Best of all, it features anti-heroes that you actually can believe as anti-heroes. I’m so sick of Hollywood putting a pair of glasses on a Mandy Moore or a Zac Efron and expecting you to believe that they would have had the outsider experience. Some may have viewed it as misogynistic (I’m looking at you Mell), but what teen boy isn’t somewhat misogynistic in his relentless pursuit of sexual gratification of any kind? I thought it was shockingly realistic.

5. Sweeney Todd
I recently half-watched the movie version of Rent, a show that I half-like. I was shocked at the level of post-production they employed to the vocals. Everything was auto-tuned and much of it was so glaringly obvious that it almost seemed they were using it as an effect, like Cher or Akon. I went into Sweeney Todd expecting the worst, reviews of the film were good, but film reviewers often don’t catch this type of thing. I was pleasantly surprised. Even though the leads were all actors first and singers second, they did a very good job and there was very minimal use (at least noticable) of auto-tune and similar effects. The film as a whole was pretty dark, I was glad that Tim Burton didn’t clean it up for mass audiences; there was a lot of blood, though they tinted it brighter to make it look less realistic. It is definitely the best movie musical in years, much better than Chicago. Much of that is the music, the Sondheim score is a modern masterpiece, more opera than musical.

4. Southland Tales
This and Death Proof were my most anticipated films for the year. Actually I was anticipating this film last year, I believe it was originally supposed to be released in November of 2006. A common phrase heard in reviews was “a beautiful mess”. This is true. It was perhaps overly ambitious, but I would much rather see a ornate, challenging, unfocused work-of-art than a tight, quirky, and harmless picture such as Juno, which I watched last night. The latter was pleasant, inoffensive (by being adorably “offensive”), and perfectly content having no lasting effect on the art of film as a whole. Southland Tales destroyed my notion of a film comedy, by employing a distinct recursive irony to the dialogue and overall tone of the film, delving more deeply in this respect than Lynch in Blue Velvet and John Waters in Pink Flamingos. Watching this movie is like hanging out with that weird friend of yours, the one you are never quite sure if they are kidding or not, their whole persona being mired so deeply in sarcasm and irony. While it has plenty of flaws, this could end up being the most influential film of 2007 in the long run.

3. Grindhouse: Death Proof
This movie left me confounded. Perhaps it was the fact that it followed the raucous crowd-pleaser Planet Terror. Death Proof is a subtle, dialogue-driven “thriller”, although it unfolds so much differently than the type of movie it was purporting to emulate. Unlike Kill Bill, Tarantino relied on dialogue to propel the plot, as in his earlier films. With Death Proof however, the movie was almost completely based on dialogue, with the exception of the action driving scenes, which of course were the polar opposite. Many critics panned or even hated the movie, much like Southland Tales, but again I think it is just the case of them not analyzing it deeply enough. The dialogue scenes, which were almost exclusively female, served to give depth to the characters in the first half (the first group of girls) and the second half (the second group of girls) and to show their differences, and perhaps why one group survives and one group doesn’t. I’ll admit that at times the dialogue was too long and mundane even for me, a perennial Tarantino defender, but as a commentary on the relationship between slasher films and feminism the film is ground-breaking.

2. Eastern Promises
I always look forward to new Cronenberg movies. He hasn’t really made any bad movies. I like that his recent films have been branching into new territory, instead of horror and sci-fi, though not that I mind his work in those genres. This film featured impeccable acting and beautiful cinematography. It also has one of the best fight scenes in history. I felt it was over too soon, but in my experience that is often the mark of a great movie.

1. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Yes, apparently Sidney Lumet is back. This was a very tense movie. The title comes from an old saying, something like “You have 5 minutes in hell before the Devil know’s you’re dead”. Phillip Seymore Hoffman, unsurprisingly, is incredible. It is actually becoming a bit tiresome for him to be so good in all of his movies. He was even good in Along Came Polly! This movie also features some of the best camera work I’ve seen in years. There is a brilliant long shot in the drug dealer’s apartment, where Lumet slowly pans the camera and the suspense is so savory that each new inch of the scene uncovered is like a revelation. As it should be in a good suspense film, each revelation is a further complication though. The characters get so tangled into knots that you are hoping for any way out of the mess, as they are. The movie ends in desperation and the suspense isn’t so much resolved as it is destroyed. This is my favorite kind of movie, one that is entertaining and challenging, each to a very high degree. It was not easy to watch this movie, I actually wanted it to be over while I was seeing it. But it was the type of movie that stayed in my head for weeks after I saw it.

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