Thursday, February 14, 2008

Best of: Movies

If there is blame to be had by posting a "best of movies '07", in Febuary '08, let that blame fall on Charlottesville, a small hamlet in central Virginia, not known for its vast selection of art-house movies. That, and a real job that pays:


1. There Will Be Blood: I’ve already written about why this is the best movie of the year (here), but I would like to take this moment to mention something I forgot to talk about in my review by stating that it takes nothing from the greatness of Anderson’s film to give credit where credit is due: namely the fact that the first half-hour of Anderson’s masterpiece owes a lot to Mathew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle—specifically Cremaster Cycle 3 and that film’s spotlight on the Masonic quest of The Apprentice. Barney’s obsession with work, material, the earth, the body and physical labor—or his “worship through works and labor” in solitary wish-fulfillment removed from religion (if not its own type) and demagoguery—is all over Anderson’s film. It seems that, for the opening portion of the film, much inspiration has derived from Barney, including Johnny Greenwood’s eerie score. This isn’t meant as a criticism as much as it is meant to acknowledge the relationship between art and craft, because once Day-Lewis sits down with his adopted son, H.W., and begins to sell himself as “an oil-man”, Anderson sends Plainview on his own fiercely independent journey—into the muck of human interaction, rather than the euphoria resulting from transcendent work (the Empire State Building in The Cremaster cycle). Art has always laid the groundwork for culture’s advancement (from the Renaissance, to Modernism, to Post-Modernism), regardless of how some societies (especially American) would claim that it is an interest of the elites and intellectuals—in short, only for those who can afford it. It should be acknowledged that There Will Be Blood is a perfect example of how when art lays the groundwork it can provide a compelling blueprint for master-craftsmen (like Anderson) to share with the common man (your average moviegoer), at affordable prices, those things they might not know about themselves.

2. No Country For Old Men: Feel free to read my review of the book (here), or my thoughts on the narrative discrepancies between this book and McCarthy’s subsequent Pulitzer Prize winner The Road (here). For this post, I would simply like to applaud the Cohen brother’s for making their best film in a decade. Kudos to the brother’s for finding the black humor in McCarthy’s prose that those of us who read the book could not see (for it was too bleak). Bravo, Javier Bardem, for so completely inhabiting Anton Chigurh that I couldn’t help but sit in fear throughout the movie and hope that he, Chigurh, wouldn’t notice me deep in the dark theater spying on him and his work, thus making me a priority. A round of applause for Tommy Lee Jones who, at the end of the film, delivers one of the more emotionally wrenching monologues in recent film. Finally, let us not forget to give major props for Brad from Goonies—I mean Josh Brolin—who has been lights-out this year (stealing the show in Grindhouse, and being one of the only actors in film, specifically American Gangster, to effectively intimidate Russell Crowe), and who nails the resolute but hapless Llewelyn Moss.



3. Zodiac: Am I crazy or has this been a forgotten film during awards season? It may not be David Fincher’s neatest film (that would be Fight Club), but it may be his best. For almost three hours Fincher’s ability to multi-task during a scene is on full display: effectively directing the slightly boring Jake Gyllenhal, standing back and letting Robert Downey Jr. do his thing, and, at the same time, knowing when to center the camera on Mark Ruffalo, a criminally underappreciated actor (one wonders if he sweated more and had bigger chest muscles, would he not be a dead ringer for early Brando?). A film with an ending as ambiguous and as powerful as any of the above mentioned films.




4. Ratatouille: If you feel like it, read my extended review here. Pixar has never made a bad movie, and Ratatouille is one of its best—right up there with The Incredibles, which was, oddly enough, also a Brad Bird film. As anyone who has sat through food-critic Anton (what is it with this name this year?) Ego’s wonderful soliloquy about art and food and criticism can attest, Brad Bird isn’t simply an animating marvel, he is an Oscar worthy screenwriter. You say there are rats in the kitchen? C'est parfait avec moi! (note: I take no responsibility for the accuracy of internet translations.)



5. Juno/Superbad: I wrote about Superbad earlier this summer (here), but haven’t gotten around to saying much about Juno. So, in the “Best of” tradition (of which there is none), let’s simply look at these films as the entertaining bookends on the teen-sex comedy/drama genre they are. Hopefully Hollywood recognizes the cross-marketing potential here and continues to give us well acted films with an emotional core that might attempt to make Juno a little more Seth, and Seth a little more Juno. Michael Cera and Ellen Page are my new Hollywood power couple. Cera will, in no time, be staring in Groundhog Day 2, and Miss Page seems clearly destined for a stardom of almost Roberts-like magnitude as she proceeds to, if not grow (she is 20), put on a few more pounds of age.

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