It took a while to prove itself, but 2007 eventually became a good year for film. December had some very good releases and circumstances allowed me to see several good films in one short spurt. These are the best films I saw over the course of the year.
1) AWAY FROM HER
A woman develops a new personality in her twilight years as Alzheimer's Disease robs her of her memories and her former nature, but has not yet robbed her of mechanical function. Her affectionate husband is bewildered by the initial loss, by the new personality, and by choices she is making. Based on the story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, this very personal film is a deeply affecting work from Sarah Polley, a good actress becoming an even better writer and director. Julie Christie is excellent, but veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsett is even better.
2) THE KITE RUNNER
Marc Forster who directed MONSTER'S BALL and FINDING NEVERLAND directs a haunting adaptation of the Khaled Hosseini novel. Two boyhood friends in Afghanistan, Amin and Rahim, are separated by an incident and each's reaction to that incident. The incident hangs over both of their lives until years later when Amin, now living in California, has an opportunity to return to his homeland to amends. The story has a powerful theme of the necessity to confront evil and oppose it.
3) INTO THE WILD
Sean Penn writes and directs the true story of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who cut his ties with his wealthy family and lived on the road seeing the real country. Knowing he is very self- sufficient, he gives himself the test of living off the land in the Alaskan wilderness only to find it is one challenge that may be beyond him. The story has drama, suspense, and memorable view of western America. It is nice to see a good role for Hal Holbrook and one for the current Bart the Bear.
Neil Gaiman's STARDUST, directed by Matthew Vaughn, comes to the screen as a first-class fantasy film--one of the best I have seen in a long time. The story is humorously convoluted but not really confusing. A young man from our world is on a quest to win his love ends up being the fulcrum in a battle for the rule of a kingdom in a magical parallel world. Gaiman is a fresh and a different voice in fantasy writing, so the film is full of surprises and some genuinely funny jokes.
5) GOLDA'S BALCONY
Valerie Harper plays Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, in a one-actor play by William Gibson (who also wrote the classic play THE MIRACLE WORKER). Golda Meir in retirement reminisces about her life, the history of Israel, and the most important and difficult decision she ever had to make. Jeremy Kagan directs. Some of the visual style is distracting, but Harper carries the film.
6) EASTERN PROMISES
A London midwife is threatened by the actions of the Russian Mafia in this new thriller from David Cronenberg. Cronenberg brings back Viggo Mortensen from his A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE into another intense action role. Double-crosses, violent fights, and secret plans make the film feel like a good episode of the Sopranovs. This could well be Cronenberg's best film of this decade, atmospheric and exciting.
7) THE NAMESAKE
Mira Nair covers about thirty years in the life of one Indian family. She gives us a film about the pull of one's native culture and the desire of the next generation to be free of it. This is a realistic story without a pre-packaged message. The film is intelligent and moving. Perhaps the telling is just a little rushed.
8) GONE BABY GONE
A young private investigator takes a job of looking for a little girl whose kidnapping has become a media event. This investigation will prove not just to be violent and shocking, it will also raise some complex moral questions. Ben Affleck's first feature film as director turns out to be a much better film than most of the movies that he has acted in. This is a strong, well-directed film and the debut of what could be a very promising director.
9) BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
Jess has a terrible life at home and at school. But the situation gets much more bearable and better when the new girl in town moves in next door and is enrolled in his class. She opens for him a whole new world of intellect and art and fantasy. The two are social outcasts, but form a rich (platonic) relationship together that strengthens Jess for some of the emotional wrenches to come in his life. This is a film that is by turns wonderful and heart-breaking. Do not expect a big special-effects fantasy. Fantasy as a source of emotional strength is one theme among several well-presented themes. This fantasy-etched story is more intelligent than most films made for adults.
10) SWEENEY TODD
SWEENEY RAZORHANDS. One of Broadway's best and most controversial musicals comes to the screen as a vehicle for the Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team. This version glories in the gory more than the stage version did. Depp's singing limitations rob the character of Sweeney of his all-important contagious savage fury. Burton shows the audience a lot that could not be shown on stage, not all of which was a good idea to show. Still the music will haunt you.
The following films got a high enough rating to make my list, but there can be only ten films on a Top Ten list. So I would like to recognize that I was also impressed with RESCUE DAWN, BEOWULF, THE SINGING REVOLUTION, and THE SAVAGES.
More importantly I would like to recognize three films from previous years that I saw in 2007, too late to make my list for their years though they probably should have been on previous top ten lists.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS is about an officer and interrogator in the Stasi, the Communist East German Secret Police, spying on innocent citizens and becoming involved in their lives. Ulrich Mühe plays Captain Gerd Wiesler who is extremely good in a job he comes to wish did not exist. The actor Mühe was dying of stomach cancer as he made the film and his last performance is strong and moving.
PAN'S LABYRINTH is powerful as a fantasy film and as a story of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. This is Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's best film to date and is really a modern masterpiece of the fantasy film.
BLACK is very unusual in many ways. It is a high quality production coming from the Bollywood film industry, but it is one that avoids the traditional Bollywood style. The film breaks neatly in half at the intermission. Before the intermission it retells the story of the training of a deaf and blind child. This is very close to being a remake of Arthur Penn's film THE MIRACLE WORKER, the story of the monumental effort to teach the concept of what words are to a young Helen Keller. After the intermission writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali fictionally continues the story of the blind and deaf woman trying to reach her teacher who has fallen into the abyss of Alzheimer's Disease. The photography and art direction are things of beauty.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper