Sunday, January 13, 2008

My top 10 films of 2007

#1 - Into the Wild. As writer/director, Sean Penn has created a masterpiece that tells the story of Christopher McCandless (played by the little-known but very talented Emile Hirsch), an upper middle class young man, just graduated from college, who rebelliously opts to donate his savings to charity, leave society and journey to the Alaskan wilderness to become one with nature. The beautifully-filmed story bounces around chronologically to great effect, providing balance to the generally-episodic nature of McCandless' trek. The stories and characters that unfold throughout the episodes add a lot of depth to the film, as do outstanding supporting performances from Vince Vaughn, William Hurt, Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook, among others. The soundtrack, by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, is haunting.

#2 - The Namesake. An engrossing, character-focused human drama that tells the story of a just-married Indian couple who, in 1977, say goodbye to their family and friends and move to New York City. Soon, the couple starts a family and moves to the suburbs, and the story leaps ahead and focuses on their first-born (played by Kal Penn) and his struggles and conflict balancing his family's Indian traditions amongst his desires to be a "typical American" teenager and young man.  The Namesake offers intriguing insights into Indian culture and customs. This is an epic but intimate film.

#3 - Atonement. A successful adaptation of Ian McEwan's highly-regarded 2001 novel. Powerfully told, Atonement is a classic love story between characters expertly played by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. The story begins on a hot summer day in 1935 at a British family's country estate. Jealousy, misperceptions and ultimately a false accusation keep the young couple apart until they are reunited five years later during the thick of the Second World War. The film contains brilliant, unique editing and spectacular cinematography, especially during the war scenes. The rich, creatively-told story builds on itself and is quite satisfying.

#4 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton are reunited in what is arguably their most ambitious filmmaking effort, an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's award-winning Broadway musical. This is a bloody film -- and perhaps the most joyously bloody film I'll ever see! The blood and gore are complemented by gothic, twisted humor and characters who break out in song -- some quite beautiful and touching -- throughout the entire film. Depp and Helena Bonham Carter deliver fantastic performances; other stand-outs in the cast include Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen. Sweeney Todd offers an abundance of both style and substance.

#5 - Knocked Up. A new era in comedy is with us and is in full force! Knocked Up is hilarious, touching and well-made. Writer/director Judd Apatow (whose 2005 film The 40-Year-Old Virgin was good) has finally made a film that's great. Seth Rogan and Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl deliver tender performances as two mismatched people brought together by a one-night stand. There's plenty of goofy, crude humor intermixed in this story, and the overall effect is quite winning. Watch for standout supporting performances by Saturday Night Live's Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader.

#6 - Superbad. Seth Rogan (from Knocked Up) co-writes with Evan Goldberg and the result is an extremely crude comedy that works fantastically. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill deliver strong performances as best friends navigating their last few weeks of high school and their rites of passage. The film is consistently very funny and enjoyably absurd. And it has a sincere heart -- something that most teen comedies don't. Superbad is super good.

#7 - Juno. Wow, 2007 really was a great year for comedies! In the quirky Juno, newcomer Ellen Page offers a sharp, almost-too-witty performance as a suddenly-pregnant 16-year-old. Coming off of 2006's Thank You for Smoking (one of my favorite flicks from 2007), director Jason Reitman balances the film's quirkiness with increasing amounts of warmth and humanity as the movie goes on. Superbad's Michael Cera offers a touching -- and hilarious -- performance as her best friend Paulie Bleeker. Other strong supporting performances come from Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner and The West Wing's Allison Janney.

#8 - King Corn. An entertaining and important documentary about the U.S. agriculture industry, focusing on two friends who move to the nation's heartland to learn where their food comes from. They grow an acre of corn on Iowa soil and then follow their pile of corn into the food system. Along the way, what they find raises troubling questions about what we eat, how we farm and why we are farming the way we are. This well-crafted documentary also addresses the inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms.

#9 - The Kite Runner. Adapted from Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel of the same name, The Kite Runner spans several decades and focuses on the 1970s pre-Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and the 1990s Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.  Rich in its visuals and panoramic shots, the film offers a touching story of two boys growing up in different social classes, with a focus on friendship, betrayal for the sake of acceptance, and -- two decades later -- redemption.

#10 - Year of the Dog. In this unconventional comedy-drama, Molly Shannon (from Saturday Night Live, 1995-2001) stars as a woman living a simple life with a simple job, a simple house and a simple dog, a beagle named Pencil, who she adores immensely. Her simple life turns upside-down, though, when Pencil dies of a very sudden illness. This unpredictable film is about the woman's life transformation. It offers quirky, offbeat, dry humor along the way. Shannon delivers a surprisingly remarkable dramatic performance. Peter Sarsgaard is a stand-out in a strong supporting cast.

Honorable mentions go to: The Bourne Ultimatum, The Brave One, Charlie Wilson's War, The Lives of Others, Once, No Country for Old Men and The Savages.

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