Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Favorite Movies of 2007, Part I

I saw quite a few movies last year that I highly enjoyed for one reason or another: movies that I thought were well crafted examples of cinema as art; movies that kept me thinking; and/or movies that I found entertaining.

The following (in alphabetical order) are my favorite movies of 2007, “of 2007” in this case meaning movies that I watched during 2007.

1. Blade Runner

One of my favorite science fiction movies of all time. For that matter, one of my favorite movies of all time. When I re-watched this movie this past year, it was probably about the 35th or so time I had watched it. (For the record, I’ve seen all the different versions, and like them all. Give it to me with or without the noir-ish narration.) The one thought I had about the film that I’d not had before is that there are a lot of individual elements of the film that if take out of context would be either banal or silly sci-fi-geek-babble (Roy Batty’s death speech is a prime example), but which in context of the film are both effective and poignant (Batty’s death speech again, after seeing which I do wonder how Rutger Hauer ended up playing in straight to video nonsense involving chasing Ice T through the woods).

2. The Born Losers

The original Billy Jack. Like many, I had assumed that Billy Jack (1971) had been the first appearance of Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack character, until I happened upon this movie from 1967 showing on AMC. Tom Laughlin’s there, Billy Jack is a fully formed character doing what Billy Jack did, fighting for those who are innocent and weak against The Man and against outlaw thugs. If you’re a fan of Billy Jack, you should see this (especially if you stuck around for Billy Jack goes to Washington). If not, or if you don’t know who Billy Jack is, don’t bother.

3. Children of Men

One of the better examples of near future science fiction dystopia.

4. Dersu Uzala

One of Akira Kurosawa’s lesser known films, and one of the few set outside of Japan. The title character is a woodsman and guide in Eastern Siberia. This is a sad film, akin in some ways to some Westerns, where modern society ultimately tames a wild land, with the character of Dersu Uzala unable to fit in, and ultimately being tragically victimized by “progress.”

5. Donnie Darko

I was prepared to dislike this movie. I do often dislike “art movies” or “indie movies,” because although a few are quite good, many more are ridiculously pretentious, overly snarky, overly ironic, or otherwise annoying and not half so smart as they aim to be. This movie was none of those things, and was instead entertaining and thought-engaging.

6. Downfall

There was controversy when this German film came out about whether or not it humanized Hitler and those around him in their last days. It did, but only I think in the sense that Hitler, Goebbels, et al. are presented as multi-faceted human beings rather than one dimensional bogey men. If anything, I found myself feeling an even greater sense of revulsion toward the Nazi leadership after viewing the film, though that could just be my reaction.

7. The Fountain

I wasn’t as moved by this film as by Darren Aronofsky’s two earlier movies Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but this is a beautiful and poignant movie (even if at moments a bit draggy, something that often accompanies beautiful and poignant movies).

8. Hiroshima Mon Amour

I’m not quite sure why I had not previously seen this 1959 film by Alain Resnais. It manages to explore the personal and generic horror of war and its effects on individuals without ever feeling exploitative (something difficult to pull off when pulling out footage of Hiroshima after the nuclear attack).

9. Hustle & Flow

Another movie I was prepared to dislike more than to like, in this case because it had been so heavily hyped by so many critics and media outlets. I tend to find that few movies can come close to living up to such hype. I don’t think this is a great movie, but it’s one of my favorites of the year because I thoroughly enjoyed watching just about every minute of it, perhaps especially the acting of Ludacris (his acting was one of the few things I found bearable about the similarly hyped Crash).

10. Kinsey

One of the few biopics that managed to avoid the tedious formula of telling a life through key episodes. Also, probably the only movie I’ve ever seen to convey a sense of social science research method for a popular audience through the clever technique of revealing much biographical detail through footage of Kinsey training research assistants in interview technique with himself as practice subject.

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