10. Perfume: Story of a Murderer
You could guess from the title - Perfume is the story of a murderer. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a unique monster, a man who can smell the most incredible things. His nose is more powerfulthan anyone else's and he becomes obsessed with cataloguing the scents of the world - capturing the sublime essences that are transitive and make him despair for their loss. He has no conscience, and possibly no soul but for his appreciation of his strongest sense. He is a man without any scent of his own, making him a strange kind of beast. Perfume is a beautiful film with fine performances from some unexpected stars - Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman both perform great parts in the film. Ben Whishaw was the surprise of the movie though, performing the monster Grenouille with amazing acuity. The film's biggest star though is its cinematography. The film is obsessed with scent and smell, and as we cannot smell what is on film, we have to be cued visually and tricked into understanding the sublime nature of a sense we can't package like vision. I can only imagine how challenging this must have been, but the film succeeds beyond all imagination and is almost a sensory overload. If the story starts to stretch credibility towards the end and move further into fantasy territory, it never fails you with the visuals. This movie makes poo covered streets look beautiful. It all plays out like a grim fairytale in pre-Revolution Paris. And like a fairytale it has a suitably macabre ending. It never fails to capture your imagination however.
9. The Fountain
The Fountain is one of the most amazing meditations on love and obsession I've ever seen. It is a beautiful movie with interlocking narratives of past, present and future - but also of fiction and meta-fiction and reality. It twists your expectations dozens of times over and delivers heartbreakingly real performances from Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. It was a miracle the movie was made at all - but thank goodness it was. There were complaints from people who couldn't follow the story - which I found surprising as the only thing I had any "trouble" with ("trouble" being defined as finding myself in deep thought about the many interpretations the moment could have, which is hardly trouble at all and should be rebranded as "fascination") was the very ending, when the three seperate narratives of the man and his wife in the present day, the conquistador and his Queen in the 16th century, and the man floating in the bubble with the giant tree in space all blended together to tie everything into the same story. If the ultimate conclusion is somewhat esoteric however, it doesn't change the beauty, honesty and compassion that pervades the rest of this film. When people try to tell me genre film and sci-fi is irrelevent and not worthwhile - this is the kind of film I want to make them watch. To sweeten the deal, it was filmed with great love and attention, and every scene is colour-drenched and gorgeous.
"This... is... a Review!!!!" Yeah, sorry about that, the "This is...!!" jokes got old about two minutes after the film came out. 300 is one of those films that wins for style over substance, for the amazing ability to exist for no other reason than to look amazing and invoke whispers of "Cooooooooooolllll" from awe-stricken teens. Hell, I'm in my mid 20's and it still got quite a few "Coooooooooollll"s from me too! 300 is a film about men in leather undies wielding long hard spears, speaking in impossibly masculine one-liners, battling evil slightly androgynous giants. The movie is hyper-stylistically shot, the period design made for awesomeness not accuracy and every single nipple is erect at all times, as though a constant state of readiness pervades all, no moment is so dull as to allow the nipples to flatten into their default state. It makes me wonder what it was like before each scene - did everyone have to pinch their nipples erect before the director called "action"? Was there someone brought in specially to do it for them? And would that person put such an experience on their resume? Regardless of that, the movie is an adrenalin packed exercise in aesthetic. You won't find a deep story or plot here, just stacks of slow motion fights, perfectly sculpted torsos doing battle, and the odd extra boob to poorly disguise the rampant homoeroticism just in case some of the crowd is uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Really, if I hadn't wanted to talk about nipples, I could have just summed up this whole review with that earlier word - "cooooooooooolllll!"
7. The Host
This is the first of two Korean films in this list. The Host is a unique movie - a giant monster horror comedy family drama - genre bending in every conceivable way. Oh, and it comes with a strong political message. What excites me about Korean, and for that matter most foreign cinema is that they are not as culturally entrenched in form and structure as we are with our films. OUr genres determine the outcomes. You can't have a comedy where everyone dies, or a drama where every character is outrageous and over the top. The Host starts as a family comedy farce that suddenly turns into an exciting giant monster movie, that becomes a drama that becomes a thriller that becomes a political thriller that becomes a tragedy. The statements made about the US within the region are strong and pull no punches. It is all shot in vivid, colourful detail, making more use of the colour palette then you'd expect for this kind of film. The Host is not only a brilliantly entertaining film, but it constantly defies your expectations and surprises you.
6. Knocked Up
Knocked Up surprised me for a multitude of reasons. It surprised me because underneath the vulgarity it was a character driven comedy, not just a long series of gross jokes. It surprised me because it captured something of the essence of relationships today and particularly the nature of men today (as referenced in this interesting article). It showed accurately to me the disenfranchisement and lack of maturity in the average male in his 20's. Seth Rogan made his loveable loser character work however improbably with Katherine Heigl's gorgeous driven better half because their goals and motivations - and most importantly, their compromises - were believable. It's a film that is mostly told from a guy's POV, leading to occassional critiques of the film as sexist. Yet I consider it significant that while it shows the "man-children" in their native habitat and represents it as good fun, the major male characters are actually forced to confront the fact that their lifestyle cannot last forever, and that needing to grow up does not mean needing to give up. For me, Pete and Debbie's relationship is more interesting than Ben and Alison's. Pete in particular is interesting because he is trying to be the responsible adult, but he is also a young man still - like all young men, he needs time to himself and time to indulge his childishness - his games of fantasy baseball and slipping away to watch movies by himself - they're his form of escapism, where he can lose the responsibilities of his life. But he is so narcissistic in his needs, he forgets that his wife needs that time as well. For the relationship study alone, for watching men have to grow up and take responsibity for their lives and the people who depend on them - this is top notch humour with a real life punch.
This is my unashamed schmoopy side speaking here. I adore this film for a multitude of reasons. It is the closest thing to a successor to The Princess Bride as I've seen - an irreverent fairytale that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a lovely romance that makes me smile like a big dork. It has all the wit you'd expect from a Neil Gaiman story (albeit an adapted screenplay by a different writer). It is jsut such pure entertainment and joy that I find it's infectious. I really liked it when I saw it at the cinema, but then afterwards it grew and grew in my mind till I found myself desperate to see it again. Now I have it on DVD, and sure enough it is as great as I was building it to be. A beautiful movie that I love to death, and don't particularly care if the rest of you don't.
4. No Country for Old Men
This film was poetry and violence all at once. It had such a beautiful elegance that it was always captivating, even in its quietest moments. The film is about three men - Llewellyn Moss, the hunter who finds a field full of dead drug dealers and a suitcase full of cash. He takes the cash, knowing full well that doing so means trouble. There's Anton Chigurh, the assassin sent to find the cash. I guarantee you will not see anyone scarier in a movie this year (with the possible exception of Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth. But then, he is scary for very different reasons). Then there's Ed Tom Bell, the weary ageing sheriff who is watching the old ways completely shift and change in front of him. The film is a reflection on age, self-destruction, and the inability to escape your own nature. Ed's inability to adapt to a new world yet complete inability to just stop and retire - Llewellyn's inability to just give up the money and run - and Chigurh's inability to find mercy or compassion, even when there are easier ways out, even when his choices aren't even relevant anymore. This whole film seems to be a meditation on inevitability. It also serves as a tense, exciting thriller - the spare action scenes amp up the tension better than any action movie has for years. The lack of a score through the entire film was also a contributing factor to the film - things just happen without fanfare or musical cues. It makes every violent moment stand out all the more. The most criticised thing I've seen about this film is people complaining there is no real conclusion - the movie kind of just ends, there is no showdown between the three men - what in a different movie would have been the climactic moments of the film happen off screen. Yet as another I read of this film said, if you are complaining about there being no showdown - then you've missed the point of this film. The best performances I've seen all year were in this film by all three leading men - they really were that good. This is a brilliant movie and everyone should see it.
Oldboy is shocking because it is relentless. It is quintessentially Korean, the kind of story that you owon't ever see told in Western cinema. A man is abducted and locked away for 20 years in a single room, with nothing but a television to interact with. He teaches himself to fight by imitating the scenes on the television and beating himself against the walls, hardening himself. His speech changes into the strange combination of archetype and cliche that television produce. He swears vengeance on his captors. Then one day, he is let out... what happens from there is a darkly humerous, yet wholly terrifying visceral journey through one man's journey for vengeance. This isn't some kind of Kung Fu movie where revenge is honourable - revenge is something that has consequences, and we learn that the main character isn't the only person with grudges to settle... the revelations this film threw at me were genuinely horrifying, and I watched in complete shock as the film pushed through to its conclusion. This is NOT a happy ending, let me assure you of that much folks - it's dark and wrong. Yet it's wholly appropriate in a strange way. The violent scenes in this movie will make some of you squirm, but this amazing meditation on the nature of revenge told via a dark, twisted narrative has to be experienced to be understood. See it if you can, but know that it is extreme, and not for the faint of heart.
2. Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo Del Toro's beautiful adult fairytale is sumptuously shot, evocatively told, and plays on all of your senses, evoking a sense of awe with every powerful moment. Though it is a tale of Ofelia, a small child it is NOT a children's movie - when her vicious military stepfather beats a peasant to death with the blunt end of a bottle in cold merciless fashion you straight away click on to the fact that this is a movie for adults. The movie is an effective period piece, evoking Spain in the civil war perfectly. It is also a well-drawn character portrait of several different people. The blending of such harsh reality with such eloquent, evocative, gorgeous fantasy is what elevates this film though - proof positive that genre isn't a dirty word. The scenes blend nightmare and fey perfectly. They challenge the viewer to see the cruel world through the eyes of an innocent child. They steal your breath and break your heart. This film packs the biggest emotional punch of the year. The spaniards have had a good year as the next entry also proves!
1. Children of Men
Alfonso Cuaron's subtly-sci-fi thriller can be appreciated on many levels. The first thing that sticks out is the incredible attention to detail. This dystopian future society, where humans have lost the ability to reproduce is brilliantly realised and evoked not by convoluted exposition, but by the background, the things that aren't in the centre of the frame. Most sci-fi is bogged down with it's own weight, but Children of Men crafts a world by showing you characters in it. The second thing that comes across is the gentle wit - the pathos and sadness of this world doomed to end. Humanity breathing its last gasps - but taking time to wryly commentate on it. If the world were ending around me I know I would be trying to make jokes too, however hollow they rang. The tension comes third - when hope is offered in the form of a mother and child, the first child born in 20 years - the race to get her and the child to safety is on. The world is falling apart around them however, and the desperation to get the baby out of harm's way becomes increasingly difficult. Finally, there is the amazing technical accomplishment. With enormously long single take shots eating into large portions of the film, you can't help but marvel at the amazing production design and choreography that allows hundreds of extras, live special effects, stunts and the performances of the leads take place simultaneously, in shots that continue for as long as fifteen minutes. This is brave, audacious filmmaking, forcing the audience to follow with the action and never have the veneer of film cuts and artifice to hide behind. Children of Men is the best film of 2007 without a doubt in my mind.
Tony Jaa is one of the world's most incredible athletes who believes in doing movies made in his home country of Thailand that speak of its cultural heritage. He is a master of Muay Thai, but also of dance and would be a formidable Parkour exponent. Ong Bak, his breakthrough film saw some of the most incredible action ever caught on screen - his incredible abilities making it one of the best movies of that year, despite it being badly shot and soundtracked poorly. The Protector is shot much better and more capably, and again draws attention to a Thai issue - that of dwindling elephant numbers and the brutes who abduct them. In this film, Jaa plays a traditional descendent of the line of men who raised and tended elephants for the King, who would learn Muay Thai and martial arts to do battle at the elephant's feet so that they could protect the elephants while the were ridden into battle. What I LOVE about this movie is that 80% of it takes place in Australia - and every Australian who isn't a random bystander is a bad guy. Everywhere you go an evil Australian guy is there waiting to get his arse kicked. I love other cultural perspectives! The action scenes in this movie are predictable incredible - Kudos must especially go to the four minute long single take ascent through a motel, kicking Aussie arse all the way. I watched a special feature on the DVD just about that scene, and saw all the work going into each take. It's an incredible achievement. The movie wasn't quite good enough for the Top Ten - it has a tendency to not bother with plot, having characters do things for no reason to go from action scene to action scene. Still - how many other movies can you watch over 30 men have their arms systematically broken and see a baby elephant get tossed across a room by a very large, burly Aussie bloke?
Incredible animation is what most people remember about this movie. What I took away from it was a fascinating epic tale that dealt with the hubris of great men. It wasn't the kind of movie that will change your world, but it still looked amazing from the technical standpoint - AND it worked as a piece of dramatic fiction. A worthy adaptation of the original poem as well, though there are certainly plenty of liberties taken in filling the gaps of the story.
Blades of Glory
It didn't have the pathos and real life connections of Knocked Up, but Blades of Glory was probably funnier. Will Ferrel is fantastic when he's on form (hit and miss otherwise) and in this movie he's fantastic, playing exactly the kind of character that tickles my funny-bone. Jon Heder is also fantastic as the slightly effeminite offsider. What I love in this film about two men iceskating together is it never takes the easy jokes - this could have been one shitty gay joke after another, but rather than exploit it for homophobic humour it draws the campness and the inherent absurdity out through action. By not taking the obvious jokes, this movie is elevated into high farce. When they climactically skate to Queen's theme from 'Flash Gordon', you know instantly that the filmmakers understand the joke. There are so many fantastic one liners spawned in this movie. It's hilarious.
Death at a Funeral
Death at a Funeral was a wonderful British film, the kind of movie that could have been a great stageplay as well. It's a traditional drawing room comedy that steps into the much naughtier present day. It's a movie of fantastic supporting parts, a true ensemble cast that bring their characters to life. It hung around like a bad smell at my local cinema for months and months and months, demonstrating the kind of crossover appeal that few films get. A fantastic comedy.
A good film if a heavy handed one, anchored by brilliant performances and characters that make it easier to forgive some of the story. Blood Diamond has a good premise and message to make. Unfortunately, it also wants to talk about every bad thing in Africa at the moment. Everything it raises is a good point that deserves to be made - but all of it compressed into one film turns it into a road journey across Africa with long disconnected segments from the overarching story. In my original review of this film I described the ending of the film as a "babysitter's club" ending, and I kind of stand by that. A major character's death is turned into a saccharine, silly moment instead of having the impact it could of, and the whole "teaching the evil white man a lesson" finish was uplifiting I guess, but false hope - the end titles proceed to hammer home the message that things are still shithouse. I think the movie could have expressed this just as powerfully as placards personally - and indeed, after all that came before I think it should have. I don't think I've seen many movies where I think they're morally obliged to have an unhappy ending, but this is one of them. Edward Zwick is a sentimental filmmaker - and a preachy one. Too many action scenes and flashing neon signs saying "NOw Look at THIS terirble thing!" undid the overall feel of the film. Nevertheless, as I said - the message is important, the performances are still fantastic, and as an adventure with a message this is a great film.
Stranger Than Fiction
Stranger than Fiction proved that Will Ferrel can do a convincing straight man role. He is completely believable in this film of meta-theatricality. This was a sweet movie with a very clever and well executed premise. Emma Thompson is absolutely brilliant, and I'm a little bit in love with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Dustin Hoffman plays an hilarious part in this film and does it admirably, even if he isn't as compelling as the female support cast. The film is about a man who starts hearing a voice narrate his life. Every action he takes, there is a new narration. Then, abruptly, his death is foreshadowed. Terrified, he tries to work out whether this is real, whether he is real, and how he can save his own life. It's a lovely film that aspires for the same heights as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and comes very close if not quite there.
It's been a good year for SciFi. This was an excellent addition to the genre that blew me away visually, taking interesting risks with camera work and esoteric visual choices. It jumps the shark in plot towards the end, heading a bit too close to 'Event Horizon' territory, but prior to that is a tense, character driven film. Yet another example of why genre filmmaking is capable of brilliance.