It’s already mid-January and we’re still doing lists. Yeah, life is pretty when you’re procrastinating.
This list has been the subject of much debate, as to what movies are exactly eligible: some movies were much later released in Europe but already made their way throug other mediums (yeah the internet baby). Other movies were released in 2006 but have only made its way to my dvd player this year. Were these still eligible?
I have decided to not really care about these rules. This list is just about what I have seen this year. There are 2006 movies on the list and there are movies on the list that have a 2008 theatre release in Europe. And then there are all those 2007 movies I haven’t even seen: Boss of it All, Grindhouse, There Will Be Blood, Juno, Darjeeling Limited, Eastern Promises, Inland Empire, etc etc.
So this list is very limited, incomplete and very personal. It has not been an easy one either. Like every year, I bitch and moan about how much better TV is and this year is just the same. One thing I noticed over the past months that production-wise there have been beautiful beautiful films, but almost every time these movies fuckup their writing. Most shining example must be the Dylan biopic I’m Not There. Arguably it deserves best cinematography of the year, as well as best editing, but oh boy the screenplay. I’m tired of non-narrative movies that don’t make any sense. It’s truly the easy way-out.
So anyway shouts go to all these movies I liked but missed something, somewhere: The Prestige, Stardust, 3:10 to Yuma, Blades of Glory, Gone Baby Gone, Atonement, I’m Not There, This is England, Four Months Three Weeks Two Days and I am Legend.
And here’s the Ten Most Liked:
An animated movie on the number one position, is that still blasphemous these days? It is definitely different to judge because the whole acting aspect is so different.
Ratatouille is just about the only film on this list that truly represents the things I admire these days: a perfectly strong executed high-concept script, mixed with very well developed characters who have very broad appeal from the kids to the seniors to the moviebuffs. 3D animation truly learns the writer a lesson about how every single second matters in your script.
There is nothing fancy in the writing, nothing redundant. Everything seems clean, simple and down to the point but it’s overwhelmingly effective and joyful. I’m in awe of Brad Bird’s accomplishment. This is the second movie of his that blew me away. If he keeps this up, you have found your true auteur here and you may forget about all those other whimsical ones.
2. Notes on a Scandal
Notes on a Scandal really took my breath away when I first saw it. I was thinking it to be some boring, badly written drama about an English school but how foolish I was. I should note that along with Ratatouille, this is the only film on this list where I have nothing bad to say about the writing. Which is exactly the reason these two are number one and two. One might say I’m laying too much focus on the whole writing aspect and as that may, I fully acknowledge how writing is not everything. But it is much like the structural foundation of a house. Said house still has to be decorated or I’m not living in it. But if the structure doesnt provide a roof, or walls, or is totally unstable, you best run far away from that house.
Notes on the Scandal did quite the oppositie. It combines such a tightly written story with an amazing depth. Judi Dench was phenomenal and Cate Blanchett for once didn’t irritate me (I’m not her biggest fan, although I admit she’s really good at her job). The ending was small but oh so clever within this story. I wish I’d see more movies like this.
3. No Country for Old Men
The critic’s darling of the year and I must say there’s reason enough to praise No Country for Old Men. I was especially awed by the way they told their story by almost pure visual bravura. In a sense this was maybe their most Hitchcock-ian movie. Almost every major point in the story was told by watching the events unfold, there was hardly any dialogue that created the story. The suspense came from watching two men enter a room, knowing they were going to do bad things. Again no dialogue.
The whole movie was like watching two masters-at-work. I kept thinking no youngster could ever achieve this kind of visual mastery. You could feel the craftmanship, as if the Coens had worked thirty years to get at this point: being able to master their story in pictures. That’s probably why I was disappointed by the ending, where all of a sudden dialogue took over and tried to provide a very ambiguous ending. I sort of wished they had pushed their style and felt a little cheated at the end, which is probably the reason they ain’t number one.
We had been hyping Superbad among our little circle for months. Expectations were high and we probably liked the movie already ALOT before we had even seen it. Nonetheless it didn’t disappoint at all. I’m not sure this will be the definitive teen movie (as some have been calling it) but let’s say they do a very remarkable job in an already overcrowded genre. And let’s not forget these are the sort of movies which are very easily to hate. They are cheesy, have an inherently simplistic premise and portray not the most refined kind of people. Superbad however does an awesome job of combining these three things with enough heart, enough complexity and enough refinement.
I must admit I still prefer Freaks and Geeks above everything the Apatow clique has ever done. To me it is still their biggest accomplishment, even if the show was only at the cradle of all these recent output.
Superbad too relies heavily on the ingredients that made Freaks and Geeks so good, but that’s mainly meant as a compliment because they did it so well. And lest we not forget the surplus of Greg Mottola’s direction. He truly gave the story a much needed visual flavor that may have looked simple but was in fact very clever and beautifully done. That’s at least one major point I’ll give them over Freaks and Geeks.
5. You The Living
Should we be disappointed if we eat two days in a row exactly the same perfect dish? Probably not. Yet I was somehow disappointed with You The Living because it felt like almost exactly the same recipe as Songs From The Second Floor. And I know I shouldn’t really because yet again Roy Andersson does things I have never seen another director do. The mise-en-scene was yet again magnificent. The actors were awesomely cast. The camerawork was astounding. The jokes were once again brilliant. But ah the story!
You know this could have dragged on for another hour or another two hours or maybe you could have told this story in 45 minutes. This is never a good sign. And there lies the heart of my problem with You The Living. Somehow because this was the second dish, it all felt way muddier and incomprehensible.
This is still number five because Roy Andersson is still as genius as he ever was. But I’m slightly worried what the third dish is going to be. We hope it will make a little more sense.
6. The Departed
I had almost forgotten about The Departed when I started compiling this list. I think I saw it in January right after I made my 2006 list. This was another critic’s darling and again, I could see why. The first 40 minutes were brilliantly perfect cinema. The whole set-up of the two moles in each department, the antagonists, Boston, everything clicked together and the old master Scorsese just blew me away.
But then the script started to become too complex. And setups didnt become payoffs and things were left in the open, and everyone was a mole and people died randomly. There were just too many suspenses developing as we moved forward and they didn’t come together.
Problem is they tried to stay too closely to the trashy original Infernal Affairs script, which had too many plot twists to begin with.
The Departed is as good as everyone says it is but it overplays its screenwriting hand a bit too much. But the actors, the direction, production design, editing make it truly the classic movie it will become.
7. Knocked Up
Two Apatow clique movies this year, two are in my top ten. Do we have a crush on that little troupe? Yes, we have.
I posted some notes on Knocked Up a few months ago, where I kind of criticized the clique of writing thinly developed female characters. I still stand by those notes and it’s really the only thing which prevents me from putting this movie in the number one position.
As far as all the rest goes, these are the kind of movies I’m jealous of. The kind I’d like to make myself. The kind they made in the thirties and forties. If only Apatow would make these kind of movies as a screwball comedy with strong female leads, you’d probably have some sort of perfect comedy.
Together with The Departed, this was on most people’s 2006 list. But I wasn’t blown away by this as I was by Departed or No Country for Old Men. There is something about Babel that just isn’t working. It’s probably a structural problem, and I think it’s the root of the feud between writer and director.
I’m a fan of both these two man: Arriaga and Inarittu, and it’s hard to criticize one guy. They’re probably both the problem of what’s not working.
However, Babel scores this high because of the japanese storyline. I thought that was one of the most clever and touching stories I had seen in a while. Almost everything worked in that story for me and I wonder what would have happened if they had just made one movie out of that one storyline.
9. The Hills Have Eyes // Ils // Bourne Ultimatum
12 movies in a top 10 list!? Cheater!
Let me try and clarify why there are three movies on the number 9 spot. I had seen some interesting horror and thriller genre movies this year and I really wanted to have one in my top 10. The problem is I just couldn’t choose which of these three movies deserved that spot the most. They all have screenplay problems, BUT they excel in the action & suspense sequences.
So this number 9 spot is split in three, namely
– Best action choreography goes to the Hills Have Eyes. The scenes with a raving revengeful father trying to get his kid back by entering the mutant’s village were just amazing. This was The Shining meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a special french Aja way. Thrilling!
– Most intelligently creepy ending goes to Ils. What an awesome twist that was! Such a simple and effective movie and all this time I was wondering what the payoff was going to be. I was truly surprised in the catacombs. An intelligently creepy ending as I haven’t yet seen that much. I want to see more of this french directing duo.
– Best action suspense goes to the Bourne Ultimatum. I really loved all the action sequences, with the Metro station as the most effective and supenseful. Greengrass really knows how to captivate your mind with strong suspenseful action, bloody awesome job.
10. Stranger Than Fiction
Stranger Than Fiction has a great meta-premise (what if your actors can actually hear the movie’s voice-over talk?) and it worked far better than I had anticipated. The first 30 minutes or so were genuinely surprising, clever and entertaining.
The movie has been compared over and over with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: both use this sort of weird meta screenplay device, both have a big comedian in a dramatic role and both feature a romance.
I actually think the Stranger than Fiction premise works far far better as Eternal Sunshine did (which was truly the weak part of that movie), but the romance and the second act of Stranger Than Fiction makes the movie weaker.
There just isn’t enough chemistry between Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal and it’s a combination of dialogue, scenes and acting. Plus they should have written the Dustin Hoffman professor part out of the script.
However, for a great first 30 minutes, a good ending and a so-so second act, you make a movie that deserves number 10.