Monday, April 28, 2008

2007 - A Brilliant Year in Movies

I am not a movie historian. I am a fan though. And I have come to the conclusion that the critics and film historians who have made claims about year 2007 being a brilliant year for movies, are absolutely correct.

In going through a collection of last years movies, you cannot help but agree with them. Its a selection of movies which has a lot of originality, includes some excellent adaptations from books and stage, has a few films which worked within existing formulae and managed to unearth something new. All in all, an excellent year for films, and I havent even seen all the good ones!

I would want to start this list with Michael Clayton, the Tony Gilroy directed, Sydney Pollack produced, George Clooney starred, the Lord Shiva blessed and Tom Wilkinson owned movie which twists the corporate espionage genre on its head. Not by the brilliance of its plot, which to be honest, is not ground-breakingly different from movies like The Insider and Erin Brockovich, but through its stunning script and brilliant performances. The movie captivates from the first scene, and Clooney, Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton's performances carry it through to the end. The beginning has to be one of the best sequences in recent times, with visuals showing the plush interiors of a giant American legal firm while you listen to a perhaps half-crazed ramblings of a corporate lawyer gone a bit loony (Tom Wilkinson). What follows is an investigation, not only into the crimes which the law firm is trying to cover up, but also into the morality of human nature. Clooney does a star turn, but with enough soul as the title character. But who can forget Tom Wilkinson as he resoundingly pronounces - "I am Shiva, the god of death". Not quite factual, from a Hinduism point of view, but a great quote anyway!
(Sadly, I read the news of the passing away of Sidney Pollack the day this post was finally ready for publishing. RIP)

Follow that one up with a trip to the Texas-Mexico border with one of the best psycho performances of recent times. The Coen Brothers have made many excellent films, and this is their ode to the westerns, with a touch of noir to it. I have been a fan from the time I saw "Miller's Crossing" in my school days, and later movies like "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother Where Art Thou?" just went on to build their reputation as movie-makers whose work always carries huge expectations. This time around, they got help from Cormac McCarthy's very cinematic book, and I personally felt that the Coen's just needed to put in visuals what Cormac had written. Nevertheless, great performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin makes this movie something of a classic.

And then there is "There will be blood", Paul Thomas Anderson's film based on Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil". Excellent period film, raw depiction of the beginnings of capitalism and at the same time that it shows the evils of capitalism, it also reveals the hypocrisy hidden under blind religious faith. Again, this movie owes as much to its lead performers as it does to the director. Daniel Day Lewis is perhaps one of the most iconic performers of his generation, and he finds a brilliant foil in Paul Dano, who plays the local priest. In fact, Dano is so good, he actually manages to steal a few of Daniel's scenes! His performance is one of the unheralded triumphs of the year.

Moving on to "Atonement", yet another book adaptation. This was perhaps one of the most affecting movies of the year, and also - come to think of it - one of the few of the top movies which was basically a love story. There are the tragic, star-struck lovers who are destined to be kept apart by the vile villain. But the twist is in the villain. Whats really affecting is the shattering consequences of a small misunderstanding which ultimately results in tragedy. Its again very strongly acted by Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and the 13 yr old Saoirse Ronan. Ian McEwan, who's book is the basis for this movie, is not one of my favourite authors. But this movie made me want to read the book.

2007 also saw Ben Affleck go behind the camera as the director of "Gone, Baby, Gone", yet another movie adapted from a book. This one is adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name. Ben Affleck has earlier shown his talent as a writer, collaborating with Matt Damon on "Good Will Hunting", but the years since that movie has probably caused most people to think that Matt was the brains behind that success! But Ben does a good job of proving his detractors wrong, creating a gritty account of the investigation after a child goes missing. The mother seems to be more interested in seeing herself on the TV news, the cops are not getting anywhere, so its Lehane's well known private eye pair of Kenzie and Gennaro who are called in by the missing child's aunt. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play the detectives, and Casey practically steals the movie from other players like Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. The acting genes in the Affleck family definitely found their way to the younger brother. But we will definitely wait for Ben's next directorial effort.

Continuing the list, we reach one of the best animated movies from recent years, "Ratatouille". The tale of a rat that loves to cook - and is darned good at it - and a restaurant garbage boy, who together form the greatest culinary partnership in Paris, makes a movie not just for the tiny tots, but for their parents too. Skillfully made by Brad Bird, who also directed 'The Incredibles", the animation is lively and the story is captivating and imaginative. There are no unneccessary mushy songs like other animated movies, to break the flow of the story. Not to mention the delicious looking dishes, which inevitably make you hungry!

And then there's 'Juno', the story of a pregnant teenager who makes the life-altering decision to keep the child rather than abort it. But the film does not focus on the decision itself, instead it focuses on Juno and her marvellously gutsy attitude of never feeling sorry for herself. Right from the starting scene which shows Juno downing a whole gallon of orange juice so that she can take another pregnancy test ASAP, makes you connect with her and root for her. She definitely does not treat this as the end of the world, instead deciding to grin and bear it matter-of-factly for the next 9 months, taking it one problem at a time, and then get on with her life. Ellen Page as Juno was excellent.

Thats the list of movies I managed to see. And though its half-way through 2008, I figured its not that late to put up this list anyway. Bloggers gotta work too! There are a few more which have been received very well by audiences and critics, but i am yet to catch them! A few of those would be I'm Not There, Before the devil knows you are dead, Zodiac, The diving bell and the butterfly and American Gangster. Will keep posting reviews as and when I catch these.