December 31, 2007

2007 Year-End Wrap-Up

There have been plenty of years which didn't have a strong field of finalists like this. I have managed to narrow it down to five. Here goes: Gone Baby Gone, Hot Fuzz, I Am Legend, Ratatouille, and There Will Be Blood.

BEST PICTURE: Ratatouille is easily my favorite picture of the year. Ratatouille has won the Golden Tomato award from Rotten Tomatoes for the best-reviewed movie of the year (96% positive!) It's too bad the Best Animated Feature category was added to the Oscars. What are the chances that another animated feature will ever compete in the Best Picture category (only Disney's Beauty & The Beast has ever been nominated) when the competition is less stiff in their little Animated ghetto?

BEST GENRE PIC: Detective thriller Gone Baby Gone edges out the Western 3:10 to Yuma and legal thriller Michael Clayton, but all three are excellent examples of their genres. Grindhouse is a fun experiment without any real emotional whallop.

BEST COMEDY: Hot Fuzz wins because I saw it three times in the theater. I like Knocked Up, Superbad, and The Simpsons Movie, but I haven't felt compelled to view them over and over. I rented both Knocked Up and Superbad on DVD, but I haven't gotten around to re-watching either of them.

BEST ACTION MOVIE: I was torqued up to see The Bourne Ultimatum ever since I saw the trailer where Jason jumps through the French window in mid-air. The rest of the movie doesn't let up the thrills. No Country for Old Men and I Am Legend both have exciting action set pieces, but are not non-stop action.

The SILENCE OF THE LAMBS AWARD goes to Zodiac, which, like Lambs, is a very good and very scary serial killer detective movie which came out in the spring. Unlike Lambs, Zodiac has been completely ignored by the annual awards, even though it scored a 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

NOTE: This post is dated December 31 even though I saw several 2007 movies in January 2008.

December 27, 2007

I Am Legend

A superb speculative future thriller, and a career peak for Will Smith. The trailers and TV spots would lead you to believe that this movie is Will Smith Versus The Chalk-Faced Goons, but it's more like Cast Away than a zombie movie or vampire tale.
Smith is Dr. Robert Neville, and he has been alone on Manhattan, his own fully stocked desert isle, for three years. Smith and his German Shepherd Sam travel the island like any other wilderness, farming, hunting...and defending themselves from the rabid, cannibalistic, heliophobic "humans" who hide in the shadows by day and go wilding at night. There are thousands of these "Dark Seekers" on the island with Smith, so why does he remain on what was the most densely populated island on Earth? Neville was a Army scientist who was indirectly responsible for failing to contain the deadly virus which killed 90% of human life on Earth. A thousand days have passed, and Neville lives on only to try and cure what's left of the human race.
It's not really an action movie. But there are several thrilling and scary sequences which avoid cheap thrills for quietly satisfying ones. Even when you know there's a monster around the corner, it scares us in a fair and satisfying way.
Will Smith carries the weight of this movie on his shoulders alone, and completely succeeds. He spends most of the movie thinking to himself, examining the world around him, and talking to his dog. When he eventually unravels, he does so in a convincing manner, so we believe his poor judgment is honest instead of a screenwriting convenience.
A brief note about the dog: Abby plays the German Shepherd Samantha, and she's wonderful. Whatever great lengths the trainers and Smith went through to make Smith and Abby act like best friends, it works. The whole audience fell in love with her.
We are told nearly nothing about what happened in Manhattan between 2007 and 2012. We are shown exactly what the result is, and the results are spectacularly real-looking. This visualization is a thoughtful and precise idea of what it might look like if all the people were removed from the biggest city in the world. It was kinda creepy that we never saw even one dead body, not one skeleton anywhere. I don't know why they decided to make that creative choice, but it was a little distracting. The city has been emptied, but not in a UFO abduction kind of way: the city looks like it died out over time, and now Nature is taking back all it can. I didn't think much about "how did they shoot this", and we can thank the sound designers for that- the sounds guys removed all city sounds, indeed, all man-made sounds, and replaced them with lots of birdsong and nature sounds, but not in a overwhelming way.
I am a little disappointed in the truncated character development of the chalk-faced goons, specifically the Alpha male who seems to risk his life and stages a vendetta against Neville after Neville traps and captures a female goon. Neville writes off his irrational behavior as the last vestiges of humanity finally being stripped away, but there's further character development which is not completely explored. It made for good post-movie conversation!
Who wielded the megaphone for this fine movie? I had never heard of Francis Lawrence. I had to look him up online: Lawrence is a former music video director who has only helmed one feature film before: the mediocre, effects-heavy graphic novel adaptation Constantine. This is not a hope-inspiring pedigree! For every music video director who turned into a above-average movie director (Spike Jonze, David Fincher), there's a pile of Russell Mulcahys out there. Who knows if Lawrence can make another good movie, but I Am Legend was directed with intelligence and finesse I was not expecting.

December 22, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

A finely observed mockery of stale Hollywood music biographies, Walk Hard is most pointed in its parody of the two most recent overrated biopics: Ray and Walk The Line. I have taken issue with those two movies in this blog before, and I was supremely pleased to see someone with a camera and a budget address my grievances on the big screen.
But is it funny? The biopic jokes are snarkily funny, and the music jokes are nudge-nudge funny, but the movie doesn't bust a gut the way the best of Will Ferrell's do. I was holding this movie up to the standard set by Will Ferrell in his similar movies Anchorman and Talladega Nights. John C. Reilly's fantastic performance as Ricky Bobby's sycophantic sidekick driver in Talladega Nights proved that he could carry his own movie. He is very funny, sings well, and nails the characterization perfectly. I don't know the cause of the weakness in the laughs? The cast is packed with great talent: Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, and Chris Parnell are all superb. I was a little underwhelmed by Jenna Fischer. My friend Mandy pointed out that she doesn't lend any of her own personality or humor to the role of Darlene Madison, the virtuous singer whom Cox romances. She played the part on the page note for note, but there was more potential there which should have been realized.
I am going to lay the blame on second-generation movie director Jake Kasdan. I was singularly underwhelmed by his movies Orange County and The TV Set. Kasdan, age 33, is the son of Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill).