Films

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My Favorite Films in 2007

Okay, it’s taken me a little longer than I’d planned to get this Top 10 together, but here it is. As usual, I couldn’t stop at just 10, and my list expanded to 15 top films of the year. I also created a Top 10 Festival films that have yet to receive theatrical release.

Top Films of 2007 (with theatrical distribution)

  1. PROTAGONIST (Jessica Yu) – Jessica Yu’s documentary is compelling, intelligent, layered, funny, suspenseful… all the things a great movie should be. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a documentary as my favorite film of the year, but that just tells you how impressed I am by this film.
  2. LINDA LINDA LINDA (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – As far as sheer crowd-pleasers go, LINDA LINDA LINDA tops the list. Japanese high school girls in a power-pop, rock ‘n roll band, led by the comic genius of Du-na Bae. And one of the most infectious songs in a movie ever. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
  3. AWAY FROM HER (Sarah Polley) – Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut is a masterful look at Alzheimer’s disease, crowned by an elegant performance by Julie Christie. Add to that the outstanding support from Gordon Pinsent, the grossly underrated and amazingly talented Kristen Thompson and source material in the form of an Alice Munro short story, and you’ve got a winner.
  4. LARS & THE REAL GIRL (Craig Gillespie) – A quirky town comes together in support of one of their emotionally troubled citizens in this melancholy, sweet, and hysterical film. Ryan Gosling completely overcomes my personal bias against him and wins me over completely. Support work from Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and especially Patricia Clarkson is like the best cream cheese icing on the moist, delicious cake.
  5. JUNO (Ivan Reitman) – Sure, it has crossed over and is raking in the dough. Sure, some people say it’s not truly an indie, but a powerhouse backed by an astronomical marketing budget. JUNO is a great film. Diablo Cody has written a strong, funny screenplay, and the preternaturally talented Ellen Page brings Juno to beautifully sublime life. I’m not sure anyone else could have taken Juno and imbued her with the depth and complexity that Ellen Page brings in such a subtle and gorgeous way.
  6. THE WAYWARD CLOUD (Tsai Ming-Liang) – In this sort-of sequel to Tsai Ming-liang’s masterpiece, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? we see two emotionally distant, isolated people tentatively find each other only to be confronted with a climax that will either tear them hopeless apart, or perhaps cement their relationship. All that, and it’s a musical too!
  7. WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly) – Adrienne Shelly comes into her own as a director with this sadly sweet portrait of a young woman trapped in a dead-end relationship, and now facing an unwanted pregnancy. Shelly imbues her screenplay with humor and a gravity that keeps the sweetness from becoming too cloying.
  8. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes) – Todd Haynes’ sprawling pseudo-biopic of Bob Dylan is not perfect, but it’s so exciting in its audaciousness that I am compelled to include it on my year-end list. Six different actors portray different aspects of Dylan’s personae to form a fascinating mosaic of the sphinx-like celebrity. Ambitious and largely successful.
  9. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson) – Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, left me with giddy with excitement for hours… even days after seeing it. This portrait of a man obsessed, played with perfect, over-the-top bravura by Daniel Day-Lewis is so flat-out weird, it almost feels like a trick that the critics are all praising it and urging mainstream audiences to go take a look. And it has spawned a cultural quote which, taken out of context, is just insane, “I drink your milkshake!”
  10. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (Noah Baumbach) – I wasn’t a terribly huge fan of Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID & THE WHALE, but something about this intensely introspective study of a pair of dysfunctional sisters clicked with me. And I love seeing Nicole Kidman in great movies. She needs to find more of them. Or maybe I just included it to irritate Hilary.
  11. THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS (Isabel Coixet) – Sarah Polley showed her directorial skills, but I always thrill to see her well-documented acting ability, and Isable Coixet’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS gives her plenty of opportunity to strut her stuff. Despite the severe dialogue misstep in the penultimate scene of the movie, every other aspect works to perfection. And it’s a wonder of story-telling and acting when 7/8 of the way into the film, Polley performs a lengthy monologue that completely changes the tone of the film and drives it through your heart.
  12. THE BUBBLE (Eytan Fox) – Eytan Fox is an intriguing filmmaker, whose work I always love but doesn’t quite translate to a masterpiece. THE BUBBLE is certainly his closest yet, about three young friends living in Tel Aviv and how even in their bubble of apolitical life, the political conflicts around them intrude. A beautiful look at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the way a new generation views it.
  13. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (Tsai Ming-Liang) – Tsai Ming-Liang is the master of telling stories about isolated people using images and very few words. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE is gorgeous in its simplicity. The subtle touches of humor accent the somber stories almost to the point of absurdity, and this audacious mix rewards viewers every time.
  14. GRBAVICA: THE LAND OF MY DREAMS (Jasmila Zbanic) – In a fashion more straight-forward but no less powerful, Zbanic covers similar ground to Coixet in THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS. The horror endured by thousands during the Balkan Wars is easy to overlook or forget globally, but daring filmmakers such as these two amazing women won’t let these historical facts fade into obscurity. By focusing on a fractured mother-daughter relationship, Zbanic shows the aftermath of this war and how it affects survivors in the most personal of ways.
  15. THE KIING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (Seth Gordon) – In what is surely the most entertaining film of the year, Seth Gordon explores a sub-culture of video gamers that is filled with stereotypes, both reinforced and smashed. There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s a titanic conflict of epic proportions in this intensely enjoyable documentary.

Other films that almost made the top list, but I couldn't squeeze them on: ONCE, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, RED ROAD, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, EXILED, FAY GRIM, and STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING.

Best Festival Films of 2007 (not yet released theatrically in the U.S.)

  1. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (Bruce McDonald) – If Ellen Page grounded the sitcom antics in JUNO, she unites the visually hyperactive, fragmented mosaic that is THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS lifting it to dramatic heights. What’s it like to be literally in the mind of a troubled young adolescent? Bruce McDonald and Ellen Page give us a peek in a film that blends visual and aural over-stimulation in a way that reminded me of a cross between LILYA 4-EVER and PI.
  2. JELLYFISH (Shira Geffen; Etgar Keret) – In one of the most masterful uses of magical realism and whimsy in film, this Israeli import looks at disappointment is a way that is powerfully moving and contemporary using a variety of unique storylines to tell a coherent tale. Chlotrudis co-presented this film at the BJFF after several of us saw it in Toronto. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to see it when it is released Stateside this spring.
  3. MONKEY WARFARE (Reg Harkema) – Bitingly humorous, and surprisingly moving, MONKEY WARFARE is grounded by the performances of its two talented leads: Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. Add to the mix a fresh performance by Nadia Litz, and Harkema’s terrifically spot-on screenplay, and you’ve got all the workings for a unique and entertaining film.
  4. MY WINNIPEG – All of Guy Maddin’s considerable talents come together in this faux documentary of the city of Winnipeg, that is actually something of a memoir of Maddin himself. MY WINNIPEG successfully combines Maddin’s fantastical visuals with his offbeat humor to create a piece of work that Chlotrudis will be proud to co-present at this April’s IFFB (hopefully along with THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS).
  5. THE VISITOR (Thomas McCarthy) – McCarthy follows-up the Chlotrudis success of THE STATION AGENT, with a film that elegantly examines the politically-charged topic of illegal immigration in a way that focuses on the personal and familial relationships that suffer as a result of deportation. Richard Jenkins is phenomenal as the understated lead, and Hiam Abbass, so divine in so many international films is a wonder in a rare American production.
  6. A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – In a series of episodic tales, this gently beautiful adaptation of a popular Japanese manga focuses on a small group of school-age children living in a tiny village. With an innocence rarely seen in contemporary society, GENTLE BREEZE will take you away on a soothing zephyr to a land that may seem hopelessly imaginary, yet somehow manages to exist.
  7. BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (Laurie Lynd) – This Canadian adaptation of a young adult novel explores family dynamics when the family in question has two dads and an unexpected child. This sweetly funny film manages to avoid most film clichés even while it uses them to tell a story that reaches beyond sexuality to appeal to any film viewer.
  8. BRICK LANE (Sarah Gavron) – Talented filmmaker Sarah Gavron offers up her first feature narrative with such a command of film language that you might be tempted to think she’s been at this for a long time. If there is a drawback in this adaptation of an internationally best-selling novel, it’s that the screenplay doesn’t take more chances, but Gavron certainly does, focusing in on the heart of the story of a family of Indian immigrants struggling to make their lives in England.
  9. HELP ME EROS (Lee Kang-sheng) Tsai Ming-liang’s perpetual leading man, Lee Kang-sheng, is not only an accomplished actor, but a talented filmmaker as well. Lee wrote and directed HELP ME EROS, a powerful portrait of a man calling out for help as he spirals out of control, indulging in heavy marijuana smoking and sexual antics after losing his fortune in a bad stock market decision. Like his mentor, Lee mines the territory of alienation with masterful assurance, and gives us a cinematic conclusion that will take your breath away.
  10. PLOY (Pen-ek Ratanaruang) – This follow-up to the magnificent LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE explores many similar themes and employs a more subtle dreamlike quality that serves to both confuse and tantalize the viewer. With the principal characters suffering from jet lag, the introduction of the adolescent Ploy into their lives causes major seismic shifts that have either startling effects on their lives, or at the very least, their dreams.

Other festival films worth looking for upon release: PING PONG PLAYA’; AN AMERICAN CRIME; AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

DUCK SEASON Director in Berlin

I was just thinking about DUCK SEASON, a multiple Chlotrudis nominee from last year, and its director Fernando Eimbcke. It's exactly the type of film I love to see receiving a Chlotrudis nomination, much less several. DUCK SEASON scored nods in the Best Movie, Director, Supporting Actor and Ensemble Cast categories, and I bet 99% of the U.S. population has never heard of it.

Well Chlotrudis members and fans of the film, filmmaker Fernando Eimbcke has a new film and it screened this week at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival. Called LAKE TAHOE, GreenCine Daily has a review.

Chris Kriofske's Top Ten of 2007

I made a much more detailed, rambling post on my blog, but here's the gist:

1. There Will Be Blood
2. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
3. Away From Her
4. I'm Not There
5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
6. Persepolis
7. Day Night Day Night
8. The Host
9. No Country For Old Men
10. Brand Upon the Brain!

Honorable Mentions: Autism the Musical, Climates, The Golden Door, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, In The Shadow of the Moon, Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, Linda Linda Linda, The Lives of Others, Red Road

Best Festival Films (w/out US distribution): Audience of One, The Banishment, Monkey Warfare

Best Chlotrudis non-eligible: Ratatouille, Sweeney Todd, Superbad, Zodiac

Top Films of 2007: The Members Start to Speak

Every year around this time, Chlotrudis members report in on their Top 10's (or whatever) of the previous year. We're a little behind the press because our Nominating Committee meeting is usually the third week of January, and members try very hard to see as many films from the previous year as possible, so they hold off on their top films until they feel they've seen everything they can.

Member Peg Aloi is the first to send in her Top 10, so here it is!

Peg's Top Ten List for 2007 (not necessarily in order)

  1. THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (Ken Loach's most ambitious and stunning film to date.)
  2. PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER (Gorgeous, disturbing, epic literary adaptation from Tom Tykwer)
  3. ATONEMENT (Joe Wright's sumptuous adaptation Ian McEwan's smoldering love story. Drop-dead beautiful cinematography, wonderful editing and fine acting)
  4. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY aka LE SCAPHANDRE ET LE PAPILLON (Julian Schnabel creates half-formed visionscapes of color and light to tell the story of a jet-setting French magazine editor who suffers "locked-in syndrome" after a stroke; ostensibly a world-view via one eye-lid's movement, this film can irrevocably alter any viewer's perception of life, movement, fear, love, memory and regret.)
  5. LADY CHATTERLEY aka LADY CHATTERLEY ET L'HOMME DES BOIS (A satisfyingly erotic adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel, first made for French television by Pascale Ferran: authentic, rustic, arousing.)
  6. LA VIE EN ROSE aka LA MÔME (Marion Cotillard is white-hot and astonishing as the hard-living, self-destructive singing sensation Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan's beautifully-rendered biopic.)
  7. I'M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes' five-chambered non-linear fantasy is huge, lush and eminently watchable, with a playfully surreal approach to what is being called a biopic but is more accurately a wishful memoir: my favorite Dylan is the Richard Gere Dylan.)
  8. GLASTONBURY (Julian Temple directs this freewheeling documentary about England's famous long-running music festival. It’s not England's Woodstock, it's England's attempt to consistently capture a time of passionate, angry innocence.)
  9. FACTORY GIRL (George Hickenlooper directs Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick, and her performance is luminous and raw. As a biopic it is sometimes cock-eyed and treacly, but worthwhile, especially considering Guy Pearce's portrayal as the best Andy Warhol ever.)
  10. HOT FUZZ (Every corny cop movie ever made is referenced in this hilarious, brilliant action-horror flick. I can't wait to see what the team of Pegg, Frost and Wright does next, because it isn't likely another genre-based parody will work three times running.)

Honorable Mentions:

THE CASE OF THE GRINNING CAT aka CHATS PERCHÉS(Chris Marker's sweet, funny, quirky documentary, about a painted cat who pops up in neighborhood graffiti and on posters at protest rallies, is a quietly triumphant paean to the underdog, or in this case, undercat.

AFTER THE WEDDING aka EFTER BRÖLLOPE (Director Susanne Bier draws excellent performances from Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgård; this drama of family secrets and revelations is a roller-coaster of emotion that is thoughtful, depressing and, ultimately, uplifting.)

28 WEEKS LATER (No one expected a sequel to match the intensity and originality of Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's original, but this one works surprisingly well, successfully combining British and American cultural -isms to paint a scarily realistic picture of post-plague, martial-law-ruled London.

Addicted to Milkshake

I am totally addicted to I Drink Your Milkshake.

Of course all I do is go and listen to the sound file over and over.

It puts me in hysterics.

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS Official Trailer

So I haven't seen a U.S. distributor pick this one up yet (what are you waiting for?), but my hope is that if JUNO is a smash, THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS might have a shot. This was my top film of the Toronto International Film Festival. It stars the amazingly talented Ellen Page, who is about to become a star, and who I told in Toronto Chlotrudis was totally taking credit for her success in the States (which she was completely cool about). I don't know when you'll get to see THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS in the States (hopefully when we co-present it at the IFFB? Brian? Nancy? Adam?) but here's the nifty trailer. Oh, it's directed by that talented Canadian director, Bruce McDonald.

Upcoming Releases of Interest for Chlotrudis

The end of the year is always stuffed to the gills with new film releases deemed "award contenders," albeit the award most people think of involves a naked gold man rather than a cat on a stick. Still many of the releases are films that spark a lot of Chlotrudis interest. Here is a list of some of the films that Chlotrudis members will want to take note of in the waning weeks of Chlotrudis eligibility.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is director Noah Baumbach's follow-up to THE SQUID AND THE WHALE starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black. Chlotrudis honoree Tracy Wright gave this film high marks in Toronto, and that's enough for me! MARGOT AT THE WEDDING opens in Boston on November 21.

SMILEY FACE is director Gregg Araki's follow-up to MYSTERIOUS SKIN. Switching gears rom the intense drama from his Chlotrudis Award nominated film, SMILEY FACE is a light-hearted, stoner comedy starring Anna Farris.

I'M NOT THERE is Todd Haynes follow-up to the Chlotrudis Award winning FAR FROM HEAVEN. This one has gotten a lot of buzz, with six different actors playing aspects of the legendary Bob Dylan. I saw this on in Toronto, and I highly recommend it. Don't worry if you're not a huge Dylan fan, I'M NOT THERE is more about Todd Haynes than it is about Bob Dylan. And I will echo the other critics when I say you have got to see Cate Blanchett's performance to believe it. This one comes out next week in Boston as well.

THE SAVAGES is Tamara Jenkins' long-awaited follow-up to THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS and it should be of particular interest to Chlotrudis members as it stars Chlotrudis multiple award winning Philip Seymour Hoffman and multiple-nominee Laura Linney. THE SAVAGES opens in limited release at the end of November

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is director Julian Schnabel's follow-up to BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, and in addition to the positive reviews it has received on the festival circuit, it stars Chlotrudis nominee Mathieu Almaric, Emmanuelle Seigner most recently in LA VIE EN ROSE, and Marie-Josée Croze from ARARAT and THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY gets a limited release on November 30.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD is the much-anticipated new film from director Paul Thomas Anderson starring Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano. It squeaks in at the end of December with a NY/LA release, and hopefully will follow soon in Boston.

Toronto Ratings

Now that I've got all my day-to-day reports up, I thought I'd borrow Bruce's idea and list my films by rating. Only one 5 cat film, but plenty of 4 1/2 and 4 cat films making the overall experience a highly positive one.

5 cats

THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS

4 1/2 cats

I'M NOT THERE
JELLYFISH
JUNO
MY WINNIPEG
THE VISITOR

4 cats

BREAKFAST WITH SCOT
BRICK LANE
A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE
HELP ME EROS
PING PONG PLAYA'
PLOY
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING

3 1/2 cats

CHACUN SON CINÉMA
JUST LIKE HOME
THE LAST MISTRESS

3 cats

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE
SAD VACATION

2 1/2 cats

A JIHAD FOR LOVE
NORMAL
SILK
PHILIPPINE SCIENCE

1 1/2 cats

AMERICAN VENUS
RECLAIM YOUR BRAIN

Toronto Day 8 - Farewell Film Festival

Eight days is a long time to be spending watching movies, and I saw a respectable 24 films in that time frame. A little lighter than previous years, but I am getting older, and there were people to see and hang out with (far more important to me). Even though we were leaving Friday evening, we did manage to squeeze in two more films, and while we started the day with something of a dud, we did end the festival on a high note.

PHILIPPINE SCIENCE (The Philippines; 118)

director: Auraeus Solito

cast: Elijah Castillo, Gammy Lopez, Eugene Domingo, EJ Jalorrina, Shayne Fajutagana

Drawing on his own experiences as a science geek in high school, director Auraeus Solito draws a sweet film about an accelerated science and math high school in the Philippines. Solito caught my eye at 2006's Provincetown International Film Festival with his film about nascent gay desire, THE BLOSSOMING OF MAXIMO OLIVEROS which maintained a facade of innocent even when exploring the gritty streets of Manilla. In PHILIPPINE SCIENCE, Solito jettisons the grit (despite the inclusion of the atmosphere of martial law of the time) and the result is very similar to an after school special.

Like FAME, PHILIPPINE SCIENCE is broken up into four parts, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. There's a core group of students, and each year focuses on a different set. The issues that arise vary: Freshmen, don't waste your time on a girlfriend if you want to be in the Top 5; Sophomores, just because you can't cut it at Philippine Science, doesn't mean you're still not a winner... etc. Unfortunately, while the screenplay is a little clumsy, much of the acting is incapable of lifting the film higher. There are a few good performances, especially the woman who plays the freshman year science teacher, but many of the actors playing the students seem fairly amateurish. Still, I always enjoy seeing films from The Philippines, the country where my mother was born and raised.

I'M NOT THERE (USA; 135 min.)

director: Todd Haynes

cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore, David Cross

There's been a lot of buzz about Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic, especially after it's debut in Venice. Those who know me know that I am not a fan of the biopic, but ever the experimenter, Haynes turns the life of Dylan into something magical, complex, and mind-boggling. In I'm not there, seven stages of Dylan's is portrayed by six different actors, including a woman (Cate Blanchett) and a young, African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin). The different Dylans aren't literal representations of the legendary singer/songwriter, but representative of his persona at the time. Haynes offers scenarios that attempt to give some possible insight into a celebrity whose evolution challenged everyone, especially his truest fans.

I'm not sure if being a fan of Dylan, or knowing next to nothing about him will serve you better at this film. I knew next to nothing and I loved the film. I don't feel I know all that much more about Dylan after seeing the film, but that's not why I went to see the film. As a film, Haynes challenges the viewer visually, aurally, and through the intricate screenplay he co-wrote with Owen Moverman. There are touches of his earlier films peeking through in I'M NOT THERE, in fact, with this film it seems that Haynes wanted to correct the missteps he took with VELVET GOLDMINE.

A word about the acting. The hype is true. Cate Blanchett is simply phenomenal. As Haynes said in his introduction, Blanchett took a bit of stunt casting and elevated it to such heights that you can't imagine anyone else playing the part. She's that good. Franklin is also terrific as the young, rail-traveling Dylan, and Christian Bale gives an astonishingly strong performance as the man-of-the-people Dylan of the early 60's. British actor Ben Whishaw captures his part well, and Heath Ledger does a pretty good job with one of the lest interesting incarnations of Dylan. The weak link, both performance-wise and screenplay-wise is Dylan the legend as played by Richard Gere. Gere just doesn't have the complexity or range to pull off the role. Other actors put in great turns in supporting roles. These include the divine Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dylan's wife, Julianne Moore as the folksinger (re: Joan Baex) who discovered him), Bruce Greenwood as a British journalist, and Michelle Williams as Coco (Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick.

Technically and artuflly, Haynes wins all the way through. His use of music, both Dylan's and others complements the film marvelously. After such stellar films as POISON, SAFE, VELVET GOLDMINE, and FAR FROM HEAVEN, I'M NOT THERE is a natural and accomplished progression comining an ambitious stretch and a prodigious talent. While I don't think I'M NOT THERE is going to be a universal crowd-pleaser, it's a strong piece of cinematic art that shouldn't be missed.

After the movies wrapped, Scot, Beth and I met Tracy Wright for one last farewell dinner. We spent a lovely late afternoon chatting and reminiscing about the festival. This year's festival was certainly the most stress-free and relaxed festival for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I will post pictures from the Q&A's that I attended soon.

We Interrupt the TIFF Reports for the JUNO Trailer!

Thanks to Cinematical we've got the just released trailer for one of the most talked about films from TIFF, Jason Reitman's JUNO starring Ellen Page. This film is really poised to be Ellen's star-making film, and it's sure to be a monster for Chlotrudis. The trailer very wisely avoids many of the laugh-out-loud moments in the film, but it does a nice job setting up the wise-cracking, quirky elements of the film. Do check it out:

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