Wednesday, January 30, 2008

jumping on the 10 best bandwagon

My friend Nate over at New York Film Review just posted his 10 best list for 2007 (film-wise, that is), and I figured maybe baby I'd ought to do the same. Honestly, this year, I didn't see a ton of new films in the theatre, but instead, went to more revivals and festivals. Many of the films I saw theatrically were pretty bad ("Die Hard 4", "Fantastica Four 2"), and many were decent but not necessarily top-shelf, top-1o kind of stuff ("Joshua," "Sicko"), so I've decided to allow for anything I saw in a theatre this year to be eligible for the list, as well as anything from the year I saw on video, or that debuted on video.

1. "Eastern Promises"- Almost any year David Cronenberg has a film out, it's my favorite film of the year. Cronenberg is cinema's true humanist, his films revel in everything about humanity, from the mind to the physical form of the body itself, to relationships and cultural affiliations. It helps that his films are usually dramatically exciting and full or wry humor. And in this film specifically you get a great performance by Viggo Mortensen as the icing on the cake. It's not as a great as Cronenberg's last film, "History of Violence," but then again, what is?

2. "Bug"- After years of grinding out mediocre psychological action thrillers, "Exorcist" filmmaker William Friedkin returns with his first interesting film since 1988's little-seen "Rampage." "Bug" is a demanding, harrowing cinematic experience with a great script by "Killer Joe" playwright "Tracy Letts," and engaging, genuinely upsetting performances by Michael Shannon and (who woulda thunk it?) Ashley Judd. Not to be a total cock about it, but my friend (and an excellent actor!) Bryan O' Byrne has a small but pivotal role in this (I feel like a dick for mentioning he's my friend, and I'd feel like a dick if I mentioned this film without slinging some of the praise his way. You can only lose).

3. "My Brother's Wedding"- Most of the other top 10 lists I've read this year have praised the re-release of Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep," and rightfully so, but I'd also like to draw attention to the unearthing of Burnett's lesser known feature from 1983 (as well as several of his short films) on DVD and Turner Classic Movies. If you live in NYC, don't miss the retrospect of his work at Anthology Film Archives later in February.

4. "White of the Eye"- The late Donald Cammell's superb and surprising 1987 thriller had a rare screening as part of Walter Reade Theatre's Film Comment Selects series in 2007. I was psyched to finally get a glimpse of this little seen film from the director of "Demon Seed" and the co-director of "Performance," which has been long out-of-print on video and has yet the emerge on DVD. This is a beautiful yet despair-filled film about the failure of the ideals of the 1960's, and the emptiness of materialism and culture in the 1980's. The violent finale plays like a psychedelic version of "The Terminator," and Cathy Moriarty is great as the film's heroine.

5. "Never Belongs to Me"- AKA the penis gun movie, this low-budget Korean trash mini-epic by Nam Gee-woong is one of the most aggressively weird films you'll ever see, and also one of the most oddly endearing. Hopefully someone will pick this up for DVD release in the states, though, sadly, a theatrical release seems unlikely.

6. "Eagle Vs. Shark"- Speaking of endearing, this lo-fi comedy from New Zealand is nothing but, largely thanks to a subtle yet remarkably expressive performance by the irresistible by Loren Horsley (marry me?), as well as great supporting turns by Joel Tobeck and "Flight of the Conchord's" Jemaine Clement.

7. "Go Go Tales"- Abel Ferrara's latest showed at the 2007 New York Film Festival, but unfortunately I don't think it has U.S. distribution yet. It's a shame, because Ferrara's goofy take on the screwball comedy (this is coming, mind you, from the director of "Driller Killer" and "Bad Lieutenant") is full of unexpected warmth, humanity and joy, even as it depicts a set of dysfunctional, constantly-bickering characters. Good enough to overlook the casting of skanky Asia Argento.

8. "The Host"- I actually saw this at the 2006 New York Film Festival, but it ran theatrically in 2007, so I'm including it. Humanity seems to be the keyword on this list, and indeed, Bong Joon-ho's film is a giant monster movie with humanity, focusing on the tribulations generally pretty dysfunctional Seoul family in the face of a monster attack. While stateside bullshit like "Cloverfield" revel in spectacle (and playing cynically on 9/11 imagery), "The Host" actually tries to imagine what an attack of this kind might be like from a human perspective. And it works as a monster movie, too.

9. "I'm a Cyborg, but That's Okay"- Yet another Korean film (by "Oldboy" filmmaker Chan-wook Park), and yet another film with humanity, this time, ironically enough, expressing its' humanity through depicting a character who believes they are in fact a cyborg. Narratively simple but visually fanciful, this is an aesthetically beautiful film that resonates emotionally as well, portraying with a kind of cinematic version of magical realism a literal interpretation of that mechanical feeling that comes with severe depression, depicted here as a by-product of the anonymity of the worker in late-capitalism. Also, it has robots.

10. "Tears of the Black Tiger"- This candy colored Thai film plays like a 1950's Douglas Sirk melodrama cross-bred with a 1960's Spaghetti western. Visually arresting and aesthetically consistent, this is easily one of the most entertaining films ever made, and without even the slightest hint of cynicism. Pure cinematic pleasure.

Honorable mentions to Kyoshi Kurosawa's "Retribution" (from Japan), Bob Odenkirk's goofy, hilarious "Brothers Solomon" and Omar Khan's "Hell's Ground," the first zombie-gore-slasher film from Pakistan.


William Thirteen said...

what, no porn? well anyway, check out what your missing at the Berlinale here next week.

justshutitoff said...

Oh, the humanity!

Anonymous said...

I like the list, and good call on "My Brother's Wedding." Thanks for putting up a link to NYFR.
--Nathan Gelgud, New York Film Review

Susan said...

I don't have a top ten to post, because frankly i'm lazy. But I wanted to say that the fight scene in Eastern Promises that takes place in the bathhouse is one of the most badass things i've seen in a long time.