Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Best Movies Seen 2007

I'm not a big movie buff, so it amazes me that I watched 58 movies last year. Below are 26 that I really really enjoyed, with the very best 5 in bold:

1. Tsotsi - brilliant, unflinching profile of a South African thug who strangely finds himself trying to take care of the baby of one of his victims.

2. Chokdee - French feel-good (true) story of an ex-con who becomes a kickboxing champ.

3. Dark Blue - Hard and honest movie about cop life and cop corruption, set during the week leading up to the Rodney King race riots and subsequent Los Angelas race riots.

4. Sixth Sense - I watched this on late night TV in Paris. My wife translated from the dubbed French. I'd never seen it before, but I knew the twist. Still, it was cool and creepy and sweet and sad.

5. Letters from Iwo Jima - Saw this on a westbound plane across the Atlantic. Not just a war movie. It was more about waiting for imminent death, waiting for it to be over with, knowing that all things good in life, all loved ones, will never be seen again. Tragic and heart-breaking, and so well done. Kudos to Clint Eastwood.

6. Ms. Potter - Loved those books as a child, and according to this movie the author was a great, ahead-of-her-time, yet childlike woman. Zellweger nailed it.

7. Castaway - The first three quarters of this movie are a fascinating psychologal study of isolation. The last bit could have been better if Hanks' character had the kind of melt-down a real person would have after 4 years of hardy survival on a deserted island. Where was the culture shock, the 'this world makes no sense to me anymore' that I myself have had just from regular travel abroad? Still, his time on the island captivated me.

8. The Falcon and the Snowman - Stranger than fiction true spy and crime caper where lefties at least can sympathize with what the criminals did. Great acting by Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton drive a great character study of grey-area men.

9. Girl Fight - Brilliantly crafter story of an 'at-risk' young woman literally fighting her way out of oppression and danger, with several very realistic hiccups along the way, and difficult choices. Hint: it's better than million-dollar baby.

10. Hard Candy - As its title might suggest, it hits hard and takes you by suprise. Starts out as a nauseating sexual predator story, turns upside down, then gets creepier. Leaves you severely shaken with equally mixed emotions, and shows a side too rarely seen.

11. Godfather II - Need I say more?

12. Erin Brockovich - Just a fun and touching movie with themes of environmental and health ethics, expert culture, and workplace gender roles.

13. Coach Carter - I'm kind of a sucker for the Adult-Leader-makes-good-with-troubled-kids genre, especially when based on a true story. I also love basketball, and I love that someone out there worked with black kids and stressed academics over athleticism. Sadly rare.

14. Sicko - Michael Moore's best since Roger and Me. Great story of one of the world's worst medical system in the world's richest country, and its effects on real human beings. Moore is a genius and creating the perfect scenarios to show the worst of American culture, in an ongoing attempt to reinvigorate the best of it. Yeah, he painted an overly rosy picture of the healthcare systems in other countries, but he was making a point, and doing so very well. A nice leftist counter to mainstream rightwing propaganda.

15. Have You Been to Gaza Lately? My friend John Filson strikes again with a short documentary in which he and his friends take a day trip to the Gaza strip and explore a fairly typical day in a place with a rep as the most deadly place in the universe. In this typical day nobody dies and no bombs explode, but John does explore the lingering shadow of ongoing violence. I think you can get this one on Youtube and it's well worth the half hour of your time to learn what Palestineans really go through on a day to day basis, and their typically human resilience and strength in the face of adversity.

16. Naked on the Inside - Brilliant doc about body image, as told mostly by several very strong people with body challenges, such as cancer, deformities, anorexia, and fatness. This movie gets incredibly intimate with its subjects and makes a strong case for loving our own bodies whether mainstream culture does or not.

17. Shake Hands with the Devil - Another movie about the Rwandan genocide, this time from the perspective of the man who failed to stop it, Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, based on his book. Not quite as good a movie as Hotel Rwanda, but still very good, largely because Dallaire has always been so honest about his experience and how it haunts him. There are literally millions of stories that could be told about those events, and I think they would all be riveting and tragic. Many would also be heroic. They are well worth watching.

18. Lenny - Classic portrayal of the troubled and harrassed comic who told satirical dirty jokes that seem tame by today's standards. Great performance from Dustin Hoffman.

19. Poor Boy's Game - Despite a sentimental ending, this film did a great job depicting the poverty and racism that drive the beautiful sport of boxing, and the black/white conflicts that still plague North End Halifax.

20. In the Same Boat - Two short, straightforward companion documentaries of a no longer thriving way of life in Nova Scotia: fishing. The first examines the dying art of line fishing and the men who are going broke doing it while trawlers deplete the fish stalks; the second looks at Bear River First Nation's refusal to sell their treaty rights to fish back to the government, and their outreach to and negotiation with white fishers for fair distribution of the catch.

21. Three Colours: Red - The final film of Kieslowski's famous trilogy. I'm not even sure quite what this film is all about, but it's gorgeous and the characters seem very real.

22. The Namesake - Probably the very best movie I saw last year. This is the story of an Indian couple who immigrate to America and the American children they create and raise. One of the best portrayals of cultural adaptation I've ever seen, it demonstrates the complexity of living between cultures, the value and importance of family and familiarity. And it's just a damn good story.

23. Grizzly Man - This one wins on the basis of unintentional comedy. I felt like I was watching a Christopher Guest documentary with the usual series of misfits taking themselves way too seriously. Except, those misfits were real, and the central figure who shot most of the footage was the craziest of them all. The narrative voice-overs are a mix of absurdly abstract and out of context philosophy, and a fine example of telling instead of showing. Spoiler: the bears win.

24. Hope in Heaven - Horribly sad, depressing documentary about the sex trade to foreign tourists in The Philippines that shakes one's faith in humanity, especially men. Sounds like a good time eh? Well, it's worth seeing because you can't understand the heights of humanity without witnessing some of its depths.

25. Borat - So, so funny. With all the hooplah about making fun of Kazakhs, it's American culture that is left standing embarrasingly naked in this flick, and I can't help but laugh at it. Yeah, it's crass and offensive, but Cohen is a genius at bringing out the worst in people and letting them make fools of themselves in the process.

26. Last King of Scotland - I watched several movies set in African this year and only two made this list because most of them used African characters solely to make a point either about corruption in Africa or corruption in America. Last King of Scotland features a great portrayal of Idi Amin, has several other important African characters, and shows how the ignorant arrogance of foreign do-gooders can backfire. It's a fictional story of extremes but it is convincing and it works.

27. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen - One clueless critic slammed it as 'glacially paced'. That's kind of the point, or part of it anyway. It's a beautiful follow-up to Atanarjuat from Zacharius Kunut. Finally we get a movie that shows the Euro-aboriginal culture clash from the aboriginal, in this case Innuit, perspective. It's a sad story of change and loss, brought on not by violent conflict but by gentle manipulation by dim-witted do-gooders.

28. The Trap - Great 3-hour doc tying academic science, economics, sociology, and philosophy of the past many decades and linking them with current politics. Fascinating stuff.

29. Cinderella Man - Another great boxing flick, this one set in the great depression, shows the true nature of the sport, the desperation of it, the poverty that breeds fighters. "Now I know what I'm fight for." "What's that?" "Milk."

"I recalled with a twinge of sadness how Japhy was always so dead serious about food, and I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody's food money to blow their heads off anyway."--Jack Kerouac in Dharma Bums, 1956


A comprehensive list of films I haven't seen apart from Three colours which I found a very entertaining trilogy. Best film I saw was Goodbye Bafana.
I'm dying to see The Last King of Scotland and Tsotsi.

Watch 'A Room For Romeo Brass' if you get the chance.

It's an amazing film that leads you down a road you suddenly find yourself somewhat unwilling to go follow, yet you are unable to resist.

The film leaves you reassessing your views on violence and family.
I'm genuinely curious as to how you know that you watched 58 movies last year.

I've seen a few of these. And I agree with a lot of what you're saying. Especially about how the last 1/4 of "Castaway" made me downgrade the film from "amazing" to "great".

Also, "Hard Candy" was very creepy, almost disturbing. But I loved every minute of it.

Out of the ones I haven't seen, I'm most interested in "Naked On The Inside" and "Girl Fight". Where did you see these? Are they out on DVD?
I watch a lot of movies, but there are so many to be added to my list.
I really liked Hard Candy, though it shook me a lot. Not an easy film to watch.

Grizzly Man-- I think I had my mouth wide open for the entire film. So passionate, yet so damn misguided...
Kissa: What was Goodbye Bafana about?

Toast: But I like my views on violence and family. Oh well, time for another shake up I guess. It actually sounds kind of like Hard Candy in some ways. Except the family bit.

Rayke: I wrote the titles down as I went. Compulsive, me? Naked on the Inside was on CBC television, but it's an Australian doc so you must be able to get it online somewhere. Girl Fight is owned by a friend of mine but I know for a fact it's fairly widely available on DVD.

PP: yeah, and a bit of a case of the crazies if you ask me. i hope that doesn't sound too harsh.
Benji, if you're a movie buff, you have to see "The Black Book", and also "The Lives of Others". Two excellent movies. I highly recommend them.
I saw 4 from your list and I watch movies a lot. But I have to start them 3 or 4 times to get to the end of them because I usually fall asleep.

The Kingdom has one of the best ending lines I can remember in a movie.


Josie: I've heard of 'lives of others' but not seen it. I'll have to add those to next year's list.

TWM: haven't seen the kingdom. actually i got the impression it might be a ra ra america film, which scared me off. was i wrong?
No luck finding "Naked on the Inside", and while searching for a torrent for "Girl Fight", I ended up with lots of fantastic pornography.
Borat was great, Lenny was excellent. And I agree about the both of them in your take on their content.

I liked Bourne Supremacy. I didn't see the first two and still haven't yet (!), but it was easy to catch up on and the layers of conspiracies twisted in upon themselves most pleasingly.

I finally saw the Hunt For Red October two nights back. Awesome film!

Other than that, I recommend Sophie's Choice if you haven't seen it. It involves a Polish national concentration camp survivor and obviously a terrible choice she had to make, her troubled Jewish nazi hunter boyfriend, and the narrator, a friend and southern writer. It's a strange a wonderful triangle that takes place. You would positively love this film, as would your wife.

Ask BBE, too. She loves this one. The book is as good as the movie. Not better not worse, so that's rare.
I think The Kingdom is pretty fair in presenting both sides of the argument Benji.



But it is an action film
Rayke: lol. why am i not surprised? okay, girl fight info is at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0210075/ and 'naked on the inside' at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0893355/.

Eric: Sophie's Choice sounds good, I'll watch for that one too. Never realized so many movie-heads visited this blog. I tried to see Hunt for Red October when it was in theatres and a fire broke out in the theatre. We had to leave early in the movie. Then my friend and I foolishly tried to walk home, not realizing (we had been driven there - we were about 15) it was a 3 hour walk along a busy highway. Oops.

TWM: I might check that one out too. I like Jamie Fox.
Benji in case you didn't know sophies Choice was Meryl Streep's breakout film, it's that old.

And The Kingdom starts out right from the get go with the sins of America dating back to the 40's in the region as well as the radicalism of the Wahhabi sect of Islam.


Out of all of those movies, I've only watched one: Falcoln and the Snowman. It was up my ally, being a true spy story.
Somehow I forgot a movie from my list: The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. It has been added to the post.

TWM: ok, you sold me on The Kingdom - it's on my to see list.

x.dell: yeah, that was a fun one. those guys were so young then.
Goodbye Bafana was about a white racist prison officer Mandela met when on Robin Island who was cruel and mean but changed his opinions as time went by. It is apparently a true story and very well portrayed with all the factors of aparteid South Africa up until Mandela was released.
Kissa: sounds riveting, i'll definitely look for that one at the video store. we have a fantastic video store in Hali called Video Difference.
Another excellent movie I saw last year, that I somehow forgot about, was The Trap. It has now been added to the list.
oops! i forgot another one: cinderella man. it's been added.
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