MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

10 Best of 2007… Before September

It is my opinion that 2007, so far, has been one of the most disappointing years for film.  This is pretty much always the case before September rolls around and the prestige films start coming out, but this year feels especially bad.  By this time of year, I’ve usually seen twelve to fifteen films that were really worth recommending, without reservations; but in 2007, it’s a struggle to come up with ten.

I’m a little behind in my movie-watching this year – I’ve only seen 96 films that were released in 2007.   I’ve yet to see some popular movies, but I’ve seen almost all of the ones that people have talked about, either praising or panning with the exception of a few, like Once, that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.  What follows are the ten films that I think deserve to be seen this year and I wanted to write this now because chances are, only one or two of these films will remain on my year-end top ten list.

Films that just missed the cut: The Wind the Shakes the Barley, Black Snake Moan, 28 Weeks Later, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Lookout, First Snow, The Bourne Ultimatum, Disturbia, Stardust, Sunshine.  Those were all films that I didn’t feel burned by, liked well enough, but didn’t find to be especially memorable or moving and couldn’t recommend them without some serious caveats.

So without further ado, here are my top ten for 2007 … that were released before September 1st (in reverse order):

10. Away From Her (Dir. Sarah Polley) – This was a film that took me quite a bit of time to see, even though it had been playing around the corner from my apartment for weeks.  The thought of spending two hours watching a woman slowly succumb to the horrors of Alzheimer’s was not my idea of a good time and it certainly wasn’t a “fun” movie to watch.  But, I certainly marveled at Polley’s sure-handed direction and her refusal to allow the film to become saccharine at any point.  It is emotional, yes, but it never becomes cloying or sentimental like the similarly themed The Notebook.

A lot of attention is being paid to Julie Christie and it is completely justified, as she is the woman who suffers from the disease.  But, actually, that last comment is not entirely accurate; she is the woman who has the disease, but she isn’t exactly the one who suffers from it.  That burden would belong to her husband in the film and the man who plays him, Gordon Pinsent, truly deserves to receive some recognition for his performance.  Christie slowly devolves because of her dementia, but it is more upsetting to watch Pinsent devolve because of her dementia.  This is a woman he clearly has put on a pedestal and it is terribly heartbreaking to watch him consent to a relationship between his wife and another man in the nursing home because he know it brings her some sense of happiness.

The film is far from perfect.  There is an entire subplot withOlympia Dukakis that is completely unnecessary and which brings the film to a screeching halt.  But, this film is a wonderful debut for Polley who seems to be as talented a filmmaker as she is an actress.  Atom Egoyan helped produce the film and gave Polley an excellent role in the film The Sweet Hereafter and Polley seems to have taken a cue from him with her spare style and snowy backdrops.  Hopefully she can go on to have as powerful a career as her mentor.

9. The Namesake (Dir. Mira Nair) – I didn’t realize how deeply involved I had become in this film until I started cursing aloud because of my anger towards some of the main character’s decisions.  It was like watching a horror film, wanting to tell the actor on screen what to do because you just know they will make the wrong choice.  I had thought up until that point of the film that I had lukewarm feelings towards the picture, but surprised myself by how much I cared for everyone.

That’s the terrific thing about Mira Nair’s film, the characters sneak up on you and grow on you without you even realizing.  It is the story of two generations of immigrants, the parents born in India and the children born in the United States, and the gap that separates the family and the culture that unites them.

Kal Penn is quite good as Gogol, the son who eschews his name and his heritage, wanting to become truly Americanized.  But it is Irfan Khan, who plays Gogol’s father Ashoke, who truly shines in this film.  Khan’s subtle presence and calm demeanor is felt on every bit of celluloid and his voice hangs in every scene.  This is important because it reminds us that Ashoke is responsible for everyone in that family being where they are and that is an important lesson that Gogol learns throughout the course of the film; that you must appreciate where you come from in order to appreciate where you are.

The film is a bit episodic and has a few extraneous scenes that would play better on television than in a film.  But, in the end, this film leaves you with a warm feeling that makes you want to hug a parent.  It’s not a groundbreaking film, but it’s a nice one.

8. Regular Lovers (Dir. Philippe Garrel) – A subtitled, black and white, three hour, meditative film set during and after the famous May ’68 student riots in Paris is certainly not the kind of thing that most people seek out at Blockbuster.  However, this is an interesting and important counterpart to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, which is a more Hollywood version of the weeks leading up to the riots.  While that film glamorizes things a bit, this film cuts a little bit more to the bone, taking long and lingering glances at the kids (yes, kids) that didn’t really know what they were doing but wanted to do something.

The director’s son, Louis Garrel, was one of the stars of The Dreamers and here he is like something out of a Truffaut film; the kind of renegade poet that has so much to say, but doesn’t quite know how to be.  His character of Francoise is truly a lover, not a fighter and he falls hard for Lilie (played by the gorgeous Clotilde Hesme) around the halfway mark of the film and that is where it starts to get interesting.

As a lover of French cinema, I admire the films of Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut, so I like the kind of French films that just have people sitting and talking about love.  The first half of this film is more like a Gus Van Sant film, which is not a problem exactly, but it feels very slow and doesn’t really have anything to say.  The first half of the film is like Gerry, while the second half is like Elephant; what I mean is that the first half seems to be a lot of meandering without a voice while the second half has a very definite purpose and destination.

But perhaps this was Garrel’s intent; to show the ennui and malaise that led to a stunning show of aggression and then backslides into despair and a search for love.  After I sawRegular Lovers, I was convinced that I hated it.  But in the months since, it has grown better in my mind.  It is not a movie to enjoy while you watch it, but one that is to be admired in retrospect.

7. Interview (Dir. Steve Buscemi) – I devoted an entire Frenzy to this film previously, so I’ll keep this brief.  Sienna Miller’s performance in this film is still the best female performance I’ve seen so far this year, along with Julie Christie in Away From Her. Miller shatters all expectations and preconceived notions with this film, which is basically a filmed play with one big set.  Buscemi is perfect as her sparring partner and directs the film with respect for the original by Theo Van Gogh.

The film this one most reminds me of is Richard Linklater’s Tape, with a small cast contained in a small environment and a lot of emotion and anger lingering underneath the surface of things.  This film takes on questions of fame, beauty, journalism, and depression and does it in a small amount of time.  Buscemi’s reporter is a slime, but we pity him.  Miller’s famous actress is hard to pin down; we don’t know whether to hate her for being stupid or to hate her for being smart or maybe we shouldn’t hate her at all.

There are no easy answers in this film.  There are no easy questions for that matter, either.  This is just a movie to sit back, watch the fireworks, admire Miller’s performance and try to figure out what it was trying to say.  The problem with the film lies in its inability to say one thing clearly, instead trying to give a smorgasbord of talking points without much depth.  But, Sienna Miller’s performance has enough depth to make up for the shallowness of the characters.

6. This is England (Dir. Shane Meadows) – This is another film that I’ve written about previously on MCN.  Since my original review, I’ve learned a little bit about the skinhead culture in England in the 80’s which apparently had little to do with Nazi skinheads; apparently, to be a skinhead didn’t necessarily mean that you were a racist, it was just a punk fashion movement.  Still, halfway into this film, that fashion movement becomes perverted by a prejudicial political movement and our pre-teen main character slowly turns from punk-kid skinhead to something resembling a neo-Nazi.

I’m still in awe of Thomas Turgoose’s lead performance and that of Stephen Graham as the father figure that encourages the main character towards a life of hatred to make up for his depression over his real father’s death.  However, I’d like to make special mention of Joseph Gilgun who plays Woody, the coolest punk skinhead and leader of the pack that makes Turgoose’s character feel like he has friends.  Gilgun is like a young Colin Farrell, handsome and charismatic, and I hope that this film gives him exposure to land some more roles because he is worth keeping an eye on.

5. The Bridge to Terabithia (Dir. Gabor Csupo) – Nobody is more surprised by this film’s placement on my list than me.  Sometimes it’s not about the films that try to be art or the ones that try to make you think about current events; sometimes it’s just about a film that makes you cry.  With that said, I’m not afraid to admit that this film made me cry and I don’t cry too often.

I watched this film thinking it was going to be some kind of Narnia rip-off, family movie nonsense.  While this is a family movie and there is a make-believe fantasy land called Terabithia, this film is certainly not nonsense and is very much set in the real world.

The film is the story of Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) who has a big family that doesn’t have a lot of money.  He has to wear his sister’s old shoes, but Jesse is a tough kid who rolls with the punches; after all, he doesn’t really have a choice.  One day, he meets Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), the young girl who lives next door and they become fast friends.  They do everything together, even creating their own private fantasy world in the woods behind their houses.  The rest you should find out for yourself.

What struck me most about this film was that it wasn’t calculating or manipulative.  It was just a cute little story about two kids who become friends.  When a third act twist happens, the story becomes very, very real and quite moving.  It felt accurate.  The conclusions that Jesse reaches by the end of the film about his life, his teacher, his little sister, they all felt like realistic reactions whilst being extremely poignant.  This is the type of live-action family film that parents might be more involved in than their children.

The acting is solid across the board, with Zooey Deschanel playing Jesse’s alluring teacher quite well.  But it is Hutcherson and Robb that truly stand out, playing pre-teens that look and sound like pre-teens.  Their friendship doesn’t feel forced and the bond that they share has to feel real or else the whole movie doesn’t work.

This is not a film that will win any awards, nor should it.  But it is one that I guarantee you will be moved by if you watch it with an open mind.

4.  Superbad (Dir. Greg Mottola) – I remember when American Pie came out, I was sixteen years old and sitting in the theater saying to myself, “finally, a movie that gets what my high school experience is like!”  After all, here was a movie that had a bunch of horny guys trying to get laid by prom night and the various hijinks that ensue.  The sequels were awful, but that first movie was a lot of fun and felt like the most accurate portrayal of my high school experience.  Until Superbad.

What Superbad does best is it doesn’t pretend like high schools kids are angels or devils.  They’re just kids and they drink, smoke and curse a lot, but that doesn’t make them bad or good.  The journey that Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) take in the film is one that best sums up my high school experience; trolling around town with my friends, trying to get alcohol and trying to get laid.  That was the big difference between this film and American Pie that makes this one a bit more accurate; it remembers that it is about the journey and not the destination.  Most of my best memories from my younger years are not the times that I actually got what I wanted, but when I was killing time with my friends and getting into trouble and finding ways to get out of trouble.

Oh yeah, by the way, Superbad is hysterically funny.  The Judd Apatow brand of humor seems to be one stemming from awkwardness, rather than silliness (although there is a good bit of that in there too), and there is quite a lot of awkward moments in this film that are mined for comedic brilliance.  From the different ways Seth imagines getting alcohol, to the drawing of penises, to Fogell saying he’s got a boner, to Evan’s awkward sexual encounter towards the end, it is all based on the awkwardness of being young and the strange freaking minds that young men tend to have.  Perhaps not all of us have had a compulsive penis-drawing problem, but we can all relate to having some kind of weird idiosyncrasy that we didn’t want anybody to know about.  That’s the beauty of this film, it is relatable and when we laugh at the film, we are laughing both because what is on screen is funny and because we remember being in similar situations.

The whole section with Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as policeman takes up way too much time and slows the film down.  We want to spend the whole time with Seth and Evan, not with these two cops.  But, it is a minor complaint for the funniest film of the year.

3. Ratatouille (Dir. Brad Bird) – I’ve spent most of my life trying exotic and delicious foods.  Living in New York, it is a veritable cornucopia of different high-end and low-end cuisine and I try my best to get to all of it.  There have been lots of movies set in the world of restaurants and the enjoyment of food, from Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, Mostly Martha, Big Night and countless others, but none of them have pinpointed what makes food so great and memorable as Ratatouille.

When a character tries the titular dish towards the end of the film, it transports him back to a different time.  That morsel of food is not just something to enjoy as it tickles your taste buds, it is a time machine back to a particular time in your life when you enjoyed something similar.  For those of us that love film, we can relate to this.  When we see a movie, it is not just about the quality of that film, it is about what that film makes us remember.  It makes us remember where we were when we first saw it and who we were.

Ratatouille, as a result, is not just a film about food.  It is a film about passion and fortitude, about willing to be different and doing everything in one’s power to be the best (insert occupation here) you can be.  The film is remarkably warm and funny and the voice performance from Patton Oswalt as Remy the Rat is spot-on.  It has many of the contrivances that we come to expect from most animated films, like the inevitable fight between Remy and the chef who befriends him, but they don’t feel overdone or half-baked (pun intended).  The flaws in the film don’t really feel like flaws at all while watching the film because it is hard not to be caught up in the joie d’vivre that the film projects.

But what I will remember about this film is that it made me aware of where I was at the time and I can’t wait to revisit the film again over the years to remember who I used to be.

2. Knocked Up (Dir. Judd Apatow) – Not nearly as funny as Superbad or The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up is the best film out of all of them.  I love the other two films dearly, but this film has a lot to say not just about family, but about everything.

For example, one of my favorite parts of the film is when Leslie Mann is yelling at the bouncer for not letting her into the club.  It is both extremely funny and a remarkably insightful scene about why a mother of two and a pregnant woman would want to go into a club and about why that bouncer cannot let them in.  It cuts to the bone of the characters and should cut to the bone of all the men and women who spend more time out at clubs than at home with their children.

My favorite scene of the film is between Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, who play a dysfunctional married couple, when they have a fight on the lawn about fantasy baseball, Spiderman 3, and needing space.  Of course, it is really about the hardships of marriage and how it isn’t so easy to just have space when you are in a serious relationship or you have a family.  It is not just a hilarious scene, but a poignant one that says more about the pitfalls of relationships than any other scene in any other film this year.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderfully funny film with throwaway lines that still crack me up (“You look like a Cholo on Easter.”  “See you later, Scorsese on coke.”), but what I’ll take away from the film is that it is the best film of the Apatow oeuvre.  In The 40 Year Old Virgin, we immediately empathized with Andy because of his plight and the fact that he was the sweetest guy ever.  In Knocked Up, Ben (Seth Rogen) is not a good guy; he is an immature, rude and thoughtless person in the beginning of the film and we watch him slowly change over the course of the movie.  It is a much more difficult performance to pull off than anything in the other Apatow films because it requires a slow, subtle change and it helps make it both the best comedy of the year and the most inventive romantic comedy in years.

Katherine Heigl and Leslie Mann deserve special mention for being so beautiful and completely lacking in vanity.  They are two of the most realistic and wonderful women in film this year.  I hope to see more roles for women that are this rich and funny.

1.  Zodiac (Dir. David Fincher) – This should come as a surprise to no one, as I’ve made no secret of my love for this picture.  I remember reading a review when the film came out that said it was like “spending three hours in a filing cabinet.”  And I wouldn’t disagree with that statement at all because it is an accurate one.  Like being stuck in a filing cabinet, you are in an enclosed space with tons of information at your fingertips.  But this information given to you is by no means dull or pedantic, it is entertaining and the movie looks beautiful.  It is like being stuck in a filing cabinet without realizing that you are in there, learning without knowing how much you are learning.

But more than anything, this is a film about obsession.  It is not about merely finding out about the killings and then finding who the killer is.  I knew going in that we weren’t going to learn who the killer was, but we come out of the movie with a pretty good idea.  It is both a police procedural and an All the President’s Menesque look into journalism.  There are so many ideas here about ethics and morality and obsession and technology and each one is given the time necessary to make the point with clarity.  Each half hour I was struck with a different idea whilst being on the edge of my seat, learning along with Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffaloabout what the next clue might be.

This is several films in one while also being a complete movie on its own.  There are several main characters, several suspects, several motives, several subplots and they all fit together somehow.  The hero of the film changes, with the focus on Gyllenhaal, then Robert Downey Jr., then Ruffalo, then Gyllenhaal again and yet it works.

That is ultimately the most brilliant part of Zodiac: it takes so many risks, isn’t afraid of being unconventional and it all works.  There is no fat to be trimmed off of the long running time and there is no better way to tell this story.  The last half an hour of the film will stay with me for the rest of my life.  In fact, the entire film will and that is the sign of a true masterpiece.

David Fincher has positioned himself as one of the premier film directors with this film, which doesn’t have any of the stylistic tics and tricks we’re used to seeing from the director of Fight Club and Seven. Fincher doesn’t call attention to himself in this film, rather he just puts the camera in the right place at all times to heighten whatever emotion he wants you to feel.  Fincher doesn’t bludgeon you in the head with his presence, but film lovers will be able to see his brushstrokes all over this beautiful, haunting canvas.

If we find a film that is better than Zodiac by year’s end, then it means we will have had a wonderful year of cinema despite the fact that it has gotten off to a rocky start.

– Noah Forrest
September 20, 2007

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon