The Interesting in 2007
(this originally appeared on naachgaana.com)
I offer films that I found more interesting than not for a variety of reasons… as is my habit I list films by year of release in the country of origin..
1)The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
This was my favorite film last year. I have seen it three times already and have liked it more with each viewing. This film is a complex chamber piece, a marvel of long takes and lighting, a haunting reflection on ‘America’ backed up by an equally haunting score, ultimately a film that is ‘painterly’ in the best sense even if I am sadly less educated in the relevant traditions to get into greater specifics. Terence Malick hovers over Dominick Dunne in more ways than one as the latter engages in this epic enigma of a film.
2)4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days
A gripping narrative on the question of the ’secret’, refracted through a politically oppressive milieu and tied in with the responsibilities of friendship. This semi-allegory raises profound questions and contains one of the most ‘difficult’ sequences in the history of cinema.
3)The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
A concise, moving memoir is translated into a somewhat sprawling but equally moving film where Schnabel creates a rather unique visual grammar perfectly consonant with the demands of this tragic subject.
4)No Country for Old Men
The book was already a screenplay in disguise and the Coen Bros fashion a masterwork out of this material. It is not a ‘meta-narrative’ operating from ironic distance as is often the wont of the directors but it offers in many ways an analog to their earlier (possibly finest work) O Brother Where Art Thou?
Somewhere Ang Lee seems to have missed a true encounter with this challenging subject. Nonetheless this is a vividly reconstructed period piece about the interplay between politics and sex and the drive animating both. There are distinctive moments offered in a film that is not necessarily more than the sum of its parts.
6)Into the Wild
An indulgent narrative, never aiming at much more than New Age ‘feelgood’, yet this film somehow seduces and moves more than it perhaps should.
7)Across the Universe
Julie Taymor’s visually opulent work is in some ways the counterpoint to Into the Wild. An utterly charming, near-operatic, semi-musical romp through pop history.
Fincher’s best work so far is a meditation on ‘obsession’, the frenzies of modern mass media, the economies of celebrity, and lastly a police/media procedural that unexpectedly turns into a deeper quest for ‘truth’.
Tim Burton could have used a better score here but this is one of the most visually dazzling films of the year and reveals a very Swiftian vein in the director.
10)The Duchess of Langeais
Rivette is still operating in peak form as a director and turns out yet another masterpiece. This film, based on the Balzac novella, is an intricate and delicate treatment of ‘love and its vicissitudes’.
11)3:10 to Yuma
It would be hard to imagine a better remake of the classic than the one Mangold has attempted. He also contributes an important chapter to the post-history of the Western.
12)There Will be Blood
The film scores most remarkably in terms of the physical setting and even moreso in terms of the extent to which it succeeds in making the process of drilling oil supremely interesting for the viewer. There is a somewhat predictable variation here on many American themes. Ultimately the film, despite its enormous lead performance, seems a bit over-baked but it is a spectacle on the big screen.
13)I’m Not There
One of the most impressive pieces of craftsmanship last year. The film could even be considered a homage to cinema. This is an exercise in post-modern biography, always compelling and frustrating in equal parts. The latter because the fictional mosaic here irretrievably splinters the subject of the work. In a sense Citizen Kane on ’steroids’!
One tires a bit of Holocaust representations but this film is truly fresh and manages to humanize both victim and aggressor far more than most ’straight’ attempts on this subject. That this work is about ‘forgery’ adds a very crucial layer to the narrative.
Ridley Scott turns a bit ‘Marxist’ here for a film that is a fine critique of corporate logic and the ‘colonial’ always implicated in such a project.
16)Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Lumet is still at the top of his game. This film is not a complete success but still a rather subversive, deconstructive work on the American ‘familial’.
17)In the Valley of Elah
A film that quietly steals up on the viewer with a rather unexpected ‘twist’. One of the more thoughtful indictments of war and the de-humanizing aspect of military service.
The film could also be called ‘Cronenberg’s Melancholia’. I found it superior to his previous History of Violence.
Gus Van Sant continues to develop a quasi-mystical grammar for American ‘alienation’.
20)The Great Debaters
A rather fresh view on the question of race in America by way of a somewhat obscure chapter in the history of civil rights. The terrain is full of cliches but this work manages to avoid these for the most part.
A gripping documentary style police procedural shot with visual elan in every sense and one that following the book also offers a bold political statement.
A devastating masterpiece. Possibly Wajda’s best since his greatest, Ashes and Diamonds. This is a difficult, haunting film that seems to avoid the false ‘Hitler or Stalin’ choice but is also a more expansive critique of the ‘political’.
23)My Blueberry Nights
A visual tour de force by Kar-Wai. The director’s hallucinatory America stresses ‘opaqueness’ by way of visual choices that privilege a ‘looking through glass’ as well as hazy mirror images. All of Kar-Wai’s mastery of color is evident here but more than ever before he creates a palette (with red and blue predominantly, not surprisingly, and one where ‘night’ is always juxtaposed with these, while less often ‘white’ shows up in the daytime shots) that suggests a constant ’smearing’ and ‘bleeding’ of color. But even more interestingly his foreground is often dominated by ’script’ (signs on windows and so forth) which blocks clear access to everything else on the screen. There is a fascinating Derridean (an)economy of the ’sign under erasure’ to the whole enterprise. It is perhaps hard to be as enthusiastic about the film’s narrative but clearly an Antonioni-like exercise is attempted here where the visual cues are all important. Finally Kar-Wai’s ‘leitmotif’ of choice in the current phase of his career is heard once again — the Yumeji theme in the ‘harmonica version’. This connects the film is very direct ways with In the Mood for Love and 2046. Finally this work might also be considered a rewriting of Chungking Express.
Possibly Sokurov’s best film. The director displays a certain ‘lightness’ not available elsewhere in his work and yet the questions remain quintessentially metaphysical ones. In a more literal sense the film offers a gloss on the Chechnyan conflict and perhaps an interesting counterpoint to Honkasolo’s Three Rooms of Melancholia.
A soulful, even haunting minor gem on the ‘forgotten’ of globalization. Contra Antonioni the ‘contemporary’ is about urban angst and alienation but also very much about the stolen bicycle.
26)The Band’s Visit
This minimalist Israeli fable offers bitter-sweet commentary, trades in the ‘absurdist’, and ultimately offers a kind of optimism in contexts that otherwise seems to call for dark reflections. Visually distinctive as well.
27)The Flight of the Red Balloon
Not really a remake of the magical Lamorisse original as much as inspired by it this is a heart-achingly beautiful, twilight work that is once again for Hou also a homage to Ozu. A love letter to the city of Paris but one in melancholic tones.
A second viewing convinces one of the merits of this film and its rather remarkable premise. One could perhaps even draw a line from Plato’s sun to the solar quest of this film. It is also one of the more disturbing ’sci-fi’ films around.
29)Encounters at the Far End of the World
Herzog returns with another masterful documentary which once again features his unique blend of stunning imagery and philosophical reflection.
30)Girl Cut in Two
Among Chabrol’s more puzzling films. Less thriller, more oblique drama with strongly feminist commentary, it is an entrancing film without necessarily being among the director’s best.
31)Up the Yangtze
The perfect companion piece to Zhang Ke Jia’s Still Life (LINK). As incisive a statement on our global present as one is likely to find anywhere in film.
32)Secret of the Grain
A little film that steals up on the viewer and engages in remarkably questions about the fictions of immigration, the politics on every side of this issue, and finally the commerce ‘of’ families.