Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Best Movies 0f 2007 Continued

Becoming Jane

I’m a male, but I’m not ashamed to say that A & E’s Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite films (if as a miniseries it can be called such) of all time. My mom forced my dad and I to watch it while I was in high school, and while I normally would only remotely tolerate her chick flick choices (usually because I had crushes on the female leads), this classic won me over. I think it was David Bamber (who, incidentally, will be playing Adolf Hitler in Brian Singer’s upcoming Valkyrie, a film about a plot to kill Hitler starring the recently incognito Tom Cruise) and his portrayal of Mr. Collins that hooked me, but ultimately it was Jane Austen’s timeless story that kept me watching.

While Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams took much more artistic leeway in writing Becoming Jane, my wife, an avid reader of Austen’s work and familiar with Austen’s history, gave it a thumbs-up for its faithfulness to the spirit of Austen. We were both pleased with its portrayal of Austen, even if the real Austen wasn’t as eye-catching as Anne Hathaway.

Hathaway did a great job, however; far better than Kiera Knightley did with her giggled-up version of Elizabeth in Joe Wright’s recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which in spite of its improvements upon the miniseries in cinematography and historical accuracy, made great departures from the book, and succumbed to Hollywood’s tendency to elevate infatuation and superficial desire over the kind of deep love of character championed by Austen.

Becoming Jane also gave James McAvoy a substantial role that he played straight and likeably. He was fun to watch and did well with the material; I’d much prefer him staying in these roles than his upcoming Wanted with Angelina Jolie (blecchh).

So, on the whole, I found the film entertaining, and I was satisfied with its treatment of love. It depicted love, as it should be, in its highest form of self-sacrifice for others instead of romanticizing the more shallow and fleeting feelings that Hollywood is prone to idealize.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Best Movies of 2007?

After watching the Academy Awards last year (the 2007 awards-that is-honoring movies from 2006), I decided I would come up with my own list for the movies that should win Oscars for 2007. Unfortunately, Panama City is not the best place to play movie critic because our theaters often skip the films that end up being viable Oscar contenders. I was intending on having the list done by Oscar time, but since I had to wait for many titles to come out on DVD, and due to other more pressing matters, I’ve had to postpone my best movie picks of 2007 for quite some time. I’ve decided to post this list one movie at a time, because my discussion of each film has ended up going a little long.

What’s more-this list has undergone some serious changes. What originally began as an Oscar list has now become a list of the movies that have struck me for one reason or another. These are the movies that succeeded in fulfilling their purpose or at least their purpose as I construed it. I don’t subscribe to the theory that movies are supposed to be (or even can be) perfect. Everyone of the films that is mentioned below has its flaws, and, it’s my firm conviction that every film nominated for Best picture Oscars this year had theirs as well. I don’t think of myself as a film snob, and after this year I’m starting to wonder if the “snobs” aren’t a bit influenced by peer pressure and the flood of political opinion, but more on that later. I will be posting the list in descending order, so without further ado, the first film on my list (or last I guess you could say) is:

I am Legend

Before you tune out: I’m not saying this is a perfect film. It’s not even a great film in the grand scheme of things, but for my money, it achieved its goal far better than any other blockbuster this year.

It created a post apocalyptic New York that was truly engrossing, and it gave Will Smith the opportunity to show that, once again, he’s more than just a comedian. He was great, and while the movie went off the rails in the second half and suffered from both a screenplay that required a few more rewrites and ill-conceived CG zombies, the film captured something that’s been sorely lacking in many big budget films: a profound sense of realism (minus the zombies of course).

I was transfixed by the way in which they recreated New York City, which prompted me to again ask myself a question that has bothered me in the past: at what point does a film go beyond creativity into Hollywood gluttony? One scene in I Am Legend may have cost well over $5 million to shoot.

The scenes of an empty and overgrown Times Square boggled my mind and have left me wondering how they did it. I’ve heard that these were shot on a set, and this is what makes me wonder: is this responsible? Doesn’t this seem a bit excessive? Of course I am entirely culpable for this excess because I funded it (after the fact, of course). There is a big push today towards conservation and helping the poor, but isn’t a bit incongruous that so much money is spent on playing pretend? I’m asking these questions because I really don’t know the answers. I’ve always liked watching blockbusters, and I’ve never really thought much about quitting, but sometimes I wonder if the cost for realism may be too great.

So perhaps it’s a bit strange that this film should fit into a “best of” list if I’m questioning its very existence, but now maybe you get a sense of what this list is about: less about traditional criticism and more about the capacity for the films to arouse discussion and prompt consideration.

As far as the Oscars go, I Am Legend would only have been capable of nomination for the technical awards, and I don’t have enough expertise to make any judgments there.

I enjoyed the film when I first watched it. It provided some of the best scares of the year, and I was, once again, mesmerized by the production value. But it was not until after I had heard others’ criticisms of its plot and the ending that I had to admit the film did not work on the whole. So, it’s not No Country, but I’ll still pick it over The Golden Compass, Pirates 3, Spiderman 3, and (bracing for impact...) The Bourne Ultimatum.