Thursday, April 17, 2008

More Favorites from 2007

Hot Fuzz

While most fans of the Frost, Pegg and Wright triumvirate prefer Shawn of the Dead, I had a lot more fun with this film. While it may not have much to say on a deeper level, the movie was one of my most entertaining movie-going experiences this year.

I’ve heard some critics fault the film because it didn’t fully comment on the action genre in the same way Shawn commented on the zombie genre, but I don’t know if that was the goal with this film. It was a genre-bender: blending action, buddy comedy, slasher and mystery elements.

I could do without the added hiccup twist at the end, but the film’s climax has to be one of the best comic/action moments of recent years, and the film is home to some of the best one-liners of the year.

Oscar worthy? In my opinion it was definitely better than Michael Clayton, but it didn’t deal with the issues ;)

Rescue Dawn

Most critics let this one go upon viewing the seemingly tacked-on and forced conclusion, but this shouldn’t distract from yet another fantastic effort by the underappreciated Bale. This is the second time he has radically altered his appearance to the point of endangering his health, and still, for some reason, the academy thought that George Clooney was more compelling playing a less interesting character this year than the one that got him an Oscar nod for Syriana. Politics pure and simple? That’s the only credible answer I can figure.

In addition to providing Bale with a great part, this film also gave Steve Zahn a chance to go beyond his traditional role as the goofy comic relief for something far deeper. The guy really has talent, and with this role under his belt maybe we’ll get to see him a lot more.

Oscar Worthy? Yes-Christian Bale-Best actor nomination without a doubt. Should he have beaten Daniel Day Lewis? I’ll leave the actors to decide that one. I don’t know; I thought Day Lewis’ Plainview was a bit over the top, but maybe I just didn’t get it.
Best supporting nomination could have gone to Steve Zahn. Should he have gotten it over Javier Bardem? Not a chance.

Amazing Grace

This one was a good education for me on British abolition. I reviewed the film earlier (you can read the original review at Ford's Film Reviews). My enthusiasm for the film has cooled a bit upon reflection (and upon reading some less-than complimentary reviews that brought up some justifiable criticisms). I still stand by the film as a solid representation of one man’s fight against a cruel institution, and as such, it stands in stark relief to the glut of biopics that have little more to say than fame is dangerous.

Oscarworthy? Probably not on any definable level. There’s nothing overt or subtle enough about this film to commend it in such a competitive field.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Aside from being a top nominee for the list of longest movie titles in history, this movie created no special stir in critics’ circles this year, garnering lukewarm praise at best. But the critics can have their oilbath with Their Will Be Blood, and I’ll settle for this picture. This isn’t to say this film works better than Blood, but I was much more interested in the characters here by far. Andrew Dominik decided to write his characters as 3 dimensional entities as opposed to one note blood vessel bursting screamers (i.e., PT Anderson’s Plainview and Paul Sunday). Not only does Casey Affleck further his up-and-coming dominance, but the film is filled with first-rate performances. Gary Dillahunt, who stole scenes as Tommy Lee Jones’ plucky sidekick in No Country for Old Men, is just as good here in a vastly different role.

Brad Pitt’s performance is good on the whole and downright creepy in places. He probably doesn’t get enough credit for his acting. One could contend that he overplays his material sometimes, but he really hits certain moments with his heart, and I find him effective.

I had some problems with the cinematography at times. I could have gone without the repeated blurring of the corners of the frame. I suppose it was there for artistic effect, but I just found it pretentious and distracting. Deakins’ camerawork at other points of the film really is magnificent, however.

The story was engaging, for some reason drawing parallels for me with last year’s Hollywoodland, a film I also recommend. Both are depressing, but they get certain emotions and themes right on the nose. In this film I felt a profound sympathy with te characters. I felt like I could honestly relate to Robert Ford nad his motivations and uncertainties at times. I like movies that act like a mirror, reflecting those inner fears and temptations that I sometimes overlook or am oblivious to. This movie did that for me.

On the Oscar front-the film was up for Best Cinematography, but lost to There Will Be Blood, and justifiably so. There Will Be Blood was filmed with more restraint and precision. It’s too bad that someone like Dillahunt doesn’t even get a second look for supporting actor, even if he only appeared in a few scenes. The guy was fantastic, but that’s how the Oscars go. He’ll win one in a few years for something else as a reward for the street-cred he earned this year, probably for a performance that pales before these.

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