Spike’s Top 15 of 2007
15) Tambogrande: Mangos, Murder, Mining
Why: Because it’s one of the most uplifting documentaries you’re likely to see. Focusing on union action taken by a small Peruvian village to try and stop the construction of a mine on the border of their farmland, Tambogrande follows the trade unionists as they transform from petty rioters into a country stopping political force. There are certain elements of the documentary which are hard to cope with (largely the ramshackle production and hideous voiceover) but watching democracy work to defeat a large business is a thing of righteous beauty.
14) Exte: Hair Extensions
Why: Because it’s arguably the funnest film I’ve seen this year, and everybody needs a little fun. Basically it’s a big budget J-Horror about evil demonic hair which has a nasty habit of trying to kill people. When the evil demonic hair is harvested and sold off as extensions by a batshit insane mortician/hair stylist all kinds of hi-larious hi-jinks ensue.
Bright, colourful, brash and brimming with energy, Exte:Hair Extensions feels more like an old Hammer Horror film than any of its dour and brooding J-Horror peers. More keen to slip in a joke or just be genuinely goofy Exte is the kind of film which is a genuine pleasure to watch and is often both hilarious and surprisingly visceral in its uses of horror.
13) Police Beat
Why: Because there are few films which get so close to creating a true ‘dream state’ representation. Told from the perspective of a West African Immigrant trying to fit into US society. Working for the police as a bicycle riding beat cop, Z finds himself in conflict with the world around him and struggling to cope with his strained relationship with his girlfriend. Shot in languid blues and broken up into vignettes Police Beat is the kind of films which almost lulls you as you watch it, the visuals washing over you as more information slowly accumulates on screen.
Not content with following Zs story the film is interspersed with reconstructions of bizarre crimes committed in Seattle giving the film a weird tone, it’s almost like a chilled out apocalypse. I know that the film wasn’t technically released in 2007, but that’s when it premiered to wider audiences and more importantly when I saw it, so I’m including it.
12) I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay
Why: Because it’s a great film which is injured by riding on the coat tails of three modern masterpieces. Park Chan-wook’s first film after the utterly incredible Vengeance Trilogy was always going to have a hard time of it. His decision to make a quaint and cutesy love story about a girl who thinks she’s a cyborg and the man who loves her and who can also steal mental illnesses almost seemed like Chan-wook giving into the pressure and doing something completely off the radar.
Certainly aside from sharing the visual panache of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance the film seems utterly divorced from Park-wook’s previous work, which probably goes in its favour in a lot of ways. What ‘I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay’ represents is Chan-wook working on pure artifice, which if nothing else makes for a striking 2 hours as the director pulls out all the stops to be as visually ravishing as possible. In reality it’s a modern fairytale, no substance and no style, the perfect bedfellow to the likes of Amelie.
11) Black Book
Why: Because it’s a welcome return to form for one of Holland’s greatest nutjobs. I’m a massive Verhoeven fan, whilst I would never wish to debate the intellectual quality of the films Total Recall, Robocop, Starship Troopers and to a lesser extent Flesh + Blood are all films which I truly enjoy. So to actually see him make a film which bears up to critical scrutiny is fantastic. Black Book is conceptually a revenge film, albeit a revenge film set against the tail end of the Second World War.
But its story of a Jewish girls attempt to infiltrate and destroy the Nazi Headquarters in Holland is secondary to the larger themes of the film. Verhoeven is far more concerned with the morality of the resistance movement and the actions carried out by them following the end of the war. Indeed it’s easy to see his attempts to add ‘colour’ to the usual black and white morality concerning Nazis as an attempt to extol the virtues of National Socialism. His decision to make one of the more heroic figures in the film a commander in the Dutch SS is at first disconcerting, only revealing it’s true motives towards the end of the film. This being Verhoeven there’s also plenty to keep the viewer entertained as he philosophies on the vagaries of good and evil, but at its heart this feels like Verhoeven trying to grow up (despite what certain scenes would suggest)
10) Dai Nipponjin
Why: Because it’s a film with a surprising amount of emotional depth, wrapped up in the clothes of a goofy comedy. Dai Nipponjin is a story about a superhero named Big Man Japan, a middle aged guy who can (through the power of electricity) turn gigantic to try and stop monster attacks. Filmed like a faux documentary the movie is far more concerned with Dai’s decreasing Mental Health and ramshackle life than it is with Big Man Japan’s battles with monsters.
Whilst there are half a dozen big set piece fights, including a momentously bizarre battle against Riki Takeuchi’s head, the main core of the film is almost a character study and a fascinating one at that. Faced with declining job prospects, a broken family and his committed grandfather Dai is a man who has nothing worthwhile in his life at all. Constantly harassed by his agent and begrudgingly battling monsters he’s a broken man whose attempts to create fronts and facades make him all the more endearing.
09) Darjeeling Limited
Why: Because it’s Wes Anderson and I’m compelled to love everything he does. This thankfully isn’t too hard because the man is greatness and his work is fantastic too. Admittedly The Darjeeling Limited is a tough film to love if you’re not a fan of his work, its attempts to breakaway from the dollhouse artifice can only really be called an evolution if you’ve been fastidiously following his career, to an outsider I’m sure the result is like a gifted visually but emotionally autistic director attempting to talk at lengths about his own problems. If that makes me sound down on Anderson then it shouldn’t, it’s just that it’s easy to recognise his faults.
The Darjeeling Limited however is an attempt to break away from his old confines, the film feels less theatrical, less artificial, the dialogue and characters seem more vivid and well imagined, the film looks fantastic and Adrien Brody continues to make me wonder why he’s not one of Hollywood’s biggest properties. Mr. Brody essentially steals the show as one of three brothers travelling across India in an attempt to find themselves and each other, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson play the other two brothers but they never seem to get as much to work with as Brody who is forced to carry the film all by himself.
08) Hot Fuzz
Why: Because it’s the funniest film made since Shaun of the Dead. It takes a genuine love of film to create a deconstruction which doesn’t mock its source material. Edgar Wright has now shown twice that he’s capable of just that feat. Whilst Shaun of the Dead was a fantastic film in its own right, being both hilarious and startling effective as a zombie film, Hot Fuzz is probably the greater film. Combining elements of the Wicker Man with traditional British Murder Mysteries and attaching them to the frame of a typical American Buddy Action Movie would be considered a risky move by some.
Wright does it all with exceptional ease, aided by a cast who universally understand the exact tone required for the film. Shaun alumni Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the stars, whilst legends of British cinema play the increasingly creepy residents of a small English town. Slowly amping up the comedy as the film goes on Hot Fuzz starts off feeling a little cold and indifferent, its attempts to create actual characters almost disconcerting in a film billed as a comedy. But by doing this it allows the last half of the film to be truly momentously funny as a jokes come from characters rather than situations, creating an immensely pleasing and utterly hilarious finale.
07) This Is England
Why? Because it’s a truly great, gritty, British movie in a year that was a little limp. Whilst period epic Atonement would garner all the Oscar attention, This Is England would lurk in the background seemingly unnoticed by the general public. A film so powerful in its premise that local authorities overruled the ridiculous ‘18′ Certificate it had been lumbered, all because the film was perceived as being an important tool for young teenagers to watch.
The film takes place over the summer holidays during the Falklands War. Shaun Field is bullied at school and is mourning the loss of his serviceman father. Over the summer a gang of skinheads adopt him into their group. It’s only when a former member of the gang is released from jail that racial tensions start to simmer. Mixing elements of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach with his own unique style Shane Meadows has crafted a film which takes an exceptionally personal look at what spurs young men into intolerance. Despite a somewhat simplified ending the film is an extremely powerful and moving piece of work bolstered by two amazing performances.
06) Inland Empire
Why: I don’t quite rightly know, and my adoration of this movie may be the punch line to a film that is either brilliant or a cinematic practical joke or a combination of the two. Certainly it’s difficult to figure out what the intent of Inland Empire is, it’s a difficult film to understand and not because of the multitude of ‘Lynchian’ devices on show.
David Lynch is a director with a reputation for the odd. A master of his craft, Lynch can manipulate emotions and anxiety with utter ease and a lot of his skill is used in giving emotional viability to elements which are disparate. His films, post Blue Velvet, are often bewildering works on a logical level. Things happen on their own logical plain, bound together with only an innate emotional understanding. You might not understand the intellect of the film, but you understand its core purpose. Inland Empire doesn’t even offer this vague comfort.
The film is almost an attack on narrative structure and on cinematic ideals in general. Any attempts to rationalise or explain the events of the film are pointless because the film has nothing to base assumptions or theories on. It is pure spectacle, giving bite sized pieces of emotional resonance but never allowing a whole film to convalesce.
But its spectacle is impeccable, there is a life and urgency to the three hour film which is stunning. It’s never less than engaging and some of its set pieces, whilst having no logical precedent in the film, are fantastic moments of confident filmmaking. It is also a film that is brutally punishing (in its length and cinematography) and utterly hilarious (with certain elements drifting into obvious self parody).
Why: Because in a year of stunningly beautiful filmmaking this is a true work of art. Kim Ki-Duk makes outstanding films. Korea is a country of burgeoning cinematic powerhouses and he is perhaps one of the most interesting directors operating there. Originally trained as an artist, Ki-Duk took his talents to the cinema screen and has been producing challenging, intense and beautiful cinema at the rate of a film a year.
Ki-Duk’s films can usually be broken into two categories, his structure films and his realist films. His earlier work is based around real people in real places, but his later work has focused on creating artificial constructs as stages. The Isle, The Bow and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring Again all employ vast constructions (floating villages, a huge sailing boat and a floating temple) to counterpoint the understated action. Breath is a mixture of these constructed elements and his earlier realist works. The story follows a house wife artist, who is drawn to the story of a prisoner who has attempted to commit suicide days before his scheduled execution. She visits him four times, and each time she uses wallpaper and a song and dance number to replicate a season before talking about death with the now mute prisoner. It’s difficult to describe how truly, monumentally, beautiful the film is, but it’s the kind of movie which reaffirms why you’re a devotee of cinema.
Why: Because it’s a Western film which embraces the concept of death. The Fountain as a movie experience is rapturous, the kind of synergy of image, music and intent which is a sad rarity. Describing the Fountain is not an easy feat; it is a deeply romantic film, about acceptance of death, with science fiction tropes and flashbacks to Mayan rainforests.
It is a film that is both grand in its ideas but acutely focused on its two leads, Tom and Izzy. It is the humanity of the two leads which makes The Fountain such a great, great movie. Visually the film is stunning, the representations of different time zones and use of set design creating something akin to a moving painting.
Why: Because this film showed that David Fincher could make a masterpiece without any of his perceived props. Fincher is a director who through his choice of directorial jobs has garnered himself a reputation. The double whammy of Se7en and Fight Club making him a zeitgeist director, his style of shock and awe filmmaking crafting new memes for the public psyche.
Tyler Durden is a heavy burden, and one that could only be expunged by a retreat from the public. In the eight years since Fight Club Fincher only produced one film, the understated and low profile Panic Room. This breathing room allowed him to come to Zodiac without the wait of expectation, without the deconstructive anarchic associations he had acquired.
Zodiac charts the lives of the men trying to unravel the mystery of the titular serial killer. In doing so Fincher takes the archetypes of the police procedural and merges them with his own character studies, creating a film which is like a hybrid of Cinéma-vérité and stage theatre. Fincher’s objective camera traces all of the Zodiac’s major crimes and forces the viewer to draw their own conclusions.
02) Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
01) No Country For Old Men