The Best (and Worst) Theatrical
Releases of 2007
by Brian Orndorf
Seth Rogan making drunken love to Katherine Heigl, Ben Affleck stepping behind the camera, a stripper with a gun for a leg, "Point Break" tributes, frog farms, "Donkey Kong" kill screens, bowling pin-wielding maniacs, and Casey Affleck fighting for the rights of Mexican workers everywhere.
These are the best films of 2007.
Knocked Up: "Knocked Up" was not only the finest comedy of the year, it was the most pleasurable communal experience I've encountered at a movie theater in a long time. A cart-wheeling ode to the buzz of slacker parenthood, Peter Pan syndrome, and new relationship unease, the improv-based jokes flew fast, only to be outpaced by the picture's warmth and striking comfort with itself. With top-notch performances, a sublime sense of humor, and Judd Apatow-approved tomfoolery, "Knocked Up" was pure joy to watch, preferably over and over.
There Will Be Blood: Paul Thomas Anderson's barnstorming "There Will Be Blood" is an unrelenting beast of horror, violently seizing the journey of an oil baron's rise to power and revealing the black heart of greed underneath. This is a harrowing motion picture of considerable length and visual determination, brought to life by Daniel Day-Lewis's electric, profoundly internalized performance and Anderson's commitment to unnerving gloom. It's not for every taste, but isn't that what great cinema is all about?
Gone Baby Gone: Harboring no animosity towards Ben Affleck when it came to his pleasurable acting accomplishments, it was still a complete surprise to see his talents even more persuasive behind the camera. For a directing debut, "Gone Baby Gone" is a complete catch-your-breath stunner, showcasing Affleck's effortlessness with actors and thematic communication, arranging a distressing film that sets such a thundering atmosphere of remorse and deception. Hopefully Affleck will be able to maintain this momentum for his future directorial efforts.
Grindhouse: A theatrical flop in both domestic and international exhibition arenas, it floors me that more audiences refused to sink their teeth into this delectable piece of cinematic candy. Was it the three-hour running time? The masturbatory stink of the piece? The wobbly Easter marketing? It's disheartening to consider that average folk will likely never have a chance to experience this exploitation gem in a theater (the two films, Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" and Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," have been split up for home viewing and future distribution). "Grindhouse" was a spine-tingling recreation of a nostalgic film exhibition era long ago replace by cattle mentality, and a sweet, vibrant reminder of the ecstasy possible from a night at the movies.
Hot Fuzz: While spoofs never go far with me, the 80's action lampoon "Hot Fuzz" didn't take its subject lightly. This was a three-dimensional British comedy, pilfering cues from all over the buddy cop landscape to sculpt its own distinctive serial killer shenanigans, leaving plenty of space to horse around in disarmingly ingenious ways. It's an uproarious creation, gracefully submitting the idea that perhaps the trio of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost can do no wrong.
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters: Classic arcade games and robust nerd egos get the workout of lifetime in "King of Kong," not only the best documentary of the year but one of the funniest films as well. We may never know the true story of bitter rivalry between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, but what director Seth Gordon has assembled with this film is riotously entertaining. It's a borderline-fictitious peek at quarter-gobbling mania and suburban-dad desperation, pitting good vs. evil in the arena of "Donkey Kong" high scores; a hoot from start to finish.
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet): What starts as an eccentric semi-documentary on Brazil's disturbing political and criminal impulses soon turns into an eye-opening, spit-take account of South American life on its most frightening levels. Rich with local atmospherics and shot with front-row clarity, "Manda Bala" is a stirring, sickening, haunting decent into hell. Albeit the most colorful, welcoming hell I've seen in some time.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: A cold-blooded examination of sibling distrust, "Devil" took few prisoners. It's a shatteringly acted film from the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, and Albert Finney; the talents discovering absolute symbiosis with Kelly Masterson's vicious screenplay, which leaps from a straightforwardly presented tragedy to a biblical tale of revenge and animosity. At 83, director Sidney Lumet not only directs one of the best films of 2007, but perhaps one of the finest of his long, illustrious career.
Ocean's Thirteen: After the unacceptable, ego-drenched "Ocean's Twelve," George Clooney and the golden boys regrouped with this nimble caper, soaked with enough sticky entertainment value for 10 movies. It was popcorn cinema at its finest; a thrilling heist sequel that doesn't breathlessly labor to reinvent the wheel, but merely stimulates with blinding star power, goofball antics, and satisfying revenge scenarios straight out of an old western. "Ocean's Thirteen" tickled me to no end, proving that when Hollywood glitz is aimed correctly, it can reach multiplex perfection with ease.
Margot at the Wedding: A biting tale of people who despise each other, "Margot at the Wedding" was the sort of peculiar filmgoing experience that required laughter through gritted teeth. His follow-up to "The Squid and the Whale," filmmaker Noah Baumbach belly flops back into idiosyncratic, spiteful familial interaction territory and once again stumbles upon greatness. A polarizing movie, I found "Margot" to be hilarious and disconcerting; a restlessly hostile movie that didn't feel the need for warmth and safety, instead reveling in the naked core of sibling rivalry and ghastly decisions, all the while retaining a piercing darkly comic undercurrent that grows heartier with every turn of this razor script.
Honorable Mentions: Sicko, Things We Lost in the Fire, Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, The Simpsons Movie, Eastern Promises, Angel-A, Bridge to Terabithia, The Darjeeling Limited, Waitress, We Own the Night, Away from Her, God Grew Tired of Us, and Rescue Dawn.
Elisha Cuthbert drinking body part milkshakes, mindless zombies with key card awareness, Kevin Bacon channeling Charles Bronson, Lindsay Lohan stripping, pirates doing "Lazy Sunday," and, well, Tyler Perry.
These are the worst films of 2007:
Epic Movie: It took mere weeks into 2007 before the worst movie of the year was uncovered. Scary. Even more upsetting was the inanity of "Epic Movie," where jokes weren't offered, just riffs on any pop culture droppings the production could get their greasy mitts on. A low-budget, low-tech, no-brain satiric machine gun, "Epic Movie" (much like "Date Movie" and the upcoming "Meet the Spartans") isn't just dumb teen entertainment, it's an assault on the senses, beating down your will to live while it excitedly parades around the lowest form of comedic filmmaking perhaps ever countered.
Captivity: Masochistic horror films hit a speed bump this year with the box office death of "Hostel: Part II" and the slowdown of grosses on the "Saw" franchise. "Captivity" was never intended to be a part of the group, it was only pulled into the muck when genre opportunist/huckster Courtney Solomon took Academy-Award-nominated director Roland Joffe's original film and tacked on outlandish moments of suffering. I'm not suggesting Joffe's vision was a birthday celebration, but the hybrid of stupidity and revulsion stitched together by Solomon is laughably bad, to a point of tears. I never thought I'd see the day when gazing at Elisha Cuthbert for 90 minutes would be an absolute chore, but here we are.
The Hills Have Eyes 2: A piece of mean-spirited trash from coin-hungry horror overlord Wes Craven, "Hills 2" hurt me more than the average fright flick because I dug the 2006 remake so much, leaving this polluted embarrassment a completely bewildering development. I've never seen a picture so angry towards its intended audience, somehow confusing violent gratuity for poetic payoff. It was relentlessly awful.
I Know Who Killed Me: Lindsay Lohan's career was already in the toilet the weekend "Killed Me" opened, but this hilarious mash-up of sci-fi and horror didn't help matters much. An endlessly silly movie containing one plot whopper after another, it's tough to blame Lohan for this blueberry-tinted mess, but she certainly earns some of the credit. It's disconcerting to watch a film about a stripper with cyborg body parts searching for her stigmatic twin sister head in all the wrong directions. I mean, if that plot doesn't scream "Potential Award Winner," nothing does.
Daddy's Little Girls: "Daddy's Little Girls" was Tyler Perry's first crack at a dramatic story for adults, though you could've fooled me. A chillingly amateurish brew of melodrama and insulting screenwriting conceits, Perry hit the bottom of the barrel with this picture. Maybe dressing up in drag and playing to the rafters is what the man is best at. My preference would be to keep him and his pandering tripe out of theaters for good.
Dead Silence: "Saw" director James Wan tried his hand at a classic Universal chiller with "Dead Silence," hoping the inherent creepiness of ventriloquist dummies was enough to fuel an entire feature. He was wrong. Cataclysmically so. Instead of scares, we have a formulaic frightfest, replete with lousy acting and head-spinning scripting. Sadly, it's not the only entry on this list for Mr. Wan and his lethal filmmaking touch.
Redline: A millionaire with an exotic car collection wants to make a film showing off said automobile line-up, but doesn't have the first idea on what making a movie is all about. Thus "Redline" was born. Admittedly, the picture is good for laughs, but not entirely. Eventually, the atrocious acting and pathetic stunt sequences start to wear thin, to a point of exhaustion. The movie is especially rough if you're like me, and find the sexualization of souped-up cars a tedious pastime. Oh, and believe Angus Macfayden to be an irksome actor capable of inflicting significant sensorial pain.
28 Weeks Later: Curiously hailed by some as a worthy extension of "28 Days Later," I found this furious film to be artistically bankrupt at every turn. "Weeks" reduces Danny Boyle's original picture to a slide show of shoddy, unimaginative genre pandering and general suspense laziness. There's also an odd ambiance of mean-spiritedness floating around the feature that yearns to evoke dread, but comes across more as cheap cover-up to mask the script's barefaced recycling of the first film's plot.
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: The failure of "Requiem" stuns because, well, the original "AVP" production was just so awful . How could a sequel possibly be worse? Well, never let it be said that Hollywood is predictable, since the boys at Fox really screwed the pooch with this franchise killer. With two directorial newcomers (The Brothers Strause) behind the camera, working from a script that places more emphasis on a lovelorn teen than intergalactic war, the results are a depressing blur of incompetence and under-lit mayhem. At least the first film was contentedly terrible. "Requiem" was a non-stop display of chaotic idiocy.
Death Sentence: "Death Sentence" was James Wan's second directorial attempt of 2007, and while not as excruciatingly misguided as "Dead Silence," it was nonetheless a repellent endeavor, blasted with uproarious melodrama and unmanageable performances. It eventually sank into reckless displays of ultraviolence hiding behind some vague point about vigilantism; however, the message is lost in this overdirected stinker, revealing that James Wan might very well be completely incapable of creating a motion picture of any merit.
Honorable Mentions: "The Comebacks, Alpha Dog, Bratz, Rise: Blood Hunter, Feel the Noise, Shoot 'Em Up, Balls of Fury, Juno, Hostel: Part II, Rendition, License to Wed, Kickin' It Old Skool, The Game Plan, and Dragon Wars.