Top Films of the Year
10. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”Yes, this movie is a bit long, but fans of the anti-Western will revel in Roger Deakins’ gorgeous frames of a cold, harsh West. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck deliver good performances, and the tension by the end of the film is palpable. If only it did not take so long to get there.
9. “The Darjeeling Limited” Wes Anderson’s fifth film delivers more of the same, which is both good and bad. His odd style and framing techniques are interesting and always fun to watch, but one cannot help but wonder if Anderson has already peaked. Still, as long as witty dialogue and great cinematography are in fashion, Anderson will be a cut above most other filmmakers.
8. “The Bourne Ultimatum”Two films in and Paul Greengrass still manages to bring something new to the table while finishing this trilogy with panache. His unique blend of hand-camera and quick cuts could easily be completely awful, if not for the mastery he displays in mixing the two. Matt Damon also impresses in a role that is surprisingly deep for what could have been pretty standard action-movie fare.
7. “Once”Poignant, romantic and a joy to watch. This small film is a modern-day musical set in Dublin. Two nameless people meet each other, make a connection and make something special. Most notable is the music, which is stellar and catchy, but less obvious is the skillful direction. “Once” is lean but for all the right reasons and takes the adage “waste not, want not” to heart. It may not be grand, but the movie is beautiful, musically and cinematographically.
6. “Wristcutters, A Love Story” Goran Dukic takes a high-concept short story by Etgar Keret and runs with it, creating a great movie about life, death, and somewhere in between in the process. In a drab and blasé afterlife where those who commit suicide go, Patrick Fugit decides to try to lighten up a place where all hope was lost long ago. His fun and interesting performance results in an interesting protagonist on a strange journey, and the result is a well-executed film that manages to achieve more than it might have.
5. “Juno”This film has taken off since release and for good reason. Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman team up to write and direct a funny but ultimately caring film about a girl (the outstanding Ellen Page) who gets pregnant and her choices. Borrowing from other modern indie directors, Jason Reitman delivers a technically interesting film that delivers in both laughs and heart.
4. “Ratatouille”Far and away the best animated feature of the year. Brad Bird, a veteran in the field of directing animated pictures, directs what may be his best film yet. The modern-day tale of a rat with lofty aspirations is fun for the whole family, with jokes, action, romance and a story that is well-paced and written. Most everyone can fall in love with the characters in this film due to talented voice acting, and the final product is a joy to behold.
3. “Atonement”Joe Wright’s follow-up to “Pride and Prejudice” combines his talent at directing period pieces and a deft hand with the camera to tell a tale of love, war and the mistakes we make in youth. James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan, in an especially good performance for a child actress, are quite adept at conveying the script, which is full of rich dialogue, although the pacing is off near the end. Wright has cemented himself among talented new directors with this film.
2. “No Country for Old Men” The Coen Brothers take the silver medal with their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. This thriller is technically incredible and has virtually no faults. It has the best male supporting performance of the year with Javier Bardem’s terrifying portrayal of Anton Chigurh, and the camera work (again by Roger Deakins) is top-notch. The script is deep and creates tension and terror while delivering a message about life and death, as well as morality.
1. “There Will be Blood”P.T. Anderson is a young genius. At the age of 37, he has crafted this incredible tale about America, oil and the character of greed in the national fabric. This masterpiece spans decades, states and buckets of blood and oil. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the lead role of Daniel Plainview with equal parts menace and charisma, and the result is a terrifying look at a nightmare tycoon. His pseudo-rival, preacher Eli Sunday, is also well played by Paul Dano, but in the end, Day-Lewis steals the show. In the well-shot desert oil fields, we are all privy to one man’s descent into greed and madness, and it has never been so interesting or enjoyable.
Most of the best performances of the year are listed above, but a few that may fall through the cracks include Julie Christie, a likely Oscar winner for “Away from Her”; Samuel L. Jackson in a stirring performance as a man with some pretty deep convictions in “Black Snake Moan”; and Cate Blanchett in the Bob Dylan film “I’m Not There.” There have been some great supporting performances this year as well, including Kurt Russell in “Death Proof.” However, for the year the best male lead performance has been Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will be Blood,” with best male supporting performance going to Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men.” The best female lead and supporting performances, respectively, both go to some incredibly young actresses, Ellen Page in “Juno” and Saoirse Ronan in “Atonement.”
That said, there have been some disappointing films this year. It may be the year of the big-budget stinker, with “Transformers,” “I Am Legend,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Spider-Man 3” all delivering sub-mediocre entertainment for some pretty huge investment.
The Year to Come
Still, 2008 seems like a year that could bounce back in this area. “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” “Quantum of Solace” (James Bond 22) and “The Dark Knight” are all set for release this year. For those interested in something a bit different, Charlie Kaufmann’s directorial debut is set for a 2008 release as well with “Synecdoche, New York,” and “Burn After Reading” by the Coen brothers is slated as well. 2008 is shaping up to be a great year for movies.