A year ago, as I was putting together my best of 2006 list, I whined and complained. I whimpered and moaned. I prattled on about how hard it was to be a film critic in 2006—because there just weren’t any standout movies.
This year, however, I find myself in an even worse position. This December, as my fellow critics and I made our way through the usual December award season rush, I started to realize that I was totally screwed when it came to putting together my year-end list. Not only were there no real standouts this year, but, as it turns out, I didn’t really love any of the movies that, as a critic, I was supposed to love. Many of them were wonderful—right up until the completely baffling end. Others were tedious and dull before coming to a pretty good conclusion. Still others were just plain long and boring. Even some of my favorites were good but flawed. And as the December awards screeners started showing up, I frantically re-watched a bunch of award contenders, wondering if there was something that I missed—something that proved that they really were worthy of my adulation. But, alas, I came up with nothin’.
So this year, my list is coming completely out of left field. Call me a maverick if you will, but you won’t find some (okay…most) of the expected shoo-ins here. But after weeks of agonizing and headaches, here you have it…
Movies that Helped Me Make It Through the Year:
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Though I watched approximately a million and a half movies during the month of December, none of them thrilled me quite as much as Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. Dark and artistic and perfectly cast, this grim and gruesome sing-along is bloody brilliant.
American Gangster: This is one of the few no-surprise entries on my list. It was one that I’d looked forward to seeing—and though it didn’t live up to every single one of my hopes and dreams, it came pretty darn close. Though it’s rough and gritty and not always easy to watch, it’s a solid, character-driven film that just feels real. Throw in Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, and you’ve got yourself a strong contender.
Hot Fuzz: This crime/horror/comedy starring the hilarious Simon Pegg had me once again singing the praises of director Edgar Wright. Hot Fuzz is dark and clever and shockingly, outrageously, violently wacky. What’s not to love about that?
Stardust: I realize that just about nobody saw Stardust in theaters—a fact that still totally baffles me. This is another one of those movies that completely surprised me this year. While I was actually looking forward to the screening, I didn’t expect it to be so…magical. It’s an adventure-comedy with some fantasy and romance thrown in. Basically, it’s got something for everyone.
The Lookout: Another film that was almost non-existent at the box office, this grippingly suspenseful crime drama instantly won me over with its solid characters and its spectacular acting. It also solidified Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s position as one of my favorite young actors.
Juno: While I typically scoff at movie swag giveaways, as I write this, I’m proudly sporting my Juno T-shirt. This surprisingly smart little indie came flying out of nowhere (kinda like Little Miss Sunshine did last year) to shock and amaze critics everywhere (except for my critic pal Bill Clark, who’s still adamantly opposed to all things Juno). Though it does have its rough moments, the screenplay is sharp and creative, and Ellen Page’s acting is phenomenal. And that’s good enough for me.
In the Shadow of the Moon: I’m not typically a huge fan of documentaries, but this year was a pretty good year for documentaries. It was the year that I finally decided that documentaries don’t have to be boring or depressing. They don’t have to be about war. They can actually be totally hilarious—or completely awe-inspiring, like In the Shadow of the Moon. This documentary about the Apollo missions—and the astronauts who participated in them—grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
Hairspray: I’ll admit that there was one big, glaring, dressed-in-drag problem with this summer’s big musical—but, in the end, it’s one I’m willing to overlook. Or, at least, try to ignore. Because Hairspray is just one of those movies that puts a spring in your step and a smile on your face. It’s smart and irreverent, and it has Christopher Walken—and that makes it a whole lotta fun.
Ratatouille: This summer, director Brad Bird presented an animated movie that had moviegoers baffled. Where, they wondered, where the bright, flashing, hypnotic colors? Where were the poop jokes? Gorgeously animated and deliciously subtle, Ratatouille is haute cartoon.
3:10 to Yuma: Slow and deliberate but absolutely stunning, this classic-style western may not be a fast-paced action movie, but, thanks to some outstanding performances and a solid story, it’s one of the year’s best dramas.
Lars and the Real Girl: Talk about movies that came out of nowhere…! I fully expected to absolutely hate Lars—and to walk out scorning Ryan Gosling and the pointlessness thereof. But—surprise, surprise—I was totally captivated by lovable Lars. To be honest, I still can’t believe that I fell in love with a movie about a guy and his anatomically-correct doll/girlfriend. In fact, I’m still having a hard time admitting it. But it’s true.
Close, But No Cigar:
I know…I know…something’s missing, right? Perhaps No Country for Old Men? Sure, I loved the Coen’s suspenseful yet puzzling new film—but I still can’t get beyond that maddening conclusion. Even after watching the movie a second time—with no Chatty Cathies sitting behind me—I’m still frustrated. And while I’ll sit back and watch without (many) complaints as the Coens inevitably pick up all kinds of awards this year, I’ve chosen to be a conscientious objector.
Film Festival Favorites:
A Map for Saturday: I fell in love with Brook Silva-Braga’s backpacking documentary at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, but always honest, it made me want to race out of the theater and pack my bags.
Air Guitar Nation: The Deep Focus Film Festival introduced audiences to the Air Guitar World Championships with this outrageously funny documentary. I dare you try to watch this movie without rocking out.
Some Days, My Job Totally Sucks:
If I had a dollar for every person who’s told me that I’ve got the Easiest Job In the World (after all, I just sit around and watch movies and stuff all day), I might actually make a real salary. Those people, however, have clearly overlooked the fact that I sat through the following movies in 2007:
Norbit: Just thinking about Eddie Murphy in a fat suit, dressed in drag, shrieking “How you doin’?” is enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and cry uncontrollably. Not only did I see this movie, but I actually risked my life by driving through a blizzard to see it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive Eddie Murphy for doing that to me.
Good Luck Chuck: This year, it was my bad luck to have to sit through Dane Cook’s most recent disaster. Add Jessica Alba and her creepy obsession with penguins and approximately 983 breasts (because one of the women has an extra), and the result is, simply put, painful.
The Brothers Solomon: The best thing about Bob Odenkirk’s almost entirely laugh-free comedy was the two-dollar pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea that I consumed before the movie at the bar next to the theater. Without it, I doubt I would have survived.
Catch and Release: I know that, in my review, I promised writer/director Susannah Grant, along with Jennifer Garner and Kevin Smith, that I’d pretend this movie never happened. But it did happen. And I’m still bitter, okay?
El Cantante: Why, Jennifer Lopez, do you continue to make such terrible movies? And, while we’re at it, why, Marc Anthony, do you have only one facial expression? But, most importantly, why, oh why, did I not call in sick on the day of the screening?
Gray Matters: Note to directors: when Molly Shannon starts looking like the only normal person in your movie, just scrap it and move on. Thank you.
The Condemned: This potentially craptastic movie—starring [Stone Cold] Steve Austin and released by World Wrestling Entertainment—provides a meaningful message about the dangers of violence as entertainment. Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
Hot Rod: Andy Samberg’s idiot comedy, Hot Rod, permanently ruined the words “cool beans” for me. On a side note, I’m happy to announce that, five months after seeing this movie, I finally seem to be regaining those lost brain cells.
September Dawn: This painfully overdone drama wins this year’s Home of the Brave Award—for taking a serious topic and making it totally laughable.
Happily N’Ever After: Despite its mercifully short runtime, even the kids in the theater lost interest in this irritating, slapped-together fairy tale satire.
Some Days, Though, It’s Pretty Cool to Be Me:
Okay…so my job often requires subjecting myself to movies that are bad enough to send me rushing home to do a couple shots of Pepto (Thanks a lot, Dane Cook). And, granted, 2007 was a pretty rough year for serious award contenders. But 2007 definitely had its fun moments. After all, I got to enjoy movies like Ocean’s Thirteen and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium in a big, empty theater with my colleagues and a cup of coffee. I got to see fun summer blockbusters like Live Free or Die Hard and The Simpsons Movie before they opened in theaters (not to mention without waiting in line). I even got to enjoy some surprisingly entertaining action movies—like Shoot ‘Em Up and Shooter. And I got to do it all with the wacky bunch of geeks and misfits and various others who are both my colleagues and my friends—which, I’ll be honest with you, actually makes those bad movies (and the extra hours spent in front of the computer…and the bottles of Pepto) all worthwhile. Kinda. So, when it all comes down to it, it’s not too bad to be me after all. So pass me the popcorn and an extra-large soda, and bring on 2008!