11
Dec
2009
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2007
Jordan
Continuing my quest through the last decade in film, here are my top ten of the phenomenal year 2007, with a brief summary of each:

10. Hot Fuzz-Three years after taking on the zombie genre in Shaun of the Dead and creating a brand new amalgamation of hilarity, heart, and horror, Simon Pegg and writing partner Edgar Wright returned with Hot Fuzz, a hysterical and often brilliant take on the buddy cop genre. Sergeant Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) is good at his job. So good in fact that he is making the rest of the London police force look bad, and is soon transferred to a small town, where he is partnered with the drunken, doltish movie lover Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). When suspicious accidents begin occurring all over town, the two investigate and get pulled into a conspiracy that leads to a thrilling and hilarious climactic battle. Hot Fuzz manages to use parody to create a film better than most recent entries in the genre it's spoofing.

9. The Darjeeling Limited- When director Wes Anderson released his fifth film, many critics decried it as more of the same. The story of three estranged brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody) on a train voyage across India that goes expectedly awry is similar to Anderson's other work, exploring the dynamics of dysfunctional families, the melancholy that occasionally accompanies entitlement, and a sort of earnest hopefulness that the world is as romantic and magical as we hope. Yet Anderson steeped the film in a reverence for India's beautiful scenery and vibrant culture, creating another work in his expanding oeuvre of emotionally affecting, subtly hilarious examinations of the flaws we try to hide, and the way we come to triumph over them with a little help from those we love.

8. Waitress-Jenna (Keri Russell, in an Oscar worthy performance) is unhappily married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and even more unhappily pregnant with his child. The only joy she gets is her job at a local pie shop, where she works alongside Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Director Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered before the film's release), serving pies to a variety of customer's including the cantankerous owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith). When Jenna meets her new Doctor (Nathan Fillion) and falls into an unlikely and often awkward affair, she realizes she may have one last shot at happiness. Unrelentingly optimistic, deeply heartfelt, often hilarious, and almost too cute for its own good, Waitress proves that it is never too late to get what you want, if only you're willing to go for it.

7. The Savages-Wendy Savage (Laura Linney, in an Oscar nominated role) is an aspiring (read: failed) playwright in a go-nowhere affair with a married man. Her brother Jon (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater professor in Buffalo, working on an unwanted biography of Bertolt Brecht. The two are estranged from each other, but even further so from the father (Philip Bosco) who abandoned them in their youth. They have him tucked in a retirement community in Arizona until his wife dies and his cantankerous behavior gets him kicked out. Now it's up to Jon and Wendy to determine what to do with their father, who, contrary to many movies of this sort is not looking for redemption and forgiveness in his old age. That their father is just as much a miserable bastard as ever does not change the fact that his children must take the high road and determine how best to care for him without increasing their guilt. What follows is an often nihilistic look at a lose-lose situation for a family where no one is who they hoped they would be. Fortunately, The Savages (which was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay) tackles its depressing premise with a darkly biting wit that renders the movie as funny as it is heart-wrenchingly sad, and as thought-provoking as it is honest in its depiction of aging, the prospect of death, and the often unwanted responsibilities that elderly parents can heave upon their children.

6. Charlie Wilson's War- Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a good-"╦ťol-boy from Texas with a love of booze and an insatiable appetite for women. In addition to that, however, he happens to have a brilliant political mind. When he discovers the plight of the Afghan people, who are battling against the Soviets, he sets out to get them all the support he can. With the help of two unlikely allies, a gruff CIA operative (Oscar nominated Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a right-wing socialite (Julia Roberts), Wilson begins providing the Afghans with the arms that will eventually provide them the means to attack us. The script by Aaron Sorkin provides plenty of laughs along the way, but also gives just enough tragedy and pathos to remind us that Wilson's victories will in fact come back to bite us 20 years later.

5. Enchanted-Slyly parodying decades of standard princess fair, Enchanted tells the story of Gisele (Amy Adams) who hopes to marry a handsome prince (James Marsden) but is banished by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon) who fears that Gisele will usurp her throne. Cast into the live-action world of modern day New York, the princess finds and falls for a lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) with just the right level of cynicism. Occasionally cloying, but often just the right amount of adorable for a Disney film, Enchanted also has the edge of understanding exactly the type of movie it's trying to be, and thus manages to simultaneously create the best movie Disney has done (without the aid of Pixar, that is) in years and to poke fun at what the studio has been doing since its humble beginnings.

4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street-If Stephen Sondheim's nihilistic and witty musical had to be made into a movie, Director Tim Burton was the man to do it. Casting Johnny Depp in the role of the barber who was wrongfully banished when a Judge (the perfectly cast Alan Rickman) decided to steal his wife and daughter away from him, Burton brings his own gothic sensibilities to telling the often macabre tale of the barber's revenge. Sweeney is soon teamed with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, proving once again that she and Tim Burton are a match made in Heaven), who conspires with him to save her ailing pie business. Sweeney will practice his murderous ways on unsuspecting customers, and she will make his victims into pies which she will pass off to more unsuspecting customers as a secret recipe. Sweeney Todd is a standard examination of revenge and its repercussions, writ larger by its focus on the sympathetic portions of the monsters at its center. The characters may all be headed toward a calamitous end, and each may deserve what they have coming, but that doesn't mean they don't yearn for more, hoping that they can escape the grime filled world that entraps them and get back the optimism they lost with their youth.

3. Juno-Screenwriter Diablo Cody (who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the script) has spent the years since squandering the good will she earned with it, but no matter how annoying she becomes, no one can take away the gem of a movie she created with Juno, the story of a precocious (Sometimes too precocious) pregnant 16-year-old (Oscar nominee Ellen Page, who carries the movie beyond its often grating dialogue and into much deeper emotional wells) who decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption. The couple she chooses (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) are not as perfect as they seem (she is a bit too type-A and a little desperate for a child, he is a responsibility shirking man-child with creepy feelings toward Juno), which complicates a situation that is already harder than a girl her age should have to bear. Trying to navigate the complicated waters of impending motherhood while dealing with her feelings for the child's father (Michael Cera), Juno learns about life, love, and responsibility while making the best of a bad situation. Hilariously touching and genuinely sweet, Juno doesn't back away from its characters' flaws but provides them all a way to happiness never the less.

2. There Will Be Blood-It's the story of America that hard work and a bit of business savvy can make a man rich. Following that idea to its ugliest, most amoral endpoint is Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful story of Daniel Plainview (Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis in a towering and terrifying performance) and his endless quest for oil, and with it, riches. His ruthless business dealings put him into conflict with a charismatic preacher on the rise in the small community Plainview is about to rob of their oil supply. There Will Be Blood is an unforgiving epic, made so by its scope and the intensity of its focus on a single man's spiritual death and tormented mental state, and by its larger implications for a country often strangled by capitalistic intentions and positively drowning in the need for oil.

1. No Country For Old Men- As Sherriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) prepares to retire from a job he can no longer perform in a world that has grown to violent and evil for his old fashioned sensibility, a trail of bodies begins to pile up in the wake of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) after he absconds with $2 million in drug money from the scene of a shootout. Hot on his tail is the bleakly moral and brutally efficient hired gun Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar winning role). The Coen Brother's film (which also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) races along like a rocket, providing some of the most intense scenes in cinematic history. But beneath its surface lie deep lasting questions about human nature, the unrelenting existence of evil, and the attractiveness of nihilism in a world where all roads lead to death.
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