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Friday, Dec. 29, 2007

top films of 2007


TOP 10 FILMS FOR 2007

'It was different, delicious and wonderfully weird'


Special to The Japan Times

The best quote I got this year came from director James Cameron Mitchell, who made "Short Bus," the definitive, all-you-need-is-love-and-orgasms film. When talking about appearing as an extra in one of his picture's numerous orgy scenes, Cameron (who is gay) admitted to having oral sex with a woman for the first time. With a sweet, charming smile, he summed up the experience: "It was different, but delicious." And that it seems, is my take on films reviewed this year.

Was it just me, or was 2007 a bumper year? It's not just that there were a lot of good mainstream films but there was a slew of films that were wonderfully weird — as if filmmakers shed their artistic inhibitions and the world became increasingly more tolerant to strangeness, at least in the movies.

It's hard to pick and choose, but here are finalists (in no particular order):

1. "Babel"

The film that put Rinko Kikuchi on the Academy's red carpet — only the second time ever for a Japanese actress. Kikuchi's gutsy performance as a deaf-mute high-school girl in Tokyo shattered the stereotypical image of Japanese femininity in one deft blow. The film itself (which was divided into four segments and stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett among other notables) is a work of sheer beauty, drawn with bold, passionate brush strokes by that master painter of gut-wrenching emotions, Alejandro Gonzalez In~arritu.

2. "Marie Antoinette"

You can love her or loathe her but she's difficult to ignore. Sofia Coppola's portrayal of Marie Antoinette — played with insightful coquetry and calculated insipidity by Kirstin Dunst — displayed the teen queen in all her silly excess and celebrity splendor, and as for history, forget about that. The Court of Versailles is drawn like "Beverly Hills High," the tittering court gossips like the extras in "Sex and the City" and the king and queen could have been any Hollywood couple trying to conceive while fielding paparazzi. Like a long, tall ice-cream sundae festooned with Antoinette's favorite dainties: macaroons.

3. "Die Hard 4.0"

Bruce Willis is back as the hardest-working, most underappreciated action hero of all time. "4.0" shows him divorced, estranged from his kids, lonely and saddled with a mortgage — as if all that work he did to save the free world over the course of two decades was just so much chopped liver. This time, his daughter's life is at stake and the bad guy (Timothy Olyphant) is a suave, male-model type who also happens to be a techie terrorist. In the end, though, he's no match for the adamantly analogue John McClane, who comes off as a lovable, 21st-century caveman.

4. "Apocalypto"

Be prepared to weep and beg for mercy. An awesomely yucky, brilliantly deranged film by Mel Gibson, set in pre-Conquistador Mexico, this tale has a story in it somewhere, even if you kind of lose the thread after seeing long, drawn-out execution scenes of decapitated heads rolling down the side of a very tall pyramid and bodies impaled on the end of an impossibly long spear in among other renditions of violence. "Apocalypto" sets the record straight on the real meaning of "gratuitous."

5. "The Science of Sleep"

A film that reminds you of all that's wonderful about love before sex so rudely intervenes, "Science" treads the fine line between being whimsically cute and subtly sweet without missing a step. Directed by Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and starring Gael GarcAa Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg as two anti-lovers in Paris, this is a rare French movie where no one kisses and everyone speaks (or tries to) in English. The artsy-craftsy production design alone is worth the DVD rental price.

6. "Volver"

Pedro Almodovar penned the screenplay with just one notion in mind: to put Penelope Cruz like a wildly blossoming rose in a bouquet of a story about love and compassion between mothers, daughters and sisters. Praised by Almodovar as "the most beautiful and feminine woman in the world," Cruz plays a feisty mom with an incredible cleavage and high heels to match. She tries to protect her daughter from harm whatever the cost, while at the same time struggling to patch up her relationship with her own mother.

7. "Angel"

Soapbox melodrama takes on new dimensions in this tale of a girl who wanted many things: a successful novelist's career, a big estate to live on, a bevy of servants, a handsome husband and an adoring public. Oh, and a woolly sheep dog to greet her at the door. Angel (Romola Garai) gets it all but is betrayed by her own insensitivity and obstinate refusal to change, even as the world around her morphs into something drastically different. Another shrewd observation on what a woman wants by the master of feminine psyche, Francois Ozon.

8. "Grbavica"

After the Balkan War, the United Nations finally declared that rape was a weapon of warfare and a crime against humanity. Millions of women were victims of a brutal "ethnic cleansing" meant to humiliate them and leave no chance of reconciliation with the men in their lives.

In "Grbavica," Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) plays a single mom who loves her daughter but cannot reveal the terrible secret about her conception. Heart-wrenching but hopeful, it's a celebration of life and how women are almost always able to find a way out of misery.

9. "Waitress"

Mad or happy or just feeling awful, waitress Jenna (Keri Russell) bakes her emotions into her pies and gives them quirky names such as "Kick-in-the-Pants Pie" or "I-Hate-My-Husband Pie." Then she gets pregnant (unplanned) and launches into an affair with her married obstetrician, Dr. Pommater (Nathan Fillon). That isn't a real solution for anything, and it takes mighty perseverance and many more pies for Jenna to gain full control over her self and her destiny.

A sweetly delightful indie movie, "Waitress" was created by the late Adrienne Shelley (herself an actress and indie cinema icon) who was murdered in her apartment shortly after its completion.

10. "Four Minutes"

Redemption comes at no cheap price for either 80-year-old Traude Kruger (Monica Bleibtreu) or 20-year-old Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung), as an elderly piano teacher with a painful, hidden past and a convicted murderess with formidable musical talent. Together they work on Schubert's piano sonatas in the prison music room, but Jenny's self-destructive impulses and ungovernable fury destroy her chances of competing in a national contest. Kruger makes the ultimate sacrifice to see her pupil onstage by going against the authorities and admitting to her own, dark secret.

More Top 10 films lists
Mark Schilling: Sterling indie gems among the commercial dreck
Giovanni Fazio: Judgment day: 10 films to say something nice about



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