The Electric Sheep team look back at the heroes and villains of 2007.
Johnnie To’s most accomplished film to date combines punchy direction with a well-knit, pleasingly convoluted script while the unusual Macau setting, with its colonial buildings and desert landscapes, is utilised to magnificent effect. With Exiled, To is openly emulating Sergio Leone, and this is a great riff on the Italian master’s trademark mix of playfulness, melancholy and spectacular violence.
A wonderful folk tale set in an Aboriginal community, Ten Canoes is about the eternal story of mankind – a repetitive tale of love, lust, jealousy, conflict, food, farts, shit and death. Although it presents itself as a morality tale, the film is anything but, the ending being a joyfully inconclusive illustration of the messiness of human life. One of the most thoroughly enjoyable films of the year.
There is an experimental, uncompromising feel to this three-hour dream tale as well as a structural and thematic ambition that make it one of David Lynch’s best films in a long time. Lynch uses the set-up of the film-within-the film not as an empty self-reflexive device but as a way of exploring the idea of different levels of reality. The film is very much concerned with time, a fluid, non-linear kind of time, with doors, windows and TV screens providing the gateways from one dimension to another. This is no virtuoso demonstration of temporal complexity, however, and the echoing fragments of time are all connected to an eternally repeating tragic love story.
With Michelle Yeoh magnificent in the central role, Asif Kapadia’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut feature The Warrior is another stunning epic fairy tale set amid breathtaking landscapes. Against the savage beauty of the Arctic Circle, in an environment where life is a constant, violent fight for survival, an increasingly tense triangle develops between two women and the escaped soldier they have rescued. At a time when there is so much angsty questioning about the state of British filmmaking, it is baffling that such a beautifully accomplished film should still be awaiting distribution.
A graceful, elegant film, both visually and thematically, Frozen is a slow-paced evocation of a rebellious young girl’s life with her father and brother in the remote Himalayan mountains. When one day the Army disrupts the desolate peace of their surroundings and erects a camp opposite their house in order to fight some vague terrorist enemy, it is the first sign that the family will be forced to change their way of life. Elliptical and subtly suggestive, infused with thoughtful spirituality, filled with memorable images, it is a deeply affecting, soulful film.
In this magical fairy tale from Argentina a megalomaniac TV boss has stolen the voices of the city’s inhabitants. In a delightfully playful homage to silent film, blonde heroines and intrepid, if slightly bumbling heroes on bizarre flying implements bravely stand up to the fascistic villains. The wonders of early twentieth-century mechanical inventions are mixed with surreal touches to create a cautionary tale about brutally repressive power-hungry media moguls. Enchanting, quaintly charming but also very timely.
Peddling mystical rubbish of the most literal kind, The Fountain has nothing but tiresome special effects to guide us on the path to enlightenment. Sadly, this atrocious new-age mumbo-jumbo comes from the director who gave us the brilliantly inventive Pi in 1998.
This Is England
Shane Meadows cements his position as Britain’s finest living filmmaker with this savage, sympathetic, angry, nostalgic, hilarious and heartbreaking study of his own conflicted childhood, in which a poignant study of England’s past becomes a stark warning for our collective future.
I’m Not There
There’s no doubt that it helps to be a Dylanophile when viewing Todd Haynes’ magical, fractured take on the great man’s life and work, riddled as it is with in-jokes, references, and entire plots and sequences inspired not by real life but by Dylan’s lyrics, lies and exaggerations. But as an exploration of the relationship between creator and creations, between truth, fantasy and self-expression, I’m Not There is truly worthy of its subject.
The best journo-procedural since All The President’s Men, this is by far David Fincher’s best film since Se7en (not that there’s been much in the way of competition). Expansive, involving and gorgeously photographed while still managing to be genuinely disturbing, Zodiac is prestige filmmaking in the classic sense.
The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros
A giddy, gender-bending, bizarrely loveable take on City of God, replete with corrupt cops, shabby small-time crooks and wayward street punks, all in orbit around the titular cross-dressing twelve-year-old, a dayglo whirlwind in high heels and his dead mother’s dresses. Ghetto fabulous, in a very literal sense.
Knocked Up/ Superbad
In a year bereft of a decent studio blockbuster it was left to Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow to save our summer. And they succeeded admirably, with a pair of crass, juvenile, deliriously heart-warming indie-stoner comedies, reuniting the casts of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and marking a high point for American comedy unseen since Bill Murray was king.
In a bumper year for badness (300, Exodus and Pirates 3 were all strong contenders) one film effortlessly clawed its way to the top of the dung heap: Death Proof is boring, crass, pretentious, totally wastes Kurt Russell and offers yet another unwanted insight into Quentin’s bizarre, conflicted, adolescent view of women as either whores or heroes, preferably both.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
An edge-of-the-seat psychological thriller, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a riveting film about oppression in Communist-era Romania, told through the eyes of two young women entangled in a backstreet abortion. Excellent performances and brilliant cinematography help make this Palme d’Or-winning film one of the best of 2007.
Stylishly shot and superbly acted, The Counterfeiters is a film set during the Holocaust that manages to be suspenseful, entertaining and provocative, perfectly capturing the agonising decisions that tormented the men in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, who were recruited by the Nazis for the largest-ever counterfeiting operation in history.
I Don’t Want to Live Alone
Tsai Ming-liang’s reputation is based on creating artistic works diametrically opposed to the bland, lowest-common-denominator junk churned out by Hollywood. Unfortunately, his latest film I Don’t Want to Live Alone is a dreary, unspeakably dull film that sinks under the weight of its own pretensions.
This Is England
Another stylish addition to the country’s canon of social realism. Meadows abandons his hardcore revenge fixation and replaces it with a tenderness delivered through a coming-of-age story. It soars from the highs of sexual awakening to the lows of a racist’s squalid flat and has an excellent ska-soaked soundtrack to boot.
While nothing can get close to explaining the last moments of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis’ troubled life, through its measured characterisation and telegraphic storytelling Control comes close. Corbijn evokes the aesthetics of the period through moody monochrome, but his characters are anything but black and white.
Eagle vs Shark
The last few years has seen a glut of pastel-hued kooky movies such as Little Miss Sunshine and Eagle vs Shark never pretends to be anything different. But the unrelenting geeky arrogance of its male lead juxtaposed with the sheepish sweetness of its female lead makes for a successfully offbeat rom-com with the perfect ratio of emotional moments to funny ones.
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
This documentary about the life and times of the Clash’s infamous lead singer feels more like an extended television programme than a movie but how else could Julien Temple fit in so many testaments to the musician’s wit and wisdom? Archive footage spliced with interviews with Strummer’s friends and associates cleverly asserts his sound musical and cultural legacy.
It is centuries-old and its musicians can play overnight concerts without a break but no one thought of using gamelan on a film soundtrack until Javan film director Nugroho earlier this year. The eerie sounds and patterns unfamiliar to a Western ear accompany this love story to its tragic end while the art installations, lively dance sequences and a good use of colour make this film the most visually spectacular of the year.
Although John Waters gave it its full blessing, this remake is a poor interpretation of the original. Its theme of racial integration and the idea of accepting oneself no matter one’s size are undeniably healthy for the younger audience, but the un-PC sleaze and flamboyant style and most importantly, the music of the original are shamefully missing.
A perfect animated version of the popular graphic novel, which mixes terrific caricature and subtle chiaroscuro shading. A touching coming-of-age story about an Iranian girl who never feels at home in her own country or studying abroad is the best animated film in years and one that’s attractive to older children and adults alike.
Drawing Restraint 9
Matthew Barney’s latest cinematic masterpiece is a memorable epic that confirms his talent not only as an artist but also as a filmmaker. Mixing his usual esoteric but beautiful imagery of sexuality and daily routine Barney brings the ritual and paraphernalia of whaling into sharp relief.
30 Days of Night
Continuing this year’s trend (300, Persepolis) of turning cult graphic novels into films that capture the aesthetic of their original format, 30 Days is the best vampire movie since the original Blade and the best horror film set in the frozen North since John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing.
David Fincher continues to bring the finest thrillers in a generation to cinema screens. Here, he has made an almost flawless melodrama that mixes Robert Downey Jr.’s finest performance to date with a perfect policier of the French tradition that has as many evocative temporal stylings and red herrings as you could possibly hope for.
Brand upon the Brain!
Cynics might accuse Guy Maddin of being a one-trick pony – producing obscure silent movies full of deviant sexuality and exaggerated performances – but no one else does it so well! In his latest, a lurid tale of orphans, mad (naked) scientists and a haunted lighthouse combine to produce another memorable phantasmagoria that could make Lemony Snicket jealous!
John Maringouin’s self-indulgent and exploitative verité movie is a mixture of real life and staged performance that brings to the screen a depressing tale of drug addicts in pre-Katrina New Orleans. There’s enough material here for a diverting short film, but at feature length, the director’s stunt seems to be mainly concerned with trying the audience’s patience…
The Lives of Others
The film deservedly scored a foreign language Oscar: It’s 1984 in Communist East Germany, and Big Brother is watching its citizens. More precisely, Stasi top dog Weisler oversees the surveillance of George Dreyman, under suspicion for being the only non-subversive playwright in the land. A bleak tale of how state and secret police control the masses, and of how little has changed.
Two Days in Paris
This DIY affair from Oscar-nominee Delpy (who wrote, produced, directed and starred) is the ultimate antidote to saccharine love stories. Razor-sharp dialogue, oddball characters, twisted humour and political undertones make for a spicy anarchic soufflé.
Joe Strummer – The Future Is Unwritten
Julien Temple is no amateur when it comes to making music documentaries. Combining archive footage with rare interviews and other snippets, the film celebrates the late Clash frontman as a legend whose punk ideology is here to stay. With contributions from the likes of Johnny Depp and Martin Scorsese, this is as cool as it gets!
A poetic tale of love and betrayal on the high seas – and not a pirate in sight. An old fisherman and a young girl live on a boat – isolated from the mainland. He boosts his income by acting as a clairvoyant – using the girl and a magic bow as his tools. Magic is pushed off the plank, however, with the arrival of a young stranger…
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Forget the gun-wielding, bank-robbing James gang… for this is more American Gothic than Wild West. In fact, it’s a Shakespearean tragedy that de-mystifies the legend of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and portrays his killer (Casey Affleck) as a psychological wreck. Superb!
Hailed as the most hilarious Brit comedy of the year, Rabbit Fever tells of sexually frustrated females who find nirvana via the aid of, ahem, the Rabbit vibrator! The humour is as low as an exhausted Duracell battery bunny, and cameos by an all-star cast do nothing to stimulate the G-Spot!
I For India
A truly impressive and emotionally complex film memoir about life for a family of Indian migrants settling in Britain in the 60s and trying both to maintain contact with their faraway relatives – with increasing desperation – and to understand a Britain in the age of Enoch and Maggie, of mass poverty, unemployment and racism. Director Sandhya Suri displays creative intelligence in her use of a Super-8 diary sent back and forth between her doctor father and his family in India in combination with archive TV footage, bringing to the fore a multiplicity of voices that speak of the contradictions inherent in the immigrant condition.
David Lynch undoubtedly remains the modern master of suspense and horror. While many directors are content with setting us up in a believable world and terrifying us with the monsters that lurk beneath, Lynch is really only ever interested in ripping reality apart to tear into the psyche and the world of cinema itself. Terrific stuff!
Funny Ha Ha
First-time actress Kate Dollenmayer is captivating as Marnie, suffering through the doldrums of post-university loneliness; unemployed, single and floating through pointless parties and dull temporary jobs. Director Andrew Bujalski is clearly indebted to Cassavetes’ emphasis on improvised interactions between actors, but nevertheless offers up a smart and funny script that hones in on a time of life close to his heart with a documentarist’s eye for detail.