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Jan 08

The Ten Best Films I Saw Last Year In The Cinema In 2007: 10-6

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So you saw the worst, here and here. Same details apply, the films in this list are films I saw in the cinema in 2007. Which means there are some 2007 films which won’t apply because I didn’t see them in 2007 (a good example would be Planet Terror which would have made this top ten easily, but I only saw last week. If it doesn’t make next years list, then next year will be a pretty good year – and January has been pretty damn good).

Its harder to write about why something is good, as opposed to why something is bad, so I’ll be restricting myself to a sentence or two, just to get it out of the way. There are a few big names in there, which is nice to see – in as much as a sometimes the mainstream can really provide the magic of cinema it promises with its flashy big screeniness. The small number of non-English language films on this list is also interesting, partially due to what seemed to be a shrinking set of releases last year (nary a good Korean film). Anyway – here is the rundown 10-6 with the top five coming tomorrow.

blame-it.jpg10: BLAME IT ON FIDEL

I’m a sucker for coming of age films, and I’m a sucker for alternative historical narratives. So I was always going to like a film about a pissed off ten year old girl being frustrated at her removal from being privileged and rich to being the daughter of a revolutionary agitator and lawyer. But I didn’t expect to like it this much, but it is a film which has not left me since I saw it. Her fathers idealism becomes her torture, until she starts to start to understand a little bit more of her fathers motivation. Directed by Julie Gavras, there is a nice suggestion that her childhood with her campaigning father gives her a bit more authority to tell this tale, but in the end its just fun to watch a petulant child stamping her foot BECAUSE of what is going on in Chile is stopping her be popular at school.

9: THE NAMESAKE
namesake1.jpg
Family sagas are often flabby, ascribing significance to every relationship to the extent that an overall narrative arc suffers. Equally films based on books, especially family sagas, often suffer from stuffing everything from the book into the film. What Mira Nair succeeded in doing right in The Namesake is to give us three compelling lead characters, the father, the son and the mother to tie the different parts of the saga too. On paper this is a father / son story, but the female angle softens the movie from beyond the thoughtful and/or macho posturing of the difference in the experience between first generation and second generation immigrants. Terrific acting as well from Irfan Khan (not the first time he turns up in this list) and Kal Penn. Coupled with truly evocative sequences in both India and New York, this is beautiful film which manages to tell its particular story whilst echoing hundreds of others.

8: THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND

last-king.jpgA lot has been made of Forrest Whittaker’s performance as Idi Amin, and it is a great turn. But it is the smaller, likable persona of James McAvoy which really drives the film. He has to fit his fictional character into a time and a place, needs to drag an audience along with him and he needs to be likable enough so that we don’t quite notice what a twat he is until we’re committed to the film. That is the point Whittaker’s grotesqueries take over, that is the point when we start to care about this country. Kevin McDonald’s direction is bold enough to throw in experimentation 9such as his blaxploitation and porn aping sequences) and knows where his story is going. The problems with the film are those it shares with the white man in Africa genre, but it humanises history without too much oversimplification. Exciting, horrific and a keeper.

7: SLEEPING DOGS

sleeping-dogs.jpgThe dog sex movie! A proper American Indie film, which pushes boundaries in subject matter, whilst being shot on a velcroed up shoe budget, Sleeping Dogs has a premise which then takes it to a much greater place. Namely what is the importance of truth in a relationship? What good is it for us to know about something that happened in the past, if we ourselves do not ascribe that much importance to it? Perhaps we are the sum of our experiences, but those are a lot of experiences – so what if one of them involved fucking a dog? The centre of Bobcat Goldthwaites film though is restraint: you have already offended most of your audience in the first five minutes, there is no point going for any further down that line. However considering a real world application of what might just be a throwaway gross out movie job is interesting. (How does Jason Biggs really feel about apple pie now?) And hopefully it get Melinda Page Hamilton more roles too, as she is running out of US TV shows to guest star in.

6: A MIGHTY HEART

a-mighty-heart.jpgHow do you film an event that everyone knows the ending to? The standard biopic method would have taken the story of Daniel Pearl and given us plenty of foreshadowing of the eventual tragic end. Michael Winterbottom plays this as an urgent, dramatic thriller. Playing as a fucked up police procedural combined with the frustrations of Marianne Pearl in trying to find her husband – battling the bureaucracy, hypocrisy and plain incompetence is visceral. Angelina Jolie is towers over this film as an example of how emotion is not always emotional. Capable, contrite and very intelligent she is criticised for not being emotional enough – which is a story in itself. But tied up with Irfan Khan’s sympathetic but hamstrung detective we only notice it turn into the tragedy we knew it to be in the very last reel. Winterbottom never lets up on the politics, on the background of Pakistan but this is a truly personal story which oddly nail-bitingly exciting.

Coming up, the top five which includes unassilable triumvirate of singing, cooking and Nazi’s.

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