General impressions of 2007 though was that it was a pretty good year for US film. Hence a lot of people saying it was a high water mark for the decade. Not sure if I quite agree, but certainly the bog standard quality of the films I saw last year seemed that little bit more competent and indeed interesting. Films like Control, Superbad and Hot Fuzz which I saw with people and could have really quite long pub conversations about – which didn’t make the top ten. There just seemed to be a few more risks being taken, and that little bit more fun being had. Which I think this top five underlines.
5: TWO DAYS IN PARIS
Cynicism is an energy all of its own. Julie Delpy’s self written and directed Paris relationship comedy was funded because it basically had an almost identical set-up to Before Sunset. Delpy knew it, and played it to the hilt. Equally rude about American’s and the French, dirty, bilingual and endlessly chatty – it is a wonderfully simple film which wears its influences on its sleeve and still manages to be fresh. So yes the spectre of Woody Allen hangs over this film, but wouldn’t you want a seventies Woody making films with a more feminine perspective knocking them out in the noughties. If Delpy’s self imposed criteria was to get a film made, shown and a critical and commercial hit – then all the other compromises she made not only don’t matter, but actually help her. Just really good fun.
4: BLACK BOOK (ZWARTBOEK)
Ahh, Paul Verhoeven. Never predictable, which is why you can never completely write him off even after the number of stinkers he’s made. But Verhoeven is at his best when he is being twinkly, trying to break rules and make subtle points where not expected. Of course the other thing about Verhoeven is he is about as subtle as brick, which is what makes Black Books all the more delicious. A return to Holland to make a war film about the dying days of the Nazi occupation. But a film which accuses the Dutch of rampant anti-Semitism, collaboration and ostensibly has a Nazi as the male hero. An instructive film to watch after seeing Soderbergh’s The Good German and Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution , as Black Books is essentially a synthesis of both films. It manages to make the points and raise the emotions desired by both films, with room to spare for anti-triumphalism, some stunning suspense set pieces and even a closing sequence dig at Israel.
3: THE NIGHT OF THE SUNFLOWERS (La Noche De los Girasoles)
Little seen Spanish film (you have to have at least one slightly obscure film in the list) which was the best thriller of last year. Like a Spanish version of Miller’s Crossing, it all feels inevitable when you get to the end but sucks you in. Which is in itself remarkable as the film is told backwards, in a similar way to Momento – though without that films justification. And yet you don’t begrudge the narrative gimmick, because each segment is almost completely self contained, and each is as powerful as the previous one. So the non-linear storytelling never feels like a gimmick and the jumps in lead characters means that we don’t care so much how this ends, but how it started in the first place. And at the heart of it is a string of remarkably ordinary, well drawn characters that you care about. Which is a pity cos a lot of them have a sticky end.
This almost topped the table, as some kind of symmetry against my least favouirt film of the year (Meet The Robinsons). Symmetry be damned though Ratatouille is my favourite computer animated film FULL STOP. It goes without saying that it is technically flawless, and that Brad Bird really feels like he is directing live action here (nothing new from Bird). But all the way through it I marvelled at the beautiful story being unfolded, the life or death struggle over art and even a plea for the importance of the critic. All of this in an animated rat film, which manages to pile in plenty of laughs and a desire to go and eat some really good food. All the things I despised about Meet The Robinsons (busy, needlessly zany, lack of narrative cohesion) is done right in Ratatouille. And its a film about a cooking rat. It kind of made me want to have kids so they could watch it! I predict it will do more in the long run for the current food argument than anything that rat Jamie Oliver could do!
Its a remake of a film I was always quite fond of. Its a musicalization, bounced from film to stage to film (and adaptations from film to stage is what my Masters dissertation was on). Its a big balls brassy musical. Perhaps I was always going to like it, but when you really like a genre (like musicals) they rarely match up to your expectations. This version of Hairspray, even with John Travolta in it, exceeded all of my hopes. A lot of people say its setting and its race relations moral seems almost trivialised in the film, but I disagree. It means Hairspray is a fluffy comic musical, with good songs, a great heart and is actually about something. Nikki Blondsky exudes so much energy in the lead role that it is only the star power of the other actors that keep them on the screen. In the summer I would describe it as the best screen musical since Grease, but really the pastiche number and songs in this knock the seventies nostalgia fest into a cocked hat. From the moment it started til the moment it ended (andyou don’t want it to end) it was just pure visceral entertainment. So for all its second (third) hand nature, it was still the best two hours (six hours…) I spent in the cinema last year.
So there you go. Its now your turn to call me a film addled fool who likes musicals too much. Maybe I am, but try it, you’ll like it and probably everything else on this list.