The year 2006 was a bad year for films. I mean Al Gore won an Academy Award in 2006! And the best films were a major cut below the films of much better years. But 2007 is different. This is proving to be a banner year for good films. If you love movies, and I do, then there are some must see films playing right now.
Yesterday the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (NBR) released its awards for 2007. These first awards often portend the other awards that will come out in the next few months, including the famous Academy Awards. This is not always the case since the Academy Awards are too often rooted in popularity and politics. The NBR members include educators, historians and film industry professionals. The NBR sometimes makes choices that disdain box office appeal and they are thus willing to pick more esoteric films. This may be the case this year but I am hard pressed to believe The Academy will not follow suit in most cases.
The best film of 2007, according to the NBR, is "No Country for Old Men," an adaptation of a novel by Cormac McCarthy. The Cohen brothers duo, who are some of the most famous producers and directors of film in recent American history, are again superb. (Think of "Fargo" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and you will know the Coens most famous work.) This is the 12th movie in a series of what one calls "odd, ironic feature films" by this talented team. Recent Coen films seemed to be headed south but this one is a winner in every way.
"No County" is situated in a bleak area of southwest Texas. The opening scenes are hauntingly wonderful wide angle views of this vast bleak land. (I think the actual filming of these scenes was in New Mexico!) Josh Brolin plays a character who stumbles on a drug scene gone bad, with a half dozen dead Mexicans lying all over the place, and finds a briefcase with several million dollars. He decides the keep it, which changes his life in ways he would never have imagined. But he is not a completely bad man at all. In fact, part of his problem is that he goes back in the evening to give water to a dying Mexican because the man has begged him for water.
Brolin is pursued by a character named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who becomes an icon for killing and mayhem like few screen villains you will ever see. This guy’s role is so memorable that I do not see how he can not win awards for his role in this film. I will not reveal his tactics but I assure you they are violent and cold-blooded. He kills at will, and then for some odd reason, plays little games with strangers and allows a few to live. Both Brolin’s character and Chigurh (Bardem) are being pursued by a sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones. Jones is, as always, brilliant. This role was made for him.
I went back to see "No Country" a second time in order to figure some parts out. (I only saw two movies twice in 2007, the other being "Amazing Grace," which I still cannot watch without being thrilled and moved to tears of profound joy. I have thought about seeing "Bella" a second time, a superb family movie that I previously reviewed!) I usually wait until a new film comes out on DVD to see it a second time but my senior discount, and the ability see matinees now and then, allowed me some freedom to save money and to see a film like this a second time. I say this because the nihilistic overtones and deeply troubling power of human sin and evil are underscored by this film in ways that I haven’t seen on the screen in years. I do not recommend this film if you are bothered by graphic violence and killing. Otherwise, see it as soon as possible. It will be a classic I am certain. And it will be one of the Academy’s five best films for 2007 or the jury is rigged.
Other NBR awards given yesterday included George Clooney for best actor for "Michael Clayton, " another superb film, with a great ending. I would highly recommend "American Gangster" with Denzell Washington playing the bad guy role and Russell Crowe playing the good guy, a switch of sorts. They are both fantastic and the film holds together nicely. Then you should consider another great film noir, "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead." This story centers around two brothers who decide to commit the perfect crime by robbing their parents small jewelery store. They figure the insurance company will pay back their parents and thus they will get off without any problems. The whole deal goes bad, very bad. Be prepared to squirm and to hate sin deeply if you see this one.
There were two great westerns in 2007. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "3:10 to Yuma," starring Russell Crowe as a bad guy with moments where he also shows a kind heart and some measure of mercy. The Jesse James story is based on a great book and is powerfully told in this visual medium. "3:10 to Yuma" is very violent but a wonderful western film.
Several films are not blockbusters but are also worth seeing. These include "Eastern Promises," the story of a Russian mafia family now settled in London and "Dan in Real Life," a cute and entertaining movie that I think fits the "feel good" category quite nicely. I have previously reviewed "Lars and the Real Girl" and found it quite excellent in a simpler sort of way. Perhaps the most challenging and engaging film of all is "Gone Baby Gone." Here moral and ethical issues surface as in few films and thus they are presented with deep complexity and nuance. This is the movie that will have you talking to your friends, who have also seen it, for some time to come.
I will make up a Top Ten list up by the end of the year. I am waiting to see one or two more films first. I especially want to see "The Savages," a story about two siblings dealing with their mother who has Alzheimer’s and thus is a family story about facing end-of-life issues and increasing dementia. Having just dealt with these issues personally I think I am ready for this one, at least according to the various reviews I’ve read.
One thing stands out for me about 2007. The abundance of good this year films is obvious. I am not sure why this is so but my interest has grown throughout the year, something that did not happen in 2006. Having spent some time with a small group of Hollywood insiders earlier this year, in a private Christian gathering, I hope that serious Christians will continue to work in this industry and use their God-given gifts to give us both good entertainment and powerful cultural art. Film is clearly one of our most powerful forms of modern art, if not the most powerful in terms of pop culture. I am still amazed at how so many Christians respond to this medium negatively. More about this later.