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Cinema: Best of 2007

By Cinema

And so, after 191 films viewed and reviewed here I get to sum up the 2007 cinema year. As I said back in September it’s been a great year for good films but a poor year for truly great ones. Even my (obvi­ously unim­peach­able) Top Ten list con­tains only a few that I think will be regarded as clas­sics in 20 years but these are all films that I’d hap­pily see again or even own on DVD if the chance arises.

Into the Wild posterBest of the year turns out to be the most recent: Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is the real deal. As beau­ti­ful to look at and listen to as the finest art film, but remain­ing down to earth, it fea­tures a star-making per­form­ance from Emile Hirsch lead­ing an ensemble of fine screen act­ors and it ulti­mately deliv­ers a mes­sage that is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the one you expect: He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait posterThe next two selec­tions are also not­able for being the lowest-grossing films of the year: the mes­mer­ising Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait fol­lowed one man around a foot­ball pitch for an entire match and the won­drous and glow­ing abori­gin­al film Ten Canoes reminded us that great story-telling can be found any­where, from the camp fire to the mul­ti­plex. The finest per­form­ances of the year from grown-ups were found in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie were a couple reel­ing from the impact of Alzheimer’s: the pres­sure of the dis­ease slowly unrav­el­ling a rela­tion­ship that on the sur­face seemed so pure. Best per­form­ance of the year from any­one was little Kolya Spiridonov as “orphan” Vanya in The Italian, determ­ined to find his Mother wherever she may be rather than go to the west with new parents.

Deep Water posterBest doc­u­ment­ary turned out to be the unprom­ising Deep Water: a film about a yacht race that ended up being about the deep­est, darkest secrets kept by a fra­gile human soul – it was even bet­ter second time around. Atonement was a sweep­ing and romantic drama show­cas­ing the many skills of the latest gen­er­a­tion of British movie craftspeople, not least dir­ect­or Joe Wright who, annoy­ingly, is only 36 years old. Best loc­al film in an uneven year (and jus­ti­fi­ably in this Top Ten) is Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark: funny and sweet and sad and the product of a sin­gu­lar vis­ion rather than the com­mit­tee that seems to pro­duce so many New Zealand films.

Knocked Up posterMy favour­ite com­mer­cial film of the year was the sweet-natured and very funny Knocked Up about a slack­er and a career-girl get­ting to grips with respons­ib­il­ity, rela­tion­ships and par­ent­hood: He tangata, he tangata, he tangata once again. Finally, I’ve spent all year try­ing to jus­ti­fy leav­ing Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver out of this Top Ten with no luck what­so­ever: the com­plete lack of flaws of any kind mean it gets in des­pite the fact that I didn’t love it like I did some others.

It’s a tough time for loc­al paper film review­ers around the world. Cinema crit­ics from pub­lic­a­tions like the Village Voice have been giv­en the flick by penny-pinching pub­lish­ers and even the Sunday Star-Times in Auckland has star­ted run­ning film reviews from sis­ter papers in Australia rather than pay someone loc­ally to rep­res­ent you. So, I feel incred­ibly for­tu­nate to be able to watch all these films on your behalf and want to thank the Capital Times for indul­ging my desire to cov­er everything rather than a select few releases. Thanks, also, to all the Wellington cinemas who have gra­ciously hos­ted me des­pite my fairly con­stant bitch­ing about stand­ards. But, above all, thank you for read­ing. See you next year.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday January 2, 2008.

Review: Eagle vs Shark, Ten Canoes, Die Hard 4.0, Sicko, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and Destiny in Motion

By Cinema, Conflict of Interest and Reviews

Eagle vs Shark posterEagle vs Shark car­ries a great bur­den of expect­a­tion: Taika Waititi’s Oscar nom­in­a­tion, invit­a­tions to Sundance, inter­na­tion­al Miramax sup­port, point­less com­par­is­ons with Napoleon Dynamite. A film with less heart than this one could eas­ily col­lapse under all that weight but this Eagle soars.

Loren Horsley is Lily, a hope­less romantic with her heart set on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) from the video game shop a few doors down. Unfortunately, Jarrod’s a dick but she sees some­thing in him and, over the course of a lovely and sad little film, teases it out des­pite all good sense telling her to run a mile. EVS is full of great (mostly small) com­ic moments and obser­va­tions and on the rare occa­sions when some­thing does­n’t quite work it’s easy to ride with it. A won­der­ful, unusu­al, soundtrack from The Phoenix Foundation, too.

Ten Canoes posterAlso not-to-be-missed is Ten Canoes, the first genu­inely indi­gen­ous film ever to come out of Australia. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in Northern Territory col­lab­or­ated with Rolf de Heer (The Tracker) to tell one of their own stor­ies – and tell it their own way – and the res­ult is beau­ti­ful and human and scata­logic­ally funny. A remind­er of what cinema can achieve when it is set free.

Die Hard 4.0 posterAfter a 12 year lay­off Bruce Willis finally returns to the role that cata­pul­ted him to super­star­dom (and off the top of sev­er­al explod­ing build­ings) in Die Hard 4.0 (also known as Live Free or Die Hard in coun­tries that still care about free­dom). The technology-terrorism premise might as well be flower-arranging for all the sense it makes, but it gets us to the meat which is John McClane being an ass, tak­ing a beat­ing and blow­ing stuff up. It pushes most of the right Die Hard but­tons, but in the end that’s all it man­ages to do – push buttons.

Sicko posterMichael Moore has been get­ting a hard time recently for all sorts of reas­ons (not mak­ing “prop­er” bal­anced doc­u­ment­ar­ies, not front­ing up to those who would turn his tac­tics back on him) but the cri­ti­cism is mis­guided. Moore isn’t really a doc­u­ment­ari­an – he’s a polemi­cist. In his eyes he’s fight­ing a war for the ordin­ary cit­izen against an entrenched and cor­rupt cap­it­al­ist super-state. Why should he ever have to fight fair? There is enorm­ous wicked­ness and injustice in this world and if it takes Moore and a few low-blows to help turn that around then I’m all for it. As it turns out, Sicko is the best of his films to date with few­er of the cheap stunts that arm his crit­ics and a finale in Cuba with some 9/11 res­cue work­ers that I found quite moving.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry posterOf course, there are no great­er her­oes in our mod­ern age than New York fire-fighters which is why it was a smart move by Adam Sandler’s team to set their (ahem) sens­it­ive plea for tol­er­ance, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, among them. Larry (Kevin James) is a wid­ower and the City bur­eau­cracy won’t let him make his kids bene­fi­ciar­ies of his insur­ance. But if he goes to Canada and mar­ries his best friend Chuck (Sandler) he can some­how sort it all out. This is, of course, fraud and when they are invest­ig­ated the duo learn a lot about intol­er­ance as well as the, er, gay life­style choice. My favour­ite moment in a movie sprinkled with a hand­ful was the cameo appear­ance by closeted gay icon (and the first Jason Bourne) Richard Chamberlain as the judge at the hearing.

Finally, Te Radar is a micro-budget (and micro-scale) Michael Moore in Destiny in Motion, a thin doc­u­ment­ary about the birth of the Destiny New Zealand polit­ic­al party and the con­nec­tions (fairly obvi­ous) with Bishop Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church. The irony of this exposé of pente­cost­al polit­ic­al manip­u­la­tion play­ing at the Paramount (a ven­ue that now turns into a happy-clappy Church every Sunday) was not lost on me.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday, 15 August, 2007.

Full dis­clos­ure: Like many people in Wellington, and the motion pic­ture industry, I count Loren and Taika as mates; I used to co-own the Paramount; Ten Canoes is dis­trib­uted by Richard Dalton at Palace/Fresh Films who is also a mate.

Preview: 2007

By Cinema

This week’s Capital Times column. No reviews due to the Christmas break, instead a pre­view of a few titles to expect in 2007.

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