Life has finally become too short to see every movie released in Pittsburgh. I think my revelation coincided with the second term of the Bush administration, which seemed intent on getting us into more wars that even Rummy could fight at one time. With Condi playing "Requiem" -- quite well, I understand -- on her piano, The Decider waved his John Henry at Iran in a dangerous international pissing contest. Luckily for us, it turned out that Ahmadinejad hadn't left the seat up after all.
This is my oblique way of saying that I didn't see as many movies in 2007 as I usually do. For that, I apologize. But I did give three stars to numerous movies. Four stars would require the return of someone dead: Altman perhaps, or Kubrick or Truffaut or Buñuel, although Werner Herzog released a movie this year (Rescue Dawn), and that made me want to see his brilliant Aguirre, Wrath of God again.
Here, then, in no particular order (sort of), are some movies that I enjoyed in 2007 for a variety of reasons. I eschew the conventional 10, but please don't tell Bill O'Reilly. I don't need to be accused of trying to undermine American values.
Sweet Land. Ali Salem's beautifully acted charmer concerns a German mail-order bride and the Norwegian-American she's sent to marry. The story spans half a century in their lives and gives organized religion a good spanking. God, on the other hand, fares pretty well.
Notes from a Scandal. There's only a touch of Grand Guignol in this psychological drama about a young married schoolteacher (Cate Blanchett), the boy she has an affair with, and the older teacher (Judi Dench) who blackmails her -- the only way she knows to express her feelings after so many years in the closet. Master thespians at their best.
Smokin' Aces. What can I say? Sometimes you need a shot of testosterone, and this pumped-up action bloodbath has enough to get Barry Bonds arrested (again). It's ludicrous, so relax and enjoy it.
The Jane Austen Book Club. What can I say? Sometimes a chick flick does the trick. The idea that Austen's problems, two centuries ago, are not unlike the problems of women today is as audacious as it is ridiculous. But the actors are fine, and Austen, like Woody Allen, has an epigram for everything. Chick Flick Runner-Up: Becoming Jane.
Lars and the Real Girl. Don't laugh: It's the story of a mentally ill man who falls in love with an inflatable woman and has a bittersweet -- and very public -- relationship with her. This brave movie pulls it off, and Ryan Gosling is heartbreaking as Lars.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. At 80-something, veteran director Sidney Lumet still doesn't need Viagra: His throbbing family heist thriller climaxes courageously -- that is, unhappily. Even Ethan Hawke, opposite awesome Philip Seymour Hoffman, is palatable.
Jindabyne. Aussie icon Ray Lawrence's psychological drama, based on a Raymond Carver story, captures the disturbing barrenness and complexity of its source. Gabriel Byrne uses his normally unappealing sullen monotony here to excellent effect.
Two Days in Paris. French actor/director/writer Julie Delpy, channeling and inverting Woody Allen, casts herself as the French girlfriend of a neurotic Jewish-American and lets us watch their relationship unravel in an enjoyable romantic comedy with lots of honest laughs.
The Darjeeling Limited. Wes Anderson's bittersweet brothers-on-the-road comedy takes patience, but its rewards grow with each eccentric twist. By the time it's over, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman convince you they're related.
- Three of a kind: Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody aboard The Darjeeling Limited
Ratatouille. The name alone is so much fun to say. A rat who becomes a famous chef makes no sense, but this exhilarating animated fantasy squeaks through to make the list. Animated Runner-Up: Beowulf (also fun to say).
- A most charming rodent: Ratatouille
Grbavica. Jasmila Zbanic's grim, intelligent drama observes a single mother and her pre-teen daughter among the horrors of ethnic Sarajevo. Together they walk through recent history in Zbanic's anthem for her nation in recovery.
Ocean's Thirteen. Ha, ha, just kidding. This one pretty much sucked. Just Kidding Runner-Up: The Bourne Ultimatum. Will someone please tell me why this is an "intelligent" chase movie?
I also enjoyed Mira Nair's The Namesake, the multi-faceted storybook Paris, je t'aime, the fantastical anti-fundamentalist The Golden Compass, and a sadly radiant Julie Christie in Away from Her.
Finally, what to expect from the new year? The 2007 film There Will Be Blood arrives in Pittsburgh later this month, and it looks chilling. Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia) and Daniel Day-Lewis are always a good bet individually, so together they could bring us the highlight of the season. And then there's (for me) the year's most anticipated-cum-dreaded remake: The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Keanu Reeves as the admonitory alien Klaatu. I think he'll do just fine. But of course, the movie itself can't improve perfection.