2007 Verve Awards

2006 Verve Awards

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Best Arts and Culture Blog Nominee

Monday, December 31, 2007


Modern Fabulousity's Best Films of 2007


10. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (dir. Sidney Lumet)
Take a director whose greatest films are four decades past, pair him with a first-time screenwriter, and have them try to pull off an unlikely genre mashup of heist flicks, family rivalries, drugs and failed romance. Think it's easy? Not on your life. But Lumet has tackled difficult material in the past (Dog Day Afternoon), and in 2007 he reminded us why he's one of the best the art form has ever known. It was also one of three astonishing performances this year by Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages, Charlie Wilson's War), now unquestionably the best actor of his generation. And Marisa Tomei, who won her Oscar 15 years ago, is still an underrated talent...and still gorgeous naked.

9. Once (dir. John Carney)
This microscopically-budgeted musical did more than capture the first blush of love between two impoverished musicians in Ireland. By stripping its production design to the bone and capturing much of the music as live performance, it reconfigured the paradigm of the modern movie musical. Once was the best effort in a year that had some remarkable Hollywood-made musicals (Hairspray, Enchanted and Sweeney Todd, superb efforts all). But the true excitement for fans of the form came from odd places (The District), in odd shapes (Colma: The Musical), with oddly affecting stories. I, for one, would like to see Once followed by a sequel (Twice?).

8. This Is England (dir. Shane Meadows)
This semi-autobiographical portrait of a young boy's adolescence inside a skinhead gang is notable not only for its surprises, but for the way it subverts your preconceptions...before bringing them crashing down around you. There's not much one can say about this film without giving the game away (and I'm hoping, if you haven't seen it, that you'll be renting the DVD very very soon), so let me just say that in a perfect world, Stephen Graham would win the Best Supporting Oscar for the most charmingly terrifying performance of the year.

7. The Lookout (dir. Scott Frank)
I'm of the opinion that the best young actor working today is not, as Spielberg proclaimed repeatedly this year, Shia LeBoeuf. (I like Shia, but come on...Transformers is hardly an acting challenge, dude.) Instead, I give that honor to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who blew me away with his performance as a brain-damaged young janitor enlisted in a bank robbery scheme. The first directorial effort by screenwriter Frank (Minority Report, Get Shorty), the film excelled in revealing dialogue, superb design, and a glowing central performance.

6. The Bourne Ultimatum (dir. Paul Greengrass)
It probably surprises no one that the director of my favorite film of 2006, Greengrass (United 93), is making his third return to my top ten list with the final installment of the Jason Bourne trilogy. Some of the film's sequences -- the chase across the rooftops, the race through the train station -- moved beyond mere editing into a kind of rapid-eye delirium, a challenge to the viewer to keep up, because we were moving into new, fertile, furious, and fast-paced terrain. Even with the film's dazzling tectonics shifting from moment to moment, the film remained solidly built upon terrific performances, especially those of Matt Damon and his partners in the chase, Joan Allen and David Straithairn. (Note to Hollywood, by the way: these actors should work a LOT more than they do.)

5. Sicko (dir. Michael Moore)
Moore's latest (and best) film exposes the disastrous state of the health care system in America like a painful sunburn, but that's not it's greatest strength. It also dissembles our cultural assumptions about the rest of the world, revealing the shambling lie of our nation's preeminence and our preening, self-serving ignorance. I don't doubt that Moore skews facts to suit his arguments, but even if only half of what he says is true, it is a damning endictment of our nation's irresponsibility, and a dramatic call to service. As it happens, it's also incredibly solid filmmaking, balancing humor with outrage in perfect amounts.

4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (dir. Julian Schnabel)
No one is more shocked than me that the film treatment of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's illness (which left him paralyzed except for one eyelid) would make my top ten list. I generally detest films about illness (Dying Young, anybody?) and specifically hate film about paralysis (The Sea Inside, ugh). But the stroke of genius here is to have us experience Bauby's life through his own viewpoint -- a deft trick achieved by screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), director Schabel (Before Night Falls) and especially by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Munich). The result is an unsentimental, sparse, thrilling glimpse into the core of our existence...an appreciation of what makes life worth living.

3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (dir. Andrew Dominik)
Exploring the iconography of American celebrity has rarely been done with such atmospheric skill as in Jesse James, which recontextualizes the famed outlaw into decidedly human proportions. But don't be fooled by the title -- this movie is as much about the gunslinger as it is about the man who took him down, a forgotten figure of history whose act of betrayal was a bloody mass of contradictions: a plea for place in the world, a grab for fame, a statement of manhood, a glorious mistake. Dominik flips the mirror on America by looking at its two sides, embodied with metaphysical majesty in the larger-than-life metaphors of James and Ford. It is, in its own way, the most important film made this year.

2. There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
At the center of this story about men, boys, fathers and sons, stand two singular artists: Anderson, the director/screenwriter who builds Upton Sinclair's oil-drenched novel into an arrestingly complex social construct, and Daniel Day-Lewis, who -- after establishing an already stellar acting career, unparalleled among his contemporaries -- manages to turn in the performance of his lifetime. To call There Will Be Blood a masterpiece somehow seems to give it short shrift; there's so much richness in the screenplay, the visual beauty, the disturbing music, and the mesmerizing performances that it makes other films seem anemic in comparison. There certainly is blood here, rich and viscous and dark and hypnotic and utterly human. We should be thankful it was spilled.

1. No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
Speaking of blood, it is never simple in No Country For Old Men, a majestically violent, blackly comic thriller that sees writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to the quirky cinematic heights of Fargo, Miller's Crossing, and O Brother Where Art Thou? At times, this contemplative, subtly wry take on the modern western seems positively drenched in blood; a spatter here, a trail of droplets there, providing wordless clues to where the characters (and the enraptured audience) are headed next. But this is no Oliver Stone bloodbath or Tarantino splatter orgy; with a minimalist's approach to storytelling, the Coens use the fluid of humanity as a bold painter might...as a dazzling metaphor and motif, a stark contrast of man and his environment. Blood is part of the struggle to survive, and this is Texas...where surviving is not at all the same as succeeding.

The Runners-Up (In Order): Boy Culture, Hairspray, Michael Clayton, Persepolis, Away From Her, Sunshine, Black Snake Moan, Sweeney Todd, Gone, Baby, Gone, The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Didn't See (But Wish I Had): 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; Killer of Sheep; The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters; Lars and the Real Girl; Margot at the Wedding; Offside; Romance and Cigarettes; Syndromes and a Century; We Own The Night


Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Runner-Up: Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Best Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her
Runner-Up: Nikki Blonski, Hairspray

Best Director: Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Runner-Up: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men

Best Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Runner-Up: Stephen Graham, This Is England

Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Runner-Up: Marisa Tomei, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Best Original Screenplay: Kelly Masterson, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
Runner-Up: Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Runner-Up: Sarah Polley, Away From Her

Best Cinematography: A eight-way tie between
Barry Ackroyd, The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Roger Deakins, No Country For Old Men
Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
Eric Gautier, Into The Wild
Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Alwin Kuchler, Sunshine
Oliver Wood, The Bourne Ultimatum

Best Original Score: Johnny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood
Runner-Up: Alexandre Desplat, Lust, Caution

Best Original Song: "Could We Get Any Older?," Colma: The Musical
Runner-Up: "Happy Working Song," Enchanted

Best Editing: Chris Gill, 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine

Best Costumes: Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Todd

Best Production Design: Fergus Clegg, The Wind That Shakes The Barley

And a few snarky awards:
  • Most Overrated Picture Featuring An Incessant Clacking Typewriter: Atonement
  • Still Waiting For Something To Happen: American Gangster
  • At Least The Costumes Rocked, Right?: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  • The John-Lennon-Is-Spinning-In-His-Grave Award: Across The Universe
  • The Homeskillet Award For Self-Conscious Screenwriting: Juno
  • The Way To Beat The Nazis Is To Have Sex With Them: Black Book
  • Better Than You Imagine: Bug, Southland Tales, Live Free or Die Hard
  • Worse Than You Imagine: Shoot 'Em Up, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  • Homoerotic AND Homophobic: 300, Superbad
  • Just Plain Homophobic: Robert DeNiro, Stardust
  • The Old Ball and Chain Award: Black Snake Moan
  • The Best Movie No One Saw: Colma: The Musical
  • The Worst Movie Everyone Saw: Spider-Man 3
  • Most Unfortunate Male Nudity: Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
  • Most Marvelous Male Nudity: The cast of Pride
  • Saddest Editing Room Scrap of 2007: "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" (put it on the DVD!)
  • Best Use of Homicidal Zombies: 28 Weeks Later
  • Worst Use of Homicidal Zombies: I Am Legend
  • Best Performance By A Closeted Homosexual: Frank Langella, Starting Out in the Evening
  • Best Performance By A Closeted Lesbian: Jodie Foster, The Brave One
  • Best Supporting Performance By A Closeted Homosexual: James Marsden, Hairspray
  • Best Supporting Performance By A Closeted Lesbian: Queen Latifah, Hairspray

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Blogger John T said...

ModFab-a nitpick: what exactly was supporting about Casey Affleck's performance?

1/1/08, 11:24 AM  
Blogger ModFab said...

Great question, John. Primarily, I put him in Supporting because that's where the Oscar campaign for the movie is positioning him. And I guess, from a structural point of view, Robert Ford is placed in the supporting position in the narrative, although he has more screen time than Jesse James. But I agree with you, it's bollocks. The whole Lead/Supporting thing is bullshit to begin with...I say, it's not the size of the part, it's the quality of the performance. (I've just been an Oscar whore for too long, I guess.) ;-)

1/1/08, 11:53 AM  
Blogger PoliVamp said...

Heh, I would have prefered Casey Affleck in Lead myself, but if you're going by what Oscars the film is going for, that is correct.

However, I would have loved for you to stick it to the Academy :)

1/1/08, 7:29 PM  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

what's unfortunate about VIGGO being naked? me loved it

1/3/08, 4:25 PM  

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