Why wait until the end of the year to start assembling lists? Here’s what I think of 2007 in movies so far.
I’m something of a cheerleader for the contemporary American cinema of the last few years, but even I have to admit that this year, thus far, the output has been of paltry quality–with notable exceptions. Of course, the year is only half over and a lot of exciting stuff is coming up (new Cohen Bros., van Sant, Baumbach, Anderson, Burton, etc.), but so far 2007’s best films list is dominated by the international community. And yet the best picture of the year thus far is…
A gorgeous examination of the nature of the artistic process with an endearingly optimistic moral that we all have a talent and a purpose to pursue, Ratatouille is told in the way movies were back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and its director Brad Bird tells a story as marvelously as Howard Hawks. There isn’t a single misstep, just pure pathos, hilarity and narrative propulsion. Pixar is not only back after the dismal Cars, they’ve made the best thing anyone’s seen all year.
Released in Italy in 1962, Alberto Lattuada’s masterpiece never saw the light of day in this country until Rialto revived it early this year. A DVD is surely in the works, so get your queues ready; Mafioso is a funny little culture clash comedy set in a boondock Sicily, where a Milano family man has taken the wife and kids for a family reunion. But half way through the film takes on a much darker and more serious tone, transforming into an examination of the violence behind small-town living. Condemning, in the end, the past in all its violence and cruelty, Mafioso is nothing short of a proud celebration of modernity. And how often do you see that?
3. Day Night Day Night
More compelling than it has any right to be, Day Night Day Night is the story of a sweet young American girl who’s decided to blow up a Times Square streetcorner. Why? Who knows! Director Julia Lotkev keeps the film steeped in mystery; no motives are offered, only suspense, built-up with tight close-ups and a hand-held camera. It’s a fascinating experiment in the nature of cinematic identification, and star Luisa Williams gives a performance that approaches the levels of Falconetti. Ultimately, and arguably irresponsibly, Lotkev uses the terrorist as a metaphor for the artist, and the results are genuinely moving when they ought to be repulsive.
4. 12:08 East of Bucharest
A small and seemingly slight film out of Romania, 12:08… couldn’t be more perfect for what it sets out to accomplish. Less an exploration of the nature of memory and truth of the Rashomon variety–though that’s there, too–12:08 asks why we ought to celebrate our national history when the reality of the present is so dismal and bleak. A fitting companion film for the Fourth of July holiday that just passed!
5. Syndromes and a Century
Coming out of Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest film is as gorgeous, spellbinding and mysterious as anything he’s ever made, if not more so. What’s it about? Hard to say, but Weerasethakul is up there with Hou Hsaio-Hsien as a modern director who is changing the way people watch and understand films.