It was a momentous year! I created this blog, graduated from college and the most expensive movie of. all. TIME!!!!!!!! was released. What better way to reflect on the events of the past 12 months than to condense it all into arbitrary lists?
Top 10 Movies
Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen teamed up again and managed to make an even better film than the fascinating A History of Violence. Maybe because no one invited William Hurt to this one. Not only does it cast one of my favorite actresses, Naomi Watts, in a lead role, not only is London a dreary, gritty, AWESOME backdrop, but Viggo turns in undoubtedly the finest performance of his career so far. He can insinuate so much menace with a glance or a word, it’s fantastic. And the movie behind it is pretty interesting, too, which is rare for a movie so obviously centered around a performance. If you haven’t seen this yet, please do so. It’s been released on DVD so it should be a simple thing to find.
Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society – This probably won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but I loved this movie. Loved, loved, loved it. Not only did it successfully apply the TV’s formula of futurist post-modern intellectual action and drama to the tight confines of a movie, but it refined every aspect to a level unseen before. Just looking at the masterful scene with perennial lame-o Togusa being taken over by the Solid State Society proves my point. The fusion of suspense, music and even acting (gasp! In an anime, no less!) is perfect. There’s no other word for it. Add in a soundtrack from anime music maestro Yoko Kanno so varied, textured and representative of Ghost in the Shell‘s feel and you have one of the best ways to spend 110 minutes in front of the TV. By far the best movie adaptation of a TV series I’ve ever seen.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – This might have technically been a movie from last year, but it was released so late and I just now saw it, so I’m going to be a little more lax than the Academy about the rules. Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) delivered an amazing motion picture based on an “unfilmable” novel. The story centers around a young orphan who has an almost supernatural sense of smell. He can smell things normal human beings can’t possibly smell. The tragedy is, unfortunately, that he has no smell himself. He becomes so obsessed with the smells of everything, especially beautiful young women, that he decides to find a way to distill their scents into a powerful perfume… by any means necessary. It’s a fantastically unique plot, given the 18th century French backdrop, with some great acting from the protagonist and Alan Rickman (let’s forget Dustin Hoffman is in this), gorgeous, inventive cinematography and a spectacular soundtrack. The climax of the movie is beautiful and surreal, more than making up for any shortcomings of the extended cast. This is the best movie of the last year you never heard of, and the one you should try out as soon as possible.
Children of Men – Another movie that technically was last year, but only came out in theaters where I live well into January, so I’m not gonna count it as 2006. Alfonso Cuaron shows that his unique adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban wasn’t a fluke and turns in a new sci-fi classic. In the near future, women have been infertile for about 18 years and the outlook of the human race looks bleak, leaning towards fascism and terrorism. England is gritty and ugly and our hero Clive Owen has given up on it all, until an unfortunate entanglement with a terrorist organization gives him hope for the future of the human race. Do I even need to say the cinematograpy is phenomenal? So many one-take shots, and they’re so good! The gritty realism hammers in the fact that no one’s life is safe, which the story echoes in its somber portrayals of death. The score is quite fascinating and alluring, too. The only blemish on this film is probably its too-transparent symbolism, but it’s easily forgivable. Again, to people that haven’t seen this yet: WHY NOT? :(
Lust, Caution – I was really sort of bitter against Ang Lee for the past few years. Not only did he go absolutely nutzoid with the Hulk, but he made perhaps the safest, most boring movie about gay cowboys possible. So it’s with astonishment that I sat down to see Lust, Caution to witness a complete 180 in approach. This movie is daring with its portrayal of a dangerous affair in Japanese-occupied China. It comes by its NC-17 rating honestly, showing you everything but blatant vaginal penetration between the two lovers. And I use the word “lovers” lightly. It’s one of the more morally repugnant romances I’ve seen on screen, but then again, I’m not nearly as encyclopedic as some others. But its charm doesn’t only lie in its ability to scandalize you. Ang Lee shows why he makes the big bucks in this movie by having such sublime control of the emotion and atmosphere of his scenes. One scene from early in the movie where newcomer Wei Tang (who carries this burdensome movie on her surprisingly capable shoulders) is riding in a bus and feeling the night air with her hand… it’s so in-the-moment and personally sublime that it still springs to mind when I think about this movie. Oh, and the soundtrack by one of my personal favorites, Alexandre Desplat, beguiles as well. My biggest grief is that it’s a fairly long movie and the ending doesn’t really pay off as well as it should. I simply didn’t leave satisfied. But the rest of the movie was mesmerizing enough to top the movie that is currently getting its dick sucked by critics across the nation…
No Country for Old Men – The Coen Brothers continue to broadcast their contempt for humanity with this dusty, violent Texan crime drama. In what is surely a return to form after Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, they go back to what they do best: normal people making stupid decisions and getting caught up in dirty dealings with dangerous criminals. The main cast, which includes Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones, is fantastic, if reserved. The story keeps things tense even while occasionally injecting some humor into the proceedings. The closest I can liken this movie to is Ethan’s and Joel’s first movie, Blood Simple. A tight, resonant indictment of human nature. It’s just that I prefer the Coens when they blend violent drama with equal parts comedy. My favorite work of theirs is still Fargo, but hey, this movie helps us pretend that they didn’t release anything else since O Brother Where Art Thou?.
Hot Fuzz – I didn’t quite warm up to Shaun of the Dead (having only seen the final half hour of that and only being mildly amused by it), so I didn’t enter into this movie with high hopes. It then proceeded to floor me with how well-made it was not only as a comedy, but as a movie, too. The fact that this may be one of the few comedies released into theaters in recent memory that didn’t trade largely on pop culture jokes and stale racial stereotypes is very impressive to me and should be to you, too. The humor in it often worked on multiple levels at the same time, leading not only to more laughs, but richer laughs; laughs I didn’t feel guilty about. Not only that, but it’s also probably one of the more entertaining action movies of the year. It’s not often that comedies get a recommendation from me, but this is definitely one that deserves it.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – I’m not overly fond of musicals, especially clap trap specifically designed to reel in a certain type of viewer (e.g. Dreamgirls, Hairspray). But there have been musicals lately that have been more than enjoyable on their own (e.g. Moulin Rouge, Chicago). Who would’ve thought that Tim Burton would throw his hat into the ring as well? But if I were him, how could I possibly refuse material as Burton-y as Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd? It’s a perfect match for his pop-Goth aesthetic. And as surprised as I was he chose Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to star in it, they both do a fine job as the psychopathic barber bent on revenge and the cannibal meat pie mistress who loves him. The supporting cast is also very talented, although it includes the disturbingly omnipresent Alan Rickman. And the disturbingly beschlonged Sascha Baron Cohen. The story’s nice, but not amazing. The music’s pleasant, but not memorable. The acting’s appropriate, but not award-worthy. I suppose it’s better than the sum of its parts. The gallons of European-style blood sure helps.
Planet Terror – I could technically put this and Death Proof in the same entry, but where’s the fun in that? Well, the fun is in Planet Terror, actually. The movie is an absolute blast. The plot is fairly pulpy and trashy, the effects are spot-on and everything is done with tongue shoved against cheek. I saw this with two friends and we were all smiling and chuckling non-stop throughout the entire thing, if not outright howling with laughter. Fergie being not only the first prominent victim, but being called brainless? Awesome. Josh Brolin transforming into a festering boil-ridden abusive husband? Outstanding! Escaping the zombie apocalypse while riding a Big Wheel? Fuckin’ A! Add to that Rose McGowan in her most fitting role ever and a bitchin’ soundtrack and you have a B-grade horror movie virtually guaranteed to be a fixture at the midnight movies for decades to come.
Death Proof – I am not going to apologize for liking this movie. I know Quentin Tarantino can rub people the wrong way with his Tarantino-y ways, but dammit, I enjoyed myself watching this. The snappy dialogue between the girls, the visceral, terrifying car chase (sure to be in car chase lists in years to come) and a hilariously satisfying ending made this
an ideala welcome follow-up to the glorious Kill Bill.
So did my list SHOCK you to your VERY CORE? If not, I have even more lists to amaze and titillate.
- Final Fantasy XII – I suppose this is technically cheating, but I only played it for a week or two after it came out before Twilight Princess made me drop everything I was doing and pay attention to it, so I only got around to beating this in, like, March or April. I’ve already written TOMES about how awesome an RPG this is and how it’s a few steps in the right direction for the entire Final Fantasy franchise. Too bad Square-Enix has become the feeble King Theoden to Tetsuya Nomura’s loathsome Wormtongue.
- Super Mario Galaxy – Again, this game has already been sprayed with so much white-hot praise that even Nintendo must be jaded to the positive press. I’ll just say this: Mario hasn’t felt more like an actual video game franchise than a mascot brand since Mario 64.
- Mass Effect – Yes, it’s essentially
GaysGears of War-meets-Knights of the Old Republic. But who the fuck would complain about THAT? This game is such a breath of fresh air for both shooting games and RPGs that it was a joy to play. Not only was ally AI actually EFFECTIVE in combat, but the powers you could use were so crucial to keeping the game dynamic and fresh. Would you use Lift to move the enemy’s cover? Or Hack the enemy android’s AI? What about scrambling everything together using a Singularity? It was a joy to play, and thanks to the in-depth character creation options, Bioware ensured you never have to play the same way twice. Oh, and the ways you could customize your character’s physical appearance were phenomenally better than Oblivion‘s mutant creation screen. I actually LIKED to look at the Shepard I created, as opposed to averting my eyes every time the camera went third person in Oblivion. Plus the dialogue wheel and the variety of conversational responses it allowed you to command was a delight; reason enough to play the game. I played Renegade, strong-arming, conniving, bullying and killing my way to a better tomorrow. I was a futuristic Jack Bauer, I was! Yeah, the dearth of variety when it came to undiscovered worlds was disappointing and combat could be fairly unbalanced, but when you look at how much was accomplished in the game, flaws like those and the retarded inventory system aren’t so bad. Truly, a game whose sequel I will be eagerly anticipating… }:3
- Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions – Yeah, it’s a remake, but it’s such a fantastic one. Not only did they know enough not to fuck with the actual gameplay, but they added luscious living-concept-art CG cutscenes and a translation so classy it deserves a standing ovation from a weeping crowd. But really, should we expect less from the Ivalice Alliance? FFT has gameplay so deep you can lose more than 100 hours in its addictive battle system. Designed by a GENIUS, it resurrects Final Fantasy‘s job system, allowing you to earn the skills of being a Knight, Dragoon,White and Black Mage, and even more obscure occupations like Orator and Arithmetician. Mixing and matching skill sets lends itself to countless possibilities, allowing you to formulate your own custom characters. Plus, the story ain’t half bad, either, now that it’s actually comprehensible. Oh, and there’s also the amazing soundtrack and addition of wireless multiplayer battles and the fact that it’s FUCKING PORTABLE. Definitely one of the most mature, addictive and rewarding Final Fantasy titles.
- Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – It may be more of the Metroid Prime we’ve played before, but is that a bad thing? On the Wii, it has one of the most responsive and accurate FPS control schemes EVER, with added bonus of Wii waggle interactivity. Who didn’t like using the nunchuck to grapple opponents? Plus it has elements that add a bit of variety to Metroid, like NPCs and being able to visit other worlds. Exploration is as gripping as ever. The only problem is that combat can definitely be overcomplicated and made too difficult by the addition of Hypermode. It’s all well and good if you have an option for the player to upgrade his destructive capability at the expense of health, but when you make that the ONLY way to defeat bosses? I had to hunt for every currently available energy tank and attempt countless times to beat the first major boss before it finally went down. That wasn’t fun; it was frustrating. Add to that the fact that Hypermode can “corrupt” you and even cause you to die and I have to wonder what the point of including it was. If you can get past a pointless complication like that, Metroid Prime 3 is definitely one of the best reasons to own a Wii.
- Everyday Shooter – Wow, where did this game COME FROM? An incredible one-man programming effort, this game defines the sort of awesome thing we should come to expect from the advent of downloadable games. The fusion of music and gameplay is fantastic, each stage only lasting as long as the song, and the destruction of enemies influencing the notes played (all guitars). One of the neatest aspects of the game, though, is how it’s never the same game from stage to stage. The combo system always changes in some clever way. Sometimes, figuring out how the fuck the combo system works is half the fun. And it’s definitely good at developing your twitch gaming skills. I died so often I was surprised at how out of practice I was at shmups. Sony scored an excellent catch when it picked this up.
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD – How do you improve one of the best competitive falling block puzzlers around? Make it online, of course. This title was a wish that got fulfilled. I loved the original PS title, but never could get anyone to play a match against. Now, with the super-easy Xbox Live network, I’m up to my armpits in matches. If you like this sort of puzzle game, you owe it to check this one out. My gamertag is John Mora. |:3
- flOw – Wow, this one is interesting. Which is why it makes my list. It’s so fucking odd and out there and such a flash of bold creativity deserves to be noticed. flOw isn’t a game in the traditional sense, I suppose. You are some kind of microorganism and you tilt the SIXAXIS to move. Your goal is to reach deeper levels of whatever primordial ooze it is you’re mucking around in, and you’re encouraged to consume other organisms to develop yourself. Eating the right sorts of stuff can give you more health or a more elaborate appearance. You can’t really die, I suppose. Every time an aggressive organism consumes enough of you to “kill” you, you get sent back to a shallower depth. Getting to the bottom unlocks more types of organisms to control, each with their own special ability. It’s so minimalist and relaxing that it’s almost a “zen” type of game. You can just sort of piddle around with it and relax without having the pressures of time limits or health bars. In fact, there’s no HUD in the game at all, just the game. Most of the rules aren’t explicit, allowing you to test how things work for yourself. It’s as much a piece of modern art as a game, which I think suits Sony quite well.
- Norbit – I shouldn’t even explain why.
- End of the Line – What a stupid, amateurish attempt at horror. Did you title this because you knew it was the end of the line for your CAREERS?
- 28 Weeks Later – ARRRRRRRRRRRRRGH
- Pathfinder – Too bad you couldn’t find your path straight to home video
- Transformers – Your childhood has lied to you. Transformers aren’t interesting and neither is this disposable piece of popcorn fluff.
Most Homoerotic Movies
- Eastern Promises – Shit, I kept wondering when Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassell would fucking KISS! They had more sexual tension than Viggo and Naomi fuckin’ Watts! Their behavior makes sense if you see the movie (please, please see the movie), and I totally called it early on from all the butt-slapping, lap-sitting, shoe-kissing good times they were having together. Also: Viggo’s naked rumble in the bath house. Hell, Viggo visiting a bath house, PERIOD.
- 300 – Damn, 300, you must’ve thought you had this competition in the bag. You were a bunch of shirtless, pants-less, leather-wearing muscular men. And yeah, things were pretty fucking gay, from the way you’d all swagger around after winning a battle and eye-fucking each other. But you also made it pretty clear you all had wives to go home to. In the end, I guess you were all just gay-for-pay.
- Hot Fuzz – It’s odd that an action movie (hell, even an action-comedy) doesn’t have some kind of opposite gender romantic interest. But Hot Fuzz dared to be different and focus on the close (close!) friendship Simon Pegg and Nick Frost developed over the course of the film. Not since Metal Gear Solid have I shed such manly tears watching two manly men riding off into the manly sunset together.
- Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society – Do I really need to dry-hump this movie even MORE?
- Gunbuster 2 – A superb follow-up to the 1988 classic. Not only does it cleverly utilize the original’s dramatic themes, but it finds a meaningful and emotional way to dovetail with its predecessor. GAINAX’s Kazuya Tsurumaki is becoming a serious talent with this and FLCL under his belt. He brings his trademark fearless, stylized, unconventional action and an absolutely perfect sense of timing in the series’ slower moments. Combine that with animation that’s searingly beautiful and colorful and you have a series worthy of the Gunbuster legacy.
- Paprika – Satoshi Kon takes us once again on a wild ride through the subconscious with a generous helping of his cinematic nostalgia. Sure, none of it may make much sense, but the animation is by far some of the most creative, visually-arresting stuff I’ve seen animated.
- Phoenix – An adaptation of what many consider to be Osamu Tezuka’s masterwork, Phoenix is a series that travels through space and time to examine the human condition. At the center of it all is the legendary, coveted bird, the Phoenix, who can grant eternal life. The scope of this series’ ambition amazed me, considering it’s only about 12 or 13 episodes. And despite the somewhat lacking production values, it’s impossible to argue that Tezuka couldn’t tap into some truly powerful stuff with his writing. The final episode is so epic, so resonant that even though I was watching it on a little dinky iPod screen, on my break at work, I nearly began crying at the beauty of it. This series costs a pittance on iTunes compared to what you get in return. I urge every fan of anime reading this to check the series out. It’s a real hidden gem.
- Princess Tutu collection – Yeah, this anime may have been released before 2007, but this particular package came out this fall and was the first time I’ve seriously sat down and watched it. Yes, it’s fucking girly. But it’s also a fantastic fairy tale story. In a nutshell, a duck admires a prince from afar. The prince’s heart has been shattered and he can no longer feel emotion. The duck wishes she could do something for him, and lo, a mysterious figure tells her he can make her into a girl, and not just any girl, but the ultra-graceful Princess Tutu so she can find the missing pieces of the prince’s heart and restore his emotions to him. The catch: if she ever tells the prince she loves him, she turns into a speck of light and disappears. That’s only one small fragment of the increasingly bizarre and fascinating plot, but you get the idea. The story melds with classic ballet music in a way that’s simply sublime. And not only that, but each episode’s story actually mirrors the famous ballet the episode uses as music. I actually learned a lot about ballet watching this show. Plus, you haven’t seen a battle until you’ve seen a ballet battle.
- Yoko Kanno – “Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society OST” – Yes. Again. Yoko Kanno is a musical freak, able to compose music in any genre you can think of and making it sound like she was born making that kind of music. The electronica she came up with for the Stand Alone Complex movie is simply out of this world. “Replica” is a sweeping trance number, featuring Ilaria Graziano’s mesmerizing vocals. “Zero Signal” begins with the familiarly faux-ethnic chanting of Gabriela Robin that spirals into thumping industrial metal. Origa does an awesome job closing out the franchise with the triumphant “Date of Rebirth” and even the stupid Japanese rap group Heartsdales can’t dampen her ethereal majesty in the opening number “Player.” Astute SAC fans can even spot 2nd GIG‘s fantastic sniper ballad “Somewhere in the Silence” on the soundtrack. Easily stands its own ground in the impressive Stand Alone Complex soundtrack oeuvre.
- The Arcade Fire – “Neon Bible” – These guys apparently had quite a hit with their debut album, but I hadn’t even heard of them until this surprising sophomore effort. A clamoring mix of alternative, strings and even a choir at some points, this album soars in a way that seriously impresses. As you might guess from the title of the album, The Arcade Fire seem to have a beef with religion, which takes up the bulk of the material in this gloomy record. I’m definitely going to have to keep tabs on these guys in the future.
- Radiohead – “In Rainbows” – Who expected Radiohead to break its four year drought by releasing the best album of theirs since “OK Computer” and then having the gall the ask the fans to pay whatever they wanted for it? Typical Thom Yorke looniness. Still, I hope you found it in your heart to pay more than $0 for this album. It’s the best mix of their “Kid A”-style electronic trappings and “OK Computer” good ol’ fashioned guitar strumming. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take four more years to get another album. >:[
- Yoko Kanno – “Ragnarok Online II OST” – Yeah, the game probably fucking blows (it’s a Korean MMORPG), but the music is eminently enjoyable. Going for a generally more Celtic feel overall, this soundtrack can stand alone from the game easily. In fact, I don’t see myself ever playing the game, really. Even though Kanno gives Yasunori Mitsuda a run for his Celtic-flavored-RPG-music money for most of the album, she knows to throw in a little something different, ending it with an eerie, quiet, wavering synth piece. Definitely worth the import.
- Bear McCreary -“Battlestar Galactica Season 3 OST” – Yes, another soundtrack. Wanna fight about it? Not only is BSG a fantastic show, but it has the most fantastic, creative, listenable soundtrack out of any modern American TV show. Eschewing the standard Star Wars-style bombastic orchestras, BSG prefers to have taiko drums, ethnic flutes and Armenian singing for its soundscape. And it works, giving the show a distinctly familiar, but foreign, feel. Add in an odd, but excellent, Bob Dylan cover and orchestral and piano pieces that feel more Philip Glass than John Williams and you have the best soundtrack this show has produced yet.
Best Home Video Release
- Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (Blu-Ray) – Bandai Visual USA went all out in their treatment of this jewel of an anime movie. Not only did they spruce it up in high definition, but they gave it one of the most luxurious packaging treatments you could hope for. The complete original Japanese storyboard (over 500 pages!!) is included, along with liner notes that contain essays on the themes of the film. All this housed in gorgeous original art on a chipboard box so sturdy it feels like it could withstand a nuclear blast. The film may cost a fortune compared to other movies (even HD ones), but the money was spent in all the right places. “It’s so romantic,” indeed.
Worst Home Video Release
- Grindhouse – Seriously, what the hell? Why can’t we get what we got in theaters? I want Planet Terror and Death Proof in one package with all the funny fake trailers that were shown inbetween. But that’s not what we get! We get full priced releases of both of them and only Robert Rodriguez’ trailer gets bundled with Planet Terror. That’s a total rip. I’m boycotting buying either of these releases until they make a version that has them bundled they way they were meant to be seen. While we’re at it, where’s that combined version of Kill Bill they keep promising us? }:[
Whew! So that was my 2007 in terms of entertainment. Agree or disagree? What are your own lists? Also: what would you call the best and worst of this blog?