If you didn’t read the first part of this now three-part series, it’ll look like I’m just randomly categorizing 2007 movies. If you did read the first part of this now three-part series, you’ll know I’m just randomly categorizing 2007 movies.
You can go back and catch up if you want, but, because I know your time is finite (today and, in general, on Earth), here’s the thesis that launched this project: before it’s all said and done, 2007 could outdo 1999 (which is popularly held up as the most important film year in recent memory).
And this is me trying to get you excited for the next five months or so. So let’s go a-categorizin’.
Margaret (d. Kenneth Lonergan)
Rendition (d. Gavin Hood)
Redacted (d. Brian De Palma)
Funny Games (d. Michael Haneke)
Margot at the Wedding (d. Noah Baumbach)
Synecdoche, New York (d. Charlie Kaufman)
Nightwatch (d. Peter Greenaway)
Silent Night (d. Carlos Reygadas)
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (d. Eric Rohmer)
There are some names in this list – Rohmer, De Palma and Haneke – that I’d typically classify as "thoroughbreds", but they’re either experimenting or coming off of relatively weak movies. I still consider De Palma the greatest filmmaker of my lifetime, but The Black Dahlia was so visually restrained by his standards (not to mention talkier than usual) that I’m worried the day-to-day grind, both mentally and physically, of making movies is beginning to sap his creative vitality. It happens to the best. So if a "new media" take on the Iraq War is what De Palma needs to keep himself fresh, then go with it, man! As a "montage of stories about U.S. soldiers fighting in the Iraq conflict, focusing on the modern forms of media covering the war", it sounds like Redacted will blend the freeform structure of Greetings and Hi, Mom! with the moral anguish of Casualties of War. It’s also De Palma’s first HD-shot feature. If this interests you, Geoff Beran is on top of every development at De Palma a la Mod.
I know one (1) person who’s seen Funny Games, and they are adamant that it is not a sellout movie for Michael Haneke (who is remaking his 1997 classic with Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt). This is reassuring, but not surprising; Michael Haneke’s too calculating to pull a George Sluizer and too damn nasty to give Hollywood a conventional thriller. I must admit, though, that I was much more excited for Funny Games ’07 when it looked like torture porn was on the rise. But after the dual debacle of Hostel: Part II and Captivity, it looks like the genre isn’t so much a genre as it is a Saw thing. This means cruelty-seeking youngsters might be less inclined to give Haneke’s home invasion white-knuckler a shot. At least Warner Independent is still planning to release the film on Christmas Day. Please, please don’t pussy out on this.
Rohmer will always command respect, and his movies will always be worth watching, but his last two pictures – The Lady and the Duke and Triple Agent – were, at best, uninspired. The one positive with Rohmer is that his movies aren’t rigorously visual; so long as his mind is keen, he could spring another Autumn’s Tale on us at any moment. But, judging from the three whole pages of Google results you get when you search The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, no one’s expecting anything special.
Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret has no definite 2007 release date, has not been rumored to appear at any of the major year-end festivals and is currently getting backburnered by distributor Fox Searchlight in favor of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (more on that in a moment). Also, there is no theatrical trailer. If I didn’t consider Lonergan’s sophomore feature a masterpiece waiting to happen based on the brilliant screenplay alone, I’d speculate that Margaret might be a troubled film. But because this would break my heart, I refuse to entertain this notion. I know the movie test screened in New York City at some point over the last year, as I received a couple of effusive emails from folks who had stumbled upon my 2004 script review for AICN after seeing and loving an early cut of the film (interestingly, neither of these people had seen You Can Count on Me). That was heartening, but it’s been radio silence ever since. I asked someone at Fox Searchlight late last year about Margaret, and got a frustratingly poker-faced "It’s great!" response. The more I think about this movie failing to deliver, the sadder I get. Onward.
Were it not for Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Noah Baumbach would’ve been the comeback story of 2005. His The Squid and the Whale was the most caustically funny take on familial disintegration since Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses, and would’ve qualified as an outright classic had it not succumbed to convention near the end. But it was still good enough to land on my top ten list, which means his follow-up, Margot at the Wedding, is a sure contender for some kind of greatness. The trailer offers nothing conclusive, but a muted-by-his-standards performance from Jack Black is certainly a good omen.
Had Gavin Hood not directed Rendition, I would’ve lumped this issue picture in with the rest of the prestige pap. But since I know Hood has busted his ass to offset Kelly Sane’s boilerplate conscience-pricking with tangible human emotion, there’s reason to expect Rendition might transcend its cynical, awards-chasing origins. Unlawful extradition may not be the sexiest subject for a major Hollywood picture, but Hood proved with Tsotsi that he’s aces with actors; considering that he’s got three Oscar winners (Reese Witherspoon, Alan Arkin and Meryl Streep), Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard and Bob Gunton in his cast, Rendition should offer up a good two hours of thespian fireworks if nothing else. Here’s hoping William Monahan’s rewrites elevated the material.
I also have a list of festival "known-quantities" on the way (this explains the absence of Wong Kar-wai in the thoroughbred category among other seeming slights), but since Carlos Reygadas is reportedly re-cutting his divisive 2007 Cannes entry, Silent Light, I’ll place it here. But if Esquire critic Mike D’Angelo, whose opinion most closely dovetails with my own, is as wrong on this one as he was right on the execrable Battle in Heaven, I’m gonna bust him up. The below trailer is intriguing. Or ponderous. Or risible. Hard to say. But I’m a big fan of deliberate and spare when a talented director is locked-in (see Gus Van Sant’s Gerry).
Every time I go back home to Ohio, it’s the same damn thing: "When’s Peter Greenaway going to make another feature?" Well, Ohio, after eight years of noodling (preceded by the very bad 8 1/2 Women), the experimental genius of Prospero’s Books and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is back with Nightwatching, a portrait of the Dutch master, Rembrandt, starring… Martin Freeman? No director veers more drastically from brilliance to wretchedness than Greenaway, and I’m beginning to think that his confrontational commentary on the medium of film is indicative of creative bitterness, i.e. he’s lost the ability to connect with the viewer. His best work is special enough to recommend this latest picture, but if he misses again, I might be off his shtick for good. Ohio might stick with him, though.
Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, about a theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who creates a mockup of New York City in a New York City warehouse. The general for the specific, the specific for the general. Yeah, sounds like a real Primer. Kaufman may be getting too esoteric for his own good, but it’s wonderful to have a screenwriter of his magnitude and clout (for now) testing the limits of cinematic narrative in a Pirandellian fashion. He may go crazy before he equals the achievement of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on his own, but if he kills off his parasite, Zach Helm, in the process, the descent will be worth it.
The Wes Andersons
The Darjeeling Limited (d. Wes Anderson)
Hey, did anyone make it through the non-stop clinking of dishes and glasses that rendered the Criterion commentary for The Life Aquatic unlistenable long enough to find out if Wes Anderson intended the film’s action sequences to be… "action sequences"? I ask because the frequent technical ineptitude is the only thing holding me back from embracing the movie as penance for the overblown and underthought Royal Tenenbaums. Emotionally and thematically, I think The Life Aquatic works just fine, but the editing and staging is amateur hour at times; much as I dislike Tenenbaums (and, over the years, it has sadly come to that), at least it was polished.
Yet I find it hard to buy into the notion that Anderson is regressing. We do know that The Life Aquatic was an arduous shoot, which may account for some of the technical miscues, and that American Express ad from last year demonstrated that the young auteur’s sense of humor is undiminished. What’s holding Anderson back, I fear, is his veneration of 1970s cinema. He’s effectively stripped all the extant gristle off of Hal Ashby’s moldering bones, while his Truffaut fetish has now gone corporate. If The Darjeeling Limited really is an adventure yarn featuring thinly veiled caricatures of Francis Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Jack Nicholson (I’ve avoided the screenplay, but the images confirm this), then Anderson’s obsession with that period might be deteriorating into mental illness.
But there was real feeling in The Life Aquatic. Bill Murray’s submersible confrontation with the endangered shark that ate his best friend for once demonstrated that Anderson is interested in redeeming his scoundrels for real (beyond a punch line epitaph). There was no winking in this moment, and it’s so beautifully played that I found myself wishing Murray hadn’t been nominated for Lost in Translation; had things shaken out differently, Zissou could’ve been his Best Actor role.
Contrary to popular belief, Anderson does not always receive a New York Film Festival berth (The Life Aquatic was passed over in 2004), so The Darjeeling Limited’s Opening Night selection means it’s at least good enough to not embarrass the selection committee. Regardless of how it fits into Anderson’s body of work, he’s going to change things up with his next outing, an animated adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The conclusion to this thrilling list to end all lists will be here tomorrow or the next day. Do not set your watch to my updates. You’ll become stuck in time.
How’s The Pineapple Express?
I didn’t know I wanted David Gordon Green to riff on Freebie and the Bean with Seth Rogen and James Franco until last night. Between this and The Foot Fist Way, 2007 could easily be the year of Danny McBride. But 2008 will do.
*Here’s the link, but the formatting is fucked.