By BETSY PICKLE
Scripps Howard News Service
December 31, 2007
But something happened in 2007 -- something wonderful. There were exceptional films sprinkled throughout the year. There were so many that nothing I saw during the year-end blitz moved me enough to depose one of my earlier favorites.
I could have stopped watching before Halloween!
On the downside, nearly all of my choices are long gone from theaters, so if you want to compare notes you'll have to rent them on DVD (so far seven are available). But let this be a lesson to you, as it was to me: Keep your eyes open for film treasures throughout the year.
1. "Reign Over Me" -- Most people aren't as open to the concept of Adam Sandler acting in a drama as I am. Their loss. Writer-director Mike Binder's tale of a dentist (Don Cheadle) who reconnects with his college roommate (Sandler), who has gone into emotional hiding since his wife and children were killed on Sept. 11, features great work from Sandler and Cheadle. As it respectfully examines the fallout from 9/11, it becomes the most moving film of the year.
2. "Once" -- A musical film that's nothing like a Broadway musical, writer-director John Carney's charmer is a verite valentine to romance and heartbreak. The streets of Dublin are alive with the sound of music as an Irish singer-guitarist (Glen Hansard) and a Czech pianist (Marketa Irglova) meet and make magic.
3. "The Lookout" -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt pushes his considerable acting talent to the next level in this offbeat caper film. He plays a young man with memory problems due to a traumatic brain injury who is trapped into taking part in a bank robbery. Writer Scott Frank's directing debut, also with impressive turns from Jeff Daniels and Matthew Goode, is an involving, inspiring drama about messed-up people.
4. "Black Snake Moan" -- Writer-director Craig Brewer continues to mine the emotional riches of the South with this story of healing and redemption. While the plot may sound prurient -- angry black farmer (Samuel L. Jackson) chains a young white nympho (Christina Ricci) to a radiator till her demons flee -- the film is loving and respectful. Plus, it can be a whole lot of fun, with awesome blues music and Brewer's trademark humor.
5. "Away From Her" -- Actress Sarah Polley makes an outstanding debut as a writer-director with this love story about an older couple dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's. Realistic about the devastating effects of the disease, the film focuses on the life and love the couple (Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent) have shared rather than on medical talk. It satisfies on every front.
6. "Feast of Love" -- Director Robert Benton takes an eclectic ensemble cast on a forthright but fantasy-laced tour of different kinds of love in this rich film adapted from Charles Baxter's acclaimed novel. Morgan Freeman plays the wise one who helps various couples open their eyes as he deals with his own pain. Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Alexa Davalos and Jane Alexander are some of the other cast standouts.
7. "Gone Baby Gone" -- First-time director Ben Affleck lets younger brother Casey Affleck do his thing in this realistic drama, with excellent results for each. Intriguing plot twists arise as private detectives (Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan) help the Boston police search for a child missing from a working-class neighborhood. The impeccable supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and standout Amy Ryan.
8. "Hairspray" -- The feel-good film of the year, this big-screen version of the Broadway musical based on John Waters' message comedy has its political voice and its singing voice in the right place. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky shines alongside Zac Efron, Brittany Snow, Amanda Bynes, Elijah Kelley, James Marsden, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah and Christopher Walken. As it condemns racism and promotes sassy dancing, this ode to Baltimore hits all the right notes.
9. "3:10 to Yuma" -- The American Western gets a new infusion of vitality courtesy of Welsh-born Christian Bale, New Zealand/Aussie hybrid Russell Crowe and young American star-on-the-rise Ben Foster, who gives the year's most riveting supporting performance. Director James Mangold's remake of the 50-year-old Glenn Ford classic is a timely discourse on greed and honor.
10. "Year of the Dog" -- Screenwriter Mike White's directing debut throws out the movie rule book and comes up with a unique plot and characters. Molly Shannon is phenomenal as an office worker whose grief over the loss of her dog gradually turns her into a woman on a mission. Hilarious and heart-wrenching, the film goes on a strange journey but never judges.
Honorable mention: "Surf's Up," "La Vie en Rose," "Into the Wild," "Mr. Brooks," "Red Road," "The Orphanage," "Control," "You Kill Me," "300" and "Talk to Me."
in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com
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