Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)

“Therefore let us be happy while we are happy.”

– Stated during the epic Toast Scene toward the end of Fanny and Alexander

A richly layered masterwork ripe with the inevitable uncertainty of life’s experiences, charting the coming of age of two particular child observers who watch their family flourish, fall apart, and rise again, all without barely a worry in the world. Director Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical remembrance of the glories and horrors of childhood evokes a personal nostalgia for past memories while instilling both a joy and sadness in the process. The film also displays one of the best examples of intercutting, where through a supernatural force, Alexander witnesses his greatest enemy parish. Moments like this turn out to be a blessing and a curse, brilliantly defining a certain point of view in terms of imagery and sound.

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Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008)

Despite the endless hype and inevitable reality check of expectations, Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield turns out to be an interesting take on the monster movie genre, residing somewhere between The Blair Witch Project and Godzilla. And if you’ve read about the film anywhere else, you probably knew that already. However, Cloverfield is worth talking about because it could have been great as a silent film. It’s maybe the best example of a modern day film that’s completely unhinged by exposition and dialogue. While the impressive, chaotic visuals and sound design speak for themselves, screenwriter Drew Goddard infects each scene with a sense of cliche and comedy that feels both idiotic and unwarranted. This kind of dumbed down attempt at character depth takes the viewer out of the impressive disaster premise, ultimately making Cloverfield a tepid example of a film riding the proverbial genre fence, trying to please everyone at once.

The Savages (Jenkins, 2007)

I was thoroughly taken with Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, a smart and affecting independent film about two middle-aged siblings (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) tasked with handling their estranged father’s descent into dementia. It’s the kind of film that sneaks up on you, transcending typical “indie” themes of self doubt and guilt by focusing on layered characterizations defined by what’s unsaid. In fact, we only get a momentary glimpse of the past trauma’s these two characters went through during childhood, and that’s via a staged recreation written by Linney’s character. The Savages might initially come across as a depressing take on familiar downer material, but it quickly becomes a first rate drama dealing with the lasting impressions of memory. During it’s stunning final shot, The Savages produces a glaring and innocent image of hope after nearly two hours of rain drenched darkness, a coup in itself. 

Juno (Reitman, 2007)

I wonder if this film’s detractors realize it’s just a beautiful slice of fantasy and not some realist take on teenage pregnancy? At least Juno has the guts to center a vibrant coming of age story around a strong, vulnerable, and smart young woman (Ellen Page in a great performance), unlike Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up which is primarily concerned with the male ego in terms of female expectations. Sure, the script goes uber hipster at times and the quirkiness overwhelms the senses, but the genuine heart beating underneath the gloss is something to cherish. Just look at the final shot where Juno and Bleeker perform a duet on his front porch. There’s a somber longing to this moment ripe with subtext and substance and worthy of further anaylsis.

Charlie Wilson’s War (Nichols, 2007)

Mike Nichols’ problematic and exciting treatment of Congressman Charles Wilson, who single handily helped fund the Afghan Mujahideen against the invading Russians in the 1980’s, is the kind of historical revisionism Hollywood loves – heavy on dramatic weight and light on History. But the film has an energy (mainly due to the first rate performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a smarmy and dedicated C.I.A. agent) that’s hard to deny, even when the screenplay and direction seem overt and preachy. Hoffman and Tom Hanks (as Wilson) share a haunting final scene where the disgruntled spy tells the big wig politician of the impending extremism rising up in Afghanistan. The writing of terrorism is on the wall, but the American Government seems too busy celebrating its momentary victory to foresee the horrors to come.

Lars and the Real Girl (Gillespie, 2007)

Note: This weekend I caught up with many of the films from 2007 I missed in theaters, which should explain the influx of posts. So on to it.  Instead of trying to describe the altogether strangeness of Lars and The Real Girl, I’ll just suggest you see it and revel in the sublime and subtle performance by Ryan Gosling, the best young American actor working today. Credit must also be given to writer/director Craig Gillespie for not explaining every psychological nuance of Lars’ past trauma, which makes the character and in turn the film even more complex and engaging.

The Golden Compass (Weitz, 2007)

Lets start with the good. Every character in The Golden Compass has an “animal demon”, or a parallel soul, spouting off advice and keeping them safe from harm. It’s an intriguing plot device and wonderfully realized by the filmmakers. However (now for the bad), this fascinating foundation only takes The Golden Compass so far. The CGI visuals, choppy script, and downright lame pacing make the film an awkward beginning to the now abondoned trilogy. It’s like one side of a triangle trying to stand on its own, then falling flat because the lack of depth the material needs seems to be completely absent.