The Lives of Others

If you’re one of our more regular visitors to the site and have been checking us out since the early days, then you’ll know our love for lists. MarBelle and I have already dedicated a post to the list earlier in the year, when I wrote about a book dedicated to filmic lists (Faber and Faber’s Ten Bad Dates with De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists) and MarBelle went on to tell us about the BFI organized event Listmania at the London Film festival, where people were invited to submit their hand picked filmic lists to the gathered masses.

For every year I’ve known MarBelle, there has always been a Films of the Year list, whether this was discussed over beer in a public house somewhere, emailed to a select list of family and friends or scribbled down on a scrap of paper in a competitive manner. Well last year we’d decided it was time to share these lists with you guys and we posted them on this very website, which certainly made interesting reading (for me at least!). Year after year it would seem there would always be similarities in the lists, as well as many a surprise. Last year myself, MarBelle & Miss D all agreed on including Hidden (Michael Haneke) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan Wook) in our top tens and then hopefully threw up a couple of surprises that we and you didn’t expect or maybe haven’t even seen or heard of.

To start off with a bit of a moan, personally I struggled with my list this year! I don’t know whether it is was because I didn’t feel the films released this year were up to the quality I’ve seen in previous years or just because a lot of the best films didn’t get released in my area; cinemas in Luton only release the mainstream films, so I have to travel to see the more independent off-track films, although I’m sure I’ve moaned about this many times on Directors Notes before!). For example, one film I was sure I would love and would be included on my Top Ten for this year was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (which would also be included in my top ten list of longest film titles EVER!), however the film never came to Luton and alas I didn’t get to London to watch it. To be totally honest, I could have made a top ten list of the films I really wanted to see this year, but missed since they didn’t come to my area – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Control, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 days, The Counterfeiters, Into the Wild, Two Days in Paris, The Ghosts of Cite Soleil – ok not quite 10.

Moaning aside, I did see some good film this year and here’s my top ten:

1. The Lives of OthersFlorian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
Even though The Lives of Others was receiving glowing praise from all around the globe, for some reason I wasn’t looking forward to it with great anticipation. I don’t know whether my preconceptions of a film about East Berlin in the 1980’s got the better of me, but I wasn’t expecting to like this film that much and maybe that’s why it’s my number 1 for 2007. This debut from writer / director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck is a beautifully crafted, powerful political drama relying on strong performances and exceptional character development. The writing from Von Donnersmarck is superb, he has constructed a story that builds with tension throughout its 2 hour plus running time and stays with you long after the film has ended. The film really was a complete joy to watch from beginning to end and I don’t remember ever being as impressed with a performance in a foreign language as I was with Ulrich Mühe’s captivating turn.

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2. Hallam FoeDavid Mackenzie
Sometimes you know you’re going to like a film from its title sequence and this was definitely the case after watching David Shrigley’s opening for Hallam Foe, which instantly set the tone and feel for the next 94 minutes. David Mackenzie’s film manages to be darkly funny, tragically sad and always entertaining throughout its running time and with one of the performances of the year from young Jamie Bell, it is a great advert for British talent.

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3. Rescue DawnWerner Herzog
Werner Herzog has long been known as a well respected, if unpredictable director of ‘Art House’ movies, but with his latest outing Rescue Dawn, we see him create a film that is arguably much more accessible to a mainstream audience, yet still contains flashes of his directorial genius. Taking the subject of his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog turns the true story of Dieter Dangler’s escape from a Prisoner of War camp, during the Vietnam war, into a tense drama of one man’s determined struggle to make his way home from a war zone. Herzog has always been known for putting his cast & crew through some extreme situations (the most notable being Fitzcarraldo where a full scale ship was transported through the jungle – no CGI or special effects involved!) and Rescue Dawn was no exception. Not only do actors Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies slim down to shocking effect, but in the lead role we see Christian Bale catch a snake and then bite into it, stuff handfuls of maggots into his mouth and have huge leeches attached to his body. Herzog encourages great performances from his actors, especially Bale and his tale is told in a low key but realistic manner, which only adds to the believability of this dramatic retelling of true events. Although many may argue that Rescue Dawn doesn’t have the same kind of impact or even artistic value as Herzog’s earlier ‘Art House’ work, I still believe he has created one of the films of the year and I still believe Herzog is a director like none other out there.

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4. Tell No OneGuillaume Canet
With his second feature film, young French director and actor Guillaume Canet (you might remember him as Étienne in Danny Boyle’s The Beach) has taken American author Harlan Coben’s novel and turned into a tense French thriller of almost Hitchcockian qualities. With the sudden disappearance of his wife Margot, Alex’s life is turned upside down and 8 years later, still haunted by his loss, events take a surprising turn when we find out Margot may still be alive. Doing what many American thrillers fail to do, Canet’s film is a true rollercoaster ride that keeps us guessing until the very end. What set this film apart from many recent thrillers, is that although it speeds along at a relentless pace and is full of action, we still get plenty of character development and personally I was willing Alex along throughout the movie.

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5. This is EnglandShane Meadows
Shane Meadows’ last film Dead Man’s Shoes is in my opinion one of the best British films of recent times, so obviously I was expecting a lot from one of Britian’s finest filmmaking talents with his latest film This is England. However, it is not just the talented director that makes this film such an enjoyable watch, the acting is near perfect and in particular performances from Thomas Turgoose as 12yr old Shaun and Stephen Graham as unstable gang member Combo, are an absolute pleasure to watch. What I loved most about this film was how it really takes the viewer through a range of emotions, one moment you’re laughing along with the characters and seeing a side of Skinheads that’s rarely portrayed and next you’re on the edge of your seat as you can feel the violent nature of certain gang members begin to bubble through the surface. It’s great to see such a talented British director creating films which are distinctively British and hugely enjoyable, especially when they’re as personal as This is England.

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Eastern Promises

6. Eastern PromisesDavid Cronenberg
I was never a big Cronenberg fan for most of his career, his horror films never really did anything for me and it was only a couple of years ago with A History of Violence, that I finally found a Cronenberg I really enjoyed. Carrying on from the look and feel of his previous film, Eastern Promises delivers another gritty, no holds barred story featuring another outstanding performance from Viggo Mortensen. The director paints a vivid impression of the London underworld and all to often his vision of London feels almost shockingly real, yet it is this reality that gives the film it’s real edge and it’s this realism that made me love this film so much.

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7. The Darjeeling Limited Wes Anderson
Lets face it, I don’t think Wes Anderson has it in him to make a bad film and although The Darjeeling Limited isn’t my favourite Anderson film, it’s certainly a unique one. As usual, it’s the attention to detail that makes Anderson’s films so likeable, the sets and costumes are beautifully crafted and coordinated, the flowing cinematography is an absolute pleasure to watch (especially one shot which tracks along train carriages filled with different character from the film) and as always the ecletic mix of songs on the soundtrack beautifully compliments his well constructed film.

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8. SunshineDanny Boyle
Throughout the year, we’ve seen Hollywood churn out numerous science fiction ‘epics’, from Transformers to the Fantastic Four, yet, in my opinion none of them came close to Danny Boyle’s stunning Sunshine. Made at a fraction of the cost of most science fiction films, Boyle’s dark tale of a journey to the heart of the sun is right up there with the sci-fi classics (Alien, 2001, Solaris, etc). With effects and visuals better than most coming out of Hollywood, Boyle really has created an awe inspiring, jaw droppingly beautiful piece of science fiction, with imagery like nothing you have seen before. Although the narrative is a bit familiar to the sci-fi genre (a mission to save our dying Earth), the acting is good, characters well developed and those visuals, my god those visuals!

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9. EarthAlastair Fothergill
Although not groundbreaking in the field of the documentary, Fothergill’s Earth is in no other words, visually stunning to watch on the big screen. The narrative flow for this documentary is somewhat loose and at times needs a good shove along to keep it moving, however, I found the footage so mesmerizing and fascinating that these narrative frailties, along with Patrick Stewart’s occasionally annoying voice-over, never got in the way of my entertainment. I won’t say any more about this film, as I think I said it all in a post earlier this year.

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10. The Science of SleepMichel Gondry
Although slightly disappointed with the narrative of Michel Gondry’s fourth feature (if you count Block Party), how can you not love a film that includes cardboard cityscapes, a patchwork horse and people with massive hands. Watching Gondry’s film is almost like regressing into your childhood imagination and although the film’s structure has no real shape, its dreamlike quality means you can wander off and let your imagination loose. The Science of Sleep just had to be somewhere in my top ten for sheer creativity and filmmaking talent, we need more people like Gondry in the industry to push the boundaries of cinema and remind us all of the magic of film.

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Those were my cinematic highlights of 2007, with Lust, Caution, Be Kind Rewind, The Dark Night, Funny Games, Semi Pro, Sweeney Todd, No Country for Old Men, There Will be Blood, Juno, The Savages and much more already scheduled for release in 2008, it’s going to be a good year.

2 Responses to El Vez 2007 Top Ten

  1. Craig says:

    Well for some male compulsion i wanted to add my top 3 list -published or not – i feel the desire growing
    so, and with no hierarchy:

    The Bourne Ultimatum:
    Actually my fave of the trilogy by the much regarded Paul Greengrass- yes its thrills and spills action flick but one that is so well manufactured in every essence from the acting to the stunts to the pace and cinematography and all the in-betweens that it works as near to perfect as such a film can be.

    Im Not There:
    If Bobby D allows his music to be used you know there is a good chance your onto a winner but add 6 great performances into the pot and you’d have the subterranean homesick blues not to go see it(sorry – could not resist!) With Cate Blanchet probably stealing the acting gong amongst the medley of Dylans this film is a visual and playful delight exlopring looking and adding to the most iconic figure of the musical world still to be strumming.

    This Is England:
    Ok so the news clips and the music that opens Shane M’s latest had me gaga for my youth – none the less his most personal project to date brings him one step closer to greatness and is one of the few leading lights in UK cinema that’s is not afraid to tackle social issues old or new with a comic albeit dark touch. Place newcomer Thomas Turgoose with the menace of Stephen Graham and a wonderful supporting cast ,drop the needle to some fantastic tunes = glorious British cinema.

  2. El Vez says:

    Male Compulsion will do that for you, we just have an inborn need to create lists!

    I have to admit I was close to putting Bourne in my list as well, in fact I’d say it’s probably sitting at number 11. I never thought I’d like a film with Matt Damon in, so much.

    Haven’t seen Todd Hayne’s I’m Not There yet, but guessing I’ll like it….a lot.

    And as for This is England, how can you not like that film.

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