In the face of the impeding writer’s strike, Academy Award nominations were released last week. With emphasis on both solemn and contemplative fare, “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” led the pack with eight nominations apiece.
As with every year, there were several notable omissions. Gems such as “Sunshine” and “Zodiac” went ignored, “Eastern Promises” and “Into The Wild” were underrepresented and a late questionable call disqualified Jonny Greenwood’s superb score for “There Will Be Blood.” Meanwhile, the overrated “Atonement” racked up seven nods, while the abysmal “Norbit” can somehow call itself an Academy Award nominee, picking up one for Best Makeup.
Out of the films which did garner nominations, here are those I enjoyed the most:
“3:10 To Yuma” 2 Oscars, including Best Original Score
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe excel as men on either side of the law, and Ben Foster is a scene-stealer as Crowe’s ruthless right hand man. The story focuses on its characters yet manages to deliver plenty of action, proving all hope is not lost for this once great genre. The best western since 1992’s “Unforgiven.”
“The Bourne Ultimatum” 3 Oscars, including Best Editing
Matt Damon returned for a third outing as superspy Jason Bourne, and it matched the high bar of its predecessors. The action scenes are superbly staged, another adept display from director Paul Greengrass (“United 93”), and the film exhibits an unusual amount of smarts for a Hollywood blockbuster.
“Juno” 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay
Not only was it the breakout hit of the year, it was also the year’s best comedy. Buoyed by a star-making turn from Ellen Page, the story’s real charm lies in the script from rookie screenwriter Diablo Cody, made up of wildly inventive dialogue and wholly amusing characters.
“Michael Clayton” 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director
A character-driven, legal thriller centering on a man caught in a moral crisis. Tony Gilroy’s sophisticated screenplay is brought to life by one of the best casts of the year — George Clooney has never been better, and Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton excel in support.
“No Country For Old Men” 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography
The Coen brothers’ strongest outing to date turned out to be the best of the entire year. Highlighted by an impressive cast, including the phenomenal Javier Bardem, it is impeccably written and executed. How much you like the film hinges on its unconventional ending, which has generated a significant amount of debate among viewers.
"Once” 1 Oscar – Best Original Song (“Falling Slowly”)
The stirring Irish musical incorporates songs naturally into its storytelling style. The indie soundtrack is stellar, and first time actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová deliver heartfelt performances in a down-to-earth movie devoid of Hollywood conventions.
“Ratatouille” 5 Oscars, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score
Pixar bounces back from 2006’s disappointing “Cars” with one of their best yet. Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), it is cute and full of humor, yet unafraid to tackle existential themes for older audiences.
“Transformers” 3 Oscars, including Best Visual Effects
A widely entertaining popcorn extravaganza with some of the best visual effects ever seen in a film, it is director Michael Bay’s (“The Rock”) most accomplished work. It also features plenty of humor, especially from budding star Shia LaBeouf.
“Sicko,” “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood.”
Even though there weren’t any films quite as good as my top two from last year — Pan’s Labyrinth and Letters From Iwo Jima — it was still a very solid year. I averaged at least one trip to the theater a week, catching 56 films over the course of the year (a new personal record!).
There’s still several I have yet to watch, but my favorites thus far are as follows:
1. No Country For Old Men
2. The Bourne Ultimatum
5. 3:10 To Yuma
8. Michael Clayton
10. Live Free Or Die Hard
12. There Will Be Blood
13. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
15. American Gangster
17. Knocked Up
18. Gone Baby Gone
19. Eastern Promises
20. Spider-Man 3
21. Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
22. Charlie Wilson's War
23. The Devil Came On Horseback
28 Weeks Later
Away From Her
The Brave One
Dan In Real Life
I Am Legend
Reign Over Me
The Simpsons Movie
01. Wild Hogs
02. Dead Silence
04. The Last Mimzy
05. The Number 23
07. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
09. Rush Hour 3
10. Smokin' Aces
Last year was a very good year for music, with four of my top five bands releasing new music. It also put quite a dent in my bank account, as I attended 30 concerts and bought around 150 CDs...and that's just for those released in '07!
So without further adieu, here's my picks for 2007's Cream Of The Crop:
01. Linkin Park – Minutes To Midnight
02. Fall Out Boy – Infinity On High
03. Jimmy Eat World – Chase This Light
04. Yellowcard – Paper Walls
05. Anberlin – Cities
06. The Rocket Summer – Do You Feel
07. Straylight Run – The Needles The Space
08. Thrice – The Alchemy Index: Vols. I & II – Fire & Water
09. Paramore – Riot!
10. Say Anything – In Defense Of The Genre
11. Relient K – Five Score And Seven Years Ago
12. New Found Glory – From The Screen To Your Stereo Part II
13. Dashboard Confessional – The Shade Of Poison Trees
14. Angels & Airwaves – I-Empire
15. Chevelle – Vena Sera
16. Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends
17. Motion City Soundtrack – Even If It Kills Me
18. Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
19. Sherwood – A Different Light
20. MxPx – Secret Weapon
21. Dustin Kensrue – Please Come Home
22. Alter Bridge – Blackbird
23. Radiohead – In Rainbows
24. The Spill Canvas – No Really, I’m Fine
25. The Academy Is… – Santi
Against Me! – New Wave
All Time Low – So Wrong, It's Right
The Almost – Southern Weather
Amber Pacific – Truth In Sincerity
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
Armor For Sleep – Smile For Them
Band Of Horses – Cease To Begin
Brighten – King Vs Queen
Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
Cary Brothers – Who You Are
The Cinematics – A Strange Education
Circa Survive – On Letting Go
Stacy*Clark – Apples And Oranges
The Dear Hunter – Act II: The Meaning Of, & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading
A Dream Too Late – Intermission To The Moon
Eisley – Combinations
Evans Blue – The Pursuit Begins When This Portrayal Of Life Ends
The Fold – Secrets Keep You Safe
Four Year Strong – Rise Or Die Trying
The Frames – The Cost
The Graduate – Anhedonia
Jonny Greenwood – There Will Be Blood Soundtrack
The Less – Loud Machines
Lifehouse – Who We Are
Mae – Singularity
Maroon 5 – It Won't Be Soon Before Long.
Mêlée – Devils & Angels
Once – Soundtrack
OneRepublic – Dreaming Out Loud
Project 86 – Rival Factions
Raining & OK – The Devil On Your Shoulder
The Receiving End Of Sirens – The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
Relient K – Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer
Saves The Day – Under The Boards
The Shins – Wincing The Night Away
Sound The Alarm – Stay Inside
The Starting Line – Direction
Tokyo Rose – The Promise In Compromise
The Used – Lies For The Liars
We The Kings – We The Kings
01. Holiday Parade – This Is My Year
02. We Shot The Moon – The Polar Bear & Cougar
03. The Morning Light – The Sounds Of Love
04. The Dangerous Summer – If You Could Only Keep Me Alive
05. Blindside – The Black Rose
06. Typhoid Mary – Take Shelter
07. The Reign Of Kindo – The Reign Of Kindo
08. John Mayer – The Village Sessions
09. The Classic Crime – Acoustic EP: Seattle Sessions
10. Jon Foreman – Fall
The Story: In a restarting of the James Bond franchise, Daniel Craig takes his first turn as the world’s most famous secret agent, 007. The rookie Bond’s first mission pits him against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker serving some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. In order to stop him, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes game of poker at Casino Royale in Montenegro. MI6 appoints Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to look after Bond and watch over the government’s money. They soon are under attack, falling for each other while the stakes around them grow higher, leading to a series of events that will change Bond’s life forever.
The Good: Bond is back and better than ever as Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, the Zorro movies) returns to jumpstart the series once again. Daniel Craig was personally my top choice to play the new Bond, and he quickly proves he was the right man for the job. He takes Bond in a direction that hasn’t really been gone before, making him more of a ruthless killer rather than a sophisticated charmer. He does exude a little of that suave Bond is famous for, but the character is much psychologically darker this time around. This fits in with the grittier, more realistic tone the movie strives after, which overall works quite nicely. The action scenes especially are able to capitalize with this newer, more intense style, as the beginning foot chase through a construction yard is one of the best I have ever seen. Eva Green also manages to hold her own as the newest Bond girl, and her character is smarter and more complicated than most of Bond's previous love interests.
The Bad: The movie’s structure is a problem. The beginning is front loaded with the majority of the action sequences, making the last half really seem to drag more than it should. The big poker game towards the end doesn't compare with all that has been leading up to it, and the needed payoff is decidedly missing. It doesn’t help the fact that the movie is about 15 minutes too long. The time leading up to the finale particularly could have been trimmed down. The torture scene at the end, which is well known from the novel, is lacking in execution and feels a bit out of place. The scene can’t make up its mind about what mood it wants to be, coming across as awkward, painful, and funny. The movie is also lacking in the villain department. Le Chiffre makes for a decent bad guy but never distinguishes himself as all that interesting or threatening.
The Verdict: The bar for the spy genre has risen over the last several years, forcing Bond to learn from its peers and adopt change. While Casino Royale is never able to reach the level of the superior Jason Bourne movies, it is able to quiet the doubters and take its place among the best Bond films of all time. With a sequel soon on the way, I can’t wait to see what is up next for Daniel Craig and Co. The future of James Bond has never looked brighter.