This blog has been silent for way too long, so I decided to write a series of “best of 2007” posts. Originally it was going to be one piece, but now that I’ve written up the film and TV section, I realized that if I continued on at such length for the other sections (books & comics, music, and events) it would be one long winded post. So I’m starting smaller.
I’m not a very up to date person when it comes to media, so only a few things in the list below were actually released in 2007. They’re just what I happened to watch last year.
The Wire, Season 3 and Homicide, Seasons 1 & 2
Last year I watched the first two seasons of The Wire, and liked them pretty well, but season 3 was when the show came together into a truly excellent and groundbreaking story. Many characters and themes from the earlier episodes continued even as the scope expanded beyond criminals and cops into a study of human nature and cultural institutions in general. The parallels between politicians, police officers, and drug pushers are often surprising and educational; after watching this season, I really felt that I understood American society better than I did before — all while being highly entertained. The relationship between Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale achieved Shakespearian heights at the end, Omar Little got, if possible, even cooler when faced with some moral quandaries, and Bunny Colvin may have been the most intriguing new character introduced since season 1. I belatedly realized that the guy who actually floated the idea of drug legalization in Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, was mayor the summer I was working there (1989). To say I was absolutely clueless, about that or any of the rest of city life as depicted in the show, is almost an understatement. I’m glad to be learning it now.
Though based on the same book, Homicide has a very different feel from The Wire. It really focuses on the cops and a series of murder investigations, the episodes are more self-contained, and the cast is whiter. I’m sure this is because it aired on broadcast television rather than HBO. That being said, it’s still a damn good show, at least as far as I have watched (the end of season 2). It is often laugh-out-loud funny, and Andre Braugher is something to see in his performance as Detective Frank Pembleton. The episode “Black and Blue”, in which he demonstrates to his commander how easy it is to extract a false confession out of a suspect, totally blew me away. I think it ought to be required viewing for anyone who argues that “extreme” methods of interrogation work.
Children of Men
Director Alfonso Cuarón opted for subtlety instead of big, shiny visual effects, and the result is a triumph of immersive storytelling. Not since Blade Runner have I seen a movie that so seamlessly put me into a fully-realized future. That future is pretty damn bleak, but the movie is directed with such energy that while watching it I never had time to fall into a depressive state. Instead I found myself in awe of the cinematography and imagery. There is a scene in which the main characters are attacked while riding in a car that had me shivering in appreciation of its long-take artistry. I’ve since learned that it wasn’t actually filmed as a single take, but it’s still exhilarating to watch in a “you are there” way. The performances in the film were also great. I’ve always liked Clive Owen, but in every other role I’ve seen him play he has seemed either a little (or a lot) cold. Here he finally shows some human frailty, vulnerability, and warmth. I really enjoyed it.
When the Levees Broke
This documentary about New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is over four hours long and worth every minute. Newsreel footage and an eye-opening series of interviews with over 20 main subjects really brought home to me the human cost of this disaster as well as the continuing mismanagement and neglect of various government agencies and politicians. This might be the most mature and important film Spike Lee has ever made, and I hope it finds an ever-widening audience, because the situation in The Big Easy hasn’t gotten any better yet.
The movies of Gurinder Chadha
I blogged about the movie Bride and Prejudice back in May. Since then, I have seen two more movies directed by Gurinder Chadha, Bend It Like Beckham and What’s Cooking? that have made me a bona fide fan of her work. All three of these films take on serious themes of bigotry, sexism, and culture clash, but do it in an unpretentious, playful manner that I think is all too rare. Going into one of her movies, I feel assured that my cultural horizons will be broadened, that I’ll spend time with some likable people, and that I’ll have fun along the way.
This 51-episode anime became my main source of entertainment in the latter half of the year. At first it seemed like a pretty silly picaresque tale of two brothers searching for a magic whoziwhatsit to solve all their problems, but as it continued almost all of the characters’ assumptions (and by extension the audience’s) were overturned in a mind-bending roller coaster ride. The investigation of people’s different perspectives and motives and how they interact in complex ways was really absorbing, as was the commentary on the dangers of power, the causes and brutality of war, and the downside of vengeance as an operating principle. That may make it sound like the show is didactic; it’s not. There’s a lot of action and humor, some occasionally shocking violence, and a collection of really memorable characters. I developed a bit of a crush on the protagonist Ed (I never thought I would say that about an animated person), and the thought of characters like tough-talking grandmother/engineer Pinako, or Major Armstrong, who is apt to transform suddenly into a shirtless muscle pose surrounded by pink shiny diamonds, will never cease to amuse. The follow-up movie, Conqueror of Shamballa, was pretty good, too.
3:10 to Yuma
This remake of a Western from the 1950s featured the best investigation of individual human psychology I saw all year. The plot is simplicity itself: a financially strapped rancher takes the job of escorting a dangerous bandit to the Yuma train station so he can be sent off to prison. What’s complicated is how their relationship evolves during the journey, which is full of ambushes, showdowns, and tense waiting for (probably bad) things to happen. The casting is what makes the movie work: despite my earlier post about Russell Crowe being a jerk, he and Christian Bale are both great, strong-willed actors, and they play off each other in a fascinating way that really brings the movie to life. By the end, their characters have converged to a point of uneasy equality in a world where everyone else is gullible, stupid, cowardly or mean. There’s a hint of romance underneath it all, not the Brokeback Mountain kind (though there’s a hint of that in the character of Charlie Prince), but maybe a wild west version of Marsilio Ficino’s amor platonicus. Not that such a highfalutin term would ever come out of these men’s mouths — and that’s a good thing. As a side note, isn’t it interesting that this movie, which has been called the revival of the American western, stars two guys who aren’t even Americans? Well, I think so.
2007 movies and TV I wanted to see, but didn’t for various reasons