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Since a majority of entries in the end-of-the-year Top 10 are released in November and December, presenting a mid-year list allows me to highlight some very good movies that will be overlooked in six months' time.  Here's how I see things for the first half of 2007.
Once is the sort of film that makes it worth going to the movies. Irish writer/director John Carneyís film quietly and modestly inches its way into your heart, and by the time it reaches its wrenching and beautiful closing scene, you know youíve experienced something special, and been touched by deep truths about life, love, music and connections that change you forever. Once hits you hard, even though you might not be able to say why. And itís the sort of movie that you want to drag everyone you really care about out to see. A deconstruction of the movie musical that is the years best film.
With ďSicko,Ē Moore is embarking on a topic that is vital to the might of America, seeded with a message that everyone in the country should be, at the very least, aware of. This is health care, and it is killing our nation. I choose to view Moore as rotund, filthy rich superhero, trying his best to defend the population and inform the greater good. Even if his intentions are blown off course or his ego unrivaled, his goals are always admirable, and his motion pictures are consistently hysterical, devastating, dynamic pieces of entertainment.
We're all tired of movies inundated with adorable, computer-generated critters. The Wild? Barnyard? Over The Hedge? Madagascar? Talk about a menagerie of mediocrity. Now comes Ratatouille from Disney-owned toon kingpin Pixar and director Brad Bird, who helmed the accurately entitled The Incredibles and the shamefully under seen The Iron Giant. Ratatouille is not merely the smartest, funniest, most joyous, most lovingly crafted film of the summer thus far, but it ranks among Pixar's finest, and it marks a resounding return to form for Pixar after last year's visually impressive but underwhelming Cars. Assembled with such loving care and ambition, This is easily the most entertaining film of a somewhat disappointing summer as well as one of the best movies of the year.
Written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, who was tragically killed before the wide release of this film, Waitress is a light, frothy slice of life that is as charming as it is touching.
This sweet saga's protagonist is played by Keri Russell, the former Mouseketeer and Felicity star whose brief spots in movies (Mission: Impossible III, The Upside of Anger) only hinted that she might be worthy of larger film roles. In that respect, Waitress is to Russell what The Good Girl was to Jennifer Aniston: a choice opportunity for a television beauty to flex her thespian muscles. And like Aniston, Russell doesn't disappoint, delivering a nicely modulated performance that keeps viewers in her character's corner every step of the way. An altogether wonderful work.
What director David Fincher succeeds in doing here is achieving a remarkably creepy tone throughout. ďZodiac,Ē based on two books, follows no less than four investigators over decades of excruciating disappointment and infatuation. Rather than mining drama from sudden revelations and tense moments like a more traditional thriller, Fincherís newest is a slow burn. It is at once a police procedural and an epic look at the ruined lives of the men who hunted the Zodiac killer down until they reached a breaking point. The long running time and constant jumping forward in time will throw off those expecting a tidy ending, but the cumulative effect is devastating.
6. the HOST
An old-fashioned Friday-night monster movie gets tangled up with a dysfunctional family redemption saga, along with a healthy dollop of acid-black political satire in Bong Joon-Hoís The Host, the wildest and weirdest movie to hit screens in quite some time. It is smashing entertainment that has a lot more on its mind than one might reasonably expect from a film in which a giant lizard stomps around Korea eating people. The Host the kind of funny-scary, subtext-freighted treat thatís catnip for both genre buffs and intellectuals.
7. the LOOKOUT
With the crime genre still struggling to work through its post-Tarantino hangover, The Lookout is maybe more notable for what it isn't: namely, bloated, flashy, or dependent on pop-culture riffs as a life-support system. The directorial debut of ace Elmore Leonard adapter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Get Shorty), this is a lean, to-the-bone, expertly acted small-town noir that takes unusual care to cast the moral compass of its characters in various shades of gray. There's just no fat on it. The phrase "quiet and contemplative" is not often used to describe bank-heist movies, but "The Lookout" is not an ordinary bank-heist movie. In fact, its misleading advertisements to the contrary, it's not really a bank-heist movie at all. It's a character study, and a rich, rewarding one at that. And yeah, OK, there's a bank heist, too. But the movie is not ABOUT the bank heist! If you go in looking for an "Ocean's Eleven"-style crime caper, you will be bored and disappointed, and that is not the effect "The Lookout" should have on you.
Trailers for the screen adaptation of Katherine Paterson's children's book Bridge to Terabithia have advertised it as a CGI-laden fantasy, a far cry from the rich coming-of-age tale beloved by several generations of readers. Thankfully, the misleading trailers give way to a film that stays true to its source, using talented kid and adult actors and a remarkable attention to detail to perfectly capture the delicate, minute rites of passage that define growing up. And if this film feels a little like Panís Labyrinth lite, thatís not necessarily a bad thing. What's most remarkable about Bridge to Terabithia is how, even though it is ostensibly set in the present, it feels like a period piece. Kids are given free run of the woods to explore, and have no more after-school commitments than a footrace. It's a kind of freedom many kids today will never know, but one that, as the movie makes beautifully clear, is completely necessary in order to survive childhood. For anyone who ever had a treehouse or a fort made of pillows, or for anyone who wishes they did, Bridge to Terabithia sparks the imagination as much as the land of Terabithia itself.
And so as the world seemingly renews its dedication to taking itself straight to hell, even our horror movies suddenly seem less like mere entertainments and more like real-life fever dreams, reflecting back to us our own ugliness, our own shock at how everything has reeled out of control, our own arrogance in thinking that we can control the deep complexity of everyday chaos. For among director Juan Carlos Fresnadilloís startling, all-too-familiar imagery -- soldiers with gun in airports; the utter eeriness of major city deserted and garbage-strewn -- is what may be the most unsettling moment of the film. Itís a kiss, a simple kiss, one of the most ironically compelling screen kisses ever: in this world of blood-and-saliva-borne infection, it becomes a thing of horror, taking away the most simple, most necessary comfort we can take when the world goes to hell. Itís the most dreadful, most unforgettable moment in a dread-inspiring, haunting film.
The best films JR picked one year ago!

The films JR picked as the best of 2006!

Review © 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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