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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

BEST of 2007: A MINNESOTA YEAR

One cannot help but note how quickly people have backed away from Minnesota connected films simply because of their wide-spread success. An age-old inferiority complex here in the midwest causes us to winch when any Minnesotan achieves a level of success. The locals want to accuse them of "selling out," "being aesthetically compromised" or the makers "forgetting where they came from" or worse accusations -- all based on envy and petty jealousy.

Yet the success of these films: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, JUNO and INTO THE WILD can have a huge impact on Minnesota filmmaking for years to come. As a result two follow-on films by the Coens and Cody are already slated to be filmed in Minnesota in 2008 with another by Garrison Keillor that should reach wider theatrical audiences - the state is experiencing a new level of national productions. Unlike the past with GRUMPY OLD MEN or MIGHTY DUCKS, new productions coming here have Minnesota talent, stories, and creators connected to them. And, let the bashful be damned, we should not be ashamed if these films can make money at the box office. Worshipping failure is no virtue.

After reading the City Pages critics choices of best films in 2007, I almost decided not to make a list because of their pretentious posturing and overt attempt to appear B-list smart when they are just acting morons. Their top films list makes one wonder why they write lists at all. CP film writing has dropped to the depths of bad this year and along with massively decreased coverage in the daily rags this signals a very bad note for the future of Minnesota film writing and criticism.

The top films in all the award races and international film festivals this year have the mark of Minnesota on them and we ought to celebrate even if it is in our character as Minnesotans to stare down at our shoes, not think very highly of ourselves and critique our films by mumbling, "It could be worse."

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Coen Brothers just get better and better at mastering the filmmaking form while retaining their distinctive humor, perspective and glibness of vision and they keep coming back to what is true to them as evidence the film they will be shooting in Minnesota next year based on their father;

INTO THE WILD, Sean Penn and Minnesota producer Bill Pohlad hit the mark with this adaptation of the best selling book by the same name. Although people wanted the film to vilify the parents in backstory and make grand statements about the past, Penn resists and let the story remained particular to playing out the drama;

JUNO all the critics want to resist the appeal of her film because of the hype surrounding first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody but put it all aside and your posturing too, this is a really decent film in a year when a fresh new look for indie drama is needed -- a hundred times better than previously hyped small indies Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways and Napoleon Dynamite all vastly inferior films

LAKE OF FIRE, a must see documentary on the culture war surrounding the abortion rage that has devolved into senseless irrational infidel accusations and bloody murder all around - the actions of religious extremist sounds like terrorism and it is;

DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, 80s abstract artist and New York East Village inhabitant Julian Schnabel began his filmmaking career auspiciously with a bio-pic based on the life and death of graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has hit his stride with this brilliant adaptation;

12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, a hilarious satire from Romanian helmer Corneliu Perumboiu; who thought two Romanian films would be up the same year on a "best of" list;

AWAY FROM HER, in which Julie Christie breaks hearts as a woman afflicted with Alzheimer's. An auspicious feature-directing debut by sweet and talented Canadian actress Sarah Polley.

SIMPLE THINGS, a Russian film by first time director Alexei Popogrebsky about a aging doctor and a former Soviet-era film star who are struggling to survive in Putin-era Russia, filmed in a Mike Leigh-style realism;

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, Cristian Mungiu's girtty story set in the time of Ceausescu's dictatorship marks an exciting new beginning for Romanian cinema and tells the story of a young couple who set out to obtain an illegal abortion in the dreary and uptight 80s;

THIS IS ENGLAND, a British film by Shane Meadows depicts the coming of age of a Bit skinhead with only a slight resemblance to American History X, it was hailed in England as best indie in 2006 but did not reach the U.S. until 2007;

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Julie Taymors treatment is how musicals should be made and although I'M NOT THERE Todd Hayne's homage to the multi-personalities of Bob Dylan is worthy of note for reinventing the bio-pic form, the flawed guey Americana segments with Richard Gere position at the dramatic apex of the film blew it out of contention.

My 2007 list should be qualified with the proviso that I focus primary in up and coming indie filmmakers who are making dramas that tell stories and while I enjoy abstract, avant-garde, shorts and animation, they are not on this list saved for another category of filmmaking.

Reading New Years resolutions, one I appreciated a lot was Ty Burr writing in The Boston Globe, "Look for interesting filmmaking in places it's not supposed to be. On the Internet, handhelds, cellphones, the sides of buildings. Maybe even in movie theaters."

ALSO WORTHY OF MENTION: Send a Bullet, Persepolis, No End in Sight, Casa do Alice, The Kite Runner, Once, Black Book, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, My Kid Could Paint That, and Zodiac.

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