2007: The Year in Movies

‘Underdog’, ‘dark horse’ – what’s with the animal analogies when it comes to people n’ things that push their way up from the rear and then proceed to leave all agog? Perhaps it’s the fact that we regularly underestimate our furry friends, nonchalantly booting them about only to have them have the last laugh by turning around and biting/kicking us in the ass. Or perhaps because ‘underwoman’ and ‘dark strapping young man’ just have totally different connotations. Whatever the reason, fact is, everybody loves little David who sneakily comes along and beats Goliath at his own game. In the world of cinema too, many a time it’s the no-frills, no-stars shoe-stringers that walk away with the plaudits, leaving showier, muscle-bound contraptions with egg on their face. Here are some of 2007’s finest:

Lust, Caution


Ang Lee followed up his deconstructed Western Brokeback Mountain with this deconstructed (and darkly moving) love story masquerading as an erotic thriller. Against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, Lee masterfully unfolded the tale of two damaged souls (Tang Wei and the incredible Tony Leung) playing a game of romantic charades, that yielded moments of unbearable cruelty but also heartbreaking tenderness.

Persepolis


Pixar is so last century. Based on the graphic novel by Iranian artist Marianne Satrapi, this French-American co-production used simple, 2-dimensional monochromatic animation to dynamic effect, telling the story of a young girl living through Iran’s 1979 revolution who must contend with its myriad implications. The film was praised for its funny and frank subjectiveness, and, needless to say, royally cheesed off the men in black in Satrapi’s home country.

Waitress


Small-town Americana has inspired many wonderfully quirky films (think Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite) and this quiet little gem continued the tradition. Keri Russell shone as the titular waitress whose misery in marriage leads to an affair with a handsome doctor (Nathan Fillion), as well as some dee-licious Southern style pies. Sadly, director Adrienne Shelly was murdered shortly before the film’s release.

Honourable mention: Gone Baby Gone

First-time director Ben Affleck worked towards erasing all memories of the two-headed monster called Bennifer, and finally lived up to his almost-forgotten promise as co-writer of Good Will Hunting, with this stylish crime drama.

Bheja Fry


So the film was a rip-off of French-language Canadian laugh riot Le Dîner de Cons, that didn’t stop it from being one of the most profitable Mollywood films of the year, not to mention one of the funniest and most well-written in years. One-time MTV India VJ duo Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Sheorey continued their streak as two of the sharpest funnymen in the business.

Johnny Gaddar


Late crooner Mukesh’s grandson Neil made his quietly impressive debut in this surprisingly taut nourish crime caper. Writer-director Sriram Raghavan (Ek Hasina Thi) used his love for James Hadley Chase novels to fashion a film about an amoral small-time criminal that was at once grungy yet slick. Lack of publicity meant a short tenure at the box-office, but strong word-of-mouth has since turned the film into a DVD phenomenon, breaking records for sales in India. And that catchy refrain of Doob ja mere pyaar mein has the groovers grooving…

Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.


Reema Kagti’s debut comedy was just one in a year full of multiple-strand narrative flicks (Life in a …Metro, Just Married, Dus Kahaniyan etc.) but emerged as the leader of the pack with its easy, breezy humour and quirky sensibility (married superheroes, anyone?). Sunidhi Chauhan’s infectious Vaari Vaari became a mehndi staple, and Boman Irani and Shabana Azmi got seetees aplenty for their smooch.

Honourable mention: Chak De! India

Yes, it had superstar Shahrukh Khan in the lead, but no one had expected a film about women hockey players to rock the box-office quite like this.

Then there were the contenders that came in with a lot of big talk and blather, star pedigree and pockets spewing the big green ones. But somebody should’ve reminded them that gargantuan budgets and internet blogathon hullabaloo doesn’t necessary equal a successful piece of work. They either went belly-up at the b.o or were savaged by critics.

Here are 2007’s sob stories:

Grindhouse


Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double-bill homage to the 70s exploitation film genre seemed poised for surefire success. But somewhere, someone forgot that the major chunk of today’s film audience is made up of prissy young ‘uns who were a glint in the milkman’s eye in the 70s, and so have absolutely no recollection of or fondness for the grubby, no-budget slice ‘n dice flicks that the director duo were emulating. That’s not to say the two pieces were without merit; Tarantino’s Death Proof was a sly celebration of cinematic excess. As for Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, it featured Rose McGowan with a rifle/grenade launcher for a leg. Need one say more?

The Golden Compass


In hindsight, this Hollywood adaptation of the first of Phillip Pullman’s fantasy novel trilogy was somewhat doomed from before the film was even made, considering that the overwhelming reason for its getting greenlit was probably because greedy studio heads were hungry for another profitable franchise ala The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately for said hogs, not only was Golden Compass vilified by American Catholic groups, its star Nicole Kidman was also declared the Most Overpaid Star in Hollywood in a public poll. Oops. Critics were unimpressed with the film and for once they were on the same page as the audience.

Lions For Lambs


Hollywood liberals took a beating with this over-earnest, anti-war Oscar hopeful that seemed less like a film and more like a dull social science lecture with an incredibly self-absorbed professor. Tom Cruise, stuffed uncomfortably into a smarmy suit, was hopelessly miscast, and Meryl Streep put up a brave front, even while mouthing the words of Matthew Michael Carnahan’s unbelievably bland script. As for director Robert Redford, it seems Quiz Show (1994) is still his last good film.

Dishonourable Mention: 300

Yet another film that thought having a character yell out a line of fairly obvious informational dialogue makes for a great dramatic moment – “THIS IS SPARTA!” See also “I AM BEOWULF!”, by way of “THE EARTH IS 3/4THS WATER!”

Saawariya


If he was a man with a sense of humour, somewhere in Russia, Fyodor Dostoevsky is doubling over with laughter in his grave. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s pretty but vacant opus was supposedly based on the great author’s short story ‘White Nights’, but any literary source was rendered unrecognizable and irrelevant by the film’s bloated sense of self and laughable characters. Ranbir and Sonam Kapoor showed promise but were short-changed by the annoyingly sketchy screenplay that seemed to be going nowhere in a hurry. All blame to be placed squarely on SLB’s puffed up shoulders; someone hand the man a wheelbarrow to carry around his ego in.

Salaam-e-Ishq

Director Nikhil Advani’s Love, Actually take-off seemed to have it all: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s merry music, a trendy multiple-strand narrative, stars galore, and John Abraham and Vidya Balan cavorting in their pj’s in the title sequence. But the audience stayed away in droves. The film’s exhausting 216-minute runtime was ironically still too short for the all the different stories to have any emotional impact, proving yet again that glitz and glam and all the chiffon in the world are no substitute for substance.

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag


This damp squib was called out for being the lifeless, pointless exercise in pseudo-feminism that it was, faster than you could say ‘hooker with a heart of gold’. Rani Mukherjee’s innocent village belle turns urbane call-girl in the blink of an eye, and of course there’s the usual bit about the majboori, but you really have wonder why the world’s oldest profession seems to be the first resort of choice for majboor filmi girls. Ever hear of call centres?

Dishonourable Mention: Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag

RGV’s asinine remake of Ramesh Sippy’s classic Sholay would have been included in the main body of this piece but one is not quite disposed towards dredging up the memories of it that one has worked darned hard to erase. The horror, the horror!

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