Whoever thought of measuring time in “years” is awesome! If time just continued endlessly, without starting over every 12 months or so, we’d be deprived of end-of-the-year features like this one. And then where would we be?
This is simply my recounting of the movies and TV shows I watched, and the books I read, in 2007. I used to talk about the theater productions I saw, too, but there were only a couple this year, and it’s not like you could go watch them now anyway.
As always, this feature might be of interest to no one except me, and you are welcome to skip it if you like. None of this will be on the midterm.
I started the year by taking a hiatus from reviewing new releases throughout January, my first such break since I started in 1999. I used the time to catch up on old films I’d never seen before. It was my goal throughout the year to watch as many classics as I could, and there were some real gems that I was glad to have finally experienced. None of those January movies were too important, and I wound up seeing a lot of them when I reviewed their DVD releases for DVD Talk anyway. So everybody wins!
As for those classics, I used Turner Classic Movies, TiVo, and Netflix to accomplish my goals there. TCM are TiVo are especially useful when watching extraordinarily long films such as “Ben-Hur,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” I think I watched each of them in three chunks (and yes, I’d never seen any of them before).
I’ve generally not been one to watch films over and over again, even ones I really like, simply because I’m curious about the undiscovered treasures still awaiting me. But for some reason in 2007 I grew more fond of taking a second look at movies, particularly ones that I wasn’t sure about.
Nowhere was this more important than with “No Country for Old Men.” I loved it immediately, and when the ending didn’t sit right, I could tell it was because I was missing something, not because the filmmakers or the author they were adapting had screwed up. I don’t think that’s the case with every film, of course — plenty of movies really are just badly made — but in this instance, I sensed there was something there that I just wasn’t “getting.”
So I watched it again. This time everything clicked into place. The thematic elements that I’d missed the first time came through loud and clear. And this wasn’t a case of the filmmakers being obscure, forcing you to see their movie twice just to make sense of it. It’s perfectly “gettable” in one pass; it just took two for it to work on me.
On the other hand, there’s “Eagle vs Shark.” I saw it in conjunction with the Portland International Film Festival in February and disliked it, then was surprised to find that several people whose comedic tastes generally run parallel to mine loved it. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that in this case I remembered my screening had been marred by an early-morning start time and a lousy seat in an uncomfortable theater. Perhaps my professionalism was slipping and I had allowed external factors to influence my opinion?
So I watched it again, under better circumstances, fully open to the possibility of loving it. And guess what? Still didn’t like it. Sorry, “Eagle vs Shark.” I gave you two chances.
Same goes for “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which I re-watched while reviewing a new DVD edition of it, genuinely curious to see if I could discover why so many people loved it. Nope: It’s still a terrible movie, and the DVD extras made me dislike the falsely humble but actually egomaniacal Tyler Perry even more.
When the new “Blade Runner” final cut was released, it was my first exposure to the film. I found it slow and not exactly laden with content. (The story itself is pretty simple.) But I knew it was revered by many, and when a friend of mine wanted to see it on the big screen I went with him to give it another look. I still don’t love it, but I can appreciate the level of expertise in the special effects (which were particularly good for 1982) and the overall uniqueness of Ridley Scott’s vision.
Consider also “Killer of Sheep,” a film that won the critics’ award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1977 and then circulated underground for years, but didn’t get an actual theatrical release until 2007. It seems the filmmaker, Charles Burnett, was never able to afford the rights to some of the music used in it, and it wasn’t until Steven Soderbergh and some others stepped in and helped out that the film finally got its due.
The press screening of this much-loved-in-certain-circles underground classic left me underwhelmed. I understood it for what it was — a neo-realist look at how it was to be poor and black in Los Angeles in the 1970s — but I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about. Yet once again, the film continued to be raved about by many film writers, so when the distributor offered copies of the DVD in late November, I took advantage of the opportunity to see it again. It had a greater impact the second time (particularly the natural, unaffected performances), and as with “Blade Runner,” I can appreciate certain qualities about it without actually loving it.
I especially tried to re-watch the movies I was considering for my top 10 list, which was necessary because so many films were competing for a spot. (It was a good year for movies.) I discovered that while “300” is an amazing spectacle on the big screen with an overpowering sound system, it loses quite a bit on DVD with an average TV and generic speakers. I found that “Hairspray” and “Waitress” made me just as happy the second time as they did the first time. I learned that my theory about “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” was true: Even though you know what’s going to happen when you watch it again, you can still be enthralled by the outstanding performances.
In all, I watched 371 movies in 2007 (including 17 duplicates). Here’s the list of everything.
2007 releases that I saw and reviewed:
The list is here if you want to see every single film I actually reviewed this year.
2007 releases that I saw but did not review (you can read my Sundance and SXSW diaries for brief notes on some of them):
“638 Ways to Kill Castro” (SXSW)
“After the Wedding”
“All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” (SXSW)
“American Fork” (Slamdance)
“Away from Her”
“Blood and Chocolate”
“Brand Upon the Brain!”
“Chapter 27”* (Sundance)
“Cherry Valley” (SXSW)
“Confessions of a Superhero” (SXSW)
“Everything’s Gone Green” (SXSW)
“Fall From Grace” (SXSW)
“Fay Grim” (Sundance)
“The Go-Getter” (Sundance)
“Grimm Love” (SXSW)
“Hear and Now” (Portland Film Festival)
“He Was a Quiet Man” (SXSW)
“Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten”
“Killer of Sheep” (twice)
“The King of Kong”
“A Lawyer Walks into a Bar…” (SXSW)
“Life of Reilly”
“Lost in Woonsocket” (SXSW)
“Manufacturing Dissent” (SXSW)
“Mulberry Street” (SXSW)
“The Nines” (Sundance)
“The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair” (SXSW)
“Smiley Face” (Sundance)
“Snow Angels”* (Sundance)
“Skills Like This” (SXSW)
“Steal a Pencil for Me” (SXSW)
“This Is England”
“When a Man Falls in the Forest” (SXSW)
“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”
(*I eventually did review these movies.)
2007 releases that I watched twice:
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”
“Eagle vs Shark”
“No Country for Old Men”
“Shrek the Third”
“The Simpsons Movie”
Pre-2007 releases that I had seen before, and reviewed, that I re-watched this year:
“Diary of a Mad Black Woman”
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
“Toy Story 2”
“The Triplets of Belleville”
“Wild Tigers I Have Known”
Pre-2007 releases that I had seen before but did not review, that I re-watched this year:
“Ace in the Hole”
“Babes in Toyland”
“Being John Malkovich”
“Lady and the Tramp”
“The Little Mermaid”
“North By Northwest”
“Twilight Zone: The Movie”
“Wake Up, Ron Burgundy”
Pre-2007 releases that I saw for the first time this year:
“12 Angry Men”
“The Age of Innocence”
“Beauty and the Beast” (1946)
“The Big Heat”
“Blade Runner” (twice)
“Five Easy Pieces”
“Glengarry Glen Ross”
“Gone with the Wind” (I know!)
“Harold and Maude”
“His Girl Friday”
“Lawrence of Arabia”
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
“Rambo: First Blood Part II”
“The Third Man”
I have watched less and less TV every year since I started keeping track in 2004. That year I watched 767 hours; in 2005 it was 539, then 457 in 2006. In 2007 I watched just 343 hours, less than half of what I watched in 2004. That’s not even an hour a day. And considering I TiVo everything and skip the commercials, I watched those 343 hours of programming in about 260 hours — or a scant 42 minutes per day in front of the TV set. Clearly I have failed as an American.
The amazing part (to me, anyway) is that I love TV! Believe me, it has not been a conscious decision to watch less television. I’ve just been busier with movie-watching and other activities (writing, most notably), and I’ve cut loose a lot of shows that are good enough but that I simply don’t have time for. In 2008 I pledge to watch more TV.
Shows I watched regularly (more than six episodes):
“Aliens in America”
“Curb Your Enthusiasm”
“Friday Night Lights”
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
“Law & Order”
“Law & Order: SVU”
“Saturday Night Live”
My favorite shows in 2007:
1. “30 Rock” (NBC): This show was funny when it premiered in the fall of 2006. Since then it has only gotten better, each episode a dizzying cavalcade of punchy humor, bizarre tangents, and pure Alec Baldwin-y goodness.
2. “Friday Night Lights” (NBC): The second season has suffered just a little from a plot line that nobody believes, but the rest of the show is as good-hearted, decent, and engrossing as anything on television.
3. “The Sopranos” (HBO): Everyone talked about the ending (which I liked) so much that it overshadowed what came before it: a crackerjack final season full of surprises, inevitabilities, and whackings. So many whackings.
4. “Pushing Daisies” (ABC): The best new show of the strike-abbreviated fall season! I love every whimsical, imaginative, cutesy second of it.
5. “The Shield” (FX): This show is a marvel. The sixth season aired this year, and it was every bit as good as the five seasons before it. How many shows maintain that level of quality year after year?
I read 21 books this year, including 18 novels and three non-fiction titles. I started but did not finish a few others due to a longstanding policy that if a book isn’t doin’ it for me within 50 pages, I give up. I’ll stick with a bad movie to the end, but books take longer to read than movies take to watch, so I have to draw a line.
One of the books I attempted was “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen. With the barrage of Austen-related movies being released, I figured I should finally read one of her novels. It began well enough for me, and I found it cute and funny and charming, and then after about 50 pages the charm wore off and I quit. Sorry. Just not my cup of tea.
Here’s what I read in 2007. The fact that I finished them suggests I enjoyed them to some degree; titles I particularly recommend are asterisked.
“1776,” by David McCullough. Somewhat stiff but overall enlightening account of the American Revolution. McCullough’s insights on the character and personality traits of George Washington are especially interesting.
“Apathy and Other Small Victories,” by Paul Neilan. A slim, sardonic novel about a shiftless man in his late 20s who, like so many of his generation, views the world with laziness, irony, scorn, and apathy. When he is halfheartedly accused of the murder of his dentist’s deaf receptionist, can he muster the energy to defend himself? The tone throughout is laugh-out-loud funny in a caustic, who-gives-a-crap way. The protagonist, Shane, is like Holden Caulfield for the early-21st-century hipster generation.
“The Boy Detective Fails,” by Joe Meno. Funny and strangely touching is this breezy novel about a former boy detective (think Encyclopedia Brown) who spent some time in a mental institution and is now trying to come to grips with his sister’s death. Death is the ultimate mystery, of course, and our hero’s realization (and acceptance of the fact) that not all mysteries are solvable is sublime.
“Bridget Jones’s Diary,” by Helen Fielding. Listened to it on CD. Found it v. enjoyable, actually.
“End of Story,” by Peter Abrahams. Half-decent thriller about a would-be writer who teaches a creative writing class at a prison, where she is strangely attracted to one of the inmates. She comes to believe he’s innocent of his supposed crimes and gets way too involved. I found the ending rather disappointing.
** “Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star,” by Brandon Mull. If there was any question before that Mull deserves to inherit the Harry Potter audience, this should settle it. This sequel — about a young boy and girl whose grandparents are caretakers of a magical preserve — is even more inventive, more whimsically outrageous, and more fun than the first book.
** “Finn,” by Jon Clinch. It is the story of Huck Finn’s father, a minor but sinister character in Twain’s novel, his story here fleshed out by a very imaginative and accomplished author. He’s a tragic, mean figure, and Clinch writes exquisitely.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” by Ernest Hemingway. Turns out the only Hemingway I’d ever read was “The Old Man and the Sea,” in junior high school. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is set during the Spanish Civil War, with an American soldier helping a guerrilla group fight against the fascists. Hemingway writes the story as if it had been translated directly from Spanish (so people say “What passes? instead of “What’s going on?,” for example), which gives it an air of formality that can be off-putting at times but extremely beautiful in other cases.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” by J.K. Rowling. A little-known work in the children’s fantasy genre.
** “Heart-Shaped Box,” by Joe Hill. I don’t read a lot of scary novels, so maybe it doesn’t count for much when I say this is the scariest thing I’ve ever read. It’s about an aging heavy-metal rockstar who buys a ghost on the Internet on a whim — and the ghost turns out to be real, and angry, and scary.
** “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” by Joe Loewen. The title is more inflammatory than it needs to be, but the book is excellent. Loewen, a historian, examines the dozen or so most popular high school history textbooks — and rips them apart for their inaccuracies, their dullness, and their whitewashing of American history. Many Americans grow up with false or incomplete ideas about their nation’s past, and Loewen’s lively and well-sourced book seeks to correct that.
“My Holocaust,” by Tova Reich. A relentlessly savage satire about the modern-day religion of Victimism, where everybody wants in on the martyr action in order to feel special about themselves. Reich mocks her fellow Jews who worship at the altar of the Holocaust, using it to define themselves and their religion above everything else. She also has stinging barbs for other religions and groups who try make their persecutions and trials match up with those of the Jews, everyone eager to wrench a piece of the sympathy market away from them. Funny stuff.
“Nineteen Minutes,” by Jodi Picoult. A very good novel about the aftermath of a high-school shooting, following the lives of several key figures: the picked-on shooter, the survivors, the judge who must hear the case, the lawyers who must try it, and the killer’s mother. The relationships between all these people are explored with no easy summations or black-and-white answers. Everybody is somebody’s child. Everybody has a story.
** “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy. The post-apocalyptic story of a man walking the roads of ruined America with his little boy is one of the most beautiful, emotionally devastating books I’ve ever read.
“A Spot of Bother,” by Mark Haddon. From the author of the excellent “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” comes this amusing story about a family: aged father is slowly losing his mind, mother is having a guilty affair, brother is gay, sister is about to get married to a dunderhead. Haddon has a very impressive ability to make us see the world through each person’s eyes so well that we empathize with everyone.
“Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories,” by Chuck Palahniuk. Not as enjoyable as his fiction, but there are some good tales in here.
“The Terror,” by Dan Simmons. There really was a British ship that got lost in the Arctic in the 1840s while searching for the Northwest Passage. This suspense novel fictionalizes the trip and speculates on what happened: there might have been a terrifying ice monster. Pretty gripping at times, though I’m not entirely satisfied with the turn things take in the end.
“The Time Traveler’s Wife,” by Audrey Niffenegger. I finally got around to reading the book everyone was talking about a few years ago. I like the mix of romance and science-fiction, and I like Niffenegger’s spare, descriptive style.
“Water for Elephants,” by Sara Gruen. Wanna know what life was like for circus workers during the Depression? This novel, which spins a fine yarn about love triangles among performers and animal trainers, is just the thing.
** “World War Z,” by Max Brooks. What if there were a huge zombie outbreak? How would it affect the world’s economies, societies, and governments? Brooks’ hugely entertaining novel answers those questions ingeniously. Lots of fun.
** “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” by Michael Chabon. My favorite author imagines a world where, instead of the nation of Israel being formed after World War II, the Jews were given their own spot in Alaska. This novel is a mixture of Jewish mysticism and hard-boiled detective fiction that only someone as clever and imaginative as Chabon could come up with.
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