Sunday, December 16, 2007

American Film Institute picks their top ten films for the year

The American Film Institute is out of the gate with their annual picks of the best films of the year. There are some easy picks, and some surprises, which for the AFI, is not so surprising at all, as they have their own considerations that is sometimes at variance with Hollywood studios and box office concerns. Popular acclaim doesn't always decide, either, which makes their perennial list more diverse.

The AFI Awards are voted on by two 13-member jury panels (one for film, one for TV), mixing scholars, critics and AFI trustees.
The org’s annual luncheon honoring the chosen titles will take place on Jan. 11 at the Four Seasons.
"Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" Director, Sidney Lumet, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Morisa Tomei, Albert Finney.

Master filmmaker Sidney Lumet directs this absorbing suspense thriller about a family facing the worst enemy of all: itself. Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, an over-extended broker who lures his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), into a larcenous scheme: the pair will rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store that appears to be the quintessential easy target. The problem is, the store owners are Andy and Hank's actual mom and pop and, when the seemingly perfect crime goes awry, the damage lands right at their doorstep. Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei plays Hoffman's trophy wife, who is having a clandestine affair with Hawke, and the stellar cast also includes Albert Finney as the family patriarch who pursues justice at all costs, completely unaware that the culprits he is hunting are his own two sons. A classy, classic heist-gone-wrong drama in the tradition of The Killing and Lumet's own The Anderson Tapes, the film is smart enough to know that we often have the most to fear from those who are near and dear.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" - Director, Julian Schnabel. Winner, Best Director, Cannes Film Festival
Story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of French fashion magazine Elle, who, at the age of 43, was disabled by a massive stroke in his brain stem. Despite his disability, Bauby wrote his memoirs by blinking his left eye in an alphabet code.

"Into the Wild" - Director, Sean Penn, stars Emil Hirsch. Based on a true story of one young man's tragic 'return to nature'. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

"Juno" How is it that there could be TWO top ten films of the year - about unexpected pregnancies - and both comedies? Well, there is, which says something about the state of our expectations, cinemagtically, and even about what is considered humor in the current trouble global conditions. And the pregnant one isn't Jennifer Garner, at least in this pic. The troubled mommy-to-be Juno (Ellen Page) is a Mid-Western highschooler, who decides one day, out of boredom or curiosity, to have sex with her friend Bleeker (Michael Cera), a member of her school's track team. She likes him well enough, but isn't hung up on him. This one time encounter results in Juno's pregnancy. She and her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) decide to take control of the situation by browsing for prospective adoptive parents in the local Pennysaver, and Juno settles on seemingly perfect, affluent couple Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner.)

"Knocked Up" -Director Judd Apatow, stars Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogan. A mismatched couple hooks up for a one-night stand; the subsequent pregnancy, decision by mother to keep child and pledge by father to do what's right set up a very funny look at relationships. Apatow's follow up to "40 Year Old Virgin", with the grammy-winning Heigl (Grey's Anatomy) deliciously cast.

"Michael Clayton" - Director, Tony Gilroy; stars George Clooney, Tilda Swinton.
Michael Clayton (Clooney) is an in-house "fixer" at one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. At the behest of the firm's co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), Clayton, a former prosecutor from a family of cops, takes care of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen's dirtiest work. Clayton cleans up clients' messes, handling anything from hit-and-runs and damaging stories in the press to shoplifting wives and crooked politicians. Though burned out and discontented in his job, Clayton is inextricably tied to the firm.
At the agrochemical company U/North, the career of in-house chief counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) rests on the settlement of the suit that Kenner, Bach & Ledeen is leading to a seemingly successful conclusion. When the firm's top litigator, the brilliant Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has an apparent breakdown and tries to sabotage the entire case, Marty Bach sends Michael Clayton to tackle this unprecedented disaster and, in doing so, Clayton comes face to face with the reality of who he has become.
"No Country for Old Men" Directors, Joel and Ethan Coen; stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin.
From the book by Cormac McCarthy. The thriller begins when Llewelyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a sentry of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back trunk. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law--namely aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell--can contain. Moss tries to evade his pursuers, in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives, as the crime drama broadens.

"Ratatouille" - Wonderful animated film, and the only picture in history where rats are allowed in the kitchen, but not without a delicious twist. The Rat from Orlando isn't the only lovable rodent in cinema any longer, and the ones in this marvelously sketched story have greater depth and character.
"The Savages"
Director, Tamara Jenkins; stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney.
When an estranged and senile father starts failing, his son and daughter are suddenly burdened with the heavy chore of care-giving for a man who once neglected and abused them. However, in confronting the lingering trauma of their unhappy childhoods, brother and sister form a close new bond. Both leads give outstanding perfs and Hoffman's only competition for awards this season may be himself, in the Sidney Lumet film Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

"There Will Be Blood" -
Director, Paul Thomas Anderson; stars Daniel-Day Lewis.
Set in the booming West coast oil fields at the turn of the 20th century, a tale that follows the rise of rugged prospector Daniel Plainview who becomes an independent oilman after hitting it rich with the strike of a lifetime. He realizes the American dream, and is destroyed by it. Boldly and magnificently strange, the film marks a significant departure in the work of Anderson. Heretofore fixated on his native Los Angeles and most celebrated for his contempo ensemblers, writer-helmer this time branches out with an intense, increasingly insidious character study of a turn-of-the-century central California oil man. Based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil", it is more concerned with the Day-Lewis character than with the muckraking Sinclair is known for.

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