If we take for granted the idea that there are, by definition, no good wars, we can at least entertain the theory that some wars are at least worse than others. To that end, it seems particularly clear that among recent conflagrations, the one named at the time with an unconscious but bitter irony The War To End All Wars deserves to rank up there with the worst of all time. In their thoughtful, studied illustrated novel Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, novelist Christopher Golden and Hellboy scribe Mike Mignola (who also did the hundred-plus shadowy and expressionist illustrations that liberally pepper the text) make full use of World War I’s carnival of cruelty to foreground their tale of lost love and massacred innocence. Not to mention vampires—lots of vampires.
You can read the full article about Baltimore at PopMatters.
The Year in Film – 2007
Without as much fanfare as some years, and very few instances of mass, shared audience/critical attention, 2007 still turned out to be not so bad in the end, when all was said and done, cinematically speaking. Filmcritic.com just posted the year’s Top Ten lists of its senior writers; you can link to the full lot of them here, and my annotated listing is reproduced below.
The Top 10
2) There Will Be Blood – Greed, religion, oil, misanthropy, capitalist as ravening beast, preacher as power-mad charlatan – this is the year’s ultimate love-it-or-hate-it film, and one that finally puts Paul Thomas Anderson into the ranks of the all-time greats.
4) No Country for Old Men – Every author should be as fortunate as Cormac McCarthy. To have his 2005 Texas drug war noir adapted with such fidelity by the Coen bros. – known better for plundering the style of everyone from Dashiell Hammett to Tex Avery, without credit – that they even had the bravery to leave intact the book’s dreamlike, poetic and inconclusive conclusion, shows that McCarthy has better luck than 99% of authors who enter Hollywood’s adaptation meatgrinder. That the result would be such a beautiful but tense thriller that also contained people resembling actual humans (something the Coens haven’t managed for a few years), showed that for once, audiences got lucky as well.
6) Wristcutters: A Love Story – The most welcome surprise of 2007 came in the form of this brilliantly unassuming little comedy about a guy, despondent over his lost love, who commits suicide, only to end up in an afterlife that’s less like hell and more like a run-down suburb of Fresno. Based on the surreal writing of Israeli author Etger Keret, Wristcutters is like that dream you had one time which was terrifying but sort of funny at the same time … and then Tom Waits showed up.
7) Once – It’s been a great year for musicals, with both Hairspray and Sweeney Todd showing that once again it is possible to make big, brassy film versions of Broadway plays that both do justice to their source material and can also play in Peoria. But this easygoing sleeper is like the gypsy offspring of those big-budget extravaganzas, and slightly more rewarding in the end. The slimmest of premises (two street musicians in Dublin start a low-key musical flirtation) makes little effort to lay on extra plot devices, preferring rather to stick with the most basic of plots (hey, let’s make an album!) and focus on the soulful, lo-fi songs of stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. This is a film people become obsessed with, and for good reason.
8) Zodiac – Somehow this one got lost, and it’s hard to see why. David Fincher has been working at below his abilities for a few years now (Panic Room?), but finally seems back in shape with this long-form, creepy essay on the art of investigation, disguised as a detective story about the Zodiac Killer. People expecting another slash-em-up from the director of Se7en were probably disappointed at the low body count, but this is Fincher’s most mature and least gimmicky work since the underrated The Game.
9) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Sometimes, real life actually resembles underdog sports movies. Thankfully, that was the case with the high-tension competition a few years back for the title of Donkey Kong world champion, captured beautifully by director Seth Gordon, who manages to cover this tiny world of obsessive-compulsives without a hint of condescension. Something to tide us over until the next Errol Morris.
Worst films: Across the Universe, Beowulf
Most beautiful, in every possible sense: The Darjeeling Limited
Guiltiest pleasure: Mr. Brooks
Scariest: The Last Winter
Most overrated: I’m Not There
Debut filmmaker: Andrea Arnold, Red Road
Worst accent: John Travolta, Hairspray
Performance/moustache of the year: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Saddest, most cynical attempt by washed-up director to regain relevance: Redacted
The Year in Review
I’ll be following in the next week or so with best-of lists for 2007 in film and books. If I don’t get around to a list for graphic novels, here’s a shortcut. I took part in Publishers Weekly Comics Week’s second annual best of poll, and although sadly showed my weaknesses for not having read the two which received the most votes (Exit Wounds and Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together), a number of books I loved (Shortcomings, I Killed Adolph Hitler) did show up nonetheless.
The full, delightfully annotated list of the most enjoyable graphic novels published in the previous twelve months (so we say) can be found here.
It’s generally a bad sign when, in a Woody Allen film, one can’t quite decide whether or not it’s supposed to be a comedy. If it can’t be determined which Allen has shown up—the Greek dramaturge or Borscht Belt shtick-meister—then the film that follows is bound to be a tedious affair. In a nutshell, this is the first and most serious problem with his newest London effort, Cassandra’s Dream, an alternately portentous and trivial drama about a couple of scheming brothers who get in over their heads when a morally compromised relative makes them an offer they can’t refuse.
Cassandra’s Dream is playing now. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.