When flipping through my mental catalog of the year’s films, certain scenes stand out. This past year offered a veritable feast of visual goodies, the most enticing of which are listed below.
28 Weeks Later
Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack, Robert Carlyle
(Fox Atomic; US theatrical: 11 May 2007 (General release); 2007)
After Danny Boyle zapped the zombie genre with 2003’s 28 Days Later, it seemed unlikely a sequel could bring anything new. Surprisingly, Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo made it work, without any tinge of re-hash. Socially aware and skillfully shot, this film paid homage to other Daddy-gone-bad family horrors, like The Shining and The Amityville Horror, while still pumping out zombie scares.
Best Scene: When Don (Robert Carlyle) must choose between saving his own life or his wife’s (Catherine McCormick), he bolts. A long shot of his breathless run down a hillside with the infected swarming behind him stands as one of the great opening scenes of a horror film, ever.
Megumi Hayashibarar, Tory Furuya, Koichi Yamadera, Toru Emori, Akio Otsuka
Anime maestro Satoshi Kon adapted Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel about a machine that allows anyone access to others’ dreams. When the machine, called the DC Mini, turns up missing, Detective Konakawa Toshimi and dream psychologist Atsuko Chiba, whose alter ego Paprika lives only in the dream world, must decipher dreams from reality and unravel a convoluted government plot in the process.
Best Scene: When Dr. Torataro Shima, inventor if the DC Mini, begins acting out his dreams in reality, he speaks gibberish, then hurls himself from a window to the street below. After a fade to black, a raucous parade comes snaking down the street. Filled with pop culture icons, food wrappers, and other non sequiturs, the parade, the parade sums up a collective unconscious. With a crashing oom-pah-pah score and vivid color palate, the parade—which shows up repeatedly—become synecdochic of the film itself.
The Dead Girl
Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy, Marcia Gay Harden, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Rose Byrne, Giovanni Ribisi, Kerry Washington, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Beth Hurt, Piper Laurie, Nick Searcy
(First Look Studios; US theatrical: 29 Dec 2006 (Limited release); 2006)
Flawed though it may be, the story of four women’s lives and one dead girl (Brittany Murphy) offers robust characters and memorable performances, all set against an unusually bleak Southern California.
Best Scene: It’s a tie. Arden (Toni Colette), naked and post-coital, limbs splayed under a tree-filled blue sky, imagines that she’s the corpse she discovered just days before. Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt), after burning the evidence of her husband’s serial killing, stares at the roaring fire while she methodically removes her own clothes, as though they are evidence as well. In a long take, middle-aged Ruth appears vulnerable, yet filled with new strength.
My Kid Could Paint That
Mark Olmstead, Laura Olmstead, Marla Olmstead, Anthony Brunelli, Elizabeth Cohen, Michael Kimmelman
(Sony Pictures Classics; US theatrical: 5 Oct 2007 (Limited release); 2007)
The documentary examines the budding career of four-year-old painter Marla Olmstead, and then the backlash after a 60 Minutes exposé questions the authenticity of her work. Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev asks tough questions of the Olmsteads and of himself.
Best Scene: In the Olmstead living room, the family watches the 60 Minutes segment, in which child psychology experts declare Marla a fraud. In this long take, the camera frames parents Laura and Mark’s frozen faces, as if searching for a tell.
The Host (Gwoemul)
Song Kang-ho, Byun Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ah-sung Ko
(Magnolia Pictures; US theatrical: 9 Mar 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 10 Nov 2006 (Limited release); 2006)
When the American military pollutes South Korea’s Han River with formaldehyde, a mutant monster rises up to run amok in downtown Seoul. The monster picks off citizens as they flee, swallowing them whole, then storing them alive in the sewer system. When slacker dad Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) loses his daughter Hyun-seo (Ah Sung-ko), his family’s worst assumptions about him seem confirmed.
Best Scene: Gang-du pleads to be released from quarantine because he knows his daughter is still alive. Director Bong Joon-ho films Gang-du in a tearful close-up, as he presses his face into a plastic curtain, his distorted sorrow filling the screen.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Emma de Caunes, Max Von Sydow, Isaach De Bankolé, Patrick Chesnais
(Mirimax; US theatrical: 30 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)
When French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) suffers a stroke, he’s left with “locked-in syndrome,” unable to move or speak, but able to hear and see. Communicating by blinking his one operational eye, he dictates his memoir and reconciles a life of regret.
Best Scene: All of them. Director Julian Schnabel uses Jean-Do’s one-eyed POV for most of the film, save for flashbacks. Jump cuts and pulling focus reconstruct what the world must have looked like to Jean-Do, making this film a meditation on how vision shapes how we understand the world.
Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, John Jaratt, Marley Shelton
(Dimension Films (The Weinstein Company); US theatrical: 6 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)
This one’s a doozy. A highly stylized homage to exploitation films, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof include brilliant trailers for faux horror films like Don’t! and Werewolf Women of the SS. Spawning all sorts of destined-to-be-cult heroes like El Ray (a hypnotic Freddy Rodriguez), Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), and Machete (Danny Trejo), Grindhouse was as much smart fun as you were likely to have at the movies all year.
Best Scene: After anesthesiologist Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) has her own two hands pumped full of a numbing agent by her jealous husband (Josh Brolin), she battles her way into her car. Breaking her nails and letting her makeup run, she struggles to save her son (Rebel Rodriguez) from zombies, her husband, and even the babysitters. Fierce despite her limp wrists and immobile hands, she’s a big-eyed, post-apocalyptic SuperMom.