Thursday, 27 December 2007

Best of 2007: Blockbusters

Not all movies churned out for the summer cinema season are brain -dead Bruckheimer blow-outs, explains Robert Duffin, who still admires the wee blockbusters that the year produced.

Anyone who attended the cinema this summer would have witnessed one of the most disingenuous advertising campaigns ever devised- a trailer, boasting that 2007 was the greatest ever year in cinema, that sandwiched Bergman’s The Seventh Seal in between Shrek and Spider-Man. Initially, of course, perhaps the project was launched with the best intentions. After all, 2007 was to feature the 'summer of three-quels'; the return of Spider-Man, Captain Jack Sparrow, Shrek and the arrival of Optimus Prime! Yet all we got for our shiny pennies this summer was a headache, be it from the cacophony of explosions or the mind bending plot holes that plagued the crop of summer movies. Yet not all was lost, and throughout the year we were treated to a handful of blockbuster films that reassured us that big-budget cinema could still entertain us without sacrificing sensibility.

First on the list of honourable mentions is a surprising choice, even to myself: Danny Boyle's Sunshine, a movie with such a troubled screenplay (and THAT third act) making it onto the list perhaps suggests a year of true slim pickings. Yet let's take a step back and see what Boyle really did achieve. Sunshine is one of the best looking films of the year, thanks to ace cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler (Ratcatcher) and the stunning special effects crew, and all on a budget of a meagre $35 million. The haunting yet alluringly hypnotic spectre of the sun, slowly luring the crew of the Icarus II towards their demise at the source of all life, is a far more evocative and thrilling creation than some crab monsters or squid faced demons. Here, even a task as mundane as docking the space craft has you on the edge of your seat when you remember they are essentially flying a nuclear weapon, Strangelove style, into the dark abyss of space. It's certainly flawed, but in hindsight we can appreciate what a real treat it was.

Sashaying into the honourable mentions list, donning Ray Bans and a dapper suit, is Ocean’s Thirteen. After the euro influenced smug-fest of the first sequel, Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt et al went back to basics and back to Vegas for this breezy slice of entertainment. The rhythm is snappy, the tête-à-tête a delight, and the plot is outlandishly complex and fiendishly fun. Seeing Pacino in a more laid back role and not forcing himself TO ACT IN A LOUD VOICE reminds us of his talent, and the leads are now so comfortable with one another that the fun becomes infectious. HOO HAH!

Speaking of fun, it was sorely lacking in this years big summer films, and when you can’t find a modicum of joy in giant robot frolics you know there’s something wrong. Yet it only took two words to send one summer film into all of our hearts: Spider Pig. While the debate rages on with the uber-fans over whether it should have even been made, there’s no denying that The Simpsons Movie brightened up the summer season. From the opening of Ralph singing along the Fox fanfare, via Bart’s indecent exposure and Homer’s DIY mishaps, to the genuinely touching wedding video sequence, the family Simpson triumphed. Ready, steady…d’oh!

Finally, the grand prize for blockbuster of the year goes to The Bourne Ultimatum. It’s the natural choice given the pattern of my selected films so far. No gadgets or an underwater car here, all you need to take down the CIA is a hardback book, a hand towel and a local Internet café. The best blockbusters this year were the ones done on the cheap, the money being spent on the things Bruckheimer and co. tend to ignore: smart casting choices, good writers and stunt people as opposed to CGI. Ludicrous globe hopping and plotting aside, Paul Greengrass’ taught thriller is the best action film of recent times and was a tremendous piece of visceral fun. That you could make all four films mentioned here for the same price as one crappy Pirates sequel is telling, let’s hope for our sakes someone takes notice.

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