The Palme D’Guinea Pig, otherwise known as the Muriel Award for Best Film of 2007 has been announced! It was a close vote, but despite a last-minute surge in voting on behalf of Because I Said So (Kidding! The Muriels have far more credibility than that!), the winner is... Well, why don't you go check for yourself. Paul Clark, curator of the Muriels, asked me to write briefly about the movie, and he has gathered seven other writers to wax ecstatic about the big winner, as well as the four runners-up. Here's Paul himself on one of the five favorites among Muriel voters:
“Much has been made of the obsessive attention to detail David Fincher brought to Zodiac, but his brilliance is in how he uses this meticulousness to subvert the expectations we have from a murder mystery. Fincher uses the minutiae of the Zodiac case to illustrate the roadblocks in the way of the case being solved… After nearly a quarter of a century, the case is more or less back where it started- literally, as the first character we meet is also the last we see- and all the hard work and sacrifice and obsession over the Zodiac case has amounted to little or less to nearly everyone involved.”
And that's not all...
Steven Carlson on Ratatouille: “What impresses most, though, is the way that Bird uses the American perception of animation as kid stuff to his thematic advantage. With food as his metaphor and Anton Ego as his vessel, Bird puts forth a consideration of the simple loves that start many of us on the road to cinephilia.”
James Frazier on Gone Baby Gone: “When was the last time a mystery was so thematically rich and deeply moving, utilizing an impeccable balance of cerebral, emotional, and visceral pleasures? Ben Affleck's directorial debut seems like the work of a seasoned filmmaker; its intimate familiarity with the lower-class Boston setting, the gripping but methodically paced narrative, the seemingly casual elicitation of great performances from an excellent ensemble cast. This suggests not the work of a rookie, but a real pro, or at least someone who paid damn close attention to the way his better directors ran the show.”
Alex Ross: “No Country for Old Men is the most quietly ferocious movie you'll ever see. I can't stop thinking about the brilliant sound design choices by Joel and Ethan Coen that lift the movie from a simple genre exercise into another level of terror and excitement. In the same way Ennio Morricone fashioned a theme out of creaks, drips and cracks for the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West, here we have an entire "score" made out of footsteps, desert wind, breezes through an open window, distant passing trains and simply the sound a man makes when he's contemplating what his next action will be that won't result in his death. All these sounds are heightened because no note (whether dialog or effects) goes wasted, wrapping the viewer in silence and putting us in the same mindset as the characters, where fate seems to be waiting behind the corner.”
Andrew Bemis: “There Will Be Blood shouldn't work. With its collision of stark images of a landscape about to be violated, abrasive music and unapologetically large-scale performances, Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film could have easily been a well-intentioned mess and an interesting curiosity on a developing filmography. Instead, There Will Be Blood achieves a demented harmony and proves its much-debated director as one of our strongest and most original auteurs. For all the filmic influences woven into the film, it's no pastiche - no film in 2007 was so singularly strange, beautiful and disturbing.”
There’s also an entire section devoted to short pieces by writers in which they hail films that were less popular with Muriel voters, the Muriel Best Picture Also-Rans:
Craig Kennedy on Syndromes and a Century: "It sounds like a mess, but I loved every minute of it. What does it all mean? I don't know. You tell me. Unattached to logic, but somehow managing to beguile and captivate, it's a fascinating cinematic puzzle that defies easy explanation."
James Frazier on 3:10 to Yuma: “Out of all of the great films this year, I wouldn't have guessed that my favorite would be the remake of a Western, but here it is…”
Paul Clark: “Lake of Fire illuminates what may be the only reasonable method of trying to resolve the abortion debate- not shouting, but listening. To take time to hear the beliefs of others with an open mind rather than simply propping ourselves up with our prejudices. To learn to see the complexity of the debate, rather than operating simply in shades of black and white, like children or, yes, zealots. And to try to understand the women- the conscious centers of the abortion debate- rather than simply demonizing them.”
Hedwig van Driel on The Darjeelign Limited: “Anderson knows just how to use Owen Wilson's head and Adrian Brody's long limbs, and while there are some too-precious moments, this movie has been far too easily dismissed."
Jason Alley on Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: “The fractured time structure has taken some flak, but I found it extremely effective at slowly peeling back the layers of this family’s still-open wounds like an onion. Even the fact that Hoffman and Hawke look nothing alike becomes a vital part of the story."
And speaking of Also-Rans, Paul doesn’t let the ball drop with films. There’s an entire section of the Muriels devoted to Individual Achievements that tended to get lost in the year-end shuffle toward award season, and the Oscars in particular.
My thanks to Paul for inviting me to join in the fun as one of the Muriels voters and contributors, and for giving me a forum to write not only about the 2007 Muriel Best Picture winner, but Carice van Houten and John Carroll Lynch as well. I’m already looking forward to the 2008 awards; I just hope we have as much good stuff to write about this time next year as we do this year.