Here is a wonderfully positive Books and Culture review of one of the best movies I saw in 2007, The Lives of Others. I concur in everything that Professor Cantor writes, and I encourage you to read the review and (either before or after reading it) to see the movie.
I haven't seen the special features on the DVD, but I was simply swept away by the movie, which I saw on the big screen. I did not know that Ulrick Muehe (the actor playing the Stasi "listener") had died, but that saddens me terrifically. His portrayal was note-perfect to convey his eventual "salvation" (as Cantor calls it).
Now, while I'm on it, I must commend two more recent movies. Once and Juno should both qualify for nominations for 2007 Oscars, and I trust both will garner several.
Once is a story of music-making. It involves a rather heart-broken singer-songwriter in Dublin (known throughout only as the "guy") who meets an emigre with musical talent (known only as the "girl"). Together they tentatively explore a friendship while working together on writing songs and working to get the guy into a recording studio so that he can record a demo CD to show around London to get himself placed as a songwriter. I'd like to spell out the details, but some of the charm of the movie is wondering what's going to happen. Suffice it to say that I found it the most charming movie of 2007. The actors playing guy and girl are, in fact, not actors and have never acted before. He used to front a band in Ireland and the two have known each other as friends for years. Perhaps as a result, the chemistry between them is stunning. They also wrote, individually or together, most of the music in the film. (The music is very exciting.) So in terms of "back story" and of film technique, the entire thing comes off feeling like a very well-made documentary (which it is not).
Juno is more well-known, I think, even though it is a kind of small-scale movie, too. It concerns a sixteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant after one half-planned sexual encounter with her sort of clueless nerdish boyfriend. When she decides to give the baby up for adoption, rather than "ending her pregnancy," she gets the support of her family, friends, and the audience. She finds a couple with whom she wishes to place the child (finding them in a shopper's flyer featuring personal ads -- one of innumerable wry and funny issues in the movie), and much of the tension in the movie grows out of her efforts to personally connect with them.
The movie is smart, wry, lol-funny at times; it is touching and nearly heart-breaking at others. The reserved support and affection that Juno gets from her parents is almost too touching for words. The ending is pretty much a happy ending -- tear-jerking and charming.
My wife wondered whether the film paints the troubles of teen pregnancies as too easy to bear -- i.e., that it is unrealistically romantic about Juno's situation. I don't think so: Judged on its own terms, which do not include sending "messages" to young people, it is a hope-filled story of how resourceful young people can wend their way through even extremely difficult times -- with the help of their friends and family (terrifically played by two actors I really like, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney). (I didn't like Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, the would-be parents, but I'm not sure we're really supposed to -- until the end of the movie, kind of ... .)
Oh, did I mention that Juno was written by Diablo Cody, who wrote much of it while living in Minnesota and who based the movie here? (It was produced with aid from the Minnesota Film Commission, but it was filmed in Canada -- for heaven's sake.) She was named artist of the year by the Minneapolis StarTribune, another sign that we'll jump on any bandwagon that travels through the state.
I don't claim to be a movie critic: "I know what I like." But since I have the password to this blog, I get to put on it even the most mundane panting.