The Best and Worst Films of 2007
by Phil Boatwright

Though there are several films whose artistic and technical merits have captured the attention of critics and moviegoers, I wanted to choose a few Bests that uplifted the spirit.  As for the Worst film of the year (its name was Legion, for there were many), I picked several that besides being stunningly awful in their execution also contained negative concepts of Christianity.  And then there were some this year that had powerful messages, but the filmmakers couldn’t manage to tell their story without crude content.  Viewing those in that category, I questioned whether their profundity outweighed the profanity. In this first of a three-parter, I’m listing these films due to their artistic and technical merits, plus the positive themes each contains.  Though these entries made my Best Of List, some include content you may find objectionable.  Due to space restrictions, please read my full reviews and the reason for their ratings by clicking on the film's name.  Oscar probables such as Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, and the Bucket List will be discussed in the final section, entitled "Great Productions, But..."

THE BEST

Waitress. Trapped in a loveless marriage to an abusive wacko, a pregnant Jenna (Keri Russell) fights off depression by making pies for the restaurant where she waits tables.  She puts such skill and dedication into her baking that customers find a little piece of Heaven whenever they partake.  Though she is unhappy, frustrated and stuck, Jenna shows compassion for others.  And though she doesn’t want a baby by a man she has come to despise, she realizes that the unborn child has rights and she does everything possible to see that the fetus is getting what it needs to develop correctly.  Without uttering the term “pro life,” the film suggests that this stance is valid and just.  A poignant parable, Waitress makes you laugh out loud and ultimately touches your soul.  On one level, it is somewhat fluffy, but as you savor the story, dialogue and performances, you begin to realize that it is layered and thoughtful.

Caution:  Since I’m putting Waitress at the top of my list, I feel it necessary to point out that the film has some sexual situations and adultery is committed.  (The sexual situations do not contain nudity and do not become overly graphic.)  The lead learns lessons and comes to realize that adultery is wrong, no matter how much it seems to be filling a need in her life (to be loved), she learns in time that such affairs can only harm others.  She is not judgmental of a friend who also commits adultery, but eventually shows by example that such a sin is never fulfilling.  The lead has done some wrong things, but her caring for others is eventually what completes her life.  This is a rare message found in today’s movies.

Beyond the Gates.  This powerful, deeply moving film focuses on a young man who has come to teach at a Catholic secondary school during the Rwandan genocide.  Director Michael Caton-Jones skillfully involves the viewer, and the script by first-time screenwriter David Wolstencroft addresses faith and presents a man of God as truly that, a man who reverences God and embraces Christ’s command to love others. Dan In Real Life.  An advice columnist/widower takes his three daughters to Rhode Island for a family reunion.  There he has a chance encounter and falls for a kindred spirit.  Problem: she’s dating his brother.  Dan In Real Life is sublimely charming, lightheartedly funny and explicitly clean.  Too often this year, I’ve left comedies feeling grungy.  This one is a welcome alternative; a sweet, relaxing, entertaining movie.  There’s depth, not a cavern of depth, but just enough profundity to give the humor dimension, and just enough grownup romance to give us singles hope.
August Rush.  While many Oscar hopefuls this year deal with the dark nature of man, this one is replete with spiritual themes, including the need for faith.  Like most memorable films, August Rush makes you feel hopeful and happy.  Meet The Robinsons.  Full of energy and humor, this animated adventure is part comedy, part parable, with more in its favor than just a G-rating.  Disney Studios delivers one of the best family films of the year.
In the Shadow of the Moon.  This incisive documentary features the accounts of the surviving members of the Apollo teams who walked on the moon, giving a fresh perspective of those achievements, and allowing for the spiritual implications that affected the men on those explorations.  At one point, we hear Charles Duke from the Apollo 9 mission give his testimony.  I couldn’t believe my ears; a man was declaring his faith in Jesus Christ and there were no snickers from audience members.  Indeed, my fellow moviegoers were moved, realizing that there is something far bigger than man, or even space itself.  In the Shadow of the Moon engages, uplifts and unites.

King of the Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Another documentary, this one spotlighting contestants gearing up for the ultimate video arcade championship.  So well conceived, I thought for a while, “Are we being punked?”  But no, even though it has a mockumentary feel, it’s the real deal.  Not mean spirited or belittling, it is amusingly exposé that masterfully reveals the makeup of advocates of the arcade.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  Reprising the roles they originated in Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush return for a historical drama laced with treachery and romance.  Joining them in the epic is Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh, a dashing seafarer and newfound temptation for Elizabeth.  Writers William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, director Shekhar Kapur, and all the artists and technicians involved in this production have given moviegoers a stunning cinematic entertainment. The story has much to do with Catholicism vs. Protestantism, or at least the political significance of these Christian faiths during that age.  Spain’s King Philip, according to the film, was sure he was meant to defeat Elizabeth, seeing Protestantism as the devil’s deception.  Queen Elizabeth wanted the two religions to dwell in harmony under her reign, and despite urgings from her court, she wouldn’t punish people for their beliefs.

The Worst

I Know Who Killed MeJust before entering a substance abuse sanctuary, Lindsay Lohan played a teen abducted and tortured by a sadistic serial killer.  Often on the nightly news we learn of young women being kidnapped, brutalized, tortured and the rest.  I don’t like hearing that on the news, so why would I want to be entertained by such depictions?  Of course, there are people who enjoy the visualization of agonizing torment inflicted upon a human being – especially if it’s happening to a pretty girl.  Isn’t it nice to know that Hollywood is making movies for everybody? Because I Said SoDiane Keaton plays an interfering mother of three grown girls in this “comedy.”  Diane Keaton has given us several interesting performances, and Mandy Moore showed promise in A Walk To Remember.  But absolutely nothing worked in this film.  Ms. Keaton’s timing was nowhere to be found and Ms. Moore needs to stop preening and posing and decide if she wants to be an actress or just a pop celebrity with nice cheeks.
Daddy Day Camp.  TThe sequel to Daddy Day Care finds Cuba Gooding Jr. and Paul Rae as two dads taking over a summer day camp.  Armed with no knowledge of the great outdoors, a dilapidated facility, and a motley group of campers, it doesn’t take long before things get out of control.  Daddy Day Came has a backed-up sewer that blows up, flatulence jokes and, of course, food fights. What it doesn’t have is laughs. Fred Claus.  If It’s A Wonderful Life is the most heartwarming of Christmas classics, and Elf is the silliest, then surely Fred Claus is the angriest.  There are a few laughs, but the genial mood is often disrupted by a searing dysfunctional family harshness, as if the folks who made Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were trying their hands with the meaning of Christmas.
License to Wed.  Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) won’t bless a marriage union until the couple undergoes his patented, foolproof marriage-prep course.  I suppose the concept of Robin Williams playing a priest was amusing to those who read the script, but his irreverent reverend is bizarre to the extreme.  He not only vomits out off-color jokes to his congregation, he makes inappropriate comments to a class of little kids he’s teaching about the sins of adultery.  Adultery to a group of 8-year-olds?  Other humor ranges from lame to nearly blasphemous.  The subject of a young couple entering into wedlock is ripe for incisive satire, but here we are given nothing of true substance or clever wit.  There isn’t one honest emotion or three-dimensional characterization in the entire film.  And Robin Williams shouldn’t be playing a pastor, he should see one. 30 Days of Night.  Vampires feast on the residents of a small Alaskan community.  It’s spooky and action-filled, but it’s also gruesome, dumb and dreary.  Gory and full of blood and f-words, it also shows disdain for God.  In one scene, the head demon says there is no God.  And that is the one and only mention of the Creator in the entire film.  You’d think somebody would be praying, considering their entire town’s populace is being eaten by children of the night.  It’s as if the filmmaker goes out of his way to exorcise God from our consciousness.  It’s horrifying what many filmmakers want to believe in and what they don’t.
The Mist.  It was an unsettling experience feeling the palpable rage the audience had toward the fanatical religious character in this tale of human-eating aliens overtaking a quaint hamlet.  The mean-spirited woman quoted from Old and New Testaments, but behaved without any regard for Christ’s teaching to love one another.  She is completely unfeeling and determined to divide the group rather than draw them together.  And when she meets her doom, well, I haven’t heard such an audience approval since the demise of Darth Vader. This was the only portrait in the film of a person of faith. If you misquote from any book, taking its teachings out of context, whether it’s a car manual or the Bible, you’ll never come to the right conclusion.  Yet this misdirection is all that’s done with this character.  Viewing Marcia Gay Harding play the part of this petty-spirited prophetess, I kept wondering why she chose the role.  Was she unaware that the misrepresentation of a true follower of Christ might insult Christians?  Did she wonder if this misrepresentation of God’s nature might be considered blasphemous to the Creator?  Exactly what was she thinking? It’s hard not to read the author’s intent as an attack on religious beliefs and a disdain for the military, which he paints here as cowardly and evil.  The finale is a knock-off of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, but it lacks the pithiness or profundity of that program’s finest endings.  The characters here do stupid things, the religious woman, the film’s true villain, is one-dimensional and foul mouthed, and the monsters are CG generated and look it

The Reaping.  Hilary Swank plays a former Christian missionary who lost her faith after her family was tragically murdered by the very people she had been sent to help. She has since become a world-renowned expert in disproving religious phenomena.  If you’re looking for a joyless spook story complete with deceptive theology, gruesome deaths, and a moping lead who suffers from guilt and bouts of stupidity, this may be your cup of tea.

Not only are these last four films disappointing as entertainment, they also seem bent on taking pokes at Christianity.  Try doing that with any other group of Americans.