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Better Than Michael Clayton

It's hard not to hype something you think is good. And with movies, and all the marketing surrounding them, it's particularly tough. When I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time in the movie theatre back in 1994, I'd already heard the hype, so needless to say I was a little disappointed when I left the movie theatre. I mean, I thought it was a good film, just not worth all the build-up when you compared it to Tarantino's earlier work.

Since then, I've come to appreciate Pulp Fiction and have watched as it's influenced a whole host of newer movies, including the very smart and stylish Lucky Number Slevin. So I find myself asking: Kiki, if a film lets you down is it because you were expecting too much? Or did the film in your opinion, just not deliver?

I'll admit it. Sometimes great expectations in life can lead me to walk away from an experience a little deflated. Whether it's the expectation of what might be an incredible first kiss, or a new Ridley Scott film (okay, I know that was a dumb comparison), I let the anticipation affect me, and sometimes that can leave me wishing the kiss had made me just a little bit more weak in the knees.

2007 was a particularly hard year for me as a movie-goer. There were a lot of films that I walked away from the theatre thinking: it had potential, all the ingredients were there, but it just didn't deliver. American Gangster, Into the Wild, Gone Baby Gone, 3:10 to Yuma, and Michael Clayton. All films with a lot of hype surrounding them. All said to be great films in their own right. All films that left me wanting more.

Sometimes I think critics and movie-goers can't help but to over-sell a movie. In the day and age where there is so much competition in Hollywood, so many people downloading rather than going to the theatre, or sitting at home and watching mindless reality tv, mainstream cinema needs the hype to sustain itself.

So why did Michael Clayton disappoint? For one, it suffered from an extremely slow tempo. It just didn't move, and when it did, it wasn't captivating enough to sustain my interest. It had a great cast, but the characters were so muted (and not in an enjoyable, subtle kind of way) that I felt the performances had a terrible, restrained feeling to them. Lastly, it wasn' t original. I know it's hard for films to be original when there are so many out there, and so much has been accomplished on film already, but there are billions of stories in the world. So even though I know we've seen a lot, I believe there are so many more stories to tell on screen. Michael Clayton is a hybrid film. It's a cross-between The Insider and Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh even executive produced it), two films that I'd rather re-watch than sit-through Michael Clayton again.

So if with all it's Academy Award hype Michael Clayton let me down, you might be asking what I thought was a great first kiss in 2007. Here are my picks for a few films that kept me puckered-up throughout the two hour screening.

The Counterfeiters (2007 - Stefan Ruzowitzky)

citizen kaneEveryone who knows me, knows that I'm obsessed with films about World War II. There's something compelling about films brave enough to tell the stories about that particular, horrific mess that I find compelled to watch them.

So naturally, when the Victoria Film Festival was showing a filming of the Oscar winning Austrian film The Counterfeiters, based on the true story of the biggest counterfeiting operation in history as orchestrated by the Nazis, I jumped at the opportunity to join the sold-out screening.

Like The Pianist, The Counterfeiters tells a very unique and personal story of one man's attempt to survive the Holocaust by any means possible. The cinematography, the colour, the very texture of the film screams: not Hollywood. The Counterfeiters is a very realistic look at the Holocaust, and one that I found myself satisfied to have watched when the lights in the theatre came on.

In the Valley of Elah (2007 - Paul Haggis)

thelma and louiseI'm sorry, but it's true. This film is smarter than most people I've met. In the Valley of Elah is tantalizing in all the best ways. It's intelligent, it makes you think, it's engaging and it's brilliantly acted. It's silent and subtle in all the right places, and it's powerful and smart in all the right ways.

Canadian director Paul Haggis takes his time telling a powerful story, and luckily fails to make the same mistake he made with his previous film Crash, of being too preachy. This is an excellent film, through and through. Paul Haggis is one of those Canadian directors all Canadians should be proud to have sprouted from our big expanse of earth.

Did I mention I have a mad crush on Charlize Theron? No? If you ask me, a woman with brains and matching good looks is the ultimate winning combination. Theron's acting chops are reason enough to rent this thought-provoking film (especially if you're not prone to thinking while you watch movies).

No Country For Old Men (2007 - Ethan and Joel Coen)

squid and the whaleI know you've heard the hype, but this one is really worth it. This film is best viewed in a dark room, at night, with someone who doesn't incessantly chat through-out movies (even I would sit quietly through this one).

I simply adore Javier Bardem, and Tom Lee Jones and Josh Brolin offer absolutely solid performances in this film. Forget what you've heard about it, just rent it and enjoy the journey. This is without a doubt the Coen Brothers' best film. It's powerful, it's mean and it's unique.


Other Picks:

Juno (2007 - Jason Reitman)

The Brave One (2007 - Neil Jordan)

Away From Her (2007 - Sarah Polley)