Friday, December 28, 2007

The Best of 2007

Maybe it’s a little early for this 2007 Top 10. After all, I still haven’t seen Tim Burton’s movie version of Sweeny Todd, one of my favorite musicals, and Dean Koontz’s latest novel, which I hear is boffo, is waiting to be read. But reviews of those may come later, and if they qualify for this list, so be it. Anyway, here are my ten favorite items (books, movies, DVDs, what have you) for the past 12 months so far, in ascending order:

10. My niece’s boyfriend got the Transformers movie DVD for Christmas, so the whole family watched it on Tuesday afternoon. I liked it as much the second time as I did last summer in the theater. Hell, who doesn’t like giant robots with a sense of humor? But it’s not Transformers that’s on my Top 10 list. That honor goes to a young actress named Megan Fox, who stole every scene in that film, gave me life-threatening heart palpitations, and prompted naughty thoughts through most of Christmas dinner. Another star is born.

9. This was an especially “retro” year for me, and you’ll notice that almost everything on this list (besides the scrumptious Megan Fox) represents a bit of yesteryear. Case in point: the British double-CD import Last Flight, a live full-concert recording of Jefferson Airplane closing out its very last tour in 1972 at Winterland in San Francisco. This was Airplane’s last hurrah. Marty Balin and Spencer Dryden had left, and the band was on life support, having peaked three years earlier. But amazingly, this CD is fantastic, an extraordinary postscript to the Jefferson Airplane story.

8. Grindhouse was the most outrageous movie of 2007, a 195-minute two-for-one valentine from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino to those great cheesy exploitation “double-bills” of the 1970s. I loved the movie, and I wish they’d release the whole goddamn thing in one big DVD package. But for now, the two pieces that made up Grindhouse — Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof — are available as separate “extended cut” DVDs. Even without the goofy trailers, they’re worth a look.

7. I’ve talked here about my love for The Third Man so many times that you may be nauseous from it. But here I go again. This year, the Criterion Collection released an upgrade of its earlier DVD release, and it’s not to be missed, even if you own the first one. The two-disc set includes a new transfer of the film, all the bonus features from the first Criterion DVD, plus two feature-length audio commentaries, the 90-minute 2005 documentary Shadowing the Third Man, a 1999 Austrian documentary, a 1968 hour-long British TV program on novelist Graham Greene, and a booklet of essays. Fans of Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, post-war Vienna, and Sacher-Tortes shouldn’t miss this package.

6. I’m so used to Hollywood butchering books I love that Gone Baby Gone, based on a terrific Dennis Lehane novel, surprised the hell outta me. It was not only one of the best movies I saw in 2007, it may be the best film in the private eye genre I’ve seen since Chinatown, more than three decades ago. Director-screenwriter Ben Affleck and most of the cast, which includes Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, deserve Oscars for this. Too bad the movie tanked at the box office. Catch it on DVD when it becomes available.

5. The last time I saw Richard Lester’s 1965 classic Help!, starring John, Paul, George, and Ringo, I was watching a washed-out, choppy print at a revival movie house in Reseda, California. Now, for the very first time, Help! is on DVD. And this newly restored print is breathtaking. The colors pop. The clarity is startling. Help! looks like a brand new movie. And the songs — well, what can I say about the songs? It’s a great DVD. Bonuses include featurettes on the film’s painstaking restoration and interviews with Lester and surviving cast members (sadly, neither Ringo nor Paul). If you haven’t got this one yet, why not? It’s the friggin’ Beatles fer crissakes!

4. For many years, one of my regrets was misplacing my copy of a dusty little 1972 paperback titled A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State, one of the few genuine Left-Right collaborations that sprung from Murray Rothbard’s notorious flirtation with the Left in the late 1960s. This eye-opening book, edited by Rothbard and then-Leftist Ronald Radosh, featured essays by, of course, Rothbard and Radosh, plus libertarian Leonard Liggio, New Leftist William Appleman Williams, and others. This year, the Mises Institute made this important bit of Libertarian Left history available as an absolutely free PDF download. Radical Rothbardians, if you care at all about your roots, don’t miss this great book, courtesy of the indispensable Mises Institute.

3. Maybe because so many different versions have been released over the years, I never before owned a copy of one of my favorite films, Blade Runner. I guess I’ve been waiting for this Blade Runner Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition all along. After I dropped repeated hints about it for several months, Deb got me this monster for Christmas, and it’s fabulous. It’s got everything, including four versions of the Ridley Scott classic (the original theatrical release, the international release, the director’s cut, and Scott’s brand new “final cut”), plus the work print, a three and a half hour long documentary, 45 minutes of deleted scenes, three feature-length commentaries, umpteen mini-features, a miniature replica spinner car, an origami unicorn figurine, and TONS of other doodads and bells and whistles, all stuffed into a facsimile of Rick Deckard’s metal briefcase. I’ve been weeding through this thing since Wednesday morning, and I’ve barely made a dent. Very cool. This package may set the standard by which all future “special edition” DVDs are measured.


2. Steve Ditko is best known as the co-creator of Spider-Man. But my favorite non-Marvel Ditko creation, hands down, has always been his no-nonsense, blue-suited, faceless, Randian hero, The Question, which he produced for Charlton Comics in the late 1960s. Years later, Denny O’Neil would resurrect and unfortunately reinterpret the character for DC Comics. But the original, uniquely Ditko canon — five back-of-the-book short stories in Blue Beetle and a single full-length comic book adventure, just 62 pages in all — were tremendous fun and crammed with hardcore “A is A” values. My old copies of those comics were long gone, and I thought Ditko’s Question was lost forever — that is, until this year, when all of those precious tales were collected into a wonderful hardcover book titled The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2, part of DC’s Archive Editions series. There are some Blue Beetle and Captain Atom stories by Ditko in this book, too, and they’re all terrific. But it’s The (quintessential) Question that makes this book worthwhile, and my greatest discovery at Comic-Con last July.


1. What’s more exciting to a radical libertarian than a brand spankin’ new Murray Rothbard book, written in the mid-1970s and finally published 12 years after the great man’s death? Not a damn thing. The Betrayal of the American Right, available from the Mises Institute in hardcover and even as a free PDF download, is a first-rate blend of memoir and libertarian movement history. It is the Libertarian Left treasure of 2007. And it tops my list. Onward to 2008!

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2 Comments:

At 5:55 AM, Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

I agree with you about Megan Fox. I was less impressed with the movie than you were, but I get a funny tingle every time I remember her. I think there's a lot more than meets the eye with her.

The things you wrote about that I've also encountered, I agree, and the things I haven't, I plan to check out. I may also steal your "top 10" idea, it's a fun way to review where we've been these last 12 months.

 
At 7:24 PM, Anonymous thesilentcritic said...

I found a copy of the Rothbard / Radosh book last year in a college town friends of the library sale. That's all I have to say, just a random find in an unlikely place, which is why I go.

 

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