After agonising for weeks over the perfect balance between solid entertainment, sound human values and artistic merit, the staff of MercatorNet settled on the following films which screened over the past year. No list is perfect. Post a comment on our choices. Or nominate your own favourites!
A Mighty Heart
Directed by Michael Winterbottom | Starring Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Archie Panjabi, Azfar Ali | 108 minutes
Early in 2002, the Southeast Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and eventually murdered in Pakistan. A Mighty Heart focuses on how his pregnant wife reacts to the terrifying news that her husband is in the hands of Muslim extremists. She directs the search with astonishing grace and generosity. The film is shot in semi-documentary style on location. As MercatorNet’s reviewer Justin Myers wrote, this film is not “about man’s capacity for evil, but about inner strength in the face of tragedy.”
Directed by Michael Apted | Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Gambon, Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds, Youssou N’Dour, Toby Jones, Stephen Campbell Moore | 111 minutes
This historical film commemorates the 200th anniversary of a British ban on the transport of slaves by an ardent Christian in Parliament, William Wilberforce. Although slavery itself was not abolished until 1833, shortly before his death, this was a major defeat for the slavery industry. The film chronicles Wilberforce’s life from the time of his conversion to the passage of the bill for which he had campaigned over 20 years. MercatorNet’s reviewer Justin Myers described it as “a stirring film which will have all but the most cynical viewer cheering at the end”. Many viewers will see in Wilberforce’s dogged struggle a parallel to campaigns against abortion.
Directed by Alejandro Monteverde | Starring Tammy Blanchard, Eduardo Verastegui | 91 minutes
An unmarried New York waitress loses her job after falling pregnant and considers having an abortion. But the chef, an ex-soccer star with a tragic secret, draws her into his loving family and gently persuades her to keep the baby. A warm and sentimental film about forgiveness and reconciliation, it could be Oscar material, MercatorNet reviewer Leticia Velasquez has predicted: “The emotional complexity of Bella far surpasses the formulaic plots which have lately stunted romantic drama in Hollywood, and which, light on plot, tend to rely too heavily on body heat and star power for interest.”
The Bourne Ultimatum
Directed by Paul Greengrass | Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine | 111 minutes
This is the third film about Jason Bourne, a CIA killer who has lost his identity and his memory. The action is non-stop, as the hero crisscrosses Europe, fleeing from CIA assassins while trying to establish who he is. Fans of the first two films will see another murderous duel in a very small room, an escape from enemies in a very large and crowded plaza, and a spectacular car chase. MercatorNet reviewer William Park saw in this fast-paced thriller a deeper theme: “Only God can bring good out of evil, when humans attempt it – and thus play God – they bring disaster on themselves and everyone about them. Throughout all three films, Bourne struggles against this philosophy, though of course the films avoid any religious terminology.”
Directed by Kevin Lima | Starring Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Patrick Dempsey, Rachel Covey | 107 minutes
Did you ever wonder how a fairy tale princess would cope if she were alone in New York City? Pretty well, it turns out, in this delightful spoof of conventional Disney fairy tales. The sparkling Giselle is pushed down a wishing well in fairyland and emerges from a manhole cover in Manhattan. This leads to lots of comical complications in which true love conquers contemporary cynicism about romance. There are some splendid special effects and an impressive musical sequence in Central Park which trumps Busby Berkeley. A satisfying happily-ever-after film.
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho | Starring Kang-ho Song, Byun Hee-bong, Bae Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ko A-sung | 119 minutes
We’re going out on a limb on this one, as The Host belongs to a specialist genre: Korean horror films. But its zany humour, terrific special effects and insight into contemporary Korean society make it well worthwhile. The plot follows a familiar pattern. Gang-du is a slack loafer whose wife ran off long ago, leaving him with a plucky young daughter to look after. Other members of his dysfunctional family are more talented but they are hardly united. One fine day a gigantic amphibious monster emerges from the polluted Han River in Seoul, devours and crushes bystanders, swallows Hyun-seo, and disappears into the river. They all blame hapless Gang-du, as usual, when suddenly the little girl calls on her dying cell phone. The family becomes a band of heroic avengers who take on the American army, the Korean army, and Seoul police in their search for the monster’s lair. Great fun.
I Am Legend
Directed by Francis Lawrence | Starring Will Smith | 100 minutes
Any year is a good year for zombies, but 2007 offered particularly rich pickings: 28 Weeks Later, Dead Air, Diary of the Dead, Flight of the Living Dead, Outpost, Planet Terror, Resident Evil (Extinction), Zombie Town and I Am Legend. The last of these is actually solid entertainment, featuring the considerable talents of Will Smith. He is the last man standing in a desolate Manhattan. By day, accompanied by his faithful German Shepherd, cancer researcher Will stalks the streets day looking for tinned dinners and by night he fends off ravenous zombies. But those are just hobbies. His real job is discovering an antidote for the man-made virus which has killed 90 percent of the world’s population and turned 9 percent into zombies, leaving only 1 percent immune. Eventually a couple of other survivors straggle in and things look up for the future of mankind.
Letters from Iwo Jima
Directed by Clint Eastwood | Starring Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase | 142 minutes
A companion film to Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima is a wonderfully humane story about the savage World War II battle, told through Japanese eyes. Ken Watanabe plays the unconventional General Kuribayashi who defended his island by building 18 miles of tunnels throughout the island. These enabled the outnumbered and outgunned Japanese to hold out for nearly 40 days. A man of great honour, loyal to his nation and the Emperor, he fights on even though he knows that defeat is inevitable. The story focuses on a conscripted private, Saigo, a young husband and father, who almost miraculously survives bombardment, flamethrowers and bushido suicides. This is a magnificent film about integrity amidst the tragedy and cruelty of war.
Directed by Tony Gilroy | Starring George Clooney, Sydney Pollack, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton | 119 minutes
Surefire Oscar material, Michael Clayton is a legal thriller about a morally corrupt character who discovers his conscience. He is a “fixer” for a large law firm whose talents are tested when a leading partner’s nervous breakdown threatens to derail a multimillion-dollar, class-action lawsuit against client, a major agrochemical company. An in-house lawyer will do whatever it takes to protect her company’s interests. The action is non-stop and the moral dilemmas, though hardly novel, are gripping and thought-provoking. “It tweaks the consciences of corporate types who have lost touch with the real-life ramifications of their wheeling and dealing,” says MercatorNet reviewer Leticia Velasquez.
Mr Bean’s Holiday
Directed by Steve Bendelack | Starring Rowan Atkinson, Emma de Caunes, Willem Dafoe, Jean Rochefort, Max Baldry, Karel Roden | 86 minutes
Let’s start with the hate mail. “I hate Mr. Bean, I hated this movie. He’s an annoying, creepy, leering, sweaty, unfunny character, and ten seconds would be too much and this movie’s like 90 minutes.” That’s one critic. No doubt there exist other sourpusses like him out there somewhere. Let them hate on. I could care less. Mr Bean’s Holiday is an hilarious, switch-off-your brain romp. This time Bean goes to Cannes where disaster, like oil oozing from a stricken tanker, envelops everyone around him.
Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava | Voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Peter Sohn, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter O’Toole | 111 minutes
This Pixar animation was a huge hit and it deserved all its kudos for its originality and sparkling wit. Set in the city of haute cuisine, it relates the story of a young rat from the sewers who discovers that he has a genius for cooking. He becomes the secret counsellor of a scullery boy in a top-flight Parisian restaurant. By tugging on his hair under his chef’s hat, he shows him how to make superb food. After many plot complications, a ratatouille is prepared which sends France’s leading critic into paroxysms of delight. This is great fun, a film which will win over kids and adults alike.
Directed by Werner Herzog | Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Karel Roden | 126 minutes
This is the true story of a German-born pilot, Dieter Dengler, who was downed over Laos during the Vietnam War. Captured by the Pathet Lao, he was tortured and imprisoned, but he managed to escape and make his way into Thailand. The film’s focus is not politics or war, but the simple valour of American soldiers. Dengler fights nature and his own limitations more than his jailers. This is a remarkable story of courage and moral strength.
Directed by Sam Raimi | Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace | 140 minutes
Nowadays no list would be complete without a sequel or prequel. Sam Raimi has done an unexpectedly good job of wringing entertainment out of the popular comic book character for a third time. The special effects are thrilling, the hero and the villains are entertaining, and the characterisation is straightforward but touchingly humane. In this instalment, Spidey takes on two new villains, Sandman and Venom, mends his friendship with his nemesis Harry and tries to propose to his girlfriend Mary Jane (the plot is a trifle confusing). Like its predecessors, the film doesn’t hesitate to moralise in a surprisingly old-fashioned way about Spidey’s foibles.
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
Directed by Jay Russell | Starring Alex Etel, Emily Watson, David Morrissey, Craig Hall, Ben Chaplin | 105 minutes
Sentimental and derivative it may be, but this film about the Loch Ness monster is great entertainment for kids. It takes place in Scotland during World War II. A young widow and her son live near Loch Ness. He discovers an odd egg which hatches into Nessie. It quickly outgrows the family bathtub and he releases it into the loch, but troops billeted in the area fear it as a monster and try to destroy it. The computer-generated effects are great and the scenes of the lad and his gigantic pet are quite touching.