Still working on catching up on some notable and/or overlooked 2007 releases as the list-making and awards-giving deadline approaches.
Diggers (Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Maura Tierney, Ron Eldard, Josh Hamilton, dir. Katherine Dieckmann)
This simple, laid-back dramedy, written by former State member Marino, is charming and low-key, and actually more entertaining I think than the more broadly comedic recent efforts from State alums. It's not particularly original, but as a character study of thirtysomething clamdiggers in 1976 Long Island, it nicely sketches the arrested man-child persona in a believable, charming way, and unlike a lot of movies of this type, doesn't shortchange the female characters (having a female director probably helps). Tierney in particular is excellent as a woman who's just as rootless as the male main characters, and her arc is equally compelling. There's nothing revelatory here, but there are a lot of nice, satisfying moments, with an ending that's sort of predictable but still touching.
The King of Kong (documentary, dir. Seth Gordon)
There's been a bit of outcry online over the recently released Academy shortlist for the Best Documentary award, in large part because this film was left out, and I can see the validity of that (the list is also very heavily skewed toward political films, as if that's the only function of documentaries these days). It's also not surprising that Gordon has a narrative version of this film in the works, because it's got a very Hollywood hook, with the likable underdog taking on a cocky, condescending champion, in this case in the realm of competitive classic videogaming. It'd be enough for Gordon to just step back and let the story tell itself, but he manages to jazz it up a little with a few bits of visual flair and some creative editing. And he makes great use of cheesy "fight of the century" anthems from other sports-underdog movies. The movie doesn't have much to say, but it's a great character study of a weird and dedicated subculture, and incredibly entertaining.
Tears of the Black Tiger (Chartchai Ngamsan, Stella Malucchi, Arawat Ruangvuth, dir. Wisit Sasanatieng)
This weird, psychedelic Western/melodrama was made and released in Thailand seven years ago, but only made it to U.S. theaters this year, already armed with a cult following. I can't say I quite understood it - I think there are references and homages to elements of Thai pop culture with which I am completely unfamiliar - but it was entertaining in its own bizarre way. Completely, purposely fake - with exaggerated colors, obvious sets standing in for outdoor locations, and completely impossible stunts - it's a hyper-stylized parody of both macho Westerns and weepy melodramas. It's also quite macho and weepy on its own, and sort of exciting and even touching at times. The kind of movie that if it didn't exist, it would be invented as some sort of backstory in a Quentin Tarantino film.