Sunday, January 20, 2008

Film 2007: Best

I don't really believe in Top 10 lists. They're fun to read and pore over but completely arbitrary. Why 10? Why not 5, 4, or 12? It's a nice round number, to be sure, but one that can't contain the Top 22 films I saw last year. (Why not 22?)

Bowing to convention, I will concoct one at the end of this post, but take it with a grain of salt (as I'm sure most critics, caught in the year-end bind, do). If you care passionately about a given medium, it's impossible to weight these things, and as pointless (and as thoughtless) as considering which of your 10 children you love the most.

The real deal is the alphabetical ranking below. Was 2007 one of the best film years ever, as a number of commentators have opined? Ask me in 2017; these matters take years to sort out, and what looked good last year may age poorly. But there were a number of pleasing films out there, all worth consideration, and a strong slate of American movies. (And some good film books, notably Foster Hirsch's Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King and August Ragone's Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters. The best was Tim Lucas' mighty, 32-years-in-the-making Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, which I'll review in the Spring issue of Cineaste.)


Amazing Grace. The best of the year's Masterpiece Theater-type films, and I mean that with great affection. Get great British actors, put them in powdered wigs, surround them with a historical issue of paramount importance (here, the abolition of slavery) and as long as you don't mess up I'm there. (Bonus for having Albert Finney's only genuine performance last year.) Steven Knight's script has an inconvenient flashback structure but with this and Eastern Promises under his belt he's 2-2 with me. A deserved sleeper hit with older, smarter audiences.

Black Book. Paul Verhoeven's whiz-bang epic of espionage and betrayal, the fleetest-footed film of last year.

Bug. William Friedkin's original films are pretty terrible anymore. Not so this confident and skillfully handled adaptation of Tracy Letts' play, with Ashley Judd go-for-broke in the lead.

Eastern Promises. The year's most hair-raising fight scene, plus a nuanced tour into an unfamiliar subculture, led by Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen.

Gone Baby Gone. An assured and troubling moral mystery.

Great World of Sound. A wrenching independent film about the disharmony underlying the music business and the elusive Great American Dream that came and went last fall, but one that lingers.

The Host. A human-scaled monster movie.

In the Shadow of the Moon. In troubled times it took British documentarians to excavate what's good in the can-do American spirit.

Into the Wild. Not the book, but a distillation that strikes a different, still rewarding, tone.

Michael Clayton. A pallid fall for Hollywood uplifted by this crackerjack legal thriller, back in release.

A Mighty Heart. The best of the 9/11 aftermath-themed films, with Angelina Jolie properly fitted in a semi-documentary framework.

The Namesake. This kind of cross-generational family saga is difficult to pull off, but Mira Nair did it, splendidly.

No Country for Old Men. Macabre, nerve-jangling material that plays into the Coen Brothers' strengths as filmmakers.

No End in Sight. The Iraq mess under a documentary microscope, pitilessly examined.

Once. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for our time.

Ratatouille. I find Pixar's much-loved oeuvre frankly uneven, but its foodie rats (and corruscating critic) went down a treat.

Starting Out in the Evening. A "certain regard" picture that made it over the wall courtesy of Frank Langella's indelible performance.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. An ideal Tim Burton picture, if not altogether an ideal version of the Sondheim show. Still a forceful rendering.

There Will Be Blood. A mighty central performance, great widescreen composition, oil and snake oil, and...I'm not sure. There's enough else to get it here but I'm still processing it. Based on visual and aural cues is it the "Dawn of Man" sequence from 2001 repurposed for the early 20th century? Big, bold, curious, and elusive.

Triad Election. The conclusion of Johnnie To's cold-blooded Hong Kong gangland saga, which itself debuted last year in the U.S. It drinks American Gangster's milkshake.

28 Weeks Later. A sequel surprise, from the horrifying (and heartbreaking) beginning to the endgame. Low expectations savagely surpassed.

Zodiac (pictured). Densely, richly procedural; obsession as affliction, and as catching and disturbing as a communicable illness.

So, then, if I must...Top 10 I can live with...

10) In the Shadow of the Moon
9) Once
8) There Will Be Blood
7) Gone Baby Gone
6) No Country for Old Men
5) No End in Sight
4) Michael Clayton
3) Black Book
2) Ratatouille
1) Zodiac

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