Sunday, February 24, 2008

2007 Top 10 Movies

Just in time for the Oscars, I have my 2007 Top 10 Movies list. I have never had a harder time putting together a top 10 list than this year. What a great year for films! As I look at my list for last year, what I see is some really good films at the top and some good but not great films toward the bottom. But this year, this list is dominated by really great films and toward the bottom you get to the really good ones. Only maybe the top 4 could have made the list this year. The actual best film of 2006 was The Lives of Others but I didn't get a chance to see it before the Oscars. Although I've seen other lists that put it in their top 10, it is so tied up with 2006, having won best foreign picture, that I have trouble justifying it. It would probably be #2 this year though, being a fantastic picture.

As for this year, I haven't seen 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. It's playing in Austin right now, but I don't think it is going to happen today. Maybe I will include it in next year's list.

Why was 2007 so great? First, it was a fantastic year for comedy. This is a real golden age for comedy in Hollywood. Second, a certain amount of luck I suppose. I don't think there is any reason to think we are generally in a fantastic era for film; looking at the recent past, it's hard to see this year as any kind of trend. Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers both released their best pictures in many years in 2007, helping push up the whole crop of films. Third, I paid more attention to foreign film, which really fills in the bottom of the list and the honorable mentions especially. So it could be my perceptions to some extent.

The one thing this year lacked was the era-defining movie. The really great film years that people cite have a picture you can point at. 1994 and Pulp Fiction. 1972 and The Godfather. 1967 and The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. I'm not sure that Juno or There Will Be Blood or No Country quite reach those levels.

Anyway, here's the list, along with a lengthy honorable mention list.

1. Juno
This is just a fantastic film. People have talked it to death so I'll keep it short. Despite some somewhat less than convincing dialogue toward the beginning of the film, it is a winner all the way through. The cast is fantastic. I was sure that Vanessa would come across as a horrible shrew who was holding back Mark but it turns out she was the hero. Honest, funny, well-written, wonderfully acted.

2. The Savages
Hilarious. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are phenomenal in this film. Philip Bosco is great too as the aging father. The scene where Hoffman chooses the film for the nursing home movie night is just about the funniest thing I've seen in many years. I can't say enough about this picture. I hope Linney wins best supporting actress, but I'm sure she'll lose to Cate Blanchett's imitation of Dylan in Don't Look Back. Hoffman got robbed of a nomination for best actor.

3. Knocked Up
The backlash to this film has been the most annoying aspect of the movies this year. I have rarely read more boring, self-righteous, and humorless blog discussions as those about this film and abortion. Sure, the film is a little sexist. You know what else? It's fucking funny as hell. While analyzing the politics of film is fine, it becomes tiresome very quickly when no appreciation is paid to the film's art. Knocked Up is like a cross between Eric Rohmer, a slapstick film, and a bad stoner comedy. It's a great combination. Sweet, funny, and not nearly as unrealistic as its critics claim, in many years this would be my #1 film. It's a testimony to how absolutely fantastic both Juno and The Savages are that it comes in at #3.

4. There Will Be Blood
People sure love this film. It's BIG and SERIOUS and is SAYING SOMETHING IMPORTANT. Now don't get me wrong. It's a very good film. Daniel Day-Lewis is superb and Paul Dano holds his own. It is my #4 in a off the charts great year after all. I just think critics and smart movie goers attach themselves to this type of film almost reflexively. In any case, it is Paul Thomas Anderson's best work. It says a lot about American history and development. I do think that oil and religion do not have to be at odds here; its not like they haven't worked together since the late 19th century. But that is a minor complaint. Others have claimed not to like the last half-hour. I don't understand this. Plainview is clearly a man with no sympathy for humanity. That he could turn on his adopted son when he decides to become a competitor is hardly surprising.

5. Persepolis
God, this is a great little movie. The monochromatic animation and use of shadowing really brings the story home. This story of a girl living through the Iranian Revolution is one of the most powerful political films I have seen in a long time; this is at least in part because it doesn't beat you over the head with its message. I love films that deal smartly with immigration and globalization. The scenes after she leaves Iran are great, particularly as she is in the airport trying to decide whether to go home. Heartbreaking.

6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Julian Schnabel's best film. You wouldn't think a film shot from the perspective of the one working eye on a totally disabled man would be interesting. You would be wrong. The artistic aspect of this film is first rate. It also features two of my favorite actors: Mathieu Almaric as the disabled man and Swedish legend Max von Sydow as his father.

7. No Country for Old Men
This is a very good film based on Cormac McCarthy's worst book. Chigurh's overwhelming evil gets less in the way in the film than it did in the book. Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly McDonald, Woody Harrelson--all are very good. I'm not sure that this is the greatest film in the universe as a lot of people say. Is it better than 3 or 4 other Coen Brothers films? I don't think so. It's first rate, even for them. But I don't think it's appreciably better than Miller's Crossing, Fargo, or The Big Lebowski. But again, it's BIG and IMPORTANT, and SAYING SOMETHING, even if most viewers aren't quite sure what. Anyway, it will make a better Best Picture choice than most of the films the Academy chooses.

8. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Sidney Lumet comes out of nowhere to direct a first-rate film again. In the 1970s he had a string of amazing work--Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Verdict, etc. As he as aged, his work has slipped. But this is a nice film. Well, not nice in any conventional way. The opening scene will shock you enough to prepare you for the rest of the film. I would have liked to see Marisa Tomei act more when she is not naked. She is great for sure, but the fact that she seems to exist in the film for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke to have sex with is emblematic of the inherent sexism that was so obvious in film this year. For all the great male roles in every movie, there were hardly any good roles for women. Anyway, great morality tale.

9. Climates
This quiet Turkish film really moved me. A film about the end of a relationship between a pretty immature university professor and his TV journalist girlfriend. Climates doesn't lay everything out for you. You have to think about the significance of the images to appreciate it fully I think. Like most relationships, the end of the film (and the relationship within the film) is not particularly clean, nor is it well-defined. While that lack of conclusion might bother some viewers, that's because they are too used to formulaic Hollywood films. Climates also has one of the most disturbing sex scenes I have seen in a long time. Just to warn you.

10. This is England
Hardly anyone has seen in this in America I think. I watched it on Netflix recently and was very impressed. This Shane Meadows film is about skinheads in 1983. The hero is a boy of about 11 whose father has been killed in the Falklands. He is an outcast and has a very quick temper. He makes friends with some older people, maybe late teens and early twenties, who are skinheads, but not necessarily racist skinheads. One in the gang is a Jamaican immigrant for instance. They invite him in and treat him like one of their own. But then the old leader of the gang gets out of prison where he has become a white supremacist. He comes back and all hell breaks loose. The gang breaks up, but the boy stays with the racists after the leader makes an impassioned speech about them standing up for the men who died in the Falklands. The last 20 minutes of this film are about as powerful as anything I've seen in a long time.

Honorable Mention

11. Control--excellent biopic of Ian Curtis. A useful counterexample to the usual dreck.
12. The Wind That Shakes the Barley--Ken Loach's best film in several years. About the internal dynamics of the Irish Revolution. That the English conservatives were really pissed off about should recommend it to you.
13. Sicko--Michael Moore's best film
14. Paris Je T'aime--Just a fun film. A set of 20 or so short films about love in Paris. Not all work, but the ones that don't are over in 5 minutes so who cares.
15. Superbad--Maybe not as great a film as Knocked Up or Juno, but it's also evidence for this great era of comedy.
16. Manufactured Landscapes--first-rate documentary about an artist who specializes in polluted landscapes. The artist and filmmaker have very different, but complimentary, aesthetics. It follows the photographer to China, which also makes this a great film about globalization.
17. 12:08 East of Bucharest--Nice little film on memory, communism, and the Romanian revolution.
18. Eastern Promises--We are at #18 here. Last year, this is a certain top 10 film. Again, 2007 was great. Viggo is great. Very solid film. Naomi Watts is an incredibly beautiful woman.
19. The Darjeeling Limited--Unjustly forgotten. Yes, all of Wes Anderson's films are the same. That's OK. This works very well I think. Even if Adrien Brody is clearly a much better actor than Owen Wilson or Jason Schwartzmann. Anderson has the most unique aesthetic of any working director today.
20. The Golden Door--A lovely little Italian film about Sicilian immigrants to the New World. Except you never see America outside of the interiors of Ellis Island. About hopes, dreams, and the bewildering confusion of leaving one culture for another.
21. Michael Clayton--good film with good acting. Not one for the ages but worth getting on Netflix if you haven't seen it.
22. Once--a charming little film. Nothing more, nothing less. I recommend it but its boosters turn the film into something far more than it actually is, much like Little Miss Sunshine last year.

Also worth a viewing
Regular Lovers, Syndromes and a Century, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Avenue Montaigne, I'm Not There, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, Rescue Dawn

Overrated films, not recommended:
Into the Wild, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.