Thursday, February 07, 2008
Belated Top 10 Films of 2007: Part I
Since 2006 was the only year that I spent as a full-time, see-every-movie film critic, that was the only year that I felt any inclination to deliver a Top 10 list in an orderly, end-of-year fashion. I all other years, I've accepted that just because a year reaches its end doesn't mean I've seen enough films from the year in question to put together a viable list.
Sometimes you're holding out for good movies, but other years you're wading through piles of awful DVDs that you're only watching so that you can feel you've given adequate time to the year's cinematic breadth and depth.
In this year's case, I was holding off until I'd seen "300." And I was holding off on "300" until I had a TV up to the task of doing minor justice to the movie. Having decided that my new 42" Vizio would do that job, I finally made it through "300" the other day and while it won't make my Top 10 list, it was a necessary speedbump.
Lists like this are a bit silly because if you're a regular or even semi-regular reader, you know what movie will be No. 1. If it's Roger Ebert composing the list and he's given 4 stars to 50 different movies this year, it's tough to know which one is going to be No. 1 ("Juno," in this year's case). But my ridiculous 100-point system is a spoiler.
But if No. 1 was easy, No. 10 was really a pain in my butt. I had many more films worthy of being No. 10 than I had of being No. 5 and the difference between No. 10 and No. 5 is completely negligible. Distinction-without-a-difference aside, I *did* put the movies in some sort of order and I only cheated with a single tie.
Follow through past the bump for the first half of my Top 10. The second half will follow when it's completed...
No.10-20 (in no particular order): "Juno," "Breach," "Hot Fuzz," "Sunshine," "The Orphanage," "Away From Here," "Ratatouille," "Gone Baby Gone," "Eastern Promises" and, at No. 11, "3:10 to Yuma."
10) "Waitress" (dir. Adrienne Shelley) -- As "Waitress" became one of the few indie hits of the summer, the dark and sarcastic side of me (*yes* there is another side) reckoned that if Adrienne Shelly hadn't died tragically, nobody ever would have noticed the movie at all, that its success was somewhat ghoulish. That was part of what kept me from seeing "Waitress" in theaters. Having finally caught up with the movie, which is contrived and slight at times, but irresistible as a whole, I guess it's something that people saw the movie at all and that audiences were able to appreciate, however briefly and however late, that Shelly was, indeed, a gifted storyteller and an potentially impressive filmmaker. Shelly's gifts as a screenwriter exceed her abilities as a visual filmmaker and the "Waitress" script wildly cute and genuine and distinctive, but she also had a gift with actors and the performance by Keri Russell is as winning as they come. I would have loved to have seen Shelley's script and the performances by Russell and Andy Griffith get more Oscar attention than they did.
9) "The Bourne Ultimatum" (dir. Peter Greengrass) -- I still think that "Supremacy" and "Identity" are both better "Bourne" films than this summer's "Ultimatum." The attempts to close out certain mysteries from Jason Bourne's past are a bit clumsy, as is the weird/shocking revelation about Bourne's past with the character played by Julia Stiles. But I've watched "Ultimatum" twice now on DVD (once for the commentary) and the Waterloo Station game of cat-and-mouse, the chase through Tangiers and the maneuvering through Manhattan remain every bit as viscerally magnificent as they were in the theater. The set pieces in the first two movies are equally resilient, which is part of why I'd be happy for them to keep making a new "Bourne" film every four or five years, whenever Matt Damon -- so assertive, so subtle -- needs the money.
8) "There Will Be Blood" (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) -- This is a weird one, because "TWBB" came perilously close to not making my Top 10 at all. Then, though, having decided to put it in at No. 10, I started playing a game of "Are you honestly going to try to say 'Film A' is better than 'TWBB'?" That started a process wherein "TWBB" crept up my list. Well, the creep stops here. With "TWBB," the question comes down to the gap between how much I respected the movie and how much I really appreciated it. Perhaps the thing I liked most about Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love" is that it was a movie where the ambitions were positively bursting from the seams of a 90-minute comedy. With things like "Magnolia" and "There Will Be Blood," though, Anderson seems determined first to expand the movie to a length that justifies his thematic scope and then to underline the thematic score just to justify the length. What I'm saying is that "TWBB" is a massive movie, so Shakespearean or Biblical in its tragic scale that every line of dialogue is thuddingly subtextual (GREED!!! AMBITION!!! FAITH!!! MILKSHAKES!!!) and every actor shouts every line in case you didn't get the point. Daniel Day-Lewis is great, but it's not a performance that lets you discover its greatness in small steps. He arrives snorting and popping blood vessels and letting every line of dialogue rip from someplace deep inside. He sets the tone for every shot of the movie, for good and semi-ill.
7) "The Lookout" (dir. Scott Frank) -- I went back and watched "The Lookout" on DVD to make sure that I wasn't just particularly susceptible to its brand of densely plotted Midwestern noir when I saw it back in the spring. It played with a bit less power than I initially remembered, but that was only enough to push it out of my Top 5. Some viewers were disappointed by "The Lookout" and many critics were disappointed because it didn't deliver quite enough twists and turns in its final act. Nothing that happened was really shocking. Unlike, say, the movie above it on this list, "The Lookout" is a movie that keeps its intentions and its urges muted. For me, "The Lookout" was a character study in which the heist was incidental and treated as such. Joseph Gordon Levitt has now has "Mysterious Skin," "Brick" and this film hit theaters in consecutive years and it's hard to think of a young actor who has developed a comparable body of work with less mainstream media hype (stories about "Stop Loss" will STILL probably call Levitt the kid from "Third Rock"). I also liked the "Lookout" performances from Matthew Goode, Jeff Daniels and Isla Fisher. This may be the biggest oddball choice in my Top 10, but I think this is a movie that viewers will discover down the road at some point and I look forward to seeing Scott Frank try his hand at directing again.
6) "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (dir. Andrew Dominik) -- Dominik is obviously stealing from the Early Terrence Malick Playbook here, while missing one fact: "Badlands" was 95 minutes, "Days of Heaven" was 94 minutes and it takes nearly two hours to even recite the title of "Assassination." I kid, but "Assassination" could have held to its status as the most gorgeously shot film of 2007 (my cinematography Oscar goes to Roger Deakins), could have maintained its twisty character portrait of both celebrity and celebrity obsession (Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are marvelous) and could have remained lyrical, haunting and tragic with a run-time of at least 30 minutes less than its theatrical 160 minute duration. A shorter version certainly would have made my Top 5 and maybe would have challenged for the top spot. I think you could, in fact, have lost 30 minutes without losing the great supporting work by folks like Paul Schneider, Garret Dillahunt, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner and Sam Rockwell. This wasn't a movie that over-estimated its worth, only miscalculated the best way to accentuate that worth. It's a very, very good movie that could have been great. For the purposes of this list, though, it's one to treasure.
Stay tuned for the Top 5. It'll probably appear by the end of the weekend. Knock on wood.