I was planning to put this off until I was able to see There Will Be Blood - I expect it will make my Ten Best list, just as it has every other one - but as it apparently doesn't open here in San Francisco until January 11 (WTF??) I've opted to push forward without it. Just keep in mind that my #10 will likely wind up an 11 when all is said and done.
A disclaimer or two.... While I saw more films this year than I can count, by no means did I see everything. And, I certainly saw a lot of crap. That said, there were a variety of movies that received high praise from critics and audiences that simply passed me by. Such titles as I'm Not There, Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James..., and Southland Tales still hold interest to me, and - as with every year - I suspect the following list will not be carved in stone.
So, without further adieu, feast your eyes on my own personal Top Ten Films of 2007:
Yes, Nic Cage's "hair" is absolutely sad and horrid in this film, but don't let that put you off. What we have here is a first-rate B-movie with a fun sci-fi premise: a man who can see a few seconds into the future. And the ending offers the most unapologetic twist I've seen in ages. It shouldn't work. But, for me, it does.
9. The Bourne UltimatumThis series has redefined action films for the 21st century. I know that's a heavy bit of hyperbole, but as they say, "Critics and Audiences Agree!" Like its two predecessors, this movie has not only plenty of the requisite action, but also plenty of smarts. And I don't mean it's sassy or smart-alecky - we're talking intelligent story, populated by intelligent characters. Add to that intelligent filmmaking. High point for me: Two-thirds of the way through the film we get the final scene from The Bourne Supremacy. Until now, we had assumed this had come before the start of this picture. When we find out we were mistaken, everything from the past 90 minutes is cast in a new light. Brilliant.
8. 3:10 to Yuma
Sadly, this is one of those films that comes out every year that gets forgotten come award season. Sure, it's a popcorn western remake of a popcorn western, but it's accomplished with style and class, and Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are in top form. Oh, and not to be missed: Ben Foster's turn as Charlie Prince, the second most cold-blooded killer in the cinema of 2007. Expect more from him in the future.
7. Charlie Wilson's War
Love me my Aaron Sorkin. The dialogue in this script sizzles. Seriously, I was sitting in the theatre, saddened by the fact that the movie would not last for four hours. Philip Seymour Hoffman is at his usual best. I haven't enjoyed Tom Hanks in anything in over ten years; I'm pleased to say he has now broken that streak. Love the movie; hate the poster.
6. Knocked Up
Love this poster and movie. As I've written previously, anyone who has had anything to do with this film, Superbad, and/or The 40-Year-Old Virgin will be paraded and/or exploited by Hollywood over the next year or two. And justly so (for a change). Writer/Director Judd Apatow knows just how to combine crass with heart and deliver something honest. That's why these films connect. Here's hoping Hollywood learns a little something.
More of the same, Hollywood. Pay close attention. The powerhouse team of writer Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and stars Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, etc. show us all how it's done. And, again, with class and humanity. Much praise is deservedly going to Page's performance and Cody's script. Both combine to give us a title character who is both witty and smart, while still possessing the naivety and emotional underdevelopment that makes her a teenage everywoman. Like Knocked Up, Juno takes on the hot-button issue of unplanned (and, in this case, teenage) pregnancy with humor, warmth, dismay, frustration, and love. Thus, another humane comedy.
This film more than any other in '07 stands the strongest chance of redefining teenage comedies for the near future. I was in hysterics from beginning to end. I even missed some stuff because I laughed so hard for so long. Judd Apatow is again involved, though this time as a producer. Knocked Up star Seth Rogen co-wrote the script and plays a supporting role as one of the worst/coolest cops ever committed to celluloid. But the stars here are Jonah Hill, Michael Cera (again), and Christopher Mintze-Plasse as McLovin, the biggest dweeb to hit cinema in ages. Again, we're dealing with a movie with heart. Yes, this film is also plenty crass, but like Juno and Knocked Up its characters are simply fumbling towards finding love.
3. The Darjeeling Limited (& Hotel Chevalier)
Wes Anderson films are always a pleasure bordering on the spiritual. I'm not speaking in some hokey, touch-the-face-of-god sort of way. I guess I'm referring to the manner in which his films are filled with such richness - scripts, performances, mis-en-scene, locations, attention to details. It's all encompassing. This film is no exception. Here is a director who knows he can get you to laugh simply at the sight of Bill Murray in a cab in India. Murray doesn't even have any lines. They're unnecessary and Anderson knows it. Strained family ties have always played a big part in his films - The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic - and no matter how insistent he is that he had a happy childhood, Anderson knows how to capture the sorrows and little joys wrapped therein. As three brothers looking to re-bond after the loss of their father, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman bring the requisite wit, pathos, and humor. Anderson also shot a short prequel - Hotel Chevalier - focusing on Schwartzman's character that will deservedly be included in the DVD release.
2. Michael Clayton
I really went back and forth on choosing my number one film for 2007. I had to see them both a second time to make a decision, and honestly it was still a tough call. Michael Clayton focuses on a "fixer" at one of the country's leading corporate law firms, the guy who they send in when things go bad. Things go reallybad when one the firm's leading attorney goes off his meds and jeopardizes a huge class-action suit. Sound dry and routine? It isn't. The film is written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who scripted all three of the Bourne flicks, and who brings that same sort of energy and smarts to this tale of corruption, disdain, and enlightenment. Just as Matt Damon's Bourne spends three movies searching for his literal identity, here we have George Clooney's Clayton asking the same questions - though on a more profound level. A big salute to him for his performance; he may well earn a second Academy Award nomination. Oscar should also deservedly call Tom Wilkinson for his performance as the "purified" attorney who scuttles the case and Tilda Swinton for her turn as opposing counsel, a woman who takes things too far - and doesn't realize it until it's too late. Her showdown with Clooney at the end is one of the best scenes all year.
1. No Country for Old Men
What can I say that hasn't already been said? The Coen Brothers turn in their strongest work since The Big Lebowski and solidify their position as cinema's reigning kings of... well, everything, I guess. The film proves that they are not tied to any one genre (if you didn't already know that). Much has been made of the movie's supposed nihilism and/or misanthropy. However, after a second viewing, I can attest that it's more than that. In fact, it's two things more than that. First, it's a story about stories, and specifically about a character (Tommy Lee Jones' Texas sheriff) who - after telling tales for years - finds himself caught up in one, and just what that means. Second, and more thematically to the point, No Country for Old Men wags a finger at the egotism that suggests our world is so much more violent/depraved/indifferent today than a generation or more ago. The film - and Jones' character - slows down for a detour near the end, wherein he - and we, the audience - are reminded that things have always been this way, and that it is up to us to strike the balance and not give up. Trust me, it's in there. A hopeful message in a chilling, dour, gripping, darkly funny, pulse-pounding classic.
Honorable Mentions.... These films struck a chord in me in different ways, but just couldn't crack the Top Ten: Music and Lyrics, Grindhouse: Planet Terror, Waitress. Special nods to Viggo Mortensen for the otherwise ho-hum Eastern Promises. He deserves a little Oscar acknowledgment. And to the opening scene of 28 Weeks Later: a semi-docile scene of survivors in hiding explodes into absolute chaos, and your heart pounds the whole way. Too bad the rest of the film couldn't live up to that beginning.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, 2008 is looking to be a fun year for movie-going. I haven't looked forward to a batch of Summer films in a long, long time. Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Hellboy, and some guy called the Joker. It will be a very geeky season, but I'm prepared to embrace that. And you'll read all about it in the posts to come....