Upon creating the list that follows this blurb, I kept thinking of how the great Manohla Dargis prefaced her top ten in The New York Times last week:
THE whole point of a Top 10 list, a friend recently scolded me, is to number them. (I was declining to do so.) My friend was wrong, but only because Top 10 lists are artificial exercises, assertions of critical ego, capricious and necessarily imperfect. (I have a suspicion that the sacred 10 is meant to suggest biblical certainty, as if critics are merely worldly vessels for some divine wisdom.) More than anything they are a public ritual, which is their most valuable function. I tell you what I liked, and you either agree with my list (which flatters us both) or denounce it (which flatters you). It’s a perfect circle.
Its difficult to argue with Dargis’ claims, but although these lists are essentially an artificial exercise, they are and always have been a whole lot of fun for me to read and to write, and do provide genuine recommendations to whoever reads them. They are as problematic as any kind of competitive criticism, from the Academy Awards on. Maybe also because they quickly grow outdated. Looking back on last year’s list, I’d already like to rearrange them in hindsight. But I am also reminded of how great this year’s films were. I wonder if the film that was #6 last year would even have a shot at the top 15 in 2007.
So what I’m getting at is this: Ranking, summarizing and thematizing the films of 2007 is an unusually daunting task. And perhaps that is mostly due to its undeniable excellence more than the problems of list-making in itself. This excellence unfortunately makes for about a dozen or more worthy films miss out on the artificial celebration of top tendom. Sarah Polley‘s “Away From Her” and Julian Schnabel‘s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” are likely the closest calls, both deeply moving (but vastly different) explorations of human illness. While Polley’s quiet intimacy is, in a way, no match for Schnabel’s visuals, both left me in an emotional place only a great filmmaker can bring me. Though many disagree, I loved Noah Baumbach‘s ode-to-dysfunctional-sisterdom “Margot at the Wedding,” and while it might have irritating in its tendency to try soo hard to be clever, Jason Reitman‘s “Juno” is a very challenging film not to adore at least a little bit. Also notable were the fantastic coming-of-age skinhead flick “This is England,” magically animated Iran-France co-production “Persepolis,” and David Cronenberg‘s intense “Eastern Promises,” featuring a truly incredible performance from my Viggo. Even the usually lackluster summer season brought many surprises from Hollywood’s money factory that I have few negative things to say about, from Judd Apatow‘s mainstream comedy classics, “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” the best threequel ever, Paul Greengrass‘s explosive “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and the definative feel-good film, the shockingly well-pulled off “Hairspray“. And though certainly not feel-good, Hollywood’s other big movie musical of the year, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is also quite worthy. While it may not have fulfilled my sky-high expectations, you have to admire Tim Burton‘s vision and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter‘s demonic energy.
But all those films fall into “also-ran” status (today at least, perhaps in a year’s time repeat viewings will propel them), and the ten that managed to make it exceeded them for a wide variety of reasons.
Year-end articles seem to be highlighting the “I’m gonna keep my baby” trilogy of “Juno,” “Knocked Up” and “Waitress,” the now-unquestionable return of the Hollywood musical, and the plethora of Iraq films (and their overwhelming financial failure). The films I’ve centered out seem to provide an antithesis to these themes: Christian Mingui‘s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” the year’s best and most unlikely thriller, rawly portrays abortion in 1980s Romania and reminds women like Juno just how imperative her right to choose is; John Carney‘s truly magical “Once,” which cost just $150,000, managed to show up two of the best big Hollywood musicals in years by proving how innocent filmmaking still can be; Paul Thomas Anderson‘s masterful and intensely ambitious (though not as ambitious as Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” though not nearly as flawed either) “There Will Be Blood,” could be coupled with the Coens‘ “No Country For Old Men” and Sidney Lumet‘s “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” as 2007’s cinematic triad of greed, each playing homage to Hollywood past to perhaps metaphorically represent today’s society better than any of their contemporary Iraq-themed counterparts, and also showing us three auteurs, each at vastly different stages of their careers, and each at the very top of their game. The rest of my list is quite the hodge podge, from the best Pixar film ever (quite the proclamation) to the dark comic counterpart to “Away From Her” to a misunderstood fable about a man and his sex doll. Together they brought me 12 hours of cinematic bliss, and ranking them brought me yet another.
The complete list (with ordered also-rans after the jump):
And, because lists get me off:
11. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
12. “Away From Her”
13. “Eastern Promises
14. “This is England”
15. “No End in Sight”
16. “The Bourne Ultimatum”
18. “Margot at the Wedding”
19. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
21. “Superbad”/”Knocked Up”
25. “Smiley Face”
Honorable Mentions: “The Lookout”, “Michael Clayton”, “Sicko”, “The Darjeeling Limited”, “Gone Baby Gone”, “Waitress” and “The Simpsons Movie”