By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire December 31, 2007 at 5:49AM
Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" (which opened in two theaters over the weekend) recently dominated indieWIRE's annual survey of more than 100 North American film critics. The exceptional fifth feature by P.T. Anderson was named best film of the year in indieWIRE's poll of 106 film critics. Notably, the film topped five categories: Anderson was singled out for best director and best screenplay, while Daniel Day-Lewis' role as oil man Daniel Plainview was named the best performance of 2007 and Robert Elswit was singled out for best cinematography. Charles Ferguson's "No End in Sight" was voted the best documentary of the year and in the category of best first film, Canadian actress turned director Sarah Polley, with her debut feature "Away From Her," edged out fellow thespian Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone."
Set in Central California in the early 1900s, "There Will Be Blood" -- adapted by Anderson from Upton Sinclair's 1920s novel, "Oil!" -- was recently named the movie of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and is rightfully being recognized as a distinctive American cinematic achievement. The Paramount Vantage/Miramax production, depicting a power struggle that plays out on dusty, virgin West Coast oil fields, pits a slick oil man (Day-Lewis) against a savvy young, local preacher (Paul Dano). With striking music from Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood and exceptional period design by longtime Terrence Malick collaborator Jack Fisk, the film opened in limited release on December 26th, ahead of a slow expansion into more theaters in early '08.
The complete results in the 2007 indieWIRE Critics' Poll -- first published on December 20th -- are available available now online, including the full ballots from all 106 critics, as well comments and perspectives from the voters. An article about the best undistributed category was published earlier this month.
Developed to celebrate film culture and criticism, the second annual poll by indieWIRE, conducted in recent weeks with critics casting their ballots online, focuses primarly on film critics who write for alternative outlets and online publications, including blogs. Inspired by a similar poll previously launched by the Village Voice in 1999, iW continued the survey last year after the Voice abandoned its popular poll, hoping to give North American cinephiles a direct opportunity to highlight the best in international cinema. The Village Voice is working with sister publication the L.A. Weekly on a film poll this year.
"When we did our first poll in '99, it was before the explosion of film blogs and websites," noted former Village Voice film editor Dennis Lim, who administered the iW poll last year. "There was no real counterpoint to the groupthink of critics' circle awards and there were many critics and writers whose tastes and opinions weren't represented in the year-end accounting." Continuing in comments to indieWIRE yesterday, Lim added, "Obviously it's a different landscape today and at this time of year especially, it can seem like there are too many lists, too many blogs, too much white noise. But even more so, you could argue, the poll serves a valuable aggregating function, by trying to tease out a consensus from a loosely defined community of serious, cinephilic writers."
While last year, Lim wrote of "the relative dearth of truly exciting films" being a hot topic among cinephiles, this year, in comments that accompany their ballots, critics are expressing enthusiasm for cinema. As Time Out New York's Melissa Anderson wrote, "We'll remember 2007 as a remarkable year for American film: David Fincher, Todd Haynes, and Paul Thomas Anderson -- each with astonishing new projects after a five-year hiatus -- made some of the best movies of the year." Highlights from the comments by the critics will be published on Friday at indieWIRE.com.
If there is a strking hole to be found in this year's indieWIRE poll, however, it is the utter lack of American indie films. While last year's survey celebrated outside-the-system films such as David Lynch's "Inland Empire," Kelly Reichart's "Old Joy," Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" and Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation," the acclaimed new films from American filmmakers this year came from directly within the Hollywood and Indiewood system, starring name actors.
According to the indieWIRE survey, the absolute best films of 2007 either came primarily from the studios and their specialty divisions or were made by international auteurs who generally struggle to find solid distribution prospects.
David Fincher's "Zodiac" from Warner Bros and Paramount at number two and The Coen Brothers' "No Country For Old Men" from Miramax and Paramount Vantage in the third spot topped the indieWIRE survey, followed closely by international art-house films: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Syndromes and a Century" at number four and Christian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" in the fifth spot.
The indieWIRE Critics' Poll best film results underscore the fact that American indie films are all but ignored in the top twenty. While Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There" (#6) was independently financed and then sold to The Weinstein Company and Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (#13) debuted in Cannes before getting a deal at Miramax, the other American films in the Top 20 come from the studios. They include Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (#7) from Warner Bros., David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" (#13) from Focus Features, Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" (#18), an abandoned studio production released by Samuel Goldwyn Films, Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" (#19) from Paramount Vantage, and Brad Bird's animated Pixar film "Ratatouille" (#20), from Walt Disney Studios.
On the smaller end of the spectrum, with the exception of Jafar Panahi's "Offside" (#10), Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book" (#11) from Sony Pictures Classics and John Carney's "Once" (#12) from Fox Searchlight, acclaimed international films such as Pedro Costa's "Colossal Youth" (#8), Tsai Ming-liang's "I Don't Want To Sleep Alone" (#15), Philippe Garrel's "Regular Lovers" (#16), and Bong Joon-ho's "The Host" (#17) were either released by smaller companies, or in many cases struggled to find an audience at all. Hopes are high for Mungiu's Cannes Palme d'Or winner, which had a brief, week-long awards-qualifying run and is set for an early '08 release from IFC Films, an increasingly popular home for international work, via its new day-and-date program. Other boutique outlets such as Kino and New Yorker have also carved out a niche for world cinema, while Strand Releasing handled Weerasethakul's "Syndromes" and Tsai's "Sleep."
In fact, the one notable exeception to the dearth of truly American indie films in 2007 was Charles Burnett's celebrated "Killer of Sheep" (#9), a low-budget student thesis from 1977 that never secured a theatrical release and finally made it to theaters this year via Milestone Film & Video. Of the film's 22 mentions in the poll, seven critics placed it at number one, making it one of the most passionately liked films in the top 20.
Indie films were better represented in the debut film category. Falling below Polley's "Away From Her" and Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone," So Yong Kim's "In Between Days," an acclaimed Sundance 2006 title that never secured a significant theatrical release, was at #3 in the best first film category, alongside photographer and video-director-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn's "Control."
"The real point of the poll has always been advocacy," noted Lim, in comments to indieWIRE. "Our voters have a history of championing overlooked films. Last year, for instance, 'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" was a surprising and gratifying winner. 2007 was a strong year for commercially viable American films, but you still have Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 'Syndromes and a Century,' a Strand release that was barely in theaters last spring, at #4 (perhaps not so surprising since his previous film, 'Tropical Malady,' placed 6th in 2005). I think the most remarkable result, though -- it might even be unprecedented -- is the Top 10 showing of Pedro Costa's "Colossal Youth," a film without a distributor, which only played as part of a traveling retrospective. 'There Will Be Blood' may be a worthy winner, but it's the placement of films like these, which were all too easy to miss, that you hope will really resonate."
In a year that many in the industry said was particularly brutal for theatrical documentary distribution, the highest grossing doc after Michael Moore's "Sicko" -- Charles Ferguson's scathing examination of the Bush administration's Iraq policies, "No End In Sight" -- topped the poll in the non-fiction category. But unlike the other poll categories, there was less of a consensus in the voting, with the Iraq doc edging out Philip Groning's examination of monks, "Into Great Silence" (#2) by just three votes, followed closely behind by Tony Kaye's look at both sides of the abortion debate, "Lake of Fire" and Seth Gordon's video game film, "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," both tied at #3. Jason Kohn's 2007 Sundance Film Festival winner, set in Sao Paulo, Brazil, "Manda Bala," rounded out the top five.
Again this year, we invite readers to dig into the results. The full ballots from all 106 voters are available now online, including comments and perspectives from the critics.
This year's poll was administered in collaboration with indieWIRE's world cinema columnist Anthony Kaufman and is also the result of hours of detail-oriented efforts by indieWIRE assistant editor Peter Knegt. Sage wisdom and guidance were provided from Dennis Lim and keen insight from Time Out Chicago's Ben Kenigsberg. The team at GMD Studios, in particular Andrew Cowan and Jim Rhoades, delivered vital technical and structural support and ingenuity. Thanks to everyone who participated, including the 106 film critics who shared their thoughts and opinions on the year in film.