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December 21, 2007 8:00 AM
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CRITICS POLL 2007 | Poll Comments: Critics Defend Their #1 Orphan Picks

Scenes from "Offside," "The Wayward Cloud," and "Death Proof."

Included within their ballots in the 2007 indieWIRE Critics Poll are comments on the year in film from many of the 106 participants. Today, we offer the first in a three part series of edited comments from the critics. The group collectively cited a total of 176 best films; of these movies, a small handful garnered a single, defiant #1 mention from a maverick voter. Below, some critics defend their #1 best film orphan picks.

The complete results from the 2007 indieWIRE Critics Poll, which surveyed more than 100 film critics, are available now online, including comments and perspectives from the voters.

"Even those who enjoyed Tarantino's 'Grindhouse' contribution tend to dismiss it as a weightless goof -- little more than a surfeit of rambling, self-conscious dialogue capped by one mother of a car chase. Apparently nobody recognizes a structuralist masterpiece unless it's overtly tedious. As duration -- predicated as anything by Rivette, 'Death Proof' is most interesting when viewed from a distance, as a discrete entity with alternating peaks and valleys: life (digression) and death (disruption). The film's two sets of gal pals aren't so much characters as they are entangled particles in quantum physics - seemingly independent, widely separated in time and space, yet unknowingly influenced one by the other. Think of it as 'The Double Life of Veronique' reconceived as auto porn, with ensembles in lieu of protagonists. Furthermore, in a year dominated by ultra-masculine excellence -- PTA, Fincher, the Coens -- how refreshing to see not only a movie devoted almost entirely to garrulous, headstrong women, but one with a distinctly discursive feminine rhythm to boot. (And to those who claim that these are really men disguised as women, I submit that the exact opposite is true: most of Tarantino's characters, for all their macho posturing, are actually women disguised as men. 'When you little scamps get together, you're worse than a sewing circle.')" - Mike D'Angelo

"Did anyone else notice that with 'Offside,' Jafar Panahi finally transformed into the great filmmaker he has been threatening to become for well over a decade now? Justly acclaimed in the past for his ability to fuse unconventional, almost languorous narratives with depictions of characters caught in elaborate social systems, this was the first Panahi film where everyone onscreen finally felt like a real person -- with devastating results. In a year where seemingly every other film was about the resilience of myths (no wonder the Western made a comeback) Panahi's film was the most clear-eyed cinematic work to hit American screens. Everybody has a story in Offside - from the young women caught attempting to infiltrate a soccer stadium dressed as men, to the hapless young soldiers forced to arrest them in the name of 'decency.' But what makes it all come together so hauntingly, so heartbreakingly, is its final scene, as the Tehran night comes alive with jubilation after a soccer victory. ('Iran will fill you full of goals,' the celebrants chant, blithely ignoring the 1-0 score.) Like John Ford on a particularly good day, Panahi says so much with that bittersweet ending about the mysteries of the social animal. And he does it so effortlessly. -- Bilge Ebiri

"The best drama, the best thriller and the best political film released in the United States this year is Anurag Kashyap's 'Black Friday,' about a 1993 terrorist bombing that devastated Mumbai (then Bombay) and highlighted rifts between Muslims and Hindus. The police interrogation scenes are more harrowing than anything in this year's Hollywood films dealing with war, terrorism and torture. The rhetorically dense arguments between cops and suspects grant more insight into how class and religious difference feeds terrorism than anything you read on the op-ed page in the last 12 months. It's also as expansive as 'Munich' and as savagely kinetic as 'To Live and Die in L.A.' That this film didn't get a wider release in the U.S. is a minor tragedy. Rent the DVD immediately." -- Matt Zoller Seitz

"Tsai Ming-Liang frequently traffics in the grimmest subject matter, but, until 'The Wayward Cloud,' he had always done so while maintaining his unflappable, intrinsically humorous style of visual storytelling. That style ruptures spectacularly at the scandalous climax (ha) of 'Cloud,' and the unnerving ambiguity that underlies Tsai's work is fully exposed. Some see the ending as a despairing blast at a pornography-obsessed culture -- and the pornographers' willingness to shoot with an unconscious or dead female actress does no harm to that thesis. Yet the scene also has the exuberance of a fairy-tale happy ending, with the lovers united at last in passion, oblivious to the world, their sexual problems conquered, lingering in voluptuous post-orgasmic stupor. Is Tsai visiting the nexus of sex and horror - or are these simply the kind of extreme circumstances he needs to make an optimistic statement about human relations?" -- Dan Sallitt

"In October of 1989, Ken Jacobs lost two friends from his cinema-mad youth - Bob Fleischner and fellow underground filmmaker Jack Smith. Adapted from one of his live, two projector Nervous System performances, 'Two Wrenching Departures' is a shuddering masterpiece - Jacobs re-photographed footage of his pals from the '50s and shuttles their slightest gestures back and forth, creating a flicker effect. It captures the 'infinite ecstasy of little things,' as a clip from Ramon Navarro intones -- and stands as an improbably joyful memorial - a celebration of cinema, of New York, and of the men that Ken Jacobs loves." -- R. Emmet Sweeney

"In a year packed with Coens, Andersons, Finchers, and other twenty-first century masters working at the top of their game, one film represented the biggest, and in some ways least expected, evolutionary leap. Pixar had created a technical achievement in 2006 - 'Cars' -- but their usually reliable story sense had failed them. What a joyful surprise, then, to find 'Ratatouille' not only taking the next step in visually, with its tactile furry textures and warm, intimately photographed sets, but also sending the storytelling to heights for which even the most enthusiastic John Lasseter fanboys had not dared to hope. Inspired by an unlikely concept dating back to the nineties, Brad Bird infused the ideas he inherited with his own obsessive themes centered around finding, nurturing, and recognizing talent. What resulted was that rarest of creatures -- a movie made by hundreds and hundreds of computer jockeys that feels like the vision of a single creative artist. In the last decade, Pixar has taken its medium so far and been lauded so copiously that one might be forgiven the jaded thought that they were due for a plateau. 'Ratatouille' was more than just another Pixar delight. It was a symphony, a masterwork, and a glimpse into a possible animation future that arrived completely undeserved -- pure grace. -- Donna Bowman

The complete results from the 2007 indieWIRE Critics Poll, which surveyed more than 100 film critics, are available now online, including comments and perspectives from the voters.

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