I am in a rather fortunate position when it comes to seeing movies. As a filmmaker, I get to attend festivals; as a film reviewer, I get to attend press screenings; as a New Yorker, I get to experience the world of retrospectives and other rare, inspired treats; and as a movie loving nerd, I can visit the multiplex to get my Hollywood fix. Which is to say that things get complicated when trying to compile an annual "best of the year" list. That's because I've seen at least five new movies in 2007 that I would like to place on this year's list, but since they won't be getting an official theatrical release until 2008 I technically can't do that. On the other side of that coin is the realization that I actually saw many of the best films of this year last year, or the year before that (see: Regular Lovers, Offside, and Syndromes and a Century). Finally, let us not forget about those older films that had never received a theatrical release until 2007 (I’m talking about you, Killer of Sheep). In order to keep from going too crazy, I’m simply going to err on the side of way-more-is-hopefully-better and make a bunch of separate lists to distinguish between all of this year's cinematic goodness. I should also mention that while I stand behind every film on my Top 10 List, it’s strange how many of them were this close to flat-out greatness, but something arose that kept me from giving all the way in. Having said that, I still think 2007 was a phenomenal year for movies, and to prove it I’m going to get even dorkier than usual. Are you sitting down? Got a full pot of coffee? Got a full night’s rest? Here we go.
Special Jury Award For a Film That Doesn’t Belong In a List:
Frownland (Ronald Bronstein, USA)
In 2007, no film electrified, energized, and inspired me more than Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland. I would go so far as to call it a work of genius, and I don’t use that term lightly. It certainly helps that Bronstein’s checklist of inspirational sources reflects my own personal influences in almost every single way, but what makes Bronstein so exceptional is his ability to combine his influences with his own hyper-smart vision and produce something that is wholly distinct and original. This is one of those rare, special works that feels like it couldn’t have been made by anyone else. That’s because it couldn’t have. Frownland is so inspiring it’s intimidating.
A Second Viewing Is Necessary to Determine Just How Impressive These Films Are:
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
For the first two hours and twenty minutes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s breathtakingly majestic horror/western/epic/oil-black comedy, I was prepared to call it The Best Movie Ever Made. And then came that final chapter, “1927,” when his masterfully constructed balloon popped like a weak, gaudy fart. To me, that finale was unearned and cartoonishly executed, like an outtake from Boogie Nights or something. I walked out of the theater feeling a tragic sense of disappointment. However, those first two hours cannot be denied, and that is why I am driving to DC tonight to see it at midnight. My hunch is that the climax will be less jarring the second time around. I’m just not convinced that it will work completely for me. If it doesn’t, I worry that I’ll never be able to preach the glories of There Will Be Blood the way that I want to. But hopefully time and more viewings will reshape my appreciation. (Note: I have just woken up after my second viewing and I am disappointed to say that my reaction wasn’t what I had hoped for. Rather than waste more space writing my own murky thoughts, I would like to point you in the direction of Matt Zoller Seitz's incredible PTA/Blood essay, which sums up my feelings more eloquently and exactly than I ever could.)
Zodiac (David Fincher, USA)
As with PTA, I’ve never been a disciple of David Fincher. So I went into Zodiac not expecting much. Actually, I was expecting less than much. To be honest, I thought I was going to hate it (see my “Biggest Surprise” winner below for another example of how low/no expectations can trigger a pleasant result--screw high expectations!). I knew that this one had a long running time, and I remember checking my phone at one point and thinking, “Whoa, it’s only been an hour?” The next thing I remember, the credits were rolling and it felt like twenty minutes had passed. Like the best type of filmmaking, Fincher’s anti-procedural establishes its own rhythm, where time unfolds like a drugged-out dream. For me, what makes Zodiac so inventive and revelatory is that, underneath its artistic surface, it’s really just an average TV movie-of-the-week. That’s why I need to see it a second time before I can decide if the art or TV wins, or if it does, in fact, masterfully ride such an impossibly delicate line.
Best Narrative Features:
1. Once (John Carney, Ireland)
When looking over the list of films that I saw in 2007, I simply cannot deny that John Carney’s Once thrilled me more than any other. I realize that the following problem doesn’t necessarily have to do with the film itself, yet I cannot ignore the fact that I had the awful curse of far-too-lofty expectations going into it for the first time, which makes my reaction all the more miraculous. For some reason, I didn’t get to see it until its official theatrical release in the summer, after having read months upon months of gushing praise about it. By that point, I had built up a level of expectation that was irrational and couldn’t possibly be met. And then I finally saw it, by myself, on a lonely, rainy Wednesday afternoon, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t shatter my impossible-to-meet expectations. While on the surface, Once might appear to be nothing more than a low-budget, sincere love story, I consider it to be a revolutionary addition to the film canon. By using an unpolished production value to his advantage, Carney has reinvented the seemingly exhausted musical genre, giving it a sense of immediacy and intimacy that I never dreamed was impossible. Not to mention the fact that this is actually an anti-romance, where the lovers technically don’t fall in love. Or, rather, they do fall in love, but their situation won’t allow them to be together. What makes Once such a miraculous achievement is that, at its core, it is contradictory to everything it appears to be on the surface. Yet it retains the feeling of a classic movie romance at the exact same time.
2. Regular Lovers (Phillipe Garrel, France)
I first saw this back in 2005 (then again in 2006, then again in 2007), but since it had an official release this year, it must be included on my list. Philippe Garrel’s masterwork carried me away like few films have done this decade, if not ever. While on the surface, it’s a hauntingly gorgeous ode to late-1960s Paris and the French New Wave, it is also a profound ode to that sorrowful moment when one realizes that their innocence has slipped away forever (or to quote a lyric from my number one album of the year, The National’s Boxer: Another uninnocent, elegant fall/Into the unmagnificent lives of adults). Granted, I would put this film at number two even if we were only considering the unforgettable dance sequence set to The Kinks’ “This Time Tomorrow,” (good try, but you’ll never tarnish this moment for me, Wes Anderson!), but I think the entire film is extraordinary and special and will stand the test of time.
3. Offside (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
I actually saw Jafar Panahi’s electrifying, immediate Offside in the fall of 2006 and haven’t had a chance to revisit it yet, but it would be unfair for me to leave it off this list. That’s because Offside is one of the more alive films of recent memory. Panahi's achievement is that he manages to capture life in modern Iran with fly-on-the-lens specificity while telling a broad, universal story at the exact same time. Add this to your Netflix queue immediately. That is an order.
4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or winner is another major achievement for Romanian cinema, featuring a virtuosic tour-de-force of a supporting performance by Vlad Ivanov. Read my NYFF review here.
5. Great World of Sound (Craig Zobel, USA)
Craig Zobel’s excellent debut feature establishes him as one of American cinema’s smartest new voices. Great World of Sound is independent filmmaking at its most impressive: inventive, intelligent, and entertaining. The lack of audience for this striking work really disappointed me, because I think it has the ability to impact anyone who watches it. Zobel’s movie retains an overriding humanity and sympathy that never devolves into all-out cynicism. Not many directors could pull off this tightrope act. Craig Zobel is a major force to be reckoned with. Thankfully, we’ll be reckoning with him for many years to come.
6. This is England (Shane Meadows, UK)
In a year filled with films that contained 90% greatness, only to be tarnished by flashes of “what were they thinking,” Shane Meadows’ decision to use a Smiths cover at the end of his grittily fantastic portrait of 1980s England almost destroyed my appreciation of it. But even that couldn’t ruin the preceding ninety minutes of magic. Thomas Turgoose is the discovery of the year, and everything about the look and feel of this film is, to quote a character, sterling.
7. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Thank Earth for Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who is delivering a vision unlike any other. Syndromes and a Century is like the first sunny day after a devastating tsunami, in which everyone is simply happy to be alive. I have a pretty low tolerance for pretension, which is why I’m so awed by Weerasethakul, whose works transcend the normal limits of what cinema can do without feeling forced or phony. And, oh yeah, aside from Beau Travail, this might just be the best ending ever.
8. No Country For Old Men (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
I’ve seen this twice, and it stunned me both times. I don’t know if it’s possible to deliver a more perfect display of genre filmmaking, from the cinematography to the sound design to the editing to the writing to the acting. I doubt the Coen Brothers will ever make a work that transcends genre and escapes its “movie” confines, which is fine with me, but No Country For Old Men is as close to spiritual transcendence as a thriller can get.
9. Into the Wild (Sean Penn, USA)
I was skeptical about how I felt during the first fifteen minutes of Sean Penn’s ambitious, heartfelt drama, but at some point I gave in completely. I read someone recently who said that they felt like they could have watched the movie for an entire day and I agree completely. Penn expertly crafts his narrative, to the point where we forget we’re watching a movie and are instead taking this journey alongside Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch, who keeps getting better and better). Even the Eddie Vedder plot song concept, which would normally distract me, felt like the right decision to make. Into the Wild has its heart rooted in the sprawling American classics made by the likes of Carroll Ballard, and it confirms Penn’s status as one of our country’s true mavericks.
10. Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog, USA)
While Into the Wild felt like one of those epic natural dramas from the 1970s, Rescue Dawn is like a lost classic from the 1980s. Watching Werner Herzog’s powerfully acted fictional adaptation of his stellar documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, made me feel like I was a teenager again, watching an R-rated war movie with my dad. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to sit through an entire movie that is unabashedly innocent and contains not one frame of irony. Admittedly, the ending pushes this concept to its limits, but as with This is England, even that wasn’t enough to disturb my overall appreciation of Herzog’s stellar achievement.
11. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, USA)
12. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, USA)
13. Quiet City (Aaron Katz, USA)
14. La Vie En Rose (Olivier Dahan)
15. A Mighty Heart (Michael Winterbottom, USA)
16. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany)
17. In Between Days (So Yong Kim, South Korea/Canada)
18. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, USA)
19. Hannah Takes the Stairs (Joe Swanberg, USA)
20. The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, USA)
21. I Know Who Killed Me (Chris Sivertson, USA)
22. The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, USA)
23. Romance and Cigarettes (John Turturro, USA)
24. Joshua (George Ratliff, USA)
25. Red Road (Andrea Arnold, UK)
26. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, USA)
27. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
28. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, UK)
29. Blades of Glory (Josh Gordon and Will Speck, USA)
30. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, USA)
30. Them (David Moreau and Xavier Palud, France/Romania)
31. Superbad (Greg Mottola, USA)
32. 28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, UK/Spain)
33. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, France)
34. Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, USA)
35. Blood Car (Alex Orr, USA)
36. Live-In Maid (Jorge Gaggero, Argentina)
37. Murder Party (Jeremy Saulnier, USA)
38. Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand)
39. Day Night Day Night (Julia Loktev, USA)
40. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Scott Glosserman, USA)
41. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, USA)
42. Starting Out in the Evening (Andrew Wagner, USA)
Best Documentary Features:
1. The Unforeseen (Laura Dunn, USA)
Laura Dunn’s remarkably assured debut made me feel the way I felt when I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. I’ve talked to a lot of people who think this film is naïve and impractical, but that’s why I love it so much. While it is reaching for a perhaps unattainable, unrealistic vision of life, at least it's reaching. Dunn’s refusal to demonize Gary Bradley is something that most advocates wouldn’t allow themselves to do, yet Dunn understands that pointing fingers and attacking one’s rivals does nothing to better the situation. I understand that development is necessary and while The Unforeseen doesn’t address that problem directly, that doesn’t matter to me. I consider it to be one of the most life-affirming films I’ve seen this decade.
2. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, USA)
Seth Gordon clearly struck documentary filmmaking gold after stumbling into this battle between good guy Steve Wiebe and awful guy Billy Mitchell, but his telling of the story is what makes The King of Kong such an awesome thrill ride. I don’t know if I’ve ever loathed a character as much as Billy Mitchell. To hear that they’re turning this into a fictional feature seems like the stupidest idea ever. This documentary is the fictional feature.
3. No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson, USA)
Charles Ferguson delivers a treatise with a level of objectivity that even pro-Bush supporters will have a hard time dismissing. The world needs more work like this, which removes its personal emotions and focuses on the facts at hand. Any other way is simply preaching to the choir. How in the hell did this happen? Um, this is how it happened.
4. Lake of Fire (Tony Kaye, USA)
Tony Kaye’s sprawling opus is like the abortion debate itself: ugly, messy, emotional, complex, and shocking. While it’s impossible to distill the situation into any cohesive unit, and while Kaye’s film could perhaps deal with more female voices and middle-of-the-road points-of-view, there is no denying its power. The climax, which follows a young woman as she willingly chooses to remove the life inside her womb, is one of the more devastating scenes of recent memory.
5. Into Great Silence (Philip Groning, Germany)
Ever wondered what it would be like to live in a monastery? Now’s your chance to find out! In just over two-and-a-half hours, Philip Groning’s quiet, hypnotic portrait of the monks living in the Grand Chartreuse monastery left me feeling more spiritual than a combined eighteen years of going to Catholic mass ever did. I saw this in Rotterdam in 2006, and the theater became like a gallery, with people fluttering in and out. I remained frozen and wide-eyed the entire time.
6. My Kid Could Paint That (Amir Bar-Lev, USA)
Amir Bar-Lev’s fascinating film is this year’s Capturing the Friedmans or 51 Birch Street, a probing mystery that becomes more complex as it unfolds. I love films that aren’t about one thing, that present their material as honestly and directly as possible, allowing their moral dilemmas to grow exponentially. Bar-Lev’s film does exactly that without feeling forced or self-indulgent. Only a truly gifted filmmaker could tackle a subject like this with such sensitivity.
7. Kurt Cobain: About a Son (AJ Schnack, USA)
Without showing any video footage, or--discounting the very-very end--any still imagery of Kurt Cobain, AJ Schnack has placed us closer to Cobain than we have ever been. The person that we meet is a seemingly ordinary, deeply conflicted young man, who shares the pain of a generation but never tried to speak for anyone other than himself. After watching this film for the first time, I wanted to sob uncontrollably. Though I would recommend this film on its stylistic inventiveness alone, what makes Kurt Cobain: About a Son so special is it that it throbs with such an aching, tender heart.
8. The Trials of Darryl Hunt (Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, USA)
It was tough to choose between this and Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s devastating The Devil Came on Horseback, but looking back on them now I actually think The Trials of Darryl Hunt resonated with me even more deeply. Of course, it’s impossible to compare these things, but Sundberg and Stern’s tense and tautly constructed telling of Darryl Hunt’s unspeakably horrific story had me filled with goose bumps, rage, and tears. As with Devil, this should be mandatory viewing for anyone with a pulse.
9. The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Film Festival 1963-1965 (Murray Lerner, USA)
It probably helps that I saw Murray Lerner’s film the day after I saw Todd Haynes’ fantastical I’m Not There, but the fact remains that this thing confirmed for me what I’ve always felt about storytelling, whether it be fiction or non-fiction or otherwise: Show, don’t tell. By simply presenting Dylan in this incomprehensibly momentous three-year time span, we get all the information we need from his change in clothing and demeanor, as well as the reactions of everyone around him.
10. Billy the Kid (Jennifer Venditti, USA)
First and foremost, Jennifer Venditti’s award-winning debut is an incredibly intimate portrait of an adolescent who is like no one else. Yet it also works as a brilliant metaphor for the awful state of adolescence, how the smallest breeze can feel like a tornado, how the most innocent rejection can feel like the end of the world.
Kamp Katrina (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, USA)
The Devil Came on Horseback (Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern, USA)
Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (Jim Brown, USA)
Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story (Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim, USA)
The Monastery: Mr. Vig & The Nun (Pernille Rose Gronkjaer, Denmark)
The Holy Modal Rounders… Bound to Lose (Paul Lovelace and Sam Wainwright Douglas, USA)
Ghosts of Cite Soleil (Asger Leth and Milos Loncarevic, Denmark/USA)
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (Julian Temple, UK)
War Dance (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix, USA)
You’re Gonna Miss Me (Keven McAlester, USA)
Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (John Landis, USA)
Companeras (Matthew Buzzell and Elizabeth Massie, USA)
Sicko (Michael Moore, USA)
Best Short Film:
By Modern Measure (Matthew Lessner, USA) -- My favorite short film of 2007, Matthew Lessner's By Modern Measure uses beautifully grainy black-and-white film and French New Wave techniques to comment on just how difficult it is to make an honest romantic connection in our commercialized and corny modern world. But there's a sincerity and gravity to the work that makes it more just mere satire and elevates it to greatness. This, my friends, is what short films should be.
Death to the Tin Man (Ray Tintori, USA) -- I saw this for the first time in Sarasota, where it wowed my pants off. Then I saw it months later, at an NYFF press screening (it played before Go Go Tales), and something very special happened. When it ended, it got a generous round of applause, something I’ve never experienced with a short in all my years of attending the NYFF.
Best Male Performance:
Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Thomas Turgoose, This is England
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Frank Langella, Starting Out in the Evening
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Best Female Performance:
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Greta Gerwig, Hannah Takes the Stairs
Kate Dickie, Red Road
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Jiseon Kim, In Between Days
Luisa Williams, Day Night Day Night
Best Supporting Male Performance:
Vlad Ivanov, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Kene Holliday, Great World of Sound
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn
Irfan Kahn, A Mighty Heart
Paul Schneider, Live Free or Die
Best Supporting Female Performance:
Catherine Keener, Into the Wild
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
Kelly Macdonald, No Country For Old Men
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Amara Karan, The Darjeeling Limited
No Country For Old Men
Into the Wild
There Will Be Blood
A Mighty Heart
Best First Film:
Craig Zobel, Great World of Sound
So Yong Kim, In Between Days
Charles Ferguson, No End in Sight
Seth Gordon, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Sarah Polley, Away From Her
Jennifer Venditti, Billy the Kid
Sean Penn, Into the Wild -- Penn poured his wallet and heart and soul and sweat and tears into this ambitious, sprawling celebration of life and nature, and that is why he deserves this award more than anyone else.
Best Opening Credit Sequence:
Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten -- After we’ve heard Joe Strummer screaming into a studio microphone surrounded by silence, the music kicks in behind him and all one can say is, Motherfuck Yes!!!
Syndromes and a Century -- Unexpected, glorious, and perfect.
Best Closing Credit Sequence:
Michael Clayton -- When the final shot continued to hold on George Clooney and the credits began to appear, I thought, “This is a tad too clever,” yet the sheer visceral impact of it, combined with the stellar execution of the entire film, left me shaken.
Kene Holliday, Great World of Sound -- Holliday’s “Fuck fair” speech is why acting awards were invented.
Most Heartbreaking Moment:
The Devil Came on Horseback -- In a refugee camp, after giving a humble interview thanking the United States, a teary-eyed old man walks away, hand in pocket, stepping over a puddle, and I felt the suffocated humanity of an entire nation in that seemingly inconsequential action.
Quiet City -- Charlie and Jamie wait for the G train at Smith/9th St. at dusk.
Best Screenplay (Tie):
Noah Baumbach, Margot at the Wedding -- Nicole Kidman’s character is such a cunt in this movie that I had ethical issues giving into it completely--do we really need to see another movie about the wealthy, white, emotionally stunted upper class? That said, Baumbach has really hit a zone with The Squid and the Whale and now this. It’s corny to say, but he’s managed to marry the best of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen and deliver something individual and personal.
Craig Zobel and George Smith, Great World of Sound -- They should teach screenwriting courses with this text, which is critical but never condescending, hilarious without being sarcastic, and profound without ever being preachy.
Best Cinematography (Tie):
Roger Deakins, No Country For Old Men
Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
Joel and Ethan Coen (aka, Roderick Jaynes), No Country For Old Men
--Louis Garrel watches his friends dance their youth away to “This Time Tomorrow” in Regular Lovers.
--H.W.’s accident in There Will Be Blood.
--The doofus American who tries to walk across Abbey Road on his hands in a Hooters t-shirt and breaks his arm in Sicko.
--The incredible one-take in La Vie En Rose when Edith Piaf’s bedroom sorrow magically becomes an on-stage performance.
--Courtney Love calling downstairs to Kurt Cobain at the end of Kurt Cobain: About a Son.
--The weird smoke vent machine in Syndromes and a Century.
--The dog chasing Llewelyn in the water in No Country For Old Men.
--Turner’s car driving away at the end of Low And Behold.
--In an otherwise empty music store one day during lunch, an Irish guy teaches a Czechoslovakian girl one of his songs in Once.
--The heartbroken woman’s unexpected emotional collapse at the end of Lake of Fire.
--Tilda Swinton closing the bedroom drapes in The Man From London.
--Matt tenderly unlaces Hannah's Chucks in Hannah Takes the Stairs.
--The entirety of Peter Hutton’s At Sea.
--The in-studio footage of Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty in Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
--David Berman at the Wailing Wall in Silver Jew.
--Lele breaking the news to ruthless gangster Bily that she’s begun to date his even more ruthless brother 2Pac instead in Ghosts of Cite Soleil.
“You wanna shotgun one just to be doin’ it?” (Great World of Sound)
“Stuh-ling!” (This is England)
“Iran will fill you full of goals!” (Offside)
“Sometimes people get cut.” (I Know Who Killed Me)
Best Undistributed Films (Alphabetical):
At Sea (Peter Hutton, USA)
Audience of One (Michael Jacobs, USA)
The GoodTimesKid (Azazel Jacobs, USA)
Low and Behold (Zach Godshall, USA)
Monkey Warfare (Reginald Harkema, Canada)
Orphans (Ry Russo-Young, USA)
Pretty in the Face (Nate Meyer, USA)
Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)
The Urim And Thummim (Dub Cornett and Jacob Young, USA)
Best Original Song:
“When Your Mind’s Made Up” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Once -- I’m down with pretty much all of the lovely music written, played, and sung by Hansard and Irglova in Once, but I hope this is the song that will win them an Oscar.
Best Source Song:
“This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks, Regular Lovers -- Not, I repeat, not The Darjeeling Limited.
The Bruno Dumont Award For Being the Most Bruno Dumontian:
Bruno Dumont, Flandres -- I simply can’t ignore Bruno Dumont, and I genuinely stand behind Flandres. He’s one of the few filmmakers whose pretension doesn’t bother me. I find it laughable and credible at the exact same time.
The Darjeeling Limited -- Wes Anderson was dead to me before I attended the press screening of Darjeeling at this year’s NYFF. But after the short, Hotel Chevalier, something changed and I found myself opening up to him in a way that I hadn’t since the Bottle Rocket days. I can’t explain why, necessarily. I just feel like Darjeeling was coming from a sincere place and had an air of honesty and intimacy that the past few films didn’t come close to capturing. And while I haven’t seen it a second time (see the below two categories, for this one could go either way), my hunch is that this movie will become funnier and more layered upon subsequent viewings.
Underwhelming the First Time Around, Overwhelming the Second:
Quiet City -- Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed Quiet City the first time around. However, upon second viewing, the film felt flat-out perfect to me, which is why it wins this category. While Aaron Katz’s sophomore feature appears to be thin on a superficial glance, it is, in fact, a remarkably mature tone poem that uses restraint and understatement to reach its state of lovely grace.
Overwhelming the First Time Around, Underwhelming the Second (Tie):
Manda Bala -- The first time I saw this I felt like I was watching the smartest movie ever. The second time it felt like the product of a kid with severe ADD, all razzle-dazzle and no substance.
Knocked Up -- Round one was hysterical and believable. Round two was still funny, but preposterous and sitcom-y to the point of embarrassment.
I Don’t Get It:
Eastern Promises -- These last two Cronenberg movies have absolutely baffled me. Usually even if I don’t agree with the universal consensus regarding a film, I can still at least understand where the supporters are coming from. But watching Eastern Promises, I kept feeling like I was missing something, like a giant piece of the plot had escaped me. I kept thinking, “This can’t be it, because if it is this is dumb. This movie is dumb.” Afterwards, I received confirmation from the guys I was with that I hadn’t missed anything--at least plot-wise. So all it feels like is a sterile, dumb movie to me. I’m sure I am wrong and the advocates are right, but as much as I would really like to “get” these movies, I have some strange allergic reaction to them and they feel sterile and stupid to me.
Were These Movies Really Made and Did I Really Watch Them???:
Southland Tales -- Shame on anyone for calling this film ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent.’ Contrary to Ms. Manohla Dargis, and contrary to my own theoretical stance, I would rather watch a well-made genre movie that I’ve seen a million times than an ambitious failure that tries to be funny and so pathetically isn’t. Southland Tales isn’t like a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch. It’s like a bad “Mad TV” sketch.
Slipstream -- If you ever wondered what would happen if Oliver Stone directed Inland Empire, this movie brings that terrifying concept to life. While this might sound intriguing to some of you, believe me, it’s not.
Bug -- I really wish I’d seen the stage play, but it cannot be denied that watching this with an average middle Maryland audience was an awesomely strange experience.
I Really Wish I’d Liked These More Than I Did:
We Own the Night -- By the end of the movie I had done some readjusting, but for pretty much most of the film I couldn’t stop thinking that this was the work of a precocious and talented director trying to mimic his heroes, as opposed to delivering a vision of his very own. In a way, my reaction to We Own the Night is similar to Zodiac, in that both films felt familiar, as if I’d watched them before, but We Own the Night never escapes its familiar world, while Zodiac establishes some weirdly original universe of its very own.
Dans Paris -- I plead guilty to thinking I was about to watch an entirely different type of movie, and since it wasn’t what I hoped it was going to be, it left me disappointed. So it’s my fault, not Christophe Honore's. That said, aside from the mere presences of Louis Garrel and Romain Duris, I wasn’t on board with this at all.
The Man From London -- For the first half hour, I was riding the Bela Tarr ski lift to the top of the mountain, but at some point the power shut down and I was left dangling in the darkness. It happens to the best of them, and this is unfortunately the film where it feels like Bela Tarr has begun to parody himself.
Grindhouse -- I guess this was harmless, but it certainly didn’t make me feel exhilarated in any way, shape, or form, and that’s what I’d been hoping for.
Thank God I’m Not In Art School Anymore:
I’m Not There -- I’m all for this in theory, but when it comes to execution... um... not so much.
The Worst of the Worst:
Redacted -- Brian De Palma should go to jail for this movie. Your way of expressing your disgust with our presence in Iraq is by contributing to the idiocy? Shame on you.
Captivity -- The world would be a better place if this movie hadn’t been made.
Silk -- Snoooooooooooze.
Fados -- I’m sure it didn’t help that I was watching this on three hours of sleep with a head-pounding hangover, but I still feel like it completely missed the point by staging its performances in front of an artificial Lisbon backdrop and not the real thing.
The Romance of Astree and Celadon -- I can’t put it any other way. This movie is fucking gay.
Look -- Crash meets Hard Candy.
Letdown of the Year:
Beowulf in 3D/IMAX -- Perhaps the fact that I stayed up until five in the morning making “Jolie in 3D!!!” t-shirts makes this my fault, but whatever the case, aside from some awesome action, this movie bored me.
Best Theatrical Experiences:
I Know Who Killed Me (Saturday, November 3, BAM) -- If ever there were an argument for watching movies with an audience, this screening was exhibits A-Z. One for the ages. Read this.
Troll 2 (Friday, September 7, Landmark Sunshine) -- Did this night really happen? One of those glorious memories that makes me feel like I can die a happy, fulfilled man if and when that fateful day comes.
The Urim and Thummim (Tuesday, April 24, Green Hills Cinema) -- One of the more magical experiences on my film festival journey this year came at the Nashville Film Festival, where I was lucky enough to experience the world premiere of The Urim and Thummim alongside David Redmon, Ashley Sabin, Harmony Korine, and many others. The film itself warrants inclusion on this list, but it was the post-film Q&A that launched it into the stratosphere. Thank God for Nashville, Tennessee!
Norman Mailer Conversation and Double-Feature of Tough Guys Don't Dance and Maidstone (Sunday, July 22, Walter Reade) -- Norman Mailer's final public appearance stands tall as one of my all-time great NYC movie days, but almost better than that was that it gave me my first chance to experience the messterpiece that is Maidstone on the big screen.
Sleeping Dogs Lie (Friday, May 4, Charles Theater) -- Every year, John Waters presents a film of his choosing at the Maryland Film Festival. This year’s was a complete revelation for me. I have a hard time believing that Bobcat Goldthwait’s film has ever played more perfectly, and I’m thankful that I was there to witness the hilarity.
Satantango (Saturday, February 24, BAM) – Jesse Sweet and I are a two-man Cinemasochist crew, and while we missed our chance to suffer through the granddaddy of them all, Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, we did survive Bela Tarr’s masterwork. For the next several days, anywhere I walked I felt like I was being trailed by a Steadicam.
Killer of Sheep (Thursday, March 29, IFC Center) -- This midnight impromptu screening with friends was the perfect way to see Charles Burnett’s classic for the very first time.
Hannah Takes the Stairs (Sunday, March 11, Paramount Theater) -- It felt like everyone in the world was in the audience for the world premiere of Joe Swanberg’s touching little indie-that-could, which remains my favorite night of the 2007 South by Southwest Film Festival.
Best Non-2007 Films That I Discovered in a Theater in 2007:
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Parajanov, Ukraine)
Satantango (Bela Tarr, Hungary)
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, USA)
Model (Frederick Wiseman, USA)
Primate (Frederick Wiseman, USA)
A Sense of Loss (Marcel Ophuls, UK)
Loving (Irvin Kershner, USA)
Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, USA)
Much Yumminess to Look Forward to in 2008 That I Have Already Seen:
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA)
Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, USA)
Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, USA)
Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, USA)
Yeast (Mary Bronstein, USA)
Frontrunners (Caroline Suh, USA)
General Impression of Size and Shape (Alex Karpovsky, USA)
The Adventure (Mike Brune, USA)
Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, France)
A Married Life (Ira Sachs, USA)
Films I Can’t Wait to See in 2008:
Pretty Bird (Paul Schneider, USA)
Baghead (Duplass Brothers, USA)
Goliath (Zellner Brothers, USA)
Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, USA)
Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
Anywhere, USA (Chusy Haney-Jardine, USA)
And last, but certainly not least...
The Wire: Season 5
So, that about does it. If anyone out there has made it this far, I don't know whether to hand you a medal or a dunce cap.