As this is my first full year as “that other” film critic with the Xpress (and it’s been my experience that I’m sure that it’ll come as a shock to quite a few that there is more than just one), it also means that I get my very first top ten list. It’s an undertaking I have approached with some trepidation, mostly due to the fact that I know in my gut that I won’t be happy with this list in a month. There will be something I’ll watch again and not love as much or something I’ll catch for a second or third time and absolutely fall in love with. But such is the tortured life of a film critic. You get one chance to decide whether or not you love a film before it’s on view in posterity in print (I’m sure one of Ken’s greatest regrets is his Signs review).
When approaching 2007, it’s simple to just look at a year’s worth of films and immediately focus on the dreck that Hollywood as pumped out. The same goes for looking at what next year holds. And while I don’t think I could blame anyone for this attitude (I am the guy who has to watch it), please keep in mind these are not the films we’ll be remembering decades or years or months from now (I honestly forgot until a few days ago when I was researching this article that I had watched Sydney White, and that was 3 months ago). What we will remember, however, is the good stuff, and 2007 was a year chock full of honestly great films. We’ll just have to wait and see if 2008 can keep up.
And with that, for better or for worse, here are my top ten best and worst films of 2007.
1. The Darjeeling Limited. For all intents and purposes, Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited is perfect. From the top down—from Anderson’s direction (which continues to mature), to the performances (topped off by a nuanced and occasionally heartbreaking performance by Adrien Brody, a piece of acting which has seemed to have been overlooked by everyone), to the cinematography, to the set design and on and on and on—it accomplishes everything it intends to do, and then some.
2. There Will Be Blood. Since Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest hasn’t hit town yet (and apparently isn’t scheduled to until Jan. 18), there’s only a handful of people that I know to whom I could wholeheartedly recommend this film. It’s very long, a bit on the slow side, and I’m still not sure that there’s any real point to it all. And that’s where its brilliance lies. Featuring Daniel Day Lewis (in one of those roles that’s destined to become iconic if there’s any justice) as a greedy turn-of-the-century oil man and his descent into madness, it’s a film made outside the world of focus groups and demographics. It’s a film made for no one in particular, but for those with the wherewithal and the patience is the reward of one of the year’s most taut, fascinating and haunting films.
3. Sunshine. Easily the most visually beautiful—and most dramatically tense—film of the year, Sunshine is just another example of director Danny Boyle flexing his creative muscle. It’s a science-fiction film for people who don’t necessarily like science fiction, yet it manages to touch on many of the themes popularized by the genre in wholly different—and often times unexpected—ways.
4. Eastern Promises. With Eastern Promises, it would seem that David Cronenberg has officially entered a new stage in his long career, one that eschews the overt oddity of his earlier films for the nitty-gritty, while still exploring many of the same concerns he’s always had. And in some ways, this less fanciful approach is more unsettling; the body horror of Videodrome (1983) and Scanners (1981) is in the real world now, and boy, is it nasty. And don’t overlook Viggo Mortensen, in what’s easily the best performance—and the most daring (for just about anyone)—of his career.
5. No Country for Old Men. An easier film to admire than to truly love, the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men is a stark, brutal, intense, superbly acted meditation on good and evil. It’s one of those incredibly dense films that even after dozens of viewings will likely still be giving up its secrets.
6. Black Snake Moan. Who’d have thought a movie about chaining a sex fiend to a radiator in an attempt to cure her of her unholy ways would turn out to be one of the year’s most unabashedly sweet movies. Director Craig Brewer is proving himself a completely singular talent, tackling subjects no one else even bothers with (like handling the South intelligently and with a genuine affection, instead of the usual bumpkin stereotypes). Plus, it’s one of the few movies that actually gives Samuel L. Jackson something to do. It’s in no ways a perfect film, but it’s more satisfying, enjoyable filmmaking than any number of “important” movies out there.
7. Grindhouse. If Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror, the first half of this double-feature, had been released by itself in theaters, it probably would’ve gotten my top spot. Unfortunately, the missed opportunity which is Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof couldn’t keep up with Rodriguez’ sublimely over-the-top splatterfest. Nevertheless, Grindhouse remains easily the most fun I have ever had in a theater, bar none. The year’s biggest travesty remains the fact that more people didn’t take the time to catch this on the big screen in all its glory.
8. Across the Universe. While I’m not as forgiving towards its flaws as Ken Hanke, even when it falters, Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe cannot be denied; it still works by means of sheer ambition. Pulsating with energy, life and humanity, Across the Universe is a constant parade of sheer vibrancy. It’s an example of filmmaking that’s in short supply these days, and just another reminder of how far imagination and zeal can take you.
9. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s good to know that the year’s bloodiest movie just happens to be a musical. Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd is the musical for people who can’t stand musicals (though musical haters will probably still stay away simply because it’s still a musical). The first time I saw this, I liked it, but wasn’t sure if it’d make its way onto my list. But a subsequent viewing has shown me that it’s a much more layered, cohesive, deep film than any single viewing could show.
10. Hot Fuzz. This was probably my big surprise of the year. I never did—and still don’t—get the big deal about Edgar Wright’s previous film (which also featured Hot Fuzz stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), Shawn of the Dead (2004), and the trailers for Hot Fuzz made it look like more of the same. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Unlike Shawn, Hot Fuzz never lets up, making itself easily the funniest film of the year, while simultaneously being one of the best action films of the year to boot.
Honorable mentions: Paris Je T’Aime (which was on my list until Sweeney Todd knocked it off, and I’m still worried that I’ll regret its omission), Juno, 2 Days in Paris (even faux Woody Allen is more enjoyable than most anything else), Stardust, You Kill Me, Paprika (the only anime I’ve ever seen that didn’t bore me to tears) and my guilty-pleasure award “for movie I like a whole lot more than I’d ever admit to even myself,” Live Free or Die Hard.
1. Hostel: Part II. Any number of films on this list are purely worse than Hostel: Part II, but none of them are quite as infuriatingly obnoxious. It would be one thing if this movie was just another exercise in run-of-the-mill torture porn, but instead, director Eli Roth actually seems to think this stuff is clever. So instead of just a dumb horror movie, you get a dumb horror movie oozing with Roth’s self-congratulatory ego. And don’t get me started about the film’s idiotic climax. A stupid movie in every conceivable fashion.
2. Transformers. If you took everything I hate about modern film and distilled it down into one movie, you’d get Transformers. It’s overlong, it’s loud, it’s overly reliant on CGI, about two-thirds of the plot is superfluous, good chunks of it make no sense. I could go on, but the less I think about this movie, the better. I thought that if there was one thing that Michael Bay could do right, it would be giant robots blowing stuff up, and he still managed to screw the pooch.
3. 300. The politics of this film can be debated until the cows come home, but it remains that 300 is just plain boring. It’s a humorless attempt at being “epic” (whatever that means) and a failed attempt at spectacle. If I wanted a greasy, muscle-bound meathead to yell at me for a couple of hours, I’d egg Hulk Hogan’s house.
4. Beowulf. Roger Avary, what are you doing?! Rules of Attraction was brilliant, and now you’re adapting Beowulf for Robert Zemeckis of all people? I guess the big trend of 2007 was sweaty men yelling as loud as possible. I’m still not sure if it was the 3-D process the film was presented in or Beowulf constantly reminding the audience his name at the top of his lungs every chance he gets that gave me a headache.
5. Alvin and the Chipmunks. Let Jason Lee be a warning to you all. If you have a nice little career going as a supporting actor in a few small movies, but can’t seem to break through as a leading man, and then sign on to do a TV show and take an easy paycheck to do a kids movie that just happens to feature CGI chipmunks eating feces—beware: There’s always the chance that the movie could be the biggest hit of your career.
6. Delta Farce. In all honesty, I only sat through about 45 minutes of this dreck (and really, 45 minutes of Larry the Cable Guy is a lifetime, trust me), but it was still horrid enough to make it on my list. Think about that for a second. Only five movies this year are worse than just half of Delta Farce.
7. Hot Rod. Easily the most purely idiotic movie of the year, Hot Rod was an attempt at making Saturday Night Live alum Adam Samberg into, god forbid, the next Adam Sandler. Instead, they made him into the next Chris Kattan.
8. Epic Movie. When I told a friend of mine my top-10 worst films of the year, he tried to convince me to take Epic Movie off my list, simply because it was too obvious a choice. “Everyone knows this movie is bad,” he said. My response was that he hadn’t seen this monstrosity. I think the Geneva Convention actually addresses these kinds of atrocities.
9. Eragon. Fantasy for the kiddy set, Eragon should’ve more aptly been titled Every Fantasy or Sci-Fi Movie Ever. If Uwe Boll branched out from video-game adaptations to adaptations of fantasy novels written by teenagers, you’d have Eragon.
10. Saw IV. Not as irritating as Saw III, the latest entry in the yearly Saw franchise is simply moronic. Maybe the worst part is that the makers aren’t even trying to be gross or edgy anymore. The only enjoyable aspect of any of these movies is listening to the reactions of those more queasy audience members. It’s a pity that on Halloween weekend moviegoing and Saw have become so synonymous.