BOOKS AND ARTS JANUARY 4, 2008
2007 was a great year for movies and a tough one for making lists. A few quick caveats before unveiling my own attempt. There were a lot of very good films last year; if your favorite rates lower than expected (or even not at all), it’s not necessarily because I disliked it, but merely because I liked something else better. Also, I didn’t see every film that came out, so if an expected entrant doesn’t show up, it’s possibly because I didn’t see it. Though it was technically released in the U.S. in 2007, I didn’t include The Lives of Others, as its Best Foreign Film win at last year’s Oscars makes it seem as though it’s already had its go-round. But had this magnificent film been on the list, it would have been at or near the top. In the opposite direction, I also skipped movies that had only tiny openings in New York or Los Angeles and won’t be visible to typical moviegoers until later this month or next. (As a Washington, D.C. resident, I find it immensely irritating when I look at a “best of 2007” list and half the films on it won’t open here for weeks.) Finally, to ensure that my criteria were as contradictory as possible, I made an exception for the exceptional There Will Be Blood, which opens here today, and about which I will probably write more next week. That’s it. Feel free--indeed, encouraged--to offer assessments and alternatives in comments here or on the Plank, where I’ll post a link.
1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordA minority vote, but I found it to be the most evocative, elegiac Western since Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.
2. No Country for Old MenThe Coen brothers’ first true adaptation, and one hopes it is not the last. Cormac McCarthy’s fierce, philosophical novel helps tether their dizzying gifts.
3. ZodiacA perfect pairing of director and subject: Famously meticulous David Fincher tackles the police (and media) procedural as a study in obsession.
4. JunoEqual parts hilarious and humane, and just as good as everyone says.
5. There Will Be BloodHad it not been for a terribly ill-conceived final scene, this magisterial epic might have been number one on the list.
6. OnceA tiny gem of a romance, at once understated and utterly magical.
7. Gone Baby GoneThe morally agonizing conclusion does as much to elevate this film as There Will Be Blood’s ending does to bring it down.
8. The Diving Bell and the ButterflyA genuine work of cinematic art, though after the bravura first half--in which director Julian Schnabel conjures the world of a paralyzed writer composing his memoirs entirely by blinking his left eye--it never quite finds a second act.
9. Before the Devil Knows You’re DeadAn intricate clockwork of malice and error that ticks slowly toward utter destruction.
10. Michael ClaytonA sharp, well-scripted legal thriller that boasts one of the most emotionally satisfying payoff scenes in memory.
Honorable Mentions (alphabetical): Away From Her, The Bourne Ultimatum, Charlie Wilson’s War, Enchanted, Grindhouse: Death Proof, Eastern Promises, Knocked Up, Ratatouille, The Savages, Superbad, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Talk to Me
Worst Movie (morally appalling category): The Brave One. The fact that its right-wing glorification of vigilantism is cloaked in liberal piety and self-actualization only makes it doubly noxious.
Runner-up:Redacted. De Palma makes another metaphor-movie in which U.S. soldiers rape and murder a defenseless girl. If he weren’t so inept a director at this point, this might have taken first prize.
Worst Movie (profoundly irritating category): The Hottest State. Ethan Hawke is a perfectly adequate actor when he’s not playing himself. But this self-directed adaptation of his own autobiographical novel suggests that, offscreen, he’s an intolerably self-absorbed jackass.
Runner-up:Revolver. The mutant offspring of Guy Ritchie’s lad-flick affinities and Madonna’s Kabbalic concerns, its goofy moral is that your own ego--and not the guy holding a large gun in your face--is the only real enemy.
Best Ending: Gone Baby Gone
Worst Ending:There Will Be Blood
How to Adapt a Novel to the Big Screen: No Country for Old Men
Runner-up: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
How Not to Adapt a Novel to the Big Screen: The Golden Compass
Best Voiceover: Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men)
Worst Voiceover: Jena Malone (Into the Wild)
The “Wow, I Had a Hell of a Year” Award: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War, The Savages, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead)
The Sudden Ubiquity Award: Josh Brolin (Grindhouse, In the Valley of Elah, American Gangster, No Country for Old Men)
The Invisible Man Award: Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Line by a Critic: “[Balls of Fury] seems to exist mainly so that some critic might say: If you see just one table tennis martial arts parody this year, make it ‘Balls of Fury.’ I’m afraid I can’t go that far.”—A. O. Scott
Best Line by an Actor: “Many, many people did not watch Arrested Development, but the few who did are handing out some nice jobs in L.A.”—Jason Bateman
Most Overrated Bob Dylan Impersonation: Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There)
Most Underrated Bob Dylan Impersonation: John C. Reilly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
Most Gruesome Throat Slashing: Eastern Promises
Runner-up (tie): Sweeney Todd, Sweeney Todd, Sweeney Todd, Sweeney Todd, and Sweeney Todd
Worst Human-Videogame Hybrid:Timothy Olyphant’s robotic turn as “Agent 47” in Hitman
Best Human-Videogame Hybrid: Angelina Jolie’s digitally disrobed demon-mother in Beowulf
The Less-is-More Action Movie Award:The Bourne Ultimatum
The More-is-Less Action Movie Award:Spider-Man 3
The Warfare Is Not the Slightest Bit Homoerotic Award:300
The It’s Fun to Be Naked Award:Lady Chatterley
The …Except When Guys Are Trying to Knife You In the Sauna Award:Eastern Promises
Neurotic Siblings Whom I’d Nonetheless Welcome Into My Family: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney (The Savages)
Neurotic Siblings With Whom I’d Try to Avoid Traveling:Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited)
Neurotic Siblings Whom I’d Subject to Restraining Orders: Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Margot at the Wedding)
Movie Star Whose Weak Singing Voice is Nonetheless Used to Admirable Effect: Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Movie Star Whose Weak Singing Voice is Beyond Remedy: Hugh Grant, Music and Lyrics
The Perhaps This Film Shouldn’t Have Been Released Nine Months Before Awards Season Award: Zodiac
The Maybe-We-Should-Stick-to-PG-13 Award: The Farrelly brothers (The Heartbreak Kid)
The Paul Newman Award for Looking Better at 66 than You Will Ever Look a Day in Your Life: Julie Christie (Away from Her)
The Sofia Coppola Award for Being a Pretty Darn Good Director Even if I Got the Opportunity through Nepotism (tie): Jason Reitman (Juno), Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
The Woody Allen Award for No, Seriously Being Able to Attract Women This Far Out of My League:Seth Rogen (Knocked Up)
The Roger Federer Award for Being So Much Better than Anyone Else It’s Like I’m Playing a Different Sport:Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)