(prologue) As we can begin to hear the death rattle of the oughts, we in the third row decided to start on this continuing series throughout 2009 that will look back at our favorite films of each of the past ten years (2000-2009). This will ultimately culminate in a “ten best/favorites of the oughts” piece sometime in early 2010.
This has got to be the finest year for cinema goers over the past ten years. I can remember narrowing down my personal list to about 30 favorites and then having a real tough time weeding it down to 10. Hence coming up with a consensus for a “top” five among seven or eight people proved to be downright impossible (leaving off all of the great “off the wall” cinema was particularly difficult – e.g. Grindhouse, Bug and Black Snake Moan specifically). So we each listed five movies that really captured our hearts that year and I tried to make the best executive decision I could that really showcases some of the best 2007 had to offer while maintaining a general sense of the tastes here at RowThree. Here are five films (and of course some honorable mentions) that represent some of the greatness that 2007 delivered.
Before getting started, five honorable mentions that barely missed the cut, but on any other day could well have worked their way to #1:
I’m Not There, Silent Light, Atonement, There Will Be Blood, Rescue Dawn
– For the first time, Fincher handles a true story, and a pretty dark one for that matter. Sure it’s a serial killer thriller, but this story has little time for the actual murderer. Instead we focus on the killer’s relationship with law enforcement and media. Like Se7en, Zodiac is a tale of obsession, of how one man indelibly affected four people who spent most of their lives trying to solve one of the USA’s greatest mysteries. Fincher’s meticulous attention to detail is mandatory as we are offered as complete of a recollection as there can be of the facts; spread over 160 minutes that never feel stretched or boring. The story hooks the viewer right from the get-go and never releases its grip; its content being too unsettling and important to be ignored. Fincher considers his sixth film “the definitive serial killer film”. He has got a point: by giving no real answers or glimpses of optimism he sets Zodiac apart from traditional thrillers, which will all seem like fairy tales in comparison. The real thing is much more complex and painful, but also, in the end, far more compelling than the usual mainstream product. An astonishing achievement, and one of the year’s truly unmissable movies.
– – “I… I Need to know who he is. I… I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”
4) No Country for Old Men
– The Coens have immortalized themselves in the cinematic hall of fame as two of the most iconic and greatest storytellers of the last 100 years. With a seemingly neverending string of more than impressive films already dangling from their belt, they capped it off (in 2007) with what could easily be considered their best film to date and more than likely their masterpiece by many in the growing circle of film critics and pundits. Of course on the surface the most memorable aspect of No Country was Javier Bardem bursting into America’s consciousness as probably the most iconic villain since Hannibal Lector or Darth Vader. But there is so much more here than simply the villain. The details of what’s on screen and the way in which the directors refuse to pander to their audience is what makes the genius of The Coens undeniable. We’re forced to notice details and empathize with the characters on our own terms. There’s no spoon feeding going on here. We’re having a terrific “caper gone wrong” story spun for us and it’s up to us if we want to go along for the ride. Some may disagree with where they end up, but that’s the nature of the beast. Oscar for best picture in 2007, the Academy gets it right.
– – “Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”
– The simplest tale of all time (boy meets girl) comes to dazzling life through the joy and mutual respect for good music. While not exactly a musical, Once nevertheless has plenty to offer in that department and not only won Oscars for its musical prowess but was also a gold selling soundtrack for the two leads. This is the little indie no one expected much from before being blown away by as the story unfolds that rings so true it will warm even the coldest of hearts. This is not a movie with a soundtrack but rather a soundtrack with a movie to back it up. A great romance with believable, lived-in characters that do only that which comes most natural and seemingly effortlessly: make music. This is a masterful stroke of a film that will always be mentioned somewhere in any rational person’s discussion of the best in cinema that 2007 had to offer.
– – “I don’t know you… but I want you… all the more, for that.”
2) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
– Huge fan of contemporary westerns here at RowThree. Huge. But we’re also fans of slow burns, arthouse cinema and Terrence Malick. So go figure that Jesse James, which incorporates the essence of all of these elements, was on just about all of our top ten lists in 2007. Casey Affleck blows the camera away and Brad Pitt sheds his super star status for a much more restrained role in which his mere presence commands the screen. The supporting cast (including Sam Rockwell, Sam Sheppared and Jeremy Renner) is superb as well. With Roger Deakins helming the visual duties, every aspect about this film is a feast for the eyes and a cinematic treat on every level. An earnest look at the unhealthy proclivity to hero worship through the eyes and ears of the 19h century. A gorgeous and engaging piece of film making that exemplifies all that is right about cinema.
– – “Can’t figure it out. Do you want to be LIKE me or do you want to BE me?”
1) Inland Empire
– After experiencing Inland Empire (and that is the correct word), one conclusion bubbled up to the surface. The films of David Lynch, darn near all of them, could get by entirely on mood alone. For nearly 3 hours, dread and creeping uneasiness are sustained effortlessly, only punctuated on occasion with moments of absurdity or self-knowing humour. To call Inland Empire the best film of the year is not a stretch in the least. It oozes with primordial cinema matter, comments bitingly on Hollywood and is also a multi-nested loop of films-within-films. It talks to you without talking at you. Even if yesterday is tomorrow and tomorrow is yesterday and characters overlap in and out of the film within the film and the whole thing navel gazes in the way films so often are made about making films. If there is a case for narcissism being a good thing, then David Lynch has made it quite convincingly. For those that obsess on all things Tinseltown, this film is (to borrow a Twin Peaks concept) the Black Lodge version (complete with red curtains). – KURT
– – ” I figured one day I’d just wake up and and find out what the hell yesterday was all about. I’m not too keen on thinkin’ about tommorow. And today’s slipping by.”
We’ll see you in a couple weeks with our picks for 2008.