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2007 Film Poll: If It Bleeds, It Leads

<i>There Will Be Blood</i> — lots of it. (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon)

There Will Be Blood — lots of it. (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon)

After seven editions, the almost-traditional Village Voice poll of alt-press (and now other) film critics took a hiatus last year (lotta changes going on around here; maybe you heard). Meanwhile, the L.A. Weekly shouldered the burden of anointing a 37-year-old movie, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows,the Best Movie of 2006.

This year, we’ve joined forces and polled 102 critics to crown, as the Best Movie of 2007, something so new that most readers won’t be able to see it until 2008: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Listed by 56 critics for a total of 402 votes, Anderson’s startlingly original tale of prophets and profits in the American outback arrived at the last moment to top the Coen brothers’ No. 2 No Country for Old Men by 74 votes and David Fincher’s No. 3 Zodiac by 88.

What do these three movies have in common? All were made by highly self-motivated mavericks operating somewhere on the frontier between indie and studio filmmaking. And all three are kind of scary. They’re movies about natural-born killers — American, even if played by foreigners, and charismatic too: Daniel Day-Lewis, the star of There Will Be Blood, handily won Best Actor, with Javier Bardem, star of No Country, named Best Supporting Actor. (The never-quite-identified Zodiac killer may be all the more charismatic because, as Fincher makes amply apparent, he’s as much an obsession as a person.)

Why shouldn’t we be preoccupied with homicidal sociopaths? America’s been at war for the past four and a half years, with — to cite the top-polling documentary — No End in Sight (No. 29). War makes you wonder what exactly defines murder and who is enabled to commit it. The morally ambiguous mode known as film noir was born during World War II, and, as the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum observed at the time, the national obsession with the cannibal genius Hannibal Lecter coincided with our first Iraq adventure, Operation Desert Storm. Where do these current killers come from? It’s suggestive that both There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men were shot in mid-Texas Bush country (although the former is set in California). It’s even more provocative that none of these killers shows the slightest remorse — just plumb evil, I guess.

Other notable films featuring murderous protagonists (and convoluted titles) are The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (No. 12), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (No. 26) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (No. 30). Way, way down the list of favorites was the year’s most significant fiction film about Iraq. Tone-deaf but gutsy, genuinely enraged and generally abrasive — not the least in its dark humor — Brian De Palma’s Redacted (No. 93) eschewed any sort of distancing crime-movie metaphor to show innocent American soldiers as bloodthirsty maniacs.

Redacted was a throwback to the brash, blithely offensive comedies with which De Palma began his career, and it’s striking that with There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, I’m Not There (No. 5), Ratatouille (No. 9), The Assassination of Jesse James, Michael Clayton (No. 15), Southland Tales (No. 23), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Darjeeling Limited (No. 34), Sweeney Todd and Day Night Day Night (No. 46) — to sample only the poll’s Top 50 — 2007 was as strong a year for American movies as any since the much-fetishized early-’70s heyday of the Hollywood new wave. (In addition to De Palma, vets Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola even weighed in.)

The best-reviewed movie of 2007 was, however, made in 1977. It’s been 17 years since the Library of Congress declared Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep a national treasure. Restored and released to theaters, as well as on DVD by the folks at Milestone, it placed eighth — in good measure, I’d warrant, because it embodies an unsentimental humanism that scarcely exists in current American movies, studio or independent.

The Top 10 held only a few surprises. One was the remarkable fourth-place finish achieved by Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days — a graphic account of two college students in search of an illegal abortion that, among other things, casts feel-good comedies like Knocked Up (No. 31), Juno (No. 54) and Waitress (No. 147) to the far side of Fantasyland. Anamaria Marinca edged Julie Christie (Away From Her, No. 19) for Best Actress. As in Cannes, Mungiu’s film bested Julian Schnabel’s The Butterfly and the Diving Bell (No. 7), and it does so again as the poll’s top foreign-language film, and this on the basis of a few festival screenings and a weeklong Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles. Even less expected was the sixth-place showing of Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Buddhist conundrum Syndromes and a Century. (Most amazing, however, was that the uncompromising Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa’s audience-challenging and barely seen Colossal Youth ranked 10th.)

Last year, the L.A. Weekly poll introduced a category for Worst Film — a category that Colossal Youth, had more critics seen it, might have won this year. As satisfying as it may be to insult somebody’s taste or advertise a pet peeve, the notion of a worst movie is far too vague. Does “worst” mean morally repugnant or technically inept? A truly bad movie is infinitely superior to the disposable mediocrities that pass through the multiplexes. As the surrealist Ado Kyrou advised, “Learn to go and see the ‘worst’ films, they are sometimes sublime.” A more useful category, addressing as it does the tyranny of conventional wisdom, would be Most Overrated. For that, I’d happily mark down No Country for Old Men. In formal terms, the Coen brothers’ latest pinball machine is obviously superior to 90 percent of the year’s releases. But it’s also a soulless enterprise, with nothing more on its mind than the expert manipulation of the spectator, critics included.

That said, I’m pleased to report that, garnering five votes, Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales tied The Bucket List as the year’s Worst Film. But, as the year’s Best Supporting Actress, Cate Blanchett, might have put it: You know something’s happening when Southland Tales also headed three critics’ lists as the year’s Best Film. Time constraints have made it impossible to calculate the 2007 poll’s PassiondexT — my formula to measure the degree of ardor with which critics voted for particular movies — but my heart tells me that Southland Tales is the obvious winner. Here is a movie that some people love and others love to hate. That’s double passion! And that’s good. As Sarah Michelle Gellar’s socially aware porn queen warbles just before the world ends, “Teen horniness is not a crime — open your heart and your mind.”

For complete poll results, go to www.laweekly.com/filmpoll.

Best Films of 2007

1.There Will Be Blood (402 points, 56 mentions)

2. No Country for Old Men (328 points, 52 mentions)

3.Zodiac (314 points, 47 mentions)

4.4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (276 points, 43 mentions)

5.I’m Not There (251 points, 38 mentions)

6.Syndromes and a Century (208 points, 31 mentions)

7.The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (185 points, 27 mentions)

8.Killer of Sheep (161 points, 22 mentions)

9.Ratatouille (135 points, 25 mentions)

10.Colossal Youth (132 points, 19 mentions)

Best Actor

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (143 points, 55 mentions)

2. Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises (51 points, 26 mentions)

3. Frank Langella, Starting Out in the Evening (37 points, 18 mentions)

Best Supporting Actor

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (70 points, 27 mentions)

2. Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (45 points, 21 mentions)

3. Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild (40 points, 20 mentions)

Best Actress

1. Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (77 points, 38 mentions)

2. Julie Christie, Away From Her (71 points, 32 mentions)

3. Carice van Houten, Black Book (62 points, 28 mentions)

Best Supporting Actress

1. Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There (91 points, 39 mentions)

2. Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (83 points, 39 mentions)

3. Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (56 points, 25 mentions)

Best First Film

Away From Her (21 points/mentions)

Best Documentary

No End in Sight (19 points/mentions)

Worst Film of 2007

The Bucket List and Southland Tales (tie) (5 points/mentions)

Best Undistributed Films

1.Secret Sunshine (28 points/mentions)

2.Useless (11 points/mentions)

3.In the City of Sylvia and The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (tie) (10 points/mentions)

5.Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, The Man From London and You, the Living (tie) (7 points/mentions)

8.Battle for Haditha and La France (tie) (6 points/mentions)

10.Frownland, Import/Export and These Encounters of Theirs (tie)(5 points/mentions)

The Ground Rules: We asked each critic to cite 10 films, three male lead performances, three female lead performances, three male supporting performances, three female supporting performances, 10 films without distributors, and one choice each for documentary, first feature, and worst. Ranked ballots were weighted as follows: For film: 1 (10 points), 2 (9), 3 (8), 4 (7), 5 (6), 6 (5), 7 (4), 8 (3), 9 (2), 10 (1). For performance: 1 (3), 2 (2), 3 (1). Unranked films were awarded 5.5 points each, unranked performances 2 points. Ties were verboten. Outside of the undistributed category, we asked voters to focus on films that opened for U.S. theatrical engagements in 2007.

Participants

L.A. Weekly/Village Voice Media contributors: Robert Abele, David Ehrenstein, F.X. Feeney, Scott Foundas, Tim Grierson, Aaron Hillis, J. Hoberman, Nathan Lee, Brian Miller, Adam Nayman, Michelle Orange, Nick Pinkerton, Jim Ridley, Ella Taylor, James C. Taylor, Luke Y. Thompson, Chuck Wilson

Others: Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Jason Anderson (Eye Weekly), John Anderson (Newsday), Melissa Anderson (Time Out New York), David Ansen (Newsweek), Saul Austerlitz (freelance), Sean Axmaker (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), Sheila Benson (freelance), David Blaylock (freelance), Donna Bowman (A.V. Club, Nashville Scene), Richard Brody (The New Yorker), Peter Brunette (Screen International), Ty Burr (The Boston Globe), Jeannette Catsoulis (The New York Times), Justin Chang (Variety), Tom Charity (CNN.com), Godfrey Cheshire (The Independent Weekly), Daryl Chin (Documents on Art & Cinema), Mike D’Angelo (Esquire), David D’Arcy (GreenCine), Peter Debruge (Variety), Thomas Doherty (Cineaste), Bilge Ebiri (New York), David Edelstein (New York), Jim Emerson (RogerEbert.com), Steve Erickson (Gay City News/Baltimore City Paper), David Fear (Time Out New York), Cythia Fuchs (PopMatters), Stephen Garrett (Time Out New York), Lance Goldenberg (Creative Loafing Tampa), Ed Gonzalez (Slant), Akiva Gottlieb (freelance), Larry Gross (Film Comment/Movie City News), Liz Helfgott (Criterion Collection), Logan Hill (New York), Christoph Huber (Die Presse, Vienna), Harlan Jacobson (Talk Cinema), Mark Jenkins (Washington City Paper), J.R. Jones (Chicago Reader), Kent Jones (Film Comment), Christopher Kelly (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Glen Kenny (Premiere.com), Peter Keough (The Boston Phoenix), Laura Kern (Film Comment), Leonard Klady (Movie City News), Andy Klein (Los Angeles City Beat), Robert Koehler (Variety), Dan Kois (NYmag.com), Michael Koresky (Reverse Shot), Bill Krohn (Cahiers du Cinéma), Diego Lerer (Clarin, Buenos Aires), Lou Lumenick (New York Post), Todd McCarthy (Variety), Patrick Z. McGavin (Screen International), Wesley Morris (The Boston Globe), Mark Olsen (Film Comment), Gerald Peary (The Boston Phoenix), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), David Poland (Movie City News), Richard Porton (Cineaste), John Powers (Vogue), Ray Pride (Movie City Indie), James Quandt (Cinematheque Ontario), Jared Rapfogel (Cineaste), Berenice Reynaud (freelance), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager (Slant), Matt Zoller Seitz (The House Next Door), Michael Sicinski (Reverse Shot), Brent Simon (FilmStew.com), Matt Singer (IFC News), Chuck Stephens (freelance), Amy Taubin (Film Comment), Charles Taylor (Newark Star-Ledger), N.P. Thompson (Movies Into Film), Scot Tobias (A.V. Club), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (The Reeler/The House Next Door), James Verniere (The Boston Herald), Matthew Wilder (Collider.com), Michael Wilmington (freelance), Stephanie Zacharek (Salon.com)