Unless you count a slight preponderance of anthropomorphic rats (mercifully fewer than last year’s penguins), a wavelet of features that colonized the Iraq war in order to try and pour some juice back into the ailing action picture, or the miserable box-office numbers of dozens of independent films, the only trend worth mentioning in 2007 was the unseemly war of words between print critics and bloggers, the former an endangered species and the latter an emergent group with all the testy insecurity that entails. To my mind, this battle goes nowhere, not just because sooner or later we’ll all be bloggers, but because I can’t remember a year of such across-the-board consensus in Top 10 lists on and off the Web — mine included, unranked, arbitrary and subject to change:
There Will Be Blood. The older and sadder I get about the state of our bloodied world (and, yes, I’m a natural-born wimp), the less I can tolerate onscreen gore or violence, however aestheticized. But blood and guts are the proper currency of Paul Thomas Anderson’s extraordinary epic about an oil man nourished and destroyed by coruscating hatred and the lust for power, which among its many virtues shows what a man ahead of his time Upton Sinclair was.
Manufactured Landscapes and The Host. A serene, appalling eight-minute tracking shot spanning the length of a Chinese electronics factory is director Jennifer Baichwal’s canny introduction to the work of artist Edward Burtynsky, whose magisterial panoramic shots of assembly lines and industrial waste usefully set us adrift in all the different ways the pursuit of global markets murders our environment, our workers and our imaginations. And Bong Joon-ho’s exuberant tale of a mutant fish that rises out of American formaldehyde to terrorize the poor of Seoul is the year’s best environmental horror caper, stuffed with inconvenient truths about how we foul up our waters, then rush around trying to contain the damage.
Away From Her and The Savages. It’s hard to imagine two movies more different in tone and execution than Sarah Polley’s delicate chamber piece (based on an Alice Munro short story), about a couple facing down Alzheimer’s disease, and Tamara Jenkins’ antic black comedy about two screwed-up siblings struggling to care for a father who never cared for them. But it makes sense that two women, each in her own way, bring tenderness, lyricism and a feminine practicality to bear on the unsexy, entirely timely subject of modern aging. You won’t come away depressed by either.
4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days and Lake of Fire. Speaking of flammable topics, a Romanian newcomer (Cristian Mungiu) and an excitable Brit (Tony Kaye) adroitly sidestep the usual shrilly encamped positions to show how much the decision to abort or not has become entangled in politics, religion and emotion. One’s a feature, one’s a doc, but neither lacks for tragedy or black humor, and in both, there’s not an ideologue in the building who gets off unscathed.
Ratatouille. Not just a cute tale of a gourmand rat taking over a beautifully animated French kitchen, but, as with Brad Bird’s other work of genius, The Incredibles, Ratatouille makes a witty argument for passion and co-operative excellence (and high-end fromage).
Once. Out of the blue, a small, unpolished love story about a brief encounter between a Dublin street musician and a Czech immigrant crept into moviegoers’ hearts and stayed for months, singing wistfully of the temporary life, the incompleteness of love and the staying power of the serenade.
Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud transform Satrapi’s graphic novel about her excellent adventures with Iran’s mullahs into a thing of beauty, inspired by F.W. Murnau, Vittorio de Sica, Art Spiegelman and life itself.
Knocked Up. Growing up is hard to do in Judd Apatow’s uproarious comedy about a one-night stand between a Jewish slacker and an ambitious shiksa that turns into reluctant matrimony. A shopworn premise is revitalized by the friction between Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, and by Apatow’s ambivalent rushes between perpetual adolescence and dull maturity, which last wins only by a hair.
The Band’s Visit. Struck off the list of Israeli Oscar contenders for reasons you want to argue with but in all conscience can’t (too much English dialogue), Eran Kolirin’s whimsical piece about an Egyptian orchestra stuck in an Israeli backwater marries goofy deadpan comedy with a conciliatory spirit so steeped in regret and respect, you’ll weep through your laughter.
Killer of Sheep. All hail to the UCLA Film and Television Archive for the 35 mm new print, and to Milestone Films for re-releasing Charles Burnett’s soulful, beautifully observed 1977 thesis film about the spiritual slaughter of a South-Central abattoir worker whose only solace is his family.
Runners-Up: No End in Sight; In Between Days; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone; The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep; Juno; The Red Balloon and White Mane; Enchanted; I’m Not There; Michael Clayton; Wristcutters: A Love Story; Deep Water; Steal a Pencil for Me; I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry; Parting Glances; Lady Chatterley; The Lookout; Offside; Sicko; The Namesake.
Turkeys:Sleuth; P.S. I Love You; Into the Wild; Lars and the Real Girl; Across the Universe; Evening; Bug; Shrek 3.
Great performances: Next week I’ll have more to say about what a great year it was for supporting actors, but meanwhile, here are the standout leads of 2007: Julie Christie, radiantly ambiguous as a wife getting in some home truths as she succumbs to Alzheimer’s in Away From Her; Daniel Day-Lewis, all the more potent for not munching scenery in There Will Be Blood; Cate Blanchett, the hunched-up and sullen Bob Dylan in I’m Not There; Song Kang-ho, the fat and lazy food-stand operator who takes on a mutant fish-thingie and the South Korean Health Department in The Host. Cillian Murphy, who brings some helpful nuance to Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley as the doctor turned reluctant IRA killer; Ellen Page as, well, you-know in Juno; Henry Gayle Sanders as the quietly crushed slaughterhouse worker in Killer of Sheep; Ashraf Barhom, the only good thing about The Kingdom; Chris Cooper, the only reason to see Breach; Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. More performance than acting, so? That’s how France’s Little Sparrow lived her life. Amber Tamblyn, frightened and brave in Stephanie Daley; Anamaria Marinca, grave and coping as the girl who pays in terrible kind for her friend’s abortion in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; Mirjana Karanovic, stoically paying the price for a long-ago rape in Gbravica; and Nikki Blonsky, blithe spirit of Hairspray. Come to think of it, that’s a whole lotta girls.