Here's my top ten movies of 2007 in no particular order. Read, agree, disagree, call me crazy, whatever. But make sure to watch them all and...watch them twice. Oh yes, and Happy New Year.
Based on his fiendishly artistic, misanthropic and influential necro-fetish classic Se7en, we already knew David Fincher could craft the perfect serial killer movie. And yet Fincher, a subversive, substance-soaked stylist, chartered new territory with the stunningly ambitious Zodiac, a movie that goes above and beyond the perceived limitations of the serial killer genre by becoming not only an intricate study of obsession, but a moody explication of one of our darkest eras --the 1970's. Taken from the real life case of The Zodiac Killer -- a mysterious, black hooded assassin who terrified the San Francisco Bay area just as the '60s were coming to a close -- the picture boasts horrifying, unnervingly tense sequences of random yet bizarrely ritualistic acts of violence. But the picture's not simply content with its startling death throttles, and instead narrows its focus on three men (Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and an extraordinary Robert Downey Jr.) so consumed by capturing the elusive killer, that their fervency borders on madness -- a madness they (and consequently the viewer) cannot shake. Part police procedural, part journalistic drama, a la All The Presidents Men, Zodiac deftly and densely splits narrative, making for a multifaceted and unexpectedly mordant examination of the era's pessimism and unease, particularly since the crime may never be solved. Like a true '70s movie, one leaves the picture haunted; riddled with unanswered questions and an enveloping sense of dread that just clings to you. And truly, if the song wasn't creepy enough, you'll never hear Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" without visions of a faceless fiend stalking you in a black car on a dark night.
Directed by William Friedkin and adapted from Tracy Letts' excellent stage play, Bug is a movie that will baffle, excite, horrify and anger those who can't stay with its unwavering intensity. It even provoked titters, and in some points, purposefully so, which should have been honored rather than mocked. Bug is a rare film that balances realistic, literal psychological horror with metaphorical meaning with small punches of satirical wit. It's nothing like you've ever seen and so skillfully, artfully executed and so brilliantly acted (especially by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon) that the result is less movie and more fever dream. If you can relate to paranoia and desperate love in any way, you will meld into this movie -- and that only lends to its horror. It is (I'm not going to mince words here), a masterpiece. Why in hell the movie was so underrated, so under-seen and so ridiculously written off I will never know.
No Country For Old Men
Where to start with the Coens' bloody, poetic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy? First off, Josh Brolin, rocking all of his Bronson, young Nolte, '70s looking real man appeal was a refreshing change of pace. And Javier Bardem, a killing machine, was a glorious cipher -- no Hannibal Lecter code, no silly speeches, no moment where we were supposed to kind of like him -- he's one cool looking movie killer, but truly horrifying. And Tommy Lee Jones' final speech is potently soulful and mysterious. That audiences stumbled out of the theater annoyed by the unresolved ending isn't surprising, but I'm willing to bet they didn't stop talking or thinking about the movie for days, or even weeks afterward. I couldn't. I still can't.
There Will Be Blood
Though loosely based on Oil by Upton Sinclair, Paul Thomas Anderson's epic picture is a beautiful merging of Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis (who wrote Elmer Gantry). It's a faultless examination of capitalism, politics and religion --something that will be blended and corrupted and completely fucked by, well, now (Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.") The picture is absolutely gorgeous, beautifully scored (the use of Estonian composer Arvo Part is a powerful touch) and then there's Daniel Day Lewis, one of the greatest living actors working who (and I hate to use this word but it applies) is drop dead amazing. Honestly, there were moments where I was shaking in my seat. Pure genius.
Black Snake Moan
Did you read my review of this movie? Did you think I might have been just a little obsessed with it? I was. But for good reason. Here's what I wrote: If I'm ever invited to stand up in a room and discuss what makes me tick as a human being, here's two things I can now say about myself: Watching Christina Ricci strut down the road in teeny weeny cut offs, cowboy boots and a navel bearing confederate flag tee-shirt while flipping off a tractor is a vision that gives me all kinds of goosebumps. Watching a dirty blonde, white panty wearing nympho-maniacal Christina Ricci chained to the bible quoting, black Southern bluesman Samuel L. Jackson's radiator unleashes, from my fingers to my toes, an inner and more complicated howl of--Hot Damn! And we should all have that more complicated inner howl--but not merely through the obvious and innate sexuality of the scenario, but through a feeling we have as Americans. Yes, as Americans. Now that may read as an especially strong statement but everyone, (and I'm also talking every single writer who's been against this movie) has to understand the mythic power that is Black Snake Moan. There's just certain archetypes in life that we want to see and experience on a deeper level. Director Craig Brewer gets it, unearthing that depth with a beautiful blending of exploitation and genuine love. He cares about his characters, he cares about their situation, he cares about the South and he cares about the blues. The whole thing, right down to an open and close with legendary bluesman Son House telling us what's what is, by picture end, strangely inspirational.
The Darjeeling Limited
I know a lot of critics turned on Wes Anderson based on this movie. The usual criticisms were bandied about -- too precious, style over substance, too richly-rich and in some cases, even racist. But I found the movie not only aesthetically beautiful (Anderson has a distinct style and impeccable taste and God bless for him for it) but incredibly moving. When Adrien Brody loses his Indian boy ("I couldn't save mine"), his response is astoundingly sad, layered (these are a set of brothers) and yet, wonderfully subtle. And I love how the movie just ambles along, almost aimlessly, giving it a much more 1970's feel (I've always felt a strong Hal Ashby influence in Anderson's work). Anderson creates an alternate, near fantasy world for sure (who could ever have such a train car? And such perfect luggage?) but there's genuine emotion within his compositions -- all those beautifully pinned butterflies really do fly.
I'm Not There
With the inventive Superstar and Velvet Goldmine to his credit, it wasn't entirely surprising that the musically inclined filmmaker Todd Haynes would approach his latest subject, Bob Dylan, with such shape-shifting invention (and re-invention). The very fact that he was given permission to dig into Dylanology and use the man's music in his film seems something close to radical, but watching I'm Not There (titled after a track from "The Basement Tapes"), one can understand Dylan's approval. Using six actors to represent Dylan's varied personas (Marcus Carl Franklin for his Woody Guthrie worship, Ben Whishaw represents young poet Dylan as Arthur Rimbaud, Cate Blanchett as slinky, skinny, drugged out, D.A. Pennebaker '60s Dylan, Heath Ledger as James Dean inspired heartthrob, Christian Bale as folky turned born again Christian and Richard Gere as Billy the Kid) Haynes films with varied cinematic styles to weave truth, myth, music, fame into not just a vision of Dylan, but an ambitious vision of American iconography as well. It borders on pretentious but...I like that about it. It still surprises me that I didn't dislike it but...I loved it instead.
Margot at the Wedding
Do you have a sister? I do. Two. Have you ever looked in a window and seen something so confusing and bizarre and weirdly sexual that you can't quite figure out what the hell it is? I have. Does your family fill you with unresolved feelings of...oh God...so many things. Again, mine have. Noah Baumbach gets all these little details and films a story like a novel, making it an impactful, beguiling experience even if you've never experienced such things. A lived-in, harsh, but very, very real look at dysfunction, it's a tough movie to shake. Especially if you went home for the holidays after a long absence...
Funniest comedy of the year -- far above Knocked Up. And that damn Orson Welles joke in the convenience store gets me every time. This is the movie that the obnoxious, overrated, trying-way-too-hard Juno should have been. Smart teenagers not straining to be quirky and clever --Jonah Hill and the great Michael Cera simply are clever. And smart. And not pulling quips out of some screen-written arsenal -- they're natural ("honest to blog" they are!). And the soul and funk soundtrack is an absolutely perfect celebration of teenage energy, sexuality and hope. I want to tongue kiss whoever decided to keep the movie devoid of any twee music. Seriously, I do. Preferably with a Curtis Mayfield song blasting.
A real monster movie but one filled with offbeat humor, sadness, political commentary and genuine horror -- Joon-ho Bong's picture also features one of my favorite moments of the year --when Song Kang-ho realizes that, of all things, a monster has been unleashed and while he's attempting to piece together the unbelievable scenario, he begins running among all the other frantic citizens, who flee past him in slow motion. So surreal and insane, the sequence just feels so incredibly real. And of all the pretentious pictures (Lions for Lambs in particular) so critical or "thoughtful" concerning American politics, the pulpier, entertaining The Host, offered a significantly darker and more complicated message toward America than most this year. And I'll still argue with Richard Roeper on that one. Though we both agree that severed heads are aesthetically pleasing. But that's an entirely different movie...