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The Best Films of 2007

It was a blast from the past that incited the most ardent critical passion: Killer of Sheep.

The Best Films of 2007

This year saw the resurrection of the western in forms both classical (3:10 to Yuma) and revisionist (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), a comeback that speaks to the genre’s enduring power, but also, perhaps, to a desire for conflicts more traditional and allegorical in nature than those provided by the literal-minded present-day war films that arrived in cineplexes to general indifference. With Hollywood finally jumping wholeheartedly on the Iraq bandwagon, only to prove itself incapable of mounting anything more than simplistic moralizing and trite melodrama, the heavy lifting was once again left to documentaries like Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight. Whereas the administration’s ongoing campaign made little conclusive progress, many filmmakers took a quantum leap forward artistically, none more so than Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, while the Coens triumphantly returned to their stark, ragged roots with No Country for Old Men. Animation similarly reached innovative heights, whether it was the CG agility of Ratatouille, the rich black-and-white eloquence of Persepolis, or the avant-garde insanity of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie for Theaters, all of which pushed their medium to daring new places in a manner almost as extreme as Eli Roth’s continued desecration of the horror genre with Hostel: Part II. Judd Apatow established an endearing crude-and-cuddly comedic template, in the process counteracting the insufferable too-cool-for-school indie quirk dispensed by Rocket Science and Juno. Grindhouse’s B-movie regurgitations were met with shrugs, 300’s computerized mayhem struck an adolescent nerve, and Michael Moore’s Sicko, surprisingly, barely riled anyone. Instead, like the year’s heralded westerns, it was a blast from the past that incited the most ardent critical passion: Charles Burnett’s long-unreleased, universally acclaimed 1977 gem Killer of Sheep. Nick Schager


The Best Films of 2007

1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)

For three decades, Killer of Sheep was sending us signs of life via bootleg video and the occasional festival screening. Now the yeti has scurried out into the open, claiming its rightful place in film history and reminding us that there was and still is nothing like Charles Burnett’s hard-knock humanism, which gets to the root of man’s being and a community’s cultural riches and social deprivation.

2. Offside (Jafar Panahi)

Offside is another cyclically crafted jewel in the spectacular crown of Iran’s national cinema. Through incisive wit and drama, this allegory of resilience illuminates the absurdity of how women are locked into suffocating social strata, stressing the ease with which communication melts the barriers between genders. This has always been Jafar Panahi’s stock-in-trade: tragedy spectacularly laced with hope.

3. Into Great Silence (Philip Gröning)

The documentary of the year, Into Great Silence is a total immersion. Philip Gröning treks high up into the French Alps to peer at the lives of a Carthusian order of monks and returns with an object of great mystery—a weirdly mesmerizing essay about a people’s faith in the stimulating sound of silence that also functions as rumination on artistic creation.

4. Golden Door (Emanuele Crialese)

With great wryness and mind-boggling shifts in tone, Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door absorbs us into a superstitious emigrant people’s sojourn to the new world. A masterpiece of aesthetic and humane nerve, it confirms that Agnès Godard is the finest cinematographer alive and that Nina Simone’s voice is the sweetest shortcut to ecstasy.

5. Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog)

A war film that is only political on a very personal level, Rescue Dawn locks the beauty and danger of the world in a breathtaking tango. Dieter Dengler needed to fly, and in the man’s escape from a Laos prison camp during the Vietnam War, Werner Herzog celebrates a fearless man’s understanding of the essence, power and need for human camaraderie.

6. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Behold every frame of the Coens’ wildly aestheticized No Country for Old Men, a bone-chilling impression of a nation’s moral and spiritual crisis, and tremble. He is the alpha and the omega, he who is and was and is to come: Chigurh, a menacing and sweeping representation of our appointments with fate—from Vietnam to Iraq to whatever hell comes tomorrow.

7. Exiled (Johnnie To)

With Exiled, Johnnie To does what he does best: smacking genre upside the head with style and heart. Essentially a prismatic series of jaw-dropping set pieces, this relentlessly wonktastic triumph of sight and sound abstractly appraises codes of masculine honor, showing up Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

8. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Less emotionally resonant than Tropical Malady, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes of a Century is no less contemplative. Joe’s master stroke here is an uncanny graphic match between a mysterious object at noon and a building’s strangely shaped piece of machinery, opening a portal in time and into his consciousness, then ours.

9. Forever (Heddy Honigmann)

With Forever, Heddy Honigmann amalgamates the thoughts and feelings of numerous persons drawn to Paris’s famous Père Lachaise cemetery, creating a ruminative study of the relationship between the living and the dead and the role art occupies in our lives. Their stories prove that the Père Lachaise may be a place where people are buried, but it is also where people go to live.

10. The Life of Reilly (Barry Poltermann and Frank L. Anderson)

Less documentary than platform, The Life of Reilly allowed the great Tony-winning game-show fixture Charles Nelson Reilly to perform his stage show Save It for the Stage for posterity. The man’s alternately funny and heartbreaking last will and testament is a confession of private joys and fears and an immaculate acknowledgement of experience shaping creative vision.

Honorable Mention

The Simpsons Movie, Superbad, Bug, Beyond Hatred, Broken English, Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, Summer ’04, Away from Her, The Decomposition of the Soul, and The Bubble.

Worst Use of CGI: Jack Nicholson “sky diving” in The Bucket List.

Worst Delayed Reaction to 9/11: A Broken Sole.

Best or Worst Possibly Unintentional Avant-Garde Documentary Moment: Sigur Rós meets Stephen Hawking in The 11th Hour.

Worst Slipstream: Slipstream.

Best Slipstream: Youth Without Youth.

Worst Cameo by a Mariachi Band: Bratz and No Country for Old Men (tie).

Best Line: “Oh Evan, thank you for bringing that lube for my pussy. I never would’ve been able to handle your four-inch dick inside my pussy without that gigantic bottle of lube” (Superbad).

Movie I Never Want to See: Juno at Margot’s Wedding.

Best Approximation of a Grindhouse Movie: Planet Terror.

Worst Approximination of a Grindhouse Movie: Death Proof.

Iraq Hall of Shame: In the Valley of Elah, Grace Is Gone, Rendition and Redacted.

Worst Performance by an Inanimate Object: Titus Welliver’s moustache from Gone Baby Gone.


The Best Films of 2007

1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)

There Will Be Blood is a titanic tale of greed, power and ego that burns with pent-up fury and shrieks with unbridled wickedness. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction achieves an apex of dexterity, precision and grandeur, though equally responsible for the film’s majesty is Daniel Day-Lewis, whose seething oil prospector proves the flesh-and-blood embodiment of creeping death.

2. Zodiac (David Fincher)

Process trumps resolution in Zodiac, a serial killer saga that operates as an inquiry into the methods of police and journalistic investigation. David Fincher delivers conventional thrills, but his genre-atypical opus generates its greatest tension by drowning itself in details, all of which coalesce into a meditation on the destructiveness of obsession and the unknowability of truth.

3. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)

Finally granted its time in the sun, Charles Burnett’s lyrical yet gritty masterpiece ably lived up to its legendary hype. A neorealist glimpse at urban destitution, Killer of Sheep has sorrow and hope in its veins, charting with astounding empathy the plight of a Watts slaughterhouse worker and his family desperately striving for an out-of-reach American Dream.

4. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen)

The Coens’ grave, formally impeccable adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel reveals a world unhinged and a sheriff, contract killer and man-on-the-run attempting to both comprehend and navigate it. No Country for Old Men timelessly evokes man’s violence, greed and stupidity, and the incomprehensible madness of our modern age.

5. Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog)

Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn would be boilerplate Hollywood uplift if not for the director’s poeticism, which commingles with in-the-muck realism to create an entrancing portrait of man’s thorny relationship with nature. Though thrillingly visceral, it’s the brotherly bond shared by Christian Bale and Steve Zahn’s comrades that stands as the film’s deeply humanistic heart.

6. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)

An animated marvel that, at a moment’s notice, deftly transitions between reflective mourning, bitter resentment and joyful nostalgia. With confessional intensity and artistic imagination, Persepolis pinpoints the cruelty of tyranny and the euphoria that comes from rebelling against it, while also poignantly capturing the simultaneous anguish and liberation of exile.

7. Away from Her (Sarah Polley)

A sensitive study of Alzheimer’s and its ramifications, Sarah Polley’s profoundly compassionate Away from Her knows the misery of elder care facilities and the horror of being separated from a beloved spouse (and one’s own self), the latter tragedy conveyed brilliantly by Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie.

8. A Band’s Visit (Eran Kolirin)

A Band’s Visit confronts Israeli-Arab tensions with a delicacy and restraint that’s close to stunning. The story, about an Egyptian police band accidentally stranded in a remote Israeli town, gently blossoms without the aid of manipulative melodramatics, thanks in part to Ronit Elkabetz’s powerhouse personification of forlorn despair and unrepentant boldness.

9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)

Relishing its every artificiality, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford pulsates with expressionistic indulgence, pondering America’s love-hate affair with fame—as well as the process of fate—through the filter of Casey Affleck’s expertly realized little man, driven to make his candle burn brighter by blowing out that of Brad Pitt’s iconic outlaw.

10. Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

The tenuous boundary between dreams and reality is Satoshi Kon’s signature obsession. Highlighted by a monstrous parade comprised of a metropolitan population’s subconscious thoughts, Paprika’s coded mysteries and references are engrossing but ultimately less vital than the awe-inspiring beauty of Kon’s images of flesh, metal and unhinged mental delusions.

Honorable Mention

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie for Theaters, Ratatouille, 12:08 East of Bucharest, Black Snake Moan, Lake of Fire, Knocked Up, Superbad, Into Great Silence, Exterminating Angels, and Syndromes and a Century.

Best Use of a Chain: Black Snake Moan.

Worst Use of a Chain: Ghost Rider.

Best Impersonation of a Dog: Dane Cook, peeing on the floor, in Mr. Brooks.

Most Homoerotic Use of a Computer: 300.

Best Performance by a Goatee: Jon Voight in September Dawn.

Most Insane Metaphor: “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE” (There Will Be Blood).

Dramatic Climax Best Suited for a WWE Storyline: The Kite Runner.

Best Performance by an Actor Doing the Same Old Thing: Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac.

Worst Performance by an Actor Doing the Same Old Thing: Laura Linney in The Savages.

Best Female Nudity: Natalie Portman in Hotel Chevalier.

Best Male Nudity: Anonymous in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

Film Whose Title Best Doubles as a Pejorative Term: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

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