Ninth and Tenth Place, the not-really-2007 slots:
Killer of Sheep is probably the best movie I saw all year, and is also the best-reviewed movie of the year. It deserves a higher place on the list, but calling a 1977 film the best movie of 2007 seems strange, even though Jonathan Rosenbaum is right when (in his Top 10 list this year) he says we need to reassess that kind of thinking.
The other non-2007 entry is a stunning shot-for-shot recreation that shows that the more honestly you copy, the more potentially unique you get. Fans might consider asking themselves why they didn't bother with Gus van Sant's Psycho remake.
Seventh and Eighth Place, The Unbiography and the Nonadaptation
Honestly not one of the most exciting moviegoing experiences I had this year, but a venture that was successful by virtue of its conceit. Whittle down a literary classic of imposing length to very few scenes, then play those scenes out for so long that they go past sunset, leaving the viewer literally in the dark.
Cate Blanchett's not the real draw here, and neither really is the semi-subversiveness of the multi-actor casting. I think J. Hoberman already did a fine job of pointing out that this is a wonderful anti-biopic, but it's different from Quixotic in that it wins as a movie movie, not just as an exercise. The way Haynes does detail makes the minutiae just as important as the postmodern conceit, and his attention to setting and architecture propels I'm Not There out of the realm of think piece and into something a little more honest. In the Heath Ledger segment, a movie set looks so like a movie set that Haynes's movie gains from the comparison, becoming believable, and this couldn't have been accomplished without Haynes's sharp eye. In the Dylan-as-minister segment, Christian Bale is too big for the room, the ceiling's too low, his clothes dishonestly modest, as Dylan tries to recede from icon to commoner. If the details weren't always in the right place, you wouldn't be sure that so many little things were coming together so well.
Sixth Place, The One That Delivers
Where Quixotic is most fascinating for what it shoots for, and I'm Not There is great for the smaller things, Diving Bell is the one that follows through on what you thought it would. Your legs get tight and the women look like angels. Schnabel, one of the biggest personalities of the art world Eighties, is turning out to be surprisingly delicate with the egos of others.
Fifth Place, The Big Flaw
If Quixotic is the movie perhaps better on paper and Diving Bell is essentially about the execution, No Country is the one that's almost too perfect. Not until the worst part of this movie--which might have been the worst part of any movie of the year--did I realize how immaculate the rest of it was. The Mama's Family (thanks, Justin) moment featuring the hillbilly mother is just enough to make me love something that might have otherwise seemed suspiciously flawless.
Fourth Place, the Companion Piece
While History of Violence played cute with what we wanted from our action movies, Eastern Promises delivered it. I'm not up for calculating the trade-off, but the way Cronenberg plays so directly with our involvement and expectations without condescending or kitsching lets Eastern Promises operate in a movie universe all its own, one where what's essentially a first act can feel like a fully realized epic.
Third Place, The Four-Hundred Pound Termite
Other great films this year were fascinating for their fluidity from concept to result or for the way their flaws made them better. While these movies were working things out on the screen, Frownland was reaching into the audience, screaming and pulling people's hair. Google Ronnie Bronstein's debut feature, which played festivals and a few local movie houses in '07, read some viewer comments, and you'll see that this study in dividing the audience is clawing people's eyes out and eating away at their polite ideas of what movies should be. The mutant version of what Manny Farber thought of as a termite movie, Frownland is finally getting a run at IFC this year. I'm sure it will be one of the ten best commercially released movies of 2008, but I couldn't wait to get it on the list.
Second Place, Probably Perfect
At times, Phillippe Garrel's film is transplanted completely from its supposed subject matter, making dreams out of riots. Regular Lovers moves from the iconography and tumultuousness of the ever-symbolic year of 1968 to a quieter meditation on its young characters' personalities. Taking not only the artsy youngsters as its subject, but some of the adults and authority figures as well (a cop who appreciates art), Lovers is interested in everyone on the screen in a way that, say, There Will Be Blood is not.
First Place, The Seam-Splitter
While one glaring problem illuminated the seamlessness of No Country, Margot picks at its seams like scabs until the whole thing is ready to split. Uneven and often too literal, the way it stays scattershot instead of settling suits this multiple character study. What makes it even more complicated is that it's turning its eye on characters who might be behaving very differently than they normally do (a reunion, a marriage, a possible divorce, one and a half affairs). "I think the neighbors are mad because we're ..." says Jack Black, trailing off, before muttering "I don't know what we are." Cutting into scenes that seem to have already begun (where a lesser filmmaker might have used jumpcuts within said scenes) keeps fragments floating and jagged, especially when the frenzy slams into the sudden appearance of a disarmingly stable John Turturro in close-up. Also anchored by the virtuoso camera work of Harris Savides, whose low lighting often looks like it's about to give out, as scenes perch on the dimness threshold that Quixotic pushes past. Too supposedly cynical for some, I find a touching affection in the way that Margot grants its characters so many scenes and set-ups to work out their frustrations and inadequacies, and allows them to be funny in the process.
Now go check out friend of NYFR Harris Smith's Top 10.