I have to preface my year-end list with this: it was perhaps the hardest top 10 list to make this entire decade, with last year being a distant second place. In the interest of honoring the quality of the year, I've decided to create 10 slots with similar films grouped together.
The Quasi-Top 10:
1. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes) & There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson) - these share the top spot because I think they are equally beyond reproach; it is simply unfair to say that one is better than the other. A masterpiece is a masterpiece; after that, it's all personality.
2. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud) - one of the two most daring and unique animated films to come along this millenium (the other is Waking Life). More importantly, however, this film is a masterful example of controlled tone. It moves from funny to heartbreaking to terrifying to sassy without feeling forced or manipulative for even a moment. It's absolutely astonishing that something this masterful and accomplished was made by two first-timers.
3. Into the Wild (Sean Penn) - see my Huffington Post review.
4. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach), The Savages (Tamara Jenkins) & You Kill Me (John Dahl) - three truly strong and funny films, the kind of stuff indie films are supposed to be; Margot has dazzling cinematography and performances, The Savages deals with pain and suffering in ways that make sense, and John Dahl continues to be the overlooked master of neo-noir.
5. A Mighty Heart (Michael Winterbottom) - perhaps one of the most underappreciated films of the year. Winterbottom further establishes himself as one of the most important filmmakers working today. Angelina Jolie's performance, the only topic of conversation regarding the film, simply transcends the tabloids. Those who don't think she should have been cast need only to look at her breakdown scene to be persuaded otherwise.
6. No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers) - the Coens deliver a strong piece that is both a departure and a return to form. While it may not be the Great American Film it's being made out to be, it is still a great film.
7. Ratatouille (Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava) - To quote my good friend John Lopez, it's "the apotheosis of the Pixar formula," the kind of thing that would be ridiculous to try and repeat.
8. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg), The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass) & Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog) - three hard-hitting, engrossing films that have really awkward/lame/awful endings. Perhaps stories like these are not meant for endings, or perhaps they stand as examples of where the Hollywood "up" ending just doesn't cut it.
9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik) & Zodiac (David Fincher) - while they might not be completely successful or satisfying, they have so many passages of brilliance that it's unfair to focus on their faults. Come on, even Heidi Klum gets pimples.
10. Breach (Billy Ray) & Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy) - two wonderful additions to their paranoia sub-genre that hearken back to the classics like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor.
The Best Cinematographers of 2007
Since I want to be different, here's a list of the folks who make all those other people you hear so much about (actors, writers, directors) look good:
Roger Deakins (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford & No Country for Old Men) - the guy simply makes it look easy.
Harris Savides (Margot at the Wedding, Zodiac, American Gangster) - Savides helped two masters deliver the 1970s, but it's his work on Margot at the Wedding that transforms the film from run-of-the-mill Woody Allen film to Cassavetes raw.
Edward Lachmann (I'm Not There) - like Haynes, whom he worked with on Far From Heaven, Lachmann proves himself to be a maestro of all styles and times.
Robert Elswitt (There Will Be Blood) - it's impossible to talk about Paul Thomas Anderson without thinking of Robert Elswitt. While he's done great work with other directors (Syriana), it's his work with Anderson that rattles you to your soul.
2007: Where Have You Been All My Life?
Here's a quick list of 10 films I saw for the first time in 2007 that made me wonder where they'd been all my life.
1. Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1976) - one of Herzog's most haunting films; the second half must be seen to be believed.
2. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987) - Carpenter's life acted out by Barbie dolls. Physically assault whomever you have to in order to see this film.
3. La Chinoise (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967) - it was well worth the wait to discover one of Godard's most radical films, in which he both looks forward to the events of 1968 and laments their inevitable failure.
4. It's Impossible to Learn How to Plow from Reading Books (Richard Linklater, 1985) - Linklater's first feature (shot on Super 8 and available on Criterion's excellent Slacker DVD) is one of his most spellbinding.
5. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Volker Schlondorff & Margarethe Von Trotta, 1975) - one of the best political films of all time, a great double bill with this year's Michael Clayton.
6. Dodsworth (William Wyler, 1936) - a classic in every sense; watch it with There Will Be Blood for a capitalism double feature.
7. God's Country (Louis Malle, 1985) - Malle's documentary about Glencoe, Minnesota, is one of the best films about American life around.
8. Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinematheque (Jacques Richard, 2004) - a film that simply makes you love every film ever made.
9. The Cranes are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957) - why do the Russians make the best war films? Exhibit A.
10. Benny's Video (Michael Haneke, 1994) - Haneke begins his intense analysis of media culture; like all Haneke, it's not for the squeamish.