Saturday, 19 January 2008

Vic's Top Ten (12?) Films of 2007

2007 was another good year for films, though only my favourite film of the year qualifies (for me) as a great film. I can remember few years when I thought so many films were an example of brilliant and near-perfect filmmaking (over half of those listed below), even if the subject matter prevented some of them from achieving greatness for me.

This year, I will be counting down my top ten and I will start with number twelve because numbers two and three have not yet been released in North America and I may put them into next year’s top ten instead. Since I saw these two films in 2007, I will also include them here for now. My number one film of the year was actually released in 2006, but since it was not released in the UK or North America until 2007, I can include it on this year’s list.

This was the year for natural films. Four of the films on my list starred non-actors or unknown actors and three of these were filmed in an almost documentary style, with a lot of hand-held camera work and natural sound effects. This does not usually impress me, but in these films it obviously worked very well. Another common theme this year was the protagonist struggling to come to terms with something that happened during their childhood that forever changed their lives.

Here are my top ten (12) films of 2007 (most of these films are reviewed elsewhere on the blog):

12. 4 Months, Three Weeks and 2 Days – A film that feels much too real, this haunting tale presents us with one traumatic day in the life of Otilia (brilliantly played by Anamaria Marinca) in the oppressive context of 1987 Romania.

11. Zodiac – An example of almost (the film could have been shorter) perfect filmmaking, this is a great character drama with flawless acting (it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr.). The film is about the search for a serial killer and how this impacts the lives of the protagonists. Another haunting story.

10. Into the Wild – This film is more of an experience than an entertainment. A great road movie, it tells the true story of a disillusioned young man’s search for meaning. His search takes him on a journey through the American west all the way up to Alaska, where he takes up residence in an abandoned school bus in the middle of the wilderness. He finds his answers along the way and at the end, but they are not what he was expecting. Incredibly powerful film.

9. No Country for Old Men – Another brilliant piece of filmmaking from the Coen Brothers, this violent story concerns a cold and vicious killer in America’s southwest and the various attempts to outwit him. An example of almost perfect filmmaking, it would have been much higher on my top ten if it hadn’t been so violent. True, the violence could have been even more graphic than it was and the violence felt very uncomfortable (which is good) but for some reason (sarcasm) the sight of so much violence distracts me and detracts from my enjoyment of the film. Of course, if my friend Gareth Higgins is correct about his redemptive interpretation of the film’s ending (I will need to see it again before I decide), then this film moves up to number four.

8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – (See comments on previous film, which also apply here). My favourite Sondheim musical has been brilliantly filmed by Tim Burton and brilliantly acted (and sung) by Johnny Depp, with top-notch support from Helena Bonham Carter. But this is a very dark and violent tale which will not appeal to everyone.

7. Michael Clayton - It's rare these days to see a thriller that doesn't rely on action, let alone an intelligent complex thriller with great dialogue and real drama. Throw in an Oscar-worthy performance by George Clooney and you've got one of the best films of the year.

6. The Kite Runner - A perfectly-paced and perfectly told story, again feeling very real and natural (due to some great acting), about a boy in Afghanistan who betrays his closest friend in 1978 but is offered a chance at redemption 22 years later. This beautiful inspiring film gives us a glimpse into the lives of people in one of the most troubled nations in the world.

5. Atonement - This story of the horrific results of a teenager’s spiteful action (in 1930's England) is magnificently filmed by Joe Wright. In fact, the first 50 minutes of this film are another example of perfect filmmaking. It drags a bit after that but ends strong, and the acting, cinematography and score are outstanding throughout.

4. Once – As I said, I'm not generally a fan of low budget hand-held camera work, but it works perfectly in this film about two lonely souls, inhabiting the poorer parts of Dublin, who meet and make beautiful music together. It feels almost like a documentary, as if we are voyeurs watching a true story unfold live before us. It shouldn't work, but it does - brilliantly.

3. And When Did You Last See Your Father? (not yet released in North America) – The death of my father (from cancer) only three weeks before watching this film (about a son watching his father die of cancer) no doubt accounts for part of the impact it had on me, but I thought the film was a gem, with a wonderful performance by Jim Broadbent (and excellent performances by the rest of the cast). Sure, some of the character development was superficial and should have gone deeper, but the film has many clever moments and is just good story-telling.

2. Silent Light (not yet released in North America) - This award-winning film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas is in Low German and has only Mennonite actors (or non-actors). The story of the spiritual crisis of a Mennonite farmer in Mexico who is having an affair, this is a gorgeous and thoughtful film that reminds one of the best works of former European masters like Carl Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky. Again, it felt so real, I thought I was there, participating in the life of this Mexican Mennonite community as it dealt with the grand themes of love, death and forgiveness.

1. The Lives of Others - a perfectly-made film in every respect, this is a wonderfully humanizing tale of the struggle to be a good person, specifically in the repressive world of East Berlin in 1984. This is what life is all about, and this is what great filmmaking is all about.

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