*Note: The following is part of the continuing "10 FOR 10" series in celebration of ten years of "Jeremy The Critic," in which my choices for the top 10 films of each year from 2006-2015 are revealed. 2006 can be viewed here. This installment will be focusing on 2007.
How great a year was this? It was so great that, for change, I actually did compile a belated Top 10 List for it in 2008. But we'll just have to throw that out the window because a lot can change. The biggest leap of faith in tackling this project was trusting that enough time has passed that I'd "just know" what my top 10 films of each year are. That understanding is seriously tested with '07, the strongest movie year of the entire decade and the cinematic fuel that kept me going to the point we've arrived at now.
Surprisingly, when it came down to the much anticipated Zodiac vs. Southland Tales vs. Into The Wild vs. There Will Be Blood showdown, I knew. You try out a couple of films in that top spot and it just feels wrong. It's a testament to the staying power of David Fincher's Zodiac that this is the closest this obsessive procedural has come to getting that spot and when Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece, There Will Be Blood is coming in at number four, you know it's a formidable field like no other. He'll have another shot later, as will Fincher.
Given the current events, Southland Tales seems more prescient than ever, and remains one of my favorites regardless of contrary popular opinion, which seems to have shifted toward my side of late. It's so unusual that honoring it with a best of the year honor feels almost like an insult as it defies labels of any sort. It's simply something else entirely. After an initially lukewarm reaction, I've come around on No Country, which in hindsight stands as one of the strongest Best Picture winners of the modern era, despite its controversially wide open ending. Michael Clayton is such a well-oiled machine, the idea of seeing it in the number one spot is far from absurd, as it boasts what's easily the best performance of Clooney's career.
To the likely delight of anyone who's seen it, The King of Kong becomes not only the first documentary to place, but my first unreviewed pick, forcing me to come up with a quote that somehow, at least partially, does it justice. I'm Not There, The Assassination of Jesse James and Atonement all held strong, whereas inclusions from the last list like the poorly aging Juno, Ratatouille and Bridge to Terabithia got knocked off, with only Terabithia earning runner-up status alongside Superbad, The Lookout, Alpha Dog, Once, American Gangster, The Mist and Gone Baby Gone.
This leaves us with Sean Penn's Into The Wild, an experience that only seems to grow richer with each passing year and rewatch. Techically undervalued and emotionally transcendent (who can forget that scene on the street with William Hurt or any featuring Hal Holbrook?), it's still the film from that year I get the most out of and best connect with. But the real winners were moviegoers and critics spoiled by all these quality titles in a loaded 2007.
"I’d call it a 'twist ending' but that would be inaccurate since the beauty of it is in how it follows the narrative course set from the beginning. We just never bothered to notice. It causes you to go back to reevaluate every scene and word spoken in the film and view it in a completely different context. At the beginning I nearly giggled at how much the script expected me to care about these young lovers and the seemingly contrived situation they found themselves in. By the end, it's no laughing matter." - 3/30/08
9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
"(Ford's) obsession with James also causes him great embarrassment and humiliation at the expense of his brother and his peers who view him as nothing more than a pathetic, whiny little boy who would do anything for his hero. They're right, and Ford's resentment over the situation builds slowly , leading him down a moral path he didn't think himself ever capable of traveling." - 2/14/08
8. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
"When creepy, mullet-haired Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell appears to be physically stalking earnest challenger and potential successor to his throne, Steve Wiebe, at the arcade, we realize that within the framework of a non-fiction documentary, director Seth Gordon has managed to create a good vs. evil dynamic surpassing any superhero movie. And it all actually happened. The phrase, 'You can't make this stuff up' has never seemed more applicable."
7. I'm Not There
"...while most films have only one method of entry, this has seven, with a new way to get in each time. Any way you approach it, you end up knowing no more about Bob Dylan the person than you did before, and that’s okay. He remains exactly as he should be: An enigma. And in telling us nothing about him, Haynes somehow reveals so much more than we could have hoped." - 5/9/08
6. No Country For Old Men
"The film, set in 1980, finds a way to remain very much of that time period while still telling a story that’s just as relevant now. The Vietnam wounds are still fresh in these characters’ minds and there’s a new kind of evil emerging. It’s an evil Sheriff Bell and even his father’s generation before him couldn’t have possibly prepared for. It’s encapsulated in Anton Chigurh and Bell wants no part of it. With time passing him by and retirement on the horizon, he’s just going through the motions and would likely prefer not to come face-to-face with this monster. If he does, he’s through." - 5/13/08
5. Michael Clayton
"There isn't a single twist or turn in the film that's revelatory and the plot is one we've seen before. It moves methodically toward its predestined conclusion. And yet, it succeeds by executing its premise with laser-like precision and uncommon intelligence. Gilroy knows what he has to do and does it expertly, not getting bogged down in silly sub-plots or unrealistic situations. It also features the best performance of George Clooney's career, as well as two more supporting performances of nearly equal value." - 2/20/08
4. There Will Be Blood
"Some have criticized Day-Lewis' performance as being hammy and over-the-top and it sort of is, but what's so remarkable is how he turns those qualities into attributes that deepen the story's psychology. On a first viewing it may not be entirely noticeable, but on repeated ones it comes clearly into focus. And surprisingly, that only makes Plainview's downfall scarier and that much more desperate. Even while hating him with a passion, we still care deeply about his fate." - 4/11/08
3. Southland Tales
" It helps that Kelly is an equal opportunity offender, hilariously taking swipes at both sides. It works as a hysterical spoof of everything from YouTube to cable news channels to celebrity culture. Maybe it’s just my weird sense of humor, but I laughed harder during this than any mainstream comedy in years. Labeling this a masterpiece is false advertising if only because it’s just such a beautifully flawed mess. Perfect in its imperfection."- 3/24/08
"Of the many cryptic notes sent from the Zodiac, one left the most lasting impression. It reads: 'I am waiting for a good movie about me.' He gets a great one. But you can't fight the uneasy feeling that maybe he's still out there and knows it. If that's not enough to send chills down anyone's spine, I don't know what is. Unfortunately, by making such a brilliant film about one of our country's greatest unsolved cases, Fincher may have also given this deranged killer exactly what he wished for all along." - 7/30/07
1. Into The Wild
"You’re not sure whether to be angry at or feel sorry for this admittedly selfish protagonist and Penn wisely doesn’t force us to make such a determination. He’s not asking us to like McCandliss or condone his decision to abandon his life and family, but only to understand what he was doing made sense to him. Foolish as it may seem to us and those he encountered in his travels, he left this Earth on his terms. The degree of empathy you feel for him or his family may vary, but your heart will break for the people whose lives he touched along the way." - 3/7/08
1. Into The Wild (dir. Sean Penn)
2. Zodiac (dir. David Fincher)
3. Southland Tales (dir. Richard Kelly)
4. There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy)
6. No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
7. I'm Not There (dir., Todd Haynes)
8. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (dir. Seth Gordon)
9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (dir., Andrew Dominik)
10. Atonement (dir. Joe Wright)