My Favorite Films in 2007

Okay, it’s taken me a little longer than I’d planned to get this Top 10 together, but here it is. As usual, I couldn’t stop at just 10, and my list expanded to 15 top films of the year. I also created a Top 10 Festival films that have yet to receive theatrical release.

Top Films of 2007 (with theatrical distribution)

  1. PROTAGONIST (Jessica Yu) – Jessica Yu’s documentary is compelling, intelligent, layered, funny, suspenseful… all the things a great movie should be. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a documentary as my favorite film of the year, but that just tells you how impressed I am by this film.
  2. LINDA LINDA LINDA (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – As far as sheer crowd-pleasers go, LINDA LINDA LINDA tops the list. Japanese high school girls in a power-pop, rock ‘n roll band, led by the comic genius of Du-na Bae. And one of the most infectious songs in a movie ever. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
  3. AWAY FROM HER (Sarah Polley) – Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut is a masterful look at Alzheimer’s disease, crowned by an elegant performance by Julie Christie. Add to that the outstanding support from Gordon Pinsent, the grossly underrated and amazingly talented Kristen Thompson and source material in the form of an Alice Munro short story, and you’ve got a winner.
  4. LARS & THE REAL GIRL (Craig Gillespie) – A quirky town comes together in support of one of their emotionally troubled citizens in this melancholy, sweet, and hysterical film. Ryan Gosling completely overcomes my personal bias against him and wins me over completely. Support work from Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and especially Patricia Clarkson is like the best cream cheese icing on the moist, delicious cake.
  5. JUNO (Ivan Reitman) – Sure, it has crossed over and is raking in the dough. Sure, some people say it’s not truly an indie, but a powerhouse backed by an astronomical marketing budget. JUNO is a great film. Diablo Cody has written a strong, funny screenplay, and the preternaturally talented Ellen Page brings Juno to beautifully sublime life. I’m not sure anyone else could have taken Juno and imbued her with the depth and complexity that Ellen Page brings in such a subtle and gorgeous way.
  6. THE WAYWARD CLOUD (Tsai Ming-Liang) – In this sort-of sequel to Tsai Ming-liang’s masterpiece, WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? we see two emotionally distant, isolated people tentatively find each other only to be confronted with a climax that will either tear them hopeless apart, or perhaps cement their relationship. All that, and it’s a musical too!
  7. WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly) – Adrienne Shelly comes into her own as a director with this sadly sweet portrait of a young woman trapped in a dead-end relationship, and now facing an unwanted pregnancy. Shelly imbues her screenplay with humor and a gravity that keeps the sweetness from becoming too cloying.
  8. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes) – Todd Haynes’ sprawling pseudo-biopic of Bob Dylan is not perfect, but it’s so exciting in its audaciousness that I am compelled to include it on my year-end list. Six different actors portray different aspects of Dylan’s personae to form a fascinating mosaic of the sphinx-like celebrity. Ambitious and largely successful.
  9. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson) – Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, left me with giddy with excitement for hours… even days after seeing it. This portrait of a man obsessed, played with perfect, over-the-top bravura by Daniel Day-Lewis is so flat-out weird, it almost feels like a trick that the critics are all praising it and urging mainstream audiences to go take a look. And it has spawned a cultural quote which, taken out of context, is just insane, “I drink your milkshake!”
  10. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (Noah Baumbach) – I wasn’t a terribly huge fan of Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID & THE WHALE, but something about this intensely introspective study of a pair of dysfunctional sisters clicked with me. And I love seeing Nicole Kidman in great movies. She needs to find more of them. Or maybe I just included it to irritate Hilary.
  11. THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS (Isabel Coixet) – Sarah Polley showed her directorial skills, but I always thrill to see her well-documented acting ability, and Isable Coixet’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS gives her plenty of opportunity to strut her stuff. Despite the severe dialogue misstep in the penultimate scene of the movie, every other aspect works to perfection. And it’s a wonder of story-telling and acting when 7/8 of the way into the film, Polley performs a lengthy monologue that completely changes the tone of the film and drives it through your heart.
  12. THE BUBBLE (Eytan Fox) – Eytan Fox is an intriguing filmmaker, whose work I always love but doesn’t quite translate to a masterpiece. THE BUBBLE is certainly his closest yet, about three young friends living in Tel Aviv and how even in their bubble of apolitical life, the political conflicts around them intrude. A beautiful look at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the way a new generation views it.
  13. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE (Tsai Ming-Liang) – Tsai Ming-Liang is the master of telling stories about isolated people using images and very few words. I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE is gorgeous in its simplicity. The subtle touches of humor accent the somber stories almost to the point of absurdity, and this audacious mix rewards viewers every time.
  14. GRBAVICA: THE LAND OF MY DREAMS (Jasmila Zbanic) – In a fashion more straight-forward but no less powerful, Zbanic covers similar ground to Coixet in THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS. The horror endured by thousands during the Balkan Wars is easy to overlook or forget globally, but daring filmmakers such as these two amazing women won’t let these historical facts fade into obscurity. By focusing on a fractured mother-daughter relationship, Zbanic shows the aftermath of this war and how it affects survivors in the most personal of ways.
  15. THE KIING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (Seth Gordon) – In what is surely the most entertaining film of the year, Seth Gordon explores a sub-culture of video gamers that is filled with stereotypes, both reinforced and smashed. There’s good, there’s evil, and there’s a titanic conflict of epic proportions in this intensely enjoyable documentary.

Other films that almost made the top list, but I couldn't squeeze them on: ONCE, BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, RED ROAD, DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, EXILED, FAY GRIM, and STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING.

Best Festival Films of 2007 (not yet released theatrically in the U.S.)

  1. THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS (Bruce McDonald) – If Ellen Page grounded the sitcom antics in JUNO, she unites the visually hyperactive, fragmented mosaic that is THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS lifting it to dramatic heights. What’s it like to be literally in the mind of a troubled young adolescent? Bruce McDonald and Ellen Page give us a peek in a film that blends visual and aural over-stimulation in a way that reminded me of a cross between LILYA 4-EVER and PI.
  2. JELLYFISH (Shira Geffen; Etgar Keret) – In one of the most masterful uses of magical realism and whimsy in film, this Israeli import looks at disappointment is a way that is powerfully moving and contemporary using a variety of unique storylines to tell a coherent tale. Chlotrudis co-presented this film at the BJFF after several of us saw it in Toronto. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to see it when it is released Stateside this spring.
  3. MONKEY WARFARE (Reg Harkema) – Bitingly humorous, and surprisingly moving, MONKEY WARFARE is grounded by the performances of its two talented leads: Don McKellar and Tracy Wright. Add to the mix a fresh performance by Nadia Litz, and Harkema’s terrifically spot-on screenplay, and you’ve got all the workings for a unique and entertaining film.
  4. MY WINNIPEG – All of Guy Maddin’s considerable talents come together in this faux documentary of the city of Winnipeg, that is actually something of a memoir of Maddin himself. MY WINNIPEG successfully combines Maddin’s fantastical visuals with his offbeat humor to create a piece of work that Chlotrudis will be proud to co-present at this April’s IFFB (hopefully along with THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS).
  5. THE VISITOR (Thomas McCarthy) – McCarthy follows-up the Chlotrudis success of THE STATION AGENT, with a film that elegantly examines the politically-charged topic of illegal immigration in a way that focuses on the personal and familial relationships that suffer as a result of deportation. Richard Jenkins is phenomenal as the understated lead, and Hiam Abbass, so divine in so many international films is a wonder in a rare American production.
  6. A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – In a series of episodic tales, this gently beautiful adaptation of a popular Japanese manga focuses on a small group of school-age children living in a tiny village. With an innocence rarely seen in contemporary society, GENTLE BREEZE will take you away on a soothing zephyr to a land that may seem hopelessly imaginary, yet somehow manages to exist.
  7. BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (Laurie Lynd) – This Canadian adaptation of a young adult novel explores family dynamics when the family in question has two dads and an unexpected child. This sweetly funny film manages to avoid most film clichés even while it uses them to tell a story that reaches beyond sexuality to appeal to any film viewer.
  8. BRICK LANE (Sarah Gavron) – Talented filmmaker Sarah Gavron offers up her first feature narrative with such a command of film language that you might be tempted to think she’s been at this for a long time. If there is a drawback in this adaptation of an internationally best-selling novel, it’s that the screenplay doesn’t take more chances, but Gavron certainly does, focusing in on the heart of the story of a family of Indian immigrants struggling to make their lives in England.
  9. HELP ME EROS (Lee Kang-sheng) Tsai Ming-liang’s perpetual leading man, Lee Kang-sheng, is not only an accomplished actor, but a talented filmmaker as well. Lee wrote and directed HELP ME EROS, a powerful portrait of a man calling out for help as he spirals out of control, indulging in heavy marijuana smoking and sexual antics after losing his fortune in a bad stock market decision. Like his mentor, Lee mines the territory of alienation with masterful assurance, and gives us a cinematic conclusion that will take your breath away.
  10. PLOY (Pen-ek Ratanaruang) – This follow-up to the magnificent LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE explores many similar themes and employs a more subtle dreamlike quality that serves to both confuse and tantalize the viewer. With the principal characters suffering from jet lag, the introduction of the adolescent Ploy into their lives causes major seismic shifts that have either startling effects on their lives, or at the very least, their dreams.

Other festival films worth looking for upon release: PING PONG PLAYA’; AN AMERICAN CRIME; AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL