Six months into the new year and I'm only just getting around to doing my Top Ten of 2007, how sad. It just goes to show the poor state of international distribution that I did have to wait for so long to do this list, but also that a film in my top ten that was technically a 2006 release, didn't see the light of theatrical distribution in Australia until November 2007. Sad, indeed.
Nevertheless, I am quite happy with my top ten. I would have loved to find room for another Australian title such Peter Carstair's strong debut September, I am still a bit unsure about Joe Wright's Atonement that I wish I got a chance to view it a second time. I also had a big affection for Zhang Ke Jia's ode to the people of the Three Gorges Dam project in Still Life, but - yet again - distribution woes mean it didn't even receive a release outside of the festival circuit. But, my top ten is a list of equal measures entertainment and powerful film making.
10. The Simpsons Movie
Yes, I am entirely serious. While The Simpsons Movie didn't quite reach the heights of true vintage Simpsons in it's television prime, I thought it did a really great job of erasing the last few dud seasons from my mind and reminding me that those guys can actually create more than three funny jokes for every 22 minutes. In fact, The Simpsons Movie was the most consistently funny movie that I saw from 2007, and I'm a person who thinks that's just as impressive as anything most Oscar winning films achieve.
Christian Mungiu's Cannes triumph is a stunner of grim economy and getting the most of out so little. The film is so claustrophobic and intense that several scenes have the urgency of a horror movie. And, I guess, horror is what's at the heart of 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. The horrors of a country under tyrannical rule that forces young women into dangerous and awful situations such as those depicted in that tiny hotel room in Romania.
Much like the number four and number two films in the top ten, the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men is a character tale wrapped in the conventions of the thriller genre. As both it succeeds. It is a tense and "action packed" chase thriller about men, guns and money, but what raises it up is the superb writing and the characters that are presented. Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh is justifiably a classic character, but Josh Brolin's Llewelen, Tommy Lee Jones' Ed Tom right through to the supporting characters portrayed by Garret Dillahunt and so on all help make No Country for Old Men a much more satisfying piece of filmmaking.
I didn't really know how to come at David Lynch's three-hour experimental art piece except to consider it as not so much a film, but as, indeed, an art piece. A work of art filled with weird installations, lighting tricks, paintings, set work and performance art. All rolled into a big kaleidoscope and filtered through the barest essential of a plot involving the making of a cursed Hollywood film. The part of the exhibit that everyone talks about is Laura Dern though, and her performance is what keeps the mind from wondering off when I simply "didn't get" the art that was on show. I look forward to digging in deeper in the future.
Such a joyous experience was this John Waters and Broadway adaptation for the big screen that I have no reservations about putting it on my top ten. Sure, there were more important movies released in 2007, but I am a big defender of "pop as art" and everything Adam Shankman's Hairspray did, it did well. I can't think of any reason why it's less deserving of praise than any number of There Will Be Bloods or Michael Claytons.
Released by itself down here in Australia and not a part of the Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature Grindhouse (click the "Grindhouse" tag at the bottom for all my discussions about that film venture), I was initially very disappointed that I wouldn't get to see the films as originally envisioned, but all of that was washed away mere seconds (yes, seconds) into Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. I was swept away by the tidal wave of glee that filled his homage to babes, cars and Ozploitation flicks (it's definitely part of it). All the baggage disappeared for two hours and I just escaped into the movie. Plus, those final 30 minutes are, perhaps, the best example of pure unadulterated C-I-N-E-M-A that I've witnessed this decade so far.
It's hard to believe that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Oscar-anointed (in 2006, not released until 2007) The Lives of Others is his debut feature. It is so assured and well-crafted. It could have easily descended into dreary European pretentiousness (yeah, you know what I mean), but instead it becomes a fascinating and captivating examination of a time and place and that seems all too forgotten. In that regard it belongs in the same camp as Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, but with added conventional thriller 'tude. Some may think that it rings false and that it is merely a Hollywood thriller dressed up in foreign language clothes, but I don't. It also acts a stunning tribute to the late Ulrich Muhe, saving his best for last.
Brad Bird is now three for three after making this endearing film overflow with goodness without succumbing to it. After The Iron Giant and, what is perhaps Pixar's best film The Incredibles, Bird returned with a movie about a rat who likes to cook. I didn't find the premise as repulsive as, apparently, many others. Maybe it's because I've had a pet rat, but I was just able to sit back and enjoy the giddy fantastical ride. And perhaps I just have a weakness for films set in restaurants (Bob Giraldi's Dinner Rush is one of my very favourites from 2000 for example), but I found Ratatouille to be as irresistible as the titular dish is in the film.
Much like Henckel von Donnersmarck above, Noise director Matthew Saville had been fine-tuning his skills on episodic television and award-winning shorts like Roy Hollsdotter Live and Franz & Kafka, for years and in 2007 transferred that into his feature film debut. Noise is a feast in every respect. From the stunning visual and aural achievements, to the performances and dialogue. The film is very much an Australian film, but never feels restricted by it. When the film turned into a more standard issue slick thriller it still keeps it's identity and the filmmaking skills remain in tact. Noise was an incredibly achievement, I thought, for Australian filmmaking.
The issue of skinheads has been dealt with many times before, predominantly in American History X (unseen by me) and Romper Stomper (near unwatchable in it's brutality), but something kept distinctly different about Shane Meadows' mostly autobiographical This is England. I can't quite place my finger on what it is that makes the film so special, but as I sat and watched it - on DVD, I unfortunately missed it at the cinema like so many others - I just felt like I was watching something unfold that was truly special.
That it is also an example of potent filmmaking and bravura performance helped, for sure. But there really is an undefinable quality that I found in This is England that I just responded to with ease. Everything about it just feels right. That's not to say that the film is perfect - the jump from being an almost feelgood flick to a harrowing and disturbing one is almost too easy - but Meadows overcomes them with brute force of filmmaking and the knowledge that this is such a personal and deeply felt feature. This is England is the best film of 2007.