Scratchy, Missing Reel Glory

To get us started, I present my list of the top 10 films of 2007, followed by a few words about some of my favorites.

1. There Will Be Blood
2. Ratatouille
3. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4. No Country for Old Men
5. Grindhouse
6. The Lives of Others
7. Knocked Up
8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
9. I’m Not There
10. No End in Sight

#1 –THERE WILL BE BLOOD is everything I love about the cinema. A work that is both extremely visceral and thought provoking. An exploration of the American themes of individualism, the frontier, capitalism, religion, and the relationship between capital and evangelical Christianity. It’s a picture where you watch a born filmmaker confidently take one bold step confidently after another, never tripping or falling, and harnessing the full genius of his collaborators, like Daniel-Day Lewis and composer Jonny Greenwood. There Will Be Blood is the year’s best picture.

#2—RATATOUILLE is about as perfect a piece of entertainment as I can imagine. The storytelling is remarkable even by Pixar standards—the picture gracefully glides from one moment to the next, evolving organically and never feeling forced. Or consider what director Brad Bird achieves within a single shot. On a rooftop, Remy and Chef Gusteau’s spirit converse in the foreground while in the background we witness through a window Linguini knocking over the soup pot. Action on multiple planes. This is how Jacques Tati, that other chronicler of French cities, would have used computer generated animation. Yet Ratatouille achieves a heart and spirit that is completely its own.

#3 –BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD is one of Sidney Lumet’s very best pictures out of a prolific 50-plus year career. In addition to being a taut, gripping thriller, the picture is also a brilliant allegory for Generations X and Y. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is about a generation of adults living in big cities and trying to swing lifestyles beyond their means (sound familiar to any of us Cosmodromers residing in New York and L.A.?). When the money runs out, this generation looks to mom and dad to bail them out. Except instead of asking for another loan, brothers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke decide to take it a few steps further and rob their parents. Count on this picture to become only more relevant as subprime mortgage default rates continue to climb in the coming years.

#5—Let this be known: GRINDHOUSE is one movie. Planet Terror and Death Proof (not to mention Thanksgiving, Don't, and the other terrific trailers) should not be viewed as separate movies any more than the stately first half of Atonement should be considered as an independent picture from its war-torn second half. The home video campaign of Grindhouse split Planet Terror and Death Proof into two distinct movies that can be bought separately on DVD. I suppose I shouldn’t resent the Weinstein Bros. for following in the footsteps of previous movie exploiteers and re-purposing their content to try to earn back a few more bucks, but I regret that DVD viewers won’t be able to take the same exhilarating ride that I was given. Grindhouse took us on a journey inside a genre—starting with homage and moving into critical introspection. We started out with Planet Terror, the fun, zombie-tastic celebration of 1970s exploitation cinema. And after a lovely intermission of trailers for obscene slasher pics and desaturated British horror movies, we got to see Death Proof, which slowly turned into a meta-movie about the nature of exploitation movies and the people who act them (and re-enact them). But maybe I shouldn’t feel any sympathy for the cheated DVD viewers. In a year that saw rises in digital theater projection, HD-TV equipped home entertainment systems, and cell phone movie viewing, Grindhouse stands not simply a tribute to exploitation movies, but as a 40 cannon salute to the endangered species of 35mm film exhibition in all of its scratchy, missing reel glory.