As an annual tradition it's up there with New Year's resolutions and champagne corks -- those retrospective "Best of the Year" lists. You see them in magazines, newspapers and websites everywhere: The Best Films of 2007 . . . This Year's Top 10 Action Scenes . . . 2007's Top Five (usually smart-ass) Reasons to Love/Hate Hollywood . . . the whole gamut of the best, the worst, the raves and the faves.
We love those lists. The thing is, there are so many of them. Between the professional critics in the A-list venues and the semi-pros and amateurs everywhere else, making a "Best of" list devoted to just the other "Best of" lists would be a crazy-making experience.
But didn't 2007 end up becoming an exceptionally strong year for movies? So we can't let the year end without giving it a try.
We've located some "Best of" lists that we like a lot. To separate the bodacious from the banal, to seek those that aspire to be more discerning and literate -- cinematically as well as grammatically -- than your average MySpace blog, the criteria for "we like a lot" status were simple: movie smarts + writing chops. The links below take you to year-end reflections from movie-lovers...
a.) ...who know what they're talking about, meaning that their knowledge, experience and fresh insights about this year's movies -- not just the obvious titles covered in People magazine -- raise the bar above the "this rules/that blows" level; and
b.) ...whose writing doesn't suck. Let's face it, online movie sites are as common as floor popcorn at the mall cineplex, and most are about that distinctive and flavorful. Everyone has opinions, but not everyone can write with the craft and panache needed to make reading those opinions, especially when they don't snap-lock like Legos with your own, worthwhile and enjoyable.
The links are in no particular ranking. Just click to read some of the best "Year's Best" coverage of releases that range from ubiquitously hyped in-your-face titles to many obscure gems worth looking for.
Which lists best match up with yours? Which wind you up into a "WTF?" frenzy? Where do popular favorites such as Juno, Once and Superbad rank? Where does Pixar's Ratatouille stand alongside Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood? What of Zodiac, Michael Clayton, Atonement or Waitress? Or outliers such as Lars and the Real Girl, I'm Not There and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? How about the late arrivals Eastern Promises, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Persepolis? Who is Apichatpong Weerasethakul and what's all this fuss about Syndromes of a Century?
How many lists give the No. 1 spot to the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men, and how many give it to the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes but won't open wide until January after its short Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles?
Above all, which lists remind you of all the good movies you can still catch out there?
Then in the comments section, share some list links of your own, or post your own list. We love to know what you think.
"It was a time of wonders," says Ebert, still among our clearest and most respected film critics. "An autumn of miracles, one of the best years in recent movie history." Even when you disagree with him, you always understand where he's coming from.
As part of Time's "50 Top 10 Lists of 2007" series, two of our best (and often critically antipodal) movie hounds offer their personal selections. They don't see eye to eye on everything, but they do agree that this was a good year for Philip Seymour Hoffman.
target="_blank">"Inside Dope on 2008 at the Movies" includes "Neurotic zombies, samurai gunslingers, fresh-brewed weirdness from Charlie Kaufman, and the big-screen debut of singer Norah Jones, lensed by Chinese master Wong Kar-Wai, no less." Titles that raise our eyebrows start with Spike Jonze's adaptations of Where the Wild Things Are, Tim Burton's take on Alice in Wonderland, and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.
L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas begins his American Cinema: Our Best Diplomat in 2007? assessment by noting, "Wherever my travels have taken me this year, whether as close as the screening room down the street or as far afield as the Cannes Film Festival in France, the sentiment has been the same: What a banner year it has been for American movies. And at a time when there isn't much about our country that everyone the world over can agree on, these words of praise have been spoken by critics, filmmakers and just plain moviegoers of myriad tongues and nationalities."
Slate's Dana Stevens asks one of the three smartest questions a critic can pose: "When it comes to cultural products like books or movies, is there any meaningful distinction between 'best' and 'favorite'?" It's a question that the members of Slate's Movie Club take up with their customary gusto. Stevens kicks things off by alphabetically naming the year's movies "that have taken up permanent residence somewhere in my brain."
In a similar vein, Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald presents her 10 "favorites of the year, the ones that remained with me long after I left the theater, and that created worlds I was eager to visit again, as soon as possible."
Among the media bloggers, the best give us not only their keen (and/or uniquely skewed) insights; we also get the sometimes pugnacious, sometimes enlightening feedback in their comments boxes. Giving us the modern equivalent of bar room brawls as well as multitudes of near-anonymous fists punching the air in unison, the blogs that provide both movie smarts and writing chops help keep the heat-to-light ratio on the right side of illuminating.
Here at Film.com we have some fine media bloggers among our regular contributors. At her site, Flickfilosopher.com, MaryAnn Johanson offers an exhaustive, categorized list of 2007's films ranked, with links to her featured reviews. At his eponymous site, blogger and Film.com contributor Eric D. Snider has posted his Best and Worst Movies of 2007, plus Honorable Mentions, Hollywood's Shameful Secrets and Miscellaneous Data (e.g., "Movies with scenes in which gunshot victims use an at-home, do-it-yourself method to remove the bullet") culled from 254 movies he reviewed this year plus "another 44 new releases (mostly at film festivals) that I didn't review."
Yes, 2007 handed us "plenty of missteps," but "every single film in my top ten could have easily taken the #1 slot in a normal year," says Peter Sobczynski of Hollywood Bitchslap. He adds that "the ten runners-up could have easily made up a more-than-worthwhile Ten Best list if the ones that I actually chose never existed."
With independent film bloggers able to do their work without any restraints to "keep it Regal," some of the more intriguing "Year's Best" lists put forward films that, beyond the festival circuit, didn't receive the exposure and distribution afforded to major studio releases. One such list is Senses of Cinema End of the Year 'Favorite Film Things' Compilation. "If there's one common theme that continues to surface in these year's selection," says Acquarello, "it is probably the idea of 'ghost people' -- living in the periphery, taking refuge in the shadows, abandoned and forgotten in their desolation, or who, in their absence, continue to haunt the imagination of those left behind." His top ten for 2007, plus honorable mentions, is headed by Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra, followed by more examples of landmark world cinema that deserve greater attention than they received. Follow the links to Acquarello's astute reviews.
At this point we'd be remiss if we didn't point out The Guardian's film blog highlights of 2007: "Javier Bardem's hair! Kevin Bacon's soul! The sub-textual politics of Gremlins!"
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists have posted their "Members' 2007 Top Ten Lists." The gang at the Onion A.V. Club put their heads together to compile their "Year in Film 2007" assortment, with a comments section that is, as I write this, at 665 entries and counting.
More collaborative pieces include IFC.com's article, "The Year's Best Films", which notes that "Anyone who claims 2007 was hard up for quality film just wasn't looking hard enough, if at all," then goes on to prove it. So do the writers at Time Out, and Ed Gonzalez and Nick Scager at Slant. At The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt observes that, among the THR critics, "Only one film made all six lists. Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a remarkable work about a seemingly unfilmable subject."
At the venerable British Film Institute's Sight & Sound Films of 2007 page, click the big link for a 52-page PDF file that bundles the collected wisdom (and some wit) from 47 international critics providing their top 10 lists as well as personal categories such as "Year's most underrated/misunderstood" and "Under-the-radar discoveries of the year."
The indieWIRE.com Critics' Poll takes a comprehensive approach. "A total of 106 leading North American film critics participated in the second indieWIRE Critics' Poll, surveying the best in film for 2007.... This poll was created to continue the tradition of a national survey of critics, by calling attention to the year's best -- and, in many cases, most overlooked -- films, providing a meaningful counterpoint to much of the year-end hoopla." Click the links to see who voted for what. Come for the lists, stay for the overview and pagesofinsightfulcommentary.
As for DVDs, the annual "Year's Best" lists are a somewhat different kettle of pixels. Now we're talking restorations of cherished classics (from John Ford silents to Blade Runner: The Final Cut), authoritative releases from boutique distributors (most years you can put together a top 10 list from Criterion Collection and Kino editions alone), and other movie-buff check boxes. That's on top of the DVDs for newer films we loved, or meant to catch but for whatever reason didn't, on the big screens earlier this year. Added to the critical mix are the quality and quantity of a DVD's bonus extras, the perfection of the feature film's image and other factors that seem to change a bit every year. For instance, 2007 is the year that HD and Blu-ray discs began to make a difference in how we view, review and buy our movies on disc.
Earlier this year, the Internet lost one of its favorite DVD review sites, DVD Journal. But other sites still deliver assessments of those shiny little platters. Here are places to check out titles, from vintage classics to recent screen releases, that you might consider adding to your Netflix queue or your next trip to Best Buy:
For years now, Glenn Erickson's alter ego, "DVD Savant", has made him one of the Web's best-loved writers on films in general and DVDs in particular. Glenn is "in the biz," as they say in Hollywood, being an Emmy-nominated editor who moonlights by contributing documentary extras and commentary tracks to DVDs. He's a life-long cinephile with his brains and his heart equally at home in the movies. His eclectic, artsy-odd-vintage-populist list of noteworthy DVDs and honorable mentions is something we raise a glass to every year. And it always lengthens our end-of-the-year shopping list.
Just a click away at DVD Savant's host site, DVD Talk, the reviewers have assembled their Top Twenty Releases of 2007. It seems that there "were so many impressive DVDs that it was hard to whittle the releases of 2007 down to just the ten top discs."
Video Watchdog's "Favorite DVDs of 2007: Editor's Choice": Another eccentric, but no less thoughtful, list of the year's favorite DVDs comes from author Tim Lucas, whose Video Watchdog blog is "The Perfectionist's Guide to Fantastic Video." The editor's choice picks are wide-ranging and all worth your attention. Scroll down for equally non-mainstream "Favorite DVDs of 2007" selections from VW writers Kim Newman, Shane M. Dallmann, Richard Harland Smith, David Kalat, and more. Expect weirdness foreign and domestic. Expect titles you've never heard of, but that's the fun of discovery.
Because "fewer films can be (or at least are) affordably shown theatrically than ever before, and as a result, scores of worthwhile movies see their first 'release' in the U.S. on DVD every year," at IFC.com Michael Atkinson bulks up our DVD shelves with "Straight Outta Digi: The Best Non-Theatrical Debuts of '07."
Back at The New York Times, Dave Kehr jots down "the most ambitious and interesting projects from a wide range of distributors, in hopes of suggesting the range of material now entering the DVD marketplace."
Now I'm off to make a list of my own. This one will have more to do with the champagne corks on the floor and the newly emptied bottles on the Movie Room bar, but either way it's a fine way to ring out the old year -- and to look forward to a new one, on screen and off.
What links -- or list of your own -- would you suggest?