Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best Films of 2007 and Beyond

Year-end best of lists are tradition, perhaps Hamlet would say best honored in the breach than the observance. They do afford an opportunity to revisit some great work from the closing year, though.

There were some great films this year (I have the luxury of choosing what to review, so I did not have to endure dogs). If you count The Lives of Others as a 2007 film (the year it was released and reviewed here) it would rate as the best of the year. However, it was Germany’s 2006 Academy Award selection for best foreign language film, taking home the little golden statuette, and made many of last year’s 10 best lists.

Kite Runner should be making more top 10 lists this year, but critical reaction has been unfairly mixed. Perhaps some reviewers were uncomfortable with its brutally frank depiction of the Islamist Taliban regime. Persepolis offers a similar critique of post-Revolutionary Iran, through its stylized animated prism.

Allegro received a very limited distribution (I caught up with it on DVD). It is a demanding narrative, not for the multiplexes, but it will remain with you long after screening it. Sweeney Todd also deserves a quick capsule review. This might well be the role Johnny Depp was meant to play, and is easily his most successful collaboration with Tim Burton. It is an impressive production, with perhaps the weakest link being—heresy—the Sondheim score, which was well out of Burton’s hands. Yes, it is bloody. So, what? It’s Sweeney Todd. Didn’t you know what’s in those meat pies? (Hint: it’s the same thing as Soylent Green.)

Among documentaries, Singing Revolution was honestly moving. Who would not fall for a film about music triumphing over Communism? The Rape of Europa documented another inspiring story—that of the heroic Monument Men, the American officers assigned to protect and recover Europe’s artistic legacy. Note By Note was also surprisingly satisfying, chronicling the making of a Steinway concert grand piano, with insight from many great jazz and classical musicians. Terror’s Advocate may have the single most informative doc of the year, and Manda Bala was just a mind-blower.

Added together, that makes a collective top 10, not ranked in any order. Looking forward to 2008, Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn stands head and shoulders above anything else on the horizon. Wajda is one of the few surviving directors of the stature of a Tarkovsky or even a Truffaut. That he is still directing at or near the peak of his powers is incredible. Katyn is Poland’s official selection for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language film, so let us hope for decent distribution.