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Syndromes and a Century

Arriving only a couple of weeks late, here's my list of favorite movies released in US theaters in 2007. I've got twenty-eight of them for you, plus five undistributed films that only played at festivals, followed by some brief comments.

Top 2, in order

Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong)
Once (Carney)

Next 5, in no particular order

truth through curiosity
Forever (Honigmann) and
Offside (Panahi)

wisdom despite youth, vibrance despite age
Youth Without Youth (Coppola) and
Away From Her (Polley)

epic bombast and my favorite performance
There Will Be Blood (Anderson)

For #8, a Tie

two poignant comedies in a year of many
Year of the Dog (White) and
Waitress (Shelly)

For #9, a Ten-Way Tie of Documentaries

My Kid Could Paint That (Bar-Lev)
Protagonist (Yu)
Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal)
The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nuns (Grønkjær)
No End in Sight (Ferguson)
All in This Tea (Blank, Leibrecht)
Murch (Ichioka)
In the Shadow of the Moon (Sington)
God Grew Tired of Us (Quinn)
The Rape of Europa (Berge, Cohen, Newnham)

For #10, a Nine-Way Tie of Narrative Films

Brand Upon the Brain! (Maddin)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Lumet)
Grindhouse, particularly the Death Proof portion (Tarantino)
Inland Empire (Lynch)
Dans Paris (Honoré)
Comedy of Power (Chabrol)
Michael Clayton (Gilroy)
Starting Out in the Evening (Wagner)
Persepolis (Paronnaud, Satrapi)

5 Great Undistributed Films Seen in 2007, in viewing order

Colossal Youth (Costa)
The Man From London (Tarr)
In the City of Sylvia (Guerin)
Memories (Farocki, Costa, Green)
Import/Export (Seidl)

Some Brief Notes

It was a strange, lumpy year for me, with a few dense periods of movie watching and some stretches of unusually light viewing. This is reflected in my list — concentrated at the nozzle, atomized in the final mist — and so is the fact that I don't feel like I saw many masterpieces, even though I saw a near metric ton of very good films, making this a stronger year than most, I think, but one that's hard to boil down to a top ten.

Isn't it cheating to include a nine-way tie and a ten-way tie in your top ten list?

Actually, no. The bylaws specifically allow this sort of thing, and in fact I had a three-way tie for #1 last year. I'd tell you who wrote the bylaws, but the bylaws strictly forbid it.

I did cheat once, though: I saw Colossal Youth in 2006. But I saw it again in 2007, at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I've been granted a variance by the keepers of the bylaws.

(I cheated a second time by making the the ties occupy just one slot instead of one slot per film. I was not granted a variance for this; I simply relied upon the mathematical laziness of the certifying judges. It worked!)

OK, but where is Hou Hsiao-hsien's latest film?

Lo and behold, Flight of the Red Balloon will be released in 2008. Which is fabulous. It used to be virtually impossible to see films by HHH, but that has begun to change. Surely it helps that his latest film stars Juliette Binoche and takes place in International Cinema Town, but I've got no complaints.

OK, but I can't believe you left out that other good movie!

The world of movies is larger than you think, as highlighted by this paragraph from Jonathan Rosenbaum's year-end write up:

Film Comment recently put together a list of eligible titles for its own annual poll. It's 105 pages long, with roughly 23 films per pageā€”more than 2,400 titles. "Major studios" released 119 films, or about one-twentieth of the total (I saw 33 of them), and 49 more came from "specialty divisions" (I saw 22 of those). "Independent distributors" were behind nearly 500 (90 of which I saw). The remaining 1,600-plus titles came out of festivals (where I saw about 50 not included in the other lists).

Do you feel you saw enough of those 1,600 films to get outraged about one omission? I don't. It makes things much simpler to do like the magazines and award ceremonies do — and like I've done here — which is to limit the list to whatever was theatrically distributed in New York or Los Angeles (excluding festivals) in 2007. But even that is a staggering number of films.

It's a selection process. No-one-but-no-one's list is comprehensive. I imagine most of us have a list of want-to-sees, and near the top of mine, if not sitting at the head, is 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which has shown up on a number of other lists.

But of course not seeing a movie is only one explanation for its absence from my list. Another is that I didn't like it very much. Black Book, I'm Not There, and Atonement fall into this category. No Country For Old Men does too, or maybe into an oily pit in the middle; even after much discussion I have decided I still don't much care for it, despite how good it is. I think I could be convinced to include Sweeney Todd and Zodiac by the right people, but as I said I'm already a couple of weeks late. No time!

But none of these omitted films actually raises my ire, so I mention them only in passing. Drawing one out for special mention, I'll list a film that does:

The Film with the Least Helpful Political Commentary, the Least Context for the Events it Depicts, the Least Justification For its Tacked-On 30-Second Moral, and the Biggest Waste of Functioning Brains

Charlie Wilson's War (Nichols)

And Finally

One of the many joys of living in San Francisco is that the streets are paved with celluloid. It's not a movie-making town; it's a movie-watching town. And my friend and fellow blogger Brian Darr has assembled a list of favorite repertory screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area to which I contributed. It's a great reminder of where I live, sure, but also a reminder of the mountain of film history that all of the above new films are standing upon.

It reminds me of an Al Franken joke. We're all privileged to live in this country because we get to stand on the shoulders of people who stood on the shoulders of people who stood on the shoulders of people who stood on the shoulders of people who stood on the shoulders of people who stood on the necks of Indians. Cinema is also thus. The cinematic equivalent of those boots-on-the-neck is Birth of a Nation, of course.

But now I've really left the topic. Where was I?

Here: Thanks for your time. Let's get together a little more often in 2008, what do you say?

Update: We discussed this list belatedly on the March 1 episode of the Errata Movie Podcast.

Posted by davis | Link
Reader Comments
January 18, 2008, 01:13 PM

Rob, that would be *so* sweet if you could meet Sharon Stone at Sundance. You should put one arm around her shoulder, stretch out your other arm, camera in hand, and take a picture. You'd have the sweetest Facebook photo ever, 'cause you *know* she'd pose and give you a great smile.

January 18, 2008, 02:35 PM

I couldn't sleep last night thinking of the prospect. (For the confused, see this).

January 18, 2008, 06:25 PM

Actually, ever since I gained (extremely limited) access to such wonderful people, I've had an art project in mind made up of a series of photos of me with a celebrity. Nothing special there except that in each one, just before the photographer snaps the picture, I'd look away as if bored or annoyed. I love the idea of a bunch of pictures of me standing with some smiling celebrity who's squeezing up next to me as I look like I'm biding my time waiting for the next screening, unaware that pictures are being taken.

January 20, 2008, 11:16 AM

Bookkeeping is this difficult:

Not only was Inland Empire released in 2006, but also I had a ticket to one of those public screenings in New York in December '06 because I happened to be in town and thought I could catch it. I didn't, and I ended up seeing it in 2007.

Not only was God Grew Tired of Us released in 2006, but I had it on my list last year.

Finally, the documentary about Walter Murch hasn't really seen a proper release outside of film festivals, but I lumped it in with other docs that I like instead of the great unreleased films; this seems right. (BTW, here's Michael Guillen's conversation with Murch about Coppola's latest, which some people hate but not me.)

Oh dear. Clearly I should be taking fewer notes about this sort of thing.

What's done is done. Go see a good movie.

January 20, 2008, 11:59 AM

Were you at _Out 1_ last summer? Will you be at _Out 1: Spectre_ this February? Maybe you and Brian and I can eat a meal sometime in 2008. Talk movies and writings. Until then, be well. Stay warm. And, yes, _Syndromes and a Century_. Just got my DVD. Re-wowed.

January 20, 2008, 05:41 PM

Hey Ryland. Yeah, let's do that. I imagine we've been at many of the same screenings, but it would be nice to put a face to the name.

I was very disappointed to discover that I had a conflict during Out 1, but I don't remember what it was now. I'm definitely hoping to see Out 1: Spectre if at all possible. I saw Celine and Julie Go Boating for the first time at the earlier Rivette series and now think that must be one of the greatest titles ever.

January 21, 2008, 01:52 AM

That sounds fun! Let's do it after Sundance ends. I'm so glad you guys could contribute to my listing project (and thanks for linking, Rob!)

Speaking of Apichatpong and Sundance, the screening I'm most bummed about missing while here in Utah is State of the World next Thursday at YBCA. Let me know if you catch it, Ryland!

March 25, 2008, 03:35 PM

Let me highlight M. Leary's insightful take on Youth Without Youth.