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10 Best of 2007

I also want to say that this year marked a resurgence in movie musicals. The year's diverse lot yielded

Once, Hairspray, Romance and Cigarettes, Walk Hard, I'm Not There

, and

Control

. I mean any year that has Christopher Walken dancing in two -- count 'em two -- movies is a good year period. Who could have predicted such a lively year?

Hairspray

bowled over audiences with sheer exuberance;

Once

and

Romance and Cigarettes

reinvented the genre with a mix of magic and realism;

Walk Hard

proved that dumb movies can have smart music; and

Control I'm Not There

used the music of real bands and musicians (Joy Division and Bob Dylan) to good effect. In 2007, you might very well have left a theater happily humming a tune.

Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis on screen. (Sony Classics)

It was also a good year for animation. Japan exported Paprika and Tekkon Kinkreet ; the U.S. served up Ratatouille , Surfs Up, The Simpson Movie and Beowulf ; and France delivered Persepolis . The films covered street urchins, the Islamic Revolution, dream detectives, a gourmet rat, surfing penguins, Bart's penis and a hero king. Not bad for variety. Plus the animation styles were diverse, ranging from hand drawn to computer generated to 3D.

Documentaries also provided high caliber entertainment with Deep Water and Crazy Love riveting us with their tales of obsession. Also noteworthy were No End in Sight, Devil Came on Horseback, King of Kong, and Darfur Now .

And here are a few other awards to be given out:

  • Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood
  • Best Actresses: Julie Christie and Ellen Page. These two actresses showed us excellence at both ends of the spectrum -- Christie (in Away From Her ) proved the radiance of a veteran and Page (in Juno ) the electricity of fresh talent.
  • Best Body of Work: Philip Seymour Hoffman for managing to be so different in Charlie Wilson's War, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages
  • Aging like a fine wine: Tommy Lee Jones is just getting better with every passing year. He was the moral center of the bleak No Country for Old Men and a grieving father in In the Valley of Elah.
  • Most inventive weapon: a carrot in Shoot 'Em Up . Runner up: Chigurh's air gun/cattle gun in No Country for Old Men
  • Best throat slitting: You may think I'll single out Sweeney Todd (which did have the most quantity) but David Cronenberg is hands down the winner for his supremely uncomfortable throat slitting in Eastern Promises , it's that sawing motion that made your stomach turn and realize how horrific violence really is.
  • Best Action Films (that aren't Asian): Hot Fuzz, Shoot 'Em Up, Live Free and Die Hard, 300
  • Best Opening Credit Sequence: The Kingdom
  • Best Closing Credit Sequence: 300
  • Most Embarrassing Screen Moment: Robert DeNiro in a tutu in Stardust
  • Best Six Packs: The entire cast of 300
  • Best Digital Abs: Ray Winstone in Beowulf

This year also boasted some of the worst films I have ever seen, most notably Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (all around bad); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (pretentiously bad); and The Ten (Old Testament bad).

The boys are back in Hot Fuzz (Rogue Pictures)

& Now before getting to the ten best, I have to say that this year seemed tougher than usual because there actually were quite a few excellent films. So here's my second tier, honorable mentions that just missed the ten best list:

  • Offside
  • Hot Fuzz (I have to make a brief note here that this may actually be my favorite film of the year, and favorite is different than 10 best. It's just the film I can watch most often and have it still give me joy. I know Hot Fuzz isn't the best film of the year but it is the one that I have watched the most, it would be one of my desert island DVDs)
  • Knocked Up
  • Deep Water
  • Crazy Love
  • Fido (it wouldn't be a best of list without a zombie movie!)
  • Once
  • Hairspray
  • The Orphanage
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Rocket Science
  • Darjeeling Limited
  • Ratatouille

Now to the ten best:

Let's begin in Japan with Satoshi Kon's Paprika in the tenth spot. In this wild anime circus the line between what's real and what isn't gets increasingly blurred until we feel like we've gone through the looking glass with Alice. The animation is breathtaking as we follow a dream detective in the the subconscious minds of her patient-clients.

South Korea's The Host (Magnolia)

But it's a nightmare rather than a dream that's unleashed in South Korea's The Host . Imagine Alien and Little Miss Sunshine mixed together and you'll have an inkling of what Bong Joon Ho's The Host has in store for you. Director Boon blends broad comedy, serious family drama and B monster movies to deliver a highly entertaining tale laced with biting social commentary.

And speaking of B movies, you get a pair of them plus trailers in Grindhouse , the double bill from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. It makes going to the movies a full on, action-packed, cheesy dialogue and bad FX-laden event. Grindhouse is like finding a time capsule with the grindhouse experience perfectly preserved.

Leaving Rodriguez' Austin-based Troublemaker Studios we head to ancient Greece for Frank Miller's 300 . Like its Spartan warriors, 300 is lean, mean and doesn't possess a single warm and fuzzy bone in its well muscled body. It's most at home on the battlefield and during the epic fight sequences, it simply rocks. It cuts through men and beasts, splattering blood across the screen and reveling in the lethal skill of its characters. Ancient history's never been this cool.

Next up is Juno , the comedy about a pregnant teen who gives up her baby for adoption to a pair of yuppie parents. Smart, sassy and in the end sweetly satisfying. This film doesn't aim high but it achieves what it sets out to do with absolute perfection. Kudos to director Jason Reitman and first time writer Diablo Cody.

Perfection and another female teen with discriminating musical taste is on hand in my number five pick, Persepolis . This brilliant, animated adaptation of the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi chronicles her coming of age in Iran during the Islamic revolution including her passion for Iron Maiden and punk music. In the intimate details of her life she finds a universal story about a teenager's rebellion and an adult's desire for freedom.

Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (Milestone)

Our next stop on the top ten express is Watts for a film that sat unreleased for three decades. Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep is a bleak and beautiful film about the African American experience. What Burnett saw and recorded with such clear-eyed honesty back in the 70s remains fresh, vibrant and provocative today. The film has the innocence of a first time filmmaker breaking all the rules because he doesn't yet know what those rules are. I'd also like to acknowledge Milestone for finally getting this film out to a wider audience.

My number three film takes us to London by way of the Russian mafia. Eastern Promises reveals yet again what a master craftsman and artist David Cronenberg is. His film is elegant in its ability to disturb. It serves up a twisted morality tale that flashes a fleeting and unexpected tenderness. But this one's not for the faint of heart. In fact none of my top three are for the squeamish as you'll find more blood in my final two picks, which I have to confess were so close that I had to flip a coin to decide which was number one kind of like Chigurh.

Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage)

In the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men you feel that every word has been selected with care and every thing from the type of boots a man wears to the cut of his hair has been chosen for a distinct reason. Impeccably crafted, this one gets better with each viewing. Essentially sharing the top slot with No Country for Old Men is Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood . Channeling the voice and epic stature of John Huston, Daniel Day Lewis delivers the year's best performance as a driven oil man who wants enough wealth so that he won't have to deal with other people ever again. The score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood makes it sounds like a horror film as it explores the darkest corners of the human soul.

Well that's it for 2007. If you've got any bests and worsts (or think I've simply forgotten something that came out this year), please post here. Happy viewing in 2008!

There Will be Blood and Persepolis open in San Diego on January 11. No Country for Old Men and Juno are currently in theaters. All other films are available on DVD.

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