Film Poll 2007
I fucked up. Last December, when I compiled my list of the ten best films of 2006, I omitted A Prairie Home Companion. Robert Altman had died the month before, and although the movie was an obvious and sentimental choice for a California Split fiend like me, I believed that I had a professional responsibility as a film reviewer to be objective, and instead I backed more respectable horses. Then, earlier this year, the Mrs. got A Prairie Home Companion through Netflix, and watching it again I felt like a real shitheel. Out of some stupid and arrogant notion of journalistic integrity––the idea that I am ubermensch enough to separate my head from my heart when the lights go down––I had blinded myself to my own views. To paraphrase Lindsay Lohan’s Prairie Home Companion number, I was an Altman man and I had done him wrong.
So I’d like to dedicate our inaugural year-end critics poll to the film director I let down. In contrast to the many excellent best-of polls out there, such as indiewire.com’s, I asked Fanzine’s contributors to name their favorite films of the year. Not the best, or the most worthwhile or god forbid “most important,” but the movies that have mattered to us most. Furthermore, our writers have chosen from among all the movies that they have seen this year. That includes not just new theatrical releases, but older movies seen via cable, DVD, the internet or any other medium. Face it, the traditional viewing method of going to a movie theater is on the wane.
I’m old enough to remember the time before VCRs, and I’m going to miss the theatrical experience when it’s gone. But in truth, the Saturday afternoon matinee of my childhood—so lovingly evoked by Grindhouse—is already a relic. The New Yorker’s David Denby dreams about a coast-to-coast chain of “Starbucks-plus-cocktails.” Me, I’m looking forward to an on-demand future when thousands of ancient movies that are rarely screened even in urban repertoire houses will be available for download on a laptop in King City.
-There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson) Sometimes the heart and the head agree.
-La Chinoise (1967, Jean-Luc Godard) Vague ideas must be confronted with clear images.
-Drinking Out of Cups (Dan Deacon and Liam Lynch) No way.
–Fully Flared (Ty Evans, Spike Jonze, and Cory Weincheque) Sickest skateboarding video since Owen Wilson landed a bluntside in Yeah Right!
-The Landlord (1970, Hal Ashby) A blast from the pre-Obama past: Kill Whitie!
-Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy) I know it’s a cliché, but George Clooney really is The Last Movie Star.
-Orca (1977, Michael Anderson) Even as downloaded to my iPhone for a plane ride, it’s still way more atmospheric than Jaws.
-A Prairie Home Companion (2006, Robert Altman) I already said I was sorry.
-The Simpsons Movie (David Silverman) I haven’t watched the show since college, so it actually seemed fresh and revelatory. Plus, I loved the pig.
-They All Laughed (1981, Peter Bodganovich) Best New York City country-western stoner romcom ever.
Ten Favorite Films Seen ’07
–Death as back catalogue’s best friend: Stolen Desire (Shohei Imamura, 1958)
–Endless Desire (Imamura, 1958) (Seen at Imamura retrospective, Brooklyn Academy of Music)
–Best film of 2008:The Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2007) (Seen at New York Film Festival)
–Hot Mess #1: I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007) (Seen at New York Film Festival)
–Hot Mess #2: Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006) (Seen in theatrical release)
–“Awesome,” for instance, would be an example of a word I use when talking about movies with my friends, and not so much in my critical writing: Sunshine (Danny Boyle, 2007) (Seen in theatrical release)
–Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007) (Seen in theatrical release; re-watched on DVD burned from downloaded torrent file)
–Weirdly, this belongs in the above category as well:13 Lakes (James Benning, 2004) (Seen at Benning series, Anthology Film Archives)
–Scooping Wes Anderson by two years (and several degrees of swoon) on “This Time Tomorrow”: Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, 2005) (Seen on DVD)
–The heart has its reasons:Velvet Goldmine (Haynes, 1998) (Re-watched on DVD)
Among other things, 2007 was the year Velvet Goldmine went from being a nine-year-old indie with a 54% Tomatometer rating and a following of bicurious (in theory more than practice) college students to being a key text, necessary context for approaching Todd Haynes’s methods of pop historiography. Which, duh. But: the change happened matter-of-factly and almost instantaneously, as if many of the critics casually weaving Velvet Goldmine into their I’m Not There reviews hadn’t spent most of the past decade thinking of the film as the blip between Safe and Far from Heaven. If they thought of it at all, which most of ‘em didn’t. So, since Velvet Goldmine was a favorite film of (to borrow a coinage) Teenage Me, allow Twentysomething Me a brief moment of revelry. Yes, we now know, it’s an early Haynesian exploration of pop music as personal-political-psychological-social- sexual-semiotic history, with a bit of proto-Dylania headline-ripping, pastiche, and mysticism. But I hope the people returning, belatedly, to Velvet Goldmine also realize that it’s also, now as then––and, at least to me, more importantly––an ecstatic, extravagant, foolish, romantic celebration of pop as a way of belonging. (And the soundtrack kicks fucking ass.) Welcome to the party, everyone.
Ten Favorite Movies of 2007 (in alphabetical order)
1. Aka Nikki S. Lee (dir: Nikki S. Lee)
2. Bachelor Machines: Part I (16mm film installation, artist Rosalind Nashashibi)
3. Citizen Dog (dir: Wisit Sasanatieng)
4. Half Nelson (dir: Ryan Fleck)
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (dir: David Yates)
6. Juno/Superbad/Knocked-Up (dirs: Jason Reitman/Greg Mottola/ Judd Apatow)
7. No Country for Old Men (dir: Joel & Ethan Coen)
8. Nobody Knows (dir: Hirokazu Kore-Eda)
9. Tarachime (dir: Naomi Kawase)
10. This is England (dir: Shane Meadows)
As I live in Asia, I’m always behind on American movies. Most years this isn’t a problem, but 2007 seems to have harvested some gems I missed at first—mainly the unofficial comedic triptych of Knocked Up, Superbad, and Juno. Many friends are already in backlash mode against these films that are so abrasively funny and “cool” yet mainstream successful. Others are peeved about the disturbing elision of the abortion issue or perceived antifeminist slights or ye olde malecentric cinema. But I’m still just peeing my pants with delight. Two reasons: the milky white thighs of Michael Cera. Two more reasons: Seth Rogen and a bong (the combination of which always reminds me of my after-prom party, literally—he was a friend’s date). A few more: children swearing like sailors, aggro gynecologists, Cirque du Soleil on mushrooms, fake IDs, “the weird party”, ice skating tots, and hamburger phones. I know it’s cheating to count them as one movie, but the triumvirate do overlap in a strange Venn diagram of shared stars, creators, and themes of unplanned pregnancy, awkward romance, the exhilaration of adolescence and the pain of growing up (at any age). Is it a mini-genre? Who knows, but they’ve definitely renewed my faith in the Hollywood comedy. If there are more as good as these three, keep them coming.
Best Movies of 2007 (in alphabetical order)
1. Across the Universe
2. Adventure Poseidon, The (The Unsinking of My Ship), Anne McGuire, 2006
5. Harry Potter, part 5
6. No Country for Old Men
7. Same Next Next Year (Robert Mulligan, 1978) and Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) (double bill)
8. Strange Culture (Lynn Hershman Leeson, 2007)
9. Tearoom (William E. Jones, 2007)
I hate it that we’re going through this phase of film history in which the star system seems to have crumbled to dust. I don’t know, I always liked it when the movies had stars in them, even sort of stars. I remember going through a hardcore phase in the 80s and 90s when I felt the weight of the whole system on my shoulders, that if I didn’t buy tickets for the new Kim Basinger film or the new Melanie Griffith film neither would work again—apparently this was actually the case, it’s just that now I don’t feel so personally responsible—perhaps 9/11 did the trick. And I guess I still feel this way about musicals, though again, we saw the trailer for Sweeney Todd the other day and I felt a revulsion against putting one more dime in Stephen Sondheim’s trust fund. But anyhow what happened to the stars, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, these huge figures who could once do no wrong and now, nobody cares. Did they bring it on themselves with Bataillean excess, like 55 bodyguards watching Jennifer Lopez at Cannes, or is it the result of a democratic, video game based counterreality in which face cards have no more value than ordinary two of spades type cards? You tell me, I’m on strike.
Movies I Have Watched this Year—a Lowbrow’s List
1. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
2. Cocaine Cowboys
3. The Bridge
4. 28 Weeks Later
5. You’re Gonna Miss Me
6. No Country For Old Men
7. The Host
8. Infernal Affairs
9. Wild Zero
I haven’t seen too many new movies this year, but I’m doing better than last year. My brother still hasn’t forgiven me for making him watch Wild Zero, and I have a few on my list to get in before the new year (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood…), so I’m going with my movie pick of the summer, The King of Kong. No one believed me when I came out of the theater claiming it was the Movie of the Summer, but I quickly changed their minds by distributing bootleg copies across the globe. Most of the detractors are minor characters from the documentary flaming on KoK forums (though at least Robert Mruczek has the ability to comment articulately) and casting unsubstantiated accusations of video and audio manipulation by the filmmakers to “make Billy look bad”—as if the guy needed additional prodding. I’ll stand by the Heavy Metal Parking Lot/Little-Guy-Versus-the-Establishment reference I made in August.
Top Ten Seen in 2007
1. There Will Be Blood
2. Into Great Silence
3. Killer of Sheep
4. This Is England
5. Sunshine (Danny Boyle, not Itzvan Szabo)
6. Away From Her
7. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
8. Michael Clayton
9. I’m Not There
10. The Great Debaters
Since late October, when I listed my Top Ten Films for 2007 So Far in another publication, my list has changed, owing to more recent films and to the realization that sometimes I revered performance or one scene more than an entire film. 2007 has been so rich in screen performance that I almost wish we were doing that list instead. But we are director-driven and I share that approach. Three trends:
The rumblings of a Westerns renaissance since 9/11 has come into its own, matured, expanded, frankly international and watering neighboring genres. This mirrors the growth of vast areas on the globe that policy makers may dryly call “ungoverned spaces” but movie goers instinctively know are new “wild wests.”
Into Great Silence is the most extreme of the new anti-statistical documentaries that depend on aesthetics for persuasion and ontological replication instead of demographics. See also War/Dance, Nanking and of course Meeting Resistance.
Increasing DVD distribution of older US films and foreign films underscores the shrinkage of actual theatrical release in the US. Bless the Criterion Collection for new prints of Shoot the Piano Player, Under the Volcano, The Passenger and Army of Shadows, and bless the International Center for Photography for last spring’s Louise Brooks retrospective that introduced a new generation to GW Pabst’s 1929 Pandora’s Box.