Why wait until the end of the year to start assembling lists?
I like to consider myself something of a cheerleader for contemporary American cinema; let's face it, the last few years have seen some fantastic films come out of the States. So far this year, though, the American output has been of paltry quality--with notable exceptions, of course. And the year is only half over and traditionally a lot of the best films are reserved for the final two seasons; exciting stuff is still to come (new Cohen Bros., Baumbach, Anderson, Burton, just to name a few of the reliable directors; hopefully Paranoid Park will find a distributor soon!), but 2007 has still been a good year for film thanks to the select American contributions and the work of the international community. Asian cinema, if no other, is certainly in a Golden Age.
(Be advised I haven't seen everything this year; notable missed-films include Once, Grindhouse, and In Between Days, just to name a few. By the end of the year I'm sure this list will look very different, but for now...)
A gorgeous examination of the nature of the artistic process, with an endearingly optimistic moral that we all have a talent and a purpose to pursue, Ratatouille is told with the same kind of flair that the movies back in the Golden Age of Hollywood had; its director, Brad Bird, tells a story as marvelously as Howard Hawks. There isn’t a single misstep, just pure pathos, hilarity and narrative propulsion. Most of all, it's got charm. Pixar is not only back after the dismal Cars, they’ve made the best thing anyone’s seen all year.
Released in Italy in 1962, Alberto Lattuada’s masterpiece never saw the light of day in this country until Rialto revived it early this year. A DVD is surely in the works, so get your queues ready; Mafioso is a funny little culture clash comedy set in a boondock Sicily, where a Milano family man has taken the wife and kids for a family reunion. But half way through the film takes on a much darker and more serious tone, transforming into an examination of the violence behind small-town living. Condemning, in the end, the past in all its violence and cruelty, Mafioso is nothing short of a proud celebration of modernity. And how often do you see that?
3. Syndromes and a Century
Coming out of Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest film is as gorgeous, spellbinding and mysterious as anything he’s ever made, if not more so. What’s it about? Hard to say, but Weerasethakul is up there with Hou Hsaio-Hsien as a modern director who is changing the way people watch and understand films. Nothing short of changing the very grammar of cinema is good enough for him!
4. Day Night Day Night
More compelling than it has any right to be, Day Night Day Night is the story of a sweet young American girl who’s decided to blow up a Times Square streetcorner. Why? Who knows! Director Julia Lotkev keeps the film steeped in mystery; no motives are offered, only suspense, built-up with tight close-ups and a hand-held camera. It’s a fascinating experiment in the nature of cinematic identification, and star Luisa Williams gives a performance that approaches the levels of Falconetti. Ultimately, and arguably irresponsibly, Lotkev uses the terrorist as a metaphor for the artist, and the results are genuinely moving when they ought to be repulsive.
5. 12:08 East of Bucharest
A small and seemingly slight film out of Romania, 12:08… couldn’t be more perfect for what it sets out to accomplish. Less, as critics have suggested, an exploration of the nature of memory and truth of the Rashomon variety–though that’s there, too–12:08... essentially asks why we ought to celebrate our national history when the reality of the present is so dismal and bleak. A fitting companion film for the Fourth of July holiday that just passed!
Honorable Mention/Runners-Up (in order):
o Paprika (Full review)
o Time (Full review)
o Zodiac (Full review)
o Triad Election (Full review)
o 28 Weeks Later (Full review)