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Ten Great Movies We Saw This Year

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 31, 2007 4:58PM

2007_12tenbestmovies.jpg With the proliferation each year of "best of" lists, you'd think that the human mind divided up its cinematic experiences and memories in tidy, discreet yearly blocks of time. It ain't so. Great movies do not have "sell by" dates; instead, they're as fresh as whatever day you end up seeing them for the first time. It applies equally to brand-new films you've been anticipating for months and unearthed treasures you never expected to see at all.

We've already shared our list of what movies we wished we'd seen this year, so now here's ten we did see in 2007 for the first time and loved. Not all were released in the last twelve months (in fact one dates from 1944!) but nevertheless, when we look back at 2007 these are some we'll always remember.

1. Inland Empire, directed by David Lynch
Lynch himself brought his new film to the Music Box in January, a textbook example of a love/hate movie. We are in the former category. Laura Dern gives several astonishing performances (playing a hard-to-determine number of different characters) in a bewildering array of screwy, frightening, even humorous sequences loosely wound around the theme of exploitation in Hollywood. Even after three viewings it stimulates and engrosses.

2. Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple, directed by Stanley Nelson
This aired on PBS in April and also had a run at the Siskel. Morbidly fascinating, tragic, suspenseful, moving: this documentary on the infamous 70's cult takes us back to a time when it must have felt like the world was falling apart. It doesn't feel like that anymore. Because, as we all know, the world has already fallen apart.

3. Laura, directed by Otto Preminger
Shame on us for never having seen this before! But we made up for it and saw it four times this year. A romantically cynical melodrama/murder mystery revolving around the casually seductive Laura, the characters' behavior functions according to a weird, unknowable logic. Unknowable even to the characters themselves. It's also one of the most quotable films in history. Kudos to the Music Box for their Otto Preminger retrospective in November.

4. Mutual Appreciation, directed by Andrew Bujalski
The hype was accurate for once. Though we wince at the genre's name, this zenith of "mumblecore" is the equal of Cassevetes in its unpredictability and freshness. Honest-to-God poignant and hilarious, this microbudgeted indie makes Knocked Up look like the ham-fisted jerry-rigged comedy that it is.

5. Never Apologize, directed by Mike Kaplan
Screened as a special event at this year's CIFF, Malcolm McDowell's monologue recounts and dissects his relationship with the brilliant, perpetually-undervalued filmmaker Lindsay Anderson. Simple and straightforward in terms of technique, Anderson's longtime producer Kaplan simply lets McDowell do his thing. We get a wonderful string of movie anecdotes as well as some dead-on impersonations of people like John Gielgud and Rachel Roberts. With the appearance of if .... and O Lucky Man! on DVDs this year, perhaps Lindsay Anderson's merciless wit will finally get its due.

6. No Country for Old Men, directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
The Coen Bros. take a Cormac McCarthy novel and turn it into their most meticulous movie ever, which is all the more impressive since the story balances on the hinge between fate and chaos. Oh yeah, there's also tons of carnage and snappy dialog. Tommy Lee Jones is always great to watch but it's Javier Bardem (and his perverse pageboy) that steal the film.

7. The River, directed by Jean Renoir
Renior's ode to childhood and the real India is, quite simply, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful color films ever made. Its screening at CIFF constituted one of those moments that truly caused us to see things differently afterwards. Luckily it's also available on a Criterion DVD. Its gentle drifting story also incorporates dance.

8. Sicko, directed by Michael Moore
Yeah, we know: he can be sloppy, manipulative, even crude. But no other film this year caused more painful laughter and outrage than this blunt take-down of the U.S. health care system. Or made us pine more sincerely for Canada and Paris. And you know what? Moore helped to cement the topic as a key election issue for 2008.

9. The Steel Helmet, directed by Samuel Fuller
In 85 minutes we get a searing examination of war, racism, justice, patriotism and the effect of violence. Oh, and it was made in 1951. This year Jonathan Rosenbaum presented it as part of his lecture series at the Siskel, and Criterion released it on DVD. All action, no flab.

10. Stuck, directed by Stuart Gordon
We caught this almost as an afterthought as part of CIFF's late-night series. A gleefully nasty riff on Lady in a Cage that examines the outer limits of misanthropy, or just a superior piece of horror/suspense filmmaking? You decide. Either way, Steven Rea contributes a solid performance as a homeless man stuck in a car windshield and so does Mena Suvari as his drug-addled tormentor.