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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Best of 2007

To me, top ten lists are forever changing. I keep detailed lists of every movie I see, keeping them in order by the year in which they were released and sometimes when I go back and look over my ordering, I inevitably make some changes. So, while what follows is currently my top ten lists, you can be sure that there will be alterations. Some films will invariably age better than others and third and fourth viewings may tweak my perceptions. But I feel confident, after viewing over 200 films this year, that the following are the ten best right now.

This year was especially tough because it was so back-loaded, resulting in only one film from my end of August list remaining. What also makes it tough is that the top four films could all legitimately be what I consider to be the best film of the year. That makes it very difficult to order those top four films, all of which I consider to be masterpieces, because they all succeed and transcend in such different ways. So, while my number one film might be my number one film today, I honestly don’t know which of those four will be my favorite film tomorrow. As a result, just rest assured that I love all four of those films equally.

There were, of course, a few films that I missed or some that I need to see again. I will update you if there is anything groundbreaking. But what a marvelous year it turned out to be, when I had to cut films like Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Knocked Up, Ratatouille, Superbad, A Mighty Heart, Gone Baby Gone, The Kite Runner, Rescue Dawn, Two Days in Paris, and Eastern Promises. In a weaker year, they would have all been ranked quite highly. Also, if Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream didn’t change release dates at the last minute, it would have been on the list below.

Without further ado…

10. The Devil Came on Horseback
(Dir. Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern)
There were several wonderful documentaries released this year, including Lake of Fire and No End in Sight, but this one struck a chord with me for myriad reasons, not least of which is that the ongoing genocide in Darfur is one issue in which I am particularly passionate about discussing. There have been a couple of documentaries on the subject released in the past year or so, including last year’s God Grew Tired of Us, but this one really gives us a ground’s eye view on the current conflict, whereas many other documentaries concern the previous conflicts in the Sudan or the Lost Boys.

Brian Steidle is our guide on this journey, an ex US Marine Captain who has decided to travel to the Sudan as a hired member of the African Union. His mission: to photograph and document what is happening in Southern Sudan. He ventures into the Darfur region and it is there that he bears witness to some of the most horrible atrocities that human beings are capable of. He takes pictures, talks to tribesmen and assures them all that the United States army is on its way because he really believes that once our government sees those pictures, the cavalry will be on its way. Well, the people of Darfur are still waiting for us to show up.

When Steidle comes home, he receives a flurry of interviews on CNN and Fox News, becoming something of a talking head after the New York Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof writes an Op-Ed column with some of Steidle’s pictures printed in it. After a few days, however, he is yesterday’s news.

The wonderful thing about this documentary is that you don’t have to be familiar with the current situation in Darfur as a prerequisite. You will learn more about Darfur in ninety minutes than you could have hoped for. Unfortunately, this is as sexy a topic as the Iraq War and how that snafu implicates our President. No, this is about a genocide that is happening right now – just as bad as Rwanda – and nobody is doing anything about it. There are several reasons why nothing can be done, but one of the biggest obstacles is lack of awareness. So, I urge you to see this movie, become aware.

9. Into the Wild (Dir. Sean Penn)
This great movie, in contrast to the previous one, is about the joy of being blissfully unaware. It’s about retreating to the country, allowing everything else to drift away as the main character drifts into oblivion. At least, that’s what this film is about on the surface. One of the biggest questions for people who see this film is: am I supposed to like Chris McCandless? After all, this is a young man who throws away a life that many people would kill to have, not appreciating how lucky he has it and romanticizing the idea of striking out on your own and living off the land. I don’t really have an answer because I’m not sure if I particularly like McCandless, but I do admire what he did in a sense. I wish I could be so brazen as to just take a backpack and make my way across this beautiful country of ours. And I think this is what Sean Penn is getting at with this film.

We all know by now what Sean Penn’s political leanings might be, but it’s interesting that he’s essentially made a love letter to America with this film. Not just the beautiful lakes, mountains, fields and deserts that make up the terrain, but the genuinely good people who reside in the heartland, the people who might have voted for George W. Bush. McCandless encounters hippies and farmers and old folks and while he might have a few seedy incidents along the way, the journey is not exactly solemn until the end.

The acting is top-notch all the way through, with some wonderful support by Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart and the great Hal Holbrook. But this is Emile Hirsch’s film and he carries it on his shoulders like the backpack he lugs with him throughout the picture. He is charismatic, charming, handsome and frustrating and it’s easy to see why his family would long for him so much and why so many people would be taken with him along the way. It’s a difficult role to play and Hirsch does it to perfection. It would be a shame if he were overlooked in February.

8. Once (Dir. John Carney)
It took me a while to catch up with this gem, but I’m glad I did. I happen to be a big fan of Richard Linkater’s Before Sunrise andBefore Sunset; I’d even go so far as to say that the two films combined would be in my top ten of all-time, that’s how much of an achievement I think they are. Well, Once is reminiscent of those great films, focusing on two people meeting for a brief moment in their lives, (quite literally) making beautiful music together and then, well…(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

My only issue with the film – and it’s a small one – is that the reasons for the two leads not winding up together at the end of the picture don’t seem daunting enough to scare them off. There isn’t a large obstacle keeping them apart, so I don’t quite understand why our man goes back to his ex at the end of the film. But, then again, this very same issue is what I love most about the film. Sometimes in life people settle and they are so comfortable with what they have settled with that they cannot deal with something truly magical. For these two, that magic will forever be contained in this music they make together, a small consolation for them never being together.

The lead performances by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are so winning and the music is so catchy that it is difficult not to get swept up in their lives, struggling to make a buck in Ireland. We never learn their names, they are credited only as Guy and Girl and they could be any of us that has ever had a dream of making music, movies, plays, novels and taking that shot and finding that muse along the way. It’s the best date movie released this year.

7. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
(Dir. Sidney Lumet)
I once took an entire class on the oeuvre of Sidney Lumet and I’ve seen almost every single one of his pictures because of it. But, I remember on that first day, being handed the syllabus of all the films we were to see over the course of the semester and being amazed at this man’s output, repeating over and over, “He did that one?!” It’s not only his known masterpieces like Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Prince of the City, and The Verdict that stand out, but his lesser-known classics like The Pawnbroker, The Anderson Tapes and The Hill. My favorite Lumet film very well might beRunning on Empty, which contains some of the very best performances in the last twenty years.

I kept waiting for Lumet to make a film in the years since that has equaled that masterpiece, – or any of his others – but none has come close. Find Me Guilty, released last year, was diverting and entertaining, but not close to his previous output. Then, with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Lumet finally comes back with a vengeance.

The story is deceptively simple, but the devil – no pun intended – is in the details. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are both marvelous as brothers that are fuck-ups in different ways. Hoffman is smooth operator, but he has terrible vices including a drug problem. Hawke, meanwhile, is the more obvious loser, always scrounging for money so that his daughter can be happy and his ex-wife will get off his back. Together, they devise a plan to rob a jewelry store and needless to say, it goes awry.

This is, above all, a film about family and betrayal and how the betrayal of your family is the wound that cuts the deepest and never heals. To be aware of the struggles of your family members and take advantage of those struggles is heartless, just as it is disgusting to blithely ruin a marriage or to put a family member in grave danger. This film deals with those kinds of issues and it enriches the experiences, but you might prefer to just enjoy the film as a visceral gut-punch on the level of something like Reservoir Dogs. That’s fine, it works in that way too.

Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei round out the cast and they are both exceptional, but it is truly Hawke and Hoffman that shine. They don’t look at all alike, but we are convinced in the way they speak to each other and the way they move around one another that they are brothers through and through. They stand by one another to the bitter end. It’s probably the only thing they understand about what being in a family means.

6. Margot at the Wedding (Dir. Noah Baumbach)
This was one of my most anticipated films this years because of how much I admired Baumbach’s previous outing, The Squid and the Whale. That film has a lot of detractors because many of the characters are hard to like, but I found them to be fascinating and extraordinarily real. As a child of divorce, that was one of the few films that I felt really understood the complexities of what that action can do to the psyche of a child. Many people have been down on Baumbach’s latest outing, but I find myself loving it for the same reasons I loved The Squid and the Whale. I think people are missing the point if they think it is about Nicole Kidman as the titular Margot and Jennifer Jason Leigh as her sister Pauline. The title evokes Eric Rohmer and while a title likeClaire’s Knee might be fitting, it isn’t really what that film is about just as Baumbach’s latest film is not about Margot or the wedding.

Instead, this film is about Margot’s son Claude (played wonderfully by newcomer Zane Pais) and what effect it will eventually have on him when he thinks back to the way his mother treated him. Margot is no angel, but she isn’t a devil either; instead, she is an insecure woman who projects her insecurities onto others, labeling various other folks as depressed or mentally ill while leaving herself undiagnosed. Her sister, Pauline, by contrast is easy-going and easy to like and it’s no small wonder why these two haven’t spoken in a long time.

Throughout the brief running time, Claude witnesses infidelity, possible pedophilia, masturbation, and worst of all: rifts within the family. Pauline seems like somebody he can relate to and confide in, but Margot makes sure to close down all avenues in which Claude might be able to find someone loving; but she doesn’t do this out of spite, it is borne out of her own inability to love her son the way she wants to.

Nicole Kidman reminds us once again why she is one of the more sought-after actresses, turning in a performance that is something like the female equivalent of what Daniel Day-Lewis does in There Will Be Blood. Kidman’s Margot is toxic, but she has purpose and she can destroy you with her venom just as easily as she can poison herself. Jennifer Jason-Leigh is always a joy to watch on screen and this is a welcome return for her after a bit of a sabbatical. She bares her body and soul for this film, willing to be vulnerable in every scene and that’s what makes her beautiful and perhaps the most endearing character from the film. Neither Pauline nor Margot are genuinely decent human beings, but Pauline seems to have a desire to better herself whereas Margot believes she is perfect. Jack Black might be the only weak link in the film, hamming it up a bit too much towards the end. Ciarin Hinds and John Turturro are both fully-realized in mere moments of screen time.

By the way, this movie is ostensibly a comedy and there are quite a few moments where I guffawed. But when the ending of the film comes, I was left with an overwhelming sadness because when Claude gets on that bus, his mother can’t seem to let him go. We’re not sure where they’re headed, but we know that the scars will be on Claude forever.

5. Michael Clayton (Dir. Tony Gilroy)
I’ve written quite a bit about this film already, but I’m still amazed at how much I enjoyed this talkative legal conundrum of a film. Some people are aghast at how George Clooney could be garnering so much awards talk for his role in this film, but I’m delighted by it because the Academy almost never gives notice to performances like these. Clooney’s acting is so sturdy and nuanced, trying to be as still and as subtle as possible in each scene, allowing character actors like Tom Wilkinson and Sydney Pollack to steal their scenes with him, but Clooney’s title character remains the indelible figure that looms over every act. It’s easy to turn in a performance that can rely on tricks and tics and eccentricities; Clooney, on the other hand, is playing an actual human being that must remain calm and collected because that’s his job.

The other marvel of this film is Tilda Swinton, who is a realistic embodiment of how power can corrupt. She doesn’t twirl her mustache and laugh maniacally as she spins a globe and kicks her feet up on the desk. Instead, she wakes up every morning fraught with worry about whether or not she is doing the right thing. This is what makes her even scarier: the fact that she has actually rationalized something like killing a human being. Swinton does in a few quick brush strokes what many actors can’t do with heaps of dialogue and action. Within thirty seconds looking at herself in the mirror, Swinton is able to tell us everything we need to know about this character.

Tony Gilroy has long been one of the most reliable of screenwriter, but now he is also a director to be on the lookout for, with a perfect sense of tone and pace. Some of the images he has brought me will forever stay with me. Just recently, over the holiday, I was driving and I caught sight of a few horses roaming around a plain by the side of the road and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the most pivotal scene from Michael Clayton. It took everything I had not to park the car and walk over to them.

4. No Country for Old Men
(Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)

This very easily could wind up being the best film of 2007 when I look back at this list a year from now. It’s a full-on masterpiece worthy of every bit of positive ink it gets and I can’t say a single bad thing about it. I can’t believe that a film this magnificent can’t crack the top three, but I think it speaks to how wonderful this year has been for film. If nothing else, I have no doubt that this film will be studied and talked about for years by anybody who loves movies.

The story is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s all in the telling and the Coens do a masterful job of adapting Cormac McCarthy’s pseudo-Western version of The Terminator. If the whole film was as straight-forward as the first hour and a half, it would still be a genuine classic, but it’s what happens in the last half hour of the film that truly makes it a masterpiece.

There are a million different interpretations of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s recitation of his dream at the end of the film, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that the dream is about death in some way; perhaps it’s the death of Bell’s father or thoughts about his own mortality or maybe it’s the death of a certain way of living. Either way, it’s the summation of what the film has been about: a meditation on what it means to take life or lose life.

Javier Bardem’s performance is definitely one of the five best of the year, regardless of gender or classification (supporting, lead, etc.). Chigurh is instantly iconic, from the moment he appears onscreen, those droopy eyes of his going wild with fury as he takes the first of many lives, the act of killing giving him a certain vitality that Bardem helps make palpable. Josh Brolin, however, is the unsung hero of this film, acting with few words and lots of eyebrows. The person that I most remember from this film, though is Kelly MacDonald,playing Carla Jean Moss, wife of Josh Brolin’s character. There is a scene with her and Chigurh at the end of the film that is so devastating that I thought right there that this is one of the best films of the year. When Chigurh checks his shoes, that’s the moment when I knew for sure that I was watching a masterpiece.

I wouldn’t say it’s as great as The Big Lebowski, but I’d put it on par with Miller’s Crossingand Fargo and all together, they make one hell of a trilogy of tough crime films.

3. Zodiac (Dir. David Fincher)
Wow, this was a hard one. For most of the year, I was convinced that this would be my number one by the end of December. It’s still possible that it will wind up being the most well-remembered by me, but the fact that I’m torn up about its placement is a testament to how damn great this film is. The thing I’m most thankful for is knowing that we don’t have to wait very long to get a new Fincher film, after he blew me away with this one.

I’ve long been a Fincher fan, but I wasn’t sure if he would ever be more than a tech-savvy filmmaker with a penchant for beautiful angles, creative CGI and a knack for picking great scripts. After he made Panic Room, I was worried that perhaps he felt his visual acuity would make up for the shortcomings of any script he chose. With Zodiac,Fincher found the perfect material, but he decided not to overpower the story by overdoing the creativity. It seemed that he realized that sometimes it’s best to just put the camera in the best position to tell the story. Of course there are some bravura moments, but for the most part this is a rather low-key affair that creeps up on you slowly, with Fincher amping up the dread gradually and the film seems to literally darken before your eyes.

I’ve been writing about this film ever since I started at MCN and I still haven’t exhausted everything that can be said about it. I think the acting is top-notch, the ensemble working together instead of trying to outdo one another. It’s an amazing crafting of one of the best exposes on journalism since All the President’s Men while also being a better police procedural than anything I’ve seen in years, yet it’s also an interesting depiction of a time and a place and a culture that no longer exists.

We watch the birthplace of free love turn into chaos because of a killer, with violence creeping into San Francisco with more and more regularity that it no longer matters if the Zodiac takes credit for it. That is the saddest part about the quest of our main characters and it’s something that Toschi affirms at the end: more and more people are dying every day and we can’t just stop everything to find one guy who only killed a handful. All crimes should be punished, but perhaps our efforts would be better spent preventing the ones we can.

There are infinite conversations that can be had after watching this film. Fincher and his crew do the heavy lifting of cobbling together the facts, but it’s up to you to try and piece together what the end result means.

2. There Will Be Blood (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
You should really just consider this a tie with the first movie because in about a week, this will probably be my favorite film of the year after I see it three more times. I’ve already seen it three times and it is such a marvel of a film that I am sure it will be the film most remembered from 2007. It is a true classic, right up there with the best films you’ve ever seen and if that seems like hyperbole, I assure you that it is not

The film begins underneath the Earth in 1898 where Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is mining for silver to put together enough dough to build a derrick and search for oil, which is where the real money is at. Through a series of circumstances, Plainview becomes wealthy and also becomes a father to a child he names H.W. In 1911, Plainview is directed to the small California town of Little Boston where oil seeps through the ground and he proceeds to buy up all the land that he can, much to the chagrin of the local preacher, the young Eli Sunday (Paul Dano).

Like all great films, this is a divisive one, a polarizing one. Essentially, it amounts to a character study of Daniel Plainview and he is not a pleasant man. Any kind thing he does is incidental, a side-effect of whatever he is doing that will benefit him. It’s more than selfishness, it’s a desire to see other people fail. He is a misanthrope, but one that wears a mask of humanity, trying like an alien to fit into this human world but he sticks out like an oil derrick in a barren field. Halfway into the film Plainview talks of wanting enough money so that he doesn’t have to be around people anymore. Shows how little he knows, since having money is no way to lose the people around you; in fact it’s a way to make sure you’ll never be alone again. Looking back, Plainview would probably be happiest going back to his earlier days, when he was alone in that hole in the Earth, digging for silver with no people around for miles.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Daniel Day-Lewis is the single greatest living actor, period. He proves it again with this performance. Some people have said he is channelingJohn Huston in Chinatown, others believe it’s a variation on his Bill the Butcher character from Gangs of New York, but I think it is something completely different and unique. Daniel Plainview is an original because we never seen him to a sincerely nice thing throughout the entire course of the film, nor does he try very hard to be friendly like Noah Cross inChinatown or sociable like Bill the Butcher. But Plainview is not a monster because Day-Lewis doesn’t let him become one. He is, instead, a brilliant and sadistic person who holds grudges like you wouldn’t believe and Day-Lewis makes us want to follow him everywhere, even if he is despicable. From the mannerisms to the throatiness of his voice to the wry way in which he smiles, it is clear that Daniel Day-Lewis knew every facet of this character and as a result, we know him. We don’t like him, but we know him. Everyone else in the film is great too, especially Paul Dano, but this is a Daniel Day-Lewis’ film from start to finish.

Speaking of the finish, some have complained that the film takes a radical left turn in the last half hour. Don’t listen to those people. The last half hour of the film is the logical conclusion based on what we have seen during the first two hours. It might be shocking, yes, and eccentric, but it is what the story demands. The final scenes and especially the final line have haunted me ever since I first saw it. There’s no question that Paul Thomas Anderson is officially a master of cinema and the finest young filmmaker that we have. This film is the reason I love film.

1. The Darjeeling Limited (Dir. Wes Anderson)
Nobody is more surprised by this than me. Again, tomorrow I might feel differently, but when thinking about the top four films and what the order should be, it was so difficult because I think they are all masterpieces in very different ways. How do you put four masterpieces in order? Coming up with the top spot turned out to be easier when I came up with this criteria: which one of these films hit me the hardest emotionally? I mean, all of the films will stick with me and they’re equal in almost all respects, but it was without question that Wes Anderson’s latest film hit me in that organ in my chest, piercing tissue and bone to get there.

I understand not everyone feels this way about this film and I can completely see why someone might not take to this picture, but I thought it was absolutely magical. In ninety short minutes, I grew attached to these three brothers (played adeptly by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) like they were my own. They were frustrating, difficult, moody and as real as anything that has come out of Wes Anderson’s world. Sure, they were mannered and postured in a style befitting Anderson’s films, but the Indian setting helps ground the emotions of the film into something real.

This film is a collection of short stories centered around these brothers (the short film Hotel Chevalier starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman is but one of those stories) that individually may not mean much, but added together they paint a complete picture. One of my favorite stories is the flashback of the three brothers on their way to their father’s funeral. It is funny and heartbreaking at the same, for the same reasons. It’s amazing how Anderson and the actors are able to make every line and action in that scene so bitingly funny and so cuttingly sad.

This is a theme we have seen done before: people being changed by a spiritual trip to somewhere exotic, but it has never been done like this. It is quite a rebound from the stumble of The Life Aquatic and it reaffirms my faith in Wes Anderson as a filmmaker to watch. Don’t let anyone fool you that Hotel Chevalier is better than the rest of this film because it is merely a chapter in this novel, a wonderful chapter sure, but it is much enriched by the rest of this film.

More than anything, though, this is the film I enjoyed watching the most out of them all. It might not be groundbreaking or controversial, but it’s a film I can’t wait to revisit again and again.

Noah Forrest
January 1, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 24 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon