This was a surprisingly good year, perhaps short on great films but very strong on good ones. My short list ran to about 30 films, when I usually have trouble getting to 25.
1 RATATOUILLE Brad Bird
More pure movie fun than any other movie this year. Few directors have Bird’s ability to manage emotional narrative, visual dazzle and comedy; this is on the same exalted level as his films The Iron Giant and The Incredibles.
2 INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch
Movie fun of a decidedly darker bent than Ratatouille. If Lynch’s Mulholland Drive had spent the last six years living in a dumpster smoking crack, it would be Inland Empire. I can’t explain why that’s a compliment, but it is.
3 ZODIAC David Fincher
This serial-killer-movie-to-end-all-serial-killer-movies is the exhaustively detailed study of the lives of three men, all based on real people, who pursued San Francisco’s Zodiac killer across three decades. There’s one interesting thesis to be written about the moral universe of Fincher’s films, and another about this film’s ravishing long-take style.
4 TERROR’S ADVOCATE Barbet Schroeder
Sure, it’s a talking-heads documentary, but the principal head is the octogenarian French lawyer whose client list included AFLN and PLO terrorists, Carlos the Jackal and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. It’s the fascinating story of a man who seems wired into the apparatus of modern terror yet never gets his hands dirty.
5 EASTERN PROMISES David Cronenberg
It starts conventionally, but for the last 40 minutes, as Cronenberg tightens the screws in this elegant, vicious thriller, you’re occupying no more than 10 per cent of your seat. Viggo Mortensen gives the most enigmatically unreadable performance of his career.
6 BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, Sidney Lumet
The octogenarian Lumet gives us Reservoir Dogs as family tragedy. Philip Seymour Hoffman could win an Oscar for any of his three films this year. I’d give it to him for this one for his performance as a guy who thinks he’s Machiavelli but is just another schmuck with daddy issues. And while we’re at it, give Marisa Tomei a nomination for her work as his wife.
7 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS Cristian Mungiu
The Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, this Romanian film is about ordinary people who make bad choices that lead to horrible choices, filmed under bad fluorescent lights. It makes you feel like you’re actually living under Communism.
8 CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR Mike Nichols
Nichols’s film proves that what this year’s crop of Iraq movies needed was some character comedy. Aaron Sorkin’s script takes Tom Hanks through the Soviet war in Afghanistan as a fun-loving Congressman who helps the CIA funnel arms to the mujahedeen. Hanks and Julia Roberts as a rich, right-wing Texan give big movie-star performances, and Philip Seymour Hoffman does a brilliant, blowsy character turn as a CIA guy who’s not above bugging his own boss.
9 NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Joel and Ethan Coen
Already the winner of the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review prizes as best film of the year, No Country is stunningly directed and acted, but I can’t get around the too-literary device of putting the narrative climax offscreen. There’s such a thing as being too faithful to the book.
Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale got Dylanized in I’m Not There.
10 I’M NOT THERE Todd Haynes
A dazzling puzzle picture about Bob Dylan, with six different Dylans, none of them named Bob Dylan. The anchor is the improbably androgynous Cate Blanchett as Subterranean Homesick Dylan, with props to Christian Bale as finger-pointing Dylan. I’d rate it higher if Haynes had taken Harvey Weinstein’s advice and cut the Richard Gere section way back.
David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, with Naomi Watts, was one of the year’s best.
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy), Superbad (Greg Mottola), Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog), Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright), Control (Anton Corbijn), Ocean’s 13 (Steven Soderbergh), Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck), Days Of Glory (Rachid Bouchareb), The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
After 20 years of kicking around in television and forgettable pictures, Josh Brolin graduates from not being a household name in his own household (Dad is James Brolin, so Barbra Streisand’s his stepmother, and he’s married to Diane Lane) – to possible Oscar winner and star of a couple of the most highly regarded pictures of the year: No Country For Old Men; a funny scary turn as the Doctor in the good part of Grindhouse; Planet Terror; a malignant and corrupt narc in American Gangster; and the decent but overwhelmed sheriff in The Valley Of Elah.
Laura Dern delivered a knockout performance in #2 flick Inland Empire.
BEST ACTORS, lead
George Clooney, Michael Clayton, Ocean’s 13
Laura Dern, Inland Empire
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Savages, Charlie Wilson’s War
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
BEST ACTORS, supporting
Casey Affleck, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Ocean’s 13, Gone Baby Gone
Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Russell Crowe, 3:10 To Yuma, American GangsterCate Blanchett, I’m Not There, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
Marisa Tomei, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead