Cover Story: The Year in Film & Music: Bowl Cuts, Dicks & Day-Lewis

'Best of' observations on the year in movies

Jacob Drabik

The Year in Film & Music 2007

Best unabashedly wack studio release: Craig Brewer´s Black Snake Moan comes on like a scuzzy, Southern-fried Tennessee Williams melodrama and rarely lets up. Teetering on the edge of complete outrageousness but never less than sincere, this far-out fable is a strangely tender exploration of religious salvation and the redemptive powers of Blues music. And while it doesn't completely work, I admire Brewer´s audacity.

Best villain: Mullet-haired Billy Mitchell is an ass of gigantic self-importance as the long-reigning Donkey Kong champion in the surprisingly engrossing documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

Best well-intended misfire: Brian DePalma´s anti-Iraq War film Redacted suffers in same way as the other turkeys in his up and down filmography: tone-deafness.

Best breakthrough 20 years on: After two decades in the ¨business,¨ Josh Brolin had the best year of his career via a quartet of diverse roles in high-profile films: American Gangster, Grindhouse, In the Valley of Elah and, most notably, No Country for Old Men. Ah, he´s finally eclipsed Goonies.

Best evocation of Ken Russell´s Women in Love: A heavily tattoed Viggo Mortensen´s full-frontal bathhouse wrestling match in David Cronenberg´s Eastern Promises will no doubt go down as the, uh, ballsiest, most memorable sequence of the year.

Best 1970s genre fetish: Musician-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie follows up his ´70s exploitation movie homage The Devil´s Rejects with a quasi-remake of John Carpenter´s 1978 horror classic, Halloween. Zombie´s inspirations might not be visionary, but his devotion to gritty, old-school genre films is loving and genuine.

While its graphic violence and unabashed trashiness are far from subtle, Halloween succeeds where so many contemporary horror movies fail: It generates real tension.

Best use of color: Wes Anderson´s The Darjeeling Limited employs a crafty palette of blues and reds to enriching effect in this typically whimsical tale of three brothers attempting to bond on a train ride through India.

Best triple-headed actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman´s performances in three vastly different films (Before the Devil Knows You´re Dead, Charlie Wilson´s War and The Savages) prove yet again that he is a versatile, creative beast of an actor.

Best iconoclast: Always a man of his own (sometimes stubbornly out there) opinions, the Chicago Reader´s longtime lead critic Jonathan Rosenbaum took down two of the year´s biggest cinematic pillars — he disagreed with the near-universal praise of the Coen brothers´ No Country for Old Men and dared to write an evaluation of the late Ingmar Bergman that questioned the Swede´s placement as one of cinema´s great directors.

Best use of funds grossed via the mostly lame Ocean´s movies: Star and producer George Clooney´s Michael Clayton is the best film Alan J. Pakula never made, a ´70s-cinema-inspired tale of a flawed man trying to do the right thing in the face of powerful forces.

Best hair: Javier Bardem´s bowl cut in No Country for Old Men injected just the right amount of oddball eccentricity to the most menacing character to hit the big-screen this year. It made him human, if only slightly.

Best confirmation that the Bush Administration has no clue: Craig Gillespie´s documentary No End in Sight is an incisive, clear-headed examination of the many reasons why the post-Saddam U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a debacle: the rampant cronyism, the massive miscalculations, the lack of proper planning, the disaster that is Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, the ineptitude of Bush´s cabal goes beyond our already lowered expectations. No End in Sight is a troubling, haunting, infuriating eye-opener.

Best book: Local writer Tim Lucas' biography on cult film director Mario Bava is not only one of the best film-related books of the year; it's one of the best books in any genre.

Best leap forward: Emile Hirsch, a promising young actor in such films as Imaginary Heroes, Lords of Dogtown and even The Girl Next Door, delivers an affecting, impressively committed performance in Sean Penn´s adaptation of the Into the Wild, the true-life story of Thoreau-inspired loner Christopher McCandless.

Best reminder that Julie Christie is a goddess: Sarah Polley´s elegant, touching Away From Her, in which Christie illuminates the screen via a character suffering from Alzheimer´s.

Best opening and closing shots: Silent Light, a languid look at a Mennonite family in the rural community of Chihuahua, Mexico, is bookended by a pair of extended, mesmerizing shots that perfectly encapsulate director Carlos Reygadas´ singular talents as purveyor of cinematic realism.

Best impersonation: Cate Blanchett´s take on Don´t Look Back-era Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes´ fascinatingly obtuse I´m Not There had me perplexed in the best way possible: She was a better Dylan than Dylan.

Best new voice: Diablo Cody´s screenplay for Juno breathed new life into a derivative genre (high school comedy) via a gift for up-to-the-minute vernacular, pop culture savvy and unexpected narrative nuance. And Ellen Page is the perfect actress to deliver her lines, a performer who radiates just the right balance of intelligence, vulnerability and sass.

Best sign that Robin Williams should retire: As if his recent roles in License to Wed, Man of the Year and RV weren´t enough, Williams´ jive-turkey street musician (which conjures a meld of Bono and Richard Simmons) in the seriously corny August Rush was the most painful thing I witnessed at the movies since, well, Jacob the Liar.

Best crafty casting: Gus Van Sant used MySpace to cast Paranoid Park, his latest impressively impressionistic, beautifully shot tone poem in a late-era period that includes the underseen Elephant and Last Days.

Best effort to transcend a mediocre spoof of musical biopics: The versatile John C. Reilly gives it his all in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a movie that never lives up to its leading man´s immense gifts, which include what seems to be authentic musical performances and a surprising tolerance for having some dude´s flaccid ¨junk¨ within inches of his face.

Best dick fetish: That a multiplex comedy like Superbad can feature a male lead character who can´t help but sketch a variety of elaborately rendered dicks is both hilarious and oddly hopeful in its subversive glee.

Best exploration of elusive truth: In many ways, David Fincher´s slow-burning Zodiac can be seen as the beginning of contemporary culture´s elusive grip on absolute truth. Like Fight Club, this latest meticulously crafted effort captures the mood of our uncertain times with eerie accuracy. Is it a coincidence that it´s set amid the apex of Nixon?

Best 1970s genre fetish (part deux): Grindhouse was a smorgasbord of fun (even when Robert Rodriguez´s portion grew tiresome), evoking a time when movies still had the power to excite as true events. Note to Quentin Tarantino: Please step up your moviemaking pace.

Best work with a sex doll: Ryan Gosling does it again in Lars and the Real Girl, delivering another affecting performance as a shy twentysomething whose first ¨real¨ relationship is with a remarkably lifelike sex doll.

Best sign that film criticism isn't dead: Film critic J. Hoberman celebrated his 30th year at The Village Voice. The Voice's last man standing continues to write about his favorite art form with rare insight and style to burn, a vital must-read for movie buffs of every stripe.

Best total immersion: Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most compelling, ferociously talented actors alive. He not only inhabits a role; he owns it, which he does again in Paul Thomas Anderson´s haunting, supremely odd There Will Be Blood. Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainview, an early-20th-century oil prospector who seethes with ambiguously sourced, barely contained intensity throughout a movie that stays with you long after its largely one-man tour de force fades to black. Day-Lewis delivers the kind of performance so rare in today´s risk-averse American cinema: nuanced, raw, fearless and sometimes scary in its total immersion. Now if we can just get him on the screen more often...

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