Compiling all of these top 10 lists has gotten me in the mood to post some of my own lists. I still have about 10 films to see from 2007, so I’ll start it off with posting my top 10 from 2006:
10. The Last King of Scotland
After starring in over 50 films and directing another handful (including “Hope Floats”), Forest Whitaker has finally made a household name for himself. He steals the show in “The Last King of Scotland” as a Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, whose friendship with a young doctor (James McAvoy) grows increasingly dangerous as time progresses. Whitaker, with his beady eyes and exhausting passion, has received an abundance of acclaim for his performance, including a recent Golden Globe win. Unfortunately, however, McAvoy – who is also great – has been nearly forgotten during award season. Together, the two make “The Last King of Scotland” one of the finest acted films of the year. In fact, they make it one of the finest overall films of the year.
9. Children of Men
Clive Owens stars in the most thought-provoking sci-fi thriller since “Minority Report” as a former activist who, thanks to his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), must help save the future of mankind. The year is 2027, there has not been a child born in over 20 years, and people are still killing one another. Alfonso Cuaron’s futuristic world is anything but optimistic, yet it still manages to find value in human life. “Children of Men” boasts one of the smartest stories of the year, and it’s equally matched with its fierce direction and thrilling cinematography.
8. A Prairie Home Companion
In a way, it appears that Robert Altman (who died of cancer in November) wanted “A Prairie Home Companion” to be his last film – and it’s a fitting one at that. The film – which tells the story of the final days of a Minneapolis-based radio show – seems to imply that every good thing must someday reach its end. As they stage their final live show, each musician in “Companion” is filled with a sweet comfort to overcome the bitter sadness about the theater’s closing. “A Prairie Home Companion,” in its own way, is Altman’s way of giving a final thanks to his fans, but instead, it reminds us that we should be the ones thanking him.
7. Little Children
The little children, in Todd Field’s darkly entertaining follow-up to “In the Bedroom,” are not apparent at first sight. The title does not refer to the little tikes that run around at the playground and splash in the pool – rather it’s the grownups who act like children in this story. Kudos to Jackie Earle Haley, a former “Bad News Bears” child star, for giving the year’s most daring and memorable performance as a child sex-offender named Ronnie. With hopes of redeeming himself, Ronnie moves into a new neighborhood with his mother, only to be criticized by the surrounding immoral population. “Little Children” is like a dark comedy version of “In the Bedroom, a tragedy with brains and talent.
6. Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story
When asked why he decided to adapt Laurence Sterne’s 18th century novel – a novel that many consider unfilmable – to the big screen, Steve Coogan replies that the film was ranked number eight on an all-time list. The reporter, in response, informs Coogan that the books on that list are in chronological order.
Easy mistake. In fact, if I had made this list in chronological order, “Tristram Shandy” (which opened way back in January) would appear to be the best movie of the year– and those who have seen it would likely believe it. That’s because “Shandy” is a gem of a story. It’s part “Adaptation,” part “Spinal Tap” and completely hilarious. This is the most under-seen and underappreciated film of the year.
5. The Queen
With over 20 Best Actress award wins already, “The Queen” has quickly become known as Helen Mirren’s film. Sure, she’s great, but “The Queen” is much more than a one-person show. Let’s not forget screenwriter Peter Morgan (who also wrote “The Last King of Scotland”), who adds moments of humor between heart-breaking in his thought-provoking script that examines the royal family’s actions after Princess Diana’s tragic death. Nor can we forget Michael Sheen, who gives a strong supporting performance as Prime Minister Tony Blaire, or director Stephen Frears, who has been making masterful films for years. For me, however, the heart of the film belongs to Princess Diana, who continues to inspire us years after her tragic death.
4. Letters From Iwo Jima
Some things get better with age: fine wines, car insurance, and Clint Eastwood. For the third time in four years, Eastwood has placed a film near the top of my year-end list, this time with a beautifully humane war story that tells the Japanese side of the battle of Iwo Jima. Perhaps even more remarkably is the fact that this is the second Iwo Jima story that Eastwood gave us in 2006. The first was “Flags of Our Fathers,” a slow-moving but notable examination on how the media persuaded America to believe the war was necessary. His second film, “Letters From Iwo Jima” is simply a masterpiece. Like he did with “Million Dollar Baby,” he allows us to understand the characters’ feelings and motives – a gift that few directors in history have demonstrated.
3. United 93
Months before its release, protesters complained that it was too soon for a film to tear open our 9/11 wounds. Yet, years from now, we’ll be thanking director Paul Greengrass for making one of the most important films of the 21st century. Told in real time and accurate in its details, “United 93” feels more like an experience than a movie. Perhaps even more importantly, “93” celebrates the bravery of those who fought back on September 11th, and honors those who died. “United 93” is difficult to watch, but even harder to ignore.
2. Half Nelson
So many films these days try to do too much to impress audiences. “Half Nelson,” in its own simple way, is special because it never forces itself to do too much. Ryan Gosling (best known for “The Notebook”) gives the finest lead performance of the year as a well-liked junior high history teacher who has a secret addiction to crack cocaine. When a student catches him high on the drug after a late night basketball game, they build a much-needed friendship and trust. Under another’s hands, “Half Nelson” could easy have become implausible. Instead, it’s one of the most delicate, heart-breaking films of the year.
1. The Departed
In the opening lines of Martin Scorsese’s mesmerizing cat-and-mouse-chase of a movie, Jack Nicholson’s character informs us that “no one gives it to you – you have to take it.”
I bring this up because, for as long as I can remember, people have been crying “give Marty (Scorsese) an Oscar” and in recent years, it appeared that he was looking for a handout. Now he’s ready to take it. “The Departed” easily stands out as the best movie of the year; a film that leaves you entertained for nearly three hours and thinking about it for several more. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio star at opposite sides of the social network: Damon is a successful FBI detective and DiCaprio is an undercover cop whose life is threatened every day. Unlike most of the films on this list, “The Departed” does not boast any deep message or hidden meanings, it’s simply pure entertainment. But if you do need a message out of the best film of the year it’s this: a film doesn’t have to have a message to be given the top spot on my list. It just has to take it.
Honorable Mention: I have seldom enjoyed watching a documentary as much as I enjoyed watching the Dixie Chicks’ Shut Up & Sing, a film that portrays one of America’s finest bands and their struggle against a media-driven America.