Even in a movie-rich year like this one, I find Top 10 lists a trial to put together. I'm constitutionally averse to hierarchical systems, grading, ranking, and rows of tiny stars. I'd rather just heap all the films that mattered to me into a great squirming pile, like puppies, and shower them with love.
The very concept of "10 best" brings up that thorny, irresolvable question at the heart of the critical enterprise: When it comes to cultural products like books or movies, is there any meaningful distinction between "best" and "favorite"? We can get into that when next week's Movie Club kicks into gear; for our purposes, let's just say that these were the movies I staggered out of, those that have taken up permanent residence somewhere in my brain. In alphabetical order (it was hard enough to pick just 10, let alone rank them):
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days:The headline Slate gave to my review of this movie's New York Film Festival screening—"the Cannes-winning film you'll probably never see"—has turned out, thankfully, to be inaccurate. Cristian Mungiu's vérité-style story of two Romanian women seeking an illegal abortion during the Ceausescu regime has found a U.S. distributor and will be in limited release beginning in late January. See it by any means necessary: It's searingly intelligent and achingly sad, shot with a technical virtuosity that sneaks up on you.
Away From Her:One regret of 2007 is that I didn't catch this quiet stunner in time to review it when it opened. Sarah Polley's directorial debut, based on an Alice Munro story about a marriage torn apart by one partner's descent into Alzheimer's, is a love story of tender ruthlessness, with a trio of perfect performances from Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, and Olympia Dukakis. This should reappear on the big screen when Christie gets the Oscar nomination she richly deserves; if you missed it the first time around, see it then.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: There's not a frame I'd change in Julian Schnabel's big-hearted, lyrical adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby's devastating memoir. Mathieu Amalric, my marriage proposal remains on the table for your consideration.
The Host: This cheerfully whacked-out Korean monster flick squirmed its way onto my list through sheer originality. What other movie this year provided social satire, eco-paranoia, a noodle-slurping ghost, a forced lobotomy, and a man-eating river beast in one suspenseful, funny package?
Killer of Sheep re-release: OK, technically this belongs on the 10 best list for 1977, next to Network and Annie Hall. But surely the 30-years-too-late theatrical debut of Charles Burnett's first and greatest film, a chronicle of love and survival in the Watts ghetto, has to count as one of the major cinematic events of the year. It's now available on a DVD with fabulous extras, including a director's cut of Burnett's 1983 film My Brother's Wedding and three of his prizewinning shorts.
No End in Sight:If you can stand to sit through one more documentary about the Iraq war, make it the debut film of Brookings-scholar-turned-director Charles Ferguson. No lefty hand-wringing here, just a laser focus on the Bush administration's jaw-dropping mismanagement of the "reconstruction" period just after the 2003 invasion, when the "Mission Accomplished" banner was hoisted and Iraq's standing army disastrously dismantled. No End in Sight exchanges liberal complacency for a wonkishly objective rigor, only to arrive at a familiarly grim conclusion: We've fucked it up, but good.