2007 is now one-third over, and four movies have broken $100 million: 300, Wild Hogs, Ghost Rider and Blades of Glory. Eddie Murphy's Norbit is creeping up on a $100 million score as well. Only Blades of Glory is interesting in the slightest. It's a poorly-directed, uneven comedy, but with plenty of laughs, all thanks to Will Ferrell. I guess I could waste time wondering why people are paying good money to see these so-called movies, but the fact remains that they all opened on more than 3000 screens, and were available for just about everyone in the country to see.

Despite these duds, the year in movies hasn't been so bad so far. I'd rather focus on some of the year's really good entries, the ones that will probably be forgotten eight months from now when the list and awards season starts all over again. I haven't been able to see it yet, but Syndromes and a Century (1 screen) from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul should be enlightening. His Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), a beautiful combination of documentary and storytelling, is on my personal list of the best films of the past ten years. His amazing Blissfully Yours (2002), among other things, rolled the credits right in the middle of the movie, and his Tropical Malady (2005) had a gay romance far more tender and engrossing than the more widely celebrated Brokeback Mountain.

If I had to make up my ten best list right now, I'd include David Lynch's Inland Empire, an official 2006 movie that wasn't available for anyone to see outside New York or Los Angeles until mid-January of this year. After that I'd definitely include Jafar Panahi's Offside (5 screens), from Iran. Panahi makes beautiful use of limited space and offscreen sound to tell the story of a group of women who disguise themselves as men to gain entrance to a big soccer match (in Iran women are not allowed to attend live games). It's only Panahi's fifth feature, but I'm convinced he's already a master.

Next up, I'd include Ken Loach's best film to date, The Wind That Shakes the Barley (44 screens) -- although I still haven't seen his classic Kes, from 1969. This is another odd one, since it was the 2006 Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, and several American reviewers got a peek at it a year ago. But it has been officially released in the States as of 2007, and I'm counting it. It's Loach's most sublime balance of politics, neo-realism and old-fashioned, character-driven storytelling. He doesn't always get the mix right, but this time it's nearly perfect.

I may also include another from an old-time master, Alain Resnais' Private Fears in Public Places (2 screens). Resnais is responsible for several official masterworks, Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961) among them. While Private Fears may not live up to their innovation and brilliance, it shows a steady hand and an eye for adapting a stage play into a movie that actually moves.

My favorite documentary of 2007 was Romantico, until I saw Philip Gröning's Into Great Silence (13 screens), an audacious 164-minute film about Carthusian monks living in a charterhouse in the French Alps that features maybe 15 or 20 minutes of talking among its entire running time. Its meditative pace and unobtrusive gaze into the daily lives of the monks leaves one drifting off into a personal Zen state, either thinking about what to have for lunch or contemplating the ultimate meaning of lunch. Happily, this film has been a hit in certain cities.

I also loved Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz (currently playing in the above 400 screen bracket), but along the same lines, I might select Bong Joon-ho's The Host (63 screens), surely the smartest, and most surprising giant monster movie in many decades. I'll never forget the scene in which the beastie first emerges from Korea's Han River, galumphing along the concrete riverbank, right toward the camera. As far as the year's other low-gear celluloid, I'm fond of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof and Sam Raimi's upcoming Spider-Man 3, even if I have certain problems with both.

Finally, we have Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep (3 screens), which I haven't seen yet -- as it has been virtually impossible to see for years -- but which I will hopefully check out next week. Burnett made it in 1977 while a grad student at UCLA, and apparently it has never had a proper, official U.S. theatrical release. (Incidentally, his subsequent movies -- including My Brother's Wedding, To Sleep with Anger and The Glass Shield -- have all faced odd distribution problems. If his films were more widely seen he would no doubt be considered the most important African-American filmmaker of his time.) But now that this film is making the rounds for real, it could become this year's Army of Shadows, playing all year round and inspiring countless audiences, and, hopefully, future filmmakers.
CATEGORIES Columns, Cinematical