My picks for the best and worst movies of the year are no secret to anyone who follows my annual ranking of every new theatrical release I see. The ranking is a work-in-progress throughout the year. It begins when I see the first movie slated for release within a calendar year — for 2007, that began in Novemeber 2006 — and ends when I see the last theatrical release for consideration for year-end wrapups, and for the Oscars; for the movie year 2007, that happened just this past week, when I caught up with a couple of Oscar-nominated documentaries.
1. Atonement: Joe Wright’s film — shocking in more ways than one — isn’t just a great love story, it’s a meditation on how we need great love stories… plus it features more than one of the year’s great performances. [buy at Amazon UK]
2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Tim Burton’s best film yet is a wonderful genre-bender, a truly cinematic adaptation of a stage opera, and one of the most enrapturing film experiences of the year. [buy the soundtrack CD at Amazon]
3. Sicko: Not just a documentary, Michael Moore’s passionate tirade has a purpose far beyond itself: to make life better for hundreds of millions of people. That’s the kind of audacity that art should be about. [buy at Amazon]
4. No Country for Old Men: Dark and grim yet somehow soaring with the possibilities of what film can achieve, this bitter, delicious pill from the Coen Brothers harkens back to their Miller’s Crossing and ahead to new depths for them to find in genres that have felt tapped out. [preorder at Amazon]
5. There Will Be Blood: Old-fashioned in its sweep and postmodern in its extremes, Paul Thomas Anderson’s intensely weird sketch of an unknowably strange man is unfathomable yet impossible not to ponder. [preorder at Amazon]
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Beautiful and harsh, Julian Schnabel’s look at life after the worst of detours makes us consider not only our own lives but our own ideas about what makes life worth living.
7. The Kite Runner: The personal is political, and the political personal, in Marc Forster’s sad and severe examination of a childhood in Afghanistan interrupted by traumas both close at hand and widespread. [buy at Amazon]
8. American Gangster: Ridley Scott intercuts two parallel stories of cop and criminal with aplomb, but it’s the bravura performances by Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, more concentrated and complicated than you’ve ever seen either before, that makes this great. [buy at Amazon]
9. 300: The use of animation here as something expressionistic and impressionistic — and not intended as a replica of reality — makes Zack Snyder’s movie as groundbreaking as the first to use color or sound. [buy at Amazon]
10. Michael Clayton: How do you get off a treadmill you’ve come to hate? Tony Gilroy’s attorney-at-a-personal-crossroads thriller may well be a metaphor for “civilization” as it is experienced by everyone in the new millennium. [buy at Amazon]