AWFJ members weigh in with their annual top ten lists, including the first ever top ten from USA Today’s Susan Wloszczyna:
SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA - USA TodayIn my 12 years as a critic for USA TODAY, I’ve never had a chance to do a year-end top-10 list since I never could be the completist my colleague Mike Clark was and endure nearly every single release. But in this forum, I can be as arbitrary and female-centric as I please. Here are my choices for the films of 2007 that I know I would watch again– in fact, I’ve already seen four of them more than once.
1. PAN’S LABYRINTH: Guillermo del Toro is George Romero, Peter Jackson and the Grimm brothers in one astonishing visionary bundle. Along with Volver, this was the year’s best paean to female fortitude.
2. THE QUEEN: I bow down before Dame Helen, who deigned to lower the considerable wattage on her sex appeal and still lit up the screen.
3. THE DEPARTED: Yeah, yeah, that Bond guy hunked it up all right. Just how many times did he feel the need to rip off his shirt? But Scorsese’s descent into Irish gangsterhood was the real testament to the power of testosterone with no less than five incredible male performers at their peak.
4. UNITED 93: I am still shaking from the knowledge gained from this master-class re-enactment that we will never be truly secure, no matter how many times we take off our shoes and drain our shampoo bottles.
5. DREAMGIRLS: Not quite movie musical nirvana, but how many times do you get to witness an actual star being born before your eyes? Here’s hoping this is just the start of a beautiful career for Jennifer Hudson.
6. LITTLE CHILDREN: I just love it when Patrick Wilson innocently asks what her husband does and Kate Winslet packs every bitter second of her frustrated life into the reply, “He lies.”
7. BORAT: I am a sucker for inappropriate behavior taken to ridiculous and hysterical extremes. The finest display of lovable boorishness since John Belushi spat out that wad of cottage cheese (and, yes, it was cottage cheese and not mashed potatoes) in Animal House.
8. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE: The beginning where they shared that white trash food feast? A too-obvious attempt to put the fun in dysfunctional. But once they hopped into that sorry VW van, this sad-funny film took all the right turns towards being a clan-bonding classic.
9. NOTES ON A SCANDAL: About time someone paid attention to what life is like for the female teachers in British public schools. Turns out, pretty close to a latter-day Bette Davis-Joan Crawford film or a more sexually charged “Children’s Hour.” Dame Judi did Baby Jane proud.
10. STRANGER THAN FICTION: Yes, I am aware of its logic gaps and the fact Queen Latifah’s character was about as necessary as an extra toe. But I defy anyone not to melt when Will Ferrell fearlessly strums and sings Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” to an enraptured Maggie Gyllenhaal.
SPECIAL MENTION: For Ryan Gosling in Half-Nelson. I know all the girlies went ga-ga for him in “The Notebook.” But I never thought I would find a raging crackhead this incredibly seductive, especially after seeing Sam Jackson’s manic breakdown in “Jungle Fever“. Not that I am at all promoting meth as a sexual aid, mind you, but pretending to smoke it sure worked for him.
KIM VOYNAR - Cinematical.com
1. CHILDREN OF MEN: Quite simply, brilliant.
2. PAN’S LABYRINGH: This darkly-spun fable about a little girl who escapes from an unpleasant real-life situation into an equally dangerous fantasy world caught me up in its web and didn’t let me go.
3. LITTLE CHILDREN: Looking into our darkness can make people squirm — we often tend to judge most harshly those things that mirror what we don’t like in ourselves, and Field turns his lens to all those uncomfortable places — but it can also be illuminating, showing us the ways in which we can change for the better, even when we think we’re beyond redemption.
4. DELIVER US FROM EVIL: Helmer Amy Berg, who had unprecedented access to an admitted pedophile willing to talk openly on camera about his crimes …has made a masterful statement about abuse of trust and power …
5. THE PROPOSITION: Outstanding performances by Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone anchor the film, but (Nick) Cave’s seamlessly integrated score is almost a character in and of itself. This is a Western even filmgoers who Aren’t fans of the genre overall can enjoy.
6. BABEL: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s cross-sectioned examination of the ways in which communication and culture both divide and connect us was one of the most challenging films I watched this year.
7. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE: … mostly, Little Miss Sunshine is on my top ten list because it’s just charming and delightful and filled with excellent ensemble performances. It makes me feel happy and warm and fuzzy inside, and sometimes, in the midst of serious “issue” films that dominate the fests, you just need to, well, let a little sunshine in.
8. HALF NELSON: If you’d asked me before I saw Half Nelson to name ten actors who might unexpectedly knock my socks off, it’s unlikely that Ryan Gosling would have made the list. Whoever would have thought he had it in him to turn in the groundbreaking performance he gives as the idealistic, white, liberal, teacher-turned-crack addict in this film?
9. THE QUEEN: Another film that completely surprised me with how much I liked it, The Queen takes a topic that’s been perhaps more overdone than celebrity death in recent memory — the shockingly sudden death in a car crash of Diana, Princess of Wales — and somehow manages to make a surprisingly intriguing film around it.
10. JESUS CAMP: Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are outstanding Documentarians, and in Jesus Camp they manage to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of creating a film that both hard-core liberals and hard-core Christians can find reasons to like.
ANNE THOMPSON - The Hollywood Reporter
1. THE LIVES OF OTHERS
2. PAN’S LABYRINTH
3. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
4. UNITED 93
5. THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU
7. LITTLE CHILDREN
8. THE DEPARTED
9. CHILDREN OF MEN
10. THE QUEEN
SHELLI SONSTEIN - Q1043
1. UNITED 93
2. THE DEPARTED
4. CHILDREN OF MEN
5. NOTES ON A SCANDAL
6. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
7. THE QUEEN
8. The DEVIL WEARS PRADA
10. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
MARTHA P. NOCHIMSON - Cineaste
1. INLAND EMPIRE: David Lynch’s film is so innovative, beautiful, deeply human and filled with greatness that I’m tempted to give it all ten slots.
2. PAPRIKA: O.K. This is a good film too. Satoshi Kon presents a fascinating voyage into the way the imagination both kills and cures.
3. THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RAAMUSSEN: Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohen create a beautiful poem to a dying culture.
4. FALLING: Barbara Albert’s lovely film about women trying to make sense of life and the meaning of female friends.
5. THE ILLUSIONIST: A fascinating vision of telling truth to power; if only we could……
6. TRIAD ELECTION: Master filmmaker, Johnnie To, looks at the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong from the gangster’s point of view
7. OFFSIDE: Jafar Panahi’s humane, funny look at girl soccer fans in Iraq coping with patriarchal laws against women attending sports events.
8. BAMAKO: Abderrahmane Sissako’s rare African point of view on Africa
9. PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION: Robert Altman triumphant gathering of a bunch of great old pros, plus a very talented young ‘un, having a great time.
10. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE: Hooray for this small comedy about the upside of not being “normal.”
JENNIFER MERIN - New York Press
(In alphabetical order)
LITLE MISS SUNSHINE
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
STRANGER THAN FICTION
MAITLAND McDONAGH - TVGuide.com
BLOOD TEA AND RED STRING
JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE PEOPLE’S TEMPLE
SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE
JOANNA LANGFIELD - The Movie Minute
(In alphabetical order)
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
JENNY HALPER - Track Entertainment
1. WATER: An incredibly important story, beautifully written and lyrically paced.
2. BABEL: A movie that truly lives up to its ambitions. Scratch that– this is not so much a movie as it is an experience.
3. SHERRYBABY: The most honest, unsentimental, and moving screen depiction of drug addiction and redemption I’ve ever seen.
4. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE: Hilarious, completely original, an amazing ensemble.
5. THE DEPARTED: Scorsese‘s return to form, tough and epic.
6. VOLVER: Defies genre with color and humor. An original in the true sense of the word.
7. LITTLE CHILDREN: Entertaining and intelligent. A social commentary with sharp performances and production values to match.
8. HALF NELSON: A student/teacher story we haven’t seen before. An amazing script, an amazing cast.
9. NOTES ON A SCANDAL: Scary and sexy. Two of the best screen actresses currently working…in a battle of the wits.
10. STRANGER THAN FICTION: To call this clever would be an understatement– the characters here are as interesting as the plot.
SUSAN GRANGER - SSG Syndicate
(In alphabetical order)
BABEL: Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s compelling, tension-filled drama about randomness of fate and the perils of being unable to communicate.
THE DEPARTED: Martin Scorsese’s masterful gritty crime drama, filled with intrigue and paranoia.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA: David Frankel’s sophisticated comedy that slices and dices Manhattan’s fashionistas.
DREAMGIRLS: Bill Condon’s dazzling adaptation transcends the Broadway musical
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS: Clint Eastwood’s complex, non-linear exploration of the story behind the most memorable photograph of W.W. II and the nature of heroism.
THE ILLUSIONIST: Neil Burger’s spellbinding tale of magic and mystery, set in the heart of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA: Clint Eastwood’s subtle, non-judgmental examination of history within its context
LITTLE CHILDREN: Todd Fields’ challenging, satirical examination of suburban torment and frustration
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ wry, raunchy dysfunctional family comedy
THE QUEEN: Stephen Frears’ peek behind the aloof facade of the House of Windsor as the British monarchy is in crisis
CYNTHIA FUCHS - Popmatters.com
(Top 11, in aphabetical order)
THE HEART OF THE GAME
IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY
THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO
A SCANNER DARKLY
THE WAR TAPES
WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE
LEXI FEINBERG - Cinemablend.com
1. The Science of Sleep
2. Stranger Than Fiction
3. Friends With Money
5. The Departed
6. Deliver Us From Evil
7. A Prairie Home Companion
8. Jesus Camp
9. The Queen
10. Little Miss Sunshine
MARCY DERMANSKY - About.com
1. PAN‘S LABYRINTH: Not many major movies star bookish, little girls. Guillermo del Toro earned my respect and admiration straight away by creating the character of Ofelia. Adolescent actress Ivana Baquero might seem dreamy and fragile at first, but she admirably stands up to her fascist stepfather and to untrustworthy fauns in this all-engrossing, adult fairytale. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a film to be watched over and over again.
2. VOLVER: Spanish master Pedro Almodovar reminds us again of his potency as a filmmaker with the sprawling, marvelous melodrama “Volver,” the moving tale–funny and tragic and even surreal–of three generations of women. I hadn’t been much of a Penelope Cruz fan prior to this film, but her gutsy performance as Raimunda forever changed that.
3. THE DEAD GIRL: It’s often done in fiction: interwoven short stories are published together in a single collection for extra resonance. In Karen Moncrief’s second “The Dead Girl,” the technique seems brand new. Five short films, all of them strong pieces of filmmaking on their own right, focus on a different aspect of the death of a young woman: the dead girl’s final moments, the mother, the woman who discovers her body, and so on. There are many notable performances from the ensemble cast, including Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Brittany Murphy, Kerry Washington and Rose Byrne.
4. WATER: Deepa Metha’s “Water,” the third part of the director’s feminist trilogy, is gorgeous to look at, tells a moving story, and perhaps most importantly, opens your eyes to a shocking system of injustice: the inhumane treatment of widows in India. Much like Peter Mullins’s “The Madgalene Sisters,” “Water“ is disturbing stuff. Lisa Ray, the world’s most famous model, is positively luminous as a young widow who dares to dream of a better life.
5. THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS: With the right role, a morose Sarah Polley performance is a particular joy to watch. This is the case in Isabel Coixet’s “The Secret Life of Words“. The unlikely romance between a deaf nurse (Polley) with a horrific past and a blinded oil worker (Tim Robbins) is an improbable success. Their give and take is just right. The film is set in the utterly foreign world of a shut-down oil rig, a small island in the midst of an angry ocean, replete with a resident wandering duck and a gourmet chef.
6. THE CHILDREN OF MEN: How did this $72 million dollar sci-fi thriller make it onto my top ten? Well, “Children of Men“ is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and many of the expert touches that made “Y Tu Mama Tambien” so wonderful are all back again. The end of the world is nigh because women can’t have children, but the film’s anti-hero–in the marvelous form of Clive Owen–cracks rueful jokes, injures his foot, and overcomes incredible obstacles to deliver his charge to safety.
7. FAMILY LAW: Part of a loosely connected ‘fatherhood trilogy,’ Daniel Burman’s deceptively simple film “Family Law“ takes on Universal themes: a young Jewish man (the appealing Daniel Hendler) struggles with the constructs of marriage, fatherhood, and his relationship to his own father. Watching Burman’s meditation on life, death, and family makes you want to reach out to your own parents, your spouse, everyone who is sure to die. “Family Law:” is a miracle of understated empathy.
8. HALF NELSON: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s “Half Nelson“ turns a genre upside down: the free-thinking inner-city junior high school teacher is also a crack addict. Ryan Gosling’s performance cracks and pops, but perhaps even more exciting is the keenly Observant Shareeka Epps, as a vulnerable teen in his path. The unabashedly liberal drama addresses troubled times in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way.
9. THE QUEEN: Who knew a biopic about the living Queen of England could be the equivalent of cinematic candy? In the title role, Helen Mirren is good enough to make you weep for royalty, but so is the entire supporting cast. Stephen Frear’s insight into the contemporary political world is resounding.
10. LEMMING: What would you do if Charlotte Rampling came into your home and blew her brains out in the spare bedroom? It’s a conundrum worthy of a movie. The seemingly happily married couple entrenched in the suburbs deal with the aftermath. French actress Charlotte Gainsburg literally transforms. Obscure rodents plug the pipes. French filmmaker Dominick Moll’s “Lemming“ was the most overlooked film of 2006.
THELMA ADAMS -Us Magazine
1. THE QUEEN: The divine Helen Mirren goes dowdy to give the royal treatment toQueen Elizabeth II, playing a monarch who can’t quite wrap her crowned head around the fame and power of her late daughter-in-law, Princess Diana.
2. BORAT: If they made laughter a sport, Sacha Baron Cohen would get a gold medal for his giddily offensive mockumentary.
3. MARIE ANTOINETTE: The gilded Kirsten Dunst never loses her head as the French Queen in Sofia Coppola’s intoxicating, passionate, ahead-of-it’s time royal biopic shot at Versailles.
4. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND: First and Third worlds collide when Forest Whitaker’s seductive Ugandan dictator Idi Amin mentors– and nearly murders– James McAvoy’s naïve Scottish MD in a vivid, daring, well-acted drama.
5. DREAMGIRLS: Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy move us with their songs in an ecstatic musical.
6. VOLVER: In the capable hands of Pedro Almodovar, Penelope Cruz proves she can do everything– even clean up a corpse! It‘s a dirty job, but she shines as a daughter haunted by her dead mother‘s return.
7. FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Catherine O‘Hara leads a terrific ensemble in Christopher Guest‘s comic masterpiece about the Oscar race..
8. THE PAINTED VEIL: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and her real life squeeze, Liev Schreiber, triangulate in this rich, wise, deeply moving story based on the Somerset Maugham novella.
9. THE GOOD SHEPHERD: A superb Matt Damon begins singing in drag as a Yale student in 1937 and evolves into a near-mute American spy called Mother in Robert DeNiro’s epic drama about trust, betrayal and the birth of the CIA.
10. APOCALYPTO: Mel Gibson’s gory, gut-wrenching– and star-free– Mayan adventure is a rush from start to finish.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: A Prairie Home Companion, Flags of Our Fathers, The Good German, The Science of Sleep and The Devil Wears Prada.