1. BEST PICTURE (BY A FLUTTERING EYELASH)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
It’s funny that the most hopeful, great movie of 2007 (based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby) centers on a man (played by Mathieu Amalric) whose massive stroke leaves everything paralyzed except one eye. But his mind is unfettered, and so is the palette of Julian Schnabel—who turns out (whatever you think of his paintings) to be a major filmmaker, an artist whose grasp of light and texture and camera movement is both visually inspired and fused with the characters’ emotions. Somehow, the hero’s plight becomes a metaphor for the human condition: It reminds us how submerged we all are, how distant from even the people we love.
2. ALMOST-BEST PICTURES (BLOODY)
Sweeney Todd and There Will Be Blood
Gouts of blood, in fact, in Tim Burton’s brilliantly intense adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s great musical. Burton wisely dispenses with the Brechtian aspect and creates a Grand Guignol–inflected chamber drama. And while Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter don’t have much in the way of pipes, their mixture of bloodthirstiness and melancholy is riveting, and Burton photographs them with such loving intimacy that their fever takes hold. So does the fever of Daniel Day-Lewis as a titanic and ruthless oilman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. On an epic canvas, this turns out to be a chamber drama, too, in which rapacious capitalism makes for fathers who aren’t fathers and brothers who aren’t brothers. It’s freaky, it’s transfixing, it’s sublime.
3. ALMOST-BEST PICTURES (FAMILY)
Away From Her and The Savages
The loss of a loved one from vastly different angles. Director Sarah Polley makes the debut of the year. In Tamara Jenkins’s The Savages, a sister and brother (impish Laura Linney, harried Philip Seymour Hoffman) put their semi-demented father (Philip Bosco) into a home—his illness making it impossible for him to see, even if he wanted to, how much he screwed up their lives. The silliness gives the sadness wings, the sadness gives the silliness weight.
4. BEST DOCUMENTARY
No End in Sight
Charles Ferguson makes the case against the Bushies in Iraq—not from the vantage of a lefty tub-thumper like Michael Moore but from that of a policy wonk who can’t believe the nutty dissociation, cronyism, and incompetence from conception to execution.
5. BEST WHISTLE-BLOWER
There’s no mystery why it’s a good era for whistle-blower and paranoid-conspiracy movies, and Tony Gilroy serves up a beaut—with Tom Wilkinson, as a bipolar legal attack dog off his meds and now a veritable Cassandra of corporate malfeasance, and George Clooney, never better, as the anti-hero. I play his last scene with Tilda Swinton over and over in my mind: “Do I look like I’m negotiating?” And, most inspiring: “I am Shiva, the god of death.”