Another year’s conclusion brought the usual barrage of Top 10 lists from the nation’s critics. Everybody seems to love Top 10 lists while at the same time being vaguely ashamed of them. They’re by nature reductive and simpleminded, forsaking genuine critical insight in the name of easy reading that will inevitably land near the top of the “Most Emailed” list on whichever publication’s website they appear. Predictably, the critics at the New York Times consider themselves above all this. Many of their culture writers offered year-end analyses that, while singling out exceptional films they’d seen in 2007, eschewed the timeworn Top 10 formula in favor of Top 18 lists or articles that did away with rankings altogether in favor of bloated commentaries on the most “important” movies of the year and what they say about Us and our Time. Despite these formal pretensions though, I admit to liking many of their picks for movies and albums of the year. From the Times and other sources (AFI, National Board of Review, various “critic’s circles” for film and metacritic.com, Rolling Stone for music) I’ve attempted to cull the most often-heralded pieces of work for an even more condensed guide to the best of ’07.
No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood rise, in my estimation, to the top of the collective critical heap For whatever reason though, the Cohen brothers are almost unanimously singled out for direction over Paul Thomas Anderson. Daniel-Day Lewis is top actor for all but a few critics who prefer either George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd) or Frank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening). Likewise, Julie Christie (Away From Her) appears to be the overwhelming favorite for best actress, with a few critics and publications opting instead for either Ellen Page (Juno) or Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose). And seemingly every movie critic in America engages in the Knocked Up vs. Superbad debate in their columns, with Knocked Up having a clear edge.
Radiohead, unsurprisingly and deservedly, continues to enthrall music critics: In Rainbows is the consensus choice for album of the year, with its innovative marketing and purchasing scheme emerging as the biggest story in music in 2007. Bruce Springsteen (Magic), Arcade Fire (Neon Bible), Les Savy Fav (Let’s Stay Friends), MIA (Kala), Amy Winehouse (Frank), LCD Soundsystem (Sound of Silver), Kanye West (Graduation) and Jay Z (the American Gangster soundtrack) are also frequent guests on critic’s year-end honor rolls. Two other recurring themes: Rhianna’s “Umbrella” is the undisputed song of the year and Britney Spears, or at least her producers, managed to create an album that, startlingly, did not suck.