should probably be a moratorium on 2007 lists that drop a week into ’08, but I
can’t be bothered with that. So what was the holdup here? Easy. I waffled. I
had a version of this list put together almost a full month ago, and then slept
on it for a while, during which period I meant to catch up with the few films
I’d missed, like Atonement. Didn’t happen. Then I started to worry. Zodiac
wasn’t on my list.
there’s no winning when it comes time to make the 2007 list. Look at the films that didn’t make my cut. Once. Into The Wild. The King of Kong. Eastern Promises. American Gangster. The Bourne Ultimatum. Even Knocked Up, which I didn’t love as much as some, but in other more anemic years might crack the top ten without a problem. There are also the few I didn’t see: Away From Her, The Savages, Youth Without Youth.
Top to bottom, this calendar has been decorated with stellar releases that are successful either as art or entertainment. More remarkable is the number of films that are both. Unlike the last couple years, I didn’t have to cheat and populate my list with festival films that few people will get a chance to see until some nebulous time in the future. I’ve only got two of those this year: Joy Division and My Winnipeg.
All of that said, this is my favorite top 15 list I’ve ever compiled. There’s not a film here I wouldn’t be happy to watch a couple times a year well into the future.
15. My Winnipeg
Probably the movie on my list with the smallest current audience, this should be a great DVD find for a lot of people. Guy Maddin, who’s often made modern silent films that look like they’ve been buried in a can for fifty years, hires a crew of actors to play members of his family so that he can go back to the Winnipeg of his childhood, the better to re-examine his personal history and that of the city he calls home. The result isn’t a mockumentary, but a layered, bizarre comedy that is both alienating and totally warm.
Current Rating: 8.1 out of 10
Contributing Factors: The way Maddin mixes family pathos and quirky comedy with unrestrained daring; an aesthetic that feels more real than it looks; the way that here, creaky is far more appealing than glossy.
to Savor: As always in his movies, it’s Guy Maddin. His narration holds together this excursion into bizarro Canada.
CHUD.com PR Pull-quote: "Just as in many of the best documentaries, this is nothing like reality."
14. Sweeney Todd (Devin’s Review)
For me, this is the surprise of 2007. I haven’t been so taken by a Tim Burton movie since Ed Wood. Instead of a retread of Burton’s signature visual ideas and casting sensibilities, I found riveting entertainment and an entertaining if not virtuosic musical. I don’t know the original material, so the omissions mean nothing to me; they might if Sweeney Todd didn’t work so supremely well as a brutal, fun piece of filmmaking.
Current Rating: 8.2 out of 10
Contributing Factors: The synthesis of Burton’s visuals and Sondheim’s lyrics; Helena Bonham Carter’s sense of humor, overcoming her weak pipes; Alan Rickman’s stubble; Sacha Baron Cohen’s scene-owning dramatics.
to Savor: Predictable as it may be, Johnny Depp, especially when the lens moves right into his face to capture the madness of Benjamin Barker.
CHUD.com PR Pull-quote: "For once, a film with as many great songs as slit throats!"
13. Control (+Joy Division) (My Review)
I’d feel more guilty about cheating with two films here if (a) the Weinstein Co. didn’t have both of them and (b) they weren’t such an essential pairing. If I had to pick one over the other I’d go with Joy Division, which Grant Gee makes into as much a portrait of regional artistic impression as a document of the pioneering post-punk band. That should be evident given my middling original review of Control. And while my overall feelings about that movie haven’t changed (I’ve since seen it again) Anton Corbijn’s effort features a sublime performance from relative newcomer Sam Riley and photography that’s as austere and beautiful as the band’s best songs. Combined, the movies become a nearly pristine vision of a band and the city that shaped it.
Current Rating: 6.7 out of 10
Contributing Factors: Taken together, these films show how artistic license and faithful recollection can contradict and, more importantly, complement one another.
to Savor: Sam Riley in a knockdown breakout performance as the rather unsympathetic singer Ian Curtis.
CHUD.com PR Pull-quote: "If these films don’t tempt you into Unknown Pleasures, just hang yourself."
12. Gone Baby Gone (My Review) (Jeremy’s Review)
movie is two surprises in one. First, a gritty and (in the last act) morally
challenging thriller. Second, a portrait of Ben Affleck’s hometown that is
shockingly unleavened by sentiment and schmaltz. But even outside any context where
those surprises have power, Gone Baby Gone is a damn fine detective story that
brings the grime of Dennis Lehane’s crime novels to the screen with an artistry
hidden behind simple, compelling performances and a refreshingly unbiased eye.
2007 was a year laden with gut-punches in popular cinema, and while Affleck’s
movie is by no means the least of those heavy hitters, it’s also strong enough
to survive on more than just the last act’s big actions.
Rating: 7.9 out of 10
Factors: The best, ugliest extras in memory; Amy Ryan’s amazing submersion into
a drugged-out mom; a deliscious 3rd act; mesmerizingly simple photography and
to Savor: One of two this year from Casey Affleck, who is so surprisingly
assured that he eclipses even Ryan’s bravura turn.
PR Pull-quote: "No one questions your sense of right and wrong like the
11. Zodiac (Devin’s Review)
When I was young I lived in Napa, and a few times a year we’d go to the lake near where one of the Zodiac murders took place; the way my parents told me to be wary of strangers was heavily influenced by the unsolved Zodiac killings. Which is to say, this story was a strange influence on my childhood, and I thought I knew something about the case. But David Fincher’s movie is far beyond anything I would have expected. It redeems every obsessive tendency he’s ever had, and channels his uber-detailed methodology into a procedural that seals the book on the genre. One day there might be something more involving and exhausting as this movie, but I can’t possibly imagine it.
Rating: 8.6 out of 10
Factors: An unswerving dedication to the material; a sense of scope that dwarfs everything else in ’07; prime period detail; a willingness to dig into process, even when it might lock out the casual audience; the amazing Harris Savides.
to Savor: Mark Ruffalo, so frequently overlooked and here so wonderful, as always.
PR Pull-quote: "Bury yourself."
10. Ratatouille (My DVD Review)
regret putting this Pixar flick off for several months, but fortunately I
didn’t lose out on the chance to see it on the screen. Can you blame me for waiting,
though? It’s got Patton Oswalt as a rat who likes to cook. What? I’m listening
to Oswalt talk about KFC Bowls on YouTube right now and it is not funny at
all…so why would I ever think he could carry a film with as unwieldy a story
conceit as this one? But he works. Perfectly. With a finely nuanced performance
to match Pixar’s best animation yet, Oswalt makes Ratatouille, a mundane dish
and potential disaster onscreen, soar.
Factors: Pixar and Brad Bird’s exhaustive story development methodology punts
this into ‘animated classic’ territory; Peter O’Toole is a demon; some of the
best use of light in a movie this year, which given the competition says quite
to Savor: Peter O’Toole as the food critic who’s taken ‘curmudgeonly’ into
previously uncharted territory.
PR Pull-quote: "This movie is teflon-coated against the most pervasive critical cooking
9. Superbad (My Review) (Devin’s Review)
still hard for me to believe that a simple comedy like this cracked the top
ten. But Superbad isn’t just a simple comedy. The essence of being a horny teen
has never quite made it into the cinema in this fashion: complex, farcical,
stupid, self-loathing and full of braggadocio. This is the comedy we’ve wanted
to see for an age, one that crams a half-dozen jokes on each page and brings
the characters through a satisfying evolution without resorting to a lame
Wedding Crashers ending full of uplifting self-aware bullshit.
Rating: 9.3 out of 10
Factors: McLovin’s breakout performance; all those dick drawings; a nearly
timeless visual sense; comic asides that refresh without taking over; cops
everyone can fantasize about.
to Savor: Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who’s so convincing as the bespectacled
loser McLovin’ that he’s no synonymous with the character.
PR Pull-quote: "Superbad made us totally re-evaluate the value of a good dick joke."
8. Grindhouse (My Review) (Devin’s Review) (Jeremy’s Review)
arguments and conversation over this Tarantino/Rodriguez two-fister have gone
on so long, and with such furor, that it seems like the film has always been
around. That’s apt since in a sense, that’s exactly what the movie was trying
to achieve. The ‘experience’ of seeing films is often over-emphasized, but this
was truly a wild, great night at the movies, at least if you were able to see
the proper double-feature presentation. In retrospect, Rodriguez’s half is too
indebted to Carpenter and ’80s cheese to really count as grindhouse, but
Tarantino’s contribution is one of his strongest efforts. While creating the
best car chase since Ronin, Tarantino was also able to work Death Proof into a
sly critique of the very form he loves.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Factors: Rose McGowan’s first watchable work in dual roles; the car chase;
Death Proof‘s final frames; the quadruple trailers; the pure love of movies
that pulses off the screen.
to Savor: How can it be anything but Kurt Russell’s smug, then gratuitously
PR Pull-quote: "The best schlock seventy million can buy!"
7. I’m Not There (My Review)
a different world this would be one of the most popular and celebrated movies
of the year; here it’s just a quiet, wonderful find. Through the variable story
of Bob Dylan, Todd Haynes has finally merged his best filmmaking with a
perceptive vision of art and celebrity. He expertly engages the pop culture
that celebrates shifting identities even as we demand more and more from the
artists that create them. Laden with captivating performances, quirky character
interpretations and dozens of incredible Dylan songs, this a musical biopic elevated
above almost all others.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10
Factors: An ingenious screenplay; a mesmerizing, heartfelt soundtrack; a
handful of great performances; as confident a directorial turn as any you’ll
see this decade.
to Savor: Bruce Greenwood, with the unenviable task of playing the square and
PR Pull-quote: "Six Dylans add up to one masterstroke of a film."
This one almost skipped the list, not because it should have (look at that review score!) but because I always think of it as a 2006 film. This is pretty much a perfect encapsulation of what I want from pure entertainment. Actors that give everything, but can make silly comedic asides work just as well as dramatic moments, a script that pulls together the best of a genre’s cliche set and then handily surpasses them all, and a couple of characters that make you want to watch over and over again. Hot Fuzz is explosive and sublime, and exactly the movie I wanted to see Edgar Wright make, and at the same time one I never would have expected.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Factors: Jokes, jokes, jokes, all within a totally serious framework; that wall of DVDs; the church tower kill; Dalton!; ‘…the greater good…”; Wright’s superhuman avili
to Savor: Simon Pegg, who’s grown by leaps and bounds since Shaun of the Dead.
PR Pull-quote: “Your devotion to this film is for the greater good.”
5. Juno (My Review)
Despite heady festival buzz, with this film I was wary of more Little Miss Sunshine antics. That was even knowing, via Thank You For Smoking, that Jason Reitman could bring the goods, and having a good idea that Diablo Cody’s screenplay might be a match for his wit and observant eye. But I didn’t know how perfectly they’d complement one another, or how utterly I could be won over by a sweet, sharp comedy. Yeah, Cody’s screenplay can be too eager to make Ellen Page’s high school girl sound like a streetwise 20-something writer, but Page’s clear expressions and slightly petulant delivery smooth out the rough spots, while what may be the best supporting cast of the year carries the movie over any other pothole. In a season of tough, demanding movies, this is the great flick you can recommend to anyone, and a movie that’s no less excellent for being accessible.
Rating: 8.8 out of 10
Factors: Cody’s finely honed script; Reitman’s ability to channel Bateman and Garner;
the soundtrack, when it’s not getting in the way; the way Cody’s honesty shines
through her glib jokes.
to Savor: As much as I love Ellen Page, it’s Allison Janney, channeling Diablo
Cody’s truest instincts to make a thankless character wonderful.
PR Pull-quote: “I think I ovulated watching this film!”
4. There Will Be Blood
now almost a given that a Daniel Day-Lewis performance will be the best acting
you see all year, which in no way undercuts the sublime pleasure of watching
him perform like an exploding atomic bomb in Paul Thomas Anderson’s best
feature. Remarkable photography and a surprisingly effective score are
additional virtues, but Anderson’s out of place hostility towards religion is the
weakness that locks the film out of both masterpiece status and the title of
year’s best. It’s almost heartening to see Anderson lose some form of control
over this film, however, as it’s otherwise so perceptive, fierce and powerful
as to be unbearable.
Rating: 8.8 out of 10
Factors: A stripped down, figurative script; impeccable period detail; a broad
cast that’s willing to be invisible when necessary; the young, wide-eyed Dillon
Freasier as the young H.W. Plainview; Johnny Greenwood’s latter-day Herrmann
to Savor: How can it be anyone other than Daniel Day-Lewis, working with such
intensity that he eclipses actors in the movies people are watching next
PR Pull-quote: "P.T. Anderson harnesses the forces of nature for this
strike at the heart of America.”
3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (My Review)
I saw this I was convinced it was top ten material, but the fact that it’s only
number three shows how good the latter half of the year really was. More than
just another western (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), this
long-gestating follow-up to Chopper proves that even an Australian can make a
great American movie, and that some of the sharpest cultural observation comes
from outsiders. An outsized myth told intimately, this film deserves a place
among not only Unforgiven and the best westerns, but the very best films,
Rating: 8.9 out of 10
Factors: Roger Deakins’ first phenomenal lensing job of the year; the gorgeous
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack; the shock of Casey Affleck; Acting
Sensation Mayor Ted Levine and the supporting cast that reads like our manly
to Savor: Brad Pitt, merging his celebrity with that of James to give the movie
Pull-quote: “A movie so good, it’s unmarketable!”
2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
love the idea that film can recreate a sense of what things are really like,
which is one reason why we celebrate many of the other films on this list. But
there’s also the more elusive ability to capture exactly what something feels
like, or to approximate it so closely that an audience can’t help but empathize
with another’s plight. That’s Julian Schnabel’s achievement here; with Janutz
Kaminski and a remarkable production crew, he’s created a powerfully moving
subjective vision of being trapped in your own body. That he did so without
resorting to easy treacle and transperantly manipulative sentiment is more
Rating: 9.1 out of 10
Factors: Shifting, blurred POV cinematography; a quietly gorgeous sense of
visual design; the ideally-chosen sountrack; a supporting cast that allows Mathieu Almaric to make it happen.
to Savor: Almaric, in the most moving turn of the year that doesn’t involve moving.
PR Pull-quote: "So good you won’t even notice it’s in French!"
1. No Country For Old Men (My Review)
films this year have stronger individual virtues (as much as I love Josh Brolin
and Javier Bardem in their respective No Country roles, they don’t hold a
candle to Daniel Day-Lewis) but no other film from 2007 is as clean, as
audacious and (I predict) as lasting as this Coen Brothers masterpiece. It’s
hard to imagine the filmmakers coming up with a better movie than this one,
which perfectly translates Cormac
McCarthy’s novel to the screen with heart, soul and intentions intact.
Rating: 9.3 out of 10
Factors: Cormac McCarthy’s leonine dialogue; the physical and mental duel
between Brolin and Bardem; the most terrifying pit bull of 2007; a courageously
spare use of music.
to Savor: The Coen Brothers, as they pull every strand together.
PR Pull-quote:"The Coen Brothers make the impending end of civilization
seem like the best time at the movies."