Itâ€™s difficult for me to construct a Top 10 list this year because a number of otherwise entertaining films suffer from the same ailment: a disappointing ending. Among the culprits is Oscar nominee Atonement, a period-piece melodrama that evokes no sympathy for the character seeking atonement and finally culminates in a maddening â€œit was all a dreamâ€-type of twist ending. The equally lauded Zodiac starts like gangbusters before disintegrating into one obsessed characterâ€™s tiresome investigation of countless red herrings. Before the Devil Knows Youâ€™re Dead, a clever exercise in point-of-view shifts, proves utterly bleak and, in the end, empty. But the winner of â€œbleakâ€ is Franceâ€™s much-praised, profoundly depressing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly about a paraplegic who can only communicate by blinking his left eye. And although I’m generally a huge fan of Aaron Sorkinâ€™s scripts, Charlie Wilson’s War, proved an unwatchable and uneven mess, wavering between political satire and drama.
Here are the ten best movies of 2007 and the ten runners-up:
10. 28 Weeks Later â€“ The Infected return in this smart splatterfest, a sequel to 28 Days Later that boasts an effective undercurrent of wry political commentary. A belligerent American occupation force has secured London after containment of the virus that turns ordinary people into fast-moving, flesh-hungry zombies. But they soon come to realize theyâ€™ve bitten off more than they can chew when the virus reemerges. The shaky handheld camera and accompanying rock score are pitch perfect for this kinetic, chaotic horror flick.
9. Juno â€“ Jason Reitmanâ€™s witty and warm-hearted story of a spunky pregnant teenager hits all the right notes. While the dialogue is sometimes too clever for its own good, Ellen Page sparkles as the sarcastic and feisty title character, a mom-to-be who decides to audition a couple to be the parents to her unborn child. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are terrific as the flawed couple, and pasty, gangly Michael Cera cracks me up every time heâ€™s on screen as the title characterâ€™s droll, smitten boyfriend.
8. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street â€“ Tim Burton and Johnny Depp collaborate yet again in this dark, alluring version of the Sondheim musical. Depp plays Sweeny Todd as a glowering, menacing rock star out for revenge against the judge and the town who cost him his family. Burtonâ€™s grey palette fits the dark tale perfectly, interrupted only by the sporadic bright crimson of splattering blood.
7. Into the Wild â€“ Based on Jon Krakauerâ€™s nonfiction bestseller, Emile Hirsch gives a star-making performance as a college graduate who abandons all of his material possessions and treks across the American landscape towards the wilds of Alaska, encountering a bevy of memorable characters along the way. Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener and especially Hal Holbrook all shine in supporting roles. The gorgeous cinematography makes it impossible not to empathize with the adolescentâ€™s wanderlust and Eddie Vedderâ€™s earnest soundtrack complements the movie perfectly. The tragic ending highlights the fine line between idealism and naivety, wisdom and hubris.
6. Eastern Promises â€“ David Cronenbergâ€™s violent, moody, Russian mob drama stars Viggo Mortenson as a stoic mobster and the best friend of the Bossâ€™s son. When a nurse at a London hospital (Naomi Watts) is unable to save the life of a pregnant Russian prostitute, she brings home the orphaned baby and the momâ€™s diary, which contains secrets that drag her into a seedy underworld of drugs and prostitution. Armin Mueller-Stahl is especially charismatic as the suave, grandfatherly crime boss. Menace, suspense and surprises fill every frame up until its somewhat abrupt ending.
5. The Lives of Others â€“ Last year’s Oscar winner for best foreign movie (surprisingly beating out Panâ€™s Labyrinth) was released in the U.S. in February, making it eligible for this yearâ€™s list. It tells a riveting, suspenseful tale of distrust and government intimidation set in 1984 East Germany. The protagonist, a loyal agent of the secret police, is assigned to spy on a renowned playwright and his actress girlfriend and in the process undergoes a slow, unforgettable spiritual transformation that mirrors the changes in Germany itself.
4. The Namesake â€“ Sprawling, cross-generational, epic about a Bengali immigrant family and one young manâ€™s search for his own identity (comic actor Kal Penn from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle in an impressive dramatic performance). This moving melodrama explores the essence of the immigrant experience, what is sacrificed to fit in, and the ties of culture and family.
3. Stardust â€“ Based on Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel, this sparkling fantasy revolves around Claire Danes as a shooting star given human form and Charlie Cox as the boy who slowly comes to fall in love with her on their journey together. Robert Deniro and Michelle Pfeiffer seem to have a blast playing a cross-dressing pirate on a flying ship, and a life-sucking, evil witch, respectively. Romantic and fun, entertaining and charming, Stardust strikes a whimsical tone reminiscent of the classic The Princess Bride.
2. There Will Be Blood â€“ Paul Thomas Anderson’s eccentric and explosive character study of American capitalism told through two characters: Daniel Plainview (sure-bet Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis), a ruthless, single-minded oil driller, and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano from Little Miss Sunshine), an ambitious, money-hungry Evangelical â€œhealer.â€ The stunning cinematography, dissonant slasher-film score, and Day Lewis’s high-octane performance all make for a strange, unforgettable movie-watching experience.
1. No Country for Old Men – The Coen Brothersâ€™ suspenseful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel features a classic villain played by Javier Bardem certain to join the ranks of Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates in cinema’s ultimate rogue’s gallery. Bardem plays an unstoppable, merciless assassin on the hunt for a rancher (Josh Brolin) who happens upon cash from a drug deal gone wrong. Tommy Lee Jones gives perhaps the finest performance of his career as the small-town sheriff trying to make sense of it all. The desolate vistas, the true-to-life folksy dialogue, the sense of impending doom, make this the best movie of the year.
11. Superbad (Judd Apatow-produced high school comedy that generates the year’s biggest laughs); 12. No End in Sight (astounding documentary about the administration’s colossal missteps in the reconstruction of “post-War” Iraq); 13. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (tense, harrowing account of a young womanâ€™s mission to help her college roommate obtain an illegal abortion in oppressive 1987 Romaniaâ€”as different in tone from Juno and Knocked Up as you can get); 14. Michael Clayton (slick, smart legal drama starring George Clooney as a problem-â€œfixerâ€ at a huge law firm and a terrific Tom Wilkinson as an attorney victimized by his own conscience); 15. The Orphanage (chilling Spanish horror flick about a family that moves into a haunted orphanage with a dark history); 16. Ratatouille (sumptuous Pixar classic about the rat who would be chef); 17. Persepolis (affecting animated feature about an Iranian girl coming of age under the dictatorship of the Shah); 18. The Simpsons Movie (Springfield’s beloved characters make it to the big screen in all their glory (particularly Bart)â€”but thereâ€™s not enough Mr. Burns for my tastes); 19. 3:10 to Yuma (beautifully shot, suspenseful Western with outstanding performances by Christian Bale and Russell Crowe); 20. Sunshine (moody sci-fi flick about a deep-space mission to reignite the fading sun).