The Best Movies of 2007

Popcorn.  Mmmmm,The Best Movies of 2007
By Mercurio D. Rivera

It’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 “it was all a dream”-type of twist ending. The equally lauded Zodiac starts like gangbusters before disintegrating into one obsessed character’s tiresome investigation of countless red herrings. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, a clever exercise in point-of-view shifts, proves utterly bleak and, in the end, empty. But the winner of “bleak” is France’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 Sorkin’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 – 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 they’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 – Jason Reitman’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 he’s on screen as the title character’s droll, smitten boyfriend.

8. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – 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. Burton’s grey palette fits the dark tale perfectly, interrupted only by the sporadic bright crimson of splattering blood.

7. Into the Wild – Based on Jon Krakauer’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 adolescent’s wanderlust and Eddie Vedder’s earnest soundtrack complements the movie perfectly. The tragic ending highlights the fine line between idealism and naivety, wisdom and hubris.

6. Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg’s violent, moody, Russian mob drama stars Viggo Mortenson as a stoic mobster and the best friend of the Boss’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 mom’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 – Last year’s Oscar winner for best foreign movie (surprisingly beating out Pan’s Labyrinth) was released in the U.S. in February, making it eligible for this year’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 – Sprawling, cross-generational, epic about a Bengali immigrant family and one young man’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 – 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 – 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 “healer.” 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 Brothers’ 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 woman’s mission to help her college roommate obtain an illegal abortion in oppressive 1987 Romania—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-“fixer” 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)—but there’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).

11 Replies to “The Best Movies of 2007”

  1. Great post as always, Dave! I agree with most of your selections. (Though I admit to not seeing all of them). I thought Stardust was entertaining, but nowhere near a top ten. Neil Gaiman is a talented fantasist, but he hasn’t had much luck translating his stories to screen.

    Into the Wild was visually stunning, and I agree that Hal Holbrook was great, but I had a hard time trying to identify with the boy. It’s okay for me to dislike or disagree with him, but I felt Sean Penn could have done better characterization. The opening scene, where the boy talks about “things, why are we so obsessed with all these things?” is one of the few glimpses we see into his character. Also, I found it more than a little hypocritical that he had no problem buying a $1000 canoe to go down the Colorado river, but felt it was too materialistic to bring a map (not to mention how he chooses to live in a metal bus!). But the biggest faux pas that Penn makes is not having enough discipline: he throws in every thing he can think of. Case in point, when the kid is eating the apple, he winks at the camera. He is supposed to be “in the wild,” all on his own. Suddenly, and very unfortunately, I realized that I’m watching a film, and from then on the illusion was shattered. A better peripatetic film is Motorcycle Diaries, which also is short on plot but big on scenery.

    There Will Be Blood shocked me at first, but in the end I really liked it (Pulp Fiction had the same effect on me.) And No Country for Old Men was great too, though many people complained about the ending. I believe that we’re so programmed to expect a certain type of Hollywood ending that anything besides is a disappointment. Personally, I liked how the ended it, but I can see how it frustrated people.

    It’s too bad there aren’t more science fiction films to review.

  2. Thanks, E.D. I like to wait until your list comes out so I know what’s worth renting. I did actually break down and see Juno and cried through the whole thing. Literally. A blubbering mess, as was much of the audience. I was going to skip Sweeney Todd, as I despise Stephen Sondheim, but perhaps I can watch it with the audio turned off.

  3. This is a great list! Sadly I missed a lot of these films in theaters this year, but I’ll let this direct my Netflix viewing when they hit DVD. I think Ratatouille belongs in the top ten though… 🙂

  4. It’s amazing how few of those films I’ve seen. I wholeheartedly agree with your #1 pick, though. I really enjoyed Lives of Others, too, but thought it went on for just a bit too long. We currently have Eastern Promises and Stardust sitting on the shelf from NetFlix, which I’m very much looking forward to seeing (despite Matt’s misgivings).

    I agree with Eugene that Ratatouille should be higher up.

  5. A top 10 list, including the next 10, and less than a handful of sci-fi movies; a sad state of affairs. Great list, as usual, and thanks for the warning on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. After reading the initial reviews, I said this is not for me; thanks for confirming it. Shockingly, I only saw one of the 20+ movies mentioned and, apparently, I’m not alone. Is it a sign of the multi-media, attention-deficit disorder times or the state of the movie industry?

  6. Jesse: my father, recently 69 years old, says he feels like he’s seen every plot before, that Hollywood just tells and retells the same things. Perhaps they are running out of ideas, hence the number of “remakes” ? Another thought: perhaps the movie business (always about money, of course) has systematized production to the point that more mediocre films are made because the great films we talk about for years are more expensive to make and riskier in the box office. A so-so film with trite plots and cliche story-lines are guaranteed to bring in the studio X amount of dollars. One thing is true: theater-going is down according to several studies I’ve read.

  7. Matt: Either I missed that wink in Into the Wild or it didn’t register enough to bother me. There’s something universal about rebellious youth — particularly highly educated, self-rightous youth — that made it easy for me to relate to the kid. At some points he’s philosophical and quite wise; at other points I agree he comes across like a self-righteous hypocrite. The things you mention — e.g., spending cash for a canoe after condemning money — made the character interesting to me. And the fact that he winds up finding shelter in a school bus in the middle of the wilds is ironic in the extreme. If it weren’t a true story, I’d tip my hat to the writer for coming up with that idea.
    I also enjoyed the travelogue nature of The Motorcycle Diaries.

    Lauren: I having a sneaking suspicion on why you blubbered all through Juno. Wonderful news!!

    Eugene: I did love Ratatouille, but IMO it ran about 15 minutes too long.

    Devin: I can’t wait to hear what you think about Stardust and Eastern Promises!

    Jess: Yes, I was disappointed in the small number of good SF movies this year: Sunshine at #20 was the only one (though at least Stardust [fantasy], 28 Weeks Later (horror), and The Orphanage (horror) made the cut).

    I’d be interested in the hard numbers on watching movies at the theater versus at home in the U.S. over the past few years. Netflix has made movie-viewing at home more popular than ever it seems. But I wouldn’t be surprised if overall numbers are up. It’s only viewership of the *good* movies this year that’s down. 🙂 Now, that may be a sign of the short attention span, give-me-explosions-or-blody-maimings mentality of which you speak.

    Matt again: I have no doubt that the movie studios think it’s a safer investment to spend money on a remake or a tired sequel than it is to roll the dice on fresh ideas. The marriage between art and economics has always been dysfunctional.

  8. I suppose my problem with Into the Wild is not in the character himself, but the way Penn portrays him. I would have liked to have seen more analysis of our materialistic culture, rather than a few token mentions of “things.” A better story is On the Road (novel) or even the film Misfits. In those, at least, the comparison between materialistic life and the very American individualism is made clear and stark, provoking deeper thought. To me, the movie should have been political but instead was a lot of nice scenery and some saccharin moments cobbled together on a pasteboard. The social commentary, apparent only by the subject matter, is completely absent from the film.

  9. Matt: Interesting you should mention your 69 year old father’s view of the movie industry; my 18-year old son has the same opinion. Scary thought!

    Mercurio: Hopefully, you’re right and people are just taking their movie-viewing habits into their homes and eschewing the movie house “experience” of long lines, rude employees, $6 sodas, $7 popcorn tubs and $10+ movie tickets.

  10. David —

    A very complete account of the year’s best. I’m especially glad you included “Lives Of Others” and “Sweeney.” But what about “I’m Not There”? I hope you didn’t write it off as a movie for Dylan fans only.

  11. Ed: Alas, I missed the Dylan flick; I also missed a handful of other well-received movies (Away from Her, The Assassination of Jesse James…, The Savages), but caught the overwhelming majority of them — not to mention a good number of poorly received movies that I just had to see (Alien v Predator 2 tops my list of guilty semi-pleasures).

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