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The Year in Film – 2007

At this point we’re fine with skipping the complaints about the overall quality of the year’s movies — we haven’t had a truly great movie year since 2000 — and we’ll get right to the juice. What 10 films were the most worthy of 2007? Well, each of us has a pretty wildly different take on that, with only a few common pictures (notably Zodiac and No Country for Old Men) appearing on multiple lists.

Bring on the top ten lists!
— Christopher Null, Editor-in-Chief

Christopher Null

1) Zodiac – David Fincher’s meandering, period-set, $65 million opus didn’t exactly connect with viewers. Strangely released in March and forgotten by April, the film grossed about half its budget. Whether it’s rediscovered will hinge largely on whether it wins any awards this season. I’ll kick one in: Zodiac is a jaw dropper of a movie, impossible to turn away from as we watch cops and newsmen investigate — over the course of more than a decade — who is brutally killing people in the San Francisco Bay Area and sending cryptic letters about it to the press. Closely based on the true story of the never-caught Zodiac Killer (though Fincher obviously thinks he knows who it was), the film is both chilling and smart, filled with Fincher’s trademark flourishes (dig the fast-mo construction of the TransAmerica Pyramid) that keep your eyes glued to the screen.

2) Sunshine – I’m distressed that the world hasn’t shown Sunshine more love, but I sort of understand why. Danny Boyle’s sci-fi mystery takes the 2001 formula and spins it for the ’00s as a ship heads toward the sun in attempt to save humankind by launching a nuke to ‘restart’ its dying rays. But people get a little stir crazy along the way… especially considering the first ship that tried the mission vanished without a trace years earlier. Danny Boyle — who has yet to make a bad film — blends green screen wizardry with a thoughtful story, dazzling action scenes, and a cast of actors who pull out all the stops, despite the fact that they’re appearing in a genre film. This is the film Soderbergh should have made instead of his lame Solaris remake.

3) Juno – Fellow critic Don Willmott said to me regarding this film that he wanted to slap Juno, and yeah, she’s got that coming. But Don doesn’t have kids, and he doesn’t realize that a frequent desire to slap the rugrats comes with the territory. And that’s what makes Juno so fun. Sure, she’s got a little of that Dawson’s Creek smarminess to her, but Ellen Page’s title character is so much fun to watch and listen to as she struggles over what to do with her unborn baby that you can’t help but love her anyway. A rock-solid supporting cast seals the deal.

4) Into the Wild – Sean Penn’s Into the Wild isn’t a perfect film, but it makes up for its wandering structure and lack of focus with earnest emotion and a sense of raw curiosity that keeps you entranced. We may never really understand why Chris McCandless abandoned the ‘real world’ the way he did, but Penn’s meditative piece at least gets us one step closer.

5) Breach – Maybe it’s the atrocious title, but Breach didn’t make much of an impact during its release, nor do I expect many will remember it during awards season, either. But Chris Cooper’s blistering performance as Robert Hanssen — an ultra-religious double agent who funneled FBI secrets to the Soviets — is alone enough to merit a mention. Director Billy Ray learned a lot about reality-based moviemaking during Shattered Glass, subbing Ryan Philippe for Hayden Christensen as his new guard touchstone.

6) The Savages

7) No Country for Old Men

8) The Boss of It All – Anyone who’s sat through wanna-slit-your-wrist-flicks like Dogville and Breaking the Waves may not believe that Lars von Trier has a sense of humor. Shockingly, he does. He also has a dead-on sense of satire when it comes to office politics. His underseen The Boss of It All has a pathetic Scandinavian software boss hiring an actor to pretend to play his boss (don’t ask), only to have said actor go mad with power. The solution: Yet another ‘boss of the boss of it all.’ Von Trier is never afraid of being self-referential, and here he goes right over the top and off the edge.

9) The Lookout – It’s a crime caper featuring an amnesiac and a blind guy. And it’s not a comedy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is (as usual) awesome in this underseen gem.

10) Superbad – Yeah, that’s right. I’m the guy that’s putting Superbad on his top ten list. What you got to say about it? (P.S. McLovin.)

Worst of the year: Freedom Writers
Much ado about nothing: Lust, Caution, Eastern Promises, Once, Atonement
Guiltiest pleasure: Hot Fuzz

Chris Barsanti

1) This is England – In anybody else’s hands, this would have turned into a cautionary tale. But writer/director Shane Meadows’ semi-autobiographical story of a boy (the moon-faced and pugnacious runt, Thomas Turgoose) growing up with no friends and the memory of a dead father in depressed Falkland War-era northern England and who falls in with a multi-racial band of friendly skinheads, achieves instead a certain sort of sublime art. The deadening post-industrial landscape and classic ska soundtrack are a potent backdrop, while the critical push-pull between the boy’s new adoptive friends, and the seductive pull of their white-power counterparts makes for a classic struggle for the soul of a child.

2) There Will Be Blood – Greed, religion, oil, misanthropy, capitalist as ravening beast, preacher as power-mad charlatan — this is the year’s ultimate love-it-or-hate-it film, and one that finally puts Paul Thomas Anderson into the ranks of the all-time greats.

3) Persepolis

4) No Country for Old Men

5) The Devil Came on Horseback

6) Wristcutters: A Love Story – The most welcome surprise of 2007 came in the form of this brilliantly unassuming little comedy about a guy, despondent over his lost love, who commits suicide, only to end up in an afterlife that’s less like hell and more like a run-down suburb of Fresno. Based on the surreal writing of Israeli author Etger Keret, Wristcutters is like that d
ream you had one time which was terrifying but sort of funny at the same time… and then Tom Waits showed up.

7) Once – It’s been a great year for musicals, with both Hairspray and Sweeney Todd showing that once again it is possible to make big, brassy film versions of Broadway plays that both do justice to their source material and can also play in Peoria. But this easygoing sleeper is like the gypsy offspring of those big-budget extravaganzas, and slightly more rewarding in the end. The slimmest of premises (two street musicians in Dublin start a low-key musical flirtation) makes little effort to lay on extra plot devices, preferring rather to stick with the most basic of plots (hey, let’s make an album!) and focus on the soulful, lo-fi songs of stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. This is a film people become obsessed with, and for good reason.

8) Zodiac

9) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Sometimes, real life actually resembles underdog sports movies. Thankfully, that was the case with the high-tension competition a few years back for the title of Donkey Kong world champion, captured beautifully by director Seth Gordon, who manages to cover this tiny world of obsessive-compulsives without a hint of condescension. Something to tide us over until the next Errol Morris comes along.

10) In the Valley of Elah

Worst of the year: Across the Universe, Beowulf
Most beautiful, in every possible sense: The Darjeeling Limited
Guiltiest pleasure: Mr. Brooks
Scariest: The Last Winter
Most overrated: I’m Not There
Best debut filmmaker: Andrea Arnold, Red Road
Worst accent: John Travolta, Hairspray
Performance/moustache of the year: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Saddest, most cynical attempt by washed-up director to regain relevance: Redacted

Sean O’Connell

1) Zodiac When David Fincher’s true-crime masterpiece about a serial killer’s grip over Northern California reached theaters in March, I called the mesmerizing thriller ‘the first great film of the year.’ Nine months later, nothing surpassed it (though some came close). Zodiac constructs with painstaking detail a fruitless investigation that grew into an obsession for certain members of San Francisco’s media and police forces. Fincher, who matures both as a storyteller and a visual director, cobbles together a flawless ensemble. The film does for the Zodiac killer what All the President’s Men did for the Watergate scandal. And like Alan J. Pakula’s deft and studious investigative piece, Zodiac is a film we’ll be analyzing, discussing, dissecting, and appreciating decades from now.

2) No Country for Old Men

3) Away From Her – Sarah Polley floored me with her feature directorial debut, an adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story about a married couple coming to terms with Alzheimer’s disease. As Fiona, the afflicted woman preparing to enter an assisted living facility, Julia Christie brings grace and composure to what could have been a showy role. She is matched by the brilliant Gordon Pinset playing Fiona’s husband of 44 years whose life crumbles when his true love stops remembering who he is. But the star is Polley, who at 28 shows a remarkable poise and maturity that truly elevates her film.

4) The Darjeeling Limited Wes Anderson’s quirky trademark tools are present as he documents the grieving process of the Whitman brothers, who board a train bustling through India to reconnect after their father’s death. Yet for the first time in five of Anderson’s films, I actually cared deeply about the fate of his characters and didn’t merely admire them from afar. Sentimental yet strange, Darjeeling is the director’s most beautiful, personal work so far, and his vision is realized through the strong emotional pull created by lead actors Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, and Jason Schwartzman.

5) Michael Clayton George Clooney latest acting gig, as the title character of Tony Gilroy’s gripping and complicated Clayton, bathes in hush-hush undertones of classic 1970s thrillers — think Coppola’s The Conversation or Pakula’s The Parallax View. And while the film widens its grasp to include modern industrial problems like corporate deception and greed, it makes its case studying the soul of legal fixer Clayton, played to perfection by one of the best actors of this generation.

6) The Savages – Like Away From Her, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages builds its story on the decision to placing a deteriorating family member in a nursing home. Yet this dark comedy takes such a wildly opposing tone that the two films, while similar in narrative, couldn’t be more different if they tried. That’s a good thing. The Savages boasts the year’s most honest script, delivered by the powerhouse tandem of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings forced to put their lives on hold to care for their father. The emotional journey they take is uncomfortable, familiar, and frequently amusing, and the ending hits the exact right note.

7) Hairspray – If not for one clunky musical number that grinds the picture to a halt (it features Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken hamming it up in a joke shop), Adam Shankman’s film would be a few notches higher on my list. This jolt of unbridled entertainment remakes the hit Broadway musical which, itself, was a remake of a John Waters film. And while the promise of John Travolta in drag might have lured a few curious onlookers, it was Marc Shaiman’s infectious doo-wop score and the discovery of effervescent newcomer Nikki Blonsky that kept audiences dancing in the aisles.

8) Stardust – Matthew Vaughn’s tremendously enchanting Stardust is The Princess Bride for a new generation. Stockpiled with major talents (Michelle Pfeiffer as a witch, Claire Danes as a fallen star, Robert De Niro as a gay pirate), the whimsical fantasy constructs a dense mythology overflowing with scorned princes, fiendish warlocks, and enough magic to float a boat.

9) Knocked Up – Classic comed
ies hold up to repeat viewings. I’ve seen Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up three times now and still think it’s blisteringly hilarious from start to finish. But my love for this film goes beyond its humor. Disheveled Seth Rogen and statuesque Katherine Heigl forge a credible relationship built on sturdy emotional conflict and not a series of flimsy gags. The fantastic Knocked had me crying tears of laughter at yet another beard joke, then wiping away tears of joy as this unlikely couple welcomed their baby to this world. Jason Reitman’s sarcastically sentimental Juno makes for a nice companion piece.

10) The Orphanage (El Orfanato) – Juan Antonio Bayona’s terrifying ghost story takes place at an abandoned Spanish orphanage. Former resident Laura (Belen Rueda) drags her reluctant husband and mischievous son back to the facility with a dream of re-opening it, but strange occurrences have her rethinking the idea. Orphanage feels like so many other psychological horror movies –The Others, The Sixth Sense, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining — and yet comes off as totally fresh and new. You cannot prepare for the conclusion. Just know it is devastating… in good ways and bad.

Breakout star: James Marsden, Hairspray, Enchanted.
Most consistent actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Biggest disappointment: Across the Universe
Guiltiest pleasure: Live Free or Die Hard
Worst of the year: The Reaping

Don Willmott

1) No Country for Old Men – In the ’80s, they gave us Blood Simple. In the ’90s, they gave us Fargo. And now this. The Coen brothers are at their absolute best when gallons of blood are being shed, and for this almost unbearably suspenseful outing, they also have the brilliant source material of Cormac McCarthy to work with. It’s excruciating. (Side note: This has also been a great year for Josh Brolin.)

2) The Host – Why is Korean cinema so much fun? The answers are here in this scary, silly, funny, and touching monsterfest featuring a giant slimeball with a tail that terrorizes Seoul while the government totally botches its ‘homeland security’ response. It’s like Hurricane Katrina with teeth.

3) Lust, Caution – This epic of life in 1930s Shanghai under Japanese occupation follows the coming of age of an aspiring actress who is recruited into the dangerous world of the secret Chinese resistance. Ang Lee’s formidable attention to detail is in full effect. This is a real eyeful, but be warned: the much-discussed acrobatic sex scenes are all about power, not passion. They aren’t ‘sexy’ in the usual sense at all.

4) Across the Universe – The critics really split on this one, but I say yeah, yeah, yeah to a film that introduced me to a couple of Beatles songs I didn’t know and made me rethink the ones I did. Julie Taymor is a thrilling director/choreographer with an unbeatable imagination. Giving ‘Let It Be’ to a 10-year-old African American boy to sing a cappella in the midst of a race riot was pure genius. I sorta cried.

5) I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone – Tsai Ming-liang uses long, steady, beautifully composed takes to paint grim pictures of the loneliness and squalor of downtrodden urban lives. This time he leaves Taipei, his usual stomping ground, and sets his story in Kuala Lumpur, where a kind-hearted migrant Bangladeshi construction worker nurses an injured and nearly mute Chinese man back to health in a filthy hovel. It doesn’t sound like much, but there are always amazing worlds to explore in Tsai’s films.

6) 300 – For its faithfulness to the aesthetic vision of the graphic novel from which it originates, for its unforgettable costumes, for its wild effects, and for all those slow-mo decapitations. War has never been this stylish. I want to be a Spartan… or at least learn the Spartan Workout.

7) Grindhouse: Planet Terror – I didn’t love Quentin Tarantino’s half of this faux-schlock double feature, but you can tell how much fun Robert Rodriguez had making his blood-soaked zombiefest. It’s a hilarious gross-out, and Rose McGowan is quite the pistol. You’ll laugh until your head explodes, your guts spill onto the highway, and rivers of your blood ooze into a vat of Texas-style barbecue sauce. Be sure not to miss the fake trailers for ‘Machete’ and ‘Thanksgiving.’ They’re even better than the movie.

8) Zodiac

9) The Lives of Others – Is this where the Patriot Act will ultimately lead us? It’s upsetting to watch the Orwellian gears of the mid-’80s East German government crush the lives of a subversive playwright and his circle of friends. The fascinating part: The guy who’s forced to turn those gears is just as tormented as his victims.

10) Away From Her

Worst of the year: Brooklyn Rules (Fuggedaboudit!)

Norm Schrager

1) No Country for Old Men The Coen brothers achieve a masterpiece of precision storytelling with this brilliant collision of violence and calm reflection. Javier Bardem is the most frightening screen demon since the Devil himself in The Exorcist and Tommy Lee Jones is a model for humble, end-of-the-road resignation. The gorgeous ending will be discussed for years, and rightfully so. Great films usually elicit ‘oh wow’ chills upon repeated viewings — this one does so at first look.

2) Breach Both of director Billy Ray’s films are now on my ‘favorites’ list: Shattered Glass (2003) and this riveting follow-up, another true story of deceit and determination. As FBI double-agent Robert Hanssen, Chris Cooper wisely plays off his trusting appearance; as the upstart assigned to track him, Ryan Philippe delivers the most overlooked performance of 2007.

3) Once

4) Gone Baby Gone Look, Ben Affleck simply isn’t a great actor
. Despite the college try, it seems laborious for him. Directing appears more effortless, as evidenced by this mournful, well-crafted adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel. Feels authentic even through the formula, with Casey Affleck as a solid on-screen anchor.

5) Ratatouille After Pixar’s only disappointing entry (Cars), the animation wizards serve up one of their greatest achievements in this ode to Paris, passion, and food. The human interaction, far more than any previous Pixar film, shows an evolving maturity in their work. And the ending has ‘classic’ written all over it.

6) The Lives of Others

7) Grindhouse Once again, Quentin Tarantino’s flaws (like self-indulgent dialogue) are far outweighed by his two passions: moviemaking and strong women. Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ pet project is an exhilarating, three-hour double-feature extravaganza; it’s the trashiest, most exciting movie experience of the year.

8) Waitress Keri Russell establishes herself as a real screen lead in this gooey, goofy comedy with a slightly dangerous edge. Fun and folksy thanks to Andy Griffith (!) and a whole bunch of pies. Writer-director-actress Adrienne Shelly’s violent death adds an unfortunate, unavoidable sadness and irony.

9) Away From Her

10) Year of the Dog The freaky sensibility of Mike White meets the sensitive issue of animal rights, in one of the more unique films of the year. Molly Shannon, as a lonely woman who finds her calling, shares her powerful combination of immense heart and dark humor.

Worst of the year: Because I Said So, Fracture
Best opening: There Will Be Blood
Best ending: No Country for Old Men, The Lives of Others, Superbad
Most disappointing: SiCKO
Overblown and ridiculous: Smokin’ Aces, Transformers

BONUS: 11 Top Tens — “clip ‘n’ save”

Christopher Null
1. Zodiac
2. Sunshine
3. Juno
4. Into the Wild
5. Breach
6. The Savages
7. No Country for Old Men
8. The Boss of It All
9. The Lookout
10. Superbad
Chris Barsanti
1. This Is England
2. There Will Be Blood
3. Persepolis
4. No Country for Old Men
5. The Devil Came on Horseback
6. Wristcutters: A Love Story
7. Once
8. Zodiac
9. The King of Kong
10. In the Valley of Elah
Sean O’Connell
1. Zodiac
2. No Country for Old Men
3. Away from Her
4. The Darjeeling Limited
5. Michael Clayton
6. The Savages
7. Hairspray
8. Stardust
9. Knocked Up
10. The Orphanage
Don Willmott
1. No Country for Old Men
2. The Host
3. Lust, Caution
4. Across the Universe
5. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone
6. 300
7. Grindhouse: Planet Terror
8. Zodiac
9. The Lives of Others
10. Away From Her
Norm Schrager
1. No Country for Old Men
2. Breach
3. Once
4. Gone Baby Gone
5. Ratatouille
6. The Lives of Others
7. Grindhouse
8. Waitress
9. Away From Her
10. Year of the Dog
Chris Cabin
1) I’m Not There
2) There Will Be Blood
3) Zodiac
4) Syndromes and a Century
5) Regular Lovers
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Colossal Youth
8) Eastern Promises
9) Southland Tales
10) The Darjeeling Limited
Paul Brenner
1) Colossal Youth
2) Eastern Promises
3) Bug
4) The Other Side of the Mirror
5) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
6) Brand Upon the Brain!
7) I’m Not There
8) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
9) No Country For Old Men
10) There Will Be Blood
Jason Morgan
1) Bug
2) No Country For Old Men
3) The Host
4) Inland Empire
5) I’m Not There
6) The Lives of Others
7) Sunshine
8) The Darjeeling Limited
9) Eastern Promises
10) Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Jay Antani
1) Nanking
2) The Golden Door
3) The Bourne Ultimatum
4) Looking for Cheyenne
5) Starting Out in the Evening
6) A Mighty Heart
7) Juno
8) Michael Clayton
9) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
10) Half Moon

Jesse Hassenger
1) Zodiac
2) Superbad
3) No Country for Old Men
4) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
5) There Will Be Blood
6) Grindhouse
7) Once
8) The Darjeeling Limited
9) Ratatouille
10) Margot at the Wedding

Blake French
1) Bug
2) Zodiac
3) Eastern Promises
4) A Mighty Heart
5) Starting Out in the Evening
6) Talk to Me
7) Black Snake Moan
8) Lions for Lambs
9) Sicko
10) Into the Wild
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