1. Atonement Ian McEwan’s challenging British World War II romantic novel becomes an equally challenging film, thanks to director Joe Wright. The film boasts one of the most haunting single scenes of the year (the British retreat at Dunkirk), and the rest of it ain’t too shabby either
2. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead Phillip Seymour Hoffman had another hell of a year, turning in excellent performances in The Savages and Charlie Wilson’s War, but the best film to contain his presence was this neo-noir crime film by Sidney Lumet, in which Hoffman and brother Ethan Hawke’s jewel heist becomes the stuff of Greek tragedy.
3. Day Night Day Night A mysterious young woman prepares to engage in a suicide bomb attack in the streets of New York City, and we watch her and her handlers’ careful, methodical, practically ritualistic preparation for the act. Director Julia Loktev removes any and all clues as to the why of the attack, leaving us with no context, only the inherent drama that comes from finding oneself immersed in a ticking time bomb of a movie. Star Luisa Williams gives a commanding, if highly unsettling, performance as the bomber, getting very few lines, but every single frame of this powerful movie.
4. Eastern Promises As in A History of Violence, director David Cronenberg’s fascination with the human body lends itself to the depiction of more mundane, real-world horrors as much as it once did to the more fantastic horrors of his early career. And they’re even more visceral and horrifying. This crime drama set at the intersection between the Russian mafia and the civilians in London drips portentous dread. When it’s not soaking the celluloid with spurts of blood, anyway.
5. The Host Director Bong Joon-ho gives the finger to the conventional Jaws/Alien movie monster wisdom, showing off his monster as soon as possible. It helps that the mutant river beast, a sort of giant tadpole with a prehensile tail, is so fully realized. And that The Host is just as much a dysfunctional family melo-dramedy and chest-thumping political allegory as it is a monster movie.
6. Into the Wild Director Sean Penn follows writer John Krakauer’s book following Chris McCandless’ adventure to find ultimate truth in the wild, and ultimately settling for his own doom. It’s a huge, and thoroughly American epic tragedy, not just because McCandless brings about his own end, but because we see him offered chance after chance to form new family’s to replace the broken one he rejected, only to turn them all away. While all of the films on this list are pretty great, this is the only one that struck me as an instant classic while I was watching it.
7. Michael Clayton The legal thriller and corporate intrigue nature of the plot is the stuff of John Grisham novels and David E. Kelley TV dramas, which only highlights what a perfectly made and acted film this actually is. On a list of the most boring film titles of 2007, this would be on the top of the heap; they might as well have just called it Untitled George Clooney Lawyer Movie.
8. No Country For Old Men The stylistic quirks and darkly humorous tones of the Coen Brothers are more than perfectly suited for the sparse, stark world of author Cormac McCarthy, and the former’s adaptation of the latter’s novel makes for cinematic alchemy. A lovely-looking, scary-ass modern Western of ideas with a chip on its shoulder, No Country For Old Men deserves every single accolade it’s racked up this year.
9. Once If this list were only one movie long, this probably would have been it. A unique musical that is devoid of any and all artificiality that is inherent in the much-maligned genre (and/or the usual clever riffs on it) by making its protagonists both musicians. Irish street singer Glen Hansard and Czech immigrant/part-time pianist Markéta Irglová go from rather innocent flirting with one another to a collaborative project. But is there anything for them beyond that project? As romantic as it is realistic, Once was easily one of the most extraordinary films to make it to the big screen in ’07.
10. Sunshine The Danny Boyle/Alex Garland/Cillian Murphy team do for science fiction what they’d previously done for zombie movies with 28 Days Later. A beautiful looking, psychologically intense movie full of memorable set pieces good enough to overcome the narrative tangle of it’s overlong ending.
This year’s top ten was an awfully challenging one to put together, not because it was hard thinking of enough great films to fill up the list, but because it was hard to decide which ones to cut from it. I suppose that’s as good an indication that this was a pretty good year for film as any.
Also of note?
Well, it was another great year for documentaries, with refreshingly clear-headed Iraq doc No End In Sight, strange hybrid Strange Culture and hilarious competition docs King of Kong and Air Guitar Nation leading the pack.
It was also a great year for Westerns, with both 3:10 To Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford bringing the horse opera back.
The best action movie of the year was probably the live-action Bugs Bunny-as-sexy-English-marksman shoot ‘em up Shoot ‘Em Up, although there is something to be said for the big dumb fun of Live Free or Die Hard (Even the title is big dumb fun!) and the completely insane 300.
In the romantic comedy department, you’ve got the odd little gem of Waitress, one of the few films that seems to belong to the genre while refusing the formula.
For zombie movies, the not-terribly-scary but full of fun and heart Fido beats out 28 Weeks Later, Resident Evil: Extinction and even Planet Terror in my mind.
For horror in general, The Host is the only movie that’s seen release this year that actually seemed to be trying. And for superhero movies, it was a pretty weak year; Spider-Man 3 wins by default, but that’s hardly an honor considering the state of the competition.
For great soundtracks, it’s pretty hard to beat the sad songs of Once, the Dylan cover-a-palooza of I’m Not There, the ultra-precious Juno, and Wes Anderson’s typically well-chosen soundtrack for Darjeeling Limited.
And the most fun film experience of the year? Definitely seeing the double feature Grindhouse in a crowded, raucous theater.