Before I get to the list, which was incredibly difficult to decide upon, let me say that this has been one of the best years for film in a long time, for mainstream, independent and foreign films alike. A few films that I’m still talking about, but just couldn’t quite fit on the list are La Vie En Rose, Ratatouille, The Darjeeling Limited/Hotel Chevalier, Grindhouse, American Gangster, Eastern Promises, Paris, Je T’aime, and Interview. This awards season should be exciting and surprising, not just for the films, but for directing, writing and the performances as well.
1. No Country for Old Men
There is nothing else to say than this is the best film of 2007. Period. The acting is solid amongst the entire cast, though Javier Bardem easily steals the show as Chigurh. Joel and Ethan Coen strip away all unnecessary dialogue and all music and allow the actors’ faces and the landscapes to speak what doesn’t need to be said. The cinematography is beautiful to watch and the tension of the characters builds up to an ending that does justice to the film leading up to it.
Rarely can a film be described as "perfect," but that is the only word for Juno, which is touching, funny, heartwarming, real and honest. With a witty and smart script by first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody and a beautifully naturalistic performance by Ellen Page, it is a perfect example of everything a film should and can be.
3. Michael Clayton
The most effective tool this film utilizes is the reality of the plot, how easily something like this could happen. Only one character knows the full story, and he is, essentially, out of his mind most of the film. George Clooney as Clayton is essentially trying to pick up the pieces and do what is right when he accidentally finds out more than he should have and has to decide how far to take his knowledge. The film is fast, intelligent and respects the audience enough to expect them to keep up.
4. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
In addition to having an excellent ensemble cast directed by a legendary filmmaker, this film requires the audience to participate in the story due to the style in which it is presented. The acting is superb all around and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is terrific as a cold-hearted older brother.
This period piece, based on Ian McEwan’s novel, takes all the stuffiness out of formal English families and the way in which they speak. The dialogue is real, the relationships are genuine and the lessons taught will connect with every viewer. The most amazing part of the film is the perfect blend between the visual and aural experiences. One could watch the film with no sound and still enjoy and appreciate the breathtaking scenery and masterful camerawork. Conversely, simply listening to the beautiful score and exquisite dialogue would be a pleasure as well.
6. Away From Her
This film is a small gem that connects with every generation and with anyone who has ever been in love or made a mistake. The cold, lonely landscape in which the film is set reflects the relationship between the two lead characters after years of marriage. Julie Christie is heartbreaking as a woman dealing with the loss of her memory and what that means for her husband and her future.
7. Knocked Up
Offensive, raunchy and easily the funniest movie of the year, Knocked Up is at one time foul-mouthed and sweet; a movie men and women of all ages rushed to see and connected with both sexes equally. Judd Apatow’s dialogue and the clear improvisation of his actors make this movie one that will continue to grow a following in years to come.
8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp finally hit the mark again in one of the most visually stunning films of the year. The music and dialogue is wonderful, but the real credit goes to Burton who masterfully balances the fantastical world that is inhabited by real characters with real feelings, motivations and desires.
In Zodiac, we watch a man go from casual observer, to dedicated detective, to obsessive recluse as he tries with all his knowledge and power to solve the murders that only he cares enough to solve. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. give outstanding performances in one of David Fincher’s finest films. Sure, the running time of the film is long, but not a single frame should have been cut from the final edit.
10. The Lives of Others
Watching this disturbing and haunting film, I couldn’t help but appreciate all that I never experienced. With a perfect performance from Ulrich Muhe and an almost excruciatingly patient pace, The Lives of Others forces the viewer into submission, leaving them without an ounce of control over the way they watch the film. The main character has simply "done his job" for so long that he is immune to what is really happening until two characters awaken something in him which he has to decide to acknowledge or ignore.
| Matthew F. Newlin