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Into the Wild

Director: Sean Penn
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Vince Vaughn, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook

(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 21 Sep 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 9 Nov 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [4.Mar.2008]
Review [21.Sep.2007]

10


Into the Wild Sean Penn


The premise of a spoiled, white college kid abandoning his privilege and setting out on a trek into the Alaskan wilderness might sound a bit, well, trite, at the outset. What director Sean Penn has managed to do with Into the Wild, though, is imbue his film with honesty; finding a common ground of anti-social bliss that everyone can relate to and combining expertly-drawn characterizations with breathtaking Northern imagery. A dynamic lead performance by Emile Hirsch as the student who thinks there must be a more to life than his parents’ bourgeois suburban ideals buoys the near three-hour proceedings and kills any sappiness. As the viewer watches him succeed and flourish (at first) on his own in the elements, the possibility played out in his eyes and the optimism he brings to the lives of the random strangers he meets turns him into an almost mythological character. Matt Mazur





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Eastern Promises

Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack

(Focus Features; US theatrical: 14 Sep 2007 (Limited release); 2007)

Review [14.Sep.2007]

9


Eastern Promises David Cronenberg


With A History of Violence, Toronto’s David Cronenburg took a departure from the usual colorfully oozing goop and body fluids of much of his earlier sci-fi horror catalogue, and focused instead on gritty realism and a single oozing body fluid: blood, specifically on hands, past and present.  But where History‘s characters felt flat and its narrative stiff, Eastern Promises delivered on Cronenburg’s bleak pulp promise with subtly affecting performances from Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts in carefully plotted story of the London’s Russian Mafia, which somehow avoided the sensational for the chillingly believable, in both its incidental details and chilling, measuredly unpoetic action sequences. Nate Dorr





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Knocked Up

Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel

(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 1 Jun 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [25.Sep.2007]

8


Knocked Up Judd Apatow


Looking back on the films I admired the most this past year, I’m a little struck by how just many of them offer an almost irredeemably grim worldview; from Brian De Palma’s mixed media cherry bomb to Bela Tarr’s characteristic pessimism to the Coen brothers’ uncharactersically sober(ing) post-Western, a bitter aftertaste was the flavor of my year And yet, at heart, I prefer to think I’m an optimist, still looking for that silver lining and making lemonade. Knocked Up (and the also wonderful Superbad), gets by on inexhaustible sweetness, and does so cannily enough that soft-hearted critics and would-be optimists (like yours truly) are sufficiently tempted to overlook the film’s too-neat sexual politics and liberal divergence from contemporary realism. This one hits even closer to home for new and soon-to-be parents like me. Josh Timmerman





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There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Mary Elizabeth Barrett

(Paramount Vantage; US theatrical: 26 Dec 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 15 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [7.Apr.2008]
Review [3.Jan.2008]

7


There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson


Forget the cowboys and their Native American enemies. Ignore the gunslingers and the main street High Noon showdowns. This is how the West was won (or better still, overthrown), and it’s more cutthroat and depraved than any exchange of gunfire. In the proto-auteur hands of Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis becomes an amazing model of everything that capitalism—and corruption—can offer to those willing to partake of its soiled siren song. Against a bleak yet visually stunning backdrop, and carrying with it the entire history of the wildcatters influence on the nation, this is the very definition of an epic. Bill Gibron





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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Jamie Campbell Bowen, Jayne Wisener

(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 21 Dec 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 25 Jan 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [1.Apr.2008]
Review [20.Dec.2007]

6


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Tim Burton


In a perfect world, this brilliant film would be burning up the box office. It has flawless performances, a masterful score (by one of Broadway’s true geniuses), and a near monochrome vision that’s as melancholy as it is menacing. So why isn’t this adaptation of the Great White Way smash topping the weekend tallies (and don’t pull that “can’t hum the tunes” tripe on us)? The answer may lie in the realm of art. Apparently, all great works of aesthetic excellence need time to age and gain consensus. Don’t worry, a decade or so from now when late comers are ‘singing’ this movie’s many wonders, we’ll be there crooning our “told you so” aria. Bill Gibron





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Zodiac

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney

(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 2 Mar 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 20 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [14.Aug.2007]

5


Zodiac David Fincher


When I first heard about David Fincher tackling the true-life Zodiac murders, I wasn’t particularly enthused. The guy had already made a definitive serial-killer picture with Seven; why go back to the well?  It seems, though, that he returned to the sub-genre to redefine it. Zodiac takes film cliches (the crafty, taunting killer; the investigators’ lives consumed with the case) and suffuses them with real-life dread, not to mention meticulous detail. As a police detective (Mark Ruffalo), a reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) and a cartoonist slash amateur sleuth (Jake Gyllenhaal) obsess over the case, Fincher draws the audience into the endless web of information, revelations, and dead ends that refuse to add up.  His film is spellbinding and creepy as it unspools, and creepier still as its evocation of the unknowable echoes in your head for days. Jesse Hassenger





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Grindhouse

Director: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, John Jaratt, Marley Shelton

(Dimension Films (The Weinstein Company); US theatrical: 6 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)

4


Grindhouse Quentin Tarantino/ Robert Rodriguez


Personally, the reason I go to the movies is to see the medium reinvented through the marriage of artistic partnership coupled with modern technology. What could be better than one director? Yes, two for the price of one! Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have provided what should become the guidebook for directorial collaborations by divvying up responsibilities tightly and creating a film that can stand as one cohesive artist statement or two fully-functioning genre flicks. It’s rare that the ego-driven auteurs of our time would even think of working together, so their generosity must by commended. Grindhouse is an example of experimental, yet financially viable filmmaking at its most high-octane. Assembling a cast of B-listers who turned out to be one of the acting season’s finest ensembles didn’t hurt, either. Matt Mazur





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Ratatouille

Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole

(The Walt Disney Company; US theatrical: 29 Jun 2007 (General release); 2007)

Review [26.Nov.2007]

3


Ratatouille Brad Bird


It’s almost possible to pinpoint the exact moment when Ratatouille becomes the third best movie of the year. It’s a simple cutaway—villainous food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) flashes back to a particularly poignant childhood memory—yet it conveys such a powerful feeling of nostalgia and heartbreak. That one scene is enough to remind you that, for all of their snazzy rat’s-eye-view tracking shots, artistic renderings that make Paris look like the confection it is, and lovable characters with populist-not-preachy messages—none of which is a small feat to pull off—the true magic of Pixar is the ability to instantaneously leave all that behind for one moment so emotionally involving it can stop your heart for a second. Marisa LaScala





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The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Cast: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Turkur, Thomas Thieme

(Sony Pictures Classics; US theatrical: 9 Feb 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 13 Apr 2007; Germany release date: 23 Mar 2006; 2006)

2


The Lives of Others Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck


Ulrich Mühe’s death of stomach cancer earlier this year should forever immortalize his canonical performance as Hauptmann Wiesler in this examination of police surveillance in the communist East German state. When The Lives of Others began screening at film festivals in 2006, it was discussed not only as one of the best films in recent memory but also as one of the best films ever made. Though it’s notable for its universally fine performances and beautifully dreary and precise cinematography, the film’s greatest accomplishment lies in its deft ability to instill us with a belief in the obstinacy of its characters and then force us to grudgingly relinquish that belief. While perhaps a story such as Wiesler’s never truly existed in the GDR, The Lives of Others forces us into a desperate belief that perhaps it could have. Brian Bethel





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No Country for Old Men

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson

(Miramax; US theatrical: 9 Nov 2007 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 18 Jan 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [9.Nov.2007]

1


No Country for Old Men Joel and Ethan Coen


At a press conference I attended for No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers chafed at critics interpreting their movie as a play on genre. And while I agree that genre has nothing to do with the its overlying message, upsetting crime thriller expectations plays a big part in getting there. (And getting the audience—see Anton Chigurh’s (Javier Bardem) cattle gun—into seats.) The underdog doesn’t win. Moral transgressions aren’t punished. Materialism, gross violence, and death are historical constants. The Gnostic wariness of Cormac McCarthy’s novel brings a deeper maturity to the schoolboy sarcasm that has hampered the Coen brothers previous revisionist noirs. As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell McCarthy fan Tommy Lee Jones delivers the grace note, adding a crucial grain of humanity to a narrative that can be coldly rational in its unfolding. Michael Buening



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