A Gallery of Good Works: The Best Films of 2007

Director: Julian Schnabel
Film: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Studio: Mirimax
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Emma de Caunes, Max Von Sydow, Isaach De Bankolé, Patrick Chesnais
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-11-30 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-02-08 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/diving-bell.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 30

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Julian Schnabel

At first, one is concerned that director Julian Schnabel is going to tell the entire story of paralyzed (and “locked in”) former editor of Elle Jean-Dominique Bauby, from an awkward, slightly artsy first person POV perspective. Indeed, during the first few minutes, all we see are blurred images of hospital staff and medical professionals. But then the filmmaker opens up his creative campus to take in Bauby’s fantasies and flashbacks. Within moments, the movie is alive with narrative possibilities. As uncomfortable as it is uplifting, this unusual biopic doesn’t rely on the stereotypical genre’s tenets to draw us in. After our initial apprehension, we’re glad it avoids such clichés. Bill Gibron

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Film: The Host (Gwoemul)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hie-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ah-sung Ko
Website: http://www.hostmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/thehost/
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2007-03-09 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2006-11-10 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/host-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 29

The Host

Bong Joon-ho

Most foreign monster movies come with at least some degree of kitsch built in, and with that comes a distance that keeps audiences from ever being fully involved in the story. With The Host, South Korean director Joon-ho Bong annihilates that boundary. Yes, there is a slurpy, slobbery sea creature — created by pollution and questionable U.S. foreign policy — that delivers more than its share of suspenseful thrills and delightful large-scale destruction. Yet at the center at the mayhem, Bong chooses to focus on a single struggling family, grounding the story in a way that‘s not just more down-to-Earth, it‘s infinitely more relatable (and, at times, pretty hilarious). If you ever thought you couldn’t get choked up at a monster movie, think again. Marisa LaScala

The Host (Gwoemul)

Director: Jason Reitman
Film: Juno
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons
Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/juno/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/34/5234/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2007-12-05 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-02-01 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/j/juno-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 28

Juno

Jason Reitman

It shouldn’t be a shock to see a film saying teen pregnancy isn’t actually a moral apocalypse, but nevertheless the equally tart-tongued and sweet-hearted Juno manages to do just that without for a second seeming to be sending a message. Like the smart-assed but fundamentally decent Midwestern family at its core, the film takes on a situation considered catastrophic and just deals with it. Jason Reitman’s direction is a model of comic timing, the cast perfection, and the smart cultural references (it’s the only movie this year or any other to name-check McSweeney’s) thick enough to drive a minivan over. Chris Barsanti

Juno

Director: Satoshi Kon
Film: Paprika
Studio: Sony
Cast: Megumi Hayashibarar, Tory Furuya, Koichi Yamadera, Toru Emori, Akio Otsuka
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2006
Distributor: Sony
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/p/paprika.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 27

Paprika

Satoshi Kon

In Paprika, Satoshi Kon’s animated sci-fi mystery about a machine that allows therapists to view the dreams of their patients, dreams are compared to eclectic movie genres, artsy film shorts, and the internet. The film is cluttered, frantic, and chaotic, and at the root of Paprika is the dream-like, fragmented state of modern consciousness. The film appropriates the dream-logic of a commodity-based world, as much to celebrate the surrealism of contemporary life as to critique it. The whole thing is tied together by an enormous parade, the haunting march of commodity fetishism in all its massive, relentless glory, musically scored by Hirasawa Susumu. Brian Bethel

Paprika

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Film: Black Book (Zwartboek)
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Carice van Houten, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Sebastian Koch, Christian Berkel, Waldemar Kobus, Michiel Huisman, Derek de Lint, Peter Blok
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/blackbook/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/01/4101/video.php
First date: 2006
Distributor: Sony
US Release Date: 2007-04-04 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-01-19 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/black-book-2007-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 26

Black Book

Paul Verhoven

John and Yoko famously asserted that war is over if we want it. Paul Verhoeven would beg to differ. This is a history of violence brutally transcribed in the present tense insofar as — Verhoeven unsubtly implies — mankind is mostly a bunch of fuck-ups and liars who can’t ever figure out how to play nice. The moral of this morally skewed story is that we don’t learn from our mistakes, so, naturally, we’re bound to repeat them, with only the specifics varying from war to war and atrocity to atrocity.The triumph here is that — unlike, say, Hollow Man or Starship Troopers, both certifiably underrated — Verhoeven has produced a film that even his fiercest critics can’t easily dismiss or ignore, and, more importantly, he managed to do so without remotely softening his caustically perverse sensibility. Josh Timmerman

Black Book (Zwartboek)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Film: The Bourne Ultimatum
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Paddy Considine, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn
Website: http://www.thebourneultimatum.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2007
Distributor: Universal
US Release Date: 2007-08-03 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/bourne-ultimatum-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 25

The Bourne Ultimatum

Paul Greengrass

On one level The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the most visceral, thrilling action movies ever made, thanks to the immediacy of Paul Greengrass’s you-are-there camerawork. And on another level, it’s a subversive look at American arrogance gone out of control. Granted, its politics aren’t particularly deep, but how many summer blockbusters even have real character development much less a political point of view? And the movie’s bitter final plot twist — Bourne discovers he wasn’t brainwashed but volunteered to become an unquestioning killer and must accept the consequences of his actions as his own doing — is a sobering reflection on responsibility. By the end of his journey across the globe, Jason Bourne has revealed himself as a hero for our times: what makes him truly dangerous isn’t his fighting skills or the number of languages he speaks, but the ability to think for himself and challenge authority. Jack Patrick Rodgers

The Bourne Ultimatum

Director: Sidney Lumet
Film: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Studio: ThinkFilm
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris
Website: http://www.7h58cesamedila-lefilm.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/55/5155/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
Distributor: ThinkFilm
US Release Date: 2007-10-26 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/b/before-the-devil-knows-youre-dead-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 24

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Sidney Lumet

Justly hailed as director Sidney Lumet’s (Serpico,Dog Day Afternoon) return to form after a series of misfires in the ‘90s, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is at once a taut heist flick and a devastating family drama. As he follows cash-strapped brothers who decide to knock over their parents’ jewelry store, Lumet conjures a sickening aura of dread, desperation, and regret. Kelly Masterson’s humane screenplay deftly weaves between past and present as it charts the circumstances leading to the brothers’ treacherous decision. Ethan Hawke is terrific as twitchy, whimpering Hank; Philip Seymour Hoffman dazzles as Andy, a schemer attempting to outrun debt collectors, IRS auditors, and addiction. Although the film explodes in shocking acts of physical violence, its depiction of everyday brutality (the insults, slights, and deceptions) is what continues to resonate long after the credits roll. Marisa Carroll

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Director: Todd Haynes
Film: I’m Not There
Studio: Weinstein Company
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood
Website: http://www.ioncinema.com/movie.php?id=2334
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/40/4740/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-11-21 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-12-21 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/im-not-there-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 23

I’m Not There

Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes’s faux-Bob Dylan biopic examines not so much the factual life of the singer-songwriter as the myriad of contradicting selves embodied within a single American generation. Each of the six Dylans in the movie (all with different names) struggle to uphold the burden of embodying the voice of their respective eras, much as Dylan himself did. A great deal of I’m Not There is devoted to Dylan’s downfall in the eyes of the public, and enjoyment of the film requires the understanding that the seeming failure the film so extensively documents is less about Bob Dylan’s career than the shifting tides of 20th century American belief and culture. Above all though, one must, like Dylan himself, have a sense of humor. Brian Bethel

I’m Not There

Display Artist: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Director: Vincent Paronnaud
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Film: Persepolis
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, François Jerosme
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/classics/persepolis/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/30/4130/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
Distributor: Sony
US Release Date: 2007-12-25 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-04-11 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/events_art/p/persepolis-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 22

Persepolis

Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi

Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, Persepolis is the breathtaking adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic-novel memoirs. Unfolding in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and subsequent war with Iraq, the story follows Marjane’s cherished childhood in Tehran and lonely adolescence abroad. As spirited and imaginative as its young heroine, Persepolis is by turns funny, stirring, and terrifying. Truly wondrous, though, is how the film’s weighty themes (like personal turmoil, political upheaval, and brutal warfare) are captured so effectively through black-and-white animation. Although the palette is distinctive in its simplicity, every image is rich with drama and embellished by curlicues that seem to cascade from the screen. Persepolis is easily one of the most emotionally and visually stunning movies of this year. Marisa Carroll

Persepolis

Director: Andrew Dominik
Film: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Studio: Warner Brothers
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Mary-Louise Parker, Zooey Deschanel
Website: http://jessejamesmovie.warnerbros.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-09-21 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-11-30 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/a/assassination-of-jesse-james-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 21

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Andrew Dominik

Much fuss is made when two world-class actors square off against each other in a film, and this year was chock full of those mash-ups: think American Gangster, 3:10 to Yuma, Before the Devil Knows You‘re Dead, and even The Savages. Rather than trying to top each other with showiness, the two leads in Jesse James seem to be pushing each other to do the most with the least. Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck both give quiet, obsessive, breathtaking performances: Pitt as the charismatic-but-paranoid celebrity outlaw, and Affleck as his profound wannabe. Director Andrew Dominik places these actors in a film that matches their muted intensity, and ends up with a portrait more suspenseful than any wild-west shoot-out could ever be. Marisa LaScala

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Director: Danny Boyle
Film: Sunshine
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cast: Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Cillian Murphy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh
Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/sunshine/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/sunshine/
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-07-20 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-04-05 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/sunshine-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 20

Sunshine

Danny Boyle

Leave it to cinematic shapeshifter Danny Boyle to provide the perfect post-millennial bookend to Stanley Kubrick’s flawless sci-fi masterwork 2001. Without drawing on the typical speculative bull spaceship that’s mired the genre since the story of the Skywalkers rewrote the rulebook, we get a deep thinking adventure that asks the big questions while keeping easy answers away from the audience. The notion of holding the entire fate of humanity in your hands, and how you counter such a responsibility, is the movie’s main theme. What drives us as individuals become the secondary layers that let Boyle’s broader perspectives slip directly under your skin and into your psyche. Bill Gibron

Sunshine

Director: Michael Moore
Film: Sicko
Studio: Weinstein Company
Cast: Michael Moore
Website: http://sicko-themovie.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/69/3769/videos/
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-06-22 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/sicko-2007-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 19

SiCKO

Michael Moore

Everyone has strong feelings about Michael Moore — he’s either a pushy polemicist or a courageous fighter for truth – but it’s possible to applaud his cinematic savvy and the overall thrust of his politics while also acknowledging his weakness for tendentious argument and in-your-face showboating. All these qualities are on display in his most provocative pictures, including this revealing study of the American health-care system, which reached the screen just as liberal-minded voters and politicians were gearing up for a long-overdue effort to inject some fairness and equality into the situation. It’s the year’s most important American domestic-issue documentary. David Sterritt

Sicko

Director: Ben Affleck
Film: Gone Baby Gone
Studio: Miramax
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Edi Gathegi
Website: http://www.gonebabygone-themovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-10-19 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/g/gone-baby-gone-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 18

Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck

One wonders how much of his experience in the tabloid’s tainted limelight affected Ben Affleck when choosing to take on this Dennis Lehane novel as his first directorial project. The story certainly has elements (no matter how indirect) that harken back to the differences between perception and reality. While the media’s role in the movie is minor, how we see ourselves — as parents, as family members, as part of the community — resonates loudly in this impressive debut. Even more fascinating is brother Casey’s straight ahead performance. It mimics the movie’s tone perfectly, encapsulating everything the narrative strives for. Bill Gibron

Gone Baby Gone

Director: David Silverman
Film: The Simpsons Movie
Studio: Fox
Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer
Website: http://www.simpsonsmovie.com/
MPAA rating: PG-13
First date: 2007
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2007-07-27 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2007-07-26 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/simpsons-the-movie-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 17

The Simpsons Movie

David Silverman

After 18 seasons of boob tube buffoonery, The Simpsons went big screen in the summer of ‘07. Pre-release concerns that the film would be little more than a really long TV episode were quickly dashed away by a streaking Bart-on-wheels. Matt Groening and his cartooning team successfully created an epic tale and filled the whole screen with vivid colors and large-scale wackiness. The plot? Well, one of the great joys of The Simpsons has always been its circuitous storytelling style. Suffice it to say, a pet pig leads to a glass dome, which necessitates an Alaskan odyssey and a motorcycle miracle. Makes sense? Well, you’ll be laughing too hard to care. The Simpsons Movie is big-time fun. Michael Keefe

The Simpsons Movie

Director: Greg Mottola
Film: Superbad
Studio: Sony
Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen
Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/superbad/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-08-17 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/a/august-superbad.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 16

Superbad

Greg Mottola

Judd Apatow had his hand in a lot of funny movies in 2007, and one of the best was one he didn’t actually direct or write: Greg Mottola’s Superbad. The film maintains the laugh density of a broad comedy and the heart of Apatow’s best character work as it follows a day and night in the life of Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill), lifelong best friends facing separation after high school. What they talk about instead, of course, in torrents of natural-sounding yet unbelievably hilarious dialogue, is getting laid. The meek, stammering Cera and the loudly profane Hill forge an effortless comedy team, perfectly capturing what feels like a real-life friendship (note the first names of screenwriters Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen). An unfairly maligned subplot involving a pair of cops is a smart variation on the film’s affectionate, realistic, uproarious depiction of unspoken male bonding. Jesse Hassenger

Superbad

Director: Wes Anderson
Film: The Darjeeling Limited
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Camilla Rutherford, Anjelica Huston
Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thedarjeelinglimited/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2007-09-29 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-11-23 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/the-darjeeling-limited-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 15

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson, like God, works in mysterious ways. And just like the supposed Supreme Being, when he hits on something special, the results literally resonate with importance. This is the finest movie the idiosyncratic filmmaker has made, besting previous works of wonder like The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. The setting — a train traversing India — makes an excellent road movie metaphor for the troubled brothers trying to reconnect. Even better, the alien backdrop allows for Anderson’s arch mannerisms to meld perfectly with the performances. What we wind up with is a spiritual quest without the sanctimonious smugness. It’s an amazingly open adventure. Bill Gibron

The Darjeeling Limited

Director: Noah Baumbach
Film: Margot at the Wedding
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Zane Pais, Jack Black, Ciarán Hinds, John Turturro
Website: http://www.margotatthewedding.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/76/3876/videos/?s=trailers
First date: 2007
Distributor: Paramount
US Release Date: 2007-11-16 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-02-08 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/margot-at-the-wedding-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 14

Margot at the Wedding

Noah Baumbach

Many critics have unfairly dismissed director Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to 2005’s The Squid and the Whale as “gratuitous”, “pretentious” or “unlikable”. They couldn’t be farther from the truth, however. Baumbach has crafted an expert investigational extension on the themes he skirted in his other work: the comical (and often harrowing) ineptitude of New York City’s intelligencia, the loneliness of the adored, and the awkwardness of being an adolescent are all here are mercilessly ripped to shreds. Up on the chopping block are familial relationships, here the mysterious bonds of femininity and sisterhood threaten to tear apart Margot and Pauline. Why people are harping on the darkness of the characters is beyond me — Ingmar Bergman did this sort of emotional exploration for decades, and it suited him just fine. Margot at the Wedding is a film that the great Swedish master might have crafted in his heyday (shades of Persona are everywhere!) Baumbach should never be apologetic for his willingness to put himself on the chopping block like this. Matt Mazur

Margot at the Wedding

Director: John Carney
Film: Once
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Website: http://oncethemovie.com/
MPAA rating: N/A
Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/movies/film/94/4794/video.php
First date: 2006
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2007-05-16 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-09-07 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/o/once-2007poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 13

Once

John Carney

If the bittersweet conclusion of the musical-romance Once doesn’t render you a puddle, well, I don’t think we can be friends. Known merely as Guy and Girl, Glen Hansard (of the Frames) and Markéta Irglová are perfect as the film’s would-be lovers who forge a tentative connection through their mutual passion for music. Guitarist Hansard sings out his heart, lungs, and guts; pianist Irglova, with her delicate voice and playful demeanor, is his ideal complement. Artfully integrating Guy and Girl’s performances, writer-director John Carney lets their story unfold at a gentle pace in the streets and shops of Dublin. Unassuming in style but generous in feeling, Once reminds us of the unique power of music to capture romantic yearning and the magic that can spring from unfettered artistic collaboration. Marisa Carroll

Once

Director: Tony Gilroy
Film: Michael Clayton
Studio: Warner Bros.
Cast: George Clooney, Sean Cullen, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
Website: http://michaelclayton.warnerbros.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-10-05 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2007-09-28 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/michael-clayton-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 12

Michael Clayton

Tony Gilroy

This slow-burn thriller by first-time director Tony Gilroy is a rarity: a morally complex genre film that doesn’t paint in black and white, but that also doesn’t deny its audience the simple pleasure of watching a well-plotted potboiler. Tom Wilkinson plays a corporate lawyer who goes off his meds and gets a conscience; Tilda Swinton plays the in-house consul who crosses the line to reign him in. But the movie belongs to George Clooney, who has transformed himself from a head-waggling hunk on E.R. to a genuine movie star. He brings real glamour to the lead role, then strips it away to show the compromise and sadness of a man in his position. Peter Swanson

Michael Clayton

Director: Edgar Wright
Film: Hot Fuzz
Studio: Rogue Pictures (Focus)
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Steve Coogan, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Edward Woodward
Website: http://www.hotfuzz.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/focus_features/hotfuzz/hd/
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-04-20 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-02-14 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/hot-fuzz-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 11

Hot Fuzz

Edgar Wright

An all-business London cop is transferred to a sleepy village in the British countryside, where his new partner is a useless oaf and his most pressing case is finding an escaped swan. Would you believe that’s the setup for the year’s most deliriously over-the-top action extravaganza? Hot Fuzz is a double-barreled delight: it’s both a warm-hearted buddy comedy (easily the best of the year’s so called “bromances”), and a gory murder mystery. But the final 30 minutes elevate the film to action movie nirvana. Director Edgar Wright channels the over-caffeinated frenzy of Michael Bay with none of the mean-spiritedness; Simon Pegg and Nick Frost will have you cheering every gratuitous one-liner; and the script provides some sly commentary on the village’s stubborn resistance to change. Hot Fuzz might be the ultimate “dumb fun” movie — although the real joke is that it isn’t dumb at all. Jack Patrick Rodgers

Hot Fuzz

Director: Sean Penn
Film: Into the Wild
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Vince Vaughn, Brian Dierker, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook
Website: http://www.intothewild.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
Distributor: Paramount
US Release Date: 2007-09-21 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-11-09 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/i/into-the-wild-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Into the Wild

Director: David Cronenberg
Film: Eastern Promises
Studio: Focus Features
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Sinéad Cusack
Website: http://www.focusfeatures.com/easternpromises/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-09-14 (Limited release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/e/eastern-promises-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Eastern Promises

Director: Judd Apatow
Film: Knocked Up
Studio: Universal Pictures
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel
Website: http://www.knockedupmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
Distributor: Universal
US Release Date: 2007-06-01 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/k/knocked-up-2007-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Knocked Up

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Film: There Will Be Blood
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Mary Elizabeth Barrett
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount_vantage/therewillbeblood/
First date: 2007
Distributor: Paramount
US Release Date: 2007-12-26 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-02-15 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/t/there-will-be-blood-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

There Will Be Blood

Director: Tim Burton
Film: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Jamie Campbell Bowen, Jayne Wisener
Website: http://www.sweeneytoddmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/dreamworks/sweeneytodd/
First date: 2007
Distributor: Dreamworks
US Release Date: 2007-12-21 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2008-01-25 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/sweeney-todd-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Director: David Fincher
Film: Zodiac
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney
Website: http://www.zodiacmovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/zodiac/
First date: 2007
Distributor: Paramount
US Release Date: 2007-03-02 (General release)
UK Release Date: 2007-04-20 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/z/zodiac-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Zodiac

Display Artist: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Film: Grindhouse
Studio: Dimension Films (The Weinstein Company)
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, John Jaratt, Marley Shelton
Website: http://www.grindhousemovie.net/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/weinstein/grindhouse/
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-04-06 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/g/grindhouse-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Grindhouse

Director: Brad Bird
Film: Ratatouille
Studio: The Walt Disney Company
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole
Website: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/ratatouille/
MPAA rating: PG
First date: 2007
Distributor: Disney / Pixar
US Release Date: 2007-06-29 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/ratatouille_2007_poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

Ratatouille

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Film: The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Turkur, Thomas Thieme
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thelivesofothers/
MPAA rating: R
Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony/thelivesofothers/
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2007-02-09 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2007-04-13
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/l/lives-of-others-poster.jpg
Germany release date: 2006-03-23

Display as: List

List number: 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

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)

Display Artist: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Director: Ethan Coen
Director: Joel Coen
Film: No Country for Old Men
Studio: Miramax
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson
Website: http://www.nocountryforoldmen-themovie.com/
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-11-09 (Limited release)
UK Release Date: 2008-01-18 (General release)
Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/n/no-country-for-old-men-poster.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 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

No Country for Old Men

FROM THE POPMATTERS ARCHIVES
PopMatters