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A Gallery of Good Works: The Best Films of 2007

From Julian Schnabel's artsy The Diving Bell and the Butterfly to the legendary Coen Brothers splendid adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, PopMatters counts down the 30 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:

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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: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 2006 US Release Date: 2007-03-09 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2006-11-10 (Limited release) Image:

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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: MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: First date: 2007 Distributor: Fox US Release Date: 2007-12-05 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-02-01 (General release) Image:

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List number: 28


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


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:

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List number: 27


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


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: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 2006 Distributor: Sony US Release Date: 2007-04-04 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2007-01-19 (Limited release) Image:

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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: MPAA rating: PG-13 First date: 2007 Distributor: Universal US Release Date: 2007-08-03 (General release) Image:

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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: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 2007 Distributor: ThinkFilm US Release Date: 2007-10-26 (Limited release) Image:

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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: MPAA rating: R Trailer: First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-11-21 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2007-12-21 (Limited release) Image:

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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: MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: First date: 2007 Distributor: Sony US Release Date: 2007-12-25 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-04-11 (General release) Image:

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List number: 22


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


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: MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2007 US Release Date: 2007-09-21 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2007-11-30 (General release) Image:

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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

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