When 2007 began, some feared it would be a terrible year for movies, mostly because of the slew of “threequels” that threatened to dominate the summer. But as it turns out, 2007 was a fantastic movie year, one of the best in recent memory. For the most part, even those threequels were OK.
I reviewed 254 movies this year and watched another 44 new releases (mostly at film festivals) that I didn’t review. I took January off, but I still wound up seeing most of those films on DVD. The only wide releases (1,000+ screens) that I missed altogether were: “The Abandoned,” “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem,” “Code Name: The Cleaner,” “Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Dragon Wars,” “Epic Movie,” “Feel the Noise,” “Freedom Writers,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “The Perfect Holiday,” “Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour,” and “This Christmas.” I don’t see any serious contenders for the Top 10 list there, though I do see a couple that might have made the Bottom 10.
“Chicago” revived Hollywood’s taste for musicals in 2002, and while it took a few years and some mistakes to get it going, the genre is now in full bloom again. I count six full-blown musicals released in 2007: “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Once,” “Across the Universe,” “Enchanted,” and “Romance & Cigarettes.” “Southland Tales” has a musical number. “I’m Not There,” “La Vie En Rose,” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” are musical biopics (one satirical) in which the characters perform frequently.
The “Bratz” girls do a song. “Alvin and the Chipmunks” “sing,” if you can call it that. “High School Musical 2” was a huge made-for-TV hit. Michael Cera sings “These Eyes” in one of “Superbad’s” more memorable scenes. And who could forget the simple, sweet song that Keri Russell sings in “Waitress”? “Baby don’t you cry, gonna make a pie, gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle….”
But all was not sweetness and light and toe-tapping melodies in 2007! Revenge, murder, and greed were major themes, too, as found in “No Country for Old Men,” “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “There Will Be Blood,” to name a few of the best ones.
Here are what I believe to be the best films of 2007. It’s a pretty eclectic mix: musicals, R-rated comedies, G-rated cartoons, documentaries, foreign films, war movies, and revenge thrillers. I can find no overarching theme among the top 10 except that they’re all really, really good movies. Here’s hoping 2008 is filled with more of them.
The Best Movies of 2007:
1. “No Country for Old Men” Sometimes I’m ambivalent about the order of my top four or five movies. Not this year. “No Country for Old Men” made the list as soon as I saw it, and it hit the #1 spot when I saw it a second time. It’s the closest thing to a perfect movie that I saw all year, richly detailed, beautifully constructed — and it doesn’t forget to be entertaining, either.
The film does not end the way you want or expect it to. But further reflection on it — or, as in my case, a second viewing — confirms that it’s the “right” ending. Once you understand the story’s themes and ideas, the ending is perfectly satisfying and sensible. It’s only when you are stuck in the mindset that this is a Straightforward Crime Thriller, and thus that the bad guy must be caught and the good guys must succeed, that the finale seems wrong.
Look at the lengthy list of comments posted on my review of it. Viewers have offered some analyses that are astonishingly insightful and intelligent. You can reasonably discuss several different “messages” or “points” of the film without being completely off-base. How many movies lend themselves to that kind of conversation?
And yet it is not an “artsy” or incoherent movie, either. It’s not like “Donnie Darko,” where nothing makes sense and you have to sit around and try to figure out what’s going on. The narrative itself is straightforward. Except for one scene where it’s uncertain whether two particular characters are actually in the same room at the same time, there are no elements of the story — that is, the actual events of the plot — that are ambiguous. This happens; that happens; this person dies; so does that one; etc. Some elements of the plot are more clear than others, but it’s all there.
2. “Waitress” A film that’s genuinely, lastingly uplifting to one’s spirits is rare. I saw “Waitress” at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was blown away by its tartly funny dialogue, its elegant solution to its story’s thorny dilemma (what do you do when you the husband you hate gets you pregnant and you fall in love with your married gynecologist?), and its sunny — but not naive or blindly optimistic — outlook. The performances by Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Adrienne Shelly, Cheryl Hines, and Andy Griffith are sweet and endearing. “No Country for Old Men” is a “better” film in that it’s deeper, weightier, and more generally accomplished. But “Waitress” is the film from 2007 that I love the most.
3. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” I warned earlier against assuming “No Country for Old Men” is a Straightforward Crime Thriller. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” on the other hand, is exactly that. In fact, it’s so straightforward that you can guess pretty early on who will live and who will die. That knowledge comes in the form of a sinking feeling, the sense that just as in the Greek tragedies the film resembles, greed and hubris will be punished. The thrills come from two sources: suspense over how, exactly, things will shake out, and the fierce performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney.
4. “Ratatouille” This may have been Pixar’s toughest sell yet. Who wants to see a movie with an unfamiliar foreign word for its title and a rat for its main character? As yet “Ratatouille” is an ingenious mix of old-fashioned cartoon humor, thoughtful ideas on art and talent, and breathtakingly beautiful animation. This is what digital projection was made for: an animated film where every frame is a work of art.
5. “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” The nice thing about making your own list is that you can cheat. Separately, these films would be among the Honorable Mentions: great films, but slightly flawed, and surpassed in excellence by at least 10 others this year. But taken together — and why not take them together, with their release dates bookending the summer, their similarly raunchy-but-sweet stories, and their overlapping producers, directors, and cast members? — they comprise an unbelievably funny four hours of smart, modern comedy.
6. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” I make no apologies for admiring the intricate work of Stephen Sondheim, and for loving his macabre musical about a murderous barber. With such excellent source material to draw from, director Tim Burton did something amazing: he made the material even better. “Sweeney Todd” emerges as a dark, morbidly entertaining and horrific film. The tunes might not make you tap your toes, but the images will make you cover your eyes.
7. “No End in Sight” With calm, rational facts and interviews with key players, political scientist Charles Ferguson examines what the United States did wrong in Iraq in those crucial first few months after the fall of Baghdad. The story is scathing, eye-opening, and infuriating — and yet Ferguson’s tone never becomes strident. This is a movie that doesn’t have to raise its voice to make its points.
8. “There Will Be Blood” The story of a vile oilman in early-20th-century California is vast in every way, with a performance by Daniel Day-Lewis that’s one for the ages. You hate the character, but you sure love watching him scheme.
9. “The Lives of Others” It already won the foreign-language award at the Oscars back in February, but let’s not forget this German gem (which was released stateside in 2007), a marvelously touching look at an East German secret police agent’s transformation from automaton to human being. Ulrich Mühe gives a brilliant performance, made even more poignant by the knowledge that Mühe died of cancer just as the film as achieving its success.
10. “Hairspray” There are moments in “Hairspray” that are almost embarrassingly earnest. What’s remarkable is that it doesn’t matter. For as subversive as the basic story is — it’s based on a John Waters film, for crying out loud — this is as sincere and honest a movie as you can imagine, and fabulously high-spirted to boot. Like “Waitress,” it just plain makes you feel happy, with infectious tunes, energetic dance numbers, and a simple message that’s impossible not to like: be yourself, love yourself, and don’t try to stop the beat.
11. “In the Valley of Elah”
13. “Michael Clayton”
14. “Across the Universe”
15. “Eastern Promises”
16. “Lars and the Real Girl”
17. “The Host”
18. “3:10 to Yuma”
19. “The Lookout”
20. “Crazy Love”
The Worst Movies of 2007:
1. “Bratz” In the category of Movies That Are Based on a Line of Toy Dolls and That Feature Jon Voight, this one easily beats out “Transformers” for sheer awfulness. In fact, it beats out everything. It’s a flat-out terrible abortive trainwreck of a disastrous pile of worthless stupid garbage of an utter mess of a movie, and if you thought it was funny, then I have to assume you are either a 12-year-old girl, or mentally handicapped.
2. “Daddy Day Camp” Cuba Gooding Jr. answers the age-old question, “How bad does a sequel have to be for even Eddie Murphy to turn it down?” As for Cuba, no living actor is better at taking a bad film and making it completely unbearable.
3. “License to Wed” You know your movie is bad when Robin Williams is in it and he’s not even the most annoying thing about it.
4. “Delta Farce” Because “farce” sounds like “force,” you see, and Delta Force is a part of the U.S. Army. It’s a pun. Get it? Hello? Is this thing on?
5. “Wild Hogs” Tim Allen, John Travolta, and Martin Lawrence all in one movie? Did the casting director somehow have access to my nightmares?
6. “Are We Done Yet?” Because there were a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the annoying kiddie comedy “Are We There Yet?” For example, “Could Ice Cube make a movie that was worse?” And the answer is yes!
7. “Captivity” I’m sorry, but if I’m going to watch Jack Bauer’s daughter being tortured, I really need to see her caught in a bear trap and stalked by a cougar at some point.
8. “Halloween” Rob Zombie is a black-hearted monster without an ounce of talent, and no amount of threatening, hateful e-mails from his fans can convince me otherwise.
9. “Redline” Ninety-five minutes of cars driving around really fast. It was conceived, produced, and bankrolled by a millionaire real estate mogul as a vanity project for his girlfriend, and it’s approximately as good as you would expect a movie to be when it was conceived, produced, and bankrolled by a millionaire real estate mogul as a vanity project for his girlfriend.
10. “Who’s Your Caddy?” This movie makes some very good points. It turns out black people are fun and sexy while white people are racist and uptight. Now I know!
Hollywood’s Shameful Secrets
As has become trendy within the last couple years, a huge number of films were not screened for critics before they opened — almost always a sign that the studios know they’re bad and want to avoid negative opening-day reviews. Here are Hollywood’s Shameful Secrets for 2007.
“Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”
“Bug” (screened in some markets, not in others)
“Daddy’s Little Girls”
“Feel the Noise”
“Firehouse Dog” (screened in some markets, not in others)
“Kickin’ It Old Skool”
“The Last Legion”
“Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour”
“Stomp the Yard” (screened in some markets, not in others)
“Who’s Your Caddy?”
“Why Did I Get Married?”
These secrets are only slightly less shameful: The films were screened, but not until the night before they opened. In some cases, those screenings were at 9 or 10 p.m., and in some cases the press weren’t even invited.
Finally, these films were screened segregation-style: Critics working for newspapers were invited to a press-only screening several days in advance; online critics had to wait for a night-before-opening public screening. All of these are from the same Seattle-based publicist (who handles Fox, Sony, and Universal), making me wonder if it’s the publicist’s rule, not the studios’.
“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (Fox)
“Live Free or Die Hard” (Fox)
“The Simpsons Movie” (Fox)
“Death Sentence” (Fox)
“Across the Universe” (Sony/Revolution)
“We Own the Night” (Columbia)
Shortest movie: “Them,” 77 min.
Longest title: “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
Shortest title: “P2”
Least enjoyable good movie: “Away From Her”
Movies whose titles have no obvious connection to the movies’ content: “Slow Burn,” “Fracture,” “Disturbia,” “Evening,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Superbad,” “The Last Time,” “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Persepolis,” “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”
Movies whose titles are complete sentences: “I Know Who Killed Me,” “You Kill Me,” “Why Did I Get Married?,” “I Think I Love My Wife,” “Shoot ‘Em Up,” “Are We Done Yet?,” “We Own the Night,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Who’s Your Caddy?,” “Reign Over Me,” “I’m Not There,” “I Am Legend,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Meet the Robinsons,” “Live Free or Die Hard”
Movies with narrators who are not characters in the film: “Rocket Science,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “Fred Claus,” “Enchanted,” “Stardust”
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