Best Movies of 2007

    Did anyone else feel like this year was 1996 all over again? Except instead of “Independence Day,” we had “Transformers,” “I Am Legend,” Spider-Man/Pirates/Bourne/Potter sequels, “The Simpsons” (someone put an end to this spider-pig crap, already) and just about every multi-million dollar franchise imaginable that gave us the explosions and car chases we’ve pined for this entire decade.
    But while the average audience’s intellect sunk with every new release, there were more than a handful of great nuggets to feast on. Established directors like Todd Haynes and Martin Scorsese explored new territory, while others, like Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, completely reinvented their styles.
    Depending on your taste, 2007 was either the year with something for everyone, or an artistic rite of passage for the new-century filmmaker. Here are the top 13 films of that hypocritical year. Why not 10? Thirteen is just a better number.
    It may be sort of a cop-out to include a short film that’s technically a wine commercial, but when Martin Scorsese controls the action, it’s no normal ad. The Oscar-winner goes for laughs as he films “lost Hitchcock material” in Alfred’s style — stark Technicolor, dizzying music, blonde bombshells and a million allusions to the master of suspense’s most famous scenes. It’s not a Scorsese film, per se; rather, it’s a Hitchcock film by Scorsese.

    Having penned ambitious screenplays for the likes of Stevens Spielberg and Soderbergh, it seemed only natural that Scott Frank would embark on his own directorial adventure at some point. That his freshman vehicle would be the psychological noir “The Lookout,” a film laden with hidden motives and betrayals in the midst of Midwestern frostbite, shows signs of good things to come. Even more revelatory is Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, who plays the mentally challenged protagonist tricked into a bank heist, keeping his character distanced just enough for us to sympathize with his helplessness. In a genre notoriously full of cheap gimmicks and quick fixes, the story relies on pure tension.
    Not even Eddie Murphy’s fat suit or Dane Cook’s frat-guy grandstanding could keep Judd Apatow from usurping this year’s comedy throne, with two major grand slams (“Knocked Up” and “Superbad”) and one minor strike (“Walk Hard”). But no one remembers the other Apatow-produced biting network television satire from early on — Jake Kasdan’s “The TV Set.” A bleeding-heart writer (David Duchovny) watches his passion project fall to pieces at the hands of executive Sigourney Weaver’s demographics marketing and commercial tinkering, displaying the prime reason why Apatow is the giant he is today: words.

    10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: The premier “actor’s director” Sidney Lumet has been out of the limelight for some time but returned this year to prove he could still pull a masterstroke like he did in the 1970s with “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternooon.” With Kelly Masterson’s tightly tuned screenplay, the old salt spins a crime-drama of two brothers (the slimy Philip Seymour Hoffman and the dunce Ethan Hawke) who plan to rob their parents’ jewelry store. Lumet milks every scene for character drama in a way that would make a rookie filmmaker shrink in his seat.

    9. Into the Wild: Every year you run into films that seem to annoyingly plead for awards, like this year’s “Reign Over Me” and “American Gangster.” In this category, Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” serves as the dark horse, a film that should have ended up a bloated flight of pretension, but was woven well enough that we left our cynicism at the door. The dramatic retelling of doomed idealist Chris McCandless frames him both as glowing martyr and as a young man lacking perspective, expertly captured by up-and-comer Emile Hirsch.

    8. Alpha Dog: Maybe guys thought that Justin Timberlake would challenge their heterosexuality, and maybe girls thought Nick Cassevetes’ next film after “The Notebook” wouldn’t be as tear-jerky. For whatever reason, the astoundingly dramatic “Alpha Dog” never found an audience, and now seems destined for a long run on HBO. Sad, since the true story of a preventable kid-on-kid murder paints a drug and ego-fueled scene of suburban youth most people don’t know to acknowledge.

    7. Hotel Chevalier: Wes Anderson’s humor may be an acquired taste, but it’s getting more and more difficult to ignore his highly articulate style; symbolic colors and slow-motion panoramic tracking shots that permeate his newest work. “The Darjeeling Limited” combined visual cues with a newfound sense of philosophical drama, but the real transformation for Anderson was the 11-minute short “Hotel Chevalier,” a subtle and uncomfortable glimpse at a one-sided relationship of emotional abuse between Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and an unnamed lover (Natalie Portman).

    6. I’m Not There: Biopic saturation continues unabated, especially in the wake of the “Ray”/“Walk the Line” phenomenon. Thankfully, 2007 yielded some of the more bearable (“Talk to Me,” “Rescue Dawn”) and innovative ones, like the black-and-white Joy Division tale, “Control.” It was Todd Haynes who stole the show, though, with his wildly off-the-cuff, surrealistic dive into the enigma of Bob Dylan. Using six actors to portray the persona-shifting star, Haynes’ manic adventure is at once a tribute, an expose, a satire and an art film.

    5. Zodiac: Criticized for being “too long” or “not as cool as his earlier stuff,” David Fincher’s crime procedural “Zodiac” found a new pace for the man who made the cult smash “Fight Club” almost a decade ago. Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo play the journalist and cop, respectively, who discover themselves as psychological victims of the notorious Bay Area murderer, driven by their quest to solve the crime. No other film last year handled anxiety and fear as aptly as “Zodiac,” Fincher’s coming of age as a director of controlled ambition.
    4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: The resurrection of the Western movie was one of the true novelty acts of 2007, with shoot-‘em-up “3:10 to Yuma” and beautifully subdued “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” If that title was a wallop to your eyes, so is just about everything else — from the sweeping landscapes to the childlike gaze of Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford looking at notorious Jesse James (Brad Pitt) with wide-eyed fanaticism. It’s a somber dissection of American mythology, and reminiscent of the closing line from the classic western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

    3. This is England: There’s no way to describe just how “This is England” sneaks up on you. It’s a film so oddly heartfelt that you can’t ignore Shane Meadows’ most personal project. Taking place in early 1980s England, the melodrama follows the friendship between young Shaun and a group of older skinheads. When the militant, racist Combo arrives to take the reigns, he sends the impressionable boy into uncharted territory. Navigating somewhere between an indictment of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain and Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” “This is England” leaves you stirred even through the credits.

    2. No Country For Old Men: To even try to recap the sheer breadth of this film in a paragraph would undermine everything the Coen brothers orchestrated. Josh Brolin is the man without an escape plan, Tommy Lee Jones is the witness to great evil and Javier Bardem is the angel of death that links everyone together. “No Country For Old Men” is perhaps the most critically acclaimed film of the year, and for good reason; it speaks numbers about the ambivalent, apocalyptic culture we live in.

    1. There Will Be Blood

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