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Best Movies of 2007

By Rob Vaux

Oh my, did our cup runneth over in 2007. Movie fans pray for years like this, with quality films coming at us from every possible direction. Quiet surprises snuck up from January onwards and long-anticipated projects proved worth every minute of wait. If you had a pulse, you could find a great movie to meet your tastes. Gangster movies. Cop movies. Movies about video games and serial killers and bellowing Greeks and dysfunctional Irishmen. Big movies. Small movies. Small movies that got really big, and big movies about the very small. Blockbusters. Docudramas. Biographies of real musicians, fake musicians, and real musicians playing fake musicians. Movies about art, about war, about Paris, about pregnant women and the men who think they love them. It was enough to make lovers of the medium do the Snoopy dance every time they passed their neighborhood theater.

Which isn't to say that the year was free of disappointment. Indeed, despite so many options available, the public still insisted on showing up in droves for steaming dog poop like Wild Hogs and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. (Wow, more Alvin and the Chipmunks movies? Thanks America!) The summer produced a dismal array of sequels (though a few still stepped gamely to the plate) and the fall's annual Oscar crop had its share of overpraised dirges masquerading as important filmmaking. Moreover, with the ongoing writer's strike, future cinematic prospects look shaky indeed, and the chances of another year this magnificent coming along soon are remote in the extreme. The year provided ample nuts to save, but a long cold winter of Suck seems to be on its way.

Critics know when a given year rocks because assembling our annual Best Of lists becomes an exercise in agony. So many strong films, or directors, or performances ended up missing the cut simply because including them meant dropping something even more painful. I found 10 films for my year-end list -- each of them an example of why movies are second only to breathing for some of us -- but they certainly weren't only ones worth getting excited about.

10. The King of Kong. Documentaries continue to surprise us with their audacity and creativity, finding humor, relevance, and unmatched discussion fodder in the strangest of places. Seth Gordon's brilliant take on the battle for -- yes -- the World Donkey Kong Championship alternates between loving affection and merciless satire, even as we goggle in gape-jawed disbelief that something so marvelous could come from such a subject.

9. Away from Her. At the tender age of 28, Sarah Polley has directed a film of astonishing grace and maturity, depicting an elderly couple's slow fade into twilight in a way that seasoned masters might envy. Julie Christie deserves the Oscar for her portrayal of a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's, matched step-for-step by Gordon Pinsent as her doting, silently struggling mate.

8. No Country for Old Men. I still believe that the Coens can do no wrong, occasional dips be damned. No Country for Old Men ranks among their very best, with its dark witticisms, savage violence, and a sad creeping realization that world is never what we wish it to be. The ending proves challenging and perhaps unwise from a crowd-pleasing stance, but its uncompromising nature makes a fitting statement for the filmmaking masters who delivered it.

7. 300. Critics of Zak Snyder's thunderous historical opera tend to miss the point a bit. It's not that their perspective on the film is invalid, only that other perspectives hold equal relevance. Myths are symbols and symbols can be interpreted in any number of different ways; like all the best, 300 retains a power and a majesty that cement it in the mind... no matter which side of the political gap you're standing on.

6. Juno. Ellen Page flashes her chops, Diablo Cody throws a coming-out party, and Jason Reitman renders the results daffy and endearing rather than the self-important navel gaze it might readily have become. The most eminently quotable film of the year, as well as the most warmly human.

5. Hot Fuzz. "He is not Judge Judy and executioner!"

4. Ratatouille. Pixar spoils us by making it look so easy, and Brad Bird's second collaboration with them leaves no doubt who stands atop the mainstream Hollywood heap. Ratatouille provides a rodent hero endearing enough to challenge Mickey himself, while combining ferociously creative entertainment with quietly profound insight into the act of creation itself.

3. No End in Sight. The last word on the Iraq war and the sad, sorry legacy its architects have left behind. Disagree? Fine. But watch Charles Ferguson's take on the subject first, and listen to the men and women who were there. The horse's mouth has never been so impossible to ignore.

2. Once. The best love stories are often the simplest, and this one plays like an 80-minute haiku. Boy meets girl, boy longs for girl, boy and girl are probably made for each other, but life is complicated and it doesn't stop just because you meet that special someone. Few romances understand that, and even fewer can celebrate the bond between their central couple without ignoring the realties that pull them in different directions. All that and a reinvention of the musical to boot? Once held the number one spot on my list for most of 2007 and came very, very close to closing the deal...

1. There Will Be Blood. ...but Daniel Day-Lewis will not be denied. Paul Thomas Anderson's epic of self-devouring manifest destiny produces a villain worthy of the epochs of cinema, and proves that even the very best filmmakers can still sometimes top themselves. Films like There Will Be Blood make you believe that no real limits to the medium exist -- that artistry is constrained only by the daring of those who practice it. What better capper to such a memorable year?

Honorable mention goes to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Gone Baby Gone, Grindhouse, The Hoax, Into the Wild, The Lookout, Persepolis, Sunshine, This Is England, and Wristcutters: A Love Story. And Zodiac. And Lars and the Real Girl. And Stardust, can't forget that. And Control and The Savages and The Wind That Shakes the Barley and 3:10 to Yuma and Michael Clayton and The Honeydripper and...

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends."
--Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), Ratatouille

Article published 12.31.2007.

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