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20 Movies That Prove 2007 Is The Best Film Year of The 21st Century (So Far)

16 December 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Craig Johnson


In the history of film there have been a number of anni mirabili, years in which an enormous amount of quality movies were released. The great examples are 1939 (Gone With the Wind, the Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Ninotchka), 1960 (Psycho, L’Avventura, Breathless, La Dolce Vita), 1974 (Godfather 2, Chinatown, The Last Detail, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein), 1979 (Apocalypse Now, Manhattan, Alien, Breaking Away), 1994 (Schindler’s List, Short Cuts, Groundhog Day, Dazed and Confused) and 1999 (Magnolia, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, All About My Mother).

Then there was 2007. For one glorious year, it was like the 1970’s all over again. Smart characters were using their brains as weapons. Movie stars were challenging themselves with tough roles. Punches were not pulled. Happy endings were not guaranteed. There was a parade of intelligent movies, seemingly made for adults to watch while the kids were watching Transformers. I’m not saying it was a perfect year. There is no such thing. 1974 gets The Towering Inferno, 2007 gets robots in disguise.

Yes, there was candy to be had but there were plenty of cinematic meals far heartier than expected.  Tim Burton gave us a musical!  A bloody bloody musical (Sweeney Todd).  Harry Potter and his young audience took a large step towards maturity with the death of Cedric Diggory (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).   

Jason Bourne returned with his continued demonstration of what an intelligent action movie could be like (The Bourne Supremacy). Ang Lee got sexy (Lust, Caution). Danny Boyle tried his hand at sci-fi (Sunshine).  And a couple of kings of the second golden age, Sidney Lumet and Mike Nichols, closed off their careers proving that they still had the touch (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Charlie Wilson’s War).

The Spartans polished up their chests and thighs for battle (300). There was a stoner comedy about growing up (Knocked Up), a bio-pic about Edith Piaf (La Vie en Rose) and a bio-parody about Dewey Cox (Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story). 

The Simpsons went to Alaska (The Simpsons Movie) and Wes Anderson went to India (The Darjeeling Limited), while Quentin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez gave us some retro gore (Grindhouse). If real life is your thing, there was an unlikely sports documentary about competitive Donkey Kong (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters).

These fifteen movies did not make the list. That’s how good the year was. Here are the ones that did.


20. Into The Wild

into the wild

Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who went to the woods to live deliberately and died trying. We follow him from his volatile childhood home to the mountains and arroyos of California, the forests of the northwest, the fields of South Dakota and finally the fate-sealing wilderness of Alaska.

Director Sean Penn and company follow the same route of McCandless’s journey, filming almost entirely on location. This makes for a particularly gorgeous film. The audience has no choice but to see the world as beautiful and inviting as our doomed hero did.

Is Christopher a self-glorifying middle class kid? Is he an iconoclast living as a latter day Henry Thoreau? Is he a bum? Is he an inspiration? Is he a warning? Penn allows the audience to make up its own mind about the hero. Likewise Emile Hirsch brings out McCandless’s obsessive personality which makes him alternately inspiring, charming, naïve and selfish.

Into the Wild is less emotionally brutal than his previous directorial efforts (and for that matter most of his acting efforts, too) but no less intense. Though the movie refuses to spell things out for us, it is a more bearable experience as it is balanced more heavily on the side of joy than despair.


19. Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises shower

A teenage girl dies while giving birth in a London hospital. A nurse (Naomi Watts) investigates her history which sparks the notice of the Russian mob. Viggo Mortensen is a mid-level gangster who must protect the nurse and child from his employer (Armin Mueller-Stahl).

The most notorious scene in the movie is a fight scene in a Turkish bath that makes men realize what women feel like when they watch the shower scene in Psycho. And like Psycho’s shower, this moment overshadows the rest of the movie despite the fact that it is just one great scene out of many in this somber crime drama.


18. My Winnipeg

my winnipeg horse

Arguably the strangest movie on the list. Canadian director Guy Maddin made a documentary about his hometown of Winnipeg. Or maybe it’s not a documentary, but a silent film, or family melodrama, or ghost story, or soviet-style propaganda piece. Shot in blacks and whites as stark as a Manitoba January, My Winnipeg follows a dream narrative that combines history- both civic and personal- with legends and lies.

Are there truly warring cab companies who split their territories between streets and alleys? Was there really a spiritualist who communicated to the dead via dance? Was Maddin’s mother really that afraid of birds? And can horses really die that way? The movie leaves one with more questions than answers, but in the end one feels they know how Winnipeg feels: a city filled with sleepwalkers, a city with more past than history, a city that is “Always Winter, always sleeping.” And maybe most importantly to Maddin, a city without a pro hockey team.


17. Hot Fuzz


Hot Fuzz is a combination of The Wicker Man and Bad Boys that hits all the right movie nerd buttons. Actor-writer Simon Pegg and writer-director Edgar Wright drop every American buddy cop movie trope on a seemingly peaceful small town in England. Pegg plays a London cop exiled to Sandford, Gloucestershire, a supposedly crime-free village with an alarming number of “accidents.”

From this description one may think that Hot Fuzz is merely a modern parody of cop movies in the style of Blazing Saddles or Airplane! but Wright and Pegg repeat the trick they had previously performed in Shawn of the Dead by placing their farce into a firmly realistic setting filled with recognizable, fully-realized characters. The movie has an intensely dense plot and contains seemingly every British actor not involved with the Harry Potter franchise (plus a pre-Potter Jim Broadbent).


16. Ratatouille


Pixar has made the world love insects in A Bug’s Life, and monsters in Monsters Inc., but could they do the same for humanity’s bane the rat? As unlikely as that may sound, add to that the challenge of it being a rat who lives in the kitchen of one of the top restaurants in Paris. This is the central challenge/joke of Ratatouille. Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is unhappy with the low-quality food he and his pack dine on, so he runs away to Paris- perfectly recreated with it hazy skyline- where the food is said to be finer.

With its loving renderings of French cuisine, Ratatouille more than earns its place next to Babette’s Feast and Big Night in the small sub-genre of foodie pictures. And using the art of animation, it goes a step further by doing one more thing that’s seemingly impossible: they figured out how to visually depict the taste of food.


15. Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

The idea seems like something out of a sex farce: a socially awkward and likely delusional man begins dating a life-size anatomically correct doll. Craig Gillespie’s film, based off a script by Nancy Oliver, takes the premise into a different direction, giving us a warm human comedy about tolerance, the inherent goodness of man, and our need for connection. It plays like an analog precursor of Spike Jonze’s Her, but with the dystopian future, replaced by Norman Rockwell.

It would be very easy for this story to collapse under its own preciousness but it always catches itself right before it teeters over to un-believability. The film’s success rides almost entirely on Ryan Goslings’s shoulders. As Lars, he gives a finely calibrated performance that elicits the joyful sensation of watching a chick emerge from an egg.

The smallest amount of cynicism or perversion could have upended the whole venture but his passionate belief that his doll Bianca is real that is irresistible not only for the audience, but for his family and the population of his small town. Everyone starts out doubtfully pandering to Lars’s imaginary friend but end up seeing her as a member of the community. It may be a shared delusion, but it’s a delusion that makes them happy.



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  • Zulhaizam Kasbi

    Things We Lost In the Fire?

  • Cinema270

    The choice between ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’, ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’ is one I’m not willing to make.

    • Craig Johnson

      Hardest decision of my life. That’s part of the reason why I chose Butterfly as number one. Someone should make a supercut of the three movies, and it would be the greatest western of all time.

  • giallopudding

    Diving Bell and Butterfly and Eastern promises are the two winners. The former affirms life. The latter does too, to a degree, but wraps the message with awesome suspense.
    No Country for Old Men is dreck…psychopathic killer walks away in the end, after killing numerous innocent people and the protagonist. Beautiful statement for our nihilism loving times. Zodiac? Psychopathic killer is tracked, but never caught. The end. More of the same. Lovely cinematography, wretched, dehumanizing stories.

    • Alex Nasaudean

      So a film is dreck because the central character is not somebody you’d hire as a party clown… Quite a smart point to make…Nice way to wipe out half the great movies out there…This site is for movie buffs, not moralists.

      • giallopudding

        How many films out there can you name where the writer/director gets the audience to empathize with a vile, inhuman, murdering piece of shit? Very few indeed. Natural Born Killers – dreck. American Psycho – dreck. Not a lot of film makers are debased enough in their moral standards as to produce such garbage. Hitchcock made a number of films about psychotic killers, but they were always vanquished by good people in the end, and their pure evil personalities weren’t whitewashed with a post-modern philosophy supposedly reflecting the banality of evil. Yes, evil may be banal, but the enjoyment of watching evil go through its motions without compunction is a mental sickness IMHO.

        • Alex Nasaudean

          Your view seems really blinkered, so I can’t really take it seriously. Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, The Godfather are about anti-heroes, great novels are about anti-heroes, great art is ugly and distorted. Killers are part of reality, of human nature, many people are curious about them, it does not mean they want to become one or admire them.
          Why does the audience have to empathize with a killer, just by watching a movie? It’s more about being entertained/scared/horrified etc Borrowing a complex concept like “the banality of evil” and misusing it to diss some movies shows your stupendous lack of sense of proportion. Too much ideologizing spoils the fun of a thrilling movie, like all those you mentioned. Oliver Stone and Mary Harron wanted to give their audience a cheap thrill, first and foremost. And they did it better than most. Sleep tight!

          • giallopudding

            All I will say is that Cormac McCarthy’s book No Country for Old Men disgusted me, and the beautifully shot film did the same. It is not your run-of-the-mill anti-hero movie, of which there are many great ones, ala Taxi Driver. The completely psychopathic Anton Chigurh character enjoys killing innocent people, and he walks away at the end of the film. Lesson to be learned: evil, prevails. Maybe so, but I’m not shelling out $10 to see what I can see on the TV news, watching, say, ISIS behead some innocent people. Mr. McCarthy’s bleak penchant for nihilistic stories and apparently dismal view of mankind is also evidenced in The Road. A writer of more depressing stories you will never find. I predict he either does himself in eventually out of utter despair, or takes some folks with him before he goes. Other writers who delved into that killer’s mind territory but had some redeeming narrative values: Jim Thompson and Flannery O’Connor.

          • Deadly_Moogly

            I really loved No Country for Old Men, but I can understand why some people did not like it.

            But The Road?!? Man, seriously, that was such a great movie : very dark, but at the same time with some much love and hope.

            With all due respect, I do not get people like you.

            It’s like saying marijuana should not be legalized because “we” already have fast food, alcohol, and caffeine on a daily basis.

            No Coutry for Old Man IS NOT Fox News!

            Some people like Forrest Gump and other people like Pulp Fiction. Personnaly, I like both! 🙂

          • giallopudding

            This is not a political issue, my friend! I like both Forest Gump and Pulp Fiction, for different reasons. Pulp Fiction is the greater film by far, in its structure and dialogue. Gump is clever too, but a bit over the top in the sentimentality department, IMHO. I would be careful about trying to pigeon hole me into some Fox News loving right winger. I think both political parties are utterly corrupt in this country. I have no idea where the marijuana issue ties into this discussion (being a staunch libertarian, I believe cannabis should be legalized BTW).

            What you and I are not seeing eye to eye on is a deep philosophical point. Cormac McCarthy in No Country for Old Men presents us with a beautifully rendered expression of his utterly nihilistic view of mankind, as symbolized by his antagonist, made into a demented protagonist, Anton Chigurh. He kills arbitrarily, is obviously a psychopath, and vanquishes the forces of good trying to bring him to justice. Great theme. Evil triumphs over good.

            In The Road, McCarthy expands his view of mankind’s inherently despicable nature to include virtually all of remaining humans, who have been reduced to cannibalism. He wallows in the pain that evil inflicts on the minority of good still left. Reading his novels, you sense his almost erotic excitement describing wanton murder. This is one sick dude.

            So your penchant for this type of film/theme indicates to be that you are might be:
            1) A sociopathic personality type yourself
            2) Brought up fundamentalist Christian, and taught that man is born evil, and must forever battle his tendencies to harm others.
            3) A fatalistic nihilist, and possibly a misanthrope, who calls watching two hours of psychopaths murdering people entertainment.

            I’m guessing you are a younger person, probably under 30? I could be wrong. But fatalism seems to run more strongly in the millennial generation. I am 55, BTW. I am quite well read, and have plowed through a good amount of novels, and seen thousands of films, including many foreign ones. I am always fascinated by how other cultures see events, and the philosophies they develop to explain the human condition.

            I am repulsed by the above mentioned films in the same way I am by Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, with the drawn out crucifixion sequence, complete with close-ups of nails and thorns puncturing skin – torture porn. And his newer Hacksaw Ridge, with exploding arms and heads getting more screen time than any scenes of first aid being administered. The whole point of the hero’s story was he saved over 70 peoples’ lives. Yet Gibson chooses to dwell more on death. He seems to glorify death. makes you rethink the motives behind Braveheart. Hacksaw Ridge makes the opening scene of Private Ryan look like Disney fare.

            Or the popular Dexter series, even though Dexter murders only evil people; no matter how clever you make the scripts and methods of execution, it is still sickening to me. Made for people who either get off on graphic depictions of mutilations and death, or experience self loathing on a level only complete Abrahamic religious indoctrination could evoke.

            There are plenty of fine films and novels with a lot of violence and gore, but which present life-affirming philosophies, and take a positive view of mankind’s nature.

            For a novel, I recommend the darkly humorous antiwar novel Journey to the End of the Night, by the French author Celine (I could have as easily recommended Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange).
            The graphic depictions of wartime atrocities in Journey to the End of the Night are stomach turning. But upon finishing the novel, you will come away learning much about the true state of man, not have a twisted notion that all men harbor evil inside. And you will laugh at much in the story, essentially laughing in the face of death along with poor Bardamu as he rambles along his metaphorical journey.

            For a film that has much violence, but will not make you feel like blowing your brains out after viewing, I recommend the masterpiece by Lina Wertmuller: Seven Beauties. Tragicomedy at its finest. Who would have thought that a film dealing with a Nazi concentration camp setting for much of the running time could make you laugh out loud and feel glad to be alive? This film shows much darkness, but ultimately celebrates a human condition that allows love of life to vanquish demons of despair lurking in our hearts.

            And I guess that is my view of the human condition, the way it really is: tragicomic. For every horror, there is something to laugh and feel joy about. Guys like Cormac McCarthy seem to be missing the joy gene. But most people have it. We are wired with it, and I suspect you understand, because the two films Gump and Pulp Fiction are darkly comic indeed.

            I will close by stating that my revulsion for graphic mutilation and murder has nothing to do with some kind of aversion to blood and gore. I come from a family of pathologists, have witnessed autopsies first hand, and don’t faint at the sight of carnage.

            But as you go through the journey of life, ending where we all end, in that dark place so glorified in some films and novels, perhaps you will find your predilection for such gruesome, nihilistic ideas waning.

            Or not.

            Be well.

          • Chandru

            Movies are not here for your moral education… Its all about exploring various aspects of life and story telling.
            If you think people who enjoy morally wrong movied are psychopaths, then the problem is with you. And dont understand why its hard for you to accept when evil
            triumphs over good in movies…. It happens all the time in real life.

          • giallopudding

            And as far as I’m concerned, anyone who gets thrills out of watching wanton murder, and subhuman killers made heroic, has more issues than can be dealt with in a film forum. Maybe that’s what a steady diet of gore fest films like Saw and Texas Chainsaw Massacre will do to a brain.

  • Gabriel Lisboa

    What about 1982?
    Blade Runner, Conan, Road Warrior, Wrath of Khan, The Thing, E.T., Poltergeist!
    Don’t underrate the 80’s, man…

    • Craig Johnson

      I’m not saying anything against 1982. Maybe that’s your article to write. But, only if you don’t forget Tootsie, Missing, Victor Victoria, My Favorite Year, The Secret of NIMH, First Blood and Zapped. Well…maybe not Zapped.

  • Paddy Lewis

    Cheers for this Craig! It’s a fantastic piece, and thank you very much for introducing me to this site. It’s a goldmine for a Film and TV student!

  • abh93

    I watched Eastern Promises after Craig and Matt talked about it on Welcome to the Basement, and I enjoyed it – but the casting irritated me. None of the Russian characters were played by Russian actors, despite the fact that they speak quite a bit of Russian in the film. I don’t know if Viggo Mortensen and Vincent Cassel spoke any Russian before the film, but their accents were not great.

  • Alex Nasaudean

    No Country for Old Men should definitely be Nr. 1!

  • Kempson

    In “No Country for Old Men,” Josh Brolin’s character is named Llewelyn, not Llewyn. I too have mixed up the Coens’ welder with their folk singer. Anyway, very good read.

  • considerthejosh

    Great article but a couple of errors in titles. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was in 2005, The Order of the Phoenix was 2007. And the Bourne Supremacy was also 2004, Ultimatum was 2007. Apart from that I am in full agreement with the topic of this list. 2007 was the greatest year I have ever experienced cinema-wise. I think the writers’ strike had something to do with the quality that was put out this year.

  • Cinema270

    Wow, that still from “Eastern Promises” is breathtaking. Now I can’t stop thinking about what the film would’ve looked like had it been shot in black in white.

  • gustavomda

    Is it just me or these lists are often too much Americanized?

  • Brian Lussier

    2007 is the best modern year of cinema. There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Atonement, I’m Not There, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days and The Edge Of Heaven were all masterpieces to me! And plenty of others were really great, too! The best film of that year, I would have to say, is There Will Be Blood. But it’s an alienating film and not an easy one to watch. My favorite would have to be Zodiac, I think. I watch it easily five or six times a year, perhaps even as often as once a month.

  • lando

    I strongly disagree about the first place, but nice list though.

  • Ramachandran Govindaraj

    What about Antonement???

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  • Fabrizio Cassandro

    20. and 19. are not the 20th and the 19th they fight for top 5

  • Arnaldo Fernandez

    “There Will Be Blood” was a boring movie to me…..maybe I wasn’t in the mood that day or I was sleepy.

  • Ahmed

    94′ Master of all years
    Pulp Fiction
    The Shawshank Redemption
    Forrest Gump
    The Lion King

    I would put 2007 next to that. There Will Be Blood is one of the best movies ever made. Definitely the best movie of the 21st century. And Into the Wild deserves much better than 20, personally I would give it no.3 on the list.

    • Deadly_Moogly

      Best movie of the 21st century?

      I’d go with Children of Men

      … closely followed (not in particular order) by Ex Machina, Interstellaire, Memento, Whiplash, Inglorious Bastards, Kill Bill, No Country for Old Men, Gravity, Edge of Tomorrow, Carlos, Munich, United 93, Looper, Closer, Martyrs, Contagion, Unbreakable, Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Amélie Poulin, The Departed, Atonement and the 3 Bournes!

      There Will Be Blood was excellent, but I’d put it on par or slightly behind the bunch of movies above!

      My 2 cents! 🙂

  • simonpjlduckett

    In The Valley of Elah, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead 🙂

  • Giuliano Gori

    into the wild is the worst movie i’ve ever seen

    • Kostas Jokos

      You haven’t watched a lot of movies, have you?

    • Ted Wolf

      I wouldn’t call it the worst, but the whole thing hinged on me caring for a very unlikable character . Had they cast a dynamic lead or a more talented actor it could have worked.

  • Lucian

    I would also add to the list Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, which was also technically from (first screened in) 2007, although it was officially launched worldwide in 2008. 2007 was really the best film year of the millennium so far and the last amazing film year to date. It’s been almost a decade though.. a new great film year is already overdue 🙂 2017 maybe?

  • Henrik Vinther Sørensen

    You even forgot Sweeney Todd!

  • Rudi

    Nope, 2016 is, although there were some great movies in 2007. 2016 brought two movies that made it to my all time top 3 though: The Neon Demon (#1) and Arrival (#3).

  • Gaétan

    2009 <3

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