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The 20 Best Movies of 2007

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

There Will Be Blood plainview

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-fuzz2

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

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.

          • 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.