by Tony Dayoub
2007 gave us one of the best years in American film in quite some time. Perhaps it is because so many of these films recall the second golden age in American cinema, the Seventies. Homages to Altman, Friedkin, Kubrick, Malick, Pakula, and Peckinpah are represented on the list. One master who had his most fruitful period in that decade even has a film that shows up on the list. Some reminders: I cannot judge movies I haven't seen, so if you feel a film you like was unjustly left out, it might be that I haven't seen it; also, if I already wrote a review for it, I'll include a link back to the original review.
Now, in alphabetical order, the ten best films of 2007...
American Gangster, director Ridley Scott - In many ways, Denzel Washington's half plays like a "blaxploitation" flick with Josh Brolin as a corrupt cop playing the requisite white villain. And Russell Crowe's half is a bit like Serpico-lite by way of French Connection (explicitly referenced TWICE). But Washington and Crowe still redeem themselves after their last, and frankly shitty, cops-and-robbers collaboration in Virtuosity with this potboiler by Scott.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, dir. Andrew Dominik - Despite its failure to reach Malickian heights, this western is still one of the most poetic ever. Casey Affleck conveys the complexity of Ford's feelings for his idol, Jesse James (Brad Pitt), winning our sympathy while our disgust for his pathetic parasitism grows. Hugh Ross' narration is strangely memorable.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, dir. Sidney Lumet - The director was 83 at the time of this film's release, arguably his best since 1990's Q & A. Here he enlivens his typical New York crime milieu by playing with chronology as he focuses on two novice criminals, brothers played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Marisa Tomei's sensual scenes look forward to her sexy turn in The Wrestler.
Easter Promises, dir. David Cronenberg - Viggo Mortensen and Cronenberg are two for two this decade. This tightly plotted crime drama is full of clever twists and a warmth seldom felt in the director's oeuvre. Vincent Cassel is intriguing in the part of a Russian Mafia prince struggling to stay in the closet. Look for a cantankerous supporting performance by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski as Naomi Watts' uncle.
I'm Not There, dir. Todd Haynes - Review here. Great music by music's master poet puts this a cut above Haynes previous look at a rock legend, the roman à clef Velvet Goldmine (which had to do without access to Bowie's song catalog). The inspired casting is one thing (Cate Blanchett's is the best version of Dylan depicted in the film). But the decision to shoot each Dylan's segment in the style of a given director (Fellini, Godard, and Peckinpah, to name a few) is genius.
The Mist, dir. Frank Darabont - Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) does what he does best, effectively translate a Stephen King story by keeping the mood tense and the characters well drawn. Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody, an evangelical alarmist, proves to be a great deal more frightening than the Lovecraftian monsters hidden in the dense fog surrounding the film's supermarket. A Twilight Zone edge to the proceedings is much more evident in Darabont's preferred black-and-white version, a bonus cut available on the DVD's collector's edition. Brutal ending.
No Country For Old Men, dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen - Review here. The Coens are in fine form with this Cormac McCarthy adaptation, one of the grimmest entries in their filmography. Javier Bardem may have received all of the accolades for his understated performance as the cold killer Anton Chigurh. But it is Tommy Lee Jones who anchors the film with his quiet turn as the decent sherriff, Ed Tom Bell.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, dir. Tim Burton - Review here. Sondheim's Broadway musical is perfect material for Burton's twisted, childlike sensibility. With equal dashes of black humor, clever lyrics ("A Little Priest"), and Grand Guignol art direction the likes of which we haven't seen since the days of Hammer horror films, Sweeney Todd is the rare dark tale that is actually quite fun.
There Will Be Blood, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson - Review here. Somehow, Anderson manages to successfully fuse Altman, Kubrick, and Huston (particularly in the character of Plainview as played by Daniel Day-Lewis) to come up with something quite absurd. Jonny Greenwood's score is transcendent. But Day-Lewis owns the film.
Zodiac, dir. David Fincher - An amazing procedural that evokes the mood and camerawork of the best seventies thrillers. Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of Dave Toschi—the lead San Francisco cop investigating the killings (and the template for Steve McQueen's performance in Bullitt)—nearly steals the show. Also great is John Carrol Lynch as the prime suspect.
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