Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: The Best Films of the 00s: 2007

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Best Films of the 00s: 2007

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.

For more of this ongoing series, click here.

20 comments:

bill r. said...

What an incredible year 2007 was. I'm with you on pretty much all of these, save I'M NOT THERE, which bored me stupid, and AMERICAN GANGSTER, which I thoroughly enjoyed up until the point where I find out I'm suddenly supposed to like this bastard.

BEFORE THE DEVIL...is an odd one. I still don't know what I think of it, but I can't begrudge it making anyone's list. Hoffman alone makes it worth while, and it's such a strange, unsettling little movie that I know I'll see it again (I've already seen it twice). As for this:

arguably his best since 1990's Q & A...

What the hell else comes even close??

Oh, and by the way, everything I just said about BEFORE THE DEVIL... holds true for EASTERN PROMISES.

All the others on your list I'm absolutely in agreement on. Each of them is a masterpiece in my view, and the narration in JESSE JAMES is utterly hypnotic.

Tony Dayoub said...

What the hell else comes even close??

I haven't seen FIND ME GUILTY which I hear is strange (Vin Diesel?) but worthwhile.

I'm not sure you're supposed to like gangster Frank Lucas in AMERICAN GANGSTER. Unless the bastard you refer to is the cop, Richie Roberts. He's equal parts self-righteous and son-of-a-bitch, so I get you there.

I know what you mean on both BTDKYD and PROMISES. There's some distancing happening there that I can only uess is intentional.

As for the narration in JESSE JAMES, what gets me is this narrator is a virtual unknown. Godd job, though.

bill r. said...

No, I meant Lucas. I got the sense that we're supposed to feel bad for the guy when he comes out of prison to nothing, and feel warm that he and the cop buddied up in later years. All I could think was "What about that guy he set fire to?"

MrJeffery said...

I love your choices. This was a great year for film crowned by There Will Be Blood and No Country. I was really surprised by Assassination. I think it's one of Brad Pitt's best performances and the cinematography is gorgeous. I also liked Before the Devil, Eastern Promises, American Gangster, and I'm Not There. Away From Her would have been high on my list.

Mike Lippert said...

I agree with every choice on this list but one, that being I'm Not There. I can appreciate the craft and the original approach to the subject, but I'm a big believer in movies being self-sufficient and I can't see how this movie could appeal to any non-Dylan fans.

As for Before the Devil, that's an excellent choice and I agree that it's Lumet's best for some time, but I don't want to discredit Night Falls in Manhattan, which came after Q&A, if you haven't seen it it's worth hunting down. Find me Guilty is decent too, but won't go down as a classic.

The thing about 2007 is that it seemed to be a year where everyone considered the same movies great. I think, as you said in your intro, that truely is the sign of a good year.

Also, as someone who has basically disliked everything Chronenberg has made previous to HIstory of Violence, I appreciate your pick of Eastern Promises, but that's a while new blog post unto itself for me.

Tony Dayoub said...

@Jeffrey,

Never seen AWAY FROM HER, but I do love Julie Christie so I'm sure I'll end up checking it out.

ZODIAC is conspicuously absent from the films on which you were in agreement with me. I'm curious as to why.

@Mike,

...I'm a big believer in movies being self-sufficient and I can't see how this movie could appeal to any non-Dylan fans.

Agreed. But I was surprised how drawn into the film I was since I am only a casual fan of Dylan. Extremely casual... like greatest hits. The film actually got me more interested in the man, and trying to figure out the film's correlations with his life. Sometimes, films can expand our desire to learn something new (many foreign and arthouse films would fall into this category). But believe me, I get where you're coming from.

As for NIGHT FALLS IN MANHATTAN, I really hated it. I felt it was very derivative when I saw it back during its original release. And this was before I had really seen so many films.

If I were to analyze your earlier statement about the Dylan film in conjunction with your dislike for Cronenberg's earlier films, I would guess you prefer visceral films rather than cerebral ones. Am I off on that?

Kevin J. Olson said...

Great list, Tony. 2007 was one of those years where it seemed like there were 20 good choices, and everyone's list was justifiable. I agree with almost everything on your list except I would swap my choices of Bug and The Orphanage with your choices of American Gangster and Before the Devil Knows Your Dead...not because I disliked your choices but because I haven't seen them!

It's interesting too that this is this list is all American films. Are you counting 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days as a 2008 movie? Or have you not seen it?

Glad to see the Cronenberg on here as I think his output in the 00's is his best work since some of his 80's horror stuff like The Fly, The Dead Zone, and Dead Ringers.

Also, Gone Baby Gone...your thoughts?

Kevin J. Olson said...

I also omitted the fact that as a huge horror fan I'm ashamed that I haven't seen The Mist! D'oh. Also, I'm surprised to not see Michael Clayton on here as that is usually one of the sacred cows from 2007 that you find on everyone's list along with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Perhaps it doesn't hold up so well?

Tony Dayoub said...

@Kevin,

MICHAEL CLAYTON was number 11 on my list. Solid movie.

AS for THE MIST, it's a sorely underrated must-see. I honestly think it's just a matter of people not having seen it.

2005-2007 were tough because I hadn't yet become a full-time writer. So with the day job and the new kid a lot of my unseen films fell into the arthouse or foreign category, so I never caught THE ORPHANAGE, or 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS. Missed GONE BABY GONE, for that matter.

Next year's list should be up tomorrow, and you should notice a big difference as far as inclusiveness goes.

Tony Dayoub said...

Oh Kevin, BUG is on my 2006 list.

Mike Lippert said...

@Tony. I believe have this theory I call the antithesis theory which basically states that however a film presents itself, the conclusion will be the opposite. I therefore think films with simply stories that don't spell out everything give off rather complex implications where a complex film will usually come with a simple explanation (ala Chinatown). That's not to disuage from complex films, because there are great ones, but complex films give you strict parameters in which they must be viewed. For example you can't interpret Lost Highway as anything but dream logic, which makes it rather easy to write of as simply an exercise in style and weirdness with no inherent meaning. However, A History of Violence stars with a simple premise and doesn't explain anything outright, leaving the viewer to provide their own interpretations and did deep within themselves to come up with complex thoughts in regards to the material. That's the Chronenberg I like. A film like The Fly starts off with a complex idea (the duality of man and whether or not it can be controled through science) and ends with gore and ooze. That's the antithesis theory at work and I think it applies to much of Chronenberg's early work save for The Dead Zone. Hope that explains it.

Adam Zanzie said...

Love the love for Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Eastern Promises and Zodiac- and of course NCFOM and TWBB.

I recommend Coppola's Youth Without Youth, which actually made my top ten of the decade. And Bird's Ratatouile, which may be the most original of all of Pixar's films. And, of course, a certan De Palma masterwork that will not be named...

tom hyland said...

Tony:

Excellent post. But no "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"? (hopefully, you read my post on this- what an idiotic movie.)

I think "Blood" is not only the best film of 2007, but one of the best American films of the decade.

I have heard other high notes about "Before The Devil" I'll have to see it.

Finally, did you not see, "In the Valley of Elah?" To me this was a shattering film, easily one of the top 3 or 4 films of the year.

Tony Dayoub said...

@Adam,

Your love for REDACTED is well known around here. I like RATATOUILLE, just not enough to place it on the list. Still haven't seen YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH.

@Tom,

I've heard a lot about IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH. I will have to check it out.

Regarding THERE WILL BE BLOOD. I agree. My list for the best of the decade should be up on Sunday, and I think you'll see it there.

@Mike,

Respectfully, I think your antithesis theory is flawed because it only takes films at face value. It ignores the social, political, and cultural forces at work on the movie's creation, whether the artist intended them to have an effect or not.

For example you can't interpret Lost Highway as anything but dream logic, which makes it rather easy to write of as simply an exercise in style and weirdness with no inherent meaning.

Using this film as an example, your statement ignores the signifiant influence the celebrity trial of O.J. Simpson had on the city of L.A. and the genesis of this uniquely L.A. movie. As an ousider from the Pacific Northwest, Lynch's ambivalent feelings to Los Angeles are also on display in much the same way that his feelings toward his time in Philadelphia influenced his vision of ERASERHEAD. In two sentences I've already offered three different perspectives from which to interpret LOST HIGHWAY: cultural, biographical, and within the greater context of his body of work.

One can apply these perspectives to almost any film and be rewarded with a richer experience. Even, and sometimes especially, with an unsuccessful movie.

Mike Lippert said...

Tony, your point is quite valid and appreciated and I agree that the theory only takes into account certain perspectives but that was intentional. THe theory is only concerned with that is on the screen and not necessarily how it relates to the conditions under which it was made, the cultural influences or how it stands within a directors body of work per say, even though I have used it as a critical tool to suggest why I like some Chronenberg and not others. Once again I must return to me feelings that movies should be self-sufficient. It could be true that Lost Highway is a movie that takes all of these things you say into L.A. into account and it works on that level for you, but unless everyone seeing the film has this same knowledge about the film that you present, such a reading holds little value to them as it is not directly woven into the fabric of the narrative. I think upon judging a film initially we must focus only on what is on the screen and concern outselves without outside elements only at a later time. That is, after all, what seperates a review from an essay. Thus, based on the information we are given, Lost Highway is pure dream logic. Even if it is about L.A. that does not shake the fact that it gets there through surreal aesthetic means. Similarily with Chinatown, which is a great film, but, from purely a story point of view, is so complex that the only conclusion that you can be lead to is the one it provides. Eastern Promises, on the other hand, by presenting on conclusion, by providing no easy answers, opens up the film for unending interpretations. What the film is about is not the point of antithesis theory, but rather how the content within the story, based on how it is presented, leads us to react to it.

Thank you for your interpretation of Lost Highway thought. I've never really thought of it that way and would be interested in reading your further thought on it. Also, I'm glad these lists have provided a front for these debates to come out on.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Not to harp on ya here, Mike, but Chinatownn isn't nearly as cut and dry as I am seeing you make it out to be. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting your thoughts on the film, but it seems to me that you're saying the film kind explains everything way. Yes the film has a "conclusion", but it's one of the most ambiguous and nihilistic endings to any mainstream Hollywood picture. It seems to me that you're simplifying it too much.

Also, I think what you're talking about with how to review a movie is fine if all you're interested is a strict Formalist reading. In fact Ford Madox Ford would totally embrace what you say here...so you're not alone...it just seems to me it's a tad bit antiquated to only look at the surface. Filmmakers are artists, and artists are influenced by their culture, their community, history, and the social contexts that shape the time they embark on making a new picture. All of those things are clearly visible in a countless films, and to ignore them is to neuter the very thing that makes these filmmakers so singular.

Is Polanski a great formalist? Indeed. But his films are not just aesthetically pleasing but subtextually rich...and the more you explicate and deconstruct the better the film gets (and the more sense it makes).

Sorry for the rant. Again, I could be way off in interpreting what you're trying to say here, but I felt compelled to add my two cents.

Tony Dayoub said...

Not to pile on, Mike, but I think that what you are getting at is the distinction between movie reviewing and film criticism. On the one hand, movie reviewing is designed to be a form of consumer guidance for the masses. Film criticism is a rigorous intellectual analysis that has a much smaller niche audience, in many cases an audience for which the analysis itself is the point.

While I can see your point when it comes to mainstream films, much of what you discuss utilizes examples that don't really bolster your case. What I mean is films like LOST HIGHWAY, and much of Cronenberg's oeuvre fall outside mainstream tastes, and often appeal to the same audience that appreciates criticism over simple reviewing.

CHINATOWN may be the exception that proves the rule in that it is popular with the masses despite its intellectual appeal. But then again, it was a product of the seventies, a time in which audiences were more inclined to read film criticism (as proven by Pauline Kael's immense popularity).

Mike Lippert said...

What a debate we've got going here. I told you this was another blog post unto itsefl Tony ;). Let me address Kevin first. I'm not trying to take away from films like Chinatown which I know is rich with anger and social unrest and that is not to be ignored. Having said that, maybe Chinatown was not the best example to use here as, like you said, it's story arrives at a simple conclusion but it's ideas continue to live on past the ending credits. When I talk about this theory, I speak strictly of plot. Doesn't mean that I think other elements aren't important and to be sure, whenever I sit down to write what Tony has rightly dubbed Film Criticism I would never use this concept nor probably even consider it. Maybe a better example would have been Shutter Island, which weaves a complex yarn on it's way to a simple explanation.

What I originally used it for was to show how I appreciated Chronenberg's last two films because they revolve around simple, almost generic plots which give way to very deep and complex ideas about human nature and evolution and whatever else you want to read into them. I don't get that sense from earlier Chronenberg works because he starts out with plots that revolve around complex ideas but lets his desire to throw a lot of gore and slime at the screen get in the way of fully exploring them. In films like Dead Ringer and The Fly and maybe even Naked Lunch, Chronenberg finds plots that lend themselves to deep phychological examination but end in a splatterfest.

In A History of Violence and Eastern Promises he starts off with simple plots about seemingly simple situations and follows that tone right though, ending with me thinking whether or not I was born the way I am or if I have had the ability to chose my own path on my adventure to right now. See the difference? A lot of Atom Egoyan's best films are like this too (maybe it's a Canadian thing?). I agree that this theory is problematic, I thought it up many years ago in University and haven't used it until now (but look at what it has caused!)

Mike Lippert said...

Now, cultural context. Kevin, I agree, it is very important: most films are both reflections of their makers and reflections of their times. However, one must be careful in how they relate these concepts back to their criticism. I'll use Tony's example, not because I disagree with it but because it is the closest within reach. If someone says to me oh, Lost Highway is all about L.A. and O.J. Simpson and... my general response is okay, so what? THe film may be about that, but that isn't really what makes it good or not. I had a friend who once tried to tell me that Fight Club is all about the journey of some Buddist Monk or some such business and my response was, that's nice, it's still a shitty movie. That's why I personally stay away from such readings unless I know I can tie whatever it is I am speaking about back into an arguement for why the film is good. Thus I tend to focus on psychological and emotional factors, which you presented right there on the screen, and leave the rest to the historians or the essays. Personally Tony, since we are talking about Lost Highway, as far as my reading goes (it revolves totally around memory), L.A. plays very little part of it and as such I find the film, if you are correct in your reading, much less effective a take on a city than say Eraserhead or even Mulholland Drive was.

I don't know if I addressed all of the issues in that response or if that even helps to clarify my position, but as I said before, I appreciate the debate that this has sparked and also appreciate that the two of you have disagreed and given your two cents back because it thus forces me to really up my ante and iron out any kinks in my thinking. Consider it a learning experience. Plus, don't you just love a good film debate? That's what blogs are for after all.

Finally, Tony, it is a shame more people aren't interested in film criticism anymore. What is even sadder is that I hardly ever find the time to sit down and write it anymore either, which is clearly reflected in the content of my blog, but ya know, I'm working on it. Maybe one day I can get back into longer, deeper criticisms. However, I know I have one about After Hours and Taxi Driver coming soon.

Tony Dayoub said...

Personally Tony, since we are talking about Lost Highway, as far as my reading goes (it revolves totally around memory), L.A. plays very little part of it and as such I find the film, if you are correct in your reading, much less effective a take on a city than say Eraserhead or even Mulholland Drive was.

I thought it was pretty acute in its portrayal of the Hollywood house party scene. Lynch himself has admitted to LA and OJ serving as inspirations for the film. I would say MULHOLLAND DRIVE and INLAND EMPIRE are refinements of his concerns with Hollyood/LA.