So I saw some movies in 2007.
Most of the big-budget sequels were big disappointments — the less said about Jazz Club Spiderman, for instance, the better — but there were a few real gems, both in theaters and on video, that still managed to come my way. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:
- Atonement — I saw this just yesterday, actually, and I’m still sort of reeling. It’s a remarkably well made adaptation of Ian McEwan’s great book, at times stunning just to witness. I worried, going into the film, that knowing the secrets of the plot might perhaps ruin my enjoyment of the film (like it did last year with The Prestige), but I needn’t have worried; the story is so much more than secrets and plot twists.
- Juno — Maybe it’s too deliberately quirky at times, or maybe it just has its own weird rhythms that take some adjusting to. Either way, it’s remarkably well acted, extraordinarily clever, and a whole lot of endearing fun. Ellen Page has rightly drawn much of the attention — she’s Juno, after all — but there’s hardly a false note or misstep in the entire film. Scott Tobias of the AV Club writes, “[Jennifer] Garner, in particular, has found the right role to capitalize on her high-strung, hyper-driven screen persona; her excitement over being a mother would be overbearing if it weren’t also so heartbreakingly sincere.”
- No Country for Old Men — another flawless adaptation and the Coen Brothers at the top of their game. (Although, seriously, if the bottom of their game is Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, we need more players in the game like them.) I’d be hard-pressed to name a more perfectly cast film from this past year.
- I Am Legend — Okay, so I don’t expect to see this on a lot of other best of the year lists. I’ll be the first to admit the the vampire zombies were poorly animated, the ending was a little pat, and there were some big, gaping holes of logic in the plot if you look closely enough. But I thought Will Smith was incredible, and, of all the films I saw this year, this may be the one that affected me most. I’m hardly surprised it led Stephanie Zacharek of Salon to wonder if it might not be “the most meditative blockbuster ever made”.
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — It’s a little too long and could probably do without one or two of the long quotations from the original book. But it looks incredible, and Pitt and Affleck have rarely been better.
- Shortbus — Yes, it’s very explicit. All the things you’ve heard or read about it are true, and then some. There’s not only nudity, full-frontal, but also actual sex depicted on screen, and of various different persuasions. If you’re easily offended or put off by that sort of thing, you will want to give this film a miss. But I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It would be wrong to call the sex incidental or unimportant — when is sex ever either of those two things? — but you’ll also be disappointed if you go into the film looking for pornography. Roger Ebert described it as “a sweet, tender, playful pleasure,” and I think that’s about right. There are films that are far less graphic that still somehow manage to make sex seem dirty and unfortunate and wrong. It’s nice to see the opposite of that in effect. These are characters desperate for connection, and there’s great joy to be had when and if they find it. (The film also has a really nice soundtrack.)
- Lilies of the Field — How did I go so long without seeing this movie? It’s not difficult to see why Sidney Poitier won Best Actor that year, or why the film racked up four other Oscar nominations. It really is superb.
- Zodiac — Unfortunately, the circumstances under which I watched the film were less than ideal. I got very sick the day I went to see it in theaters, and I had to leave halfway through. I spent most of that night sleeping in a ball on the bathroom floor. When I saw the rest of the film, it wasn’t until months later on DVD. But it’s a great movie, eerily evocative of its era, and I think Scott Tobias is exactly right when he describes it as “[e]very bit the movie The Black Dahlia should have been.” (The Black Dahlia wasn’t without its moments, but they were few and far between, and most of them weren’t good moments. Overall, it was pretty laughably bad.)
- Knocked Up and Superbad. I think you almost have to consider these part of a double-feature, even though they were released months apart. If not exactly two halves of the same coin, they definitely share the same currency. I found both of them extremely funny, easily two of the best comedies of the year.
- And a lot of really good, if not exactly great, movies to round out the list. Like Charlie Wilson’s War, which is funny and quick and very well cast. Or Michael Clayton, which was brooding and intense and very well cast. Or Eastern Promises, Stardust, The Host, and Hot Fuzz. All of which I’d recommend.
Of the movies on this list, there are a few I seriously would not recommend — like Phantasm, and Men with Brooms, and the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I thought Grindhouse was really underrated, and Borat really overrated. But, overall, I think it was a pretty decent year for film, and there are lots of movies I’m looking forward to seeing in the new year.