2007 was one heck of a year for cinema. Masters of the art-form like Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers and David Fincher were all at work with some of the more well-respected movies of the 21st century, and there was a return to prominence for the Western genre and international film. As such, the class of potential “best of the year” films was large, and a list of 20 could have easily been formulated, but after some serious deliberation we’ve managed to whittle our candidates down to just 10. Now is probably the time to tip your hat to those we lost during the process; our honourable mentions: Atonement, Michael Clayton, Hot Fuzz, I’m Not There, La Vie en Rose, Sunshine, American Gangster, In the Valley of Elah and, finally, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Let us know your top 10 in the comments!
10. 3:10 to Yuma
10 years before he reinvigorated the comic book action movie with his Western-inspired take on the character of Wolverine in Logan, director James Mangold was a part of a small movement in Hollywood that sought to bring the Western genre back to prominence in 2007; following his Oscar-nominated Johnny Cash movie Walk the Line (2005) with 3:10 to Yuma, a star-studded modern telling of outlaw versus sheriff.
A remake of the 1957 film of the same name, this visually enticing piece was driven largely by the fantastic duelling performances of acting powerhouses Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (with the latter in the midst of his run as the Dark Knight), and was undeniably one of the more complete and memorable pieces of 2007.
9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Cowardly Robert Ford
As visually stunning as any film released in the 21st century, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford caused screenwriter-director Andrew Dominik to explode onto the scene as one of Hollywood’s top filmmakers to follow. A western in as many ways as 3:10 to Yuma was, only told in a more slow and methodical way, this Brad Pitt starring picture provided one of the breakout roles for would-be Oscar winning actor Casey Affleck and featured as impressive of a couple of performances from its stars as many of the top films released in 2007. With every frame a painting, The Assassination of Jesse James took clear inspiration from the likes of Terrence Malick and the king of the genre John Ford, using their vast and epic visualisations of the west to tell a deeply personal and intimate story that is sure to stick with you.
8. Gone Baby Gone
Coming off the back of an awful period in his personal life and an era in which his star power was beginning to wain, Hollywood megastar Ben Affleck put his efforts into writing and directing mystery-drama-thriller Gone Baby Gone, instantly establishing himself as a powerful filmmaker with a lot more to offer behind the camera than he seemingly had left to offer in front of it.
Telling the tale of a duo of detectives investigating the kidnapping of a young girl, this star-studded piece was led by Ben’s brother Casey in the other of the Oscar winning actor’s breakout roles. With the likes of Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris also providing excellent performances, director Affleck’s well constructed piece was presented to a very high standard, placing Ben’s feature debut ever-so-slightly above the two excellent films we’ve already listed.
7. Into the Wild
Another passion project written and directed by a powerhouse actor whose personal life was quickly unravelling, Into the Wild told the real-life story of Christopher McCandless’s journey into the unexplored parts of the United States in the earliest years of his 20s. Telling a tale of ever-increasing isolation through a lens clearly inspired by and in admiration of its subject, Sean Penn’s take on the Jon Krakauer book of the same name offered some beautiful and epic photography as accompaniment for a true story that simply needed to be told.
Star Emile Hirsch, as supported by a host of well respected character actors including Hal Holbrook – who was nominated for his performance in this film at the 2008 Oscars – provided a career defining portrayal that elevated his status ten-fold while still in the infancy of his professional life.
At the height of public discussion surrounding the US’s health system, controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore – Bowling for Columbine (2002); Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) – produced and starred in healthcare eye-opener Sicko, a documentary that worked to inform international audiences of the differences between their healthcare and that of the people in the United States, and ultimately turned heads and changed opinion on the subject in the country itself. Sicko was as typically shocking as any Michael Moore film, but was also as excellently constructed, earning itself an Oscar nomination despite Moore controversially being booed from the stage in the aftermath of his 2003 Oscar winning speech in which he openly opposed the war in Iraq. It’s not often we look back upon a year’s worth of film and remember its documentaries, but Sicko is one of the exceptions that proves the rule, which is just one of the reasons it sits in our number 6 spot.
If ever there was competition to name a movie that would best represent cinema in the first decade of the 2000s, then Juno would certainly be one of the top contenders. Witty without being a straight comedy, dark without being saddening, colourful yet ordinary, ordinary yet moving, Juno was an iconic addition to the landscape of film in 2007.
Owing much of its success to the abundantly original and heartfelt screenplay of its debut screenwriter Diablo Cody (who won an Oscar for her work on writing this film), Juno was received fantastically well for such an unusual film that sought to explore a collection of often unpopular subjects and themes headlined by unwanted pregnancy, abortion and adoption.
David Fincher’s bold telling of the real-life and yet-to-be caught Zodiac Killer was every bit as much of a masterpiece as the director has ever put his name to. It featured everything we’ve come to know as Fincherisms, from the ways in which he so eloquently presented dialogue and the enlightenment of his characters through information, to the ways he pushed us out of the movie’s reality and back into our own before dragging us back to his playground all over again.
Much like Zodiac’s competition on this list, the movie is headlined by a duo of performances that are nothing short of spectacular. Jake Gyllenhaal is the focus of the ensemble, which includes the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Bryan Cox and John Carroll Lynch, and it’s Gyllenhaal’s character that holds the biggest of the movie’s limited emotional journeys, with pre-Iron-Man Robert Downey, Jr. stealing in to make this film his own, at least from an actor’s perspective. Downey was troubled, obsessive and still somehow likeable, and though his performance was never going to be so great that he could overcome Fincher in terms of importance to the movie – as Fincher is a filmmaker who very much makes director’s films, rather than actor’s pieces – his performance has only become more interesting since his growth as a celebrity in the years since this film was released, with his presentation of Paul Avery being one of his final performances of his surefire character actor days.
3. The Bourne Ultimatum
The Bourne franchise is largely accredited for bringing the action-spy sub-genre into the post-9/11, 21st century landscape (even making an impact on the ever-lasting rival that is the 007 franchise), and The Bourne Ultimatum was the most sensational of the bunch.
Director Paul Greengrass really hit his stride with his shaky-cam presentation of the intensely gripping story, filming action sequences in new and interesting ways that have been mimicked by less successful action franchises in the years that have since passed. In Ultimatum, Bourne had come full circle, discovering his name, his past and himself as he returned to the United States in a bid to end the CIA’s search for him. The performances were good but it was the visual experience and collection of story pay-offs that truly pushed this picture into any “best ever” discussion regarding action movies. The Bourne Ultimatum truly was the tastiest of desserts to the franchise’s original trilogy, and though the return of the universe in other ways would dirty the reputation of the Bourne name somewhat, there is no denying how much of a satisfying moment in time Ultimatum became.
2. There Will Be Blood
Perhaps the most difficult and potentially controversial choice on this list was the placing of this stone cold classic in the number 2 spot.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s beautifully photographed story of religion, power and greed was nothing short of stellar. If there was to be a list made of the top 10 movies of the 21st century thus far, There Will Be Blood would certainly be vying for the top spot just as bravely as it did here. This modern masterpiece is an incredible observation of the changes that a man can go through in the pursuit of what he perceives to be success – in this case money (in the form of oil) – and is headlined by arguably the best performance of Daniel Day Lewis’s beyond sensational career. The record holding Best Actor nominee at the Academy Awards won the Oscar for this performance – just one of a slew of awards won by the Brit that year, including; the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG awards – and was a simply breathtaking presentation. There Will Be Blood also worked to showcase the emerging talents of Paul Dano, offering the young actor a shot at battling Day Lewis on the screen, a scenario through which he shined.
From top to bottom, page to editing room, There Will Be Blood was as well constructed as any movie on this list, and was just as much if not more awe-inspiring than the rest of its competition. There was only one film that could’ve kept it from the top spot and that was perhaps the most tightly knit movie of the century…
1. No Country for Old Men
“Violent, poetic, gripping” [Ian Nathan; Empire], No Country for Old Men was a chilling new-age Western from the masters of genre manipulation, the Coen Brothers. It was a movie that squeezed so relentlessly and without mercy that it left you exhausted.
The movie is led by some of the best casting choices and subsequent performances you’re likely to see, with Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson and Tommy Lee Jones each offering their own brand of world class acting in the midst of Javier Bardem’s once in a lifetime performance as the psychotic serial killer at the centre of the movie’s chase/thriller plot, Anton Chigurh. Seemingly resigned to his own fate, Bardem’s Chigurh is frighteningly calm and calculated at all times, and is wonderfully centred within the on-screen narrative by the film’s always smart and intricate co-writer/directors. Bardem is so good in the role that he almost overrides the movie – and did win an Oscar for his work – but the true success of the film comes from the way it relentlessly advances the story, presenting you with facts and/or false information at critical times, and illustrating these moments with flurries of artistic flair that work to enhance meaning without removing you from the universe in which the characters reside.
Unlike There Will Be Blood, which was lacking ever so slightly with regard to how tightly knit it was, No Country for Old Men contains meaning in every frame, sentence and exchange. It is widely regarded as the best Coen Brothers film ever, and is as pure of a landmark cinematic experience as you could’ve had in 2007. Our number one… No Country for Old Men.
We’re sure this list has stirred some controversy, so if you’re itching at the bit to correct any mistakes you believe we’ve made (or if you simply want to compliment us on our choices), please leave a comment and we’ll be sure to check back!