Monday, December 31, 2007

From the Archive: The Top Ten Films of 2007

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

This is the first year-end Top Ten List I ever published, and though I disagree with some of the rankings today - "No Country for Old Men" was the film of 2007 in retrospect - I was younger and different films spoke to me back then.  So it is presented here in all its unedited glory.  

Continue reading after the jump to access my original "Top Ten Films of 2007" article.

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“The Top Ten Films of 2007”
Originally published December 31st, 2007

This is the most difficult time of the year for a critic.  The moment of truth, if you will.  The time when we must choose ten of the best films and, even more difficult, arrange them until we find the best movie of the year.  2007 was an especially difficult year for this; there were more good movies out this year than I can remember.  Many were simply fun action flicks, or brilliant comedies, and those didn’t make it on to the list.  The following are the ten best of 2007 (and that’s saying something), arranged with number 1 being the best film of the year.  My criteria for how good a film is rests on its depth and deeper meaning, entertainment value, acting, cinematography, music, etc.  To be eligible for the list, the film had to be released in commercial venue in the United States in the year 2007.  So, without further ado, here are the ten best films of the year.  I can’t recommend any of them highly enough.

10. Hot Fuzz

While most comedies this year didn’t make it on my Top Ten list, I had to save room for this one.  Sometimes a comedy bursts with such creativity in its writing, set design, cinematography and jokes that it becomes one of the best movies of the year, and Hot Fuzz is one of those comedies.  A send-up of action films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, as well as the buddy flick in general, Hot Fuzz hits every high note; not one joke fails, and while it runs at over two hours, it feels much shorter.  Every gag is pitch perfect, and the fact that the film is Brits parodying our American action films makes it even funnier.  I’ve rarely laughed this hard in a movie.  The phenomenal performances by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, with the direction of Edgar Wright, makes Hot Fuzz one of the best, and certainly most entertaining, films of the year.  It is currently available on DVD.    

9. Sunshine

Danny Boyle’s dark sci-fi tale of a journey to re-ignite the dying sun is a tour de force, to put it lightly.  It ignores all the classic conventions of the Armageddon Story genre, and packs every scene full of real heart and drama.  The best thing about this film might be that it actually thinks everything through; the science is so good and well-explained that the film is completely believable from start to finish.  Very seldom today do we see a film that shows us something so new and brilliant that our jaws drop at the spectacle of it, but Sunshine manages it.  If you missed the movie in theaters, it hits DVD on January 8th, and I implore you to run out and buy it; you won’t be sorry.

8. Juno

Before I knew what this film was about I was excited to see it, because it’s directed by Jason Reitman, the genius behind last year’s comedy hit “Thank You For Smoking.”  Reitman brings all his brilliant and sometimes subtle humor into this film, Juno, along with a lot more heart and drama.  When you look deeper, this tale about a pregnant teenager is surprisingly deep, and is really a metaphor for growing up and overcoming life’s obstacles.  Ellen Page as Juno gives what is undoubtedly the best female performance of the year; she can not only make every line funny, but put a surprising amount of heart into it all.  This film is still playing in theaters in Denver, and I highly recommend seeing it.  
7. Across the Universe

Julie Taymor’s musical using only Beatles music might be the most surprising, and without a doubt the most original, film of the year.  Everything here is tuned to perfection; the covers of Beatle songs all serve to move the plot along astonishingly well, and the performances are great across the board.  The plot beautifully and tragically recreates the landscape of the American 60’s, and ends up being one the most entertaining movies of the year.  It will street on DVD February 5th, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

6. American Gangster

Ridley Scott has been one of my favorite directors for many years now, and American Gangster proves he still can make phenomenal movies.  The story chronicles the rise and fall of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, portrayed by Denzel Washington, who gives one of the best performances of his career.  Russell Crowe, in one of two excellent performances this year, plays cop Richy Roberts, trying to take down Lucas.  The film is not only is a great period piece, but a deep movie that explores concepts of good and evil, plays with your mind a bit, and ultimately shows us the devastating power of greed.  It’s still playing in some theaters, and will street on DVD in the spring.
5. 3:10 to Yuma

James Mangold follows up his last film, “Walk the Line,” with this remake of the 1957 film of the same name.  At the time this movie came out (September) it was hands down the best of the year.  Russell Crowe turns in one of the best performances of his career as the villain Ben Wade; this guy gets inside your head and plays with it like a Rubik’s Cube.  Christian Bale also outdoes himself playing Dan Evans, a local farmer who takes it upon himself to get Wade to the train to Yuma, where he’ll be put on trial.  Along the way, right, wrong, and everything in between are examined.  The dialogue is pitch perfect every step of the way, and it’s the first great Western in a long time.  The film will street on DVD in early January, and I’d recommend picking it up as soon as it comes out.

4. There Will Be Blood

The most disturbing picture of the year is not a horror movie, nor is it a gory one.  It’s disturbing and haunting because of Daniel Day-Lewis’ tour de force performance.  This is absolutely the best acting job of the year, and Day-Lewis deserves the Oscar.  But this is one of those rare treats in which every department comes together to make a near-perfect film.  The cinematography is unbelievable, the acting is phenomenal across the board, and the editing quietly strengthens the movie many times over.  The music is most notable; no movie this year used musical score so effectively to haunt and disturb us.  “There Will Be Blood” is a powerful and intense picture that is sometimes hard to watch, but if you have it within yourself to view, it is worth the trip.  Already released in L.A. and N.Y., it will expand to Denver in mid to late January, and when it does, I implore you to see it.
3. No Country for Old Men

For anyone following top ten lists this year, you won’t be surprised to see this at number 3.  This is another extremely powerful movies that explores some of the darker parts of humanity.  It demands repeated viewings to get the full message.  Roger Ebert said it best in his review of the film: “...the movie demonstrates how pitiful ordinary human feelings are in the face of implacable injustice."  This is also one of the most intense movies of the year; every scene has you breathless and on the edge of your seat, mostly due to Javier Bardem’s Supporting-Oscar worthy performance as villain Anton Chigurh.  This performance haunted me for days.  Tommy Lee Jones also turns in a quiet, reserved performance that delivers all the messages of the movie.  This is a deep and intense film that can depress, and in a very strange way, uplift you a bit.  I can see this being a film shown in Philosophy classes for many years to come.  It is still playing in area theaters, and I hope readers will go see it.

2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Well then, as long as we’re talking about films which involve human emotions and feelings, there’s no better movie than Tim Burton’s masterpiece for the ages.  “Sweeney” is a dark, violent, and brooding musical, but if you analyze it, it is one of the most human films of the year.  Who hasn’t had angry, vengeful thoughts?  Sweeney’s blood lust is a metaphor for our own inner-rage, and Johnny Depp, in one of the year’s best performances, sings and acts this human emotion out to perfection.  There has never been such a brilliant pairing of director and stage musical; I honestly believe no other director besides Burton could have brought this to the screen with any amount of success.  His highly artistic and creative, albeit dark, methods serve Sondheim’s musical perfectly, and makes this one of the best films of the year.  I know this sounds cliché, but I think you owe it to yourself to see this film, if you can stand some of the gore.  Fans of musicals will also dig this movie; the music is all phenomenal, as one should expect from the likes of Steven Sondheim, and surprisingly, everyone in the cast (none of them trained singers) belt it out to perfection.  The movie is still playing in area theaters, and I hope many people see it.

And finally, the best film of the year is....

1. The Darjeeling Limited

In my introduction to this list, I said my criteria for how good a film is rests on its emotional and philosophical depth, its entertainment value, longevity (how long a film can remain re-watchable and entertaining) and its technical factors such as acting, music, cinematography and directing.  No film this year represents all of these as good as The Darjeeling Limited.  Wes Anderson has made a true masterpiece with this one.  It explores human emotions in a deep and sometimes humorous way, and within its 90-minute run time shows the best and worst in all of us through the tale of three brothers on a spiritual journey to find themselves.  The film is highly philosophical behind its humorous and heart-wrenching vale; for instance, is the train just a metaphor for life’s journey and how we grow up?  Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman all give some of the best performances of their respective careers.  A soundtrack comprised of music from other films, as well as rock artists like the Kinks and Rolling Stones, drives the story and complements the action to perfection.  Rarely is there a film in which everything comes together so perfectly, but this is it.  I can say with considerable certainty that “The Darjeeling Limited” is the best film of the year.  It’s out of theaters by now, but the DVD will hit stores on February 26th.

That’s my top ten for this year, but there were plenty of other great movies this year.  If I made an 11-20, here’s some more films, in no particular order, that would make it onto the list.  Stardust, a film no one remembers but is now on DVD is “The Princess Bride” of this decade, and one of the most creative, inventive films of the year. Ratatouille is easily the best animated film of the year, and, in my opinion, of the decade.  Funny and surprisingly deep, with beautiful and lush animation, this is a classic.  Live Free or Die Hard is the year’s best action movie; Bruce Willis is still one of the coolest guys around.  Knocked Up was a very human, and very funny, comedy that started the summer off on the right foot.  Being the crazed Harry Potter fan that I am, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix turned out to be the most satisfying summer sequel, and easily the best of the Potter films.  The Simpsons Movie successfully brought TV’s favorite family to the big screen, and Transformers made us believe that giant fighting robots could exist with its phenomenal visuals.  Charlie Wilson’s War told a great story about a great thing 3 people pulled off together to bring down the Soviet Union.  Finally, Denzel Washington’s tale about racism and overcoming it, The Great Debaters, was a phenomenal film that is definitely worth seeing.

Well, that’s my last post for 2007.  I’ll be back in the coming weeks and months with more movie, DVD and HD-DVD reviews.  I wish all of my readers a happy new year and merry film-going in 2008. 

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