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Readers Comments: The Best Movies of 2007 List

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Rants and raves about what the cognoscenti chose

No Country for Old Men (#1)
It isn’t that easy to pick a “best” since it was a good year for movies, but this one was amazing. Making a watchable film from a McCarthy book isn’t easy. The stories are always dark, usually brutal; the beauty of the novels is in the language. This is the first successful translation from page to film. I applaud the Coens for this accomplishment. (Hillcoat and Scott should hope to do so well with McCarthy material.)—Sharon Fontenot, Sugar Land, TX

For a short moment while watching No Country for Old Men, I thought I was seeing a new classic in the vein of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. However, as it went along, it soon became nothing more than a pretentious version of The Terminator. It’s simply an action movie that stands out from the rest because it’s artistically done. No Country is brilliantly directed, but for my money, I’d take Fargo over it any day.—Nate Theis, Madison, WI

There Will Be Blood (#2)
For most of the year, I couldn’t imagine anything knocking David Fincher’s Zodiac from the top slot of my Best of ’07 list. Then I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece and it made me feel honored to be a film nerd living in this era.—Ben Hasler, Studio City, CA

Anderson’s mercurial character study is impressive if wildly uneven, creating in oil man Daniel Plainview a conflicted and ultimately incomplete vision. Daniel Day Lewis’s lead performance is likewise inconstant, reminiscent in its best moments of Jimmy Stewart’s steel-headed work with Anthony Mann, but also possessed of overwrought, all-too-familiar histrionics.—Stephen Brower, Santa Monica, CA

While I did not dislike There Will Be Blood, I found the score self-consciously incongruous and Day-Lewis’s performance at times oddly theatrical.—Paul Plank, Kirkland, WA

Zodiac (#3)
David Fincher, like Stanley Kubrick before him, is a notoriously meticulous director, and with that, he has made his longest, most involving movie yet, a cinematic case study to the nth degree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an obsessive film. The story of the 30-year case on the Zodiac killer and the policeman, reporter, and political cartoonist that gave a good chunk of their lives working on it, Fincher directs tried-and-true actors Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr., whose characters combine enough enthusiasm and skepticism to sustain the movie to its overwhelmingly protracted finish. Because the film seems to leave absolutely no details out, it doubles as a historical document, one that is as entertaining as it is informative.—Micah Gottlieb, Los Angeles, CA

Until spring of last year, I maintained only a fleeting interest in David Fincher and his body of work. I certainly respect Fight Club for its ambition, but a film so lacking in empathy is hard to revisit. Panic Room, The Game, and Seven are nice little exercises in genre and nothing more. Then along came Zodiac. Was I missing something in his pre-Zodiac work? Or is this the never-too-late budding of an auteur? Regardless, Zodiac shatters the genre, narrative, and tonal convention of his previous work and the status quo—a decided turn-off to most moviegoers—to capture a staggering realization of the effects of obsession on the individual and those close by. Although obsessive qualities generally manifest negatively on human relationships, when it comes to Fincher’s obsessive attention to detail and clear demands on his Zodiac collaborators, we can only be thankful.—Chet Mellema, Waukee, IA



Eastern Promises (#4)
In its simplest terms, David’s Cronenberg’s Russian Mafia flick is an auteurist stab at the gangster genre—a tantalizing prospect since the viscera-loving Canuck’s later work is more marked by its stylization than categorization. While A History of Violence had its mob elements, these were presented more as dress-up and pastiche: a foil to coax out Viggo Mortensen’s dark side. This time around, thanks to an orphaned-baby MacGuffin, a (rather bland) Naomi Watts wades into a scuzzy world where the viewer is treated to secretly kept women, grotesque stiffs stowed away in freezers, and an epic, nude bathhouse battle. The latter scene, with a brazenly vulnerable Mortensen locked in mortal combat with two gorillas definitely lives up to the critical hype. Let’s see perennial big box-office actioners Bruce Willis or Jamie Foxx try and pull of a scene that raw. Here’s looking forward to a Cronenberg western, or even a Cronenberg musical. One can hope after all.—Brett Scieszka, Brooklyn, NY

After only two films, the Cronenberg/Mortensen collaboration is actually closer to being this generation’s Scorsese/De Niro than Scorsese/DiCaprio.—Neil Marks, Hoboken, NJ

For me, one of the more interesting and, to my knowledge, unsung aspects of Eastern Promises is its exploration of the deleterious effects of homophobia, specifically on family, business, and the repressed homosexual, This is a multi-layered masterwork that thrillingly resembles classic Hollywood melodramas of the Forties and Fifties in its construction of character and incident. The climactic line, “I need to know who you are,” followed by the maybe-in-another-time-or-place kiss is worthy of the greatest romantic cinema. In terms of films about mafia figures, dare I say it?—I think Eastern Promises outdoes even The Godfather because it is less mach-centric than that heavily patriarchal drone. Cronenberg’s film is more inclusive, subtly acknowledging dangerously traditionalist views that condemn interracial relationships, homosexuality, and the mentally disabled. This is a film that also generously celebrates and values matriarchs, something we could use more of in the current cinema.—Cameron Jappe, Van Nuys, CA

I’m Not There (#5)
The most ambitious movie of the year, drenched in such astonishing visual detail that I kept having to fight blinking when I first watched it, so desperate was I not to miss a single thing in the frame. Inspiring in so many ways, and especially fascinating in the middle of an election season, dissecting as it does our assumptions of “personality” as something inherent, immutable, and only to be trusted in proportion to its consistency.—Lana Wilson, Brooklyn, NY

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (#6)
It’s rare to have a theater full of strangers turn to each other and praise what they’ve just seen on the silver screen. When I saw an afternoon screening of this film everyone seemed to see the world a little different after the credits ran to Julian Schnabel’s emotionally devastating picture. You wanted to turn to your neighbor and exclaim “that was wonderful” and to my surprise many people did just that.—Fred Schroeder, Los Angeles, CA

The most beautiful use of cinema in recent memory . . . a film about being truly alive! Cinematography was unbelievable. All the women in this film gave outstanding performances and Max Von Sydow broke my heart.—Amy Mascena, Brooklyn, NY

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (#7)
I had two revelations while watching this hypnotic neo-western. The first was the undeniable ability of second-time director Andrew Dominik. Although at times channeling Malick—even featuring Sam Shepard early in the film—and carefully utilizing western genre convention, Dominik broke through in his sophomore effort with an elliptic reverie on obsession and notoriety that displayed an assured patience well beyond his relative inexperience. I will be eagerly awaiting his next film. Then, of course, we have Casey Affleck, who turned in the year’s most unexpected and entirely realized screen performance. He was creepy yet pitiable as Robert Ford and will certainly have my attention in the future.—Chet Mellema, Waukee, IA

The Lives of Others (#8)
The Lives of Others is classic, populist cinema. Engaging, exacting, deliberately paced, and genuinely affecting, von Donnersmarck’s Cold War tale of surveillance and the surveilled is more accessible, and finally more successful, than Melville’s recently rediscovered (and much celebrated) Army of Shadows, which treads much the same psychological ground.—Stephen Brower, Santa Monica, CA

Ratatouille (#9)
Forget John Lassiter. Brad Bird is the auteur of animated features. What we’re seeing here is an entirely personal vision, much like George Miller brought to Happy Feet, but without as many awkward compromises to the kiddie market. Like Happy Feet, the film has a remarkably idiosyncratic shape, that may leave kids (and some parents) puzzled. It certainly eschews the dependable formula for these films. It actually challenges us. Sounds absurd—but Ratatouille is on a continuum (albeit a long continuum) with Au Hazard Balthazar. This is a nearly transcendent feature, asking us to overcome our prejudices and allow that an artist can come from anywhere; achievement makes the difference. That's a deeply humanistic statement.—Larry Frascella

There is a lovely craft and attention to detail here that goes beyond most films, “kids” movies or not. One particular sequence where Remy runs from the sewer, up into an apartment building (where we see the ongoings of the tenants) and up onto the roof where we get our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, is gorgeously rendered. I also loved how the message of the film (rising above mediocrity) is matched both in the form (the film itself being way above mediocre) and in the content (Remy and co. elevating the restaurant above its TV dinner sell-out slump) I also think this was Bird’s dig at other CGI studios who forgo original creativity to make an easy buck (Shrek 3 and 4 anyone?) The character of Anton Ego is also one of the best and smartest satires of critics I’ve ever seen. Bird’s writing, especially for Ego, is as sharp as anything in live-action movies I’ve seen this year.—Adam Ball, Albuquerque, NM



Once (#11)
Once is a reflection of the symbiotic relationship between love and music, much in the way the great duo of Before Sunrise/Sunset is about the symbiotic relationship between love and conversation. It’s probably the best example I’ve seen in film of how music fuels love and vice versa. I also love that it’s a very intimate film, as if the people involved made it for themselves and never expected anyone outside of their circle of friends and family to see it. It feels honest and pure in that sense. I love the bittersweet ending, and ultimately the instrument given as a gift is a symbol that their love is based in music, not in sex or corny romance, and as musicians, that makes it deeper and richer, even if they are apart.—Adam Ball, Albuquerque, NM

John Carney’s wonderful picture fulfills the near universally unfulfilled promise of low budget yet quality independent cinema. Although small on budget and short on recognized talent, Once exudes a confident ambition and the result left me breathless. Films like Singin' in the Rain, Dancer in the Dark, and Once, in which the songs and performances organically develop from not only the narrative but also the motives and actions of the characters on screen, have the unique ability to powerfully marry music and image.—Chet Mellema, Waukee, IA

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (#12)
An extraordinary piece of innovative storytelling for a director of any generation, let alone the octogenarian Sidney Lumet. Part of Lumet’s appeal, in this and other films, is that he recognizes the emotional and social circumstances that contribute to criminal behavior without obviating individual responsibility for criminal acts. Fine performance by Ethan Hawke, whose open-mouthed reactions to the suddenly exploding crises he finds himself in are the blackly comic core of the film’s appeal.—Gordon MacMichael, Winnipeg, Canada

The Darjeeling Limited (#14)
More controlled and elegant than The Life Aquatic perhaps, but it exists in the same Andersonian emotional realm: goofiness and pain experienced through a sieve of numb bemusement. This film is full of subtle motifs, with an arc like narrative ping-pong, and a constantly engaging texture of loopy jokes, Salinger-esque themes and lush color. I don’t buy the brothers’ emotional epiphany, as much as I buy their abiding sensibilities. Leaving their baggage (and their father and the past) behind, as they do in the film’s last slo-mo gesture, does not seem like transcendence so much as the most committed move taken by a bunch of self-dramatizing narcissists (and that's something, enough, all, actually, we might properly expect from Anderson’s creations).—Larry Frascella

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (#15)
For 2007, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was the film to beat . . . unless you’re a member of that geriatric old boys’ network of the derriere garde, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That Mungiu’s astringent sociopolitical snapshot of a time and a place didn’t merit inclusion in the embarrassingly patronizing “foreign” category merely underscores the Hollywood pageant’s irrelevance.—Paul Harless, Arlington, VA

Juno (#16)
Juno is simply a big cop-out, particularly on the feminist front. And I hated Jason Reitman’s overuse of music on the soundtrack. Jesus, we get it already—enough! On the bright side, Jennifer Garner is touching as the wannabe mother; on the shitty side, the movie casually and unfairly villainizes her husband, the Jason Bateman character.—Cameron Jappe, Van Nuys, CA

Killer of Sheep (#17)
It was a terrific year for moviegoing in the U.S., especially with so many strong showings by American directors of all different ages. But the most amazing thing I saw all year was Charles Burnett’s 1977 debut. Killer of Sheep finally got its props as one of the great contemporary films, and the success of its re-release granted Burnett his rightful status as one of the best American filmmakers of the Seventies, right there with Altman, Coppola, Malick, Scorsese, and the rest. Killer of Sheep stands as a massive rebuke to the “indie” movement that sprouted in the succeeding decades, in that so few of the hundreds, if not thousands, of “personal” low-budget works that flooded our screens showed even a fraction of Burnett’s passion for truth and eye for everyday beauty. It works as a time capsule, showing us what working-class life was like in Watts at the time: a terrible grind, but at least a man could get a job to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads, no matter how soul-crushing the job, or how leaky the roof. Now, of course, even those factory jobs are gone from the area, and it's the sound of gunshots that keeps everyone up at night. This movie will continue to astonish audiences and inspire filmmakers for decades to come.—Nelson Kim, New York, NY

Away from Her (#18)
Away from Her manages to take a subject matter (checking your spouse into assisted living due to Alzheimer’s) that is ripe for the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie treatment, and amazingly comes out as a self-assured, nuanced film about aging and relationships. It’s clear Polley learned a thing from her mentor Atom Egoyan, but the film also has similarities to Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and Saraband. Julie Christie is getting all the acclaim but Gordon Pinsent is just as good. He’s like a lion in winter with his grey beard and gruff voice. I also enjoyed the warm Canadian humanism within the chilly landscape.—Adam Ball, Albuquerque, NM

Superbad (#19)
The film may not have the year’s best cinematography, directing, acting—anything, really—but it’s on here for the sole reason that it perfectly captured the way that my friends and I thought and spoke in high school. In that regard, I hold the film close to my heart the way previous generations may look at Dazed and Confused or Fast Times at Ridgemont High.—Jovani Remior, Brooklyn, NY

Not only was Superbad the funniest film I saw this year but it also had the most heart.—Paul Plank, Kirkland, WA



Black Book (#20)
Leave it to director Paul Verhoeven to make an erotic thriller set in World War II that flies by at nearly two and a half hours with smooth transitioning fast paced scenes.—Mike Liddell, Hubbardston, MA

Syndromes and a Century (#21)
When watching this movie, I felt something I’ve never experienced before—a strange suspension in time, with no interest in moving forward or backward in the narrative. I was content to be hovering in midair with these characters, floating gradually from one situation to another and then back again, feeling my perceptions retraining themselves within this wholly new environment.—Lana Wilson, Brooklyn, NY

The Bourne Ultimatum (#23)
Paul Greengrass’s hand-held, up-close-and-personal camera style provides documentary “realism” and hypes the excitement of this spy thriller. A high-energy action flick that also reminds us to chuck those cell phones. Do we really want to be that accessible? Big Brother is watching.—Gordon MacMichael, Winnipeg, Canada

Grindhouse (#24)
When films like Grindhouse score highly (or anywhere at all for that matter), then a certain brand of ridiculousness has entered the fray (and this has nothing to do with genre and everything to do with quality). I also worry that the sheer volume of the number of films critics see must impair their judgment at some point. Could it be that after a while the emotional reservoir is depleted while the intellectual one stays full, ready to completely embrace flawed pictures?—Nick Ordway, New York, NY

Sweeney Todd (#25)
I really thought Tim Burton had drained his talent until I experience the relentless gloom and bombast of Sweeney Todd. It feels as if Burton has finally dipped deep into a well of inspiration not seen since Ed Wood. The dark quality and showmanship of the source material suits him and his voracious actors divinely. As dark as the subject matter may be, one can tell the love that fueled it came from genuine place. It feels like a humongous sigh of creative release that turned out to be an easy-going work of genius. Maybe this means there is hope for Terry Gilliam yet.—Hans Morgenstern, Miami, FL

The Host (#26)
I’ll happily raise my glass to fresh blood and vitality in the worn-out monster movie genre. And what a reinvigoration it is! Focusing on a central family that is hopelessly dysfunctional yet limitlessly endearing, director Bong doles out unctuous globs of comedy and pathos in equal measure to create a film with as much emotional verism as madcap fantasy. The multi-mandibled amphibioid biohazard springing from the Haan may not be rendered in the best CGI money can buy, but the Animators deserve kudos anyhow for their ballsiness in bringing this beastie's rampage against humanity in cold, clear daylight. As if the monster weren't a formidable enough foe, the real baddies come in the form of pasty-faced Orwellian Americans in banana-yellow suits (several shades of Romero’s The Crazies). How remarkable and telling that an American audience embraced a foreign film in which the U.S. plays the villain (veiled or otherwise). Novel and fresh use of clichéd slo-mo, a cattle-driving score, and velvety tracking shots put the polish on a picture that appeals to the fragile, narcoleptic, fuck-up nodding off in all of us.—Brett Scieszka, Brooklyn, NY

The Host was the most exciting roller-coaster ride I’ve had in the cinema in a while. It made me appreciate how rarely this type of film really works, and this one has just the right combination of thrills, chills, suspense, laughs, heart, and heartbreak. As if that weren’t enough, The Host also finds a way to effectively incorporate a little social critique in the midst of the mayhem.—Cameron Jappe, Van Nuys, CA

The Savages (#28)
Terrific script and performances from two of the best acting talents around (Hoffman, Linney). Hope Tamara Jenkins doesn’t wait another nine years to make her next film—Scott Gleine, Valley Village, CA

Gone Baby Gone (#29)
Perhaps the richest vein of American films in nearly 50 years. And much of that can be owed to the mining of the film noir and the western genres.—James R. Morris Jr., Ashebor, NC

No End in Sight (#30)
As skeptical as I am of political documentaries in this current milieu of quick and facile arguments and the easy persuasiveness of celebrity talking heads, No End in Sight’s cool, implacable intelligence seems like a transmission from another planet. Some have criticized the film for being a mere compendium of available information, but with the queasy state of mass media political coverage, I say an encyclopedic post-mortem is exactly what’s needed. It’s the most authoritative and cogent account of the invasion of Iraq and its disastrous aftermath yet produced.—Andy Lauffer

Atonement (#31)
It’s sad that this movie didn’t wind up on more year-end lists, even though it does fall under the dreaded “prestige picture” category and is reminiscent of the kind of movie Miramax was releasing every other weekend in the Nineties. That wasn’t always a bad thing, and this one is a pretty good adaptation of a pretty great book. Plus, the hottest shot in any movie out this year is when Keira Knightley’s shoe falls off in the library (granted, the effect is spoiled when it’s clearly seen back on in the next shot).—Jeff Jewell, Howell, MI

Beautiful to look at, well written by Christopher Hampton and based on the popular novel by Ian McEwan, and extremely well-acted by a superb cast—especially the two leads—Knightley and McAvoy—this film remains not only a haunting story of tragic love but of the terrible consequences of jealousy and regret. The finale portion of the film is truly heartbreaking.—Bernard Jones, Hayward, CA

Knocked Up (#32)
Katherine Heigl is captivating and funny and raised this movie above the sometimes juvenile (but hilarious) humor of the script.—Susan R. Howe, Sacramento, CA



3:10 to Yuma (#36)
Christian Bale is one of the best actors in the world, and he deserves so much more credit than he ever receives. I could not take my eyes off of him in this movie.—Susan R. Howe, Sacramento CA

This Is England (#37)
This Is England is an odd and lovely duck indeed, an art-house picture indifferent to the visual poetics of a Terrence Malick or a Lynne Ramsay, and a period picture that uses its time frame in service of narrative as opposed to cinematic spectacle. This celebration of an admittedly photogenic subculture rarely devolves into fashion fetishization, and the ugly, perpetually snarling antagonist is presented as something beyond a one dimensional monster, a believably vulnerable human. The scene in which a shoe shopping trip ends with Shaun unable to get a pair of the coveted Dr. Martin’s boots is a prickly bit of close-to-home nostalgia, bringing back memories of that developmental stage where you know (or at least think you know) what's cool, though your body hasn't caught up to the fit.—Brett Scieszka, Brooklyn, NY

Death Proof (#40)
Quentin Tarantino’s minimalist revenge flick masterfully juxtaposed a Sixies and a modern view of feminism to tear down Stuntman Mike’s steely resolve and reinstate women as an authoritative force of the cinema, succeeding where more obvious feminist pieces like The Brave One failed.—Adam Protextor, Iowa City, IA

Lust, Caution (#41)
Since the contest instructions said feel free to include rants, I would just like to say that I think most critics in these polls have been incredibly mistaken in their dismissal of Lee’s Lust, Caution. I keep going over and over again why this might have happened. It was suspenseful, beautiful, and emotionally riveting. It had terrific performances and a terrific story. It was superbly crafted with both subtlety and flair. Was it perhaps secretly Puritanical critics responding to the brutal sex scenes? This seems unlikely since most critics can stomach scenes an average viewer might use as an excuse for a hasty retreat from the theatre. Or perhaps it was an inability to comprehend any Asian rhythms at play? This can't be true since most critics go gaga over whatever Hou Hsiao-hsien or Tsai Ming-liang might throw their way and Lee has a very American approach to movies.—Nick Ordway, New York, NY

Sunshine (#43)
Sunshine was clearly made with Kubrick in mind—visually, dramatically, and philosophically. And it’s one of the smartest sci-fi thrillers in years. Especially compelling is the near abstract mise en scène with (sun) light at its center. And philosophically, the fact that the villain’s “rapture” mentality does not supercede man’s determination and power over his own fate is restorative and relevant (and a good antidote to I Am Legend).—Larry Frascella

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine proved that you don’t have to be pretentious to be incomprehensible.—Gary Locke, Merrimack, NH

Offside (#44)
Although the underlying issues are serious, extending well beyond sports into the heart of Iranian patriarchy, the effect is gently humorous. This is not a bitter humor, either, but a humor of compassion toward everyone involved—the women and the men who guard them. The film’s final sequence brings the laughter to a new level, where our common nature reveals itself in the midst of differences. And there is not a trace of caricature, exaggeration, or condescension.—Chris Dashiell, Tucson, AZ

Dans Paris
Christophe Honoré is a technically proficient director who knows the difference between stealing and paying tribute, and he made an original film that references directors like Godard and Demy. Few thing make me happy, Dans Paris is one of them.—Alan Hoffman, Cicero, IL

Frownland
The mutant version of what Manny Farber thought of as a termite movie.—Nathan Gelgud, Brooklyn, NY

I Am Legend
Perhaps the most surprising development of 2007 was signified by the cross-purpose grandeur of I Am Legend, which proved that a big-budget, CGI-laden Hollywood blockbuster could be thoughtful, complex, leisurely paced and low-key. Much of the film’s duration is composed of Will Smith and his remarkably expressive German shepherd passing time in deserted, decimated Manhattan, hunting deer on the barren streets and hitting golf balls from the wings of fighter jets. Even when the noise is brought in the final act, Smith’s conflicted soldier/scientist keeps the film anchored in realistic trauma—he is one of the few remaining action heroes able and unafraid to evince naked despair. His complete meltdown in a video store, chatting up mannequins for companionship, is one of the best scenes of my movie year. Here's to hoping that in 2008 studios follow the lead (and profits) and release more like this one, and less like Transformers.—Andy Lauffer

Inland Empire
Lynch, in his inestimable, sui generis style, has come dangerously close to finding a new form with this video extrapolation of his late-period fugue technique. Though just another Möbius strip, it is certainly his greatest achievement, formal or aesthetic, since Eraserhead first emerged from the AFI horse stables. Inland Empire (apparently occasioning experiences of real life synaesthesia in some viewers) was well served by being distributed in the Roger Corman/Barnum & Bailey style, causing it to resemble a (post-global) nightmare slowly sneaking down into our towns from upstairs. Lynch certainly gets my Apocalyptician of the Year Award, notwithstanding fierce competition from the likes of Richard Kelly. An absolute triumph of form in the William H. Gass sense of the word; a thing synthesized by proxy through the most systematic yet precarious set of disciplines, like a monstrous, Rabelaisian house of cards being built along with its own corresponding physics.—Jason Philip Wierzba, Calgary, Canada




Lake of Fire
Most overlooked film of the year: Tony Kaye’s stunning look at the politics and the reality of abortion, Lake of Fire is a brilliant formal achievement and an extraordinarily provocative example of the cinema of ideas.—Randall A. Byrn, New York, NY

In the year of Knocked Up and Juno—two entertaining, if unrealistic, depictions of unplanned pregnancy—Kaye’s epic, under-promoted abortion documentary was a beacon of light in the darkness. If Law & Order (in all three incarnations) and every other procedural on TV can deal with the subject, why can’t these seemingly hip rom-coms? Maybe because they’re not so hip after all.—Kathy Fennessy, Seattle, WA

Redacted
Here are all De Palma’s themes—cinema as life, issues of veracity and fragmentation regarding mediated reality, the primal thrust of the male gaze—but fully integrated into a bold anti-war statement. Leave it to De Palma the dualist to make an Iraq film that is not only full of timely outrage but also a throwback to Fifties WWII movies. Throughout, the film is pitched between art and pulp while remaining direct and relevant. The most fascinating thing to me is the tension between the brutality and vérité inspiration of these images and the high glossy cinematic technique with which De Palma re-creates them. Concurrently, I found his focus on a group of grunt WWII-movie archetypes (all well-played in a self-consciously “movie-movie” manner) made the film strangely fresh, more fascinating conceptually. De Palma establishes a genetic connection between Redacted and the history of war films, other wars, and other antiwar statements. As such, it takes its place on an amazingly eclectic list that includes Grand Illusion, Steel Helmet, and Apocalypse Now.—Larry Frascella

Regular Lovers
At times, Phillippe Garrel’s film is transplanted completely from its supposed subject matter, making dreams out of riots. Regular Lovers moves from the iconography and tumultuousness of the ever-symbolic year of 1968 to a quieter meditation on its young characters’ personalities. Taking not only the artsy youngsters as its subject, but some of the adults and authority figures as well (a cop who appreciates art), Lovers is interested in everyone on the screen in a way that, say, There Will Be Blood is not.—Nathan Gelgud, Brooklyn, NY

Silent Light
A literally stunning film (although somewhat fitfully so if viewed in the company of Londoners at the Prince Charles Cinema, who have a tendency to alternatively wretch and snigger at all the “ugly geezers snogging”—these are clearly not a people familiar with the director’s previous two films), Silent Light also invokes another word: revelation (not just as in The Book of..., but that too). Garnering comparisons from usually restrained critics to late Tarkovsky and paying self-conscious homage to Dreyer’s transcendental Ordet, Reygadas has presented himself as one of the great young upholders of the cinematographic tradition and the very question of the necessity (or, indeed, the very seat of power) of the cinema. A master of audiovisual tone and tempo resembling Bruno Dumont, but better here than the French iconoclast has ever quite been, he also shares an incredible ability, also demonstrated by Lucile Hadzihalilovic in her remarkable Innocence (04), to preserve the naturalism of non-actor children while directing them through complex blocking and exacting wide-angle-lensed frames. Finally there is the extraordinary poetic undressing of the most minor of North American microcommunities demonstrated in the greatest works of Jon Jost, the unheralded master of this stuff. Silent Light is the cinephile’s favorite type of triumph: one hoped for from the artist, but all the same utterly unforeseen.—Jason Philip Wierzba, Calgary, Canada

Southland Tales
The worst movie of the year and possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen is Southland Tales. It was amazing to watch what happens when someone who obviously has some good ideas and a lot of talent is given carte blanche on a project. It made me realize that there are plenty of situations where it's a good thing when a studio steps in to make changes to a director's vision. Everything is wrong with this movie. From the actor's being worse than there reputations would indicate to the font of the titles to the slew of bad cameos and finally the coup de grace . . . Wallace Shawn uttering the phrase “Inconceivable” in reference to his role in The Princess Bride.—Hank Bedford

Transformers
Nothing looked or sounded better than Transformers. I’m sorry, but it was just awesome to see giant transforming robots that looked real.—Fred Schroeder, Los Angeles, CA



General Comments:
I couldn’t possibly see all the movies that I wanted to catch. Not even if I had 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to spare.—J. Greg Clark, Atlanta, GA

The sad thing is, we are in a golden age for acting, especially in countries with strong theater and film traditions like the U.S., France, Spain, Russia. I’m just not seeing the compelling film vehicles to support this acting talent.—Rob Schmieder, Boston MA

I’m surprised by the conspicuous absence of truly remarkable, politically charged films like Black Book and Bamako from so many great critics’ Top Ten lists. In a moment when values are shifting on a global scale, when there’s so much at stake politically, the slick snideness of the Coen Brothers holds no candle to the bold philosophical statements issued by substantially plugged-in film artists like Verhoeven, Apichatpong, Sissako, Jia, Haynes, Costa, and even (surprisingly) David Fincher.—Darnell Witt, Brooklyn, NY

The greatest piece of visual entertainment this past year was the ALCS Game Seven, Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox. Top that for drama, surprises, directing, editing, and glorious sound and color. The best work on any screen in 2007 was AMC’s Mad Men.— Gary Locke, Merrimack, NH

Looking back at the year in film, I can’t help but notice that all of the powerhouse/critically lauded movies were incredibly male-centric. There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, and the criminally underrated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford all functioned on an essential and central character study of male single-mindedness, determination, and greed. Collectively, they represent a return to Peckinpah’s Man—an independent man of honor and violence who cannot function in normalized society (300 obviously taking it to the extreme).—Adam Protextor, Iowa City, IA

2007 is the year that pregnancy became fetishized in popular cinema. The new wave of pregnancy “comedies,” Juno, Waitress, and Knocked Up, engaged and proliferated spectatorial anxieties about women’s bodies and their agency. All three films appeared easy to swallow, humorous, and light-hearted, but they fetishize the image of reluctantly pregnant women. Fetishes overcompensate/distract from a psychological anxiety. 2007 sadly failed in its attempts to give the public pregnant women as figures of maturity or of strength. The largeness and strangeness of these young ladies’ new bodies miraculously rids them of their agency. Unwieldy bellies, morning sickness, it's all played for comedy and it succeeds in humor that privileges the spectator as the one who is free to move around unencumbered. It seems that the male gaze has fought back . . . with unfunny jokes.

In slightly less popular cinema, miscarriage, and the threat of miscarriage, surfaced in Eastern Promises and Inside. Eastern Promises opens with a woman’s Christmas-time death, but it begins as a very-near miscarriage. The present action of Inside occurs on Christmas Eve. In Inside, seemingly inexplicable violence is being carried out by a Trouble Every Day-ish Beatrice Dalle toward a (nine-months) pregnant woman. La Femme seems determined to get her hands on the woman’s unborn baby. Is Dalle’s “femme” so different from Naomi Watts’s character in Eastern Promises? Both are haunted figures that enact extreme forms of behavior, attempting to recover from a sense of internal loss. They explore a uniquely traumatic feminine condition: the simultaneity of life and death within the female body. We learn Watts has broken up with her boyfriend and recently suffered a miscarriage. Promises opens with a mafia execution, immediately cutting to a Russian woman’s near miscarriage and the subsequent saving of the baby by Watts, playing a midwife becoming obsessed with this motherless child. Cronenberg gives us two beautifully reflected images; the moral code of the mafia infiltrates Watts’s own values in recovering from the loss of her child, and evocation of the mafia is uniquely feminized as a means to nurture and protect one’s family.

The gangster genre, with its roots in the western, has always had themes of community and boundaries; keeping the family together and keeping threats outside. The horror film, as Inside illustrates, has roots in anxieties of the monstrousness of pregnancy and of the female figure. Both of these films wisely toy with genre to investigate moral and physical boundaries.—Jessica Felrice, New York, NY

Well, there are a lot of films in my top 20 in which people “kept it gangsta,” whereby they exacted revenge or committed horrible acts in the name of selfishness, competition, or justice (There Will Be Blood, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). Others “kept it gangsta” simply by getting on stage night after night (La Vie en rose). To choose some of these films may lower my “cred” with certain cineastes (Black Snake Moan, Margot at the Wedding), but I imagine other choices may please them (Lady Chatterley, Golden Door). Ultimately, I do not care. I live in Baltimore and I take what I can get from our local film houses.—Tim Kabara, Baltimore, MD

2007: The Year the Grown-Ups Stayed Home
Movies targeted at children and teenagers did very well by and large, as did R-rated popcorn movies. But serious grown-up films died on the vine. The big question of 2007: where were the educated grown-ups? If they went to the movies at all, they went to popcorn movies. Maybe they took their kids. Maybe they went on their own. I myself love popcorn movies and saw quite a few of them in 2007. But I didn’t only go to popcorn movies. That's where I differed from most of my peers. Why did most grown-ups avoid grown-up movies, and is this a trend that will continue? If it does, will it do terrible damage to American cinema?—William Dunmyer, New York, NY

I have to disagree with the many who feel that 2007 was a banner year for cinema, particularly American cinema, which was the weakest national cinema to my mind, as my top 10, which features only three American narrative films, reflects. For me, many of the general-consensus “best films”—No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, I’m Not There, Juno—featured moments of brilliance, but were also deeply flawed, or, I simply didn’t care. is technically flawless, but it’s content never reaches beyond pure pulp—which might not matter if its aspirations for deep meaning weren’t so glaringly apparent. And let’s face it, if I’m going to sit through all of those artfully directed murders, I’d like for there to be a point to it all. And, no, I don’t buy any of the war in Iraq parallels that a few critics tried to draw. There Will Be Blood is essentially an empty vessel for Daniel Day-Lewis’s towering performance, which is inarguably great—Cameron Jappe, Van Nuys, CA