JASON'S BEST: The Ten Best Films of 2007 (Return to Jason's Best Main Page)

OF 2007

2007 was such an interesting mix of movies. I was just thankful that in the midst of the continuing reliance by the big movie studios on huge tentpole pictures which likely won't be remembered just a few years from now, that there were still some amazing film artists still willing to take a chance, to experiment with the art form, and to return to the core of what truly great moviemaking is ... telling a great story. This was a year when there were so many great fictional stories that were so well written and so brilliantly executed on screen. And when filmmakers tackled some true stories, they not only brought some fascinating history to light, but also created new masterpieces as well. Six of my top ten films were all fictional stories, anchored by some incredibly unique and well written screenplays, particularly my top two choices. And these six fictional films couldn't be more different. From a man on the run from one of the most mesmerizing and haunting screen villains of all time, to a sprawling epic film about one man's obsession with success in the oil business at the turn of the century, to a well written procedural drama that gave George Clooney perhaps his best performance ever. And then three were filmmakers presenting bold experiments in movie-making, whether it was the kaleidoscope of the turbulent 60's told in a musical through only re-interpreted Beatles songs, or the experiment of the biggest animation studio there ever was poking fun at itself and delivering something truly original and winning. Or in the case of the fictional film that topped my list, all they needed was a witty screenplay and an absolutely glowing lead performance by Ellen Page to tell a very simple story in something that ended up as the most fresh, original, and enjoyable film there was all year. But this was also a year of some powerful true stories as well. I learned more about a fascinating tidbit of history about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan thanks to Mike Nichols, I sat back to see a passionate filmmaker tell the tragic story of a young man who journeyed across the country in an attempt to find himself, I delighted in watching the unraveling of lies that accompanied Clifford Irving as he tried to sell the unauthorized biography of Howard Hughes, and finally was so deeply immersed in the frightening national tragedy that not only took lives but consumed investigators for years in the haunting story of the Zodiac serial killer. It was a good year for some really good filmmakers ... if you could only make it through the noise of the big budget tentpoles and find something truly meaningful and engaging, they were there to be found ... and these were the best of what 2007 had to offer.


I must admit this was a tough battle for my choice for the best film of the year between my top two choices, but there was no doubt these two films belonged at the top. Both propelled by two of the best written screenplays in some time, ultimately I couldn't deny that the sheer joy I had in watching this small independent film titled after its engaging lead character was the clear choice for the year's best film. I always admire when first time screenwriters can write something so witty and original, and find the right filmmaker who takes a chance on them, and puts together the right combination that produces something magical. And that's the feeling I got watching the film interpretation of Diablo Cody's amazing screenplay, which managed to take a simple story that has no doubt been told many times before, the story of a young pregnant teenager troubled with what to do with her situation, and presents it in such a unique and original way, and the success of its originality is very much due in part to the Oscar worthy lead performance of Ellen Page. In many ways, this film brought me back to my youth, when John Hughes was directing films that really "got" my generation growing up in the 80's, and I could feel that another filmmaker, this time Jason Reitman, was providing a film experience just like that for today's generation. The way that the film manages to be so funny with its witty dialogue, and maintain an edge at the same time, and then come around to so many purely "sweet" moments for lack of a better word, and by the time those moments arrive, they seem so genuine and so earned for the fleshed out characters portrayed in this film. The character of Juno, with her sassy yet hopeful outlook on the world, is one of the most unique performances ever, and Ellen Page manages that perfect balance to make us laugh and genuinely feel her happiness when she sees the baby on the ultrasound, or her disappointment when she sees that hardly anyone stays together anymore. And the supporting performances are just as excellent, especially Alison Janney as Juno's stepmother. Many people have criticized the film that the dialogue is way too witty for the age of the people that speak it, but I think people are wrong. It's rare to find a movie with this much heart that you can say actually earns every bit of it, and that reason, among many, make this an ultimately easy choice as the year's best film.


But then there was this incredible achievement by the Coen Brothers, in what for me is their pinnacle in an amazing film career so far. Many times I considered that this film was really the year's best film, so it's a very close number two. Again, this film's success begins with its Oscar worthy screenplay, and continues with its execution by Joel and Ethan Coen, and most successfully, through the universally excellent performances by everyone in this cast. I was so blown away by this film, it never takes one wrong step, surprises us at many turns, but its surprises, especially in the third act, make you realize you're in the hands of very accomplished film directors who know how to tell a good story, and are not afraid to tell it on its own terms. From the very beginning, when Josh Brolin's character stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong and a bag of money left behind, to the ultimate chase that ensues when he is pursued by the man whose money it belongs to, played by Javier Bardem, this is the kind of beautifully executed movie we don't see enough these days. Much has already been said and written about Bardem's performance, but it is truly one of the most haunting villains ever to be presented on screen, and Bardem is so convincing at every turn. He should deservedly win the Oscar for this performance. But the film is so much more than just a standard chase film. It also has much to say about the changing times, especially embodied in another wonderful performance by Tommy Lee Jones, playing an officer on the trail of both men who has saddened by the tragedy of the violence in the world, which has only gotten worse. He clearly has lost his faith in humanity. Every single performance in this incredible emsemble are honest, unflinching portrayals of the extremes of humanity, all serving the execution of a clever screenplay, and the unswerving artistry of two incredible directors.


There were two films in 2007 whose style and execution and their attention to detail were so brilliant that they reminded me of films that were made in the 1970's, that incredible decade of new individual voices of filmmakers who had a very strong style. Is there a director with more style and attention to detail than David Fincher? And this past year, he created what for me was his greatest film yet, telling the haunting true story of the Zodiac serial killer, who terrorized the San Francisco area in the 60's and 70's. As the case itself remains virtually unsolved, with no one ever prosecuted for the Zodiac killings, the case alone is fascinating by its very nature, by the way that the killer manipulated and used the media and became something of myth. What Fincher accomplished most brilliantly with this interpretation of the story is by not making a standard horror film, by not solely focusing on the killer itself. Only the very beginning of the film really contains the more horrific, violent moments as the first murders and attacks take place, but then the movie becomes much more of a procedural, as we follow the comics writer Robert Graysmith, in another great performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, and the other investigators whose life became so consumed by the case. In two great supporting performances, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo show the true devastation of what happened to two men whose lives were really torn apart by what became an obsession. David Fincher's aforementioned attention to detail completely immerses you in the film, as you feel you are watching something truly taking place in the 60's and 70's, as we feel we are watching these true events unfold. Realizing how much attention to the smaller details that Fincher devotes makes you realize how much of a passionate and talented director whose work you are experiencing, and the overall effect is chilling on so many levels.


It's always something to see a filmmaker who has been so passionate about a particular subject for many years, and one who labors for many years to bring a film project to light, to ultimately see them achieve the finished product, and that's what happened this year as Sean Penn stepped behind the camera again to direct this amazing true story about a young man who felt no real connection or honesty about anything in his privileged life, who then ultimately went out on his own to try to find some kind of truth. It's a story that resonates deeply ... when the movie starts, Christopher McCandless is a young man who has been raised in a very wealthy family, now graduating college, ready to go out and make his way into the world. Growing up so privileged would undoubtedly lead him to a promising future career, but instead his life of privilege left him feeling cold and inauthentic, and his parents are certainly no help in that either. So he decides to up and leave one day, cash out all the money he has, and hit the road, planning to head to Alaska where he hopes to find himself. The film works powerfully as a road journey, as he encounters various people along the way, who in a way make him feel more authentic and make him feel more truly loved than he ever was before, ultimately leading him to an old man who sees in him the possibility of a new adopted son. Hal Holbrook, in an amazing and touching performance, is one of the last people who try to convince Chris that maybe his plan to go to Alaska is not a good idea, and one of the most powerful scenes is when he drives Chris to drop him off and delivers one last heartfelt plea. Sean Penn the filmmaker never presents any judgments on any of this, whether he was a spoiled kid who ultimately ended up way up over his head, and he never tries to deliver any kind of message beyond what Chris's journey was an attempt to accomplish. We can judge for ourselves what he was truly searching for, and whether his tragic end accomplished it or was a symptom of a larger problem in our society. Beautifully shot, acted, and scored with songs specifically written for this film by Eddie Vedder, it's definitely a film you can't soon forget.


It's been so fascinating to watch the musical as a film genre come back into vogue this decade, and surprisingly, I've found one musical after another end up on my top ten lists, this coming from a genre I once loathed. They've just been done so well, and it continued this year with one of the boldest and most exciting film experiments in musicals to come along in quite a while. Julie Taymor took on the task of trying to present a story about the turbulent tides of the 60's all told through the lyrics of the legendary Beatles song catalog. And it was achieved brilliantly. The film doesn't just pause to sing a Beatles song, but actually finds perfect fits and brand new interpretations of some songs to present this simple yet affecting story about two young people who fall in love and whose love is tested through the world of the 60's, as well as a group of people who experience it all with them. It's always great to find new interpretations of songs you've perhaps known and loved for so long ... I mean, "I Want to Hold Your Hand", once thought as a happy song, now comes through much more of the sad song it truly is and re-interpreted for a woman in love with a woman she can't have. And each of the cast in this film performs some amazing new covers of these songs, I couldn't stop listening to the soundtrack, and I know, sacrilege, I even prefer some of these versions to the Beatles originals. Not afraid to delve into the offbeat either, it's a visual explosion of style and music, and while it was certainly that type of film you either loved or hated, I for one was one of the people who truly loved it.


When I first saw the preview for this film, I said right away, Daniel Day-Lewis will probably win the Oscar for this performance. It says a lot about an actor that you can see a performance that good in a 3 or 4 minute trailer. And Day-Lewis is certainly that kind of actor, one of our greatest living actors for sure, and one who doesn't work that much, so when he does deliver a performance, it's never one to disappoint. And this time, he was directed by someone who I said long ago would be one of our next great directors, as he has delivered one bold and exciting film after another, and this year, he didn't disappoint either. Paul Thomas Anderson this time tackles a period epic quite unlike any other film he has directed in his young career so far. Taking place at the turn of the century (that would be the 19th into the 20th century anyway), vividly telling the story of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), a man who is so deeply driven to success, who discovers land with huge amounts of oil just boiling underneath, and who works to become incredibly wealthy and keep it all to himself. As he says so vividly at one point, he doesn't want anyone else to succeed but him. When he eventually comes upon a young preacher who fights to grow and save his church even though there is much oil to be found on his land also, the film becomes a brutal and tragic portrait of one man's drive for wealth who sees nothing else worth achieving. With its unique musical score, its beautiful cinematography, and just the mere presence that Daniel Day-Lewis brings to every role, this is a film unlike any other I can think of recently, and for the fourth time in a row, another one of Paul Thomas Anderson's films is clearly one of my choices for one of the ten best films of the year.


When I talked about Zodiac before, I mentioned that there were two films that reminded me of movies that were made in the 70's. This was the other one. Tony Gilroy, in his directorial debut, made the kind of film we don't get enough of these days. Movies with well known actors delivering solid performances in stories that intrigue and delight without having to be populated with visual effects or cartoon violence. In this film, George Clooney delivers what I felt was his best performance to date as the film's title character, a "fixer" for a law firm who is brought in to "fix" a situation when a large corporation's lead defense attorney apparently goes crazy when he strips down naked during a courtroom deposition. The thriller than unfolds from there, as we discover what this attorney had uncovered and how it led him to not being able to represent the corrupt company and what it was doing anymore. Michael Clayton then has to discover some of these same things, and ultimately face the same situation of conscience. I admire Clooney so much for being such a big star and someone who could so easily sell out who instead is really dedicated to finding important films to be a part of it, and this was certainly one of them. With great supporting performances by Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, this is the kind of film that just made me smile by the end for how wonderfully executed it was, but also that this kind of film can still be made and released by the major studios these days, and I just hope we get more of them.


I've been a fan of Disney's classic animated films all my life, and especially since having a child of my own, have grown to love Disney's movies even more. But in 2007, Disney did something really fun and unique with their animated formula, decided to make fun of it, and produce something so fresh and original that there was no way I could deny that the film was a joyous and successful achievement, and was clearly one of the year's best films also. The film actually begins in the animated world, and you think you'll be watching a standard Disney formula princess story. But one day, Princess Giselle is thrown down a well which apparently is a portal into our real world, and she emerges from the sewers of Manhattan in the person of the engaging actress Amy Adams. Without Amy Adams in this endearing performance, I doubt this film would have been the success it was. Amy Adams completely throws herself into this performance, staying true to the fish-out-of-water she is portraying all the way through, and it's one hilarious moment after another as her prince from the animated world journeys to the real world to find her, and as she tries to make her way through our world, as helped by Patrick Dempsey in another good performance. When there are so many films for kids which don't even try to appeal to adults as well, Disney continues its long and successful tradition of making something to appeal to both. Even as we laugh at the conventions of the animated genre being poked fun at, we smile too because a great filmmaker and really talented actors have run with something new, and created a pure delight.


Legendary director Mike Nichols directing. One of the greatest living film and television writers, Aaron Sorkin, writing the screenplay. And a cast starring three Oscar winners, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Could this formula even have a chance of failing? In a year which saw a number of filmmakers making some of the first films to examine the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan that all performed horribly at the boxoffice, it was not a given at all that that aforementioned formula of talent could work. But Nichols had a story which could appeal perhaps to more people, and instead of presenting a more serious drama, he positions his story mostly as a comedy. More removed from the current situations in the world which people didn't seem interested in watching at the movie theater, this film takes us back to the 1980's and examines a little known true story about one U.S. Congressman, Charlie Wilson, played wonderfully by Hanks, who became instrumental in eventually helping the freedom fighters in Afghanistan win their war against the invading Soviet armies by helping to supply them more advanced weapons without anyone really knowing that the U.S. was doing it. Just for the telling of this history alone, the movie is fascinating, especially since I didn't know a lot of this history. And Nichols keeps his film brisk and surprisingly short, telling only what we need to know about this story, and while that may make the characters depth suffer a bit, it's a joy to watch Hanks revel in a womanizing politician, to see Julia Roberts as a shrill wealthy businesswoman, and especially Philip Seymour Hoffman (another actor incapable of delivering a bad performance), completely immersed in a man working for the CIA who is never one to be shy about telling things the way they are. It's an unbelievable story of how these three came together and helped eventually turned the tide which helped the U.S. win the Cold War, but also a more dramatic one by film's end as well, because all along we know that ultimately some of these warriors we helped arm with weapons would eventually turn against us. Another wonderful insiders look at the world of Washington, and Aaron Sorkin is clearly someone very gifted not only at writing dialogue, but delivering these wonderful inside portraits.


And speaking of amazing true stories that I didn't know a lot about before I saw the movie, this film which rounds out my top ten list was the true story of Clifford Irving, a down on his luck writer who was desperate for money and for success, and one day decided to tell a major lie, that he had been granted the right to write the exclusive biography of one of the most well known reclusive men around, Howard Hughes. Richard Gere portrays Irving in a surprisingly strong performance, and Lasse Hallstrom directs, in another film which captures its time period so well, and has a lot to say about the lure and nature of celebrity as well. It's fascinating to watch how Irving kept this lie going for so long, and to watch it unravel and ultimately make a completely different kind of celebrity out of Clifford Irving. It's the kind of thing that could probably only open in times past much different than our more cynical times now, but it remains fascinating nonetheless. Alfred Molina gives a hilarious supporting performance also as the research assistant who keeps trying to tell Clifford that the lie is getting bigger and bigger and they're getting in more and more trouble.


This year, I am again making special mention of the next five films that would be on my list, five more remarkable and stunning achievements that just couldn't quite make it.

11. 3:10 TO YUMA: This remake of the classic Western became a new classic in its own right, with two strong lead performances by Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. Their final conversation in the hotel together leading up to the final shootout makes this another proud example that the Western as a genre can still survive.

12. IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: Of the many more serious dramatic films attempting to examine the war in Iraq, this film was probably the best, as Tommy Lee Jones delivers one of his best performances as a grieving father whose son comes back from Iraq to end up dying here, and it's the story of his pursuit for the truth. Another powerful film from Paul Haggis.

13. TALK TO ME: Don Cheadle vividly brings to life the true story of Petey Green, the Washington D.C. radio personality, in this tragic biopic from Kasi Lemmons

14. RATATOUILLE: Those geniuses at Disney and Pixar continued their formula for success, this time in the beautiful looking and beautifully executed story of a rat who finally finds that his love for cooking can be accepted by the human world

15. AMERICAN GANGSTER: Ridley Scott's powerful contribution to the gangster film genre tells the true story of Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, who became one of the biggest mob bosses ever with his successful drug empire, it's a wonderfully structured story that tells two parallel stories, that of Lucas, and the detective on his trail, played by the always great Russell Crowe


I dare anyone who watches this film to not be completely enchanted and refreshed by its simple story and realistic performances. In a film that seemingly came out of nowhere, Once was the low budget gem from writer/director John Carney that tells the story of a struggling musician, played by Glen Hansgard, who while one day out singing and playing his guitar in the street, happens upon a young woman, played by Marketa Irglova. Amazingly, we never even know their names in the movie, they're simply credited as the Guy and the Girl. With a mutual interest in performing music, they begin a tender relationship that is never really fulfilled, but the greatest love stories are always those about unfulfilled love. Together they find what they couldn't find separately, finding the passion to write and perform music together, and finally get one opportunity to record an actual album together. The film doesn't have any loftier ambitions than that. The movie feels almost like a reality show, as we simply watch these engaging characters really live and breathe in very honest portrayals. And it doesn't hurt that all the songs that write and perform are all catchy too.


In another interesting experiment by one of our most freely experimental film directors, Wes Anderson, this short film was actually designed as a prequel of events for one of the three characters in his eventual feature film, The Darjeeling Limited. While I didn't care as much for the feature, this short film is a moody and atmospheric short film on its own, as we get some more background on the love life of one of the brothers in the feature film, the one played by Jason Schwartzman. The always stunning Natalie Portman drew notoriety for this short film for the nudity she displays which she had never really displayed before, but even more than that (and believe me, that's enough to recommend it), it's the quiet study in love and this relationship, all set to a wonderful choice in song, Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)", that make this short film successful. There's a lot of mystery to this story still, and it continues to show that filmmakers can make something truly stunning in the short film format. With the spare dialogue, it's the character's actions that tell us volumes, and it's due to these two wonderful actors delivering some superb performances. Stunning and sad and definitely memorable. More American film directors should direct character pieces as spare and true as something like this.

Honorable Mentions
(In no particular order)

BREACH: A story that was tailor made for a film treatment, it's the fascinating true story of one of the most notorious spies in the history of the United States, played by Chris Cooper in another incredible performance

REIGN OVER ME: Adam Sandler back into more serious mode delivering a solid performance in one of the few films to tackle the post trauma of 9/11

KNOCKED UP: In a big year for Judd Apatow, this summer comedy blockbuster was a joy, with Katharine Heigl of TV fame making her first big steps into a possible future as a film actress

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN: After the disappointing second outing, Steven Soderbergh and company return to the formula that made the first film so much fun to watch, and returning to Vegas was a big part of that success

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD: As reviving old franchises go, Bruce Willis did a very admirable job of returning to the infamous role of John McClane in a wonderful thriller of a film that stands right up there with the best in the series

SICKO: It was again a year for good documentaries, and Michael Moore, always the lightning rod of controversy, delivered another solid film, this time examining the health care fiasco in the United States

NO END IN SIGHT: One of the best and most important documentaries of recent times, told simply without flash and style, the pure truth of hearing from many different people in the administration and elsewhere that shows even more how much of a corrupt administration the Bush White House has been, and how single minded and how reckless they were in executing the war in Iraq

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON: Another example of a documentary that is so fascinating because of the insight into its subject matter, this was an amazing trip through history hearing from nearly all the astronauts who walked on the moon, seeing the drive and the promise of that decade and that achievement, and realizing all the squandered opportunities since then

ATONEMENT: A very solid period romance, bolstered by great performances by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, and one of the most stunning one take tracking shots in cinema history

GRACE IS GONE: Another film that tried to examine the effects of the Iraq War, this one was much more subtle than some, but yet still failed to find an audience, in this tragic story of a man trying to find a way to delay telling his daughters that their mother has died in the war, delivered by John Cusack in one of his finest performances to date

THE GREAT DEBATERS: Denzel Washington directing and starring in this powerful true story about the Wiley College Texas debate team in the 1930's

SWEENEY TODD: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp together again, another one of those winning Hollywood artist combinations, delivered this moody and odd combination of a Stephen Sondheim musical and horrific violence, the effect is chilling and rewarding, all at the same time

THE SAVAGES: A remarkably true and raw examination of family, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney delivering stellar performances as a brother and sister

I'M NOT THERE: Another great experiment in filmmaking, this time Todd Haynes turned the traditional rock star biopic on its ear, imagining the life of the legendary Bob Dylan through six different actors, most memorably through even one female actor, the always talented Cate Blanchett

LIONS FOR LAMBS: Talky to be sure, but still an important film for what they tried to say. Robert Redford directing an all star cast, showing us three different situations that all comment on where we are right now in the world with the situation in Iraq and the war on terror

FRED CLAUS: I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed this film, it has a lot of laughs in it, and Vince Vaughn as the lead, the brother of Santa, played by Paul Giamatti, actually worked on me

SUPERBAD: The Judd Apatow machine continued its successful streak with this film later in the summer, a perfectly raunchy and fun examination of the youth of today

HAIRSPRAY: First a film, then a musical, then a film of the musical, it was a resounding success, with some great songs, and a standout cast bringing it all to life