Media Matters Reviewers’ 2007 Picks

Top films of 2007

Here are our Media Matters reviewers’ picks for favorite films of 2007. Yeah, yeah, we know they are not necessarily Oscar contenders—which is why we do Third Way Café anyway: to offer a little different voice and view.

Here, without editing, are five of our reviewers’ picks, with top film first. You can vote for your own favorite film of 2007 in the Media Poll to the right of this page.

Jerry Holsopple

For my first two picks I am choosing movies with strong female leads. Both actresses took challenging roles and did superb work.

1.  Juno. Rarely do you get a comedy about a teenager that also connects emotionally.  Make sure you catch the original music as well.

2.  Away from Her. This is a heartbreaking story done with so much grace that it leaves you with some hope.

My third and forth picks are movies I just think we should pay attention to (even if we don’t fully agree) because they call into question the assumptions of our nation and culture. They also happen to be documentaries. Yes, they have a point of view–all documentaries do.

3. No End In Sight.  I’m not sure this one is eligible for the Academy but it was released in 2007. If we don’t learn from our past we may try to repeat it in Iran or some other country.

4.  Sicko. Sure Moore frustrates me sometimes but so does our ability to talk about the cost of health in our country.

For number five I will just throw out some crazy vote to illustrate the absurd nature of my current mental state.

5. Ratatouille or Waitress.  I’ve never voted for an animated movie before so I probably shouldn’t start now and besides I’m thinking of those pies. It is almost time to head home for dinner and so I will go with the pies. Waitressit is.

(Sometimes I think the Academy voters have just as ridiculous reasons for their votes as these are.)

Vic Thiessen

My “favourite” five films of 2007, in order, are:

1. The Lives of Others. A perfectly-made film in every respect, this is a wonderfully humanizing tale of the struggle to be a good person, specifically in the oppressive world of East Berlin in 1984. This is what life is all about, and this is what great filmmmaking is all about.

2. Silent Light (not yet released in the U.S.). This award-winning film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas is in Low German and has only Mennonite actors (or non-actors). The story of the spiritual crisis of a Mennonite farmer in Mexico who is having an affair, this is a gorgeous and thoughtful film that reminds one of the best works of former European masters like Carl Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky. It felt so real, I thought I was participating in the life of this Mexican Mennonite community as it dealt with the grand themes of love, death and forgiveness.

3. Once. I’m not generally a fan of low budget hand-held camera work, but it works perfectly in this film about two lonely souls, inhabiting the poorer parts of Dublin, who meet and make beautiful music together. Like Silent Light, it feels almost like a documentary, as if we are voyeurs watching a true story unfold live before us. It shouldn’t work, but it does – brilliantly.

4. Atonement. This story of the horrific results of a teenager’s spiteful action (in 1930’s England) is magnificently filmed by Joe Wright. In fact, the first 50 minutes of this film are another example of perfect filmmaking. It drags a bit after that but ends strong, and the acting, cinematography and score are outstanding throughout.

5. The Kite Runner. A perfectly-paced and perfectly told story, again feeling very natural (due to some great acting), about a boy in Afghanistan who betrays his closest friend in 1978 but is offered a chance at redemption 22 years later. This beautiful inspiring film gives us a glimpse into the lives of people in one of the most troubled nations in the world.

6. In case Silent Light doesn’t qualify until next year: Michael Clayton – It’s rare these days to see a thriller that doesn’t rely on action, let alone an intelligent complex thriller with great dialogue and real drama. Throw in an oscar-worthy performance by George Clooney and you’ve got one of the best films of the year.

Steve Carpenter

Here is a list of the 5 best movies I have seen.

1. The Lives of Others. Set in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is about how one person’s life affects another’s. A secret service agent, assigned to spy on an artistic and possibly subversive couple, become infatuated with them. In German with English sub-titles.

2. Michael Clayton. A high level corporate lawyer wrestles with his addictions, conscience, failed business and professional ethics. George Clooney delivers a powerful performance in the leading role.

3. Sicko. Michael Moore’s documentary on current and looming delivery crisis in the American health system. This hard hitting film shocks us into realizing the U.S. health care system is in desperate need of a cure.

4. I’m Not There. Like Picasso’s revolutionary artistic vision in Cubist art, Todd Haynes’ dreamlike biopic reveals the many faces of iconic American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. The best description I can give is to quote my brother-in-law Rick, “I didn’t understand any of it, but I loved it!”

5. Hairspray. A bubbly dance musical set in Baltimore in the 1960s. Seeing John Travolta in drag is worth the price of admission. Christopher Walken and Michele Pfeiffer round out an exceptional cast.

Gordon Houser

Best films of 2007:

1. Into Great Silence. This unique film takes viewers into a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps to show a life given to prayer and the worship of God. With no score, voice over or archival footage, this mesmerizing film immerses viewers in the silence and slow pace of monastic life. No other film I saw in the last year affected me more.

2. Away from Her. This Canadian film based on a short story by Alice Munro about an older couple facing the onset of Alzheimer’s evokes empathy for every character. The acting is superb, especially Julie Christie’s. The pacing, the wintry setting, the symbolic use of color and of skiing combine to create an outstanding film.

3. The Lives of Others. This German film, set in East Germany in the 1980s, dissects the pervasiveness of fear in a totalitarian state and shows how it affects one’s humanity. It also depicts small but dangerous acts of courage and their long-range effects.

4. Michael Clayton. This smart, well-written film about corporate conspiracy mostly avoids the usual diatribe in such films. The acting is superb and the pacing near-perfect. The opening monologue, on the edge (or over the edge) of sanity, is masterful.

5. No Country for Old Men. This disturbing, almost perfectly made film captures the sense many of us feel, that things keep getting worse, out of hand. It dramatizes a stark truth, that evil exists and is not always punished. It also includes moral characters who, like most of us, want to live quiet, peaceful lives. And it ends with an image that hints at transcendence, at some meaning beyond death.

Tom Price

1. Once. In a year of dark themes, this independent Irish film captured rare magic in a guy-meets-girl story of an Irish street musician and an immigrant Czech pianist. It shows how a timeless love between two people, expressed through music, transcends momentary passion, offering the promise that the hope of understanding and being understood is the surest path to our deepest desires.

2. Atonement. A young girl’s misunderstanding and deception separates two British lovers at the outset of World War II when she falsely accuses a man of a crime he did not commit. Her perception of truth changes as she journeys on a search for redemption, seeking to do penance for her sins.

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A French film in which a magazine editor, stricken with a paralysis from head to toe, finds himself trapped in the “Diving Bell” of his mind, unable to communicate with the world except by blinking his eye. With imagination and perseverance, he flies from this dungeon like a butterfly to write about his experience.

4. No Country for Old Men. A captivating thriller about a man who happens upon a drug deal gone bad and is fated to be pursued by the randomness and relentlessness of evil, personified in one of the scariest of on-screen villains. Depicting a godless world where the law is impotent, the film is lessened by its anti-climactic ending.

5. There Will Be Blood. Not a word is spoken in the first 15 to 20 minutes of this adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, with a stark cinematic landscape and stunning soundtrack. But by that point we see the ruthless ambition of oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) can only lead to gushers of blood for his adversaries.

Matthew Kauffman Smith

Disclaimer: Due to my schedule, I catch most movies on DVD, so I’m pretty confident I haven’t seen the best movies of 2007 yet. But these are the top 5 movies of 2007 that are already out on DVD.

Avenue Montaigne. Technically this was released in France in 2006 but didn’t receive a stateside release until this year. French filmmakers have a knack for cinematic minimalism that is still oddly captivating. This story of a waitress that subtly affects the high society people she encounters near a café in Paris fits the mold nicely.

Air Guitar Nation: Another one that hit the festival circuit last year but found a slightly wider release in 2007. This isn’t brilliant filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination, but the documentary about the 2002 U.S. Air Guitar Championships is at least a fun ride. Some of the contestants take air guitar seriously – maybe way too seriously. There’s a scene where the two-time defending world champion says that someone can take away all of your possessions but they can never take away your air guitar. And he says it earnestly without the hint of a smile.

A Mighty Heart. Angelina Jolie’s portrayal Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was the best performance I saw this year.

Ratatouille. Ah, the beauty of animation. A live-action movie about a rat who longs to be a French chef would be contrived and would rely on slapstick, sophomoric humor. With a little Pixar dust, however, that premise comes across as witty and plausible.

Once. I am confident that if I saw all movies of 2007 this one would still be in my top 5. Writer/director John Carney’s film isn’t a musical in the sense ofHairspray or Chicago; it’s subtle and nuanced instead of over-the-top and elaborate. This story captures how love can fuel the creative process, but this isn’t Shakespeare in Love all over again. It’s a quiet romance that relies on heartbreakingly beautiful songs and understated performances instead of star power.