Note: See an updated version of this list.
1) The Lives of Others
This German film won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars last year, and boy, did it deserve it. Set in East Berlin during the Cold War, involving a member of the German secret police who spies on a dissident writer and soon finds his loyalties in a tug-of-war. It’s an intimate and compelling story, worthy of every penny when you rent it.
If I could watch only one movie before I die, it would be Once. The concept is simple: a guy and girl meet and make music. What transpires is an uplifting, unconventional journey through life and love that never succumbs to cliché. The songs tell the story much more than the dialogue, and seeing the story unfold is truly a delight.
The most pleasant surprise of the year. Keri Russell deserves an Oscar nod for her role as a pregnant, pie-making, emotionally-abused waitress who falls in love with her gynecologist. I instantly fell in love with Russell’s character and her supporting cast. Waitress is the sweetest and most filling story of 2007.
Despite its long running time, this film had me completely mesmerized. Scene after scene the intrigue builds as we watch detectives, reporters, and a cartoonist try to discover the identity of the Zodiac killer. It’s an old school whodunit story with great performances and a unique style, akin to other thrillers like Collateral and All the President’s Men.
5) Michael Clayton
It’s Erin Brockovich meets The Bourne Identity. George Clooney plays a fixer at a high-end law firm that has trouble fixing the latest case of malfeasance. It’s a tight, modest thriller that flew under the radar but deserves many awards. Clooney gives his best-ever performance, and the ending is the best of the year.
6) No Country for Old Men
Everything about this film is so good. The acting, cinematography, and writing crank this modernized western to eleven, keeping the tension building as a deadly cat-and-mouse game plays out in ways never seen before. The film is as violent as it is contemplative. Javier Bardem plays the best villain I’ve seen in a long time.
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Johnny Depp commands the screen as a vengeful barber in 19th century London, slitting throats and hitting high notes in this gruesome, gothic musical. The costumes and sets are beautiful, but the singing shines, especially from Depp, whose haunting melodies are backed up by a lush orchestra. I saw many musicals this year; this one rules them all.
Pixar is so good that they could make a film about a homicidal drug dealer and still make it family-friendly. Of course Pixar’s animation is superior to its competitors, but this film transcends being simply an “animated movie” and thrives on the merits of its story alone. The voice work is top-notch, especially from Peter O’Toole who voices a food critic.
This year’s Little Miss Sunshine. After the first 20 minutes, Juno stops being insufferably twee and hip and settles into form, becoming hilarious and charming. The titular character, played by Ellen Page, is refreshingly frank yet oddly lovable, becoming the bedrock of a film filled with strong supporting characters.
10) 3:10 to Yuma
Westerns are back! Christian Bale and Russell Crowe maneuver an epic back-and-forth between Bale’s browbeaten farmer and Crowe’s swashbuckling outlaw he’s paid to bring to jail. Themes of loyalty, justice, and right-versus-wrong weave through this ruggedly gorgeous western. If you don’t usually like westerns, check this one out.