Eric's Top 10 Movies of 2007

by Eric Melin on December 31, 2007

in Top 10s

No sense trying to sum it up: 2007 was another year with a lot of mediocre movies, some really terrible ones, some disappointing ones, some good ones, and a couple truly amazing ones. I hate it when the studios wait to release all their “quality” films until the end of the year, but it looks like that trend is here to stay. Again, it seems that a lot of those touted as prestige pictures have simply failed to live up to the hype. So, looking back at another year gone by, here’s my list of the Best Movies of 2007. Come back soon for another list, as J.D. will publish his on Thursday!

Runners-up: Hot Fuzz, Rescue Dawn, The Savages, Superbad, The Hoax, Away From Her, Once

10. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Q: Why should anybody care about the world record holder of the high score in Donkey Kong? A: Because anything that’s the subject of a story that’s this well told could be equally as interesting. Seth Gordon’s hilarious and riveting documentary about two men in the world of competitive classic arcade gaming has more underdog appeal and cheering payoff than a hundred formulaic sports movies that are based on true stories. It may be real life, but Gordon positions his “characters” through revealing interviews and capturing key moments in their rivalry on camera. The subculture that surrounds this David and Goliath tale is fascinating as well, and while Gordon is now trying to put together a feature film with actors portraying the champion Billy Mitchell and newcomer Steve Wiebe, let’s hope that he finds time to film a sequel featuring Mr. Awesome.

9. I’m Not There

Unlike the linear drama of “The King of Kong,” Todd Haynes’ impressionistic portrait of Bob Dylan may not follow a straight line from Robert to Zimmerman, but it is a triumph nonetheless. Because of its unorthodox storyline, it feels a bit long at several points. Nevertheless, it remains a prime example of how cinema doesn’t need to subscribe to certain agreed-upon tenants to be illuminating about complex ideas. Mixing documentary and fictional feature-style narratives with a host of actors portraying different aspect of the chameleon songwriter’s phases and personalities, “I’m Not There” blazes its own daring path with a sense of humor and energy that is to be admired. Along with the character driven, songs-tell-the-story vibe of the lower-key musical (?) “Once,” this film also boasts the best soundtrack of the year, with 2 CDs worth of fantastic Dylan covers from current artists.

8. Grindhouse

If you didn’t see this expertly-realized tribute to 1970s exploitation movies in the theater, this year, then you haven’t seen it. It’s as simple as that. Splitting up Robert Rodriguez’s zombiefest “Planet Terror” and Quentin Tarantino’s car-slasher flick “Death Proof” (and extending them) on DVD completely dilutes their effect. Leave in the hilarious fake coming attractions, ads for skuzzy local eateries, and some key missing reels, and you have a theatrical experience like no other. See it with the right crowd (preferably one that thinks its funny to see a little boy accidentally shoot himself in the face or a woman with a machine gun for a leg), and you have one night of trashy cinematic bliss. Both parts of this violently funny double feature end up being more than mere homage, especially Tarantino’s half, which shows the director as capable of up setting an audience up and then subverting their expectations as he ever has been.

7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Boy, did the studio ever bungle the release of this little-seen arthouse gem. Warner Bros. had no idea what to do with a film that took one of the best-known Western outlaws and then virtually ignored gunfights and hold-ups in favor of deconstructing the genre for two hours and 40 minutes. Released in only 300 theaters nationwide, Andrew Dominik’s meditation on the price of fame and the tenuous nature of mortality during America’s Westward expansion features some of the most naturalistic acting of the year, and an eye-opening performance by Casey Affleck (Oscar-bound, I hope). Brad Pitt’s performance is great as well. Although his personage is larger than life, Pitt himself is measured (and perfectly cast) as the enigmatic Jesse James.

6. Zodiac

The infamous unsolved San Francisco killings of the early 1970s are the backdrop for this fascinating study of obsession from David Fincher, the director who also brought us another serial killer movie, “Seven,” so long ago. Far from that successful thriller, “Zodiac” is in a category by itself—a masterful movie that thrives on a pervasive mood of unease that Fincher posits as a sign of the times. The hunt for the killer ruined the lives of many men, and during the course of the film (another long one, clocking in at just under 2:40), Fincher sucks the viewer into the same wormhole. In the traditional sense, there is no resolution to the mystery of the perpetrator, but for sheer creepiness, it’s hard to find anything that comes close.

5. Sicko

Michael Moore was so huge just three years ago with “Fahrenheit 9/11” that it seems he is now out-of-fashion. The fact remains that he is the most directly provocative filmmaker of our time, and “Sicko” is one of his best movies. His newfound fame has enabled him to be a repository of information for those who have been remarkably ignored or done wrong by the broken U.S. health care system, so he has collected some real doozies—stories so tragic and unforgettable that you have to laugh to keep from crying. But “Sicko” is so much more than that. Moore moves on to ask the big questions, like “Who are we as a nation?” Even bigger—“How and why have we let things get this bad?” “Sicko” is not merely a bitchfest about the health care issue, it is an examination of our very American values and how we can get them back.

4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Julian Schnabel (“Basquiat,” “Before Night Falls”) is a painter who has directed three films about artists struggling to create under duress. His latest puts him at the forefront of visual stylists who can wow the senses without ignoring the soul. The true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers a stroke that leaves him almost completely paralyzed, may have been wheelchair-bound itself in lesser hands, but with Schnabel at the helm, it becomes an amazing, life-affirming tale that never once panders for emotion. Schnabel and director of photography Janusz Kaminski even manage to pioneer some stunning new filming techniques to simulate Bauby’s POV that are nothing short of exquisite.

3. Knocked Up

I’ve been touting the greatness of director Judd Apatow’s script for this surprise mainstream hit since the moment it came out. Yes, he had as gifted a cast of improvisers as you’ll find this side of a Christopher Guest movie, but as many belly laughs as his co-conspirators earned off the top of their heads, Apatow’s screenplay matched in acute observations about male and female relationships. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are picture perfect (which is to say, not perfect at all) in their roles as a hilariously mismatched couple borne out of a one night stand, but let us not forget Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s searing portrait of an unhappily-married couple. “Knocked Up” may begin with the high concept of an unwanted pregnancy at the worst possible time, but it ends up being a frankly funny and moving story about what it takes to do the right thing. Apatow’s script deserves the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, but will most likely get screwed out of it due to the Academy’s aversion to raunchiness—even the sort of painfully true kind.

2. No Country for Old Men

This film is all things to all people. Joel and Ethan Coen are back with a vengeance, chronicling the changing of the guard in the West by adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. They have created the scariest movie of the year, a movie villain for the ages (Javier Bardem’s pageboy from Hell, Anton Chigurh), a compelling portrait of violence, and a philosophical think piece about the ever-changing meaning of life. The tension is ratcheted up with all the skill of an Alfred Hitchcock, and Roger Deakins’ haunting images are still with me as I sit and write this today. An atypical conclusion has angered many, but as much as it appears on the surface to have no rhyme or reason, it remains a mystery to keep revisiting time and time again. It is quite a coincidence that the two best pictures of the year both rely so heavily on old-fashioned storytelling, straight out of the silent age, when a picture could tell so much more than words.

1. There Will Be Blood

Speaking of silent film, the first reel of Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic movie of corrupted American ambition is entirely without words. It is a brilliant introduction to Daniel Plainview, a man so blindly driven by business that he cannot find anything left in people worth liking. When Plainview (ferociously played by Daniel Day-Lewis) runs into that other all-powerful force of humanity, religion, it is a contest of wills to challenge any other classic film rivalry. The hair on my arm was standing on end following this masterpiece. “There Will Be Blood” features nothing less than a deviously dissonant score from Jonny Greenwood, a meticulously-plotted and subtly-realized psychodrama with infinitely quotable dialogue (written by the director), top notch acting led by a man (Day-Lewis) possessed, and beautiful on-location cinematography from Robert Elswit that gives the film the sweeping feeling of history unfolding. Do not miss seeing this one in the theater if you love going to the movies.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ChrisKnudsen January 1, 2008 at 8:28 pm

So did you forget about Juno? I am sure it probably won’t be that great.

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2 Dana January 1, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Eric,
I’m pretty sure you’re the only critic who will be putting “Grindhouse” on your top 10 list. Why are you so cool? Also, props to you for giving the Freaks and Geeks alumni some recognition. How come none of the critics are mentioning the movie “Control”?

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3 jim January 2, 2008 at 3:52 am

Nice. Good to see There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men on the top 2 spots. I have yet to see There Will Be Blood. Just waiting for it to get in closer theaters, but I think at this point its the only film that could top No Country for Old Men for me. Nice mention on Superbad, Knocked Up, Grindhouse, and Zodiac. Haven’t seen I’m Not There, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford(seems to be going around as the unknown masterpiece).

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4 Eric Melin January 2, 2008 at 7:23 am

I didn’t forget about “Juno.” It’s good, but not as good as these 10 or the 7 runners-up. I don’t think I’ll be the only critic putting “Grindhouse” on their Top 10, but if I am, it just proves that most critics de-value creativity and a macabre sense of humor (unless its adapted from a Sondheim musical). “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” was one I caught up with late in the game (which is why there was no review from either of us when it opened), so hopefully the studio will use the late-season prasie on it to market the DVD right. It really deserves to be seen, it has the same feel as a lot of the 1970s character studies by Ashby and Altman that we regard so highly now.

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5 Alan Rapp January 2, 2008 at 1:19 pm

This was a deep, deep year for good films, and I think we’re going to see quite a bit of variety on lists this year. I liked all the films on your list (though I don’t agree with Knocked Up or Grindhouse being the best of 2007), but my list, which I’m finishing up and will be posted on Friday, is vastly different than yours. Until then you can check out my ten worst films of 2007

And Juno is a great little film, you need to let that go, dude.

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6 Chris Austere January 3, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Admittedly I haven’t seen most of the films on your list, but I can’t imagine Grindhouse being in my top 10 especially if I watched as many movies as you do. However, I did see Deathproof and Planet Terror separately on DVD. The director’s cut of Deathproof is way too long, and drags on and on. Planet Terror was definitely a much better movie. Maybe you should watch Napoleon Dynamite again. Now that’s a movie!

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7 jim January 4, 2008 at 1:31 am

Are you going to review There Will Be Blood with J.D.?

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8 Eric Melin January 4, 2008 at 7:31 am

Chris-
If you didn’t see this expertly-realized tribute to 1970s exploitation movies in the theater, this year, then you haven’t seen it. It’s as simple as that.

Jim-
Yes. BTW, it goes wide on 1.18.08.

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9 ChrisKnudsen January 6, 2008 at 12:55 pm

I feel bad for people who missed out of seeing Grindhouse in theaters. Actually, I don’t. It was for sure an experience film that is for sure.

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10 ChrisKnudsen January 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Bagh! Too many “sures” in that last sentence. My career as a pandering writer is over!

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