Another year, come and nearly gone. 2017 has been an eventful year in the film world, even here on the Flickchart Blog where we're wrapping up the third year of our decade anniversary project. This year's final trip in the way, way back machine is our nearest stop to the present: the not-so-distant year of 2007, whose films have now reached ten years old.
It was the end of the Bush era and the country was roiling with primary anticipation as Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton were in tight contention for the Democrat nomination while the GOP rotated through a carousel of candidate options. The War in Iraq had dragged on far too long for many people's taste, and gas prices were still stuck at over $3 per gallon. The Apple iPhone debuted to the world and the final book in the Harry Potter series was released, but soon the housing bubble would pop, sending the U.S. into its greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
By coincidence, many film franchises debuted their third entries in 2007, bringing an end to many early-00s trilogies: Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, The Bourne Ultimatum and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End were all released in 2007. Ten years on, which films have remained the most popular? The global chart tells us it's these:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with its humorously long and deceptively straightforward title, is, in my mind, one of the underappreciated gems of the last decade. Imagine, then, my unexpected delight at seeing it on the list of Flickchart’s ten highest ranked films of 2007. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the film chronicles the last days of famed outlaw Jesse James, portrayed here by Brad Pitt, and his relationship with the man who killed him, Robert Ford, played by Casey Affleck. Pitt and Affleck turn in phenomenal performances, drawing complete portraits of two complex, multifaceted individuals. Affleck’s Ford, specifically, is one of the most compelling, fully formed characters I have ever seen on screen. He is alternately pitiable, opportunistic, sympathetic, brave, naïve, clever, and yes, cowardly. It is a nuanced performance that leaves you feeling so much for a character who, at the beginning of the movie, seems to have so few redeeming qualities. But it is a testament to Affleck’s skill and genius that by the end of the film you feel you know Bob Ford enough that the only thing you could possibly feel for him is sympathy. Pitt’s performance as Jesse James is equally impressive, and the character is just as interesting; it is my personal favorite Brad Pitt role to date. The film also boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, and the always-wonderful Sam Rockwell. But it is the two leads who truly stand out.
However, it isn’t the performances alone that make this one of my favorite films of all time (currently #16 on my personal Flickchart). Every element of this film works together to make it one of the great cinematic achievements of the 2000s: the stoic narration, the restrained but memorable score, the deliberate pacing, and the beautiful cinematography (shot by the legendary Roger Deakins). Writer/Director Dominik brilliantly combines these elements to tell a story that is startlingly relevant to our time, exploring the American obsession with celebrity, the pursuit of fame, and with the feeling so present in the American psyche that we really “know” the people we read about online and in magazines, or see on film and television. Most of all, it is an utterly human story about desire, regret, insecurity, and the often contradictory relationship between reputation and reality. - Matt Ray
Initially, the first impression of Juno is just a wave of quirkiness. The unnaturally witty dialogue coming out of the mouths of teens in this movie takes some getting used to, but it's a refreshingly different take on adolescence compared to what Hollywood too often provides its audience. Juno takes a common teen movie trope —the unwanted pregnancy —and breathes new life into it with an intelligent lead who approaches the whole situation with an almost detached level of self-awareness.
At first listen, the snappy banter may not resemble real-life conversations among most 16-year-olds you know, but when I was 16, this is how I thought I sounded and how I tried to sound, and I would have dearly loved in my teenage years to see a girl my age on screen who spoke neither in monosyllabic grunts, bubbly squeals, or sassy taunts. Juno was a joyous vision of something original, a teaser that there were in fact new and different ways to write female characters.
In the hands of less careful actors, this daring experiment could have been a horrendous failure and given us an unwatchably awkward film. Ellen Page, however, clearly "gets" it (as does Jennifer Garner to a lesser extent) and imbues her character with depth and empathy even while spouting Sorkin-esque witticisms that could easily distance us from her entirely. Ten years later, there have been plenty of style copycats, but we still don't have nearly enough films that actually step outside the box when telling the stories of young women, which is what made Juno fresh and keeps it fresh a decade later. Is it weird to hope it's less relevant 10 years from now because female characters will have a much wider range of personality in mainstream films and Juno will no longer be one-of-a-kind? Perhaps. But right now it's still a breath of fresh air. - Hannah Keefer
If Gladiator brought the sword-and-sandal genre into the 21st century, 300 remade it in our image. Proving that the difference between history and Hollywood is only as wide as a director's commitment, Zach Snyder's psychedelically accurate rendering of Frank Miller's graphic novel broke new ground in the elevation of testosterone to a high art. But this film is so much more than the kill-fest it was marketed as. It is a testament to a time, not so long ago, when being a patriot, male or female, meant putting your corporeal body on the bloody line, every day, with full horrible knowledge of the possible consequences; a nation-state was only as strong as the bodies thus deployed. This film solidified the Miller/Snyder aesthetic as the look of the comic-book-drenched new millennium, spawning kludgey imitators and raising stylistic bars in a dozen cinematic disciplines. Seen through "modern" eyes, 300's emotional palette is more water-thin than we might tolerate in a blockbuster today, but the sheer lucid dedication to an unprecedented kind of storytelling and aesthetic will continue to warrant the applause of fans of both art and badassery for many years to come. - Doug Van Hollen
How do you tell a cinematic story about a man who is almost completely paralyzed, and on top of that, tell the story largely from his point of view? That’s the problem The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has to solve in adapting the memoir of journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, who emerged from a coma after a massive stroke to find himself with what’s called “locked-in syndrome”, a condition wherein the physical body is paralyzed but the mind words perfectly well. Julian Schnabel, a filmmaker who is also a painter, rose to the challenge, making a film that’s engrossing and beautiful, while never stooping to the level of disability schmaltz to which many biopics succumb.
The first third of the film remains completely in Bauby’s perspective —he can only see and move one eye, so that’s the perspective we have for quite a while, as he learns his condition and works with therapists who painstaking work out a system of communication using blinks. We hear his inner thoughts, and eventually the film moves outside him to show flashbacks into his memories and his regrets. As befits a painter-auteur at the helm, the film has a magnificent sense of artistry, both dreamy and painterly, and pulls great performances from the nearly inert Mathieu Amalric as Bauby, as well as the pair of women who work with him most closely after his paralysis (one of his therapists and the secretary who takes his slow dictation of his memoir). The feeling and beauty of this film are not easily forgotten. - Jandy Hardesty
Every new Pixar film raises the bar in terms of the look of computer animation. Yet after all the boundary pushing — from the fur on Sully in Monsters, Inc.to the undersea marvels of Finding Nemoto the spectacularly realistic backgrounds in The Good Dinosaur — Ratatouille sticks out the most in my mind for the sheer beauty that CGI animation can achieve. Undoubtedly this is due primarily to its depiction of abstractions. How do you visually represent the taste and smell of wonderful food? Brad Bird and his team of artists nailed it. Couple this with the fact that I couldn’t get over how amazing wet rat fur looked, and Ratatouille becomes a definite shining example of CGI as art.
Oh, did I forget to mention that it’s also a wonderful little follow-your-dreams story about a rat who wants to be a chef? Only Pixar could make a financial success out of such a concept that defies all marketing (and merchandising). Just don’t watch it while you’re hungry. - Nigel Druitt
Superbad writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg reportedly started writing the film when they were 13, and the film didn’t get made until both were in their mid-20s. This passage of time shows itself in Superbad, with the childish humor and seemingly massive stakes that make sense for a teenager, but with the nostalgia, self-awareness and appreciation for those years that have passed, where the world felt huge and getting drinks for a party felt like an insurmountable challenge. Rogen and Goldberg’s Superbad is actually a surprisingly sweet romantic comedy between two friends who are afraid of losing each other once high school ends. Despite the constant dick jokes, underage drinking and f-bombs galore, there’s a tender heart underneath that makes Superbad more than just your standard high school party film. - Ross Bonaime
The Bourne trilogy was undoubtedly the most influential spy action franchise of the 00s. So much so that it influenced the next iteration of Bond films, to the detriment of that franchise according to some fans. But the Bourne motif was certainly popular among audiences, drawn to its grimly charismatic protagonist not afraid to kick ass and get his hands dirty fighting against government conspiracies. The cool color grading on the film and quick editing were hallmarks of the franchise. Helmed by Matt Damon in the role that made him a big-time star, The Bourne Ultimatum was a welcome return to form to end the trilogy after the more middling The Bourne Supremacy. This final entry answers questions brewing since the beginning of the franchise, all beautifully captured by the swift and finely tuned camerawork by Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Ultimatum is a non-stop thrill ride and remains one of the most finely crafted action films of the decade. - Connor Adamson
All three of the films in Edgar Wright’s loose Cornetto trilogy manage to do what most homages/parodies/satires can only dream of: making fun of a thing while also being the thing. Most people would probably name Shaun of the Dead as their favorite of the three, but personally, I can’t get enough of Hot Fuzz. Here, the genre under scrutiny is buddy cop movies — notably Point Break — but also Lethal Weapon and many others of that ilk. We know that because rural cop Nick Frost insists on showing such movies to displaced city cop Simon Pegg, because those movies are what Frost bases his whole concept of “cop” on. The film gets its comedy from Pegg’s fish-out-of-water situation, but also from just about every edit Wright makes and every deadpan characterization from a stacked cast of British character actors.
In addition, Wright actually cares about his main characters, something a lot of mainstream comedies, especially parodies, rarely bother to do. Both Pegg and Frost have genuine dramatic character arcs that ground the film even as their big character moments fit the comedy of the set-up. For example, Frost’s re-enactment of the climactic scene in Point Break is funny yet also moving, because it’s totally in-character. Meanwhile, Wright proves many years before Baby Driver that he could handle major action sequences, infusing them with both believable danger and comedic moments. (In that Wright is not unlike the best silent comedians.) Hot Fuzz is a great comedy parodying the silliness inherent in buddy cop movies, but it’s also one of the greatest of the buddy cop genre. - Jandy Hardesty
After the sprawling, broad ensemble pieces of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and the romantic dramedy of Punch Drunk Love, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson took a sharp right turn with his fifth film, There Will Be Blood. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, PTA’s film might be the closest 21st-century analog to Citizen Kane. Not just in the sheer perfection of its individual pieces, like Robert Elswit’s viciously murky cinematography, or Johnny Greenwood’s haunting score, but in the commanding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a man who looms as large as Charles Foster Kane himself. Plainview is capitalism personified, the “American Dream” at its most brutal, unforgiving, and determined. PTA displays a battle between the desires of man and the desires of god by pitting Plainview against the perfectly named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano). Each side is equally mired in their own dirty laundry, a battle for souls and unmatched power and strength. There Will Be Blood is maybe the greatest film from one of the greatest living directors, and as one of the finest films of the 2000s it will likely go down as a masterpiece. Plainview would be proud. - Ross Bonaime
No Country for Old Men somehow managed to be the Coen brothers' boldest film in a career of bold defiance of convention. The film takes the Western crime movie structure, throws it under the lenses of modern cynicism, and gives us a deep exploration of what it means for times to change, and what that change can mean for morality. Many despise the ending for following through on these themes, but for fans it is a perfect capstone on the world left behind in the 21st century. Tommy Lee Jones, a man of yesteryear, is perfectly cast as the small-town Texas sheriff chasing down a new breed of evil in the form of Anton Chigurh. Jones epitomizes pop culture's image of the old guard, and his inability to keep up with an inhuman evil helps sell the film's commentary on predestination and fate and the inevitably of time's passage.
Javier Bardem is wonderfully unsettling as Chigurh, and his acting ability cements the tension in the iconic coin-flip scenes. His inhumanity is like a force of nature on the screen, never stopping despite the film's attempts to provide obstacles for him. Josh Brolin also gives a great performance as our film's semi-protagonist, whose best-laid plans, like those of everyone but Chigurh, come to naught. The Coen's great direction and sharp script keep the film tense and unpredictable as it barrels towards its necessary ending. It remains one of the most powerful films from its year, its decade, and all time. - Connor Adamson
Our bloggers have many other favorites from 2007. Here are the below-the-line films we think are also worth consideration:
It’s going to be difficult to write about Timecrimes without giving too much away, but here goes. A man and his wife are moving into a new house in a remote area. As he takes a break, he sees a naked girl in the woods and decides to see what’s going on. A man with a pink bandage on his face chases him through the woods. You think this is going to be some kind of a prurient slasher film, right? Wrong. It’s actually one of the tidiest time travel films I’ve ever seen, with a real knack for getting to the horror of a situation where you know everything that’s going to go wrong (because you’ve lived it before) and yet you’re absolutely powerless to stop it, even as you’re more and more implicated in it. Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo burst on the scene with this little thriller in 2007, and though he hasn’t been hugely prolific since, all his films have been worth watching, sharing this commitment to innovative spins on sci-fi tropes. Timecrimes is worth seeing blind; I’ve told you too much already. - Jandy Hardesty
Company, the stage musical, is both the apotheosis of the form and its least typical example. The story being told is abstract and fragmented and almost exclusively concerned with the internal lives of its characters; events taking place in the external world are almost distractions. It is not the typical province of mainstream playwrights or screenwriters and it could not be told in any other medium. It might barely survive as a novel, one of those 800-page navelgazers with paragraphs the size of its egos. But the best you can do with a novel like that is "appreciate" it. It cannot move you. If, on the other hand, you tell that story using the sweetly abstract and fragmented music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, you'll have found an oblique enough angle at which to approach the subject of upper-middle-class romantic problems, such that we are neither annoyed nor weighed down. Just the right balance is struck between the sweet and the bitter.
So far, this "merely" gets you a really exquisite theatrical musical. But to make a film out of a live performance of such a thing requires so many other elements to be perfectly tuned: actors that photograph well, a unique and vibrant production concept that belies the play's age, staging and set design that disguise the fundamentally two-dimensional nature of live theatre; an almost endless list. But with John Doyle's 2006 revival, the perfect union of production and material found each other for a PBS Great Performances broadcast, and the result was a film musical that successfully transcended both of its constituent media. Company is a triumph, and even if you don't like musicals, this film still has much to teach about the nature of modern humanity and probably a lot about your own approach to life. (I'm sure my glowing opinion is altogether unrelated to the fact that I also turned thirty-five this year.) - Doug Van Hollen
1408 is my favorite film of all time. That's right. It reigns mighty at #1 atop my Flickchart of nearly 1300 films. For those who have been following my work on the Flickchart Blog, I will eventually write at length on 1408 as part of my ongoing Stephen King Book to Screen project. For now, I'll just give you a taste of why this movie is so fantastic. Many wouldn't even consider it the best King adaptation from '07, as The Mist is another fantastic movie from that year, but 1408 manages to be the film that's truest to the tone and feel of King's writing despite a large portion of the script being invented for the adaptation. The original story is very short and was written originally to serve as an example for King's book On Writing. The script for 1408 is full of the cynical, biting humor that King fans know and love. It is brought to life with pitch-perfect casting for the protagonist in John Cusack. Cusack's performance is nothing short of a tour de force, capturing raw, powerful emotions that bring you to tears. Not what one would expect from genre fare.
Mikael Håfström's direction is smart and pointed, choosing to go for more psychological and biting scares than the hack and slash that could have been. In a brilliant horror twist on a classic Marx Brothers comedy bit, a scene where Cusack finds a ghoul mirroring his every action in a hotel across the street sends chills up and down your body. 1408 also features some of the best use of sound in a horror film, playing with silence as well as blending ambient noises into the score to the point where it blurs the line between what is diegetic and what isn't. Some would consider it's story heavy-handed and the multiple trick endings excessive, but 1408 merits consideration far beyond what most have given it. - Connor Adamson
Full disclosure, I am not a fan of comic book movies. Nor do I appreciate the comic book aesthetic that has metastized to seemingly every medium, from film to television to gaming. Yet even I had to admire Persepolis, the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's historical and autobiographical "graphic novel" (the apologistic synonym for "comic book," and don't tell me otherwise.) Satrapi's story of growing up in and out of post-revolutionary Iran, of reconciling her Western-influenced coming-of-age milestones with her Islamic traditions, of how sweeping, terrifying, tectonic changes can happen almost overnight in even the most ancient of cultures, quickly joined the ranks of young adult texts that are so appealing, powerful, and honest that they've been periodically banned from school shelves. The film version, meanwhile, won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007 and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, where it inevitably lost to whatever Pixar happened to put out that year (see our Ratatouille entry in the list above.) I've seen many movies from Iranian filmmakers in the decade since Persepolis, and every one of them has challenged my preconceived notions about the country and its people. Persepolis was my first, though, and it did even more: it opened my mind, if just a little bit, to the artistic and literary value of comic books. - David Conrad
What are your top films from 2007? Check your Flickchart and let us know in the comments below!
Connor is an attorney residing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from West Virginia University and a JD from Villanova Law. He enjoys fancy foreign art films, Marvel films, and everything in between. Horror is his favorite genre though, if his Stephen King Book to Screen series is any indication.