1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Most of the time, when filmmakers portray western icons, they either romanticize the characters or go overboard stripping away the revisionist history gloss. Andrew Dominik’s film does neither. Brad Pitt’s Jesse is interesting, scary and sad, but never glamorous. Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford is just as fascinating. Is he a scrappy hero worshiper or a demented stalker? On DVD early in 2008.
2. There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s sweeping epic about a prospector turned oilman at the turn of the 20th century is a riveting study of ambition unchecked, with Daniel Day-Lewis channeling John Huston in grand fashion. The audacious orchestral score, by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the film. Thunderous, yet intimate. Opens locally early in 2008.
3. No Country for Old Men
Joel and Ethan Coen offer a harrowing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel set in 1980 Texas about an escaped psycho-killer (Javier Bardem), a small-town man (Josh Brolin) caught between a rock and a hard place and the flinty sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) that tries to save the deserving and stop the guilty. In theaters now.
4. Gone Baby Gone
Ben Affleck directs his younger brother Casey (who is excellent) in a striking mystery built around the disappearance of a 4-year-old girl. A smart, melancholy tale of alliances, betrayals and ethical dilemmas. In theaters now.
5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tim Burton’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical is bold, blunt and extremely bloody. Johnny Depp is a man possessed as a barber with a sharp blade bent for murder, with Helena Bonham Carter helpfully making meat pies out of the victims and selling them to the locals. In theaters now.
6. The Lookout
Character study turned heist film, about a brain-damaged young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gets drawn into a bank robbery scheme. The beautifully-acted portrait of the kid and his snarky, but caring roommate/mentor Lewis (Jeff Daniels) is enthralling. Available on DVD.
7. No End in Sight
Documentary meticulously detailing the mismanagement of the Iraq war through interviews with people who were directly involved. More than illuminating, the film is devastating. Available on DVD.
8. The Life of Reilly
Excellent film version of Charles Nelson Reilly’s one-man show about his life. Who knew that the hand-wringing guy with the goofy laugh could be mesmerizing? In theaters now.
Charming, refreshingly distinct computer-animated comedy about a French rodent that longs to be a chef and finds an interesting way to do so. Written as much for adults as children. Available on DVD.
Sixteen-year-old Juno (Ellen Page) just found out she’s pregnant. The way she handles the situation makes for a bright, funny, quirky and surprisingly sweet film. In theaters now.
3:10 to Yuma, Charlie Wilson’s War, Eastern Promises, Hairspray, I’m Not There, In the Shadow of the Moon, Knocked Up, Atonement, Into the Wild and Once.
MOST ANNOYING FILM OF 2007:
Eddie Murphy in the dreadful Norbit, with Diane Keaton in the terminally cutesy Because I Said So running second.