The must-see films of 2007

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      Two threads run through many of the best movies this year, probably more by accident than by design. One is the flow of faithful adaptations from real (as opposed to potboiling) literature, ranging from stiff-but-intelligent versions of Atonement and Love in the Time of Cholera to the more muscular imaginings of Gone Baby Gone and No Country for Old Men. The other is a visceral synthesis of pop-culture history in the tuneful forms of Across the Universe, Control, and Once, and the mystically weird prism of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. (Does Air Guitar Nation count for this list?)

      There was also a third stream unto itself, aside from but not excluding movies with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Global politics returned to the big screen in tales of Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, and the Sudan, with big-ticket features like Lions for Lambs, Shake Hands with the Devil, and Charlie Wilson's War operating on a grand scale. More harrowingly intimate items like Darfur Now and The Devil Came on Horseback–as well as docs on the state of the planet and U.S. health care–reminded us that we are, on some level, entertaining ourselves to death.

      Nonetheless, we still like making lists of our entertainments. Studio-releasing patterns seem to push high-quality fare ever closer to the year in which Oscars are actually handed out–meaning the next one–so this time it was impossible to include Pan's Labyrinth and difficult to give proper attention to smaller, mid-year winners like Away From Her and The Lives of Others. Consequently, the Straight critics linger here, in no particular order, on worthy items you might have actually seen in 2007. Or, if you didn't see them, you probably read or heard about them.



      Ken Eisner

      The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
      The essence of life is intoxicatingly captured by director Julian Schnabel, who gorgeously expands the painfully composed memoir of Frenchman Jean-Dominique Bauby–a victim who refused to suffer when he could write.

      The Savages
      Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are bitterly funny as siblings battling over taking better care of the ailing dad that neither of them loves.

      Ravishingly original guitar-and-piano songs by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, delivered naturalistically against gritty Dublin backdrops, made this the little musical that could.

      Across the Universe
      Julie Taymor's big-budget vision of Beatles songs in the context of their times has the necessary sweep to make you rethink what has come since. And also to simply sing along.

      The Darjeeling Limited
      Wes Anderson's most heartfelt travelogue yet takes three brothers on a spiritual quest to India, with an awesome, '60s-inflected soundtrack that puts the Kinks and Ravi Shankar side by side.

      Teenage pregnancy is cuttingly funny but sweetly observed by writer Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and young Ellen Page, who leaves an indelible mark.

      No Country for Old Men
      The Coen Brothers handled Cormac McCarthy's tale of death and no redemption in the Texas desert in a brutally clear-headed way. And there are Javier Bardem's unforgettable soul-dead eyes.

      Avenue Montaigne
      This light French comedy of crossed paths renewed our faith in the ability of small-scaled foreign movies to refresh the spirit.

      Lars and the Real Girl
      Something like true love, with a mail-order blowup doll, is found by a stunted young man camping in wintry Minnesota. Yet Lars, played achingly well by Ryan Gosling, finds he is capable of something a little warmer in the end.

      Everything by Judd Apatow
      Knocked Up, Superbad, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (another pop-music paean) all had deficiencies but together represented a rebirth of unembarrassed American comedy with a knowing edge.



      Janet Smith

      The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
      Julian Schnabel's transcendent film about a razor-witted womanizer who's suddenly paralyzed is more than just a daring, imaginative work of art: it is damn near life-altering.

      La Vie en Rose
      Edith Piaf's surreal life becomes a gorgeously wrought morphine dream punctuated by poignant revelations. It helps that Marion Cotillard seems to channel the "little sparrow" herself.

      No Country for Old Men
      The Coen brothers dissect Texas in this blood-spattered, '70s-styled western in much the same way as they did the Midwest in Fargo. Javier Bardem is the most psychopathic lunatic to hit the big screen since Blue Velvet's Frank Booth.

      Lovingly hand-scratched celluloid, the year's most outrageous car duel, machine-gun–legged strippers, evil syringe-wielding doctors, and fake movie trailers. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's double-bill ode to the B-movies of yore is glorious trash.

      Diablo Cody's hipster script is dazzingly pop-cult-savvy and smart-mouthed. But like all great comedy, her writing gets scarily close to truths.

      The deadpan humour and painful team-building exercises of Britain's The Office provide the backdrop of a cutting satire on Hostel-like horror flicks. Bloody hilarious.

      Things We Lost in the Fire
      Although Fire deftly explores themes of loss and redemption, the film's power lies in Benicio Del Toro's powerful performance as an enigmatic junkie.

      The Lives of Others
      It's a taut, suspenseful thriller, a meticulous historical record of thought-police paranoia in Berlin Wall–era East Germany, and a mesmerizing meditation on the role of art in a world of oppression.

      In a vivid re-creation of its time and place, director Joe Wright captures all of the passion of Ian McEwan's writerly novel without diluting its heavy ideas about the power of the written word.

      The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
      Who could have imagined a tale of gunslinging train robbers could be such a brooding meditation? Casey Affleck's star turn, Roger Deakins's celluloid-landscape paintings, and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's eerie score combined for pure poetry.



      Mark Harris

      4 Months, 3 Weeks & Two Days
      This Palme d'Or winner from Cannes depicts a moment of quotidian horror in a crumbling Communist regime that doesn't even know it's on its last legs. Romanian cinema is on a roll right now.

      Black Book
      The best-crafted and most subtly nuanced analysis of the thin line between collaboration and resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe since Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien.

      No Country for Old Men
      Here the Coen brothers do for the dialogue of Cormac McCarthy what filmmakers have failed to do for the words of William Faulkner for the past 70 years.

      The Wind That Shakes the Barley
      An unforgettable look at the Irish war of independence. Director Ken Loach emphasizes the (Marxist) red rather than (Protestant) orange or (Catholic) green.

      Elizabeth: The Golden Age
      Pakistani-born filmmaker Shekhar Kapur's account of the events surrounding the defeat of the Spanish Armada is his most successful attempt at beating the English at their own game, turning an ultra-patriotic swashbuckler into both a Tudor tragedy and an Anglican apotheosis.

      Brand Upon the Brain!
      Guy Maddin proves once again that movies made for nickels can look like pure gold if the imagination behind them is strong enough.

      Inland Empire
      With the aid of low-definition digital, David Lynch once again shakes our faith in the world's outward solidity as we know it.

      Across the Universe
      A film for people who actually lived through the '60s. Julie Taymor choreographs the Age of Aquarius to a Beatles beat, and describes things not as they were, but as they should have been.

      The Host
      Quite simply the best mutant-monster movie of all time.

      La Vie en Rose
      Here solely on account of its star, Marion Cotillard, whose interpretation of Edith Piaf is nonpareil.



      Ron Yamauchi

      Knocked Up
      Romance at its most realistic, and all the sweeter for being so wrenchingly true about marriage and grungily mammalian about pregnancy.

      A dazzling confection for the whole family, and a welcome comeback for Michelle Pfeiffer.

      Danny Boyle's science-fiction turn yields a "hard SF" masterpiece, the Cold Equations with the stakes raised to the fate of all humanity.

      I Am Legend
      Will Smith's virtuoso performance brings intimacy and pathos to this unusually sparse and restrained take on the zombie thriller. I held a single piece of popcorn halfway to my lips for about an hour.

      No Country for Old Men
      Javier Bardem, as the year's scariest movie monster, heralds a satisfying return to form by the Coen Brothers.

      Black Book
      Paul Verhoeven's childhood memories of Nazi occupation spawned the year's pulpiest and most plot-heavy thriller, as lurid and morally ambiguous as the semi-crazed Dutchman's best work.

      Zack Snyder faithfully renders the magisterial graphic novel by Frank Miller into a moving and epic–and, yes, a bit silly–military history.

      Death Sentence
      A perfect B-movie, this revenge melodrama would have had the critics screaming about its wrenching performances and relentless pacing were it only in Japanese or Spanish.

      The Lookout
      Starring the amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young hockey star recovering from head trauma, this methodical character study and crime drama is quietly stunning.

      Rescue Dawn
      Although it proves you can have too much quirky intensity in your cast, the ever-malleable Christian Bale delivers yet another fine performance in the unbelievable-but-true story of an American POW in Vietnam.



      John Lekich

      Across the Universe
      Can't remember what the '60s were like? Watch as director Julie Taymor uses a Lennon-McCartney score to weave the most extraordinarily giddy blend of music and romance in years.

      American Gangster
      The epic story of '70s drug kingpin Frank Lucas has the intellectual and emotional sweep of old-school melodramas like Serpico with just the right dash of vintage swagger, too.

      Away From Her
      Director Sarah Polley takes a short story by Alice Munro and transforms it into a lingering exploration of an aging married couple struggling with love, loss, and memory.

      Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
      Sidney Lumet puts the cherry on top of a long and illustrious career by using a jewellery store heist to take an unsettling look at family dysfunction.

      Deep Water
      Set against the backdrop of the first solo, nonstop, round-the-world yacht race, this chilling documentary uses intimate film footage and tape recordings to trace one man's haunting descent into madness.

      A genuinely clever script, tight direction, and riveting performances by Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling create a psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the final frame.

      No Country for Old Men
      The Coen brothers return to their gritty filmmaking roots with a thrilling adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. A superb ensemble cast is anchored by Tommy Lee Jones.

      Michael Moore's investigation of the American health-care system is typically funny, informative, and heartfelt. It's also a cry for change that nimbly crosses political boundaries.

      A Parisian rat who longs to become a great chef may seem an unappetizing recipe. But stunning animation and a truly engaging script win the day.

      Written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, Waitress is a sweet, sensitive, and surprisingly powerful look at the ups and downs of life in a small-town Southern diner.



      Patty Jones

      Irish boy with a guitar meets Czech girl with a piano in this utterly beguiling love-and-a-demo-tape musical with songs as unforgettable as its unconventional romance.

      No Country for Old Men
      Death comes to Texas with a voice like a nightmare. A mesmerizing Javier Bardem stalks the Coen brothers' masterfully unnerving study of human nature in the face of evil.

      Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
      Sydney Lumet's superb thriller, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as desperate brothers, pulses with such devilishly dark energy that hell is palpable when Hawke hyperventilates in the getaway car.

      The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
      Brad Pitt is eerily charismatic as the psychopathic outlaw, but Casey Affleck creeps up the spine as James's toxic fan-boy in this nerve-jangling, Terrence Malick–surreal western.

      Forget penguins. Brad Bird concocts a deliciously funny feast for the soul and senses in this dazzling animated adventure of a small French rat hero with grand culinary dreams.

      Charlie Wilson's War
      Tom Hanks as a horndog, boozing congressman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a CIA operative make entertaining work of Mike Nichols's acutely witty take on a true story of slamming the Russians in '80s Afghanistan.

      The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
      The memoir of a suddenly paralyzed lothario magazine editor takes breathtaking flight in Julian Schnabel's wildly imagistic, deeply moving, and unexpectedly funny film. Mathieu Amalric emotes more with one eye than most actors can with two.

      It's girl power in the flip, funny form of a knocked-up teen heroine in stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody's Juno, a Sundance wet dream with sweet soul beneath wise-ass cool.

      No End in Sight
      Charles Ferguson's head-walloping documentary reveals blunders in Iraq by Rumsfeld & Co. of such magnitude they might be funny if they weren't so tragically real.

      The Lives of Others
      This powerful story of a Stasi spy's obsession with a writer and his actor mistress thrusts characters into cruel, fascinating quandaries about morality, art, and love.