2007 was an above average year at the movies, far better than the depressing state of 2005 or 2006. And for me it was also the year of the Western. By coincidence I happened to be studying the Western in a graduate course taught by Jim Kitses, who is arguably the #1 Western movie scholar in America. During my semester, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men opened in theaters, and we studied them in class. Two of these would have made my top ten anyway, but looking at them in-depth gave me even greater pleasure and made me even surer of my choices. Seraphim Falls and There Will Be Blood were also Westerns of a sort, and the number and general high quality of these films make this the strongest year for the genre since the early 1970s, or perhaps even the late 1960s.
The most frustrating thing about the year is that three of my favorite movies didn't qualify for list consideration. David Lynch's Inland Empire opened in 2006 but didn't screen for the San Francisco press until early 2007. (You can look for it on my best-of-the-decade list instead.) Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep is a masterpiece, and an essential part of the history of American cinema. It had its official theatrical debut in 2007, but I decided that its contribution to cinema has more to do with 1977, when it was made, than 2007. Finally, Quentin Tarantino's uncut version of Death Proof was a revelation, and far, far better than the truncated version that most people saw in Grindhouse. It screened at Cannes and then went straight to DVD in the U.S., so it, too, was disqualified. No matter. I came up with ten excellent films anyway.
1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, USA)
Normally I like to save my #1 slot for a film by a proven master, and Dominik is far from that; his only other film, Chopper, failed to prepare me for the astonishing, haunting dreamlike quality of this new film. I have to admit I thought about this movie just about every day since I saw it. It's too easy to label this as a "revisionist Western," since it contributed so many new ideas to the genre. It's by far the best Jesse James movie ever made, and certainly one of the greatest Westerns I've ever seen.