If I had to think of one moment that summed 2007 up for me as a critic and moviegoer, then that moment came before an early-morning press screening at Cannes. Two film writers were speaking about a film from the day before -- excited, animated, engaged. One of them said "Le Scaphandre et le Papillion?" She then made a hand gesture worth a thousand words, and then exclaimed "Cinema!" And I felt the same way about The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as she did -- that it was a work of pure cinema, using every possible element of film to make a powerful piece of art, one that was engaged with the real world we live in while also existing as a strong, expressive creative work in and of itself. That's worth looking for, at the movies -- and, this year, it was easier than you might think to find it. These, then, are the films that made me exclaim 'Cinema!" in 2007, in no particular order after #1.
The best film of the year -- wildly engaging, supremely confident, completely thrilling. Lesser filmmakers would have turned Cormac McCarthy's book into a tedious shoot-'em-up; thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen, we get a pulse-pounding, thought-provoking existential action flick -- a Greek tragedy with shotguns, a story of the American West whose true themes and concerns are eternal. I've seen No Country for Old Men five times now, and I get something new out of it every time -- it's a rich and dense work that also has sugar-rush surface-level pleasures. With three of the best male performances of the year (Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem) and a tone that somehow both fulfills and thwarts what we expect from the movies, No Country for Old Men may be the Coen's masterpiece.