Movies 2007: Too Much of a Good Thing?
by Scott Mantz

Every year during the Holiday Season, I run into the same problem – compiling my list of the top 10 best movies of the year.  As we all know, truly great films are hard to come by, so I take a great deal of responsibility in trying to come up with a list that I won’t look back on and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

This year was especially hard, since I had to deal with a different problem – that of leaving terrific films off my list that would have made the grade in any other year (especially this decade).  At the risk of alienating some of you so early in the game, those movies include – but are not limited to – “No Country for Old Men,” “Michael Clayton,” “Atonement” and “There Will Be Blood.”

But along with a multitude of great films came some even greater lessons – the first of which is that people just weren’t ready to deal with the War on Terror when it came to going to the movies.  How else do you account for the tepid box office performance of politically-themed dramas like “Rendition” and “In the Valley of Elah?”  Heck, not even the star power of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford could bring ‘em in to see the heavy-handed “Lions for Lambs.”

But moviegoers did deliver when it came to films about unplanned pregnancies.  After debuting at Sundance last January, the delightful indie “Waitress” found an audience over the summer – the same summer that “Knocked Up” pretty much knocked it out of the park.  “Juno” also made good on its promise after debuting to raves at the Toronto Film Festival in September, while “Bella” has been hanging in there for months, thanks to the best marketing tool ever – strong word-of-mouth.

That brings me back to my list, and I feel pretty good about it this year.  Then again, that’s what I said last year, so who knows – I might look back sometime in the near future and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

1)  “3:10 to Yuma” – Now that’s what I call a movie – one that may even top “Unforgiven,” since it’s a Western for people who don’t like Westerns.  Great performances, a terrific screenplay and gritty direction all came together for a spectacular remake that expanded on the 1957 original in every way.  And don’t hold the remake factor against it, since that sure didn’t stop “The Departed” from going the distance at the Oscars last year!
2)  “Juno” – It would be easy to refer to “Juno” as this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” but it’s actually much more than that.  What started off as another example in indie chic quickly turned into a funny, heartfelt and very smart dramedy about the trials and tribulations of teenage pregnancy.  Diablo Cody’s catchy screenplay was one for the books, and Ellen Page stole the show with an outstanding star-making performance.
3)  “The Bourne Ultimatum” – Movie franchises have a tendency to taper off by the third film, but “Ultimatum” turned out to be the best “Bourne” yet – and then some, since it raised the bar for how great action movies can really be.  Matt Damon’s indestructible super-spy was at the top of his game, as was director Paul Greengrass, whose adrenaline-fueled camerawork kept moviegoers hanging on to the edge of their seats from start to finish. 
4)  “Charlie Wilson’s War” – Oscar-winners Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman together in a film written by Emmy-winner Aaron Sorkin and directed by Oscar-winner Mike Nichols?  What could possibly go wrong?  Not much, it seems, judging by the results of this highly-entertaining, super-smart political satire that doesn’t beat you over the head with its message.
5)  “Ratatouille” – A computer-animated comedy about a rat in the kitchen?  Um…really?  Talk about a tough sell, but those clever folks at Disney/Pixar pulled it off, as usual.  Director Brad Bird miraculously followed up “The Incredibles” with what may just be the best Pixar flick yet, thanks to a touching, funny and original story that had all the ingredients of a delectable family recipe. 
6)  “Enchanted” – By sending up other classic fairy tales in its stable, “Enchanted” wound up being another classic Disney fairy tale in its own right.  This clever blend of traditional animation and live action was absurdly funny, but the real magic lies with Amy Adams, whose delightful, irresistible, star-making performance made her a princess for the ages. 
7)  “Once” – A movie this good should be seen twice – in the same week.  Despite its shoestring budget, “Once” was a deeply engaging, heartfelt love story that featured beautiful music and terrific chemistry between its unknown leads.   It doesn’t go where you want it to go, but that’s the beauty of it – it goes where it needs to, which is why it stays with you long after you leave the theater. 
8)  “Away from Her” – Sarah Polley’s directorial debut is nothing short of a revelation, since she guides the story along with the confidence and skill of a seasoned veteran.  Julie Christie gives the performance of a lifetime as a woman who slides deeper into the throes of Alzheimer’s, while Gordon Pinsent is quietly heartbreaking as the devoted husband who has to let her go.  But what starts off as her movie gradually turns into his, and the results are, well, unforgettable. 

9)  “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” – Fifty years after making his directorial debut (with “12 Angry Men”), Sidney Lumet proves that he’s still at the top of his game with this mesmerizing Greek tragedy.  There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing desperate characters dig their own grave (especially when they deserve it), but thanks to top-notch performances and a challenging non-linear story, “Before the Devil” turned out to be a helluva great movie.
10)  “In the Shadow of the Moon” – It’s truly amazing what you can accomplish on a soundstage in North Hollywood!  All kidding aside, this fascinating documentary about the space race does the unthinkable – it brings a human element to the technological achievement of walking on the moon.