Lets begin as always with the films which just missed out on making the Top Ten. 300 took one of my favourite stories from all of the myths and legends and historical stories I read in my youth and gave it the full Zack Snyder/Frank Miller treatment. It wasn’t the first time this story had been told on the big screen, but this is an adaptation of Miller’s comic book version – as such it takes many liberties – but at its core it’s still about a relatively small number of warriors making a final stand against an overwhelming force. I’ve always loved stories like this, and films like this – Zulu, The Two Towers would be the most obvious ones until this dropped. It also works as a siege movie – Night Of The Living Dead, Assault On Precinct 13 come to mind. At the time, Snyder was fresh off the Dawn Of The Dead remake and Miller had done Sin City – both of which I loved, so it seemed like a match made in heaven. It’s everything I thought it was going to be, but with the macho and the visuals ramped up to 12. It’s just sillier than I hoped it would be – too much CG nonsense, stupid love-plots, and the dialogue doesn’t hit like in Sin City. Still, it delivers in the big men killing other big men with big swords stakes, plus it looks great.
This year saw every critic and movie goer falling into the No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood camps. As tends to be the case with Oscar hype movies, I put them on the back-burner and don’t watch for a couple of years after release when the hype has fallen away. I’m in the Coen camp in this respect – There Will Be Blood was all about the Lewis performance for me and honestly not a lot else. It’s obviously a great movie, directed within an inch of its life by Anderson, but for me it doesn’t amount to much. I feel no need to revisit it, and it doesn’t tell me anything. No Country For Old Men I rank a little higher, but I’m not some huge fan of it either. I recognise it more for its greatness rather than how much I think about it and want to watch it again. It’s the movie I’d want to rewatch least out of any in this post, but is elevated by numerous terrific performances.
Eastern Promises continued the David Cronenberg renaissance from A History Of Violence as he teamed up once again with Viggo Mortensen for another trip into non-body horror related thriller territory. It still has some notably brutal scenes – most memorably in a bath house – and also features Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel. It’s moody and shows an uncharacteristic restraint from a director known more for the outlandish. Inside is another shocking example of French Extremism – don’t watch it if you’re pregnant. It’s, on the surface, a home invasion movie with a heavily pregnant woman coming under attack from another woman but to say anymore regarding the plot would be spoiler territory. It has two alarmingly good lead performances, and it is pretty brutal. Superbad is the cream of the crop of Noughties Apatow/Rogan/Hill brand of comedy – it’s just a great hang-out movie and feels like the ‘next generation’s’ American Pie.
10: Black Snake Moan (US) Craig Brewer
Black Snake Moan feels like one of those films which is still waiting to be discovered. It got the wrong sort of attention at the time of release due to some sexualised out of context shots of Christina Ricci and the use of a chain by Samuel L Jackson (both of whom deserved Oscar nods). The film definitely feels like it was marketed incorrectly when in truth it’s more like an offboat drama focused on the relationship between Ricci and Jackson, and Justin Timberlake as Ricci’s boyfriend. It has elements of Brewer’s style which viewers of Hustle And Flow will be familiar with and it’s also very funny. It’s a film about a nymphomaniac who is beaten and left for dead, and found by a bitter old religious man with a penchant for the blues who decides to rehabilitate her. It probably will take a very specific kind of person to be pulled in by that synopsis, but with Ricci and Jackson on top form, it is highly recommended.
9: Sweeny Todd (US/UK) Tim Burton
Regular readers will know by now that I’m not a musical fan. But I am a Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fan – one of the finest cinematic partnerships since the 90s. While Burton had been hit and miss for a while, Depp was at the height of his powers and could do no wrong. I remember going in to the film expecting it to be a dark romance, and being familiar enough with the origins of the story that seemed reasonable. What I didn’t expect was that it would be so grim, so bleak. Even Burton’s darkest fantasies tend to have a happy ending, a glimmer of hope, but this has nothing of the sort. I was a little disoriented walking out of the screening first time and that feeling has never really left. I don’t have much to say about the songs – at a push I could recall one or two melodies off the top of my head – but the performances are universally terrific. It’s not a Burton film I revisit often, but it is one of his best.
8: Grindhouse (US) Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino
No cinemas near me offered the full Grindhouse experience – instead I had to see the two films individually. Planet Terror is my favourite of the two and I only saw Death Proof a few years later. Both are dirty, grimy, shlocky and peppered with the sort of violence, character types, and dialogue we know and love from Rodriguez and Tarantino. Planet Terror is basically a romance in the middle of a zombie outbreak, featuring memorable turns from Michael Biehn, Rose McGowan, and Freddy Rodriquez, with Death Proof being a showcase for stunt driving, car chases, and Kurt Russell. Stick on any film by these two directors and you’re always in for a good time, even when they’re doing little more than paying homage to their favourites.
7: Angel-A (France) Luc Besson
I still don’t really understand why Angel-A is not talked about. You take any best of list from this year and you take any person’s favourite Luc Besson movie list – this won’t be on either. It’s wonderful, both unlike anything Besson has ever done yet right in line with what he always does. It’s almost like his upturned version of Amelie. The moment I saw the poster – one of my favourites of all time – and I was sold. Based on the poster alone there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy the film. I mistakenly went in thinking it was another sci-fi film, the lady towering over the man some sort of hulking feminine cyborg, but no – it’s just a romance between a complete loser and a gorgeous woman several leagues above his class. The title does give away a certain fantasy element, but that only loosely comes into play later.
Jamel Debbouze plays Andre, a pathological liar and loser who decides the world would be better of without him – and that he would be better off dead than being chased by the thugs he constantly owes money. As he prepares to kill himself by leaping off one of the many bridges over the Seine, he sees a woman getting their first. After saving her life, she pledges herself to him and they travel over Paris trying to sort out his various debts. It’s a consistently funny, charming, and visually stunning film – probably the most visually impressive work Besson has completed outside of The Fifth Element, except here there is a much lesser focus on effects. It always wows me when I watch it and it always surprises me that no-one knows it exists.
6: 30 Days Of Night (US) David Slade
Another movie based off a comic I’ll never read, this has a great premise – there is a town, little more than an outpost, so far north that once it reaches a certain part of the year it doesn’t see sunlight for a month. So? So throw in vampires. That’s enough for me, but also add Ben Foster, Josh Hartnett, and Melissa George and we’re up another few notches. Then add the fact that it’s actually good – tense, bloody, and with vampires which feel truly demonic, animal, and we have a winner. David Slade went from some of my favourite music videos to Hard Candy, then to this. Then to the Twilight franchise, but we don’t talk about that. There weren’t many good or even interesting vampire movies in this period – 30 Days Of Night manages to be both.
5: Paranormal Activity (US) Oren Peli
Well, I had to. Say what you will about the franchise, or the trend that it started, but when you talk about the most important movies of the decade and the most important horror movies of all time – you have to talk about Paranormal Activity. Made for basically nothing, it grossed more money than The Thing, Halloween, and A Nightmare On Elm street combined (three of my favourite movies ever). It was nothing short of a phenomenon, using effective marketing and a simple premise to maximum effect – a couple notice unusual phenomenon happening inside their home and decide to place cameras around the house hoping to catch something supernatural. That’s it, and yet it spawned a series which you just know is going to be continually remade over the next hundred years. Personally, I think they perfected the formula in the second film which is essentially a remake while also acting as a prequel/sequel. But it all started here. Say what you will about the annoying characters and the stupid decisions they make, the performances, and the scares which to many amount to nothing more than a period of stillness and calm followed by a sudden jolt, but it’s one of the most effective films I’ve ever seen in a theatre at making the audience freak the fuck out and for that alone I’ll always love it.
4: 28 Weeks Later (UK/Spain) Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
I love the original 28 Days Later. It’s fun, inventive (even if it did rip off one of my own stories), and tows the line between nihilism and hope perfectly. 28 Weeks Later catches hope in bed with your neighbour, beheads it, and feeds the corpse to the neighbour’s kid. Fresnadillo has only made three films and they’re all gold – this, Intruders, and Intacto. It doesn’t relate to the characters of the first movie but rather expands the universe to show what was happening around the rest of the country before, during and after.
It begins with one of those most pulsating, heart-pounding intros I’ve ever seen – Robert Carlyle abandoning his wife when his house is attacked by hordes of the infected before running over hill and dale towards a boat. That shot of him sprinting over the fields with a number of the creatures gnashing close behind him is genuinely chilling and sets much of the tone for the rest of the film. That tone is unremittingly grim. Carlyle is great as a cowardly jerk and the main child protagonists manage to not be annoying. Aside from that opening, there are some memorable scenes – Carlyle coming face to face with someone later in the film and of course the helicopter mowing down the infected scene is gleefully silly. I understand that people will always choose the first movie over this, but don’t sleep on this one either – it’s a fun, dirty ride.
3: The Mist (US) Frank Darabont
I think by this point most people know how this movie ends. I won’t spoil it anyway, but it has gone down with some amount of infamy over the years. Everything up to that point is in many ways like the perfect horror film for me – it’s a seige movie so we have a disparate group of survivors holed up in a single location, trapped in by a mysterious, murderous force. For the King fanboy there are tonnes of crossover references, most notably with The Dark Tower, and the cast is uniformly great – it’s like a dry run for The Walking Dead before that show started killing off everyone remotely interesting and leaving us with a cast I could maybe name three characters out of. As King stories go, it’s very simple – there has been a storm, a dad and his sun go down to a local store for supplies, but a sudden all encompassing mist sweeps in and traps them inside with other townspeople. It soon becomes clear that something is in The Mist, and it’s hungry.
That’s all you need for an enjoyable, easy to dismiss movie. King and Darabont spend more time on the characters and the threat and the mystery to raise the film so that it becomes unforgettable. Tensions rise, differences are exposed, factions are drawn, and lines are crossed and before long it’s not only whatever is outside causing the danger, but the person over in the soup aisle. All of this makes that ending more effective. My only complaint is the ropy nature of some of the effects – good ideas and creature designs, but let down by cartoon effects. Apparently watching in the originally planned Black and White counters a percentage of this issue.
2: Enchanted (US) Kevin Lima
There’s really no reason why I should like this – it’s a Musical for a start. But I first saw this on a flight to (or from) Chicago (or possibly Mexico…) and I just loved everything about it. It was Disney, so it probably wasn’t going to be that bad, and the idea of an animated cliched Disney Princess coming into ‘the real world’ was fascinating – there’s so much they can do with a premise like that. Plus I recognised Amy Adams from Buffy so that helped. Within a few minutes I knew I would love it. Adams is fantastic, everyone plays up wonderfully to their tropes, Patrick Dempsey and Rachel Covey are perfectly cast as your typical work-obsessed single father and starry-eyed kid, and the whole thing is just one of the most utterly charming films you’ll ever see. Most people say the same thing about Mary Poppins or The Wizard Of Oz or something, but this is my version of those films. I shouldn’t like this, as a cynical horror fan who wants everyone on screen to die or go through horrific trauma, but there’s no getting away from how lovely this is. I even love most of the songs, and it’s a soundtrack which is in regular rotation for car journeys. It’s every bit as good and necessary as the best of Disney’s Animated Features.
1: Rec (Spain) Jaume Balaguero/Paco Plaza
While France was pumping out more and more extreme, troubling, and gore-filled movies Spain wanted in on the fun. Rec is perfect on multiple levels – a technical marvel, filled with effectively jumpscares and genuine horror created by building upon its premise and setting. The whole Rec series is worth watching, but the first is the best. It’s what I wanted the Resident Evil movies to be. It raised the bar for found-footage/POV horror, and nothing has really matched it since.
The film begins as a reporter and her cameraman are filming a documentary about a local Fire Crew – spending a night with them, hoping to catch them in again and show the dangers of the job. The crew gets a call to investigate a screaming woman seemingly trapped in her apartment so the reporter and cameraman tag along. What at first seems like a routine investigation turns violent as the screaming woman attacks. As the group tries to work out what is happening, the apartment block is shutdown from the outside by military people in hazmat suits – the documentary team, fire crew, police, and other residents are trapped inside with what appear to be people turned violent due to some zombie like infection.
Rather than having static placed cam or overly shaky cam, Rec makes more use of light – or the absence of it – and the genuine confusion and tangible fear of the characters to illicit emotion from the viewer. It’s more reminiscent of real world news stories of reporters in war zones, the ones where the reporter and cameraman are hunkered down while a gun battle goes on in the background, or running from the scene of an explosion. Even though it gets supernatural and then spreads the Rec mythology wings in its final scenes, it’s that realism which marks it out from other found footage films. The proximity to danger, the claustrophobia, the sudden violence – it all adds up to provide one of the finest horror experiences of the decade.
Let us know what you think of the films above and what your favourite films of 2007 are!