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January 11, 2008

Top Five Movies of 2007—Ethan Stanislawski

No Country for Old Men

Never before have the Coen brothers been this savage, this heart-wrenching, or this good. If Blood Simple or Fargo didn’t harden your soul, watch Javier Bardem pack more evil into one character than the Coens have ever put into an entire film. Bardem’s Anton Chigurth joins Hannibal Lecter and Nurse Ratched among film’s all-time greatest villains. The key to the film, however, is Tommy Lee Jones, the voice of reason lacking in previous Coen brothers films, who elevates No Country to magnum opus status.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

This little documentary-that-could is almost too ridiculous to believe. The fact that Seth Gordon could find human drama this intense in the world of competitive arcade gaming is a testament to the power of documentary film. You’ll cheer, and cry, as perpetual underdog Steve Wiebe defends his Donkey Kong championship. You’ll absolutely despise Billy Mitchell, whose strong-arming tactics make him this year’s second greatest movie villain. It may sound hard to get so worked up over arcade games (then again, this is the U of C), but luckily, the film is coming to Doc. You’d be a chump to miss it.

Juno

I wish I could put Knocked Up and Superbad in the same slot. But though 2007 was Apatow’s year, Juno has more of something for everyone. It has a three-dimensional teenage girl (shocking!), a great performance by nerd icon Michael Cera, and real-life yuppie problems—it’s even OK to see with your parents. While screenwriter Diablo Cody and star Ellen Page are relative newcomers, they’re already the front-runners for their respective Oscar categories, ahead of much more experienced candidates. Though it’s hard to escape Oscar politics, if Page and Cody win, few will argue.

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Until Sweeney Todd, Hollywood had yet to do justice to Stephen Sondheim, one of the giants of the modern musical. Thankfully, a resurgent Tim Burton nailed just about everything one could want from a Sondheim movie. He’s not afraid to add his own signature touches, including the best scenery of his career, and the casting of the surprisingly mellifluous Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. While Daniel Day-Lewis has been attracting most of the Oscar buzz, my vote goes to Depp.

300

The most misunderstood movie of the year, 300 was blasted in The New York Times for having “less nuance” than a Pokémon cartoon, as if director Zach Snyder were really going for nuance. What Snyder was going for was a damn good comic-book movie, and he produced one of the genre’s all-time best, in all its schlocky glory. In the process, Gerard Butler turns in the most quotable performance of the year—how many times have you screamed “THIS IS SPARTA!” this year? What got lost in all the controversy surrounding 300 was that the majority of critics—especially the younger ones—loved it. You can expect Beowulf to be just the tip of the iceberg of copycat movies for years to come.