As you probably deduced from our re-evaluation of the 80th Academy Awards, 2007 was a pretty damn great year for cinema. Along with No Country for Old Men, films like There Will Be Blood, Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, The Bourne Ultimatum, La Vie en Rose, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford all had great showings at the year’s biggest award ceremony, but looking at a list of nominations doesn’t tell you the whole story. Take Zodiac, for example, which received no love from the Academy but has gone on to be beloved by cinephiles and considered one of David Fincher’s best films. With such a great year, there is a great cross section of different films available across the usual streaming platforms, from the wild neo-exploitation film Black Snake Moan to Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe and controversial filmmaker Paul Verhoeven’s return to Europe Black Book. Aside from the five other recommendations below, instant classics There Will Be Blood and Atonement can also be found on Netflix. The picks below offer an incredible indie and some of the year’s best genre fare.
Chop Shop [Ramin Bahrani]
Available on Fandor
Though he hasn’t totally broken out among cinephiles, Ramin Bahrani is one of the best independent filmmakers working today. His most recent film, 99 Homes, sported a bigger cast and release, and a fair amount of critical acclaim, but it is his early run of excellent micro-budget films that have defined his young career. Bahrani’s third feature, Chop Shop, debuted at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and takes place around an auto repair shop in an immigrant community of Queens, New York. It follows a homeless orphan named Alejandro and his troubled older sister Izzy. In Bahrani’s style, the film quietly examines these people in completely realistic portrayals—a style and story deeply linked to Italian neorealism films like The Bicycle Thieves. The voices of poor immigrants are very rarely heard and so a film which feels so strikingly real is incredibly important, especially in our divisive political environment that looks at people like Ale and Izzy only in terms of statistics.
The Host [Bong Joon-ho]
Available on Netflix
Though it was released in its native South Korea and made the rounds at various film festivals [including Cannes and TIFF] in 2006, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host had its U.S. theatrical debut in March 2007. Before he broke through to English language film with the indie-hit Snowpiercer a few years back, the auteur Bong Joon-Ho built his career on clever genre constructions, The Host chief among them. The film follows a family trying to save one of their own from a vicious sea monster that has come to destroy Seoul. The film is scary, thrilling, funny, action packed and super cool. And the title monster features one of the most inspired creature designs. 2007 was a pretty decent year for horror, highlighted by J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage and the genre defining Paranormal Activity. The Host may not be as traditionally scary as those films, but the throw-back to a classic horror genre is a whole lot of fun. And it’s one of the best monster movies ever made.
Hot Fuzz [Edgar Wright]
Available on Netflix
After the hilarious zombie romp Shaun of the Dead put Edgar Wright and collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost provided a big international breakout, there was a whole lot of pressure for a follow up. Hot Fuzz, which simultaneously sends up crazy action films and British community horror dramas, is bigger, bolder, and possibly even funnier. Pegg plays an all-action cop from the big city who is transferred out to the sticks following a string of strange murders. Over the course the film, the crime fighting duo uncover a crazy secret among the elderly folks in the quiet community, leading to a balls out action setpiece that is one of the most gloriously over-the-top scenes of any movie ever. Edgar Wright’s love for film is on full display, making Hot Fuzz not just another genre satire, but a loving tribute to the world of Point Break or Bad Boys 2. Overall, Hot Fuzz may not be as beloved as Shaun of the Dead, and that’s understandable, but the film is far from a secondary work. And in a year of great comedies like Superbad, Knocked Up, Juno, and big time action flicks like Transformers and Live Free or Die Hard, Hot Fuzz is exemplary within both genres.
The Mist [Frank Darabont]
Available on Amazon Prime
One of the most underrated films of 2007, Frank Darabont’s The Mist is a fun small-scale horror film based on a Stephen King novel. A group of strangers in a small town get stuck in a grocery store as a bizarre fog rolls in—they quickly find out that it is infested with terrifying monsters of unexplained origin. The film’s famously bleak ending gets most of the attention [and, no doubt, it’s a shocker], but the rest of the film is fantastic for its single set and small cast approach. Like many horror films that have come since, the monsters become much less scary than the humans banded together, with their competing philosophies and ideas standing as a nice metaphor for our current political climate. And the cast is great, featuring Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, and a deliciously villainous Marcia Gay Harden. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and extra-creepy alternate black-and-white version of the film isn’t available on Amazon Prime streaming, but it is worth a watch anyway.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street [Tim Burton]
Available on Netflix
To most, Tim Burton has been in a consistent slide since the mid-to-late 90s, with perhaps a few exceptions sprinkled in here or there. 2007’s Sweeney Todd is perhaps the best evidence that the mercurial filmmaker had more left in the tank. Johnny Depp, in the center of his Jack Sparrow run, puts in one of his career defining performances as the title barber slash murderer. Sweeney Todd provides the perfect mix of macabre and grandeur to be right in Burton’s wheelhouse—that can be said for many of Burton’s flops, too, but the filmmaker is able to pull this together perfectly. Big scale Hollywood musicals always tend to creep up every once in awhile, but with Sweeney Todd’s heavy genre leanings, it feels very fresh in comparison to something like Hairspray, another musical from 2007 which is surprisingly fun in its own right. Sweeney Todd simply wouldn’t work if it wasn’t so dark and bloody. If Burton had pulled back even just a little or the musical tried to appeal to a broader audience, it could have easily became Dark Shadows a few years early.