No Country is one of the Coen Brothers' best films. Considering they're the guys responsible for Miller's Crossing and The Big Lebowski, that's saying something. I remember first hearing about No Country, and that it didn't feature the wicked humor of other Coen flicks. On watching the movie for myself, I was relieved to find that this was not the case.
Don't get me wrong. No Country is a bleak, bleak movie. It is also often funny as hell. Disclaimer: I do have a pretty black sense of humor.
As with most Coen Brothers movies, No Country is almost impossibly well staged and edited. Roger Deakins, frequent Coen cinematographer, turns in some beautiful work here--2007 was a heck of a year for Deakins, as he also shot The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The plot, about an unstoppable hit man on a mission to recover a big pile of stolen drug money, is lean and tense. At the same time, it utilizes an unusual structure, a fact you probably won't realize until the movie is almost over (hint: that guy you think is the main character might not be the main character).
I opined a few days ago that last decade was a pretty rough time for most folks. Though it's set in 1980, No Country gets across the mood of the 2000s better than any other movie I know of. Just watch the movie's last scene with Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), where he tells his wife about a dream he had. I don't want to spoil the scene by quoting all of Bell's lines. But, damn, I sure know how he feels.
Honorable Mention: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Another Oscar gripe: The Academy gave the 2003 Best Picture award to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Sure, King is pretty good. But did anybody see Master and Commander from that year? A ripping yarn about an 1800s naval captain (Russell Crowe) and his crew, Master and Commander should have been a blockbuster and started a franchise. Unfortunately for fans of epic cinema, it didn't work out that way. Thank goodness for DVD.