2007 was another near spectacular year and basically everything from 2005 on is some damn fine cinema.
At Cannes in '07, Cristian Mungiu 's Romanian abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," won the Palme d'Or, Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" won the special 60th anniversary prize and Julian Schnabel would take Best Director for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
The Oscars were finally getting their heads out of their ass in 2007. It was the first year in several years when almost none of the Best Picture nominations were embarrassing, ok, looking back "Juno" is not Best Picture worthy, but Best Pic nominations for "Michael Clayton" and "There Will Be Blood" were very encouraging. Of course the very venerable "No Country For Old Men" would take the top prize leaving film bloggers and critics of all shapes and sizes mostly very pleased. Daniel Day-Lewis, Javier Bardem, Tilda Swinton , Marion Cotillard ("La Vie En Rose") would also be honored for their work in these pictures. In retrospect, a very fine Academy year that showed the favoritism and tendency towards awarding classicist films starting to finally wane (and perhaps not many good ones in that vein were being made any longer).
In blockbusters, the 'Pirates' films topped the highest grossing films of the year, two years in a row. In 2006, 'Dead Man's Chest' was number one globally, and in 2007, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" was only $40 million shy of an international $1 billion haul. 'Dead Man's Chest' did surpass $1 billion, it's no bloody wonder they want to keep this thing going. Again, sequels were kings (which is why bottom-dollar Hollywood keeps churning 'em out) and some of the other highest grossing films of the year included, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," "Spider-Man 3," and "Shrek the Third."
"Zodiac" is several films in one — it's a historical epic centered around the elusive serial killer in the Bay Area in the 1960s and '70s, when free-love turned to bloody cynicism; it's a thoughtful meditation on where media and murder intersect; it's an investigation into the pop culture of the time; and it's a damn fine detective story, with Mark Ruffalo as the dogged cop and Jake Gyllenhall as the newspaper cartoonist who carries on the investigative torch after everyone else has left it behind. (It's also a testament to technological advancement – this is one good-looking digital flick.) But one thing that never gets mentioned is how autobiographical it is. Director David Fincher is interested in depicting the depths of obsession precisely because that's how his brain works; cerebral indeed.
9. "The Orphanage"
Anybody can make a spooky movie, but it takes an expert filmmaking team to make one that's genuinely haunting. Director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Sergio Sanchez have crafted a kind of Douglas Sirk horror movie — one in which the melodrama is amplified by ghosts that are actually real. The lovely Belen Rueda plays a woman who returns to buy the dilapidated orphanage where she grew up. From that simple and effective set-up, Bayona uses some truly creepy imagery and a handful of horror scares (there's a horrific car accident that still truly disturbs) in the service of the unexpected: a deeply felt meditation on guilt. Now that's really chilling.
8. "This Is England"
It’s a rare film that can not only encapsulate a time and a place, but even rescue an entire subculture from the history books. Shane Meadows’ low-key masterpiece “This is England” managed to remind the world that British skinhead culture began as a celebration of music and black culture, rather than of racism and punching people at soccer games. All the more impressive, that he does so in the form of a great coming of age movie. Full of outstanding music from the likes of The Specials and Toots & the Maytals, Meadows guides the film with a steady, unshowy hand, delivering outstanding performances from newcomers and veterans alike. Foremost among these is Stephen Graham, whose portrayal of racist ex-con Combo is unforgettable, managing to be simultaneously sympathetic and horrifying, often in the space of a single sentence. If you haven’t seen it (and too few people in the States have), go and find it. Right now.
7. "Away from Her"
Based on short story by Alice Munro, Sarah Polley's nuanced, feature-length directorial debut is a mannered and touching examination of letting go of the person we love most. When a man's wife (Julie Christie) is institutionalized as her Alzheimer's disease gets worse, he must deal with the fact that she is not only forgetting who he is, but falling in love with another patient. Polley's restraint behind the camera is vital to the film's success. There are no big scenes, long speeches or tearful farewells. "Away From Her" is instead a poignant observation of the toll of loss, and how sometimes, the greatest act we can do for someone we love, is to let them move on.
6. "The Host"
The conceit is banal: lazy, bureaucratic scientists pour toxic formaldehyde into Seoul’s Han River. The execution: a mutant creature develops from the chemicals, ravages the city and effects one unlucky family, is anything but. Bong Joon-Ho’s internationally successful monster movie took the Godzilla concept to a much more human and compelling level. Imbuing the film with his trademark tense atmosphere, mood-breaking absurdist humor and taut suspense thriller flair, the South Korean auteur broke out globally in a huge way and revitalized the prosaic genre. And by rooting the tale in the strife of one family, the picture becomes an emotional race against time, a seat-gripping drama and a rollicking thrill ride unlike any other this decade. A sequel is being considered, if only because no one thought a creature-from-the-muck flick could be this exhilarating (though this auteur won't be involved). It’s the modern-day “Jaws” and has just as much gripping intensity, dimension, wit and humanity.
5. "Michael Clayton"
We’re not giving out Time Magazine-style ‘Man of the Decade’ awards here, but if we were, George Clooney would be a strong contender, and he found his best role to date in Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut. The Most Charming Man in the World plays, for the first time, a weak failure of a man, one eaten up inside by the ethical compromises he makes day after day. It’s a real revelation, and, although he carries the movie on his shoulders, he’s more than matched by a terrific supporting cast — Tilda Swinton more than deserved her Oscar, and Tom Wilkinson is as equally deserving as his Oscar-winning competition, Javier Bardem. Gilroy’s direction is extraordinarily assured for a first-timer, and Robert Elswit’s photography is at least as good as his work the same year on “There Will Be Blood.” Simmering at a similar slow-burn of '70s films like "The Parallax View," it’s that absolute rarity these days, a movie made for grown ups, by grown ups.
4. "No Country for Old Men"
On its surface, "No Country for Old Men" might be a simple crime thriller, albeit one with one of cinema's most memorable villains (thanks to the normally sexy Javier Bardem's chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh). But a closer examination of the Coen brothers' film reveals an exploration of evil and a study in obsolescence, all with the fraternal filmmakers' trademark wit and sense of style. Josh Brolin stars as a man who stumbles onto a drug deal gone wrong, who is then pursued by the unrelenting Chigurh; a malevolent force of wickedness that cannot be stopped. The weathered, wonderful Tommy Lee Jones plays the local sheriff who has seen more than his share of cruelty. The film won the rare deserved Best Picture Oscar, as well as a number of other big awards, but it sadly missed out on statuettes for its impeccably created sound and gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography.
3 ."The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Julian Schnabel’s personalized take on the true story of ex-French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Almaric) – who at 42 suffered an incapacitating stroke that left him cognizant, but entirely paralyzed save for his left eye – is a tremendous piece of cinema that is both heartrending and visually breathtaking. Communicating via a painstakingly laborious blinking method, Schnabel inventively realized Bauby’s incarcerating experience via a hauntingly impressionistic and poeticized imagination. While the picture features top-notch performances by a coterie of French talent (and many lovelies, Marie-Josée Croze, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny), the star of the picture is arguably cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s artful camera, deftly creating a claustrophobic ocular point-of-view and stylized perspective that is a thing of panoramic beauty. As painterly as it is, the graceful portrait is also a profound reflection of the human spirit that has nothing to do with "feel-goodery."
2. "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford"
Faced with multiple edits, repeated release date changes, a theatrical dump by the studio, ignorance from critics and indifference from audiences, Andrew Dominik's pastoral, dreamlike take on the familiar Jesse James tale hasn't gotten the due it deserves. Brad Pitt is solid as Jesse James, but it's Casey Affleck's wide-eyed, raw-nerved Robert Ford that gives the film its cumulative power. Those who have argued that the film's title gives away the ending are laughably missing the point by miles. Dominik's film is concerned about the allure and illusion of myth, and the power it has to make people adjust their own moral grade. Brilliant and beautiful (thanks in no small part to the dolorous Nick Cave & Warren Ellis score), tragic and heartbreaking, "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" is one of the great cowboy pictures, because it isn't one.
1. "There Will Be Blood"
Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't just chew the scenery, he eats it up, swallows it and spews back it out like the thick black oil that seeps through Paul Thomas Anderson's seething tale of corruption, ambition and industry. Anderson's slow burn of a film meets the audience at the crossroads of capitalism and religion and with vicious glee, rips them both to shreds. Beautifully composed, methodically paced, and scored to Jonny Greenwood's magnificent, percussive soundtrack, "There Will Be Blood" makes a case that the birth of the industrial revolution was also the beginning of a serious readjustment of the social moral barometer and sees it through to its shocking (and frothy) end. Bleak, dark and mesmerizing, Anderson's film posits that oil runs deeper through the American psyche than we think.
Very high on the top of our honorable mention list is Paul Verhoeven's very exceptional and relevant return to form in the WWII drama, "Black Book," Guy Maddin's oedipal melodrama (aren't they all?), "Brand Upon The Brain!" (Crispin Glover narrated the live version we saw), the poignant, coming-of-age in-tyrannical-Iran, animated film, "Persepolis" directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, Todd Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There" which breathed new life into the biopic (and was a perfect conceit for its elusive shape-changing protagonist), Pedro Costa's gorgeous-looking, but little-seen, "Colossal Youth," David Cronenberg's episodic, but still engaging and continuing look into violence with, "Eastern Promises" and Noah Baumbach's widely disliked, but still valuable, "Margot At The Wedding" (soundtrack picks are better than Anderson's last three films).
We've rarely mentioned documentaries, because they're getting their own categories, but hallelujah goddamn is "The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," an extremely engaging and hilarious portrait of obsessives. Also valuable and worth noting is "La Vie En Rose" which of course featured a spectacular turn by the lovely Marion Cotillard that was unexpectedly celebrated by Oscar, Zoe Cassavetes' severely underrated, wry and sweet, "Broken English," which includes a very winning and charming turn by Parker Posey; Susanne Bier's Danish drama, "After the Wedding" and perhaps surprisingly equally engaging, her underrated survival and recovery drama, "Things We Lost In The Fire," which is made great by Benicio del Toro (and even Halle Berry evinces that she's capable of good work in spots), Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's always mysterious and bifurcated, "Syndromes And A Century" (which has elements of both sci-fi and comedy). Surprisingly engaging was the action Western remake "3:10 to Yuma" (great performances by Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Ben Foster) and woefully under-appreciated is Julie Delpy's directorial effort, "2 Days in Paris" which features a wonderfully neurotic Adam Goldberg. Ben Affleck's directorial debut, "Gone Baby Gone" was a solid piece of work too and a fine first film.
Not perfect, but still worthwhile (especially since it's better than 'Aquatic') is Wes Anderson's India-set brothers travelogue, "The Darjeeling Limited" (keep working with new people like Adrien Brody, Wes), Danny Boyle's lovely and compelling, psychological sci-fi drama, "Sunshine" (another fantastically over-the-top John Murphy score with ambient help from Underworld) and Judd Apatow's charming, enjoyable and deceptively melancholy, "Knocked Up." "A Mighty Heart" isn't fantastic either, but Angelina Jolie is certainly worth mentioning. Gregg Mottola's "Superbad" is undeniably a lot of fun, and everyone loves, "Ratatouille" (which will get more love on the animated list). "Oceans 13" and "The Bourne Ultimatum" are smart, engaging entertainment, but if we rattle off anymore films, we'll have named every picture released, finito! – Oly Lyttelton, Kevin Jagernauth, Kimber Myers, Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor & RP.