Every year film critics love to bemoan what a lousy lot of movies the previous twelve months have wrought as if the art of filmmaking were hitting an all time low. In 2007, stinkers like 300, A Mighty Heart, Because I Said So, Code Name: The Cleaner, Fay Grim, The Hitcher, The Invasion, The Number 23, Revolver, Southland Tales, Year of the Dog and Youth Without Youth threatened to overshadow underrated treasures like Olivier Dahan and Sebastien Caudron’s La Vie En Rose or Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley by their sheer volume of odious influence. But 2007 was still a tremendous year for high quality movies that elevated the craft.
In the realm of conspicuous film criticism certain New York reviewers might favor Julian Schnabel’s Diving Bell and Butterfly, for its rendering of a stroke victim only able to communicate with his left eye, over Paul Verhoeven’s thematically rich Black Book, an epic tale of the Dutch resistance during WWII. Los Angeles critics can split between the Coen brothers’ hardscrabble noir thriller No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificent portrait of capitalist greed There Will Be Blood, with Daniel Day-Lewis devouring its massive narrative landscape with a single squint of his uncompromising eyes.
Notably, it was a period that magical realism came into its own as a genre for escapism with varying grades of grit. Movies like Atonement, The Darjeeling Limited, Lars and the Real Girl, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Martian Child, Slipstream, Wristcutters: A Love Story and even Todd Haynes’ ode to Bob Dylan I’m Not There all shared magical realist themes that went beyond their geographical and cultural context for audiences to decode.
It was also a year made up of war pictures, mediocre and great (skip Lions for Lambs, but see In the Valley of Elah), that audiences avoided like the plague, and a period in which the previous year’s promising surge of documentaries receded like the surf before a tsunami.
But no thinking critic could neglect 2007 as the year of the returning auteur director. Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Cohen, David Cronenberg, Frank Darabont, David Fincher, Paul Haggis, Todd Haynes, Werner Herzog, Ang Lee, Ken Loach, Sidney Lumet, Sean Penn, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven all reestablished their careers with challenging films that redefined modern cinema as a social prism through which all human experience coalesces. The quality of storytelling from these master filmmakers set a high watermark reflected in the resonant execution of films by upcoming directors ahead of the curve, such as Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (Persepolis), Olivier Dahan and Sebastien Caudron (La Vie En Rose), and Joe Wright (Atonement).
Even with the writers’ strike threatening to prevent Hollywood’s Academy Award ceremony from taking center stage on televisions across the country, it’s a sure bet that this year’s Oscar nominations will gravitate around films that are by any standard moving, entertaining, and inventive.
My top ten films of 2007 are:
10. Stephen King’s The Mist
7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
6. La Vie en Rose
5. Rescue Dawn
4. No Country for Old Men
2. Black Book
1. There will be Blood
Honorable mention goes to: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu), 3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet), Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg), Grindhouse (Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez), I’m Not There (Todd Haynes), In the Valley of Elah (Paul Haggis), Into the Wild (Sean Penn), Juno (Jason Reitman), Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie), The Lookout (Scott Frank), Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy), Nanking (William Guttentag and Dan Sturman), No End In Sight (Craig Ferguson), Sicko (Michael Moore), and The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach). MTW